The Walt Disney Family Museum recently had Paige O’Hara as their special guest during Happily Ever After Hours. As the voice of Belle from Beauty and the Beast, Paige has spent the past thirty years inspiring generations of women who idolize the character. Here are ten things we learned from Paige O’Hara during her Q&A.
1. Julie Andrews and Judy Garland Inspired Her to Become a Performer.
“Definitely Mary Poppins, it’s still my favorite film of all time,” Paige O’Hara shared about the films that made her want to perform when she was young. “Of course, The Wizard of Oz. I’m a huge Judy Garland fan, always have been. Those were two that made me want to sing… A lot of it was trying to copy Judy and Julie Andrews… Those were two movies that inspired me a lot in terms of wanting to be in the business. And I fell in love with Mary Martin in Peter Pan, I fell in love with all of her work… I call her ‘Magical Mary’ because she wasn’t a great singer, she wasn’t a great actress, but when she got on stage she could do anything. And I got to play Peter Pan at the Hollywood Bowl.”
2. Auditioning to Play Belle.
Becoming a voice actress wasn’t a goal for Paige, but Disney was specifically looking for Broadway talent for Beauty and the Beast, which is why she decided to audition. “It was a long process, it was several auditions and every time I’d get called back there were more and more people there.” Paige’s first audition was with a casting director with a tape recorder. She met Howard Ashman and Alan Menken on her second audition, along with Producer Don Hahn. In total, she had five or six auditions, but was never paired with another actor until after she got the part. “I’d look at everyone watching and they weren’t watching me, they all had their eyes closed. It was interesting… I just knew it was my part. Those who know me know I’m never confident with auditions, but with this it was just like it’s my turn coming up.”
3. Howard Ashman Helped Her Find Belle.
“I remember being so intimidated by him the first day in the studio and he kind of broke the ice,” she shared. “I was trying to raise my voice and sound younger and he said ‘Woah, Ethel Merman, stop.’ He said ‘We want you, if you put Paige into your own voice just a little softer, that’s it. And your spirit and your heart and your warmth.’ That helped me a lot and I just fell in love with him that day.” Another memory she shared about Howard Ashman was that he was a perfectionist. While recording “Belle,” she did twenty-five takes on the opening line, “Little town, it’s a quiet village” to get the phrasing he wanted exactly right.
“Howard Ashman had a vision for Beauty and the Beast and pretty much up until the first few weeks when everybody started to come together, it was amazing because everyone on the project had the same vision through Howard’s eyes,” Paige shared while reminiscing about the great lyricist. “He was so full of life, so energetic and he was so sick at the time but none of us knew until about a year into it.”
4. Alan Menken and Howard Ashman had a Disagreement About the Song “Belle.”
“The only disagreement that Alan Menken and Howard had was on ‘Belle,’” Paige O’Hara shared about the film’s opening song. “Howard said they’re never going to accept a 7-and-a-half minute song and Alan said ‘You’ll see.’ That was pretty much the only thing Howard was ever wrong about.” Talking about Alan Menken, Paige O’Hara referred to him as a genius and shared that the two recently collaborated on a tour in Japan. “I was just in Japan with him right at the beginning of the outbreak, we had a concert there.” She and Alan Menken both felt fortunate that they were able to get home safely as worldwide shutdowns began as they were wrapping up their tour of the land of the rising sun.
5. Working with Her Idol, Angela Lansbury.
“I worship her, she’s royalty,” Paige shared about stage and screen legend Angela Lansbury. “When I went to New York at seventeen, she was one of my biggest idols and I would sneak into Gypsy at intermission… we used to get away with that, I don’t think they do that anymore. I saw the second half of Gypsy six times… We hit it off right away and I had a funny story when we were doing the Oscars. I was so nervous standing in the wings and Angela was going to introduce me and I was shaking and I looked at her and she was shaking, too. I said ‘Angie, are you nervous?’ She said ‘Honey, when you get to be my age, you know when to be nervous.’” When it was Angela Lansbury’s turn to walk out on stage for the introduction, she somehow hid her nerves as if nothing was wrong
6. Seeing Beauty and the Beast For the First Time
“We hadn’t seen anything really until the New York Film Festival and that was the unfinished version,” she shared about the screening full of critics. “Being an old Broadway girl, I knew how tough they could be.” She recalled all of the Disney executives being nervous when the film started and the relief everyone felt when they began applauding after each musical number. The screening also got a standing ovation and the team stood on stage for a while taking bows. “Seeing how everyone reacted to this movie, I knew it was going to be big. We all knew.”
