Today is the anniversary of the London premiere of Disney’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs – an astonishing 76 years ago in 1938. As I’ve mentioned before on this blog – the wicked queen’s transformation from elegant beauty to gnarled old hag terrified me, not as a child but when I watched the film with my (completely unfazed) daughter.
You can watch the transformation here.
From the dreadful spell, to the moment when her hands wither into claws, her voice changing to a terrible cackle, the scene is brilliant from start to finish, and her sudden appearance at Snow White’s window in the next scene still makes me jump.
But who was the woman behind this classic portrayal of a witch?
The queen was voiced by Lucille La Verne, an actress born in Nashville, Tennessee in 1872. La Verne began acting at a very young age, performing in what are known as summer stock theatres – those that put on productions only during the summer months. La Verne went on to tour with small theatre troupes as a teenager, becoming prolific and highly regarded – at the age of just fourteen she played the Shakespearian roles of both Juliet and Lady Macbeth back to back. La Verne made her Broadway debut in 1888 at the age of only 16 with a supporting role in ‘La Tosca’. She went on to appear in many productions, including roles in ‘Uncle Tom’s Cabin’, ‘Lady Windermere’s Fan’, ‘Seven Days’ and ‘Way Down East’. In 1898, La Verne was made manager and director of the Empire Theatre in Richmond, Virginia where she also acted in productions such as ‘Hedda Gabbler’ and ‘Antigone’. She left the Empire in 1904 to make her London debut, in a supporting role in the play ‘Clarice’, a role she continued for the play’s Broadway run. La Verne continued to appear in many more plays and also branched into film, her debut, a role in the silent movie ‘Butterflies and Orange Blossoms’ in 1914. She continued to appear in film and on the stage.
The wicked queen was La Verne’s last role. After voicing both the queen and her alter ego, and live modelling for the film’s artists, she retired from acting and became a successful night club owner. La Verne died from cancer in 1945 at the age of 72, but her voice lives on, scaring generation after generation of children – and their parents!