Grumpy and the Seven Snow Whites

by Wade Sampson, staff writer

On Sunday, June 28, 1987, Snow White was bestowed the 1,850th star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Special guests included Ward Kimball, Marc Davis and Art Babbitt as well as Adriana Caselotti.

A Snow White from Disneyland, along with the Seven Dwarfs, attended. Snow White told the excited crowd of nearly 1,000 fans that this was the highlight of her career but also reminded everyone that she shared this moment with the seven little men who co-starred with her.

“After all,” she smiled,” if it hadn’t been for them, well, there just would not have been a picture!”

Another new DVD edition of the classic Snow White with new extras will be released later this year. So I will add yet another version of the same movie to my collection because of some intriguing new extras even though, to be a little grumpy, I don’t much care for the film although I respect the skill, innovation, and historical significance of this animated feature. I feel Pinocchio is a much better film and a much better story.

I also feel that the character of Snow White is too passive, too overly happy and trusting, and possesses a voice that I really have never cared for ever since I first saw the film as a small child at the Pickwick Drive-in. A former female co-worker, who still teaches animation, could mimic the Snow White voice perfectly and did so often with a huge smile just to irritate me.

However, my heart is not closed to either the film or the character and perhaps, someday, I will be enlightened with a new perspective on their virtues just like Grumpy. I do have the greatest respect and affection for the actresses who have brought this character to life over the years and wanted to spotlight seven of the most memorable Snow Whites that definitely deserve our recognition.

Snow White No. 1: Virginia Davis

Virginia Davis is perhaps best known as the original Alice in Disney’s “Alice Comedies.” It was the first series from the new Disney Brothers Studio and Virginia was roughly 6 years old. Over the years, she continued to do occasional work at the Disney Studios including working in the Ink and Paint Department.

However, there are photos of her in the 1930s in a Snow White costume with Walt Disney. Walt was considering her for the role of that animated heroine.

Davis remembered in an interview I did with her more than a year ago that “[Walt] knew me and what I could do. I did a Snow White voice for him. I remember doing the line, ‘A shoe? That will never, never do.’ So he thought he might use my voice for Snow White. And he knew I could do the actions, the live-action reference. Anyway, I was put in the costume and wig. I couldn’t do the singing but I could do everything else like the dancing. I could carry a tune, of course, but not the type of singing they wanted. It was a three-year exclusive contract which meant I couldn’t do any other acting, any other films. And I would only be paid for the days I actually worked. So my mother said, ‘No, thanks.’ I was sad because I liked Snow White. I really did. I still wish I could have done it. I couldn’t do the singing but I sure could have done the rest of it.”

Snow White No. 2: Adriana Caselotti

The young lady who did end up providing the voice for the character was Adriana Caselotti.

In 1934, Walt Disney’s casting director, Roy Scott, sought the help of Guido Caselotti, a Los Angeles singing coach. Caselotti’s youngest daughter, 19-year old Adriana, who had no formal music training, was listening on a phone extension when Scott asked for Guido’s help in locating a girl who could sing and speak as a child and yet sing high notes. His daughter pleaded for a chance to audition.

Despite her father’s objections, she went to the Disney studio on Hyperion where she auditioned for music director Frank Churchill and told him she was barely 17, knowing Disney was looking for a 14 year old. Walt Disney was eavesdropping in his office that was wired to the sound stage so he could hear the auditions but not be distracted by how the girls looked.

Walt heard her sing and told Churchill, “That’s our Snow White!” Although that decision did not prevent Walt from auditioning another 148 hopefuls, including Deanna Durbin—who was only 13 but didn’t get the job because her voice sounded too mature. Reportedly, Walt asked why a 30 year old was auditioning.

It wasn’t that Caselotti had a better voice than the other singers, but that Walt liked the quality in her voice. Documents from the time state that the Disney Studios was looking for a voice that was “ageless, friendly, natural and innocent” for the character.

Caselotti was photographed when she sang and did dialog to help the animators envision the character. She was paid $20 a day for a total of about $970. She didn’t have tickets for the premiere at the Carthay Circle Theater and snuck in and got up to the balcony over to the side to watch the film.

Originally, Walt had attempted to keep the character voices anonymous on the assumption that the voice was just a small part of the overall character who had contributions from animators, live-action reference models, writers, and more.

