Year
1938

Disney releases Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs

“See for yourself what the genius of Walt Disney has created in his first full length feature production,” proclaimed the original trailer for Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, released on this day in 1938.

Based on the famous fairy tale by the Brothers Grimm, Snow White opened with the Wicked Queen asking her magic mirror the question “Who is the fairest one of all?” The mirror gives its fateful answer: Snow White, the queen’s young stepdaughter. Ordered by the queen to kill the young princess, a sympathetic woodsman instead urges Snow White to hide in the forest; there she encounters a host of friendly animals, who lead her to a cottage inhabited by the Seven Dwarfs: Sleepy, Dopey, Doc, Sneezy, Grumpy, Bashful and Happy. Eventually, in the classic happy ending viewers would come to expect as a Disney trademark, love conquers all as the dwarfs defeat the villainous queen and Snow White finds love with a handsome prince.

Walt Disney’s decision to make Snow White, which was the first animated feature to be produced in English and in Technicolor, flew in the face of the popular wisdom at the time. Naysayers, including his wife Lillian, warned him that audiences, especially adults, wouldn’t sit through a feature-length cartoon fantasy about dwarfs. But Disney put his future on the line, borrowing most of the $1.5 million that he used to make the film. Snow White premiered in Hollywood on December 21, 1937, earning a standing ovation from the star-studded crowd. When it was released to the public the following February, the film quickly grossed $8 million, a staggering sum during the Great Depression and the most made by any film up to that time.

Critics were virtually unanimous in their admiration for Snow White. Charlie Chaplin, who attended the Hollywood premiere, told the Los Angeles Times that the film“even surpassed our high expectations. In Dwarf Dopey, Disney has created one of the greatest comedians of all time.” The movie’s innovative use of story, color, animation, sound, direction and background, among other elements, later inspired directors like Federico Fellini and Orson Welles. In fact, Welles’ Citizen Kane features an opening shot of a castle at night with one lighted window that is strikingly similar to the first shot of the Wicked Queen’s castle in Snow White.

Disney won an honorary Academy Award for his pioneering achievement, while the music for the film, featuring Snow White’s famous ballad, “Some Day My Prince Will Come” and other songs by Frank Churchill, Larry Morey, Paul J. Smith and Leigh Harline, was also nominated for an Oscar. The studio re-released Snow White for the first time in1944, during World War II; thereafter, it was released repeatedly every decade or so, a pattern that became a tradition for Disney’s animated films. For its 50th anniversary in 1987, Snow White was restored, but cropped into a wide-screen format, a choice that irked some critics. Disney released a more complete digital restoration of the film in 1993. Its power continues to endure: In June 2008, more than 60 years after its U.S. release, the American Film Institute chose Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs as the No. 1 animated film of all time in its listing of “America’s 10 Greatest Films in 10 Classic Genres.”

ALSO ON THIS DAY

PLO is founded

With Yasir Arafat as its leader, the Palestine Liberation Organization was founded on February 4, 1969. By 1974 when he addressed the United Nations, Arafat had made significant strides towards establishing new respectability for the PLO’s campaign for a Palestinian homeland. But ...read more

States meet to form Confederacy

In Montgomery, Alabama, delegates from South Carolina, Mississippi, Florida, Alabama, Georgia, and Louisiana convene to establish the Confederate States of America.As early as 1858, the ongoing conflict between the North and the South over the issue of slavery led Southern ...read more

First U.S. president elected

George Washington, the commander of the Continental Army during the Revolutionary War, is unanimously elected the first president of the United States by all 69 presidential electors who cast their votes. John Adams of Massachusetts, who received 34 votes, was elected vice ...read more

Patty Hearst kidnapped

On February 4, 1974, Patty Hearst, the 19-year-old daughter of newspaper publisher Randolph Hearst, is kidnapped from her apartment in Berkeley, California, by two black men and a white woman, all three of whom are armed. Her fiance, Stephen Weed, was beaten and tied up along ...read more

The Yalta Conference commences

On this day, President Franklin D. Roosevelt, Prime Minister Winston Churchill, and Premier Joseph Stalin meet at Yalta, in the Crimea, to discuss and plan the postwar world—namely, to address the redistribution of power and influence. It is at Yalta that many place the birth of ...read more

Last Thai contingent departs South Vietnam

A force of 824 soldiers, the last of Thailand’s 12,000 troops serving in South Vietnam, departs. The Thai contingent, which had first arrived in country in the fall of 1967, had been part of the Free World Military Forces, an effort by President Lyndon B. Johnson to enlist allies ...read more

Football great Lawrence Taylor born

On February 4, 1959, Lawrence Julius Taylor, one of the best defensive players in NFL history, is born in Williamsburg, Virginia. Taylor went on to play his entire 13-season professional career with the New York Giants and is credited with redefining the position of outside ...read more

George Washington is elected president

On this day in 1789, 69 members of Congress cast their ballots to elect George Washington the first president of the United States. As the former leader of the Continental Army and chairman of the Continental Congress, Washington possessed the necessary credentials for the ...read more

The Misfits released by United Artists

The Misfits, a flawed but moving meditation on the vanishing spirit of western independence, is released by United Artists.The Misfits had all the right ingredients to become a truly great western. The director, John Huston, was one of the most talented in Hollywood. The ...read more

The Last of the Mohicans is published

On this day in 1826, The Last of the Mohicans by James Fennimore Cooper is published. One of the earliest distinctive American novels, the book is the second of the five-novel series called the “Leather-stocking Tales.”Cooper was born in 1789 in New Jersey and moved the ...read more

Karen Carpenter dies of anorexia

Karen Carpenter, a singer who long suffered under the burden of the expectations that came with pop stardom, died on this day in 1983, succumbing to heart failure brought on by her long, unpublicized struggle with anorexia.Carpenter had a fixation with her weight from her ...read more

Earthquake rocks Guatemala City

In the very early morning of February 4, 1976, a 7.5-magnitude earthquake levels much of Guatemala City, killing 23,000 people and leaving one million others homeless.It was 3:04 a.m. when the first large tremor, centered six miles under the Earth’s surface 120 miles northwest of ...read more

Yalta Conference foreshadows the Cold War

President Franklin D. Roosevelt, Prime Minister Winston Churchill, and Soviet leader Joseph Stalin meet to discuss the Allied war effort against Germany and Japan and to try and settle some nagging diplomatic issues. While a number of important agreements were reached at the ...read more

Provisional Confederate Congress convenes

On this day in 1861, the Confederacy is open for business when the Provisional Confederate Congress convenes in Montgomery, Alabama.The official record read: “Be it remembered that on the fourth day of February, in the year of our Lord, one thousand eight hundred and sixty-one, ...read more