1938: Nostalgic looking back on the wonderful

Walt Disney animated feature

“Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs”


The place is the market town of Nakskov on the Western Lolland in Denmark. The time around Christmas in December 1938. The weather is surprisingly well on the season, no rain, no snow and no wind. It is early evening, as darkness has fallen over the Christmas bustling city whose main street, however, was illuminated by the many Christmas decorated shop windows. Mechanical gremlins could to the children's delight be seen in some of the largest business windows, both inside and outside opening hours. This was all something that also fascinated a 9-year-old kid like me, but most interested in and admitted I was in movies, and especially cartoons. Both of these amazing media I had for the first time been acquainted with when I as a 6-year-old walked in Tillitse School and in the summer of 1935 with a trip to Nykøbing. As part of the excursion to the class was on a visit to one of that city's cinemas, and on that occasion was shown both a feature film and a cartoon. I no longer remember neither the films title or action, but it was only the cartoon as such, that made an impression on me. It was this that the drawing figures moved as if they were really alive, which was fascinating. Since I could hold a pencil as 2-3-year-old, I had been interested in drawing, and at the sight of the cartoon I immediately felt that this just was something for me, and decided on the spot that that kind I would also do when I grew up.


But crucial to me as 9-year-old kid and my future was the winter of 1938, for just then I came for the first time to hear the name Walt Disney. The occasion was that he and his company's very first long cartoon that in English jargon is called "an animated feature," namely "Snehvide og de syv Dværge” in Danish, original title "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs", had Denmark Premiere at Kino-Palace in Copenhagen on  September 29, 1938 and the revival of the Metropol Theatre on Strøget (The Street) December 26 same year. The movie was quite a bit of a financial and artistic adventure from Disney's side, and a pioneer in terms of long cartoons. He would then also hear many hard words for it, before, during and to some extent also in its production. High-brow film critics and culture writers did not like the film, which they thought was trite as well in its artistic design as in its action. But the regular audience, children and adults, immediately took Snow White movie for what it was and gave a damn what the reviewers thought, wrote and said.



In this building in Railway Street (Jernbanegade) in Nakskov had the cinema KINO home in my childhood. The Theatre entrance was under the red canopy where there is now a Pizzeria. The dark building that can be seen at the left rear of the picture, is the old cinema, which was subsequently used for other purposes. This picture was taken during a private visit to Nakskov in the summer of 2001. - Private Photo: © 2001 Harry Rasmussen.


It had taken the courageous cartoon man and his many talented people at all levels about 3 years to produce this in the best sense amazing cartoons that got American world premiere december 21,1937. But luckily for animation industry in general and the Disney Company in particular, the film was from the outset an overwhelming popular success, and thus a real blockbuster. The last was, and not least important, particularly in view of the fact that it then cost a considerable sum of money to produce a 80 minutes long cartoon. A film like "Snow White" had a budget of 1.7 million. Dollars, but it served at the first viewing round (release) costs more than 8 times home, that is about 8 million. dollars. After four following views of several years, calculated the one in 1967 gross income of $ 15.95 million alone from the U.S., but the revenues from the rest of the world during the same period approached 30 million. dollars.


As mentioned, the Danish version of "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs" had Denmark Premiere in September 1938 with a revival Second Christmas Day 1938, when the film was shown simultaneously in major provincial towns, and later also in the small town cinemas. It will for the city of Nakskov say in KINO. It became clear to me one day when I was on a Christmas visit within the city - we stayed at Rosnaes (Rosnæs), about 2 km outside the centre - and came on passing the theatre, which was almost on the corner of Railway Street (Jernbanegade) and Dana Street (Danagade), not far from the railway station. To my great surprise and excited joy I saw the film publicised on the cinema facade, and when I looked behind the iron grid outside the cinema currently sealed off the entrance, I was partly seeing a glimpse of some life-sized figures of dwarves, who were cut from playwood and installed in the hall and partly overhang the cabinets on either side of the entrance, where behind their glass windows were suspended a number of scene pictures from the movie, as it was commonly used at that time.


It was so breathtaking, what I on this occasion got to see that in the following days after school I rushed into KINO, hoping to get more of the images in the showcases to see. But since it was outside of the opening hours the iron grid door in the front gate were closed and locked. But by pushing my head close to the bars, I managed to get even a glimpse of film images that enthralled me.


