Margaret Kerry is widely recognized as the "Original Tinker Bell", as the model for Tink in the film Peter Pan. The Peter Pan Diamond Edition Blu-ray is being released on February 5th, and it has some wonderful bonus features! Here is our interview with Margaret Kerry (my interview with Ted Thomas about his bonus short film from the set can be found here).
Peter Pan Diamond Edition Cover
Margaret was delightful to speak with!
MS: How did you end up auditioning and being chosen for Tinker Bell?
MK: Well, I have been working in the motion picture industry since I was 4 years old. The first movie that I did was A Midsummer Night's Dream, where I played a fairy. So, you see that it just seems to be a theme in my life. And, I was working at Fox as an assistant dance director, and I got a call from my agent who said that they were auditioning for a dancer to act out the part of a little 3 1/2 inch fairy who doesn't talk. "Could you get over to Disney on Tuesday and interview?" Oh, and I have to tell you Denise – the idea that I might go over and work at Disney Studios was a highlight, everyone felt that in the industry. It was very special. So I got the call, I went over, I did a pantomime of fixing breakfast, they asked me to do the famous scene where I landed on mirror on the top of Wendy's dresser and preen myself, and they said "Would it be convenient for you to come to work at Disney next Tuesday"?
MS: And at that time, there was some controversy over whether Tinker Bell should be curvy?
MK: Yes, the interesting part about it was that we had two sets of characters that had been OK'd. One of them was a little older, where she was more boy-like – and one of them was the curvy one that we know. And of course in J. M. Barrie's book, it talks about her being very curvy in a low-cut gown (laughing). People don't know that. They also don't know that in the unabridged book, Tinker Bell speaks. I put the two together, actually. And so when she did a cocky stance like Peter would stand – with Peter being her hero, she would try to emulate him – I played her at 11 years old, she was very unsophisticated – I mixed that all together, and when I stood in front of the camera for the first time, I asked Marc Davis, "What do you want her to be? Ditzy like Betty Boo? Do you want her to be highfalutin like queen of the fairies?" He said "Margaret, we want her to be you." And I said "I think I can do that." And so, it's a mix of all of those, and it still is to to this day. The last time I saw Marc in 1999, we were having lunch together, and he leaned over at the table and said "Margaret, you are still Tinker Bell." And I said, "Marc, I think that is the nicest thing you've ever said to me."
MS: What was it like working with Marc Davis, and do you have an interesting story about him?
MK: I have what I think is an interesting story. I will give you a story about his wife, Alice, who of course is a fabulous artist in her own right. She did all of the costumes for Pirates of the Caribbean, etc. We had seen the… I guess it was the 45th Anniversary (of Peter Pan), and I was standing out on the curb with Alice over at the El Capitan (theater), ready to have our cars drive up. Alice was telling me that Marc had always said to her that Mr. Disney went through these movies like Peter Pan and Alice in Wonderland scene by scene to make sure that the dialogue was never in the vernacular. That is…that it would keep it timeless. Nobody would say the words "Oh, that's swell", or "okay" – or any of those (phrases). Walt Disney went through those himself before he would allow the film to be released. I just thought that was an incredible story and one that most people don't know. Alice told me that when she worked with Marc, that this is what she learned and Marc learned.
MS: Could you share with us "a day in the life" of what it was like for you to bring Tinker Bell to life?
MK: Well, I would get a call – because I was working on many other things. I was the eldest daughter on a network show with Charlie Ruggles ("The Ruggles") that we did every week…I had my own TV show that was going on, I did radio at the same time. They would call me and say, "We would like to schedule you for next Tuesday to come in." It was usually Tuesday, which was interesting, because they had to get the camera people together, and the lighting, and see that the sound stage was available. I think they only had one sound stage at that time. So they would call me in at about 9:30 a.m. and get over to hairdressing, and they would put my hair up – I didn't need any makeup. And I would have my own one-piece bathing suit. Somebody asked me the other day, Denise, if I still had that bathing suit – that they'd buy it from me. I said (laughing), "Honey, that was 60 years ago, no!"
Anyway, then we all would walk over to the sound stage. The lights would be there, and the crew would be there, and then Marc (Davis) and Gerry Geronomi, who was one of the directors of the whole film would show me what they wanted her scenes to be. I didn't know what it was before we sat down. Of course, the storyboard was there – and I would come up with this idea, because I played her as an 11 year old. She was unsophisticated, and she was so excited about life – and that's one of the things we love about her, that she is so childlike. She can hardly wait to see around the corner what was going to happen! And so then I'd go out and try a couple of things in front of the camera, and Marc would say "I would like that" and then they'd think about it – and then they'd say "Okay! Let's do it once for rehearsal." So you'd hit your marks, and then we would do it for the camera, and then do a take two for protection, and then we'd go on to the next scene. And I would immediately cover up, because in 1951, you didn't walk around on a sound stage in a one-piece bathing suit (laughing). And of course, all the crew were males. That's how it was, and it was exciting to step across into the Disney studio – and it's just as exciting today as it was then.
MS: What do you think draws Tinker Bell to people as much now – or even more now – than 60 years ago?
MK: Well, I think they've done wonderful things – they've written books about her, they've taken her and opened up her whole life. She has friends around, which she really didn't have before. And I loved when they came up with that – but she is still beguiling. And when she's naughty, or she's not thinking right, we love her. And if she's very, very good, we love her. Because James M. Barrie said that Tinker Bell was so small, she could only hold one emotion at a time. Either she was very bad, or she was very good. And we love her, no matter what. And think about it – she goes around saying "It's faith, and trust, and here's a whole bunch of pixie dust" and makes people's lives happy.
MS: She's always fun when she's naughty, though!
MK: Yes! And we give her largess, we say "Go ahead my dear, because we will be seeing you happy, and it's always a happy ending".
MK: I hope you've seen the Peter Pan Blu-Ray Diamond Edition, they've done the most wonderful job on the cover! And Tinker Bell just shines. What they've put in that whole package is amazing. As a grownup, for my children, I would have loved to have taken Peter Pan into my home. But they didn't have anything like this. I know people will love this, because it's for people of all ages.
MS: When I was a kid, we couldn't take it home either – it's a nice bonus, and I have the Peter Pan Diamond Edition in front of me!
MK: We take it for granted and we shouldn't. I would have loved to have shown it over and over to my children, And I couldn't. So now, here's the chance, and thank you for letting people know!
MS: Thank you, and many of these movies I didn't get to see until I was an adult because we couldn't have them at home (Disney movies came out every 7 years or so, and I was in my 20's when Disney began providing films on video).