Finding appropriate voices for the characters was also far from easy, since the studio had only limited experience in this field, most of the shorts having featured song and pantomime rather than extensive dialogue. Disney instinctively turned to film, radio and burlesque comics for the dwarfs, casting Billy Gilbert (who had a celebrated sneezing routine) as Sneezy, Otis Harlan as Happy, Scotty Mattraw as Bashful and Roy Attwell (whose radio act featured hopelessly muddled sentences) as the easily befuddled Doc. Pinto Colvig, who had voiced the Practical Pig in Three Little Pigs and the Grasshopper in The Grasshopper and the Ants as well as Mickey’s pal Goofy, spoke for both Grumpy and Sleepy.
The largely singing role of the Prince went to Harry Stockwell, who sang the title song for Broadway Melody of 1936; movie heavy, Moroni Olsen was signed to speak for the Slave of the Magic Mirror; and Lucille La Verne, who had played several nasty movie crones was cast as the Witch and, when no one more suitable was found, as the Queen as well.
Again it was Snow White who gave the most problems, and over a hundred hopefuls were auditioned and rejected — including the popular young star, Deanna Durbin (whom Disney thought ‘too mature’) — before Adriana Caselotti, the 19-year old daughter of a Los Angeles singing coach, performed Snow White’s numbers in a voice that combined child-like innocence with a crystalline coloratura. Listening to her audition on a loudspeaker in another room, Disney shouted: “That’s the girl! That’s Snow White!” and the role was cast.
Adriana Caselotti was paid $970 for the recording, which took 48 days, but although
she provided one of the most distinctive cartoon voices of all time, she – like the rest of the performers – received no credit on the completed film.
The songs by Frank Churchill (who had composed the Disney hit ‘Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf?’) and Larry Morey, became an integral part of the storytelling and numbers like ‘Whistle While You Work’, ‘Heigh Ho’ and ‘Some Day My Prince Will Come’ made Snow White the first screen musical to use songs to advance the plot and establish characters.
“There was only one way we could successfully do Snow White,” Disney later recalled, “and that was to go for broke —shoot the works.” There could be no compromise on money, talent or time. But by now there were heavy demands on the animation team, since in addition to the feature the studio was also making some 14 shorts each year. As a result, Disney decided to dramatically increase the number of staff, and a major recruiting drive began in 1937, with advertisements in the press and a talent-search in New York by Don Graham.
The characters in Snow White were styled by Albert Hurter, an extraordinary artist of the grotesque, and Joe Grant, a newspaper caricaturist who had joined the studio to provide cartoons of movie stars for Mickey’s Gala Premier (1933).