Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Auspicious Anniversary - Premiere Night Memories

All of Hollywood's brass turned out for a cartoon--Walt Disney.

The return of the light--the Filmic Light. On this night of the winter solstice seventy-three years ago, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs made its world premiere at the 1500 seat Carthay Circle Theatre. It was cold outside, but an electricity was in the air. Grand stands set up across the street were packed with fans while dozens of Hollywood's brightest stars joined the sold out audience inside--which included a select number of the film's storymen, artists and animators.

Charlie Chaplin--who assisted the Disney brothers in setting the distribution price tag for this their first feature film--sent a wire to Walt earlier in the day. It read as follows: I am convinced all our fondest hopes will be realized tonight.

When Walt arrived at the theater, he was asked on national radio by interviewer Buddy Twiss if he was going to watch the movie himself. He responded, Yes, and have my wife hold my hand.

Yet, once the film had begun, it was clear that this would be no ordinary screening, and Walt Disney need not fear the audience's reaction...

I believe everyone in that first Snow White audience could have predicted the enormous success of the film. They were carried away by the picture from the very beginning, and as it went along everyone was bubbling over with enthusiasm and frequently bursting into spontaneous applause. [1] Animator Bill Peet

The audience was so taken by the magic of what they had seen that they applauded after individual sequences, just as though they were watching a stage play. I've never seen anything quite like it since. [2]  Animator Wolfgang (Woolie) Reitherman

They even applauded the backgrounds and layouts when no animation was on the screen.[3a]  I was sitting near John Barrymore when the shot of the queen's castle above the mist came on, with the queen poling across the marsh in a little boat. He was bouncing up and down in his seat, he was so excited.[3b] Art Director Ken O'Connor

It was the most receptive, enthusiastic audience I have ever seen. Every song, every gag, every good piece of acting worked on those people like a bow on a fiddle. There was almost continuous laughter and applause until Frank Thomas' sequence, where the sorrowing dwarfs gather around Snow White's bier. The house fell silent, gripped by the emotional impact of the acting.[4] Animator Shamus Culhane 

As I look back on it, we knew where they were going to laugh from experience, but we weren't prepared for the crying and sniffing in the audience. That was the thing I started hearing. Clark Gable and Carole Lombard were sitting close, and when Snow White was poisoned, stretched out on that slab, they started blowing their noses. I could hear it--crying--that was the big surprise.[5] Animator Ward Kimball

What I wouldn't have done to be in that audience seventy-three years ago! It's stuff like this that makes life worth living. Tonight also marks one year of blogging here at the Snow White Sanctum...and if the muses be willing, more are in store.

1. Bill Peet quote via Walt Disney: The Triumph of the American Imagination by Neal Gabler, p.272. Photo via Michael Sporn Animation.
2. Woolie Reitherman photo via Michael Barrier December 18, 2008 post.
3a/b. Ken O'Connor quote via
Walt Disney: The Triumph of the American Imagination by Neal Gabler, p.272. Also Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (Studio Book), Viking Press, 1979, p.225. Photo via Re-Imagineering.
4. Shamus Culhane
quote via Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs: The Making of the Classic Film by Brian Sibley and Richard Holliss, p.65. Photo via Animation World Magazine
5. Ward Kimball quote via Walt Disney's Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs: An Art in Its Making, p.47. Photo via The Inkling Chronicles.


  1. Big fan of "the quotes" - as it brings historical events (such as this premiere) a bit closer to the reader. Placed a link to your great site on mine (at http://www.thisdayindisneyhistory.com/Dec21.html)

  2. Happy Anniversary to Snow White....and to you as well, Robert!

  3. Congrats on the anniversary; and excellent job with the quotes; it is hard to imagine now what a groundbreaking event “Snow White” was, but the memories share on this post sure help.

  4. Tony- I agree about the "quotes". They're a window into the past. I added a link to your great site too.

    Thanks Tokyo and Dave. This first year flew by. I easily have enough material lined up for the coming year and beyond. It's amazing just how much is out there on Snow White.

    Really enjoyed seeing the premiere photos you posted Dave.

  5. Congratulations on your first anniversary! What an auspicious date you chose to start blogging!

    What we wouldn't all have given to have been in the Carthay Circle that night!

    My favourite 'memory' of that night came from Adriana Caselotti (the voice of Snow White) who, with Harry Stockwell (the Prince), tried to get in to the premiere without tickets. She remonsdtrated with the usherette at the door: "I'm Snow White!" The girl looked unimpressed: "I don't care if you're the Wicked Witch, you're not getting in without a ticket!" Happily, they managed to sneak in when the girl wasn't looking and watched the film from the back of the upper circle.

  6. Thanks Brian. Love that Adriana anecdote. It shows what a "go-getter" she really was and causes me to respect her even more.

  7. What a cool blog you have! I am humbled that you follow mine!

  8. Surprise Robert! Now I'm here, too. Congratulations to you for your great blog's anniversary.

  9. Thanks Connie. I certainly enjoy reading your blog.

    Hey hey! It's Ken! Thanks so much and welcome aboard. It's an honor.