The Faces Behind Disney's Princesses
The women who gave voice to your favorite princesses, from Snow White to Rapunzel.
1. Snow White
For her role as the sweetly-singing Snow White, 19-year-old actress Adriana Caselotti was paid just $20 for each day of work—a total of $970. She also signed a contract with Disney, which prevented her from working elsewhere. He didn’t want her distinct voice to appear in another work and tarnish his pristine princess. She still managed to land a few bit parts, including the line “Wherefore art thou, Romeo?” in the Tin Man's song “If I Only Had a Heart” in The Wizard of Oz. She remained loyal to Snow White until the day she died in 1997: Caselotti’s house in L.A. resembled a certain woodland cottage, including a wishing well in the front yard.
Like Caselotti, Ilene Woods’ post-princess career seems to have been rather limited. In 1963, she married Ed Shaughnessy, the drummer on The Tonight Show. She sued Disney in 1988, claiming that the $2500 she was paid to record the voice of Cinderella in 1948 didn’t include rights to distribute that voice on VHS. She asked for $20 million, and though Woods' case seems to have been settled out of court, Peggy Lee won a similar lawsuit for $3.83 million in 1991.
Perhaps surprisingly, Woods had a pretty modern view of the princess she gave a voice to: “I don’t think she needed the prince,” she once said. “I think she wanted to go to the ball and that was it at the moment. Then the prince wanted her and vice versa.”
3. Sleeping Beauty
After 22-year-old Mary Costa voiced Princess Aurora/Briar Rose in 1952 (though the movie wasn’t released until 1959), she went on to perform in more than 40 operas across the world. In 1991, she, too, sued Disney over the VHS issue. They settled out of court, and apparently no grudges were held: At the age of 83, Costa is still doing promotional appearances for Disney.
Jodi Benson voices not one, but two popular Disney characters: everyone’s favorite flighty mermaid, of course, but also Ken’s better half in the Toy Story movies—Barbie. And Benson’s work doesn’t stop at the House of Mouse. She’s done voice work for The Powerpuff Girls, The Grim Adventures of Billy and Mandy, The Little Engine That Could, Camp Lazlo, and Batman Beyond, among others.
Can you imagine the well-read girl leading the quiet French provincial life singing about her waning sex drive? Actually, you don’t have to imagine it. Head to Vegas and see it for yourself. Paige O’Hara is currently in performing at the Luxor as the Soap Star in the Broadway show Menopause the Musical.
Though O’Hara is no longer providing the voice for Belle—“They did a one-fell-swoop of all of the older actresses and decided to replace all of us,” she said—she’s still very much attached to the role, painting scenes from her most famous movie and selling them through DisneyFineArt.com.
Jasmine’s speaking voice, Linda Larkin, continues to get most of her work from speaking for the Princess of Agrabah. She does occasionally pop up elsewhere, though—you can currently find her as Violet in Grand Theft Auto V.
Since she gave Jasmine and Mulan their sweet singing voices in the 1990s, Lea Salonga has performed in a number of musicals, including separate stints as Eponine and Fantine in Les Miserables on Broadway. She has also released several albums that have been internationally successful.
Boardwalk Empire fans know Kelly MacDonald as Margaret Schroeder Thompson, Nucky’s long-suffering wife. She also played Dolly in Joe Wright’s Anna Karenina last year.
The casting directors of Private Practice might have a thing for princesses, because they’ve also hired Anika Noni Rose, the singing and speaking voice of Tiana from The Princess and the Frog. Rose has also appeared on The Good Wife, Elementary, and The Simpsons.
Mandy Moore was a big name long before Tangled took the pink aisle at Target by storm, and she’s still acting and singing. She stars in the CBS drama The Advocates, scheduled to premiere next month, and will also voice the title character in a Disney Junior “animated western” called Oki’s Oasis.
Since serving as the speaking voice and physical model for Pocahontas, Irene Bedard has been in a number of movie and television roles, both onscreen and as a voice actor. In fact, she appeared as Pocahontas’ mother in Terrence Malick’s The New World in 2005.
The Powhatan princess’ singing voice was provided by Judy Kuhn, a Broadway actress famous for playing Cosette in Les Miserables and Florence Vassy in Chess. Post-Pocahontas, Kuhn continued performing in musicals from Funny Girl to Passion. In 2007, she joined the cast of Les Miserables again, this time playing Fantine. Interestingly, she succeeded Lea Salonga in the role. Wonder if they ever crossed paths and discussed their princess pasts.
You already know what Mulan’s singing voice, Lea Salonga, has been up to. But her speaking voice, Ming-Na Wen, has also been pretty busy, with roles on Two and a Half Men, Eureka, Private Practice and Boston Legal. You can see her as Agent Melinda May on Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.