<< Disney Legend Ilene Woods, who voiced Cinderella in the 1950 classic, has passed away at the age of 81. Woods was born on May 5, 1929 in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, U.S.A. and was both a singer and actress. <<
Below is my interview with her, done several years ago when Disney was preparing to release CINDERELLA on DVD:
Cinderella is about
to make her grand entrance as a DVDebutante--but it's not the overworked,
tired-looking Cinderella we're used to. With the magic words
"Bibbidi-Bobbidi-Boo," and a lot of restoration work, Disney's movie
magicians (and perhaps some of her mouse and bird friends) have polished the
studio's 1950 gem to a shine for its Fall DVD release, which also comes
with a coach-full of lovely accessories. Participating in the bonus materials,
and also helping beat the drum for its digital debut, is the then-teenage girl
who furnished the speaking and singing voice of the classic fairy tale
character, Ilene Woods.
Woods was born in
Portsmouth, New Hampshire, the daughter of "a backstage mom" who was
responsible for Ilene getting her show biz start on the stage--at age two! At
14, during a vacation in New York City, she received an offer to top-line her
own radio program once she became available at the end of that school year. The
Ilene Woods Show, a
three-nights-a-week, 15-minute musical series, soon started its run on the Blue
Network with the teenager as its star.
Radio work in Chicago
preceded a move to California, her first and only on-screen movie role (On
Stage Everybody with Jack Oakie,
1945) and a stint on the Jack Carson-starring radio series Sealtest Village
Store--the latter proving to be a
doorway of opportunity for the future Disney voice artist.
Q: How did you find out that Disney was on the lookout for an
actress-singer to provide the voice of Cinderella?
I didn’t! I was working on Sealtest Village Store with Jack Carson and Eve Arden, and two
songwriters came over to the show and asked me if I would go into a studio and
record a few songs that they wanted to present to someone for a movie. I had
known these two songwriters in New York, so I said, "Gladly! Sure!" I
did sing the songs for them, and we said our goodbyes and "Let's get
together for lunch next year" and so on, and I went my merry way. Two days
later, I received a call from Disney Studios, that Walt Disney wanted to meet
with me. I went out, and he said, "I heard the records and I thought we'd
sit down and talk for a minute," and we did. Then he asked, "How
would you like to be Cinderella?"
Q: Those two songwriters didn't tell you that it was for the
movie Cinderella or that it was for
No, they didn't. "A Dream Is a Wish Your Heart Makes,"
"Bibbidi-Bobbidi-Boo" and "So This Is Love"--those were the
three songs that I did for Mack David and Jerry Livingston, the
songwriters, who (as I say) I had known in New York when I had my show there.
When Walt Disney heard those songs, he wanted to meet with me. At that time,
they had--so they tell me--auditioned over 300 girls about being the voice of
Q: I read it was 392.
[Laughs] It keeps getting to be more and more! On the new
DVD, they say it was over four
hundred. The number keeps growing as the story keeps getting retold! So,
anyway, that's how I got the part when I didn't even know they were
Q: Did anybody ever tell you what gave you the edge, why they
Walt once said that he just heard something in my voice that
he felt was Cinderella. So, no, I don't know WHY I got the part, but I'm
certainly glad I did. It's been wonderful.
Q: What were the Cinderella
recording sessions like? Were you there with other actors?
I worked with Verna
Felton [the voice of the Fairy Godmother], who became a very dear, dear friend,
and I worked with Eleanor Audley [the voice of the Stepmother]. She was really
a lovely lady. She had that wonderful, "scary" voice with which she
played so many villainous roles, but she was really a lovely person. I didn’t
work with any other [voice artists] except them and, of course, Mike Douglas,
who did the singing for the prince, and William Phipps, who did the speaking
for the prince.
Q: So you would sit there and do it like a radio show.
