The fairest of them all

JoAnn Dean Killingsworth, who be­came Dis­ney­land’s f irst Snow White in 1955, dies at 91.

Los Angeles Times - - CALIFORNIA - By Steve Chawkins steve.chawkins@latimes.com Twit­ter: @schawkins

When JoAnn Dean Killingsworth picked up a gig at the grand open­ing of an Or­ange County theme park, she had no idea where Ana­heim was or what Dis­ney­land would be­come.

Even so, she blazed a decades­long trail for more than 100 other beau­ti­ful, raven- haired maid­ens and who- knows- how- many dwarfs.

On July 17, 1955, Killingsworth be­came Dis­ney­land’s f irst Snow White.

As the U. S. Marine Band belted out “The Na­tional Em­blem March” and he­li­copters thumped over­head, she waved fondly from a f loat that car­ried her — as well as Bash­ful, Dopey, Grumpy, Happy, Sleepy, Sneezy and Doc — past 30,000 en­chanted on­look­ers. Davey Crockett, Peter Pan, Mickey and Min­nie, Cin­derella, gover­nors, movie stars: Ev­ery­one who was any­one was there that day, and the ABC TV net­work broad­cast it all in a 90- minute inau­gu­ral spe­cial viewed by an es­ti­mated au­di­ence of 90 mil­lion from coast to coast.

When a deep- voiced her­ald or­dered the draw­bridge to Fan­ta­sy­land low­ered “in the name of the chil­dren of the world,” hun­dreds of amped- up young­sters charged in, and Killingsworth was among the Dis­ney char­ac­ters lead­ing the way.

“We turned around and tried to run pretty,” she re­called last year in an in­ter­view with the Or­ange County Register.

Killingsworth died Satur­day of can­cer at her Brea home, her nephew Jay Dean said. She was 91.

A skater and dancer, Killingsworth per­formed with Nor­we­gian star Sonja He­nie. She also was one of the “Redettes,” a troupe that in the mid- 1950s danced on Red Skel­ton’s TV show.

With her hus­band, Jim Killingsworth, she later pub­lished The Newporter, a weekly news­pa­per, and Or­ange County Il­lus­trated, a monthly mag­a­zine that fo­cused on the good life along the Or­ange County coast.

Born in Min­neapo­lis on Sept. 23, 1923, Killingsworth spent her early years in Joliet, Ill., and moved to Los An­ge­les with her fam­ily in 1931. Her par­ents ran a small res­tau­rant in Hol­ly­wood and gave their young daugh­ter danc­ing lessons.

At 15, she per­suaded her re­luc­tant mother to let her au­di­tion for an ice show. Soon she was skat­ing in New York with He­nie’s re­vue, “It Hap­pens on Ice.”

Killingsworth’s f ilm work in­cluded “Sil­ver Skates” ( 1943), with Belita, the Bri­tish f ig­ure skat­ing Olympian; “Some­thing for the Boys” ( 1944), with Brazil­ian singer Car­men Mi­randa; and “Rain­bow Over Texas” ( 1946), with Roy Rogers.

Her trans­for­ma­tion into Snow White wasn’t the stuff of fairy tales, but of Hol­ly­wood.

Killingsworth’s long­time danc­ing part­ner Gene Nel­son was mar­ried to a chore­og­ra­pher who was cast­ing the Dis­ney pageant.

“I thought JoAnn looked like Dis­ney’s Snow White, with her dark bangs,” Miriam Nel­son re­called in Or­ange Coast mag­a­zine in 2014. “She was very en­thu­si­as­tic, bub­bly and al­ways in good spir­its. I knew she’d do a good job.”

In 1987, Dis­ney marked the 50th an­niver­sary of its clas­sic “Snow White” film with a global re- re­lease, vis­its by Snow White to the Rose Bowl and the Smith­so­nian, and a re­union of the women who over decades had played the fairest of them all at Dis­ney parks in the U. S. and abroad. A friend told Killingsworth about the com­pany’s search and she showed up.

“I didn’t re­al­ize Dis­ney was look­ing for me,” she told the As­so­ci­ated Press. “If I had, I would have called some­body and said, ‘ Here I am. Here’s Snow White.’ ”

At the time, Dis­ney spokesman Bob Roth said her name was not in com­pany records but “I’m re­ally quite cer­tain this is the right per­son.” Killingsworth ex­plained that she had been paid by ABC, not by Dis­ney.

About 50 Snow Whites showed up for the event. At the time, Killingsworth was 63 and was selling linens part time at Neiman- Mar­cus.

“My hair used to be dark, dark brown,” she told The Times, “but some­how I got blon­der as I got older.”

Two of the women, it turned out, had the same ex- hus­band.

“He was an in­sur­ance sales­man who just hap­pened to live in Ana­heim,” one of the for­mer Snow Whites said. “He was not Prince Charm­ing. We both di­vorced him.”

Killingsworth’s mar­riage also ended in di­vorce.

Her sur­vivors in­clude step­sons Bill and Larry Killingsworth, brother Dono­van Dean and nu­mer­ous nieces and neph­ews.

THE FAIREST OF THEM ALL JoAnn Killingsworth, ac­com­pa­nied by the Seven Dwarfs, rides on a f loat at Dis­ney­land in 1955, when she be­came the theme park’s

inau­gu­ral Snow White. “I knew she’d do a good job,” said the chore­og­ra­pher who cast her.

DANCER AND SKATER Killingsworth, seen in 1941, per­formed in ice shows and in f ilm, in­clud­ing “Rain­bow Over

Texas” with Roy Rogers.

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