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Mary Costa

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Mary Costa
Costa in 1976
Born (1930-04-05) April 5, 1930 (age 94)
Alma materLos Angeles Conservatory of Music
  • Actress
  • singer
Years active1942–2014 (acting)
Notable workVoice of Aurora in Disney's Sleeping Beauty (1959)
(m. 1953; div. 1966)
AwardsDisney Legend (1999)

Mary Costa (born April 5, 1930)[1] is an American retired actress and singer. Her most notable film credit is providing the voice of Princess Aurora in the 1959 Disney animated film Sleeping Beauty. She is the last surviving voice actress of the three Disney Princesses created in Walt Disney's lifetime and was named a Disney Legend in 1999.[2] She is a recipient of the 2020 National Medal of Arts.[3]

Early life[edit]

Costa was born in Knoxville, Tennessee, where she lived for much of her childhood. Her parents were John (1875–1947) and Hazel (1892–1993). Of Italian descent, Costa was raised in a Baptist household[4][5] and sang Sunday school solos at the age of six. At Knoxville High School, she sang in the chorus.[6][7] When she was in her early teens, her family relocated to Los Angeles, California, where she completed high school and won a Music Sorority Award as the outstanding voice among Southern California high school seniors. Following high school, she entered the Los Angeles Conservatory of Music to study with famed maestro Gaston Usigli. Between 1948 and 1951, she appeared with Edgar Bergen and Charlie McCarthy on the Bergen radio show. She also sang with Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis in concerts at UCLA, and made numerous commercials for Lux Radio Theatre.[8]


In 1952, after meeting people at a party with her future husband, director Frank Tashlin, she auditioned for the part of Disney's Princess Aurora, the Sleeping Beauty, in Disney's Sleeping Beauty (1959). Walt Disney called her personally within hours of the audition to inform her that the part was hers. In 1958, Costa was called upon to substitute for Elisabeth Schwarzkopf at a gala concert in the Hollywood Bowl, conducted by Carmen Dragon. Thanks to glowing reviews from that performance, she was invited to sing the lead in her first fully staged operatic production, The Bartered Bride, produced by the renowned German producer, Carl Ebert, for the Los Angeles Guild Opera. Ebert later requested she appear at the Glyndebourne Festival, where she debuted.[9][10]

Costa went on to perform in 44 operatic roles on stages throughout the world, including Jules Massenet's Manon at the Metropolitan Opera, and Violetta in La traviata at the Royal Opera House in London and the Bolshoi in Moscow, and Cunegonde in the 1959 London premiere of Leonard Bernstein's Candide. In 1961, for RCA, she recorded Musetta in La bohème, opposite Anna Moffo and Richard Tucker, with the Rome Opera House Orchestra and Chorus conducted by Erich Leinsdorf.

Among roles which she sang for the San Francisco Opera, she was Tytania in the American premiere of Britten's A Midsummer Night's Dream (1961), Ninette in the world premiere of Norman Dello Joio's Blood Moon (1961), and Anne Truelove in the San Francisco premiere of Stravinsky's The Rake's Progress. She made her Metropolitan Opera debut as Violetta in La traviata on January 6, 1964.[5]

Costa impressed television audiences throughout her career with guest appearances on many shows, such as Bing Crosby's Christmas Show on NBC-TV. She appeared with Crosby and Sergio Franchi on The Hollywood Palace in 1970. She also appeared on Frank Sinatra's Woman of the Year Timex Special for NBC, where, with others, she was honored as one of the Women of the Year. In 1973, Sammy Davis Jr. asked her to appear on his first NBC Follies, in which she performed a blues selection with Davis.[11][better source needed]

Jacqueline Kennedy asked her to sing at a memorial service for her husband, U.S. President John F. Kennedy, from the Los Angeles Sports Arena in 1963. At the memorial concert, Costa sang "Libera Me" from Giuseppe Verdi's Requiem under the baton of conductor Zubin Mehta. She sang for the inaugural concert of the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in 1971. In 1972, she starred in the Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer feature The Great Waltz, depicting the life of Johann Strauss II. Additional movie credits include The Big Caper (1957) and Marry Me Again (1953).[6]

Personal life[edit]

Mary married cartoonist and screenwriter Frank Tashlin in 1953. They divorced in 1966.[12]

Later years[edit]