Yes, on either side
of the mike. We'd do take after take because the log director would say it
should be one way, and the
animation man would say it had to be another way, and they'd argue back and forth and we'd do
was Walt Disney like? What was your lasting impression of him?
true visionary. He was the only true visionary I think I ever worked for. He
was wonderful. He loved young people, and...oh, it's hard to explain. He was in
another world all the time, but
he came down to earth once in a while to talk to us "mortals" [laughs]. His mind was always working. Whenever he would
come in to listen to the playbacks at the end of the day, he'd sit with his
head in his hands and just listen, and then he'd come up with these great ideas. Once he came up with an idea, we'd redo it
once, and it would be perfect. At one point I said to him, "Mr. Disney, please come in earlier in the day. If you come in the first part of the day, you'd save the studio a lot of
money!"--because he would always be right. We would work all day on this way and that way and that way and this way, and then he would come in and, with one suggestion, it would be perfectly right.
Q: You'd do it this
way and that way until he came in and
told you...THE way.
[Laughs] "THE way" is right! After we did it different ways
all day long, Walt would come in and listen and make a suggestion, and we'd do
Q: At the time, did you think playing Cinderella was a good
I didn't think about
those things. It's very funny: I didn’t think of myself as having a career. I
thought of myself as a lucky girl, doing things that I loved, and meeting
wonderful people. I wasn’t the typical "show business actress." Cinderella was two and a half years work.
Q: REALLY? But not day in and day out, though.
Oh, no! We would work
maybe, oh, three or four days one week, and then we'd skip a couple of weeks,
and then we'd work two weeks steady, and then we might skip another three
weeks...it was like THAT. I
worked off and on, and whenever they needed me for another scene, or another
recording, they would call.
Q: In the late '40s, when you were doing Cinderella, where were you living?
There in California,
with my first husband.
were already married?
Yes. I got married at
17, and my daughter was born just before Cinderella.
were already a wife and mother
as you played Cinderella?
She had just been
born before I got the part.
Q: Did you get to see Cinderella
in dribs and drabs, as it was being animated, or was it complete when you saw
it the first time?
I didn’t want to see any of it until it was finished, and I was so happy that I'd made that decision. The opening
night was at Disney Studios, at the theater there. It was a screening for
people who had worked on it, and their families--it was invitational. Garry
Moore, who I was working with in radio at the time, was the emcee, and he
introduced everybody in person, on stage, and chatted a little bit with them,
and he introduced the movie. Once the movie started, I got so lost in it that I
forgot that I had anything to do with it [laughs]--it was so wonderful.
Q: Then you went on tour with the movie.
Yes, I went to New
York, Chicago, Boston--mostly places on the East Coast. And then we came [back
to California], of course, and I went to the opening out here.
Q: Those must have
been like real-life Cinderella moments for you,
getting the red carpet treatment in all those different cities.
It was. Of course they had made for me a Cinderella ball
gown, like in the movie, and the Cinderella hairdo and so on. It was kind of
amazing for a girl my age--even though I had been around the business for many
years. Oh, and I did some [promotional TV appearances] for Cinderella as well, and I'm so pleased that those are out on
the new DVD--a Perry Como show and one other show that I did when we were on
tour with the movie, when it first was released. The first album that came out
on Cinderella was from RCA
Victor, and it was the number one-selling album of all albums for a year. And the residuals were very,
what point did you give up on the career?
When my boys were
born. At that point, I had something in my life that was more important to me
than show business--my two boys. They were two years apart, and when the second
boy was born, I walked away from [show biz] so easily. I'm so glad I did, too,
because those were happy years. I was an at-home mom and I loved every minute
of it. I played Cinderella at home! But show business was a wonderful, happy
memory to me--I did some wonderful things and met some wonderful people.
many kids--and grandkids--these
I have three
children, minus one of the boys, who was killed in a car accident. He was a
happy boy and lived a wonderful life--that's my only consolation. So now I have
one boy, the younger boy, still with us, he's a Marriott Hotel executive, and
my daughter, and [counting]
Q: Inspired by singer Peggy Lee's filing of a lawsuit against
Disney for violating her Lady and the Tramp
contract, you filed a $20 million lawsuit against them in 1990 when they first
released Cinderella to home video.
Considering that I
was paid $2500 for almost two and a half years' work, I thought it was only
fair. But I knew it wasn't going to be easy, so eventually I said, "Forget
it." I didn't want any trouble with the studio--I like so many people over
there. I'm a happy lady, I wasn't greedy [laughs]. But I was glad Peggy did well, I really was--I
was happy for her.
the best thing about having been Cinderella?
Oh, I love the idea
that after I'm gone, children will still be hearing my voice.