The Voice of Minnie Mouse
While it seems to be fairly common knowledge that Walt Disney was the primary voice of Mickey Mouse in the 1920s and 1930s, fewer people are aware of Marcellite Garner, who supplied Minnie Mouse’s voice from 1930 to 1941.
From Polytechnic HS to Disney Studios
Marcellite Garner was attending night classes at Polytechnic High School in downtown Los Angeles when her friend Carlos Manriquez advised her to try out for a position at the animation studio where he was working as a background artist.
I was going to night school at Polytechnic High School in Los Angeles. One of my classmates, Carlos Manriquez, used to say to me all the time, “You ought to come out to the studio and get a job.” So one day, I decided to try it. I took some of my drawings out. It was pouring rain, I remember, and when I got in the studio, my hair was hanging down and I was a mess. I still think that’s why they gave me the job, because I came out in that horrible weather. (Link)
The Ink & Paint Department
Marcellite Garner (Seated 2nd from left, above) had been hired on as a cel painter at the age of 19 but soon earned a promotion to cel inker, which offered a slightly higher rate of pay.
Concerning the picture above, Garner wrote about the ink & paint department years later in a 1971 letter to Bob Clampett (Who had also worked at Disney in those early years before eventually becoming an animation director at Warner Brothers):
The picture of the inking department was taken after the new addition was built on the Hyperion studio. It is the front part, and was about 1931. When I started working there the end of 1929 or first of 1930 [Garner’s official start date was February 17, 1930] the studio was just a small square building with a partial partition running through the middle of it. This divided the animators from the inkers (the things that used to go on over and under the partition!). It was really a fun place to work and so relaxed…so different from what it became in later years.
Giving Voice to Minnie
Author Ralph Daniel describes Marcellite Garner’s rise from inker to voice actor in 1930:
After about six months on the job, the studio began production on The Cactus Kid. They asked for anyone who could speak some Spanish to come to the sound stage. Marcellite and another woman responded, but when they arrived at the sound stage, Walt said they needed someone to also sing for Minnie. The other woman replied that she did not sing, whereas Marcellite said she would try it. After all, what did she have to lose? She was such a success that she remained the voice of Minnie Mouse until mid-1941. (Link)
There’s more to the story of Marcellite Garner – I’ll try to add more here when I get the chance.
Check out author and historian Michael Barrier’s invaluable site here. I highly recommend taking some time and exploring that site. Barrier has been documenting the history of animation since before it was cool; one of the reasons we have the depth of information that we do now is because of the extensive and varied interviews and correspondence he conducted with animation artists and others from the 1960s to 90s.
The Minnie Mouse drawings on this page are from the model sheet drawn by animator Eric Goldberg for Get A Horse (2014), in which artists were tasked with recreating the look of a Disney cartoon from the late 1920s/early 1930s. Check out Eric Goldberg drawing 1929/1939 Mickey on Youtube.