Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Miss Audley

Before I start I would like to tell you that I am going to give a talk at the Pixel Animation Festival in Vienna this October. I'll be there for a week, the festival takes place from Oct. 7-9.
It would be great to run into some of you guys over there, if you are nearby, see if you can make it.
Here is the link to Pixel 2011:

Eleanor Audley  was a great character actress, her roles were mostly in TV.
She could be seen in shows like "I love Lucy",  "Green Acres",  "My Three Sons"
and many others.
Her most famous film roles were with Disney. She voiced and provided live action reference for two classic female villains, the stepmother in "Cinderella" and Maleficent in "Sleeping Beauty".
Frank Thomas and Marc Davis couldn't say enough good things about working with her. She was a perfectionist.

I met Eleanor Audley in the early eighties through a friend, who told me that she lived next door to his family in North Hollywood. I couldn't believe it, what a coincidence!
Soon after I got invited to the family's Thanksgiving dinner, and I was thrilled to see that Miss Audley was a guest as well. Imagine...dinner with the stepmother.
I never forget when she asked me: "Andy, pass the gravy!" She totally sounded like the stepmother, with that crack in her voice. I immediately passed the gravy.....

A few weeks later I visited Miss Audley in her house, she knew I was interested in hearing about her work at Disney. Apparently the voice acting was a lot of fun for her, but the live action!
"Oh, that Ham Luske!" she reminisced, "sending me up and down those stairs on the set, up and down!"

In 1985 I invited Miss Audley for a visit to the old animation building at Disney.
At that time I was exhibiting some of my wire sculptures in the studio library.
She arrived in her old Chevy, and I greeted her at the studio's entrance.
We got to the second floor of the animation building, and I asked her how she's been. "Not too good at all" was the answer.
Miss Audley was 80 years old by then, and she talked about her failing health often. I found out that she might have exaggerated here and there.
"Andy, look!" she said (many people called me Andy in those days). "I have these terrible spots on my hands." She showed me her hand, and when I said, I couldn't see any spots at all, she insisted :" Here, take my glasses, you will see them."

I did the above sketch of that situation the way I remember it, especially her bright red coat.
When I asked Miss Audley how she liked my wire sculptures, she responded:
"They are interesting, but keep your day job!" 
What a fantastic line...too funny.

Here are a few photos showing Eleanor Audley at work as the stepmother and as Maleficent.

Look at how beautifully Frank Thomas translated her intense expression into a character drawing.

Marc Davis used this live action reference when Maleficent confronts the prince.
Note the prop of a milk carton being held by Eleanor Audley as a stand in for a lamp.
The final version shows Maleficent holding a candle instead.

If you are interested, here is a Youtube clip from a "Dennis the Menace" episode,
starring Eleanor Audley:


  1. My, how I love her! She was my favorite villain voice. Madame Tremaine is so terrifying, so dark, she's not magical, yet she's so powerful because of her voice and her eyes. And Maleficent... she totally won me over when I saw Sleeping Beauty's original version for the first time. Just by her laugh after the "cradles" speech, I was completely mesmerized and terrified. Her characters were dubbed by stage actress Tina Lattanzi for the Italian versions (

  2. Pure magic. Thanks, Andreas! :)

  3. This comment has been removed by the author.

  4. This comment has been removed by the author.

  5. Oooh, Maleficent is my favorite Disney villain, Miss Audley did a spectacular job voicing her and being the reference model. The animators did a fabulous job of translating her live performance into a hand-drawn one. I love these behind the scenes pics, thanks for sharing!

    The stop-mother was very well done, her facial expressions especially were beyond compare.

    I notice the reference models for the ugly step-sisters are not in the least bit ugly....

  6. I can't remember which old TV show I was watching years ago, but she showed up on it and I didn't recognize her face at all, but that unmistakable was nice to finally have a face to match to it.

    I love that Frank Thomas drawing. I am always in awe of how you animators can capture and convey so much emotion in your drawings.

    Thanks again for sharing these drawings and stories here. I love coming here and seeing a new post up.

  7. Vienna is so great....
    the Tours about 'The Third Man' and vienna underground (200 year old mummies in the the warm and dry wind under the Michaelerkirche, spooky) are very interessting.
    ..and you have to eat Schnitzel at Figlmüller, Wollzeile 5

  8. Eleanor Audley is one of my favorite Disney Actresses!

    Thanks Andreas!

  9. Eleanor Audley is just amazing. (Can someone please tell me why she hasn't been made a Disney Legend yet?!)

    I got to meet Mary Costa (Aurora) who spoke about Ms. Audley, saying, "She was a tiny woman. But when she stepped behind that microphone she grew to be 90 feet tall."

  10. Love these personal stories. "I immediately passed the gravy..." Priceless!

  11. And ANOTHER new clip for you

  12. Probably mere coincidence, but your sketch of Eleanor Audley in her shades puts me in mind of your design for Mama Odie. Could this have been an early inspiration on the development of that character, Andreas?

  13. Great post. It must have been such a wonderful experience to meet her. I Love seeing the live action picture in comparison to the drawing. I love how Frank elongated the face.

  14. Eleanor Audley looked, moved and sounded like a classic Disney character, and this last photo of her as Maleficent really proves it! Spectacular!
    For fans of old time radio, Ms Audley also played the mother-in-law of Liz Cooper (Lucille Ball) on "My Favorite Husband." Lucy would fight back with funny quips in a way that Cinderella never could!

  15. Great piece on Ms. Audley, one of my favorites ! Do you know why she didn't work after 1970 ? Some 20+ years in retirement... just think of the additional work we could have enjoyed if she had kept on with it a little longer !!

  16. Wow, that's so cool that you got to meet her! I'm a huge fan of twentieth century entertainment and she's one of my favorite actresses from the time period! She died exactly a month after I was born, but her voice acting talent lives on in every 90's kid's Disney nightmares!

  17. Dear Mr. Deja,

    I'm doing research on Eleanor Audley for a a television programme. Unfortunately there isn't much information available on this exceptionally talented actress online.

    Since you have already been acquainted with Mrs. Audley, I was wondering if you would be so kind as to answer a few questions about her?

    Kind regards,

    1. Eleanor was my aunt and I am a film-maker. Please be in touch. Peter

  18. I am so happy to discover this blog. Eleanor was my aunt and she used to visit me every Christmas when I saw a boy. I am now a film-maker and want to connect with everyone who knew her. I am writing a book or doing a film.

  19. I just saw Maleficent with Angelina Jolie. Then I watched the original with Elanor Audley. I remembered Elanor's voice with such clarity. She would come to our house in Los Angeles on Christmas and bring us a $2 bill as a gift. ( which I loved - I was so proud of her. ) Her voice was always the deep and rich treasure that you hear in the film. Watching Ms. Jolie, I felt that Elanor would have loved the character Ms. Jolie portrayed because as the film unfolded, she manifested the same kind of bitterness and power that Elanor found in the voice and the Disney animators found in the character. Beautiful. I only wished that I had gone to the studio with Elanor to meet Mr. Disney and the crew.