In the early 1950s, with a handful of artists, art directors, designers, architects, and animators, Marvin Davis developed the master plan for Walt Disney’s latest dream, Disneyland. Over the years he worked closely with Walt in designing and laying out virtually every aspect of the Park’s conceptualization and architecture, including Main Street, U.S.A., New Orleans Square, Sleeping Beauty Castle, the exterior of Haunted Mansion, and more.
As former senior vice president of Walt Disney Imagineering John Hench once recalled, “Because Marvin had a rich background in live-action motion picture design, he had a strong sense and understanding of theater and how to give life or meaning to structures, which, typically, most formally-trained architects aren’t interested in.
“He knew how to create architectural form that had a message for people. For instance, his structures on Main Street, U.S.A. are irrepressibly optimistic.”
Born in Clovis, New Mexico, on December 21, 1910, Marvin attended UCLA for two years before transferring to the University of Southern California. He graduated with a degree in architecture and, as top student in the class of 1935, he also received the prestigious American Institute of Architects medal. Two years later, Marvin won a job at 20th Century Fox, where he worked as an art director on such films as Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, starring Marilyn Monroe, and The Asphalt Jungle, directed by John Huston.
In 1953, he was invited by his friend, former Fox art director Dick Irvine, to join WED Enterprises. Today WED is known as Walt Disney Imagineering, the design and development arm of the Company charged with creating theme parks. Said Hench, “Marvin was very conscientious about developing the Park. He worked extremely hard to help bring Walt’s dream to life, exactly as Walt envisioned it.”
After the theme park’s successful opening in the summer of 1955, Marvin returned to art directing motion pictures, including Disney’s Moon Pilot, Babes in Toyland, and Big Red, as well as such television series as Zorro and Mickey Mouse Club. In 1962, he received an Emmy Award® for art direction and scenic design on Walt Disney’s Wonderful World of Color.
In 1965, Marvin returned to WED as a project designer for Walt Disney World in Florida. In addition to the master plan for the theme park and Walt’s futuristic city of EPCOT, Marvin contributed to the design of resort hotels including the Contemporary, the Polynesian, and the Golf Resort. After 22 years with the Company, he retired in 1975.
Marvin Davis passed away on March 8, 1998, in Santa Monica, California.