ANIMATION ANECDOTES
February 25, 2022 posted by Jim Korkis

Seven Secrets of the Seven Dwarfs

Suspended Animation #360

In the original story, the dwarfs were unnamed. Walt usually referred to them as “little men” instead of “dwarfs”. Walt wanted names that would reflect their individual personalities and over six dozen choices were proposed including Thrifty, Shifty, Nifty, Hotsy, Jumpy, Blabby, Burpy, Weepy, and Snoopy.

Some animators did not like Walt’s selection of the name “Dopey” thinking it was too modern. Walt replied that the word appeared in the works of Shakespeare and they relented. However, in over seven decades, no one has found that word in any Shakespearean texts.

It is always a trivia question to name all seven dwarfs but my favorite “take” on that is the Your Show of Show ten minute skit called “The Seven Dwarfs Bet” with Sid Caesar, Carl Reiner Nanette Fabray and Howard Morris where they can’t remember one of the names of the dwarfs.

It always makes me laugh when Caesar calls Walt Disney in Hollywood and Walt doesn’t know if there is a dwarf named “Weepy” in the film.

In a 1953 interview in McCalls magazine, Walt’s wife told the interviewer she tried to talk her husband out of making Snow White because “no one would want to go see a movie with dwarfs.”

Who is the only dwarf with white bushy eyebrows? Who is the only dwarf to wear glasses? Which dwarf is not kissed goodbye by Snow White at the end of the film? Which dwarfs do not have a beard? (Answers at the bottom of the column.)

1. When was the first time that the Disney Company built a replica of the Seven Dwarfs’ Mine for the general public to enjoy?

“Snow White Island” (sometimes referred to as “Dwarfland” in the publicity of the time) was built in 1937 for the premiere of the film at the Carthay Circle theater in Los Angeles.

During the film’s four month run at the theater, it was estimated that over half a million people visited Snow White Island that was located in the street just a couple blocks down from the theater.

The Island was built in a median that was surrounded by car lanes on both sides. It was almost 900 feet long. It cost nearly $10,000 to erect, and bills for lighting and watchmen (there were four) ran $6,500.

There was the wishing well, the fearful forest where Snow White had been lost, the dwarfs’ cottage (with a working water wheel next to it) and, of course, the fabled diamond mine.

Real performers costumed as the dwarfs worked and played in the area at various times of the day. Souvenir hunters were a constant menace. One fellow stole a frightening bat out of a forest tree and flew off with it before the guard could catch him.


2. Could Dopey speak?

The answer in the film is that Dopey doesn’t know because he’s never tried. However, the Disney Studio did try because the character originally was supposed to be a chatterbox constantly saying silly things.

When the dwarfs wondered who might be upstairs, Dopey chimed in, “Maybe it’s Santa Claus!”

Disney recorded several different performers to do Dopey’s dialog including baby-faced vaudevillian Eddie Collins who was performing as the live action reference model for the character.

As Disney Legend Ham Luske who animated on the film recalled, “We tried many different voices. The voice that came closest to what we wanted sounded too much like Doc. Then somebody suggested that maybe he shouldn’t talk at all. That proved to be the answer.”

Actually, it was Walt who suggested that Dopey shouldn’t speak. He told his storymen that he envisioned Dopey to be like an eager young puppy waiting for someone to throw a ball and to have some of the same mannerisms of a dog including wiggling his ears.


3. Why do the dwarfs look different in this film?

The nose and cheek shadow area on the dwarfs was first inked on the front of the cels and then painted on the rear in the traditional manner. Then, in order for the shadow to look more natural, the ink lines were removed. This is just another example of the detailed time-consuming work that made Snow White look so extraordinary.

The first drawings for Snow White were taken to Ink and Paint on January 4, 1937 and were put under the camera nine weeks later to be filmed. The last cels were painted on November 27, 1937 and final photography took place on December 1, 1937 just twenty days before the film premiered at the Carthay Circle Theater on December 21, 1937.


4. Why was the first record featuring the Seven Dwarfs?

The original soundtrack of Snow White was released on a three-disc set by RCA Victor Records in 1938 and was the very first feature-length movie soundtrack album ever released. The album jacket doesn’t state that it is the official soundtrack album but says “With the Same Characters, and Sound Effects As In the Film”.


5. What is one thing that Sleepy, Grumpy and Goofy have in common?

Storyman and voice performer Pinto Colvig did the voices for all three characters, as well as Pluto. Originally, Walt had considered actor Sterling Holloway as the voice of Sleepy and dialog was written to match his unique cadence but by the time it came to record, Holloway was unavailable. However, in later years Holloway provided the narration as well as character voices for many memorable Disney animated movies. He was the original voice for Winnie the Pooh.


