The last British journalist to interview one of the most legendary voice actresses in Hollywood history, is a fantasy-filled fulfilment that has given John Highfield his happily ever after.
Her character name is along Hollywood Boulevard, but not the name of the actress who voiced her.
Adriana Caselotti bestowed her voice for Snow White in the 1930s and it was over 20 years ago when Journalist and Magazine Editor, John Highfield, had the pleasure of interviewing her.
“Snow White is a groundbreaking movie. It is the first-of-its-kind and is still unparalleled in terms of what Walt achieved with this movie. And it’s also a great work of art.”
In 1995, the lover of the arts was working for the Sheffield Star as a feature writer. He had always had an interest in Disney and one day in the Sheffield City Art Gallery, he came across some Snow White art work – which is very rarely out on display.
“You don’t see the pieces very often but the art gallery had four treasures of Snow White -the paintings, the memorabilia. It was all very fascinating to me.”
John was working on film in the late 90s and opportunely, knew a girl who was working in the Disney Press Office. He contacted her, determined to find out whether Adriana was still alive.
“I phoned her up”. He said, and asked: “You know, this may sound crazy, but is there any chance I could interview Snow White.”
“What do you mean, Snow White?” She said.
“Well the lady – Adriana Caselotti, I have to know, is she still alive and can I do an interview with her?”
Within minutes the phone call came back and she said: “Darling, she just sits waiting to be interviewed.”
“God, somebody in England wants to talk to her – at last”, said Disney’s Press Office Manager. “And it was literally as simple as that”, said John.
The call was made to Disney Head Office who passed on Adriana’s telephone number to.
“That was the ticket to the most gratifying and sensational star-studded interview I will ever have.”
Adriana was around 80 years old at the time and wanted nothing more than to sit at her piano and be interviewed.
The time difference between England and America meant the interview took place early evening for John and late morning for Adriana. while Adriana was in L.A, at her home.
The now PR agent was working in theatre at the time and was sat at his desk in his office when the interview took place over the phone. It was early evening for John in England and late morning for Adriana in L.A. Fond of old fashioned methods, John used shorthand to record the interview and no audio recording. Nonetheless, John recalls the initial greeting after the answered the call.
“She sang ‘Some Day my Prince Will Come’. And I cried. She then went onto say: ‘Hello, this is Snow White’.”
“I was practically hyperventilating. It was very eccentric, but it worked,” he says.
John was never the sort of interviewer to go in with a list of questions, but he does remember asking a few things of his own interests – particularly silent movies.
“Silent movies are one of my greatest obsessions in cinema, so I had to ask about Lucille LaVerne, the voice behind the Wicked Queen because she starred in one of my favourites – Orphans of the Storm.”
Adriana explained her relationship with her co-star. During the entire movie making process, they never met and so their dialogue was recorded in isolation. Also that Lucille provided the voice talents for the ugly old hag the Wicked Queen turns herself into later in the movie.
“It’s fascinating,” says John. “People would think it was actually two different people because she’s got rather a wickedly beautiful voice in the beginning of the film and then she has this old haggard sound – which is what most people remember her for.”
Adriana also revealed that to provide the eerie vocals, Lucille simply took her false teeth out and began speaking.
She also never met any of the dwarfs during the making of the movie, but very quickly she became fond of one in particular.
“She particularly liked Grumpy – Pinto Colvig who died in the ‘40s. She liked him as a person the most too. Over the years they did a lot of promotional work, attending conventions and events together. That’s all Adriana did following the success of the movie. She became an Ambassador for the movie and continued attending press events.”
There was one memorable movie quote in which Adriana provided the dialogue, however – for before her cinematic career came to an end.
“One line. Just one line in Wizard of Oz: Wherefore art thou, Romeo?” Said John.
Eccentric as she was, he says, Adriana enacted a very special link with the afterlife and told him Grumpy was in fact in the room with her, as was Walt Disney.
“Bearing in mind, Walt had died in 1966, and this was a lady who I was talking to in 1995. She felt very close to Walt Disney. ‘He gave me the greatest opportunity of my life’, she told me.”
“She didn’t make a lot of money out of it, but she said he gave her a special place in movie history. And she did indeed – if you live in an English speaking world, although you may never have heard her name, you’ll have heard her voice.
“There is not a generation since 1937 that hasn’t seen Snow White,” he adds. “And she was quite right, Walt gave her a sort of immortality, and for that she was eternally grateful.”
It’s hard to imagine what it would have been like for America at the premier of Snow White at The Carthay Circle Theatre in California – because Snow White was the first full-length feature animation created in Technicolor. It was a groundbreaking success.
John respects Disney and the endless magic it continues to bring, from The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast and the more recent, Tangled. But the one stands out for him is Snow White.
“It’s as if there would be no Disney without it.” He said. “There would be no Disney Empire. I was one of the very fortunate to have interviewed Adriana and I am eternally honoured. I did it. I got it”, said John.