He’s the voice of the Magic Mirror in Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937), the first movie I ever saw in a theater, which means that Moroni Olsen’s was the first cinematic voice that terrified me as a five-year-old. Recently I revisited that film and wrote an article on my first movie theater experience. (Part II is coming soon.) I was curious to discover whether I’d encountered Moroni in any other films without knowing it.
I have, and perhaps you have as well. In fact, if you’re a classic movie fan, I can almost guarantee it.
The Film Encyclopedia: The Complete Guide to Film and the Film Industry (6th edition, 2008) by Ephraim Katz (revised by Ronald Dean Nolen) says of Olsen:
Tall, bulky character player of the American stage and screen. Appeared in numerous Hollywood films from the mid-30s through the mid-50s, playing imposing friendly types and men of prominence as well as villains or other corrupt persons.
Well, now! Certainly Mr. Olsen would be a likely candidate for a few film noir titles. And he is:
In The Glass Key (1942), Olsen plays Ralph Henry, the reform candidate for governor whom the shady Paul Madvig (Brian Donlevy) is trying to get elected.
Olsen is also the inspector in Mildred Pierce (1945),
a Secret Service officer in the 1946 Alfred Hitchcock film Notorious (far left),
Joan Crawford’s doctor in Possessed (1947), another doctor in High Wall (1947), and a parole board chairman in Call Northside 777 (1948).
Yet aside from Snow White, you may remember another film where Olsen used only his voice as the senior angel in It’s a Wonderful Life (1946). Although many of Olsen’s appearances are uncredited, you’ll see him in several other famous films which you can find here. Other than Olsen’s Wikipedia article and IMDb page, there doesn’t seem to be a lot of information about him, other than the fact that he was a Mormon, apparently named after Moroni, a prophet found in the Book of Mormon. According to Mormon beliefs, Moroni became an angel after his death, the same angel who showed Joseph Smith the way to the buried golden plates, the source of the Book of Mormon. So I guess you could say that Moroni had something to do with helping George Bailey…
While you’re thinking about that, consider that - as far as I know - no one has written a biography of Olsen. He was a devout Mormon, so maybe he’s not considered an exciting subject to write about. But anyone who’s played in as many films as Olsen has to have some interesting stories, possibly some he shared with others. Perhaps he’s included in a book of character and/or voice actors. I’d certainly like to read more about him.
Photos: Getty Images, TCM, IMDb