UN­FOR­GET­TABLE SNOW WHITE

It was not the Prince’s kiss that brought her to life, but the ge­nius of Walt Dis­ney

Reader's Digest Asia Pacific - - Contents - JOHN CULHANE

When Snow White met Walt Dis­ney they lived hap­pily ever af­ter.

Can you name the Seven Dwar fs? If you say Doc, Dopey, Sleepy, Sneezy, Bashf ul, Grumpy and Happy, you have shown what an en­dur­ing hold this beloved film has on peo­ple. For the dwarfs had no names in the Grimm broth­ers’ 19th cen­tury fairy­tale. The film in which Walt Dis­ney named them cel­e­brated its golden an­niver­sary last Christ­mas [1987], and Snow White now has her own star on the Hol­ly­wood ‘Walk of Fame’.

Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs is one of the most pop­u­lar films in his­tory. An es­ti­mated 500 mil­lion movie go­ers have seen it since its 1937 pre­mière. Last year it was reis­sued for the sev­enth time – and it be­came the first film to ever be shown si­mul­ta­ne­ously in more than 60 coun­tries (in­clud­ing the USSR and China).

In 1934, Walt Dis­ney was fa­mous for his Mickey Mouse, Goofy, Silly Sym­phonies and the Three Lit­tle Pigs an­i­mat ions, but short car­toons didn’t bring in much money. In fact, if it wasn’t for the money Walt’s brother, Roy, got for li­cens­ing Dis­ney char­ac­ter mer­chan­dise, the part­ner­ship might al­ready have been bank­rupt.

So Walt de­cided to tr y for big money. As a boy in Kansas City, he had seen a silent ver­sion of Snow White star­ring Mar­guerite Clark. “That story has ev­ery­thing: the

prince and princess for ro­mance, the dwarfs for com­edy, and a wicked old witch as its heavy. It’s per­fect.” So he an­nounced he would make it into an an­i­mated fea­ture. “You should have heard the howls,” Walt later ­re­called. In­dus­try an­a­lysts dubbed his idea ‘Dis­ney’s Folly’. They were sure that au­di­ences would walk out on an 83-minute car­toon.

But Dis­ney be­lieved in his idea. “One night,” says vet­eran Dis­ney art direc­tor Ken An­der­son, “Walt called 40 of his artists to the record­ing stage. He spent sev­eral hours telling us about Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, act­ing out each char­ac­ter. At the end he told us that it was go­ing to be our first fea­ture.

“It was a shock,” adds An­der­son, “be­cause we knew how hard it was to do a short car­toon. But Walt’s per­for­mance in­spired us.”

“Walt had ev­ery­body be­liev­ing in the pic­ture so much,” said an­i­ma­tor Ol­lie John­ston, “that when we were dis­cussing Snow White run­ning through the for­est, one guy was alarmed at a draw­ing of her fall­ing. ‘That’s a pretty high cliff she goes over’, he said ‘It might kill her’.”

To bring the char­ac­ters to life, Dis­ney wanted each dwarf to have a def­i­nite per­son­al­ity. “We paced around the stu­dio mut­ter­ing, ‘Seven of them! My God, seven of them!’” says an­i­ma­tor Frank Thomas. The char­ac­ters all looked sim­i­lar, so they were di f fer­en­ti­ated most ly

by ges­ture, voice and name. “I’ve known some dom­i­neer­ing doc­tors,” said Dis­ney, “so I called the dwarfs’ bossy leader Doc.”

“We made Doc stand well back on his heels, with his wrists pressed to his hips, to con­vey pompous­ness,” says John­ston. “We gave Grumpy a slight hunch and a swag­ger that made him look pug­na­cious. Sneezy was a se­ri­ous, re­spon­si­ble cit­i­zen – when he wasn’t sneez­ing.”

Hol­ly­wood’s most fa­mous sneezer, co­me­dian Billy Gil­bert, who had al­ready de­liv­ered his sus­pense­ful ‘ah- CHOOs!’ in other f ilms, did the voice of Sneezy. Pinto Colvig, the voice of Goofy and Pluto, spoke for both Sleepy and Grumpy. Char­ac­ter ac­tors Otis Har­lan, Scotty Mat­traw and Roy Atwell were cast as Happy, Bash­ful and Doc re­spec­tively.

That left Dopey. In the film, Happy tells Snow White, “This is Dopey. He don’t talk none.” Snow White asks, “You mean he can’t talk?”

“He don’t know,” Happy replies. “He never tried.”

“We won’t give Dopey a voice,” Dis­ney had said, “That will help him be dif­fer­ent.”

In search of a nat­u­ral and an in­no­cent so­prano voice for the princess, Dis­ney phoned Hol­ly­wood voice coach Guido Caselotti. Caselotti’s daugh­ter, Adri­ana, was eaves­drop­ping on the ex­ten­sion. Sud­denly she blurted out: “How about me?”

Adri­ana’s clear, bell-like col­oratura won her the part. And for her prince, they se­lected Broad­way per­former Harry Stock­well.

Di sney re­jected sev­eral songs by com­poser Frank Churchill and lyri­cist Larry Morey be­fore set­tling on eight ti­tles that still re­new our mem­o­ries, in­clud­ing ‘I’m Wish­ing’, ‘ Whis­tle While You Work’, ‘Heigh-Ho’ and, best-loved of all, ‘Some Day My Prince Will Come’.

