Mary Blair was honored as a Disney Legend in 1991, and rightfully so. The stylishness and vibrant color of Disney films in the early 1940s through mid-1950s came primarily from artist Mary Blair. She was one of the key figures in the art movement known as “Cartoon Modern” between the 1940s and 1960s. Most of this time Mary spend at the Disney company which she joined in 1940, along with her husband Lee. During those initial years Mary was one of many animators on the lot during a time period in which Disney had hundreds of people working for him. She didn’t know Walt Disney personally at that time nor had much interaction with him. That all changed when the South American Goodwill Tour came about. Her husband Lee Blair was asked to join the crew of artists going down to South America, after which Mary marched into Walt’s office and asked if she could join them on their 3 month journey. Walt agreed to her joining and within that trip, Walt and Mary became good friends.
In early 1941, before U.S. entry into World War II, the United States Department of State commissioned a Disney goodwill tour of South America, intended to lead to a movie to be shown in the US, Central, and South America as part of the Good Neighbor Policy. Disney was chosen for this because several Latin American governments had close ties with Nazi Germany, and the US government wanted to counteract those ties. This resulted in the 1942 movie Saludos Amigos (Hello, Friends in English).