And of course, I told mom that the goals of my film-dreams currently exist in KINO, and mother, who herself was fascinated by watching movies, understood clearly what impact it would have for me to get the movie to see, she took pity and took me an evening with one of the performances. In advance Mom had asked Dad to be home and take care of my two younger brothers, the 4-year-old Benny and the well 1-year-old Bent. While Dad was not particularly interested cinema, so he was like home and looked after my two small kid brothers while mom and I were at the movies. He had also done this several times before, when Mom and I were in BIO and see some new Danish films. The first of its kind, Mom and I saw together was also the Danish "There was once a caretaker" from 1937, directed by future famous directing couple Alice O'Fredericks and Lau Lauritzen Jr., and actors like Oswald Helmuth, Little Connie and Borge Rosenbaum - the latter later known world-wide under the name of Victor Borge - in the lead roles.


Mother could not at that time have done me no greater joy or service than when she took me into the KINO to see "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs". For the film was a great and profound experience, indeed, a revelation for me, and probably for many others, there were sold out for all performances. My concern was whether there were any tickets left when we reached the ticket sales, as we stood in a long queue, which went right into the street and around the corner of the cinema building. But when the queue slowly moved forward, I have an opportunity to revisit the exhibited frames in one showcase, which we came close behind during the excruciatingly slow movement forward. And when we at last reached into the hall, I saw some of the great figures of dwarfs, cut into plywood and painted in vibrant colors, which were placed around the room, and mom and I passed even pass close to two of the characters , “Dopey” and "Doc". I was almost feverish with excitement at the sight which imprinted itself deeply and unforgettable in my highly susceptible child's mind.



Above is the former entrance to the cinema KINO in Nakskov, now Pizzaria, photographed in the summer of 2001, long after the venerable theater had been closed for good. But it was here that I in Christmas 1938 first saw "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs", and it was here I after school walked at least 2 miles from the school and into town to get a glimpse of the pictures in showcases. - Private Photo: © 2001 Harry Rasmussen.


And what I and mother and the rest of the audience, so got to see when, after an almost unbearably long wait was in place in the cinema and the curtain slowly and almost ceremoniously had been deducted, while the musical overture came from the big loudspeakers? - Well, at least for my wondering eyes entered the vividly drawn shapes in brilliant colors and the glorious sceneries appear on the silver screen, accompanied by beautiful music and the most catchy tunes, one could imagine, and as one might remember and hum or sing along to, as soon as you went back and listened to them. But they were now too often, well, almost daily, played and sung on the radio in the days to just joy for children as for adults who had not lost their child's mind. The music and songs in "Snow White" turned out to be of a carat and quality that they actually have survived time and therefore even today can regularly be heard on the radio or in other contexts.


Names like operetta singer Annie Jessen (1915-1993) and opera singer Marius Jacobsen (1894-1961), which laid the Danish voices and singing respectively Snow White and Prince, I will never forget, because they were part of the first spell of the film. Many years later, the Snow White movie’s Danish soundtrack was re-recorded with different and new actors in the main as well as the supporting cast, but although the result also in this or these cases is good, it can not really measure up to the "original" Danish version, at least not seen with my nostalgic eyes.

However, as a boy I did not notice the Danish actors who voiced the wicked queen and the witch or - not forgetting the unforgettable voices - for dwarves. But many years later, I managed to find out that it was none other than Clara Pontoppidan, who placed her wonderful voice to the queen and the witch. For the Dwarf it was the individually distinctive voices provided by the following names (listed in alphabetical order): Alfred Arnbak (Happy), Carl Fischer (Bashful), Aage Foss (Sneezy), Sigurd Langberg (Grumpy), Valdemar Lund (Sleepy), Victor Montell (Doc). One source believes, however, that Svend Bille, Rasmus Christiansen and Albert Luther also did voices for the dwarves in the original Danish version of "Snow White" movie, but it is so far not managed to verify this. The problem is that Danish actors of an older vintage not - or at least rarely - have included voice roles in their filmography.


But the audience and mother and I, however, felt with the poor Snow White that may occur as a general servant at the castle, just because her stepmother envied her her beauty. Late, I shall forget the introduction of the beautiful but tattered clad girl as she, followed by a bunch of interested pigeons, goes to hoist the well, to get a new bucket of water to its staircase wash. Here she sings her longing and dream of deliverance from her humiliating position in the song "I’m Wishing" while her song echoes in the deep of the well.