SPINETINGLING CACKLE

All through the movie, Dis­ney knew ex­actly what he wanted. In a 1934 out line, he had said the wicked queen should be “a mix­ture of Lady Mac­beth and the Big Bad Wolf – her beauty is sin­is­ter, ma­ture, plenty of curves. Magic flu­ids trans­form her into an old witch-like hag.” He cast Lu­cille LaV­erne as the voice of both queen and witch. LaV­erne’s nor­mal voice was beau­ti­ful and im­pe­ri­ous, but her cackle was spine-tin­gling.

Ev­ery­thing in Dis­ney’s ex­pe­ri­ence seemed to make its way into the film. An­i­ma­tor Ward Kim­ball re­calls that

Dis­ney stud­ied the men’s snores and de­cided each of his dwarfs would snore in a dis­tinc­tive way

when Dis­ney went away with a group for a rus­tic week­end of horse rid­ing, he didn’t get any sleep be­cause the other men in his dor­mi­tory snored. Dis­ney stud­ied their snores – and found that every man snored dif­fer­ently. On Mon­day morn­ing he told his story men he was adding some­thing to the sleep­ing se­quence in which the dwarfs give Snow White their bed­room and find places for them­selves down­stairs. Each dwarf, Walt said, was go­ing to snore in a dis­tinct way, and to­gether they would add up to “a sym­phony of snores”.

One af­ter an­other, great snor­ing ideas were sketched, pinned up on sto­ry­boards and an­i­mated.

Grumpy, like Walt, can’t sleep. He lies in the soup pot and lis­tens to the oth­ers snore. Bash­ful, in a drawer, snores in low moans. Happy, in a cup­board, blows snores that end in long whis­tles. Doc rum­bles in the sink and gar­gles as the tap drips into his throat. Sneezy snores like a chain saw. Dopey with a whim­per. Sleepy’s puck­er­ing in­hala­tions and lip- smacking ex­ha­la­tions make a snor­ing duet with a fly (whose snore is a vi­o­lin’s E-string).

A more im­por tant means of

re­veal­ing the dwarfs’ per­son­al­i­ties was in the va­ri­ety of their walk­ing styles, ac­cord­ing to Frank Thomas. In one scene an­i­mated by Thomas, Dopey falls out of step, then does a lit­tle hitch step to catch up. “Walt said, ‘Hey, that’s good – we ought to use that all the way through the pic­ture,’” Thomas told me. “A lot of stuff had been an­i­mated, but Walt called all those scenes back for re­vi­sion. That of­ten hap­pened. A bet­ter idea would come along – and you would change ev­ery­thing.”

My cousin, Shamus Culhane, an­i­mated the scenes in which the dwar fs march home f rom t hei r jewel mine singing ‘Heigh-Ho’. It took Shamus al­most six months to make the 2000 draw­ings. The whole film re­quired about two mil­lion. The 90-cen­time­tre-long sheets filled the shelves round the draw­ing board of Shamus and his as­sis­tant, Nick DeTolly.

One day, Shamus looked up in hor­ror: DeTolly’s cig­a­rette had fallen into a pile of re­jected draw­ings on the desk. “Flames leapt from one shelf to the next,” says Shamus. “My whole se­quence was on fire in sec­onds.”

Be­fore DeTol ly smoth­ered the

More than a suc­cess­ful movie, it is a trea­sured mem­ory shared by suc­ceed­ing gen­er­a­tions of par­ents and chil­dren.

flames with a towel, some draw­ings had burnt to within half a cen­time­tre of the fig­ures – but none was so badly dam­aged that it couldn’t be pho­tographed for the film.

UL­TI­MATE DRAMA

The draw­ings’ loss might have meant the demise of the ‘Heigh-Ho’ se­quence – Dis­ney was run­ning out of money. Snow White had al­ready ex­ceeded twice the orig­i­nal $US500,000 bud­get, and bank of­fi­cials baulked at lend­ing any more un­less they could see what he had done so far.

Once again, Walt had to tell part of the story. Freddy Moore re­mem­bered this as Walt’s finest hour, dur­ing which he kept leap­ing to his feet to pan­tomime the miss­ing ac­tion, “in­clud­ing the an­tics of the dwarfs, the Wicked Witch tempt­ing Snow White into bit­ing the poi­soned ­ap­ple, and the ul­ti­mate drama of Snow White be­ing awak­ened in her glass cof­fin by the Prince’s kiss.”

“Well, as ev­ery­one knows,” Dis­ney said years later, “we got the loan, the pic­ture made money, and if it hadn’t, there wouldn’t be any Dis­ney Stu­dios to­day.” The fi­nal cost was about $US1.5 mil­lion.

In 1939, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs won Dis­ney a spe­cial Academy Award – a full-sized Os­car with seven minia­ture Os­cars along­side – for hav­ing ‘charmed mil­lions and pi­o­neered a great new en­ter­tain­ment field for the mo­tion­pic­ture car­toon’.

Snow White re­mains on the list of all-time box-of­fice hits, with a world­wide gross of more than $ US500 mil­lion. But by now it is more than a suc­cess­ful movie. It is a trea­sured mem­ory shared by suc­ceed­ing gen­er­a­tions of par­ents and chil­dren.

The week of the f i lm’s 1937 pre­mière, Time mag­a­zine pub­lished a cover story that has proved to be prophetic. Snow White is “a com­bi­na­tion of Hol­ly­wood, the Grimm Broth­ers and the sad, search­ing fan­tasy of uni­ver­sal child­hood,” it said. “It is an au­then­tic mas­ter­piece, to be shown and loved by new gen­er­a­tions long af­ter the cur­rent crop of Hol­ly­wood stars are sleep­ing where no Prince’s kiss can awaken them.”

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