6. Why didn’t Walt Disney make a sequel or a series of short cartoons with the dwarves?

Walt did briefly consider a sequel entitled Snow White Returns (using the animation that had been cut from the original film like the Soup Eating and Bed Making scenes with some additional new animation as Snow White returned for her annual visit with her friends) but either because of the outbreak of World War II or his dislike for repeating himself with sequels, the film was never made.

The dwarfs did reunite for a short educational film called The Winged Scourge (1943) where they demonstrated how to combat the risks of malaria by getting rid of mosquitoes. It was all new animation (not repeating movement from the original film) including having Disney Legend Frank Thomas, who worked on the original film, animating Dopey.


7. Why do the dwarfs’ entrust Dopey with the key to the vault?

While it is amusing to see Dopey hanging the key to the vault on a nail just outside the vault, it is also a subtle example of the mastery of Walt Disney’s storytelling. By putting Dopey in charge of the riches, Walt is immediately telling the audience not to worry about it and that this is not to be a story about the gems. They won’t be stolen. The dwarfs aren’t saving up for something special like hiring a housekeeper or building a larger cottage. Working in the mine is just their job, like any other job that starts in the morning and finishes before dinner. The gems have no monetary value to them or to anyone else.


Answers: (Happy is the only one with bushy white eyebrows. All the others have dark ones. Doc is the one who wears glasses to help establish he is an authority figure because at the time, people who wore glasses were considered smarter. Sleepy missed getting a kiss because things were so rushed at the end of filming that the animators simply forgot. Dopey is the only dwarf who does not have a beard.)

10 Comments

  • Years ago I got a phone call in the middle of the night from some friends of mine who were drunk at a party. They couldn’t remember the names of all seven dwarfs, so they rang me up, figuring I would know. I did — they had forgotten Happy — but I was pretty peeved at having my sleep disturbed and not being invited to the party.

    Here’s an anecdote about Snow White you might not have heard. When opera director Herbert Graf visited conductor Arturo Toscanini at his summer home on Lake Maggiore in 1938, the 71-year-old maestro called one of his own grandchildren and Graf’s five-year-old son over to the piano and proceeded to play for them all of the songs from “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs”. (Source: Harvey Sachs, TOSCANINI: MUSICIAN OF CONSCIENCE, 2017, p. 698.) Toscanini was renowned for his prodigious memory — he conducted entire operas without a score, even in rehearsal — so it’s quite possible that he knew all the songs from the film by heart after seeing it just once. The image of Toscanini playing “Heigh Ho” and “Someday My Prince Will Come” for an audience of two little children is a charming one, and it shows what a profound impact “Disney’s folly” must have had on this legendary musician.

  • The Winged Scourge video seems to have some data corruption in it… especially bad at the end is the audio portion.

    • Yes… if anyone has an embed to a better copy, please let us know.

      • https://dai.ly/xyo9rx

        • Thanks – the new embed is now in place.

          • You’re welcome.👍

  • Some, as we know, wound up as non-Disney names (Daffy, whom Leon Schelsinger and Tex (then, “Fred”) Avery had introduced in 1937, same year as DIsney and RKO preparing SNOW for release and later, Snoopy, whom Charles M.Schulz, United Features Syndicate and EVERY newspaper in October 1950 introduced as one of the earlier classic Peanuts characters, a few days after Charlie Brown and a few oothers..Patty & Sherm,y.) Steve

  • My favorite reportedly discarded dwarf name is “Biggo Ego,” which apparently got a bit farther in early script drafts that you might imagine.

    The dwarfs also appear — in mostly reused animation from the feature — in “7 Wise Dwarfs,” a 1941 short produced by the studio for the National Film Board of Canada to promote the sale of war bonds.

    In a funny moment in Robert Altman’s CALIFORNIA SPLIT, slightly drunken gamblers George Segal and Elliott Gould also try to name all seven dwarfs.

    “Twenty bucks says you can’t name the seven dwarfs.”

    “I know I can name three or four of them.”

    “Seven.”

    “I got seven.”

    “Doc.”

    “That’s one.”

    “Dopey.”

    “That’s two.”

    “Snoopy.”

    “There is no Snoopy.”

    They don’t come close to getting all of them.

  • Dopey could scream and whimper. But it was wise to keep him a (mostly) silent character. Some characters don’t naturally lend themselves easily or naturally to a voice that would satisfy everyone. Many people disliked the late Lorenzo Music’s voice for Garfield. And God knows what or whom Calvin’s Hobbes would sound like.

    The Dwarfs entrusting the keys to the mine to Dopey is typical corporate thinking. Give the big job to the dummy who’ll get the blame (instead of you) if anything goes wrong.

  • I always believed Dopey didn’t speak because he was based on Harpo Marx–who didn’t speak, either.

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