January 27, 1917 – Screening of the play Snow White starring Marguerite Clark
“The world of make-believe has always delighted and absorbed me, ever since I was a little boy.” – Walt Disney
When recalling his early years in many of his interviews, Walt Disney seemed to have a wealth of inspiration as a child, from the fairy tales his grandmother read him, to touring productions of plays, such as Peter Pan, starring Maude Adams. The biggest inspiration for Disney’s choosing Snow White, it has been said, is the film version of the play Snow White, starring silent screen actress Marguerite Clark.
The film, released December 25, 1916, is a silent black and white film, directed by J. Searle Dawley and distributed by Paramount Pictures. Snow White is played by Marguerite Clark, who was well known for her roles as waifs and children; the Queen was played by Dorothy Cumming, with the Prince played by Creighton Hale, and the Witch played by Alice Washburn.
On January 27 and January 28, 1917, a film version of the story was featured in the Kansas City Convention Hall, sponsored by the Kansas City Star. Disney was a newsboy for the paper at that time, and the paper decided to reward their newsboys with a screening in the hall, with 67,000 people eventually showing up. The film was presented on four different screens to oblige the crowd; unfortunately, the projections were hand-cranked, and the projectionists were not in sync. Disney later recalled that he could see on one screen what was going to happen on one of the other screens, but this still left a magical impression on the fifteen-year-old. “My impression of the picture has stayed with me through the years and I know it played a big part in selecting Snow White for my first feature production,” he explained.
Snow White had always been a favorite story of Disney’s. As he said in a 1953 magazine article in the now-defunct Brief Magazine, Disney’s fascination with fairy tales and make-believe “began when I was a child. Every evening after supper my grandmother would take down from the shelf the well-worn volumes of Grimm’s Fairy Tales and Hans Christian Andersen. We would gather around her and listen to the stories that we knew so well that we could repeat them word for word. Of all the characters in the fairy tales, I loved Snow White best. And when I planned my first full length cartoon, she inevitably was the heroine.” These readings and this film of Snow White no doubt influenced Disney to pick the fantastical story as his first film, or his “folly,” as his critics put it.