Born in Long Beach, California, Linda Woolverton holds a BFA in Theater Arts from Cal State University Long Beach and a Master’s Degree in Theater for Children from Cal State Fullerton.
Following graduation, she started her own children’s theater, for which she performed, wrote and directed productions that traveled to schools, parks, malls, churches and local theaters.
In 1980, she began a four year stint as an executive with CBS Television, where she developed both children’s and late-night programming.
Against all advice, she quit and became a full time writer. She wrote two young adult novels “Star Wind” and “Running Before the Wind” for Houghton Mifflin. She also paid the bills by writing scripts for animated series like Ewoks, The Real Ghostbusters, Chip ‘n’ Dale Rescue Rangers and Ducktales.
When one of her novels came to the attention of a Disney executive, she was hired to work on several animated projects including one involving Winnie the Pooh that was eventually shelved.
Woolverton was brought in for a rewrite on Beauty and the Beast and two and a half years afterwards and four completed drafts, she was still working with the project.
Woolverton said that she drew her inspiration for her screenplay and approach to the character of Belle not from the famous 1946 Jean Cocteau film version of the famous tale but from the 1933 film Little Women. Woolverton also admitted that there was a lot of Katherine Hepburn from that film in Woolverton’s characterization of Belle.
Woolverton’s next project was Walt Disney Pictures’ live action feature Homeward Bound: The Incredible Journey (1993), followed by her work on the animated feature The Lion King (1994).
Woolverton provided the book for the Broadway adaptation of Beauty and the Beast that opened in New York in Spring 1994.
For an article on the then newly released animated feature Beauty and the Beast, I interviewed Linda Woolverton briefly over the phone in 1992 concentrating on the character of Belle.
Jim Korkis: Everyone seems to love the character of Belle.
Linda Woolverton: I’m just so happy that the world has embraced Belle. In the past we’ve seen that other animated heroines were reacting to outside forces. Belle isn’t like that. She initiates action. She sets things in motion. What is great about her, I think, is that she shows us all that women don’t have to sit around and wait.
JK: She certainly seems different than the classic Disney princesses.
LW: Now, I don’t want to stand here in 1992 and say I think Snow White and Cinderella were negative role models for girls, because that’s not fair. They were signs of their time. I have a daughter and when she’s old enough, I’m going to let her see those movies. I think what that will do is launch a discussion about how women have changed. Because in those movies, women didn’t go out and conquer the world. They dreamed about someone to save them from their life. Belle is different. She goes out as a woman and does it herself.
Aside from the fact that the film has made a lot of money, I feel really good about creating a character who is a positive role model for young girls, and boys, too. Because that’s the audience that’s important. They’re going to run the world one day soon. To Gaston, Belle wasn’t a person; she was a possession. And I think it’s great for little boys to see that Beauty doesn’t choose him. Not only can they look at Gaston as an example of how not to treat women, but they can hopefully be taught by the Beast, a macho guy who is comfortable with his feelings and gentleness. He could teach a lot of men, in fact, about sensitivity.
JK: Do you have a feminist background?
LW: They (Disney) knew I had a feminist sensibility and they were at ease that the same accusations leveled against ‘Mermaid’ (like Ariel forsaking her family and heritage for a man) wouldn’t happen with ‘Beauty and the Beast’. I never took part in marches. I just knew I wanted to go out, very much like Belle, and do things myself. I thought I was smart enough to be able to do that.
The only thing I wrote (to describe Belle physically) was ‘she has a little wisp of hair that keeps falling in her face’. Because I wanted her not to be perfect. It was important that not every hair be in place.
JK: I love how she loves books.
LW: Her love of books was to show that she had an open mind, that she was available to new concepts and ideas. One of my big things with the character was showing her love of adventure. That’s why in the scene where her father goes off to collect his prize money, you see her at home sticking pins in a map, marking off all the places she wants to visit when they get the money. That day I showed up, they (the male Disney animators) had thrown out the map business and she was shown baking a ‘Welcome home, Papa!’ cake in the kitchen. Animation is a collaborative process so it was more a matter of saying, ‘Well, guys, that’s not in her character. She wouldn’t even know how to bake.’
They had her crying too much when she was in the Beast’s castle. She cried all the time. I said, ‘Guys, I don’t think she would cry this much. I mean, I wouldn’t cry this much’. I thought she’d be looking for a way out, or she’d be intrigued that she was living in an enchanted castle.
The opposite sort of thing would happen as well. Once everybody realized she wasn’t going to be this typical Disney female, they would go to the extreme. When Gaston came, they had her dumping him in a closet. She became bitchy. My argument was that she shouldn’t dump him in there, because she was too smart for that. She could get rid of him in other ways. I gotta hand it to Jeffrey Katzenberg because he would see scenes like that and say, ‘Does that seem consistent with who Belle is, Linda?’ He never told me to make her more liberated but he did turn to me a lot as a barometer.
JK: Thank you for your time and your candid answers.