Walt Disney Studios graciously provided
me with the opportunity recently to discuss Peter
Pan with two of the film’s stars: Kathryn Beaumont, who provided the voice
of Wendy, and Paul Collins, who provided the voice of John Darling.
Todd Garbarini:Thank you for speaking with me about Peter Pan.
Kathryn Beaumont:Thank you, it’s my pleasure!
TG: I am a big fan of the Disney cartoons as I
spent the better part of my childhood seeing them.
KB:I'm so glad! They really are special, aren't they? The Disney cartoons
really stand the test of time.
TG: These are some of the earliest
movies I ever saw in both movie theaters and drive-ins. I really miss the
drive-ins. There are so few of them left.
KB: I know! I miss the drive-ins, too!
TG: I understand that you were born and
lived in London.How did you come to
enter show business?
KG: I was in On An Island with You (1948) and Challenge to Lassie (1949) and at that point MGM was scouting
characters for their new ideas for British classic-like stories, and so they
put me under contract and I started working for them.I was with MGM for a while, and as you know a
lot of those ideas just never come into being and ended up being put on the
shelf.They kept me under contract though
and at that time that was when Walt Disney was looking for his Alice in
Wonderland. The rest, as they say, is sort of history!Just about the time that my contract was due
to be changed over for the next six months, that is a six-month option, at that
point there was some sort of negotiation and I went over to Disney and started
working on Alice in Wonderland.
TG:Were you familiar with Alice's Adventures
in Wonderland when you were asked to perform the voice of the titular
KB:(laughs) It reminds me of when
I first met Walt. He greeted me at the door and walked me into the office where
everybody was settled because we were going to be signing the contracts. The
publicity department was there and all of that. He walked me over to the little
table and chairs. He told me that it would be kind of nice for us to go over
the original book.He asked if I was
familiar with the story. I said, “Oh yes, yes of course, of course!”(laughs)I had had it read to me when I was very
young. Everybody in England was familiar with it.Those were the absolute classics. I was familiar with the stories whether I had
read them not and by that time I could read them myself.So yes, I was extremely familiar. So, we sat
down and he was sort of trying to explain to me what his vision was for the
film and how he was trying to bring a little bit of both Through the Looking Glass and Alice's
Adventures in Wonderland into this new animated feature. So, it was very
informative and we had a lot of fun looking through the books and sharing all
the things that we knew about the stories.
TG:Like so many of the classic Disney films, Alice in Wonderland was animated by the Nine Old Men, the famous
animators who worked on so many of these classics.I met two of them, Frank Thomas and Ollie
Johnston, in November 1987 at a local mall when they were promoting their book The Illusion of Life: Disney Animation.
They were very nice to speak with. How did you get along with the animators on
the set of the film?
KB:Oh, I was just so grateful to them while I was working there. They just
made me feel so much at home. They had me involved in the entire process as
they would invite me into their offices at the studio where they were working.They showed me the rough drawings that they
had been working on. Later on, they
allowed me to go into “Ink and Paint” and told me to walk around and see what
was going on and how that process worked.It was from one department to another and so on and so forth. As a result, I really felt that I was a big
part of this overall process and I really enjoyed it very, very much.
TG: When it came time to doing Peter Pan, did you act as a live action
reference for the animators as the character of Wendy?
KB:Oh yes, I did, as I had had a wonderful experience doing this also on Alice in Wonderland. When I was nearly
finished with Alice, the studio was
really quite ready to move straight into production on Peter Pan.That was their
next animated feature. And so I began right away with the scenes that Wendy was
involved with, with the live-action recordings. Right after that was the live
action.That process usually consisted
of a day or two of rehearsal to sort of map things out to see what they were
looking for and determine the motion of the characters. As result, we were very
prepared for when the camera was there and so we went through the action. This
was done of course to help out the artists who were trying to draw the human
figures which were the most natural and also the most challenging part of the
Pan has a few short musical numbers, among them “Follow the Leader.” Did you provide any additional voices for any
of these subordinate characters for the songs or did you stick strictly to
KB: No, I wasn't involved with those.
They used a lot of boys for those voices, and I was not involved with any of
them. The character of Wendy, unlike Alice, was more of a supporting role and
that was the only voice that I provided for the film.
TG: What did you like most about your
experiences on Peter Pan?
KB: Well, I would say it was similar to
my experiences on Alice in Wonderland
and that it was just a wonderful time working with very talented people, people
whom I admired so much, and people whom I came to know very well, such as Hans
Conreid (who provided the voices of Mr. Darling and Captain Hook).Like myself, he was also asked to provide the
live-action as well as the voiceover parts. That kind of experience is what, I
think, stands out in my memory. It was such a lovely time for me as a youngster
playing these important roles and being able to get to know these creative
people involved in this wonderful process.
TG:What was your reaction when you heard your voice in these films?
KB:Oh, I suppose that I viewed the movies I thought, “Oh, that's me!” (laughs)
TG: You became a teacher just after
your stint in Hollywood. What grade or grades did you teach?
KB: Well, as it goes as a new teacher
you're not high up on the totem pole. You end up changing grade levels every
year. So, I have a lot of experience in the upper grades as well as the lower
grades. I really did enjoy second grade. I took every opportunity to make my
desires known that I really liked second grade. So from that point on until the end of my
career, I taught second grade.
TG: What do you think is behind the
longevity of such classic films as the movies that you worked on?
KB: I believe that it's the
timelessness of the stories, and the stories really have something to say to
young children. It came down to Disney's expertise in storytelling and his
wonderful team that he worked with.They
made the characters so realistic in terms that even adults could identify with
them and not just the children in the audience.