The song will be heard by a young prince who comes riding past the castle on his magnificent white steed, and he surprised her at the well, but she flees in a mixture of surprise, fright and decency into the castle. Prince, of course, immediately fallen in love with Snow White, follow and stay on the stairs up to the castle's back entrance, and here he sings one love serenade to her. She is venturing out on the balcony and here she kisses one of the pigeons on the beak, and then she sends it down to the prince in whose hand it lands, to deliver Snow White's kiss. When he will receive the kiss, blushing dove modestly shy, but rush so to give him a quick kiss on the mouth and fly away.


However, the evil queen stood up hidden behind the curtains in one of the castle windows and have from there seen the scene, which makes her furious. She hurries therefore into her private chamber where she conjures up the mirror spirit, and asks, "- Mirror, mirror on the wall, who is fairest of us all!" When the queen had previously asked the mirror's spirit same question, he replied: "You, my queen, are fairest of us all!" Which pleased her exceedingly much. But when she after seeing the prince courting Snow White for the second time asking the mirror, he answers: "Snow White is now fairest of us all!”


The mirror’s answers makes the Queen absolutely furious, and she summons her hunter, commanding him to bring the girl into the woods and kill her there. The hunter must obey, not even being the victim of the Queen's anger, but what a relief for us the audience that he appeared human and not have the heart to kill Snow White, but instead let her go far into the woods, away from the evil stepmother. However, this nightmare was not drain through the dark forest of Snow White - and for the audience! In the end she falls exhausted and distraught together and are lying sobbing on the dark forest floor, while seemingly evil eyes staring at her from all sides.


When the day dawned almost morning, it turned out fortunately only to be dreadful superstitious imagination that the forest and its many animals seemed evil and dangerous. On the contrary, the animals were friendly and helpful, and when she asks them if they might know a place where she will be outside her evil step-mother's anger and chasing, the  animals lead Snow White to the dwarves' cottage. But all of this is small, both chairs and tables and beds, and then there's the dust and dirt everywhere, because there does not seem to have been cleaned up in the cottage for a very long time.


But where we audiences, however, amused us over Snow White and the animals cleaning up the dwarfs' cottage neglected while she with her lovely soprano singing "Whistle While You Work”, so we all felt the urge to help. And how pleasant was not the first meeting with the seven dwarfs: Doc., Grumpy, Happy, Sleepy, Sneezy, Bashful and Dopey, looking at their work in the diamond mine and their homes march after work, where they sang "Heigh Ho! Heigh Ho!”, so that you yourself wanted to march with. Yes, we laughed with the dwarves and animals, felt joy and sorrow with the lovely Snow White, and shuddered with fear and scary when the evil queen who turned into an ugly witch - none of the highly dramatic scenes were cut out of the movie at that time, it was first later on and after worried educators and child psychologists had objected - and you were cheering dwarves as they along with the animals pursued the wily witch who had managed to put to death the innocent and kindhearted Snow White with her poisoned apple.


And last but not least we mourned with dwarves, when they returned to the cabin and found the lifeless Snow White lying on the floor, and not an eye was dry, least not mine, as they knelt around the coffin with a glass lid, which they had put her in a clearing out of the forest. And you pulled back the weather relieved and happy when the handsome prince came on his proud white steed and kissed it "dead" beauty to life again, and rode away with her to his glorious castle in the distance, while the dwarfs, with us audience, felt a great pleasure on behalf of Snow White.

It felt really like an anticlimax when the film toned out to a potpourri of its melodic and catchy music, its action was so well planned and completed satisfactorily, that you felt happy and pleased when the curtain sufficiently slowly was drawn and the lights were lit in the hall, so the audience could find the way out. However, it felt quite so nice to leave the warm cinema and come out in the evening darkness and cold. Mother and I were supposed to trudge the relatively long way home to Rosnaes, which went the way as long as we found ourselves in the city, which was fairly well lit, but as soon as we got outside it was only sparingly with street lighting, so we more or less had to go into semi-darkness.


But I noticed barely darkness and cold, while mom and I went home, because I was so filled with thinking about the film's characters and action that I almost felt like I was in another world, or more precisely in Snow White’s, the prince’s and the dwarves' adventure world. And to think this world still lives in me even now when I was a 84-year-old writer of these lines. It must surely be due to have retained child mind in spite of all the less pleasant and evil that has happened in the world since that time in 1938, which of course has not been nor can be ignored. But one should not forget to remember all the good things that have occurred and thankfully still doing it. Fairy tale Snow White and the witch or the real-life light and dark and good and evil constitute the larger LIFE ADVENTURE, which we ourselves play with and have a role in, such as for example, both Hans Christian Andersen and Martinus each in their own way so rightly highlighted.


