The unstoppable, villainous glamour of Cruella de Vil

Is there a children’s villain out there with more style or panache than Cruella de Vil? Her fabulous car, her cigarette holder, her long red gloves — as a child, I longed to have a rotary phone to dial with the cigarette holder, just like Cruella does in Disney’s 1961 animated film One Hundred and One Dalmatians. She is pure wicked glamour with skunk-streak hair.

In honor of Disney’s new Cruella movie, I went back to the books that started it all. Disney’s One Hundred and One Dalmatians is based on a 1956 children’s novel by Dodie Smith, whose most celebrated work, 1948’s cult favorite I Capture the Castle, includes extended musing on clothes and furs and why both matter so much. Smith knew style was important — and she wrote Cruella’s style in The Hundred and One Dalmatians with so much villainous glee, our dear Mrs. de Vil fairly takes over the whole book. She doesn’t have that many scenes, but those she does have are unforgettable.

Smith’s Cruella is, by the way, married. Her husband is a nonentity who barely speaks, which is perhaps why he doesn’t appear in any of the Disney adaptations. Such is Cruella’s commitment to her vibe that she made him take her name instead of the other way around. (Cruella Smith simply wouldn’t have had the same ring to it.)

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