Adriana Caselotti, voice and actress for Walt Disney’s Snow White, passed away at age 80 on January 19, 1997.
Adriana Caselotti was born to a musically-inclined Italian-American family on May 6, 1916, in Bridgeport, Connecticut.
Both of her parents brought music into their careers and inspired the rest of the family, with her father working as a music teacher in New York and her mother working stints as a performer in London.
Her sister followed her father’s path and taught music as well, eventually going on to work with renowned opera singer Maria Callas.
As a child, Adriana studied music via her father’s lessons while following along with her mother’s performances as an opera singer while she toured Europe.
During this time, she attended school at an Italian convent near Rome before returning to America where she attended Hollywood High School.
Adriana Caselotti Becomes Snow White
Adriana was 18 years old when she was selected to perform the role of Snow White for the Walt Disney Company’s first full length animated feature film.
Disney Studios contacted her father, hoping he may have recommendations for students of his who could audition for the role, and though up against more than 150 other girls, Adriana was ultimately given the part.
Among the other singers who auditioned was Deanna Durbin, a well-known child actress whose career took off in 1936 when she performed alongside Judy Garland in Every Sunday.
Though younger than Caselotti, Deanna Durbin was declined the role of Snow White due to Walt Disney believing that her voice (at 15 years old) sounded too old for the part.
While Disney’s casting agent was on the phone with Adriana’s father, she picked up another line and overheard the conversation. Upon learning what it was about, she spoke up and offered to sing something over the phone.
After hearing her voice, the Disney casting director brought her into the studio to do some test sequences, but in the end, she was chosen for the part due to her singing during her father’s phone call.
Caselotti’s Legacy as Snow White
Caselotti was extremely successful for her role as the lead in Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, popularizing hit musical numbers from the film, including “I’m Wishing,” “Some Day My Prince Will Come,” and “Whistle While You Work.”
While she embraced her part in the film and loved being a part of Disney history, her career in the music and filmmaking industry may have actually been hindered by the film.
She was reportedly paid just under $1,000 for her part (about $17K when adjusted for inflation), and she was initially uncredited in the film leading to fewer people knowing who the actress behind Snow White was.
While she worked on radio appearances on both US coasts and took on small roles in later movies, she sometimes had a difficult time finding work. Rumors also circulated that Disney had discouraged her from seeking out other roles to preserve the magic of the company’s first princess.
She went on to author a guide for people learning how to sing titled “Do You Like to Sing,” and she was awarded a Disney Legacy award in 1994.
The role always held a special place in her heart, as she even redecorated her home in the style of the film and had a wishing well built in her front yard.
The Last Surviving Cast Member of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs
Later in life, Adriana continued working with the Walt Disney Company on publicity events for Snow White, often offering autographs and promotional materials for re-releases of the film, and even recorded a new version of “I’m Wishing” for Disneyland at the age of 75.
She stayed in Los Angeles until her death in 1997, where she passed due to respiratory failure from Lung Cancer. By 1997, she had been the last surviving member of the cast and crew who worked on Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.
Adriana’s legacy lives on today with the fans who watch and re-watch her classic Disney animated film and through the music that has become staples not only for Disney fans but as a part of popular culture in general.
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