The tale of Snow White is similar to several other folktales a symbolic picture of it, Martinus describes as "the sexual pole principle" and "sexual pole transformation", which only makes the adventure even more exciting and its contents and action always contemporary. The same is the case with a number of Hans Christian Andersen's fairy tales, particularly "The Little Mermaid". That the interested reader even could be able to satisfy itself through my website http://www.livetseventyr.dk/. (Partly available in English language)


Many years later when I as an adult revisited the Snow White movie, it still impressed and fascinated me. But it was also the technical and artistic side of the film, which bewitched me, primarily because I as a becoming animator was especially interested in animation and characteristics of the drawn animated characters, especially of the seven dwarfs who impressed me with its perfect vividness. Even as a 6-year-old, I had understood the technology behind the motion pictures, as I in 1935 had been receiving a toy-film device for Christmas, and by studying the two film loops that came with, I could see that the drawing figures on the film strips differed slightly apart frame by frame. But perhaps particularly so I had simply not begin to imagine what it was that made that one could get themselves standing single drawings - in the Snow White film case example of dwarves - to act as 'living', as is the case . And even after years of practice as an animator, I still have difficulty understanding exactly what almost mysterious or magical element of Disney animation that animates the characters to such an extent that it is right to believe that they are really living.


Well, I did of course understand that there is a carefully and skillfully processed work at all levels primarily and especially in the big Disney cartoons, particularly the work on characteristics of the individual figures, as well as the artists (the animators) mastered the technical procedures of the art. But the surprising thing is that the leading animators generally had only a few years of practical experience with animation to draw on. Several of them joined Disney in 1935, when the initial production of the Snow White film slowly began a year before.


As time has passed and I even got a deeper knowledge of animation in general and Disney animation in particular, it came gradually to be glaringly obvious to me that the 'magical element' of Disney cartoons to their merit, not least in the animation of, first and foremost was the man Walt Disney himself. He was the man who as a producer from the very beginning in 1919 constantly had driven himself and his employees to always provide the very best in cartoon style. Without Walt Disney's personal efforts and his written instructions in 1935 for the training of employees at all levels, would entertainment cartoon probably not have come much further in relation to the early 1920s when Pat Sullivan's "Felix the Cat" was a large and dominant phenomenon in entertainment cartoon. Nothing wrong with that, but Felix-style films and animation that Disney and his staff to begin with had himself as a model, would hardly have been developed and modified, if Disney not have had greater ambitions than was the case with the otherwise skilled Pat Sullivan and his staff.


The Snow White movie was and is highly Walt Disney's personal profit, partly because he had chosen the staff, who he considered to be the right for the job, and partly because he himself served as senior supervising director and motivator throughout the production process. He followed the personal production in all its phases, in some cases, to the annoyance of some of the employees who felt that they were being watched, but it was just this moment that held them to the fire and drove them to use their talent to the fullest. But in return for great inspiration, joy and pleasure for other employees when he personally told and acted in changing the shape of the film's many main characters: Snow White, the Queen, the Witch and - not least - the dwarves. The film was also produced under unfavorable external conditions, the square and working conditions in the Disney Studios on Hyperion Avenue in Los Angeles were not optimally good, and certainly not that during the production time for about 3 years came more and more employees. The newcomers employees were mainly in-betweeners (in-between artists), inkers and painters, because all drawing work back then were made exclusively by hand.


Here I would like to bring the Disney employees who were leading during the production of Snow White film in mind. Next to Walt Disney his brother, Roy Disney, without whose administrative and financial expertise the film was unlikely to have been produced. Next, supervising director David Hand, who was himself an experienced animator and director on a few short cartoons in the 1930s. Then the experienced sequence Directors: Perce Pearce, Larry Morey, William Cottrell, Wilfred Jackson and Ben Sharpsteen. Furthermore, the skilled supervising animators: Hamilton (Ham) Luske, primarily responsible for the animation of the Snow White figure, Vladimir (Bill) Tytla and Fred Moore, primarily responsible for the animation of the seven dwarfs, Norman Ferguson, primarily responsible for the animation of the wicked queen and the ugly witch.


