Walt Disney once said, “It all started with a mouse.” The Walt Disney Studios, however, actually began five years before the birth of Mickey Mouse, with a four-year-old girl from Kansas City, Missouri, named Virginia Davis. In 1923, Virginia became Walt’s first human star, appearing in the first 13 titles of his “Alice Comedies” series, which featured an innovative blend of live action and animation on film.
The comedies—low-budget, one-reel projects—featured simple plots about the adventures of a live girl in Cartoonland. As Virginia later recalled:
“It was always a little story where I would get into the cartoon through a dream or I was hit on the head with a baseball and suddenly I’d find myself in a world of cartoon characters.”
Born to a homemaker and a traveling salesman in Kansas City, Missouri, on December 31, 1918, Virginia began taking dance and dramatic lessons at age two. A couple of years later, Walt Disney happened to see Virginia in a Warneke’s Bread advertisement in a local theater. At the time, Walt was struggling with his first studio, Laugh-O-gram Films in Kansas City; later, when he went to produce his first Alice Comedy, Alice’s Wonderland, he remembered Virginia’s long, blonde ringlets and charming smile. Walt placed a call to her parents, who moved along with Virginia to California, and for the next two years, she starred in such Disney shorts as Alice’s Day at Sea, Alice’s Wild West Show, and Alice’s Spooky Adventure.
Virginia ended her tenure as Alice after 13 films, although Walt would go on to make more than 40 other Alice comedies. She continued performing in the theater, including a West Coast tour of Elmer Rice’s Street Scene, and in a number of films for such studios as MGM, RKO, Paramount, and Fox. Among her credits are Three on a Match, with Joan Blondell, and The Harvey Girls, appearing alongside Cyd Charisse and Judy Garland. She also appeared in such early television shows as Your Hit Parade and One Man’s Family.
Virginia went on to earn a degree from the New York School of Interior Design and became a decorating editor for the popular 1950s magazine Living for Young Homemakers. In 1963, she began a successful career in the real estate industry in Connecticut and, later, Southern California.
Over the years, Virginia remained in contact with The Walt Disney Company and was often a special guest at Disneyana Conventions.
Virginia Davis passed away on August 15, 2009, at the age of 90.