Mrs. Davis Letter on Display for The Walt Disney Company's 100th Anniversary

Posted on Thu, 11/30/2023 - 12:01

On view in November 2023.

To celebrate the 100th anniversary of the founding of The Walt Disney Company, The Walt Disney Family Museum is showcasing objects from the museum’s collection which highlight important moments in Walt’s career. These objects, which include recent acquisitions and fragile materials that have never been publicly displayed, will rotate periodically throughout the year.

In July 1923, Walt Disney’s initial foray into film production ended in failure as the Laugh-O-gram Films studio collapsed. However, before filing for bankruptcy, the Studio had completed production of Alice’s Wonderland, a pilot cartoon for the Alice Comedies series which featured a live-action Alice in an animated world known as Cartoonland. With the finished test reel in hand, Walt sold his film camera and put the money towards a one-way, first-class train ticket to California. After arriving in Los Angeles in August, Walt attempted to find employment in live-action filmmaking, but soon returned to animation—setting out to find a distributor for the Alice Comedies. Just a few months later, Walt and his older brother Roy went into business with M.J. Winkler Productions, the company of pioneering film producer Margaret J. Winkler, to produce and distribute the first twelve installments in the Alice Comedies series. The contract with Winkler Productions marked the founding of the Disney Brothers Cartoon Studio, which we know today as The Walt Disney Company, on October 16, 1923.

On October 16, 1923—the same day he signed the distribution contract with Winkler Productions—Walt penned this letter to the mother of Virginia Davis, the child actress who portrayed the titular character in Alice's Wonderland. In negotiating the agreement, Margaret Winkler had specified that the same actress should portray Alice in subsequent installments in the Alice Comedies series. As a result, Walt implored Davis’ mother to allow her daughter to star in the series, praising Virgina’s talent and vouching for Winkler’s ability to promote the short films. “When I was four, a letter came from California. My mother was very excited about it,” Virginia Davis remembered. Davis’ parents soon agreed to move the family to California and Virginia Davis became the Disney Brothers Cartoon Studio’s highest-paid employee. 

While a facsimile of this letter is on view in the Museum’s permanent galleries, the original letter has never before been publicly displayed. Due to the document’s age, indefinite display could expose the ink to damage from Ultraviolet light. 

– WDFM Collections Department

Image sources (in order of appearance):

  • Letter with envelope to Mrs. T.J. Davis from Walt Disney, 1923; Collection of the Walt Disney Family Foundation
  • Letter with envelope to Mrs. T.J. Davis from Walt Disney, 1923; Collection of the Walt Disney Family Foundation