The romance between Mickey Mouse and Minnie Mouse was more than just an act. For two of their real-life voice actors, it was magic, and soon love, at first sound bite.
Russi Taylor, who died Friday in Glendale, Calif., won the role of Minnie Mouse in 1986, beating out more than 150 other actors with her high, pitch-perfect sound. The next year, she was on the voice-over stage for the Disney special “Totally Minnie” when she met Wayne Allwine, who had inherited the role of Mickey about a decade earlier — only the third person, including creator Walt Disney, to officially inhabit the role.
As soon as Taylor and Allwine began working together, they could make theatrical sparks fly.
“They were Mickey and Minnie,” Bill Farmer, then newly cast as the voice of Goofy, told The Washington Post on Monday. “It was typecasting.”
Taylor, who was then in her mid-40s, is remembered by friends and acquaintances as a sweet person with a great sense of humor. “She was outgoing and warm and always a joy to work with — always taking joy in her work,” says “Simpsons” director-producer David Silverman. Taylor voiced the recurring character Martin Prince on “The Simpsons” and in “The Simpsons Movie.”
“I got the feeling that Russi and Wayne were Minnie and Mickey Mouse, in all the ways that mattered,” says Andrew Farago, curator of San Francisco’s Cartoon Art Museum. “Good-hearted, generous, kind to everyone they met. … I think they really embodied those characters.”
When they began working together, voicing two of the most famous animated characters on the planet, they were leading very separate private lives.
“They were both in bad marriages when I started doing the voice [of Goofy] back in 1987,” Farmer says. “But over a couple of years, they just kind of became Mickey and Minnie. They got divorced from their respective spouses and then fell in love.
“Everyone saw it coming,” he says, referring to the Disney voice-acting “family.” “Just watching them work together, I could see their relationship develop into something deeper than just a working relationship.”
“They kind of built up a rapport with each other in a real fun, sweet way” in sessions, says Rick Dempsey, head of Disney character voices, adding: “When Russi would get to laughing at Wayne, you couldn’t stop her. She would lay on the floor [laughing so hard] because Wayne was such a fun-loving guy.”
“I got a front-row seat,” he says, “to watch the two of them just fall in love.”
Taylor and Allwine were married in 1991 in Hawaii.
The couple, though, kept their personal romance private. They did not want their marriage to color how Disney fans viewed Mickey and Minnie, who have never officially married. Once, radio host Paul Harvey asked them to share their romantic story with his “The Rest of the Story” listeners, Farmer recounts. They refused. That would have drawn the spotlight away from their characters.
Yet Taylor and Allwine loved playing out their chemistry through Mickey and Minnie as public performance.
In some joint interviews, Allwine, who was also an Emmy Award-winning sound and sound-effects editor, would serenade Taylor in character. “Wayne would bring a little ukulele to riff and do little songs, and quite often, he would sing a little love song to Minnie, as Mickey,” says Farmer, who was inducted as an official “Disney Legend” a decade ago. “You knew it was Wayne talking to Russi.”
Taylor and Allwine also liked to head to the Disneyland theme park in Anaheim and spread joy in character.
“You know how kids have a meltdown? They’re overtired or overstimulated? Every once in a while, Wayne, as Mickey, would say, ‘Aw, what’s the matter, little fella?’ And the kid would stop crying, his eyes would get big, and he’d look around, and the parents would say, ‘What just happened?’ “ Taylor told Farago in 2015 for his book “Totally Awesome: The Greatest Cartoons of the Eighties,” for which Taylor wrote the foreword.
“And Wayne and I would look around and say: ‘Did you hear Mickey? He was here just a second ago!’ And that made them so happy. The meltdown went away, and the smiles came back.”
Taylor and Allwine shared their generous spirit with the world for nearly two decades, until he died in May 2009 — the year after they were inducted together as Disney Legends. He had voiced Mickey for 32 years.
At that time, Roy E. Disney, who was director emeritus and consultant to the Walt Disney Co., called Allwine and Russi “wonderful friends” who “gave generously of themselves for many charitable causes, especially when it came to working with children.”
“After Wayne passed away, she would constantly talk about him,” Dempsey says of Taylor. “He was in her heart till the day she died.”
Taylor, who met Walt Disney at the Anaheim park as a child, voiced many characters during her long career, including Strawberry Shortcake, Baby Gonzo for “Muppet Babies” and the nephews for “DuckTales.” Yet she once said that Minnie “actually enhances who I am — she really does. In a sense Minnie makes me better than I was before ’cause there’s a lot to live up to,” according to the site D23.
And Taylor and Allwine made each other better, say some colleagues.
“When they were together, like Laurel and Hardy, they were just meant to be together as a team — and as a lifelong team,” Farmer said. “If you looked in Webster’s and saw the word ‘marriage,’ it should have a picture of Wayne and Russi.
“They were just so in love and so wonderful together. I think that love came through in their performances, and gave it a little something extra.”