It's no secret that Cruella is my favorite Disney villain! Interestingly, the story of 101 Dalmatians was originally a novel by Dodie Smith. Dodie personally had a large litter of
dalmatian pups and actually had a friend comment that they would all make a "lovely fur coat" and thus the black seed for the stylish, reckless, exuberant, glamorously, loud London heiress was firmly planted.
Cruella's name can obviously be interpreted as meaning cruel devil. However there is a connection to the name in Bram Stoker's gothic novel Dracula, where the purchaser of the house in London is a nobleman by the name of count Deville. The name is actually Dracula's alias!
Cruella's physical design was developed mainly by legend Marc Davis along with Bill Pete and Ken Anderson. She retained many of the features from the original novel such as the black and white hair, the dress and mink coat that swings around her like a cloak. Marc Davis was ultimately the only key frame animator for Cruella, one of just a few precious characters to ever be completely controlled by a single animator. He did every scene and can therefore take the largest share of credit for her continuous success. Marc Davis, if you don't already know, was not only one of Walt's nine old men, but was also responsible for the look feel and design for the Pirates of the Caribbean attraction in Disneyland.
Marc was a master at getting his characters to exude their personality. He tried a variation of designs to make Cruella younger, but the result design was of the massive coat against her skeletal frame. This massive coat was to match the size of her personality, the three tails in the back to offer a slightly ridiculous element, the red lining is to hint at her cruel nature. It was also his idea to have her be a smoker, incessantly leaving a misty trail behind her like a demon. The long green cigarette holder Cruella uses was one very much like Marc Davis' very own.
The animators worried that Cruella wouldn't suit the film for being too comical. Frank Thomas believed her head looked too much like a skull and didn't understand why her feet were so large. Milt Kahl is thought to actually have been jealous of Marc Davis' work on Cruella, admitting Davis was a better draftsman; he didn't believe Davis was the better animator. He initially didn't like Davis' design nor the animation, but he was said to have been impressed with the final result.
Not long after 101 Dalmatians, Kahl believed his own animated villainous - Madame Medusa in The Rescuers - would blow Cruella off the screen. Andreas Deja, another animator was just a child when these films came out. However he wrote a letter to Kahl under the impression that he was the animator for Cruella. To which Kahl sent a reply letter to Andreas thanking him for all of the compliments, and informing the boy that he did not animate Cruella. That she belonged to Marc Davis, but he also pointed out Cruella's initial design concepts were influenced by Bette Davis in All About Eve.
Marc Davis is said to have used live action footage of Mary Wick sparingly. He wanted Cruella to move in a way that displeased the eye and conveyed that she didn't listen to any voice but her own. Proving through sheer movement that she was a dominating conversationalist. Apparently Marc actually had an acquaintance in mind who he said was just a monster of a woman. She was tall, thin, talked constantly and yet even though she never knew what she was saying, she wouldn't let you get a word in edgewise.
Davis also said the main inspiration for his version of Cruella came from Betty Lou Gerson, the voice of Cruella. She also happened to narrate the opening scene in Cinderella. Gerson had a reputation of intimidating other actresses working alongside her and mark is quoted as saying Gerson was bigger than life, high in energy and like a shark always moving. Gerson says she modeled Cruella's voice after Tallulah Bankhead.
Cruella's car was modeled after a real Coupe de Ville, note the deville part.
Growing up in Los Angeles in the 70s/80s we visited Disneyland on a regular basis and often after school, before "Annual Passes".