Todd Garbarini:I've been a big fan of the Disney cartoons
since I was a child.
Paul Collins: Yes, me too!(laughs)My daughter is now twenty-eight years-old and
when she was a little girl her favorite was Snow
White and the Seven Dwarves.I think
for the most part a lot of children are raised on these films and it's a big
part of their childhood. They're really wonderful. I loved doing Peter Pan. It was close to the start of
my career, really. I then later on did an off-Broadway play called Courage which was a one-man show about (Peter Pan author) J.M. Barrie, so I got
to do a great deal of research on him and what he was doing at the time when he
wrote Peter Pan. He was a very
fascinating man, and some of his novels, such as The Little Minister, were made into features.That was with Katharine Hepburn.
TG: How did your career begin?
PC:Well, it was during the Second World War, and the closest school to my
house also happened to be a theatrical school. So, my mother sent me there to learn boxing
and dancing and those sorts of things, and I also took some acting
classes.When I was about five, somebody
asked me to be in a movie called The
Courtneys of Curzon Street (known in the U.S. as Kathy’s Love Affair in 1947), which I did.It was with Anna Neagle and Michael
Wilding.I still have a wooden toy gun
with sparkles on it that I used as a toy in the film. I did a couple of more movies after that, and
then when I was ten, my uncle emigrated to Australia and my parents and I moved
here to California.This was after the
war so England wasn't the best place to be at that time. Since I had done some
films, my mother figured she would see if she could get me an agent and she
managed to do that.I did Challenge to Lassie (1949) and Rogues of Sherwood Forest (1950).That was with with John Derek and Lorna
Doone.Then, I auditioned and was lucky
enough to get Peter Pan.
TG:I first saw Peter Pan during a
rerelease when I was seven.I loved the
animation, the songs, and the life of the characters. It really solidified my
lifelong love of the Disney cartoons. What was the process by which you made Peter Pan?
PC:I started out by doing the voice. Since they didn't have computers in
those days like they do now, it was difficult to make the movements of the
characters smooth. So, we recorded the voices in the studio first and then
after all of the audio was recorded we went onto the set dressed up in our
respective costumes and acted out and lip-synched to the recorded voices that
were played over a loudspeaker.We acted
out all of the stuff that would've been difficult to do frame by frame such as
the fencing, the fights with the Indians, and flying through the sky. And so we
got to act out the story essentially. It was really fun and quite wonderful.
TG:In November 1978 I saw Ralph Bakshi's The Lord of the Rings, the animated version of J.R.R. Tolkien's
fantasy. The film received a lot of flak at the time for using rotoscoping, a
process by which the director photographs live-action people acting out the scenes
designed for the film, and then the animators went back in later on and actually
traced over the action frame by frame.I
actually thought it worked well.Now,
had you done any voiceover work prior to Peter
PC:No, I never had. I never had, it was a new experience.
TG:Was that a change for you?
PC: Well yes, it was. The other actors were
in the booth with me when I was performing my dialogue. I found myself really
just acting with them. I had this fantasy going on in my head about what I was actually
doing, running around and interacting with the other characters or whatever. In
that sense, it wasn't that much of a change because like I said I was
interacting with all of the other actors and they were acting out their
respective roles, too.
TG:Were you told to stick to a script or were you given license to
PC: Oh no, not at all.There was no improvisation. We absolutely had
to stick to the script.
TG: Was there any preparation that you
went through for the role?
PC: Well no, I was fifteen years-old
and I basically just had to act like a kid!
(Laughs) At this point, I had been in the United States for only about four
or five years so I was still somewhat British. I still had an accent for the
most part. I had to work on that accent in order to lose it. When I originally
came to United States, I was wearing short pants that all British
schoolchildren wore. I was fairly British
and the teenager in me was basically hired to play that part. Since then, as an
adult, I've studied with Uta Hagen.
TG: Oh, wow.I would have loved to have met her. She was
wonderful as the grandmother in Robert Mulligan's The Other.I wish I could
have seen her interpretation of Martha in Who's
Afraid of Virginia Woolf?
PC:She was fabulous!She mastered
such an extraordinary technique and she was able to teach it.She has a couple of tapes out that you can
get, as well as a couple of books.
TG: Yes, I remember her book Respect for Acting.
PC: It's fascinating, the approach she
takes. So, when I wasn't working I found myself in her classroom keeping my
TG: What was your reaction when you
heard your voice in the film for the first time?
PC:I think I sat there with my mouth hanging open! (Laughs)
PC:I really don't know, it was such an overwhelming experience! It was really quite wonderful.
TG: What was your experience working
with Walt Disney?
PC: Well, I only met him twice. Once,
he came into the studio and he pretty much talked to everybody in the cast.
That was nice, and he was very pleasant. And then later on he had a party, it
was a kid’s party. Of course, I was invited to it. I don't recall if he had the
Mouseketeers at that time or not. He talked to me about my experience working
on the film, and I basically told him that I enjoyed my time there. He was very
unassuming and nobody was buttering him up.
TG:Paul, what do you think is behind the longevity of the classic Disney
cartoons such as Peter Pan?
PC:The craftsmanship and the art. These films manage to appeal to both
children as well as adults.Many people
love seeing these movies as children and many years later they see them from an
adult point of view and the film speaks to them on a different level. Not to
say that they are simplistic or condescending to the adult audience, mind you.
These films were done with a lot of heart and a lot of love. They’re
extraordinary, and I'm very pleased and lucky to have been a part of Peter Pan.