They’re all wrong. But one is damned close. And you’ve got to be amazed with Tex’s memory.
For years, I’ve wondered who this mystery voice artist is. Some speculated she was a child. Some speculated she was a radio or movie actress using an assumed name. Others speculated she was a professional singer (and she does a good job with the Jimmy Dietrich tune “Dunk Dunk Dunk” in the 1934 Lantz cartoon “Jolly Little Elves.”)
They’re all wrong.
Recently, I found some crumbs of information, thanks to interviews conducted by Leon Schlesinger in the mid-‘30s, the period when a squeaky female voice was heard as Little Kitty in “I Haven’t Got a Hat” and in the title role of “Page Miss Glory,” among many cartoons. An Associated Press story of April 4, 1936 reveals:
On the “Merrie Melodies” vocal list is a woman who does no other film work than speaking for Kitty the Kitten.
But then Leon got a bit more specific in a full-page feature article by Alice L. Tildesley of the Ledger Syndicate. The Baltimore Sun ran it June 20, 1937, though I suspect it was written earlier and banked for use that day.
...we have a [stock] company just like the human ones on the major lots -- it consists of Beans, Oliver Owl, Kitty, Ham and Ex and Tommy Turtle. A middle-aged woman who works on the lot as dressmaker does Kitty’s voice. It’s her own natural voice, but it sounds like that of a very small girl.”
Okay. Now we know she’s not a professional actress or singer. She’s a seamstress. And definitely not a child. Maddeningly, Leon didn’t mention a name. However, we have several to pick from, thanks to the various animated history books. That sends us to the Los Angeles City Directory of 1936, conveniently on-line for public viewing.
Ah, maddeningly again, the directory contains listings for both Bernice Hansen and Bernice E. Hansell—and they’re both seamstresses. But that’s the last directory with members of the Hansen family, while Hansell appears for a number of years after when the mystery voice was still appearing in the cartoons. But both the directories and the U.S. Census returns for various years list a variety of spellings for her first name. The U.S. Death Index proclaimed her name was really “Berneice Hansell” as does the 1939 Los Angeles Phone Directory (1760 1/2 Ivar Avenue, GR-4373). So I entered the two words in a newspaper search engine.
Lo and behold.
MICKEY MOUSE’S ‘VOICE’ IN COURT
“Giggles” Hansell, Who Does Cartoon Squeaking, Says Man Beat Her
(Copyright, 1934, United Press)
HOLLYWOOD, Dec. 13 (U.P.)—You probably don’t know Berneice (Giggles) Hansell but you know her squeak. She’s Mickey Mouse’s voice.
Superior Judge Isaac Pacht became acquainted with her today when she appeared to prosecute a $5,000 assault and battery damage suit against Charles Miller. She accused him of striking her in a dispute over a dressmaking bill.
Berneice is a dressmaker when not “dubbing” Mickey’s voice in his film comedies.
“I had made a dress for his wife for $10,” the baby-talk expert testified. “When I delivered it his wife said she would only pay $8.50.
“Mr. Miller made out a check for that amount and I left. Then he ran after me and tried to grab the check away from me. He banged me against the wall, tore my coat and bruised me.”
Miller denied he ever struck a lady.
“After I paid for the dress,” he said, “she took the belt with her because she thought she wasn’t being paid enough. I tried to get it away from her, but I didn’t strike her.”
Berneice Edna Hansell was born in Los Angeles on July 11, 1897 to Edward and T. Belle (Carey) Hansell. Her father was born in England and came to the U.S. in 1877. He was a jeweller but switched careers in the late ‘20s and became an optician. We find him during the Depression an elevator operator and a widower.
Hansell found work in cartoons into the ‘40s and then was never heard again. It could be that her kind of high-pitched squeal wasn’t in vogue. Maybe studios preferred to use professionals who could play more than one role. Perhaps she just got tired of it. Or maybe war work intervened. Whatever the case, Hansell’s animation career came to an end. She never married and died in Los Angeles on April 16, 1981, age 83.
Sorry, animation historians. Better change all those incorrect references that say “Bernice Hansen.” Next time, we should all listen to Tex. After we teach him to spell.