Later recordings of the film were done in France with French voice actors, but the 1938 soundtrack featured performers who had spent most (if not all) of their careers in the United States. It is likely that the casting for this dub was partly determined through friendships and past collaborations. Their prior acting roles were typically small, those of train conductors, porters, valets, clerks, and the like. Sometimes they would have a few lines in French, or in English with a French accent, for a scene that was supposed to take place in France.
It was common practice during this time for Disney to not credit any of the voice actors in the film. So while we have long since figured out who all of the performers were in the American version, it's not necessarily the case when it comes to the early non-English-language releases. Yet, in the Disney Archive in Burbank was found a trace of salaries for 23 artists for a "Snow White French version" in 1938.
This, along with other clues has helped Greg (and other researchers like François Justamand and Rémi C.) to piece the story together. As a result, we now have a pretty good idea about who was in the original French dub. Note: If Greg was unable to find written evidence about a character, he has added a question mark next to their name.
Blanche Neige (Snow White's speaking voice):
Christiane Tourneur, born Marguerite Christian Virideau, met her future husband, Jacques Tourneur, while she was shooting on the 1929 film, The Ship of Lost Men. It starred Marlene Dietrich and was directed by Jacques' father Maurice Tourneur. Jacques and Christiane married in 1930, and collaborated for a few years on Maurice's films, Jacques as an assistant and editor, she as an actress.
Christiane Tourneur, 1932
In 1935, Jacques took his film "Toto" to the US with $40 in his pocket and the dream of a directing career. His past American experience with his father in the twenties helped him get a contract at MGM, then RKO, after which he worked freelance. Christiane got several secondary parts without ever being credited. She then landed the speaking voice of Snow White. In a French article in the 505 issue of Pour Vous magazine from July 20, 1938, she's quoted as saying she "hopes that after Snow White (...) she will make it big in the American movies." Unfortunately, that was not to be.
However, Christiane did bring a definite cuteness to the role of Snow White and her voice was rather close to that of Adriana Caselotti.
Jacques and Christiane Tourneur with Walt Disney at the private screening of the French version of Snow White in 1938
Blanche Neige (Snow White's singing voice):
Beatrice Hagen was born circa 1918 and was about 20 years old when she sang the songs of the princess. She was a Hollywood girl, and unlike what you may think, she was not chosen because she could speak French (not even sure she could). Beatrice was selected by Marcel Ventura because she was a lyric soprano and because she had had some success on the radio at the time. In 1936, she was even voted by Southern California radio editors as the "first Hollywood radio baby star" for her outstanding work on the air the previous year.
When listening to her voice, one understands why director David Hand was dissatisfied by the singing in the French version. Beatrice's talent is probably not to blame, but the quality of the recordings is. The spoken voices are quite clear for a 1938 recording. Yet, as soon as Snow White sings, it seems as if it's done with her hand in front of her mouth.
Contrary to previous rumors, the singing voice of Snow White was not Elyane Célis or Lucienne Dugard (both of whom at the time had made French recordings of the songs). It also was not Irène Hilda, who was thought at one point to be the singer.
Adrienne D'Ambricourt, born in Paris as Adrienne Dunontier on June 2, 1878, was almost 60 years old at the time of the dub. She moved to the US after WWI and her movie career started in 1924 where she worked with Gloria Swanson twice. When the talkies came, she still kept occasional good roles but was limited to playing French characters.
Adrienne is the tenant pursuing Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers in The Story of Vernon and Irene Castle. She sings La Marseillaise with them. She also got more substantial parts in less prestigious productions like Bulldog Drummond's Wife, Pack Up Your Trouble and Seventh Heaven, where she was sometimes credited.
Adrienne D'Ambricourt with Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire, 1939
Just like her American counterpart Lucille LaVerne, Adrienne did both the parts of the Queen and Hag. She made the Queen slightly older and less noble than in the later 1962 French version--but certainly more menacing.
Marcel Ventura was born March 14, 1901 in Valparaiso, Chili. His only known appearances on the big screen are in Ernst Lubitsch's French version of The Merry Widow starring Maurice Chevalier and in the Mae West vehicle Klondike Annie. At the time of the Snow White recording, he was 37. Not only did he play the role of the Prince, but he also directed this French dub.
Marcel Ventura 1936
Ventura's director credit is listed in the opening titles as is his assistant's, Alfred A. Fatio.
Both Ventura and Fatio also show up on the Snow White French songbook and on the French/English record, although the published lyrics are different from those in the film. It is not unlikely that Fatio may have also voiced a character.
Huntsman (?) & Grumpy (?):
André Chéron, born August 24, 1880 in St Germain-en-Laye, was 57 at the time of the dub. Active in Hollywood since 1925, he began in the silent era with rather solid parts, then as an extra opposite Maurice Chevalier, Bela Lugosi, Boris Karloff, Greta Garbo, and others. He also played a scene with Lucile LaVerne in John Ford's 1933 Pilgrimage.
Just before landing the Disney gig, he was a main character in the short Romance of Radium, directed by Jacques Tourneur (husband of Christiane Tourneur mentioned above).
