The Hungarian Cruella DeVille

If you’re old enough you might remember the Hungarian born American actress, Zsa Zsa Gabor. She was popular back in the fifties because of her European flair and style. I actually considered her somewhat wacky and zany and she ended her career by becoming a fixture on late night television talk shows. She was best known for having nine husbands including the actor George Sanders. Zsa Zsa Gabor appeared in several Hollywood motion pictures and that included great films and some not so great. The not so great movies is where this story has its Disney connection.

Back in the fifties, Zsa Zsa Gabor appeared in a low budget Hollywood film with English actress Lisa Davis. Having once considered Ms Davis as a possible “Alice” for his adaptation of the Lewis Carroll novel, Walt Disney once again sought the services of Lisa Davis. Knowing that Lisa Davis had appeared in a movie with Ms Gabor and also knowing that Lisa Davis was a gifted mimic, he considered the English actress as the voice of Cruella DeVille and she would perform the delicious character with a Hungarian accent. Lisa Davis arrived at the Walt Disney Studio in 1959 to read for the part of Cruella DeVille. To make matters even more daunting, Lisa Davis had to read with Walt Disney himself sitting across from her. Instinctively, the young English actress still in her early twenties, knew she was wrong for the part. How do you tell Walt Disney he’s making a big mistake? Finally, Lisa Davis worked up the courage and said, “Mr. Disney, I’m afraid I’m just not right for this character. I don’t feel like Cruella. Actually, I’m more like Anita.” The Old Maestro thought for a moment and then said, “Alright, I’ll read Cruella’s lines and you do Anita.” Walt Disney knew then that Lisa Davis would be the perfect voice for the wife of Roger Radcliffe and she was immediately cast in the role.

I can’t help wonder what would Cruella Deville have been like had she had the voice of Zsa Zsa Gabor? Well, I guess we’ll never know because Walt Disney quickly abandon that wacky idea. The wonderful, Betty Lou Gerson eventually ended up providing the voice of the manic Cruella DeVille and Master Animator, Marc Davis brought her to life on the big screen. I remind people that Cruella DeVille doesn’t have that much screen time in the Disney classic. However, every scene she’s in - she steals. As I said, Cruella DeVille is a delicious villainess. Crazy, wild and over the top, she continues to be a joy to watch. Walt Disney’s new Blue Ray DVD of “101 Dalmatians,” has been totally restored and it looks as good today as it did back in 1960 when we completed the film. Plus, it’s got some extra goodies on the DVD that I had a part in creating. Check it out if you get a chance. I guarantee you’ll have a doggone good time.

A Cruella DeVille based on actress, ZsaZsa Gabor? It could have happened.

A Cruella DeVille based on actress, ZsaZsa Gabor? It could have happened.