Walt Disney's Horror Movie
In 1934, when Walt Disney called for a meeting among his artists, a rumor had spread that he was going to shut the studio down and they would all be left unemployed during the great depression. Instead he personally told them in his own spellbinding way the story of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, which he intended to make into his first feature length film. It was a risk unlike any other he had taken before. The film would cost a million and a half dollars at a time Disney was spending anywhere from ten to thirty thousand on his short cartoons. Doubts came from his wife Lillian and his brother and business partner Roy, who were sure they would be in debt for most of the rest of the lives. Also nervous was Walt's backer Bank of America, who at one point interrupted the production by cutting off his credit. Then there were the heads of the other studios like MGM, Universal and Warner Brothers. They would gather for their weekly poker games at the Hillcrest Country Club and speculate that Walt, who they called "the Mickey Mouse Man", would never succeed, no one would sit still for an hour and a half to watch a cartoon. And the press referred to Snow White as "Disney's Folly".
Despite the doubters and his own health problems (he suffered from a thyroid condition), Walt pressed forward relentlessly for three years. The key to the film, as far as Disney was concerned was the evil queen/peddler woman. Snow White was sympathetic, the dwarfs were humorous, but the villain had to be horrifying to keep the audience interested. The vocals were performed by a renowned stage actress named Lucille Laverne. Her haughty voice was a great fit as the queen, but her playing of the character after she transformed into the old crone had some at the studio worried. "Wait, I have an idea", she said. She left the recording room for a few minutes then returned. "I'm ready". She delivered her lines in a way that chilled and thrilled the Disney staff. After she finished there was applause and she was asked what she did when she left. She smiled and said," I took my teeth out!"
Walt's calculations were correct, Snow White and Seven Dwarfs was a hit throughout the entire world in 1938 and for many years beyond, keeping audiences riveted. The only down side for Walt was that maybe the peddler woman was a little too horrifying, he was disturbed by reports from Radio City Music Hall in New York where the film was setting box office records. It turned out that every few days the theater management had to replace seats. . . due to excessive wetness.
Stephen Schochet is the author and narrator of the audiobooks "Fascinating Walt Disney" and "Tales Of Hollywood". The Saint Louis Post Dispatch says," these two elaborate productions are exceptionally entertaining." Hear realaudio samples of these great, unique gifts at www.hollywoodstories.com.