The Wicked Queen of...Berry?
By Kasey Haessler, Berry College
For this week’s letter, I thought I would return to a topic that I became interested in last semester. During scanning and photo-editing, I came across a number of letters from Lucille La Verne. These letters immediately stand out from their neighbors because of La Verne’s distinct, large signature which is much bolder than the modest, sometimes illegible signatures that are most often found in the Martha Berry correspondence. Evidence of another deviation from the letter writing norm, is the use of her own name, bigger and bolder than her signature even, as a letterhead, and even after careful study of numerous examples of her correspondence, I still have trouble discerning whether or not it is printed or written in Ms. La Verne’s own hand writing. Also, though the letterhead changes depending on what city or project she is working on at the time, there is usually some clue in it that hints at her profession as a stage actress.
The first few letters I came across were requests from La Verne for gourds to use in her production of Sun-Up which included a scene in which her character uses a gourd as a ladle. I found this amusing since the usual requests Berry received were mostly for handicraft items from the weaving room. In her letters, La Verne also shows a keen and sincere interest for the Berry Schools. She created a fund and whenever possible spoke to audiences after productions, telling them the story of Martha Berry and her schools and encouraging them to donate.
I passed through that small group of correspondence and quickly became preoccupied with other things until I came across another letter from La Verne awhile later. In the letter, La Verne mentions to Berry that she purchased a theatre in New York City. Amazed by this fact I took a foray into the internet world to see if I could find any more information about Lucille La Verne, and I discovered that she had a lengthy resume and a personality as big and bold as her signature.
One of La Verne’s biggest claims to fame is her hand in the revival of the play, Sun-Up, a story of love and revenge which took place in the Appalachian region of the Carolinas, and the play for which she kept requesting gourds from Martha Berry. The play was performed both on Broadway and on tour through the United States and Europe, and it was adapted into a silent film in 1925.
As someone who spent much of her young life watching and re-watching Disney movies to the point of memorization, one of the most interesting discoveries I made about La Verne was that she was the voice of the Wicked Queen and Old Crone in Snow White. Indeed, many of the hits that appear on a google search of her name relate the story of how she took out her false teeth to affect the voice of the Old Crone and distinguish it from the voice of the Wicked Queen.
Beyond my excitement that I can now proclaim a connection between Martha Berry and the Walt Disney Empire, I find that Lucille La Verne’s letters give insight into a women who had many similarities to Martha Berry and who gave her passions fully to the stage and to her philanthropic work.
You can view more letters relating to Lucille La Verne and Sun-Up in a collection that has been created on the Martha Berry Digital Archives site.