50 Years Since Screen Debut : Blizzard of Snow Whites Descends On Disneyland to Honor Character

Times Staff Writer

If only I had a child as white as snow and as red as blood and as black as the wood of my window frame. ----The Good Queen, from "Grimms' Tales for Young and Old," early 1800s.

Once upon a time, in a land called Disney, there lived a young girl who was as white as snow and as red as blood and as black as the wood of the window frame, born to a queen and called Snow White.

The queen died, the girl grew up, got married, got pregnant, got divorced, sold cosmetics, sold real estate, sold bed sheets, took dictation in a San Diego legal office and made love to Elvis Presley.

But not, of course, all at once.

Snow White has come a long way in the 50 years since she made her screen debut as the beleaguered--but ever virtuous--young princess in the Walt Disney film that bears her name. She has been portrayed at Disney theme parks by more than 100 young women, and on Friday, 50 of those Snow Whites were reunited at Disneyland to tell their stories and pay tribute to the character who found her Prince Charming and lived happily ever after.

Not all of these "Snow White helpers," as Disneyland officials prefer to call them, have had the real princess' luck in love, and fewer still could fit the original job description of a raven-haired, smooth-complected, red-lipped innocent.

JoAnn Killingsworth has the honor of being the first Snow White and portraying her for the shortest amount of time--the duration of a 90-minute ABC television special that heralded the Anaheim theme park's opening in 1955.

"My mouth can hardly form the words . . . ," the dancer-turned-linen-saleswoman from Newport Beach said, heaving a sigh, "but I'm, uh, 63. . . . My hair used to be dark, dark brown, but somehow I got blonder as I got older."

The Snow Whites were gathered Friday to celebrate the 50th anniversary and seventh re-release of Walt Disney's first full-length animated feature film, which was based on the Grimm brothers' tale of a young princess abused by her wicked stepmother and sent to the Black Forest to die at the hands of a huntsman.

The huntsman spared her life, the story goes, and Snow White went to live with the seven dwarfs. The queen then slipped her a poison apple, but Prince Charming saved her life, and the couple lived happily ever after in royal wedded bliss.

Beth Bond, who greeted young visitors to Disneyland as Snow White in 1978, came closest to reproducing Disney's fairy tale in her own life when she married Joe Sczempka in 1985. Sczempka--you guessed it--played Prince Charming at Disneyland to Bond's Snow White. The San Diego couple attended the Friday reunion together and are expecting their first child--whom they promise not to name "Snow" or "Prince"--in September.

Strayed From Image

Kathy Westmoreland of Norco probably strayed furthest from the ancient story line, but learned the most from the Disney publicists about how to manage a media event. As Westmoreland shook hands and hugged her fellow princesses, her personal publicist passed out press releases behind her.

"Ten years after Elvis Presley's untimely death, Kathy Westmoreland, Presley's featured soloist, confidante, lover and friend has broken her silence with the publication of 'Elvis and Kathy,' " the release said. "She was Elvis' constant companion during the last seven years of his life."

Westmoreland, who now travels the world singing at gatherings of Elvis Presley fan clubs, had a two-week stint in 1967 playing the princess in a Disneyland Christmas parade. It's not surprising that she remembers little about her reign, for after Disneyland came a string of television singing appearances and a Presley audition.

The rest is history, as her press release--and soon her book--will tell: "The book unveils mysteries of the 'King's' last years on earth, revealing details of their life together at home in Graceland, on the road, at the Las Vegas Hilton, inside his private hotel suites, aboard his personal jet the Lisa Marie and in the recording studio. Kathy has answered questions the public didn't even know to ask."

But Westmoreland does have one memento of her Disneyland years, proof that she shared more than a costume with one of her colleagues.

"One other Snow White and I have the same ex-husband," she said, as she stood in front of Cinderella's castle Friday morning. "He was an insurance salesman who just happened to live in Anaheim.. . . He was not Prince Charming. We both ended up divorcing him."

So much for happy endings.

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