Walt Disney star Virginia Davis passes away

MUMBAI: Virginia Davis, who appeared in Walt Disney’s pioneering Alice films, passed away at age of 90.

The Walt Disney Co. said Davis passed away at her home Saturday in Corona, California, from natural causes.

Davis was hired by Disney in 1923 when he was a struggling filmmaker in Kansas City 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. In fact, she liked to remind everyone that it all started with Alice, not Mickey Mouse," said Walt Disney Co. director emeritus and consultant Roy E. Disney.

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. Davis was filmed in front of a white cloth draped over a billboard in a vacant lot. Animated characters were later added alongside Davis.

"As the star of the ‘Alice Comedies’ in the early ’20s, Virginia was charming, energetic and irresistible. 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," said Disney historian J.B. Kaufman.

The series forced Disney and his staff to tackle a number of technical challenges but it wasn’t so tough for the 4-year-old leading lady though.

"It wasn’t difficult at all," Davis recalled in a 1995 interview in the Idaho Statesman in Boise, where she later lived. "Children love to imagine things, and Walt was a very good director. It was all very casual. I was 4 or 5 at the time, and a child that age doesn’t get nervous. They might get shy, but I was never shy."

Davis appeared in 13 Alice films, including Alice’s Day at Sea,Alice the Peacemaker and Alice’s Wild West Show, which she cited as a favorite because she got to play a tomboy who beats up the bully. Eventually, Davis’ contract was not renewed. Three other young actresses went on to play the character of Alice over the next three years.

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, 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 in May and at an event honoring Disney legends in Anaheim in July.

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