Adriana Caselotti: The Role You Know, The Actress You Don't
In 1938, Walt Disney and other animators attended the 10th Academy Awards ceremony to represent their film Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, the star of the film, Adriana Caselotti was not there. Despite making history as the first feature length animated film, the voice of the titular role was nowhere to be found. Although Caselotti gave a voice to one of the most iconic animated characters in film, not many people today know of her accomplishments or even her name, and that's not an accident...
Adriana Caselotti was born to an Italian-American family in Bridgeport, Connecticut on May 6th, 1916. She grew up in a very musical family consisting of all classically trained singers, namely her mother, Maria who was an opera singer at the Royal Opera Theatre of Rome. In 1934, Adriana enrolled in Hollywood High School in Hollywood, California where she participated in theater production's and the school's glee club.
After graduating, she found work as a chorus girl At Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios. In 1935, Caselotti scored the role that would eventually define her career: the titular role in Walt Disney's Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. Her voice was the perfect fit for the role with her bubbly demeanor and high pitched tone, it's hard imagining any other voice for the iconic princess. After years of making short length cartoons, the studio finally took on the project of producing the world's first feature length animated film. An unbelievable feat for any studio at the time, but if anyone could do it, it was Disney. Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs was finally released years later on December 21st, 1937. The film later went on to win the Oscar for Best Original Score at the 1938 Academy Awards.
Caselotti gave a voice to the first Disney princess at age 19. So with a role this iconic under her belt at such a young age, why isn't she a household name? Actresses like Jodi Benson and Linda Larkin have gained significant fame and the status of Disney royalty after voicing princesses, but where is that same appreciation for the woman who played arguably the most iconic Disney character to date? As it turns out, Caselotti's near immediate obscurity was entirely on purpose and shockingly at the hands of the man who made her career.
What is so bizarre about Adriana Caselotti's involvement with Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs is how basically nonexistent she is in the production's history. Despite starring as the main character, Caselotti isn't even credited. Her name does not appear once in the opening credit sequence nor on the official poster. For her work on the film, she was paid a total of $970 ($17,251 today). For reference, the dog who played Toto in The Wizard of Oz was filmed close to $22,000 over the course of filming, $125 a week. Due to her lack of acknowledgement, Caselotti's name has nearly been lost to time. Today with tools such as the internet it is easy to discover her involvement in the film but that wasn't the case with 1937 audiences who had basically no way of knowing who voiced the first Disney princess. At the time, there was essentially no evidence that she worked on the film at all.
However the obscurity of Adriana Caselotti cannot entirely be pinned on Walt Disney's reluctance to give her credit, he did a lot more than that. After Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs was finished with production, prominent radio show host, Jack Benny contacted Walt Disney himself and asked if he could have Caselotti on his show, The Jack Benny Program. Disney replied to his request by saying: "I'm sorry, but that voice can't be used anywhere. I don't want to spoil the illusion of Snow White."
Because of the harsh restrictions placed on her career after working with Disney, Caselotti had a considerabley hard time finding other roles later in her career. So much so that her only other known work are two uncreditd performances. She has one single line in Victor Fleming's The Wizard of Oz where she calls out "Wherefore art thou Romeo?" at the Tin Man from off screen, and in Frank Capra's It's A Wonderful Life where she plays a martini bar singer in the background. With all three of her performances going uncredited, Adriana Caselotti's name in writing has never been shown on the silver screen.
Adriana Caselotti passed away at the age of 80 on January 18th, 1997, she was the last surviving cast member of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. For someone who had such an important role in Disney's development as a studio, it seems downright unfair that she was never given the proper credit she deserved in the eyes of the public. It wasn't until 1994 that she was acknowledged by the company that had screwed her over in the form of a Disney Legend award. In the most literal sense, the film that made her career also ended up destroying it. It's disheartening to think about how much more she could've achieved if it weren't for Walt Disney. Hopefully we never see a career as tragically squandered as Caselotti's again.