Having retired from acting in 2014, Costa has dedicated her later years to inspiring children and teenagers, giving motivational talks at schools and colleges across the country. She is also a celebrity endorser for child abuse prevention. She continues to do promotional appearances for Disney, most recently for the Blu-ray release of Sleeping Beauty and the 50th anniversary of the film.[13]

In 1989, she received the Lifetime Achievement Award of the Licia Albanese Puccini Foundation. When Disney began releasing videocassette versions of its animated films, Costa was one of three actresses to file lawsuits over royalties for their performances; at the time of Costa's 1989 filing, Peggy Lee of Lady and the Tramp (1955) later won her lawsuit in April 1990 and Ilene Woods of Cinderella (1950) filed hers in December 1990.[14] Voice actress Jennifer Hale replaced Costa as the voice of Aurora in 2001. In November 1999, she received the Disney Legends Award, and her handprints are now a permanent part of the Disney Legends Plaza at the entrance to Disney Studios. In 2000 she was selected as the Tennessee Woman of Distinction by the American Lung Association. In April 2001, she was honored by the Metropolitan Opera Guild for Distinguished Verdi Performances of the 20th Century. In 2003 she was appointed by President George W. Bush to the National Council on the Arts, where she served until 2007. In December 2007, she was awarded an honorary Doctor of Fine Arts degree by Carson–Newman College in Jefferson City, Tennessee. On November 2, 2007, she was inducted into the Knoxville Opera Hall of Fame. Earlier she had launched the inaugural Knoxville Opera season in 1978 as Violetta in La traviata.[15]

On April 24, 2012, Costa served as the commencement speaker at Pellissippi State graduation ceremony.[16] On November 10, 2014, she was awarded an Honorary Doctorate of Humane and Musical Letters from the College of Arts and Sciences, University of Tennessee, Knoxville. In 2014, Costa was named one of the YWCA Knoxville's Tribute to Women Honorees during the 30th anniversary celebration. On March 17, 2015 she was a recipient of Tennessee's 2015 Governor's Arts Award.[17] On her 86th birthday, Costa wrote an open letter to her fans thanking them for their support.[18] She also announced that she would no longer directly reply to fan-mail, but she would continue to sign autographs and meet fans at events while also focusing her efforts on working with young children.[19] In August 2020 during the COVID-19 pandemic, Costa once again thanked fans for their continued support but also announced that she would no longer respond to any fan-mail at all due to the overwhelming amount she received following her 90th birthday.[20][21] She was awarded the National Medal of Arts on January 13, 2021.[3][22]



Year Title Role Notes
1954 The Great Gildersleeve Vivian Bennett Episode: The Water Commissioner
1955 Climax! Host 2 episodes
1963 The Ed Sullivan Show Opera Singer Season 16, episode: 29
1963 The Voice of Firestone Marguerite Episode: Highlights from Gounod's Faust

Television shows[edit]

Year Title Role Notes
1962 34th Academy Awards Herself Performer


Year Title Role Notes
1953 Marry Me Again Joan
1957 The Big Caper Kay
1959 Sleeping Beauty Princess Aurora Voice
1968 The Merry Widow Anna Glawari
1972 The Great Waltz Jetty Treffz
1999 Titus Mourner [23]
2014 Like Sunday, Like Rain Mrs. Tydings Uncredited[citation needed]


Opera Recordings[edit]

Year Composer Title Role Conductor Orchestra & Chorus
1961 Giacomo Puccini La Boheme Musetta Erich Leinsdorf Rome Opera House Orchestra & Chorus
1964 Vincenzo Bellini I Capuleti e I Montecchi Giulietta Lamberto Gardelli American Opera Society Orchestra & Chorus

Awards and recognition[edit]

Year Award Category Result Nominated work Ref.
1944 Music Sorority Awards Outstanding Voice Won Best Singer [1]
1959 Grammy Awards Best Sound Track Album, Original Cast – Motion Picture or Television Nominated Sleeping Beauty [24]
1973 Golden Globe Awards New Star of the Year – Actress Nominated The Great Waltz [25]
1999 Disney Legends Animation—Voice Won Sleeping Beauty [1]
2007 Doctor of Fine Arts degree Honorary degree Won [8]
2020 National Medal of Arts Artist Won Operatic soprano [3]


