Celebrating the Life of Adriana Caselotti, the Original Snow White
Though you may not know the name Adriana Caselotti, you will most likely know her voice. The Italian American star provided the speaking and singing voice for Walt Disney’s original “Snow White,” a movie that made history in 1937 as the first-ever animated feature length film. The animated classic also marked the beginning of what would become a Disney tradition of creating films starring princesses. Though there have been dozens of “Disney princess movies,” Caselotti’s audible portrayal may be considered the most distinct of the Disney princess voices. Her high-pitched, childlike quality serves to distinguish the Snow White character as having an air of innocence, while her singing displays a pleasingly cultivated and refined melodious elegance. On the 17th anniversary of her death, we celebrate the life of Adriana Caselotti.
Adriana was eighteen years old when she was recruited by Walt Disney to provide the speaking and singing voice for Snow White. The fairy tale character’s singing voice was to have an operatic quality to it, requiring a singer who could reach the high notes written into the music. Such talent came naturally for Caselotti, as she was a member of a musically-inclined family; her mother and sister were both opera singers and her father was a music teacher. After auditioning over 150 singers for the role of Snow White, Walt Disney finally had a representative phone Caselotti’s father, a friend of Disney’s, to learn if any of his music students would be the right fit. In a 1986 interview Caselotti explained that she listened in on the telephone conversation and showcased her singing talent and ability to speak with the voice of a child directly over the phone line. With that, she was asked to go to the studio to audition for the part.
Needless to say, she was chosen for the part of Snow White. For almost two years, the soundtrack was recorded with Caselotti having nothing but a piano to accompany her since the composers wanted to orchestrate the film later. This left Adriana to record the now famous songs from “Snow White” including “I’m Wishing” and “Someday My Prince Will Come” practically a cappella. Caselotti later recalled that she spoke her dialogue without any other actors reciting their lines to her, meaning that there was no exchange of the script’s dialogue between Caselotti and the other voice actors during these recordings.
“Snow White and the Seven Dwarves” made its debut on December 21, 1937 at the Carthay Circle Theatre in Los Angeles, California. It was not until the premiere that Caselotti realized the film she had become the star of, was actually a feature length film. All along she had thought that the film was to only run about twenty minutes. Unbeknownst to her, she had become part of film, animation and the first Disney princess.
Snow White remains a beloved and important character and earned Caselotti a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 1987. In 1994, Caselotti was inducted into the Disney Legends program which consists of those individuals who have “created the Disney magic.” Barely two years later, in late January 1997, Adriana Caselotti passed away.
Although she is gone, the character that Caselotti brought to life remains such an important representation of The Walt Disney Company and American cultural history. Snow White embodies the essence of what Disney has continued to express through its films for decades, which is to continue wishing for dreams to come true and to never lose faith in those dreams.