7. Paige O’Hara Unintentionally Started the Broadway Show.
“There was a birthday party for Michael Eisner’s birthday,” she shared about being invited along with the voice of Gaston. “Richard White and I did a mini performance of the movie and I was told that after that Michael Eisner was convinced that it should go to the Broadway stage.” Another moment of serendipity, Paige O’Hara’s husband, Michael Piontek, played Beast in the L.A. production and joined the show for part of its first tour. “I wish Belle had the song ‘Home,’” she shared when asked about her favorite song from the Broadway version that wasn’t in the film. “I got to sing it with the Japan Philharmonic… I love that song, I think it’s brilliant.” Why wasn’t “Home” in the film? Paige answered that question as well. “At that time in ‘91, Disney was afraid of letting a movie go past 90-minutes. That’s changed, had it been made now that would’ve been another song for Belle.”
8. Johnny Depp was Almost in her Soap Opera Cameo in Enchanted.
“It was so much fun. A call out of the blue, I was doing Menopause the Musical at that time in Vegas and I was like ‘Wow,’ to be part of that group… I picked out my outfit, I asked if they wanted a Susan Lucci kind of thing, I love Susan Lucci.” During the shoot, the actor originally cast to play her husband in the Soap Opera got sick and couldn’t do the part. Johnny Depp was interested in the project and wanted to step in to play her emotionally abused spouse, but had another commitment that made him unavailable. Paige wasn’t used to working on a film set, but Director Kevin Lima made if feel easy. “He’s an amazing director and he makes you feel so comfortable on the set… He knows exactly what he wants, he’s very smart.”
9. Meeting the Disney Princesses in Ralph Breaks the Internet.
“Jodi and I are dear friends so I get to work and see Jodi a lot and Linda Larken as well,” she shared about getting to work with all of the Disney Princesses on the sequel to Wreck-It Ralph. “We never met while we were recording, but we had a party where I got to meet Mandy Moore and Kristen [Bell]… We had another party again when the movie opened. I was like a geeky fan around Kristen Bell and Mandy Moore. I find it fascinating to see them in person and find out how humble they are… Mandy Moore… she’s everything I hoped she’d be. She’s actually more,” she shared about working with the singer/actress who voiced Rapunzel and currently stars on the 20th Century Television production This Is Us. “Auli’i, she’s so adorable and so smart, so talented. Anika Noni, her Princess and the Frog, that movie is… I keep going back from Mulan being my favorite to The Princess and the Frog, Tina is my favorite. I'm painting her a lot right now.”
10. Painting Belle and the Disney Princesses for Disney Fine Art
“I’ve been painting my whole life, I started painting when I was 3 years old,” she shared about her hobby that has become a new profession. She made a living painting when she first moved to New York to pursue acting. “I started painting paintings after Beauty and the Beast for my friends who wanted paintings of Belle or Beast.” While at an event where one of her pieces was being auctioned, Michael Young, President of Disney Fine Art, approached her and asked her to bring in some examples of her work. She felt very intimidated at first, but they liked her work and wanted to have her on the team. She’s currently collaborating on a piece with Disney Animator John Ramirez, her first piece that incorporates all of the main characters from Beauty and the Beast. She’s also been painting the other Disney Princesses. When Disney Home Entertainment asked her to create an Ariel piece for the Best Buy Steelbook edition of The Little Mermaid, she felt like she was painting her friend Jodi Benson because Ariel’s voice is so much like the character. With art stores closed, fans can visit PaigeOhara.net to purchase her Disney Fine Art pieces, which include some autograph opportunities.
Alex has been blogging about Disney films since 2009 after a lifetime of fandom. He joined the Laughing Place team in 2014 and covers films across all of Disney’s brands, including Star Wars, Marvel, and Fox, in addition to books, music, toys, consumer products, and food. You can hear his voice as a member of the Laughing Place Podcast and his face can be seen on Laughing Place’s YouTube channel where he unboxes stuff.