I have been working for the last few months with Alan Coats, son of Claude and Evelyn Coats, to help him edit the long interviews he conducted with his mother (one of the great veterans from Disney's Ink and Paint). Those will appear either in a future volume of Walt's People or in a special publication.
Sadly Evie Coats passed away on July 13. Here is the obituary that Alan sent me about his mother:
[EVELYN HENRY COATS 1910 – 2009
ARTIST WAS OLDEST DISNEY EMPLOYEE, SUPERVISOR ON “SNOW WHITE”
Evelyn “Evie” Coats, one of the unsung heroines of animation’s past, has died. She was 99.
The Burbank resident, the oldest employee to have worked with Walt Disney, died of natural causes July 13th at her home, said her son Alan Coats.
Hired by Disney in 1932 as an “inker” to trace animators’ drawings of cartoon characters onto clear sheets of celluloid, she joined the small staff at the Hyperion Avenue studio in East Hollywood. Coats soon began work on “The Three Little Pigs,” a box office success when released in 1933. Its theme “Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf” became a hit song during the Depression.
More than mere tracing, inkers were true artists whose work required an ability to translate the emotion and movement of the animators’ characters. The cels were then passed on to the painters to fill in the lines with the various colors of custom made paints.
Coats worked on the “Silly Symphony” series of musical shorts and numerous Disney cartoons including the first Mickey Mouse cartoon in Technicolor “The Band Concert.” She also applied her steady ink line to the classic shorts “Ferdinand the Bull” and “The Old Mill.”
Promoted to department head during the production of the first feature length animated film “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs”, Coats supervised a team of women working late nights and Saturdays to complete the film for its December 1937 premiere.
Ink and Paint art was a laborious part of the animation process and solely the domain of women. “Walt appreciated the work of the girls,” Coats recalled. “He would come around with special little gifts for each of us every Christmas.”
During a brief break in the “Snow White” schedule, she married studio background painter Claude Coats, whose 54-year career was acknowledged in 1991 with a “Disney Legend” award for his background and color styling on Disney features and his Imagineering show designs for the theme parks. He died in 1992 at age 78.
Coats continued her work on the next feature “Pinocchio”. Claude Coats remembered in a 1978 interview, “That was probably the most complicated inking we ever did. The little character of Jiminy Cricket was particularly challenging. “I remember Evie inking 22 ink lines on Jiminy. Later on (during television production) it was just obvious we couldn’t have that many colors. It got down to where it was six or seven.”
In 1939, Evie retired to raise a family, and she and her husband designed a house near the new studio being constructed in Burbank. She turned the reins of the Inking Department over to her colleague and close friend Disney Legend Grace Bailey. Grace took over the vacant supervisor’s office that Evelyn never used. “I would have been kind of lonely in there,” she said in an interview. “I wanted to be out with the girls in the Inking corridor. I was at the head of the desks. If I wanted somebody, I would just yell ‘Helen’ or whoever, ya know. It was very informal.”
Retirement was interrupted as her talents were requested during the disruption of production caused by the bitter animators’ strike in the spring of 1941. She inked animators’ drawings for “Dumbo” while pickets marched at the studio gates on Buena Vista Street. “I was glad to go back. I crossed the lines. I didn’t support the strikers,” she said.
Evelyn Henry was born June 14th, 1910, in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. Her father, originally from Indiana, moved the family to San Diego in 1913 and later to Los Angeles, where his daughter studied art at Los Angeles High School. She became proficient in the art of silk screen, a unique way of applying pigment to paper for posters and advertising sheets.
Following her Disney career, Coats was active in various Southern California charity organizations, including the Braille Institute, Goodwill, and the Assistance League. She volunteered for many years in the photo library of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.
In addition to her son Alan, Coats is survived by daughters-in-law Holdine Coats of Trabuco Canyon, California, and Ann Arens of Venice, California; six grandchildren and nine great grandchildren. Her son Lee died in 2004.
A private memorial service is planned.]