Other Notable Deaths


August 18, 2009


Walt Disney's first star

Virginia Davis, who appeared in Walt Disney's pioneering "Alice" films, has died at age 90.

The Walt Disney Co. said Ms. Davis died at her home Saturday in Corona, Calif., of natural causes.

Ms. Davis was hired by Disney in 1923 when he was a struggling filmmaker in Kansas City, Mo., and later worked with him in Hollywood. She was the first of several girls to have the title role in the series of "Alice" comedies that ran from 1923 to 1927. Her moving image was photographed and combined with animated cartoons predating Mickey Mouse.

"Gini was a very special lady who always took great pride in the historic role she played in our studio's history," said Roy E. Disney, director emeritus and consultant for The Walt Disney Co. "In fact, she liked to remind everyone that it all started with Alice, not Mickey Mouse."

Ms. Davis was 4 years old in 1923 when Walt Disney began creating the "Alice" series, which debuted when Disney and his Laugh-O-Gram company were still based in Kansas City, Mo. She was filmed in front of a white cloth draped over a billboard in a vacant lot. Animated characters were later added alongside her.

"As the star of the 'Alice Comedies' in the early '20s, Virginia was charming, energetic and irresistible," said Disney historian J.B. Kaufman. "What's even more remarkable is that she still had those same qualities 80 years later. The 'Alice Comedies' were Walt Disney's first successful series of films, and they marked the beginning of his Hollywood career."

The series forced Walt Disney and his staff to tackle a number of technical challenges, Mr. Kaufman and Russell Merritt wrote in "Walt in Wonderland: The Silent Films of Walt Disney." Adding filmed images of Ms. Davis to a cartoon background proved far more difficult than inserting an animated character onto a filmed background, as other cartoon studios had done.

Ms. Davis later sang, danced and acted in such films as "Three on a Match," "The Harvey Girls" and "Weekend in Havana." She also occasionally worked for Disney, providing supporting voices for "Pinocchio" and working in the studio's ink-and-paint department.

Later in life, Ms. Davis became an interior decorator, magazine editor and real estate agent before retiring. She frequently participated in Disney fan celebrations, including a recent historical gathering in Kansas City, Mo., in May and at an event honoring Disney legends in Anaheim, Calif., in July.


Broadway actress

Actress Ruth Ford, who starred on Broadway in William Faulkner's "Requiem for a Nun," a play he wrote with her in mind, died Wednesday at her Manhattan home, where she entertained some of the world's most celebrated artists.

Ms. Ford met Mr. Faulkner, already a published author, while she was attending the University of Mississippi. The two collaborated on the stage adaptation of "Requiem for a Nun," a play based on the characters from his 1931 novel, "Sanctuary."

The play opened on Broadway in 1959 with Ms. Ford playing the role of Temple Drake opposite Zachary Scott, her second husband, whom she married in 1950.

The actress also appeared in more than two dozen movies, including John Huston's "Across the Pacific" and "The Keys of the Kingdom" with Gregory Peck.

Ms. Ford first worked as a model, posing for such well-known photographers as Man Ray and Cecil Beaton. She appeared on the covers of Vogue, Harper's and Mademoiselle.

At the Dakota, a late 19th-century citadel-like apartment building where she lived for more than four decades, Ford hosted frequent gatherings that included the likes of Mr. Faulkner, Tennessee Williams, Edward Albee, Terrence McNally and Truman Capote.

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