Disney Legend Claude Coats was born in San Francisco, California. Claude was one of many Disney animation artists who were asked by Walt Disney to work on his park project.
Claude began working for the Walt Disney Studios as a background painter in 1935. He worked on several prominent Disney films, including Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Fantasia, Dumb, Pinocchio, Alice in Wonderland, Lady and the Tramp, and many others.
In 1955, Claude was asked to work on Disneyland, primarily painting Fantasyland dark ride interiors with Ken Anderson. On July 4, 1955, just days before Disneyland’s opening, Claude brought his family, including his 11-year-old son Alan, to a preview party Walt hosted at the park for Studio employees. Years later Alan recounted that Walt greeted their family at the Jungle Cruise, telling them: “Well, thank you for coming! And I hope you have good time! Welcome to Disneyland!”
Claude was a tall man, standing at 6 feet, 6 inches, something Walt loved to joke about. On one occasion, Walt wouldn’t let Claude take a test ride on the Disneyland Stagecoach because he said Claude would ruin the scale.
In the early years of Disneyland, the first iteration of the Snow White attraction was a much scarier experience. According to Claude, “We got some letters about the witch scene in that ride. Walt never seemed to mind. He thought that children would sometimes have to learn that things were scary, you know.”
Claude would later be involved with painting the Grand Canyon and Primeval World dioramas on the Disneyland Railroad, and contributing to the development of the Haunted Mansion, Pirates of the Caribbean, Submarine Voyage and many other attractions. Later, Claude was involved in Walt Disney World with the Universe of Energy, Horizons, and several World Showcase pavilions.
In 1989, Claude retired from the Walt Disney Company, ending an illustrious 54 year career with the company. Walt Disney Imagineering President Marty Sklar said “Claude paved the way in turning sketches and paintings into three-dimensional adventures. He was a genuine one-of-a-kind.” Claude passed away in 1992.
Growing up in Los Angeles in the 70s/80s we visited Disneyland on a regular basis and often after school, before "Annual Passes".