Friday, June 25, 2010

Marguerite Clark as Snow White (1916)

It's well-known that one of the first films Walt Disney ever saw was Snow White. It was a special free showing attended by sixteen thousand children squeezed into the Kansas City Convention Center. The hall was arranged with four separate screens set in the center of the room and the youthful audience encircling them. Four projectors all ran simultaneously and the film included live musical accompaniment.
I once saw Marguerite Clark performing in it in Kansas City when I was a newsboy back in 1917. It was one of the first big feature pictures I'd ever seen...I thought it was the perfect story. It had the sympathetic dwarfs, you see? It had the heavy. It had the prince and the girl. The romance. I just thought it was a perfect story. Walt Disney

Snow White title plate, 1916.

Marguerite Clark. Image in public domain.

Before the 1916 feature adaptation of Grimm's fairy tale was produced, it was first a 1912 play starring Clark. Her popularity in this and other Broadway productions led to a silent film contract in 1914 with the Famous Players-Lasky Corporation. She was 31 when she starred in the first of her forty films--making her 33 when she played Snow White.

L to R: Creighton Hale (Prince), Dorothy Cumming (Queen) and Marguerite Clark (Snow White).

Asleep in the dwarfs cottage.

Marguerite became one of the most popular film stars of the teens and early 1920s--and also one of the industry's best paid. In November of 1916, the New York Times called her "one of the Big Four of movie stars, the other three being Mary Pickford, Douglas Fairbanks, and Charlie Chaplin. Like Mary Pickford, Clark was quite petite (4'10") and possessed youthful features which allowed her to play characters much younger than her actual age.

In recognition of her accomplishments, she was given a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, located at 6304 Hollywood Boulevard.

1917 Kromo Gravure movie card (left); 1916 playing card by Movie Souvenir Card Co (right).

The 1916 film was produced by Adolf Zukor and directed by J. Searle Dawley. Watching this version of Snow White is like looking through a window to the past. Filmed nearly 100 years ago, we see a style of storytelling long gone. Many of the scenes were shot and performed as if it were a stage play--not necessarily the most interesting filmically. Nonetheless, Marguerite Clark's performance is charming and charismatic. She makes the movie.

The Huntsman is unable to kill Snow White.

One can also see the influence this film had on Walt Disney. Although there doesn't seem to be any confirmation of this, it almost seems as if he got a hold of the reels and screened it for his animators. The similarity of certain designs and scenes is noticeable.

The Huntsman and Queen with her chair in background.

Contrary to popular belief, Walt Disney's film was not the first to name the dwarfs. Here we have Blick, Flick, Glick, Snick, Plick, Whick and Quee--a grumpy stubborn dwarf who is forced to wash up when the other dwarfs throw him in a water barrel.

Quee getting dunked.

It's interesting to note the differences from Disney's film too. For example, the Queen and Witch are two separate characters, and it's the latter who demands to have the heart of the princess.

Witch and Queen as two separate characters.

Years later at a special dinner given for Marguerite Clark at the Disney Studios in Hollywood, [Walt Disney] told Miss Clark that [the] Snow White picture he saw in Kansas City--from a loft gallery seat--was the inspiration that caused him to create the first long cartoon picture.
From Walt Disney and Europe by Robin Allan

Movie Poster.

For a side-by-side comparisons between this and Disney's version, see the article at A Lost Film.

An IMDb review:
The highlight of this version of "Snow White" is the lively performance by Marguerite Clark, who fits into the role very well and shows why she was so popular in her time. Overall, the movie is a pleasant, old-fashioned telling of the story, with a stage-like technique but some pretty good production values for the mid-1910s.

At one time, Clark was as popular as any other actress of her day, but almost all of her movies have since been lost. Even this movie is still missing some material at various points, although the reconstruction in the Treasures From American Film Archives collection is very nicely done, and makes it fit together as well as it possibly could have.

Even when compared with the other great actresses of her day, Clark works very well in the role of a young girl. Her small stature certainly helps, but her actions and mannerisms are also very believable. For the story to work, "Snow White" has to be extremely sympathetic and engaging, and Clark is able to do that quite well.

The story stays fairly close to the Grimm Brothers' original, though downplaying or eliminating some of its more violent aspects.


The 1916 film was actually thought to be long lost until a copy was discovered by the Dutch film archives, Nederlands Filmmuseum. A 35mm preservation negative now exists in the International Museum of Photography and Film at the George Eastman House film archive. The movie is available to the public as part of the Treasures from American Film Archives DVD set, as well as through other sources.


  1. It's interesting and strange to see this movie. We have the impression that it's like we looked at the past.
    Marguerite Clark is very pretty, she was just perfect to play a character innocent like Snow White.

  2. Great post. As a fan of early film, I am so glad to see the pioneering efforts get their due. Looks like I'll be picking up that archive set. :-)

  3. I recently discovered that I am related to Marguerite. I had never seen a silent film before this. Now it is fascinating to me.

    1. How cool to be related to Marguerite! She was one of the great ones...not only in Snow White but in so many other films as well.