However, when Snow White was re-released in 1944, it was accompanied by a massive publicity campaign. To help publicize the film, Adriana Caselotti was sent on a promotional tour of America accompanied by Pinto Colvig (who had voiced the dwarves Sleepy and Grumpy as well as Goofy) and Clarence Nash (the voice of Donald Duck).

Until 1951, she would tour radio stations, schools and children’s hospitals as Snow White.

“I’m not complaining though, as there were a lot of compensations,” Caselotti said. “I toured America as Snow White and they paid me $300 a week, which was a lot of money in those days, especially for a kid.”

Caselotti was also called to help promote other Disney movies including Song of the South. On each tour, she dressed in a costume identical to the one worn by the film’s heroine with the puff sleeves.

“On one occasion, I lost all of my luggage, except for my Snow White costume and for two weeks I had to travel around in this silly dress. I felt very foolish. I was 35 years old, and I overheard one little girl say to another, ‘Oh, isn’t she old!’” Caselotti told Disney historian Brian Sibley.

She did not do any more tours after the film was re-released in 1952 although in later years, she did do additional promotional work for the film.

She re-recorded the voice of Snow White for the Wishing Well in Snow White's Grotto at Disneyland in 1983. After several unsuccessful takes to reach the necessary high notes and realizing that she was going to be replaced by another voice artist, Adriana Caselotti reportedly turned away from the mike and looked skyward and said quietly: “Mr. Disney, if you are up there, please help me find Snow White’s voice.”

She turned back for one final take and she got each and every note perfectly. That final take was used for the Wishing Well. She died January 19, 1997.

Snow White No. 3: Marjorie Belcher

To aid the animators in capturing live-action movements accurately, Walt hired a young dancer, Marjorie Belcher, to be filmed doing some of the movement including dancing in a Snow White costume. Years later, Marjorie married dancer Gower Champion and went on to great fame as part of the Marge and Gower Champion dance team that performed on stage and in movie musicals like Showboat.

Life Magazine's April 4, 1938 edition had a two-page spread that declared “The real life Snow White, Miss Marjorie Belcher, is the 18-year-old daughter of a Los Angeles dancing teacher. Disney was delighted to find a girl who could not only dance and act but also looked like his conception of Snow White”.

In between pictures of Belcher modeling for Snow White, and one of her modeling for the Blue Fairy from Pinocchio, the article stated, “Princess Snow White is the creature of Disney’s imagination but the Disney animators, like all artists, had to have a model. Miss Belcher was the model—a real life Snow White who enacted all the scenes of the story so that animators could study her expressions and poses. Marjorie Belcher’s performance of Snow White began and ended within the studio walls. It will never appear on a screen. Life herewith presents her pictures for the first time.”

The pictures even included photos of her with Louis Hightower, the live-action reference for the Prince. One photo caption stated: “Miss Belcher’s Prince Charming in private life is Arthur Babbitt, one of Disney’s animators, whom she married last summer.”

Babbitt, a legendary animator, married Marjorie Celeste Belcher, who was then almost 18 years old, on August 8, 1937. He was 29 years old at the time.

On January 1, 1938 for the Tournament of Roses Parade in Pasadena, Calif., the theme was “Playland Fantasies.” Marge Belcher, attired as Snow White and surrounded by people, dressed as the Seven Dwarfs was on a float going down Colorado Boulevard to publicize the recently released film.

Snow White No. 4: Joann Killingsworth

Disneyland’s first Snow White was the subject of a nationwide search and was found living happily ever after in Newport Beach, within 15 miles of Disneyland.

Joann Killingsworth was a part-time sales clerk at the Neiman-Marcus department store in Newport Beach, played golf and was taking tap dancing lessons. She was 31 when she was the first actress to portray Snow White at Disneyland.

When Disneyland decided to mark the 50th anniversary of “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs”, they decided to hold a reunion of performers, on Friday June 5, 1987, who had assisted in the portrayal of Snow White at the parks. In particular, they wanted to find the performer who was Snow White for the opening day ceremonies on July 17, 1955. Featured in the television program Dateline: Disneyland Snow White rode on a float and later in the special, appeared in Fantasyland to inaugurate her dark ride.

No one at the park could match a name to the face in the photos of the opening day parade. Miss Killingsworth’s name wasn’t in the Disney personnel records but a friend of hers who heard about the search called the park with the tip.

“I worked for ABC, not Disneyland, so there was no record of me in the park. I didn’t know they were hunting for me until a friend read about it in the paper and told me. I really didn’t realize Disney was looking for me,” said Killingsworth, 63. “If I had I would have called somebody and said, ‘Here I am. Here’s Snow White!’

