Whether it be the mayor’s tree lighting at Burbank City Hall, the Holiday in the Park street festival that stretches through eight blocks of Magnolia Park or the New Year’s Day appearance of a volunteer-built, rose-covered entry floating down Pasadena’s Colorado Boulevard, Burbank’s holiday season is rife with traditions.
Another longstanding local yuletide tradition, albeit a bit lower in profile than the aforementioned, is the O’Connor holiday cookie party hosted by Joan “J.P.” O’Connor and her husband, Cotton Thompson, which this past week served as a “sweet” sendoff to 2017.
The O’Connor-Thompson team has made it a point to continue this tradition that was established back in the early 1970s by J.P.’s mother, the late Mary Alice O’Connor, who was the inspiration for the Fairy Godmother character in the Disney feature production of “Cinderella.”
When Mary Alice O’Connor opened her home for those first holiday cookie parties, little could she have imagined that 40-plus years later, her daughter and son-in-law would still be hosting the evening of confectionary samplings to a guest list that, as it always has, represented a broad cross-section of the Burbank community.
The Berkeley-born Mary Alice O’Connor, who died in 2010, had been married to legendary Disney artist A. Kendall O’Connor, who served as the art director and layout man on some of Disney’s most iconic animated features including “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs,” “Cinderella,” “Fantasia,” “Alice in Wonderland” and “Peter Pan.”
She served on the Burbank Unified school board from 1961 to 1971, and became a devout community volunteer serving on the boards of the Burbank Community Hospital, Providence St. Joseph’s Medical Center, Burbank Health Care Foundation and the Family Service Agency of Burbank.
An active member of the La Providencia Guild of Children’s Hospital Los Angeles, KCET Women’s Council, the Civic Pride Committee, National Charity League and the Burbank YWCA, she was recognized at the White House by President Gerald Ford as one of the country’s most outstanding volunteers.
A driving force in the reopening of the Starlight Bowl in 1992, she was lauded, along with her daughter J.P., who has served in an instrumental role with Leadership Burbank, as Burbank’s Women of the Year in 2002 by Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Burbank).
She was also honored, shortly before her death, with the establishment and opening of the Mary Alice O’Connor Family Center, which offers educational enrichment programs and child care services.
Among the string of friends, old and new, who stopped by last week’s end-of-year soiree were the Emmy Award-winning director of “The Simpsons” Mark Kirkland, and Jennifer Castrup, whose father, Joe Grant, was a famous Disney artist who created the Queen in “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs,” led the development on “Pinocchio,” and co-wrote “Fantasia” and “Dumbo.”
Also in attendance were Mike Peraza, who had been Ken O’Connor’s teaching assistant at California Institute of the Arts, and his wife, Patty, the first female effects animator hired by Disney, who is featured in Mindy Johnson’s 2017 book, “Ink & Paint: The Women of Walt Disney’s Animation.”
Others who enjoyed the graciousness of the hosts included Pete McGrath, Katherine Richards, Barbara Lazar, Bruce and Leslie Lilly, Genine Chambers and Scott Kennedy.
DAVID LAURELL may be reached by email at email@example.com or (818) 563-1007.