With a smile and a song – Adriana Caselotti – Page 2

Despite being the voice of the film’s central character, Adriana had no idea Snow White was going to be such an important film. She saw no rushes from the picture and never even heard a playback of her recordings. “They forgot to tell me that it was going to be a feature-length film,” she laughs, “They had said it would be longer than their usual seven minute shorts, so I figured that it would be maybe a 20 or 25 minute short. They didn’t say and I was a dumb little kid and didn’t ask!”

An early publicity still for Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, signed by Adriana Caselotti, right.

Eventually Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs was completed and scheduled for a gala premiere at Hollywood’s Carthay Circle Theater on 21 December 1937.

Harry Stockwell, who had played the voice of the Prince, suggested to Adriana that they should go to the premiere: “We felt it would be fine just to turn up, which we did. The girl at the door said, ‘May I have your tickets?’ and I said, ‘I’m Snow White and this is Prince Charming!’ to which she replied, ‘I don’t care if you’re the Witch, you’re not going in without tickets!’ So we waited till she wasn’t looking and sneaked in. She ran after us but we got up to the balcony, way over on one side, and she couldn’t find us!”

The audience reception for Snow White was ecstatic: “They were so thrilled by what was going on, they clapped any little piece of business that amused them, and applauded all the songs, even before they were finished.” It was an unforgettable experience for the now 21 year old, standing in the balcony of the crowded theatre as an audience, which included some of Hollywood’s fairest leading ladies – among them Marlene Dietrich, Carole Lombard and Judy Garland – gave her cartoon persona a standing ovation.

Her one regret was that no one knew who she was, since neither she nor any of the other voice talents received screen credits. “Walt Disney,” she explains, “thought it would spoil the illusion if you knew who the people were who provided the voices in the film.”

Shortly after the premier, however, Adriana was invited to perform at the Trocadero, one of Los Angeles’ famous night spots, where she sang the Snow White songs.

In the audience that night was Jack Benny, who had the most popular radio show in America. After the show, the comedian went up to the young singer and said:

“Snow While, I love you! Will you be on my show?” Adriana, who saw this as an important break in her career, eagerly accepted Jack Benny’s invitation. But, unfortunately, when the show’s producer called the Disney studio for permission, he received the unequivocal response: “Walt says no!”

Adriana’s career as a professional signer and actress ended as abruptly as it had begun. She never made another film for Walt Disney or anyone else.

Disney later relented in his attitude towards revealing Snow White’s identity, and she was taken on promotional tours for the film, accompanied by Pinto Colvig (who spoke for Grumpy and Sleepy) and Clarence Nash (the voice of Donald Duck), companions whom she remembers with great affection. Pinto Colvig, a former Circus clown (who also provided the voice for Goofy, the Practical Pig and other Disney characters), was a permanently happy-go- lucky fellow quite unlike the misanthropic Grumpy. He once told Adriana, when she asked how he managed to be so happy all the time: “You know something? I’m so happy because I’m not mad at anybody.”

As for Clarence Nash, she recalls how he would suddenly talk like Donald Duck in some unlikely place such as a crowded elevator, where he once set a couple of nuns giggling by accosting them with Donald’s customary greeting to any female: “Hi, Toots!”

With each reissue of the film, Adriana – dressed in a Snow White costume – would tour radio stations, schools and children’s hospitals. She wore the famous hair-ribbon and the dress with puff-sleeves until a day in 1951, as she was leaving a school, where she had been making an appearance, and heard two little girls talking: “Oh, look!” one said to her friend, “there’s Snow White – but she’s so old!” Adriana remembers her feelings of devastation at the time, and then bursts into another peal of laughter: “Boy! She should see me now!”

The costume went into mothballs, but Adriana went on being Snow White. Today, if she meets anyone who looks particularly gloomy or sad she starts singing “I’m Wishing”, or one of the other numbers from the film, and watches as grown men and women – once they’ve got over the initial shock -drift back into their childhood and remember, with glazed eyes, the first time they saw Snow White.

The Disney Studio used Adriana’s voice lust one more time when, in 1983, they asked her to re-record “I’m Wishing” for the Wishing Well that stands beside Disneyland’s Snow While Grotto. The song, taken from the film track, had been heard every fifteen minutes for the past 28 years and had become a little tired. It was with some trepidation that Adriana faced the re- recording. But using the same key she had sung in all those years before, Adriana perfectly recreated the song and its echo – although only, she believes, with a little help from the spirit of Snow White’s creator.

Fewer and fewer of those who worked on the film are still around, but Snow White, says Adriana, will never die. “You will see it all your life and, no matter what happens, it will be preserved – even 2000 years from now – and I know that my voice will live forever, and that makes me very happy!”

Happiness is something the once divorced, twice widowed Adriana talks a lot about. Her philosophy of life is as simple and naive as Snow White’s. Obviously the film which gave her such anonymous fame is very special to her, but also, she maintains, it is special to the world: “I think Snow White says everything is going to be all right, everything happens for the best and you can have anything you want if you want it badly enough. But just be careful not to step on anyone’s toes on the way up, because you may not keep it.”

Adriana Caselotti hasn’t achieved everything she might once have dreamed of, but she possesses some knowledge of what true happiness is; and when she says she “wishes everyone a beautiful life”, you can’t help but hope – since it’s Snow White that’s wishing it – that wishes really do come true…

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Printed in Animator Issue 21 (Winter 1987)