At Walt Disney Imagineering (WDI), Alice Estes Davis was the original “designing woman.” Married to Disney Legend Marc Davis, she enjoyed a fashionable Disney career of her own, designing and dressing animated figures for such beloved Disneyland attractions as it’s a small world and Pirates of the Caribbean. As Alice recalled with a gleam in her eye, “I went from sweet little children to dirty old men over night.”
Born in Escalon, California, in 1929, she received a scholarship to attend Chouinard Art Institute, the renowned training ground for Disney artists, from the Long Beach Art Association in 1947. There, she met future husband, Marc, who served as an instructor at Chouinard for more than 17 years.
Alice launched her career designing women’s lingerie and undergarments for the Beverly Vogue & Lingerie House in Los Angeles and was quickly promoted to head designer. As her career progressed, she designed two lines of fashion lingerie and earned a reputation as an expert pattern maker and authority on uses of fabrics.
One day, she received a call from her former art instructor and future husband, Marc. He needed a costume designed and created for Helene Stanley to wear for some live-action reference footage being filmed to inspire his animation of the lead character Briar Rose in Sleeping Beauty.
Alice recalled, “Marc wanted to see how the skirt worked in live dance steps, and that was my first job at Disney.” That job led Alice to design costumes for Disney’s live-action motion picture Toby Tyler.
In 1963, Walt Disney recruited Alice to contribute her skill to the attraction it’s a small world for the 1964-65 New York World’s Fair. Collaborating with art designer and Disney Legend Mary Blair, Alice researched, designed, and supervised the creation of more than 150 highly detailed costumes for the Audio-Animatronics® children of the world.
During this time, Alice also formulated costuming procedures, set up a manufacturing base, and developed quality control refurbishing techniques, which established the standards for three-dimensional characters in rides and shows created by WDI.
In 1965, she translated the pirates’ attire from Marc’s original drawings of the shiver-me-timbers cast and crew into clothing designs and patterns for all of the costumes featured in Pirates of the Caribbean. Two years later, when the attraction opened at Disneyland, guests were dazzled by the animated figures and their colorful, textured pirate-wear. Later, Alice contributed to General Electric’s Carousel of Progress and the Flight to the Moon attractions.
Married in June 1956, Alice and Marc enjoyed a Disney fairy-tale-romance-come-true for 44 years until Marc’s death in 2000. Alice has continued to consult for the Company, and remains a frequent face at Disneyland events. She was honored with a window on Main Street, U.S.A. at Disneyland—next to her husband’s window—on May 10, 2012.