Let’s return to the Walt Disney Studio of the nineteen fifties and the role of women in animation. If you were a young woman working in Disney's animation department back then the chances are you were pretty darn good. Clearly a man's world, you might be surprised to learn that the Walt Disney Studio had its fair share of young women toiling away at their animation desks. Savvy young women knew their chances of scoring a position as an animator was extremely rare. However, some women proved themselves capable clean-up assistants on many of the Disney films. In some cases, such as the meticulous, detailed drawings in "Sleeping Beauty" a woman's touch was definitely required. Still, it was not an easy time for a young woman, and I actually heard Disney directors say they would never allow a woman to animate on any of their films. Grudgingly accepting their second-class status, a dozens of talented young women lent their considerable talents to a number of animated motion pictures even though they may have been more qualified than their male counterparts.
Eva Schneider was a young woman who had made her way to the Walt Disney Studios all the way from Switzerland. Eva, like many of us had fallen in love with Disney animation. So, she left her native homeland, headed for America and a position at the Disney Studio. In spite of her artistic gifts, Eva was not what one would call a Hollywood babe. She had no interest in trendy clothes, fancy hairstyles or make up. I don't think Eva would be upset if one referred to her as somewhat plain. As a matter of fact, she seemed to take a certain pride in her unadorned style and never wore anything other than plain, shapeless print dresses and sandals. Eva Schneider was a Hippie long before the term had been coined. Like most Disney artists, Eva Schneider had a great sense of humor and was not above laughing at herself. I once drew a cartoon of her at work in her plain dress with her long, straight, reddish hair hanging limply on her shoulders. Then, I followed this drawing with a view of the “Other Eva.” The one we never see at work. Sexy Eva was garbed in a tight fitting dominatrix outfit complete with net stockings and stiletto heels. Needless to say, Eva found this depiction of herself hilarious.
Talented and unasuming, Eva Schneider proved herself a capable assistant animator and worked on dozens of Disney animated movies throughout the fifties, sixties and seventies. when she finally left the business she chose to retire in the most unlikely of places. New Orleans, Louisiana, was a far cry from her homeland of Switzerland. Yet, there was something about the free and easy life style of the Big Easy that must have appealed to her. She purchased a small home and settled in with her pet dog. After laboring for years at the Walt Disney Studio, Eva was ready to accept a new challenge. However, she could not have predicted how daunting the new challenge would be.
In the late summer of 2005, a category 5 storm headed for New Orleans and the Gulf Coast. As thousands scrambled to get out of the city Eva Schneider decided to hang tough. She had fought her way through years at the Walt Disney Studio. How tough could this be? Eva Schneider hunkered down and was determined to ride out the storm even though it hit New Orleans with a vengeance. Hurricane Katrina wreaked havoc on the Gulf Coast and the city of New Orleans in particular. When the storm finally passed the press descended on the beleaguered city to interview survivors. The resilient survivors who had been brave enough - and yes, maybe even crazy enough to remain behind and face whatever Katrina had to dish out.
Eva Schneider passed away suddenly last year and many memories came rushing back. A woman had to be strong to compete side by side with a man back in the nineteen fifties. Opportunities definitely fell on the side of the man at the Walt Disney Studio. In spite of challenge many women animation artists made their mark because of their talent, resilience and strength. I'll always remember Eva Schneider and I'm proud to have known and worked with such a talented animation artist. She was a clever, delightful woman who, like many others, contributed to the Disney legacy. Most people, even those who love animation have probably never heard of Eva Schneider.
Now, you have.