  1. ^ a b c "Mary Costa". D23. The Walt Disney Company. Archived from the original on January 6, 2022. Retrieved March 20, 2022.
  2. ^ Moran, Kelsey (October 5, 2016). "The Real-Life Actresses Behind Your Favorite Disney Princesses". The Odyssey. Archived from the original on January 2, 2019. Retrieved January 2, 2019.
  3. ^ a b c Russell, Melanie Vásquez (January 14, 2021). "Knoxville Opera singer, voice of 'Sleeping Beauty' Mary Costa honored at White House". WATE-TV. Archived from the original on January 16, 2021. Retrieved March 20, 2022.
  4. ^ Gatto, Marianna. "Italians in Hollywood – Italian American Museum of Los Angeles". Google Arts & Culture. Archived from the original on March 20, 2022. Retrieved May 9, 2020.
  5. ^ a b Brake, Jennifer (June 24, 2012). "Mary Costa: Knoxville's sleeping beauty". The Knoxville News-Sentinel. Archived from the original on November 27, 2020. Retrieved January 20, 2022.
  6. ^ a b "Mary Costa: Knoxville's sleeping beauty". Knox Newspaper. February 6, 2022.
  7. ^ The Trojan 1946 (Knoxville High School yearbook, "Music" section). 1946.
  8. ^ a b Noyer, Jérémie (October 7, 2008). "Once Upon A Dream: Mary Costa as Sleeping Beauty's Princess Aurora". Animated Views. Archived from the original on October 18, 2011. Retrieved January 2, 2020.
  9. ^ "Aston-Wash: Knoxville's Costa on the go with Disney duties". Knox (Newspaper). September 12, 2022.
  10. ^ "Mary Costa". Glyndebourne. Archived from the original on January 2, 2020. Retrieved January 2, 2020.
  11. ^ "Mary Costa through the years". Knox News. March 17, 2022.
  12. ^ "Decades of Fashion: The 1950s in pictures". Knox News. February 12, 2023.
  13. ^ Joy, Renata (May 31, 2016). "Mary Costa Interview". Ultimate Disney. Archived from the original on July 15, 2011. Retrieved March 20, 2022.
  14. ^ "'Cinderella' Sues Disney". The Washington Post. October 4, 2022.
  15. ^ "A voice like Sleeping Beauty". Los Angeles Times. July 20, 2022.
  16. ^ "Pellissippi State: Opera legend Mary Costa to serve as Commencement speaker". Pellissippi State Community College. April 24, 2012. Archived from the original on May 13, 2012.
  17. ^ "Distinguished Artist Recipient, 2015 Governor's Arts Awards". Tennessee Arts Commission. Archived from the original on April 24, 2016. Retrieved September 10, 2015.
  18. ^ Derschowitz, Jessica (April 6, 2016). "Original Sleeping Beauty shares note to fans". Entertainment Weekly. Archived from the original on April 9, 2016. Retrieved April 6, 2016.
  19. ^ Beck, Jerry (April 4, 2016). "An Open Letter From Mary Costa (The Voice of Disney's "Sleeping Beauty")". IndieWire. Archived from the original on April 7, 2016. Retrieved April 6, 2016.
  20. ^ Paris, Lindsey (August 12, 2020). "Sleeping Beauty Actress Asks Fans to Finally Let Her Rest". Inside the Magic. Archived from the original on November 25, 2020. Retrieved January 23, 2022.
  21. ^ Amidi, Amid (August 12, 2020). "The 90-Year-Old Voice Of Sleeping Beauty Asks Disney Fans To Stop Contacting Her". Cartoon Brew. Archived from the original on August 14, 2020. Retrieved March 20, 2022.
  22. ^ Hutter, Victoria (January 15, 2021). "National Endowment for the Arts Chairman Congratulates Recipients of the 2020 National Medal of Arts". National Endowment for the Arts. Archived from the original on January 19, 2021. Retrieved January 25, 2021.
  23. ^ Puchko, Kristy (January 17, 2012). "Mary Costa, Aurora – Disney Princesses Then and Now". TheFW. Screencrush Network. Archived from the original on January 21, 2013. Retrieved March 29, 2014.
  24. ^ "1959 Grammy Awards". Grammy Awards. Retrieved December 18, 2021.
  25. ^ "Mary Costa | Golden Globes". Golden Globes. November 18, 2022.

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]