In order to help with their animation, Disney animators would often bring in actors to serve as reference models for the characters. These models would demonstrate movements and be examples for the characters’ physicality.
For Cruella de Vil, the reference model ended up playing a large part in the character up on screen, even though they weren’t credited in the film. In fact, Cruella’s real-life model was someone you may recognize: character actress Mary Wickes. Wickes was known for playing housekeepers and gossips, and appeared in films like “White Christmas” as well as “Sister Act (pictured above).”
Wickes was the perfect reference for Cruella. “She had very distinctive features,” biographer Steve Taravella told EW. “She was tall, lanky, and had exaggerated expressions; she was limber and could easily contort her body. She wasn’t afraid to do physical comedy.” According to EW, the Disney animators would play the recorded voice track for Cruella, and then Wickes would act out Cruella’s dramatic movements. This gave Cruella many of the distinctive mannerisms and movements seen in the film.
And while Wickes wasn’t formally credited for the film, Taravella says she wouldn’t have minded it, even as a relatively famous actress. “Mary wanted nothing more than to work constantly,” he told EW. “She loved work … she was a real old school working actress.”