André Chéron 1937
Chéron's voice resembles that of the Huntsman. By forcing it, he could very well have played Grumpy too. No written confirmation of this as of yet.
Louis Mercier was born March 7, 1901 in Algiers and was age 37 during the recording. He started his acting career in 1926. He also appeared in The Story of Vernon and Irene Castle along with Adrienne D'Ambricourt as well as Snow White's model Marge Belcher Champion.
Louis Mercier 1939
Mercier probably shifted his very low natural pitch for the role. Greg believes he played Bashful.
Eugene Borden, born March 21, 1897 in Paris, was 41 at the time of the dub. He was active in American films since 1917. With a certain air of respectability, he often played doctors, men of the law or simply bartenders. His works included prestigious films like All About Eve, The Mark of Zorro, and To Catch A Thief, and he shared the screen with Betty Hutton, Humphrey Bogart, Betty Grable and others.
Eugène Borden 1941
Borden's voice sounds distinctively like Doc's.
Sleepy (?) & Sneezy (?):
Roger Valmy was born in 1912 in Palm Springs, CA and would have been 24 at the time of the recording. He was often chosen to play French latin lovers or army men and shared the screen with Anne Baxter, Gene Tierney, Tyrone Power, and Lauren Bacall among others.
Roger Valmy 1946
Just as Pinto Colvig did both Sleepy and Grumpy in the English-language version, the French part of Sleepy was most likely played by someone who did another dwarf as well. Since the dwarfs' voices are being forced, it's difficult to recognize the actors. Yet, Roger Valmy could have been both Sleepy and Sneezy, particularly since Sneezy seems to be the only one with a somewhat younger sounding voice.
Charles de Ravenne, born April 6, 1911 in Nice, was 27 at the time of the dub. His career lasted from 1924 to 1953, where he appeared in only American made films. In 1938, he shared the screen with Christian Rub (Gepetto) and Billy Gilbert (Sneezy from the English-version) in Love on the Run.
Charles de Ravenne with Fred MacMurray and Joan Crawford, 1943
Charles had a more or less thick southern accent depending on the films he appeared in, and was quite becoming as Happy.
Magic Mirror (?):
Jean de Briac was born in Paris on August 15, 1891 and was 46 when the recording occurred. He came to the US after WWI and appeared in films from 1920 until 1962. He had some important roles in silent films but was then limited to French characters when sound was introduced. Jean was a regular in Laurel and Hardy movies, whom he also coached in the French versions of their films.
Jean de Briac 1940
Greg suspects de Briac was the Magic Mirror with a slightly changed voice. His accent comes through in several lines.
Instead of restoring the foreign soundtracks of its classic films, the Disney Company typically records a new version every few decades or so using different actors. However, it wasn't until 1962 that a redubbed version of Blanche Neige was made. This new translation was recorded in Paris and starred Lucie Dolène as Snow White.
One of the more noticeable differences was the dwarfs singing Hé-Ho (pronounced "hey ho") instead of "Heigh Ho" as was done in the 1938 version (and on a few commercial records). Also in the laboratory scene, we hear the Queen read aloud, "Poussière de momie" (mummy dust), rather than "Poudre magique" (magic dust), as the French spellbook actually reads.
The film was released to French theatres in 1962, 1973, 1983, 1992, and was made available on VHS and LaserDisc in 1994.
Then in 2000, another recording was commissioned--mostly for legal reasons. (Lucie Dolène had attempted to sue Disney over royalties from the 1994 home video release.) So this new redub would star Valérie Siclay as Snow White (speaking voice) and Rachel Pignot (singing voice). It's this soundtrack that is found on the French DVD and Blu-ray releases of 2001 and 2009.
Not only was the 1938 soundtrack distinct from its later incarnations, but the film also had several subtle visual differences too, such as the RKO Radio Pictures credit and logo which would be erased altogether in 1962. The title plates also read A Grand Métrage de Walt Disney which means A Walt Disney Feature Film. It would later simply become Walt Disney Présente.
1938 RKO Radio Pictures/A Grand Métrage de Walt Disney
A small detail in the storybook opening text was slightly rewritten from "Il y avait une fois" to "Il était une fois" (both meaning "Once upon a time" but the latter is more modern).
1938 and 2001 "Once Upon A Time"
Just like in the American picture, the '38 French version has the birds write Grumpy's name (Grincheux) on the pie. This was replaced on the 2001 DVD by just a whirl of paste that could be used internationally.
1938 and 2001 Pie Scene
The text that appears on screen after the death of the princess was originally shown over an animated background of snow falling and the changing of the seasons. This was updated so that the words are superimposed over a series of fixed images.
1938 and 1994/2001 Backgrounds
The original 1938 Blanche Neige has not been seen by the general public in France since the 1951 theatrical re-release. Lucky for us, however, Greg has put together a few short excerpts so we can hear what those original voice actors really sounded like.
Video and screen captures copyright Disney. Posted for historical documentational purposes only.
Special thanks to Greg Philip for sharing his extensive Snow White research with us. Read his original article in full at A Lost Film. Further credit goes to Objectif Cinema.