“We couldn’t believe this place, all the pastel paints and flowers. It was quite unbelievable back then and still is. We wondered where Anaheim was back then. There was a lot of wondering: ‘Why Anaheim?’ It was the boonies then. We traveled through bean fields to get here.”

She said she was never introduced to Walt Disney “but I saw a lot of him. He helicoptered in all the time and while we were rehearsing everyone always looked up and said, ‘Oh, there’s Walt!"

Snow White No. 5: Cindy Silva Costner

I picked Cindy Silva to represent all the Disney theme park Snow Whites over the years who deserve our appreciation for their portrayal of the famous princess.

Back in 1975, Silva, a biological-science major and nominee for homecoming queen at California State University at Fullerton, was a raven-haired beauty who looked like a real life Snow White.

Actor Kevin Costner met her at a frat party. She had a steady job during summer vacations playing Snow White at Disneyland.

"Cindy was Snow White literally," Kevin later recalled. "Snow White would never look at a guy like me—a little rat from Compton. I wasn't Prince Charming. I had longer hair and wire-rimmed glasses."

Although she was seeing someone else at the time, Kevin persisted and persisted and they were wed 1978 when he was 23. After 16 years of marriage, Cindy, at the age of 38, filed for divorce in 1994.

However, some other Disneyland Snow Whites lived very happily ever after. They grew up to get married, get a college degree;  sell real estate, cosmetics, linens and bedding; became a secretary, a nurse, an actress, a history teacher, an ordained minister, a tax consultant, a writer and a mother.

Nearly 100 past and present Snow Whites gathered in Anaheim and Orlando, Fla., on Friday June 5, 1987 to mark the 50th anniversary of Snow White.

Twenty-four Snow Whites gathered for a reunion at Walt Disney World, that included parades down Main Street and a luncheon at the Crystal Palace restaurant. At Disneyland, about 70 Snow Whites gathered for the reunion and a great deal of media coverage.

Sharon Clarke Jones who lived in Honolulu was one of the Snow Whites who was a grandmother. She was a ticket taker at Disneyland in 1956 when “Walt Disney walked through the park one night and just picked me to be Snow White.”

“No, it won’t be named Snow White or Snow Prince,” said Beth Bond-Sczempka of San Diego who married the man who played her prince when the pair greeted visitors at Disneyland in the summer of 1978. They were expecting their first child September 25.

Suzanne Sinclair Crosby of Denver, Dee Sinclair Lewis of Burbank, and Christine Sinclair Romberlin of Matthews, N.C., are sisters and each portrayed Snow White at Disneyland. The Snow White reunion was their first sibling reunion in four years.

Lewis recalled one 110-degree day in her velvet costume. “I fainted behind Dumbo, and one of the elephants took off his [costume] head and carried me to a rest area. It was not a great moment for Disneyland.”

Cathy White brought her 7-year old daughter who was dressed in a miniature Snow White costume. “I told her how rewarding it was to me to see little children’s eyes light up when they saw me in costume.”

Twin sisters Diane Abbott and Donna Housan each played the princess in Florida and “love to get together and share our memories of playing Snow White.”

Kathy Westmoreland told of becoming Elvis Presley’s girlfriend and backup singer in Las Vegas shows and claimed to be writing a book about her adventures.

Beth Bond, 1978’s Snow White at Disneyland and Edith Newberry, a former Snow White at Walt Disney World, each married a man who portrayed Prince Charming.

Tokyo Disneyland, which has had 17 Snow Whites since it opened four and a half years prior to the reunion, had to cancel its scheduled reunion because none of the women, all American, could attend.

Snow White No. 6: Mary Jo Salerno

Mary Jo Salerno portrayed Snow White in the Radio City Music Hall production of Snow White Live! that debuted on stage on October 18, 1979 and was later filmed and shown on the Disney Channel in 1980.

Years before Beauty and the Beast Disney had a popular but limited run stage show version of one of its animated classics being performed in New York City. It was a pretty straightforward 90-minute adaptation of the film although several new songs were added to the original score by Larry Morey and Frank Churchill. Joe Cook and Jay Blackton wrote new songs including Welcome to the Kingdom of Once Upon a Time and Will I Ever See Her Again? sung by Prince Charming.

Mary Jo Salerno was a native of Chicago. Although she had some community theater experience, Snow White Live! was her first professional show, as well as her New York debut. She was selected to play "Snow White" from more than 600 girls who auditioned for the role in a nationwide search. Mary Jo was at one time married to Charles Edward Hall, the actor who played the Witch in Snow White Live! Now re-married, she has since left the theater business.

