The Heartbreaking Story of the Woman Who Played Disney's Snow White
Adriana Caselotti took on the iconic role when she was just 18 years old.
In 1937, Disney released its first full-length animated feature film with Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. The movie was a huge hit: If you adjust for inflation, it's the highest-grossing animated movie ever made. But the woman who voiced Snow White didn't get to share in much of its success at the time.
Adriana Caselotti was the woman behind the first Disney Princess, but despite her acting and singing, she was not credited for the role, and her acting career wasn't able to flourish thanks to her participation in Snow White. Read on to learn more about Caselotti's life after her Disney debut.
Caselotti was just 18 years old when she was cast.
According to Caselotti's New York Times obituary, she was cast as Snow White after her voice coach father, Guido Caselotti, was asked if he had any suggestions of young voice actors. The Independent reports that Caselotti was actually listening in on her father's phone call about the casting and put herself up for the role. She was 18 when she got the part, but had lied and said she was 16, since the role was supposed to be for a 14-year-old. As for the visual model of Snow White, who helped out the animators, that role went to dancer Marge Champion.
Caselotti once said that when she was reading lines for Snow White and singing the songs, she didn't know she was making a feature film.
"They had told me that it was going to be a little longer than their shorts, which were 10 to 12 minutes," she said, according to The New York Times. "So I thought it would be 20 minutes long or so. I didn't realize what had happened until I went to the premiere. I saw all these movies stars—Marlene Dietrich, Carole Lombard, Gary Cooper—everybody was there. I discovered this thing was an hour and 23 minutes."
She was paid $970 and not given credit.
According to The New York Times, Caselotti was paid $970 total for her work on the film. Today, this would be about $19,000.
Caselotti and the other voice actors in Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs were not credited for their roles, because Disney wanted to maintain the illusion of the characters being real. The Independent notes that Caselotti even had to sneak into the premiere.
Unfortunately for the voice actor, the idea of keeping the characters separate from real people extended beyond the film, too. Caselotti was reportedly stopped from going on the Jack Benny radio show and not allowed to take on other voice roles in Disney movies, so that her voice would only be associated with Snow White.
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Caselotti was uncredited in two more major movies.
Caselotti's career didn't take off, but she had small roles in two other iconic films. Sadly, she was also uncredited for both of these parts. She sings the line "Wherefore art thou Romeo?" during the Tin Man's song in The Wizard of Oz. For this, The Independent reports that she was paid $100.
Caselotti also appears in the background during a scene in It's a Wonderful Life as a singer at a bar that Jimmy Stewart's character goes to.
She was finally named a Disney Legend.
In later years, Caselotti became more involved with Disney again. In 1972, she appeared on The Julie Andrews Hour and sang songs from Snow White with Julie Andrews. She also appeared at promotional events for the film, including its 1987 re-release. She was finally named one of the Disney Legends in 1994 when she was 78 years old.
According to The New York Times, Caselotti worked in real estate and opera singing, and she wrote a book about singing. She died of cancer in 1997 at age 80.