In 1997, Disney released Cinderella, its first live-action, made-for-television adaptation of a fairy-tale classic. The production was groundbreaking not only for its for its multicultural cast of Broadway stars, recording artists and bona fide entertainment superstars. In honor of the film’s 20th anniversary, Here’s 10 things Cosmopolitan says we didn’t know about Cinderella.
1. Whitney Houston was supposed to play Cinderella: Houston was integral in getting the project made. It was her call to executive producers Neil Meron and Craig Zadan that launched the idea to do a television musical back in 1993. Houston was attached to star as the princess, but in the four years it took to get the show off the ground she had aged out of the part and personally suggested Brandy Norwood take the role while Houston took the co-lead as the Fairy Godmother.
2. Nobody wanted to play the Evil Stepmother: In a quote from the Shondaland piece, Executive Producer Debra Martin Chase says, “I cannot emphasize enough what a bitch it was to cast this role. No white actress wanted to be seen as being mean to the black Cinderella.” Bette Midler was their first choice, but when she (and a few others) declined, Bernadette Peters took up the mantle.
3. The Evil Stepmother originally didn’t have her own song, so they borrowed one from another musical: In Rogers and Hammerstein’s Cinderella, the stepmother doesn’t have a solo number, but the producers agreed that it would be a waste to cast a Broadway legend like Bernadette Peters and not showcase her famous voice. To solve the problem, they borrowed “Falling In Love With Love” from The Boys From Syracuse, which was written by Richard Rogers and Lorenz Hart, and let the stepmother sing it as a cautionary tale to her daughters.
4. Paolo Montalban was the very last person to audition for the Prince: Wayne Brady, Marc Anthony, and Taye Diggs all auditioned for the role of Prince Christopher, but the casting directors weren’t happy with anyone they saw. Paolo Montalban, who at that point was understudying a role in The King and I on Broadway, showed up late on the last day of auditions and blew everyone away with his singing. Prince Christopher became his first television role.
5. Jason Alexander asked that his character not do anything George Costanza would do: After casting Jason Alexander, writer Robert Freeman put in a bunch of Costanza-esque jokes as a callout to his character on Seinfeld. Alexander was adamant, however, that Cinderella be a return to his love of theater and didn’t want to make any jokes that George would have made. Freeman had to rewrite his scenes.
6. An all-star cast of Broadway legends did a read-through of the script for Whitney Houston: After the script was written, Houston held onto the script for longer than the producers anticipated. To get her final “yes” on the project, Meron and Zadan got actors like La Chanze, Brian Stokes Mitchell, and Theresa Meritt to read and sing through the show for her.
7. A Disney executive wanted Jewel to play Cinderella, not Brandy: The executive approached the producers and asked that they cast a white singer, specifically naming Jewel, as Cinderella instead of Brandy. The producers were like “nah” and never ever asked Jewel about it.
8. Victor Garber filmed Cinderella directly after finishing Titanic: Garber played ship designer Thomas Andrews in Titanic, which was also released in 1997. On the set of Cinderella, he mentioned just wrapping a movie that involved “a big water tank in Mexico.” That movie was Titanic, and you’ve never had a year as good as Victor Garber’s 1997.
9. Whoopi Goldberg as the queen wore millions of dollars of borrowed Harry Winston jewelry: The costume department made fake jewelry for the Queen to wear, but Whoopi thought that a queen should have real jewels and used her contacts at Harry Winston to get the jeweler to lend millions of dollars worth of diamonds to the production. Armed guards were present during her scenes to ensure the jewelry was returned safely.
10. The producers and Whoopi Goldberg paid out of pocket for the last day of production: At the end of the shoot, the executive producers didn’t have any more money to pay for extras and other costs. Disney refused to give them any more money, so Whoopi donated her daily rate to make sure they could get the shot. The EPs paid the rest of the money out of their own pockets.