Adriana Caselotti, who as a convent-educated teenager in 1934 won the role as the voice of sweet, innocent Snow White in Walt Disney’s first feature-length cartoon, has died at age 80.
Caselotti, who introduced the world to the movie’s song “Some Day My Prince Will Come,” died Sunday of cancer.
“This is certainly the end of an era for all of us at the studio and for Disney animation lovers the world over,” Roy Disney, vice chairman of the Walt Disney Co., said in a statement.
Disney, nephew of Walt Disney, also said in a telephone interview that Caselotti was a “wonderful, cheery little lady” who embodied the spirit of Snow White.
He said Caselotti’s home had a wishing well in the front yard just like Snow White’s and that her telephone answering machine carried her recording of “I’m Wishing.”
Inside her home, in a modest neighborhood on the fringe of Hollywood, she proudly displayed ceramic statues of Snow White and the dwarves, and an autographed photo of Walt Disney.
Born in Bridgeport, Conn., on May 6, 1916, Caselotti was born into an operatic family. Her father, Guido, immigrated from Italy and taught music in New York for 40 years. Her mother, Maria, from Naples, sang at the Royal Opera, and her sister, Louise, was a famous opera singer and teacher who trained Maria Callas, a statement from Disney said.
Caselotti was 18 when Walt Disney personally hired her in 1934 for “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.” According to studio history, Walt Disney had been searching for a voice that was “ageless, friendly, natural and innocent.”
In a 1993 interview with The Associated Press, she said she was paid $20 a day to sing and read the lines for the role, for a total of $970, and didn’t realize she was working on a full-length animated film.
“They had told me that it was going to be a little longer than their shorts, which were 10 to 12 minutes,” Caselotti said.
“So I thought it would be 20 minutes long or so. I didn’t realize what had happened until I went to the premiere. I saw all these movie stars - Marlene Dietrich, Carole Lombard, Gary Cooper - everybody was there. I discovered this thing was an hour and 23 minutes.”
After “Snow White,” she pursued a career as an opera singer, dabbled in real estate and the stock market, had a bit part in “The Wizard of Oz” and wrote a book on learning to sing, titled “Do You Like to Sing?”
But she had trouble cashing in the character. After the movie became a sensation, Jack Benny sought her out for his radio show. She said she was told that Walt Disney replied: “I’m sorry, but that voice can’t be used anywhere. I don’t want to spoil the illusion of Snow White.”
Caselotti, who was widowed three times and divorced once, is survived by a sister.