In addition, a number of great talented cartoonists and animators, some of which were later directing animators like Frank Thomas, Oliver (Ollie) Johnston, Dick Lundy, Arthur Babbitt, Eric Larson, Milton Kahl, Robert Stokes, James Algar, Al Eugster, Cy Young, Joshua Meador, Ugo D'Orsi, George Rowley, Les Clark, Fred Spencer, Bill Roberts, Bernard Garbutt, Grim Natwick, Jack Campbell, Marvin Woodward, James Culhane, Stan Quackenbuch, Ward Kimball, Wolfgang (Woolie) Reiter Mann and Robert Martsch.


Of the above mentioned, I have personally met and talked with Walt Disney himself during his visit to the small company Nordic Cartoon Films in Valby in 1959. Frank Thomas, Ollie Johnston, Eric Larson, Ward Kimball and Woolie Reitermann I met and spoke to during a visit to the Disney Studios in Burbank in the summer of 1977.


Among the exceptionally talented art directors on the Snow White movie, was the eminent Swedish-born accounted Gustaf Tenggren and the American Kenneth (Ken) Anderson. The latter was an extremely kind person that I met and talked a great deal with during my visit to the Disney Studios in 1977.


It was also skilled illustrators and painters, who had been in charge of the film's exceptionally beautiful and atmosphere saturated backgrounds: Samuel Armstrong, Mique Nelson, Merle Cox, Claude Coats, Phil Dike, Ray Lockrem and Maurice Noble, several of these subsequently had a long career at Disney.


Mention should also be those responsible for the music and the songs, which greatly helped to secure and maintain the Snow White film's international success: Frank Churchill, Larry Morey, Paul J. Smith and Leigh Harline, who created the following songs: "I'm Wishing," "One Song," "With a Smile and a Song,” "Whistle While You Work", "High Ho", "Bluddle-Uddle-Um-Dum","The Dwarfs' Yodel Song" and "Some Day My Prince Will Come".


Finally, it must be remembered all the many unnamed employees at all levels on a daily basis worked bony loose in about 3 years and towards the completion of production even with a lot of overtime work for the film to reach being finalized for the world premiere, which took place on December 21, 1937 at Carthay Circle Theatre in Hollywood, Los Angeles. The film was first released for distribution to all sorts of countries and cinemas from  februar 4, 1938. To avoid language barriers, the film's dialogue also were recorded on the various national languages in the respective countries, so that the characters for example spoke German in Germany, French in France, Italian in Italy, Swedish in Sweden, Norwegian in Norway and Danish in Denmark. On this occasion, got some of the film's background painters busy painting the Dwarf names, because these were engraved on the foot of their beds, in each of those countries' languages.


On the Danish came the dwarfs Bashfull, Doc, Grumpy, Happy, Sleepy, Sneezy and Dopey, respectively, to be named Flovmand, Brille, Gnavpot, Lystig, Søvnig, Prosit and Dumpe. And under these appropriate and whimsical names, they have been known to virtually every child in Denmark just since September 1938. Among these happy children I hear so myself, and I still enjoy to revisit the glorious dwarfs and their merits on video although I now have topped the age of 84 years.


For more supplementary information about the Snow White movie, see the website http://www.tegnefilmhistorie.dk/  in sections When the animated cartoon came to Denmark and The Animated Feature "The Tinderbox", section  The previous history. (The website is so far only available in the Danish language)


© 2014 by Harry Rasmussen.


PS. Unfortunately it is not possible to bring pictures from the Snow White film, because this is subject to copyright. Readers who have seen the film, must mobilise their own  imagination and evoke the glorious images from the mind’s eye. But as a little help I can publish the following photos of a set of Snow White figures that were a gift from my dear wife some years ago:




The upper photo shows me arranging the small Snow White figures as a group. Next photo shows the old hag, Snow White, Prince and the wicked Queen. I have photographed the tiny figures in surroundings which shows their relatively small size.

The smål Snow White characters each measures about 5,5 cm (the Dwarfs) and 9,5 (Snow White, the Prince and Queen. The Hag measures 7,5 cm.

The characters are under the copyright of Disney manufacured by Bullyland Germany and handpainted. Phantastic!

My wife bought the tiny figures in a toy store around 12 years ago and the price totalled approximately 320 DK. As far as I know this special kind of Snow White characters are not for sale any more.




Photos © 2013 by Harry Rasmussen-



As mentioned above special interested readers can read more about my Snow White memories at the website Dansk Tegnefilms Historie 1919-2000 (The History of Danish Animated Cartoons 1919 - 2000).


See also Harry Rasmussen - 1938 Movie Experience of Snow White written by Robert Lughai at his blog: