In 1948, as a favor for songwriter friends Mack David and Jerry Livingston, Ilene Woods recorded “Bibbidi-Bobbidi-Boo,” “A Dream Is a Wish Your Heart Makes,” and “So This Is Love.” She didn’t know that Walt Disney would hear the demo recordings and hire her as the title voice of his upcoming animated feature Cinderella “I learned a very good lesson,” she later recalled. “Never pass up doing a good deed for friends!”
Born May 5, 1929, Ilene had wanted to become a schoolteacher. Her mother, however, guided her toward a singing and radio career and by 11, she starred in her own show which aired in her hometown of Portsmouth, New Hampshire. By 1944, she had her own weekly radio show on the ABC Network in New York City.
During World War II, she toured with the United States Army Air Forces Orchestra and many Hollywood stars, promoting war bonds. Because of her appearances for the USO, as well as at army and navy hospitals, she was invited to sing for President Franklin D. Roosevelt at his Hyde Park home Christmas party and for President Harry S. Truman at the White House the following year.
By the time she was 18, Ilene had worked with Bing Crosby, Al Jolson, and Paul Whiteman. She was a featured performer on Jack Carson’s Sealtest Village Store, when selected from a field of nearly 400 hopefuls to voice Cinderella. During recording sessions, Walt would drop by to offer suggestions, including asking Ilene if she could harmonize with herself on “Oh Sing Sweet Nightingale.”
She recalled, “It was such a beautiful sequence—Cinderella scrubbing the floor and each time a soap bubble would rise with another image of Cinderella, so would another voice. When we heard the finished product, Walt kidded, ‘How about that? All of these years I’ve been paying three salaries for the Andrews Sisters, when I could have only paid one for you!’”
Walt once admitted to Ilene she was his favorite of the Disney heroines. She recalled, “Once I went into his office and he said to me, ‘You’re my favorite heroine, you know.’ I said, ‘You mean Cinderella?’ ‘Yes,’ he said, ‘there’s something about that story I associate with.’
“I think it was the rags-to-riches tale,” she says. “Of course, then I didn’t know how many times Walt had risked it all to realize his dreams.”
After Cinderella, Ilene moved into television, appearing on The Steve Allen Show, The Gary Moore Show, and Arthur Godfrey and His Friends. During The Gary Moore Show, Ilene met her husband-to-be, Ed Shaughnessy, Johnny Carson’s Tonight Show drummer, and raised two sons with him.
“Those were the happiest years of my life,” she would later say.
In 1985, Ilene launched a new career as a portrait artist; she especially loved painting children’s portraits.
On February 12, 2001, she appeared at a Cinderella Ball celebrating the 50th Anniversary of the motion picture, held at Disneyland. On her birthday the following May, Ilene Woods united with the voice of Sleeping Beauty, fellow Legend Mary Costa, for a Cinderella Birthday Ball held in Knoxville, Tennessee, benefiting Childhelp U.S.A.
Ilene Woods passed away on July 1, 2010, in Canoga Park, California.