The “New York Times” Theater Review for October 19, 1979 declared: “As Snow White, Mary Jo Salerno is...Snow White. She looks very much like the film character; she has an effective soprano, especially in the upper registers, and she is all cheery innocence. As Prince Charming, Richard Bowne, alone and without assistance, conquers the vast reaches of the cavern in a couple of songs.”

While sincere and well done, the overall production just seems dull and long and too reverential to the original source material to me. I personally prefer Snow White Singin’ Dancin’ Heigh Ho with Colleen Bartl as Snow White that I originally saw live on the Videopolis stage at Disneyland and then later as a Disney Channel special. Of course, that show lasted less than 30 minutes.

Snow White No. 7: Eileen Bowman

Twenty-two year old Eileen Bowman had some community theater experience but was perhaps best known for performing in the cult theatrical musical, Beach Blanket Babylon playing in San Francisco that satirized Hollywood and pop culture.

However, on March 29, 1989 at the Shrine Auditorium for the 61st Annual Academy Awards, Bowman was cast as Snow White (a part she played in Beach Blanket Babylon) in a 12-minute opening production number that has become infamous in Oscar history.

Producer Allan Carr loved Beach Blanket Babylon and had Steve Silver who was responsible for it design an opening musical production number for the Oscars that was to be a wide-eyed Snow White’s trip through Hollywood.

Entertainment reporter Army Archerd standing in the Shrine lobby announced, "And now ladies and gentleman, here's one of the great legends of Hollywood. She's back with us tonight: Miss Snow White."

Portrayed by actress Bowman, Snow White sang I've Only Got Eyes for You, as she went to the front row where she interacted with Michelle Pfeiffer, Martin Landau, Tom Hanks and Sigourney Weaver.

Snow's next stop was the Coconut Grove stage set where the featured attraction was talk-show host Merv Griffin, who sang a hit from his days as Freddie Martin's boy singer, I've Got a Lovely Bunch of Coconuts. Griffin addressed the fairy tale character, "Isn't it exciting, Snow? Isn't it thrilling? It gets better. Meet your blind date: Rob Lowe."

Lowe sang with Snow White a duet of the Creedence Clearwater Revival song Proud Mary, with the new lyrics like "Rolling, rolling, keep the cameras rolling."

The Coconut Grove was replaced by a replica of the Chinese Theater while an off-stage chorus trilled, "Dreams come true, dreams come true, in the Grauman's Chinese Theater!" Lowe kissed Snow on the hand and the chorus line of ushers imitated the Rockettes, doing their kicks while singing Hooray for Hollywood.

Bruce Davis, soon to be the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences’ executive director, didn't know what to expect. "[Allan] wanted it to all be a surprise, not only to the audience but to us," says Davis. "And when I saw Snow White walk down the aisle, I thought, 'Oh my God, I wonder if anybody's cleared that.' I knew there were some things you have to do some checking around on."

"His mistake was having that first number go on for so long," says Gilbert Cates, who would in subsequent years produce the Academy Awards himself. "When you see something that doesn't work, by four minutes it's terrible, by five minutes it's outrageous, by eight minutes it's the kiss of death, and by 12 minutes it's the worst thing you've ever seen in your life."

The trouble began early the next day, as an Academy executive sat at his desk in the Academy building on Wilshire Boulevard. "I was basking in the terrific ratings and the reaction we'd gotten," he remembers. "And at about 9:15 a.m. I took another phone call, which I thought would be somebody else telling me what a great show it was."

The caller was Frank Wells, then president of Walt Disney Co. and one of the most respected executives in Hollywood.

"I think we have a real problem," Wells said.

Carr had not cleared the use of Disney's image of Snow White. Neither had Beach Blanket Babylon but in this case Disney sued the Academy for copyright infringement over the “unauthorized and unflattering” use of Snow White character.

Bowman told the L.A. Times that she’s never seen an Oscar ceremony before nor Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, but that she’d like to one day play the character at Disneyland.

The Academy formally apologized at a news conference 11 days later, and the suit was dropped.

The following year, Oscar host Billy Crystal responded to the audience ovation with “Is that for me or are you just glad I’m not Snow White?”

Bowman is still active in community theater and has gotten some outstanding reviews but unfortunately, many will only remember her as Snow White at the Oscars.