Adriana Caselotti, the legendary voice talent who made movie history 60 years ago by giving personality and life to Walt Disney’s beloved first feature-length cartoon heroine, Snow White, passed away Jan. 19 at her home in Los Angeles following a bout with cancer. She was 80 years old.
The daughter of a well-known Los Angeles vocal coach, Caselotti was 19 years old when a Disney casting representative called her father, asking if any of his students might have a suitable voice for the lead female role in ”Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.” More than 150 young girls had already auditioned for the part, including Deanna Durbin, but still Walt Disney had not found the right voice that would sound ageless, friendly, natural and innocent.
Listening in on the conversation, Caselotti chimed in, ”Listen to me – wouldn’t my voice do?” Indeed it would, and, over the next year, her voice was tested, songs were recorded and the Disney animators studied her gestures as she sang for inspiration.
Commenting on Caselotti’s passing, Roy E. Disney, vice chairman of the Walt Disney Co., said, ”This is certainly the end of an era for all of us at the studio and for Disney animation lovers the world over. We really feel as if we’ve lost a member of the family. Adriana played such an important part in our history and became the true embodiment of that wonderful character.”
Born in Bridgeport, Conn., on May 6, 1916, Caselotti came from an Italian musical family and began singing almost before she could talk. She received her education at an Italian convent, San Getulio, near Rome, while her mother was singing at the Royal Opera. After returning to the United States, she studied singing with her father and went on to perform in ”Rigoletto.” Her professional career also included radio appearances in New York and Hollywood, as well as bit parts in several other movies (including ”The Wizard of Oz” ).
Over the years and the many reissues of ”Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs,” Caselotti was an active participant in publicity and television specials celebrating the pic. At home, she had a ”wishing well” on her front lawn, and phone callers were greeted by her distinctive voice singing as Snow White.
Reflecting on her legendary role, she recalled, ”I feel very blessed. Not everyone gets the chance to be part of a genuine classic like ‘Snow White.’ And it’s very exciting to hear songs like ‘Some Day My Prince Will Come’ and ‘Whistle While You Work,’ and know that you’re the person who introduced them.”
As for the voice itself, she said, ”I had to push it up, so to speak, to get that never-never land quality Mr. Disney was looking for. It was easy for me to do because of my operatic training. And, needless to say, it has all been a very exciting experience for me, the high point of my professional life.”
Caselotti is survived by her sister and her former husband. There will be no memorial service. In lieu of flowers, donations can be made to the American Humane Society.