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Wednesday, August 23, 2000 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Jacques Rupp, 79, an artist for Disney, The Times

Seattle Times staff reporter

Jacques Wellington Rupp, a former Seattle Times staff artist and Walt Disney Studios designer whose projects included the animated classic "Lady and the Tramp," looked every bit the artist.

Long and lanky, his mustache matching a silvery thatch sometimes topped by a beret, he spent much of his time at an easel or behind the wheel of his Porsche 914.

"He was such a gentle person (and) an artist in every aspect of his humanity and personality," said Times Executive Editor Michael Fancher. "He was very unassuming about his talent. He was always surprised when someone wanted a copy of his work. To him, it was just what he did."

He died yesterday (Aug. 22) of cancer. He was 79.

"He was a colorful, original character and turned out colorful, original art," said former Times artist Steve McKinstry. "His cartoons had so much life, they just about jumped off the page."

Born in Olympia to a civil engineer and his French-born wife, Mr. Rupp grew up in Paris and Seattle. He graduated from Queen Anne High School in 1939 and earned a bachelor's degree in economics at the University of Washington. He served in the Navy during World War II, then earned a bachelor's degree at the Art Center College of Design in Los Angeles.

He got a job in the early 1950s as a Disney artist while pitching his ideas for promotional materials for "The Wonderful World of Disney" television show.

He designed the show's opening and closing titles featuring a darting Tinker Bell from the studio's film "Peter Pan."

When Disneyland opened in 1955, he designed the park's original logo. He also designed the park's colorful commuter bus and costumes for the workers on the Jungle Cruise and Canal Boat rides and Frontierland. He even had a hand in planning Disneyland features like the Matterhorn.

His most exciting project was layout work for Disney's 1955 full-length animation film, "Lady and the Tramp," in production for three years. He designed the various settings where characters would appear, then indicated the action there.

For that work he was awarded membership in the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.

He also had bit parts in several Disney TV productions and subsequently did graphics for other Hollywood animation studios. He was associated with animated versions of "Batman" and "Superman" and drew for the "Mr. Magoo" cartoons.

After returning to Seattle in 1969 to do graphics for the UW School of Medicine, he began free-lancing covers for The Times' Sunday magazine.

By 1972 he had become a full-time staff artist. Besides illustrating sports, news and feature stories, he hand-lettered The Times' masthead that debuted March 6, 1976, the first day that The Times published a morning edition on Saturdays. The masthead adorned the top of the front page until the newspaper's 1997 redesign.

His artwork earned several awards from industry groups. Notable was a 1976 Sunday-magazine cover illustrating an inside article on capital punishment: a noose dangling from a question mark.

He retired in 1986.

During the latter part of his career, he illustrated a children's book, painted landscapes and judged art exhibitions.

He took a modest view regarding his career: "Cartooning has always been the stepchild of the art world."

One of his favorite pastimes was traveling with his wife, Mary Helen, to whom he was married 44 years. He took her on recreational-vehicle trips, including one across Europe, where he visited the haunts of his youth. She died last year.

Surviving are sons Bruce of Portland and Jacques Jr. of Seattle and brother- and sister-in-law Bill and Margaret Welch of Seattle.

Services are tentatively scheduled for noon Saturday at Magnolia Presbyterian Church, 3051 28th Ave. W., Seattle.

Carole Beers' e-mail address is cbeers@seattletimes.com.

Copyright (c) 2000 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.

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