Thursday, 22 July 2010


Ilene Woods

Ilene Woods - Cinderella (2)

With the death, on 1 July, of Ilene Woods, who spoke and sang for the eponymous heroine of Walt Disney's 1950 animated feature, Cinderella, we lost another of those distinctive Disney voice talents who, whilst unseen, helped create characters who have endured across the generations.

It was chance that brought Miss Woods the role when her songwriting friends Mack David and Jerry Livingstone asked her to make some demo recordings of songs they were writing for a new Disney film. David and Livingstone had known the singer for some time having been guests on her thrice-weekly radio show in New York.

Ilene recorded the Fairy Godmothers magic song, 'Bibbidi-bobbiddi-boo' and Cinderella's songs, 'A Dream is a Wish Your Heart Makes' and 'So This is Love' and thought nothing more of it than as doing a favour for friends. However, when Walt Disney - who had already rejected several hundred possible voices for his new screen princess - heard Woods' recordings he instinctively knew that he had found his Cinderella.

Working on and off at the studio for a couple of years from 1948, Woods contributed more than just the voice to the character since Marc Davis sketched her during recording sessions and incorporated many of her gestures and mannerisms in his animation. It was Disney's personal idea - brilliantly realised by Woods in performance - to have Cinderella's rendition of 'Sing, Sweet Nightingale' accompanied by a harmonising choir of Cinderellas reflected in the soap bubbles rising from the bucket of soapy water with which she is scrubbing the floor of her stepmother's house.

I had the privilege of spending time with Ilene Woods a few years ago when I was making my BBC Radio series, Disney's Women, and I was struck by her unassuming modesty and her obvious delight in having contributed to one of Disney's finest fairy tales for the cinema.

"I didn't realise what I had," she told me, "until, many years later, an agent said, 'Ilene, that's the longest engagement you will ever have, because as long as children are born and movies are shown, they'll be hearing your voice.'"

It seemed an appropriate quote with which to conclude the obituary that I contributed to the London newspaper, The Guardian, and which you can read here.

Ilene Woods - Cinderella (1)


Steven Hartley said...

A Disney legend that has passed away, and I think Ilene Woods should've lived a bit longer, if that was her dream?

I quite like Cinderella, parcticually the cats and mice scenes which look like Tom and Jerry styles. However Marc Davis does beautiful Cinderella drawings!

Brian Sibley said...

You're right, Steven, the sequences with Lucifer the Cat and the mice Jaq and Gus are funny and brilliantly animated. And, as you say, Marc drew a very lovable heroine in Cinderella with whom it is very easy to identify and sympathise.

Snow White Archive said...

Interestingly, I recently came across a 1949 Disney music and story LP album where Ilene (not Adriana) played the role of Snow White.

Brian Sibley said...

Fascinating! Quite a combo: Dennis Day and Ilene Woods. If it is dated 1949, this recording would have been made after Ilene had begun to record Cinderella. What can you tell us about the style of her performance in comparison with that of Adriana?

Snow White Archive said...

Unfortunately, I have not yet listened to it. The record is a 78 speed and I don't currently have access to such a player. But I'll let you know once I find one.