Interview with Kathryn Beaumont, Wendy from “Peter Pan” and Disney Historian/Author Mindy Johnson

Hi everyone!

We were privileged to interview Kathryn Beaumont, the voice of Wendy in Peter Pan for the upcoming Walt Disney Signature Collection (it comes out this week) in a dual interview with Disney historian Mindy Johnson – her Ink & Paint: The Women of Walt Disney’s Animation book was my favorite book of last year. There aren’t a lot of new bonus features on the new release, but the interview with Beaumont and Paul Collins (John) is well worth watching though I wish it was even longer. There are a couple of fun memories of Walt Disney on it and more in it. For our interview, I found out some things I didn’t know as well about the making of Peter Pan. Here is our interview with Kathryn Beaumont and Mindy Johnson, who laughed together through the interview so much – they have such a fun and easy rapport.

Photos all provided by and copyright by the Walt Disney Company

MS: Kathryn, how did you get chosen for Wendy?

KB: Well, I was already at the studio working as the voice of Alice in Alice in Wonderland. They were already in story production for Peter Pan. They were realizing that I would be the right age, and of course it was another British character, so why not just continue? So that is sort of how that evolved, with my being the voice of Wendy in Peter Pan.

MS: How surprising is it for you that 65 years after making the film, you are still talking about it?

KB: (Lauging) That is the most amazing part of all…that’s scary! 65 years ago, that is a long time. Isn’t that amazing though, how Disney has just resonated with the public throughout so many years? His work was so wonderful, wasn’t it?

MS: What is it part to be part of a beloved classic that so many years later, it’s as loved now as it was then?

KB: Oh it was, and it is! That’s what is so amazing about these stories is that they’ve had a life that’s gone on and on and on. I just feel so very fortunate that I had the opportunity at the beginning to be part of it. And it’s so special for me to have memories of that wonderful time when I was part of it.

MS: I watched the wonderful bonus feature “A Darling Conversation” and what surprised me is that how involved you were in the production. These days, actors often go in and voice their roles only. But you were in storyboard meetings and you were doing live action sequences. What was that like to have a complete look at what you were doing day in and day out?

KB: I’m realizing that everything has changed so much as progress over the years of how the animated film is produced and finished. The fact that I got to watch the storyboards where you saw how the scene -the sequence – was going to evolve…and then the next part was a recording. Then, after that, there was live action where you went onto one of the studio stages and they would film the sequence over again so that the animators – it wasn’t for the audience, it wasn’t for the general audience – it was strictly for the artists to study movement so that they would be able to draw the characters in a realistic way and make it more fluid. So, it was a wonderful learning process because not understanding everything that went into making an animated film, the writers and the directors would have me visit them with my teacher at recess time (laughing) because I was working at the studio and doing my schooling there…we would have a little recess, and they asked us to come up and see what was going on in their workplace. So then I would see a lot of the groundwork of what was going on in the actual animation process. So, I learned a lot about how an animated film was produced. So, it was great memories…wonderful, wonderful memories of the past.

MS: How many hours were you allowed on the set and how many years did it take to get through the film?

KB: It was several years to finish with the film, and because I was a child, the days were divided. I couldn’t work all day. I had to have three hours of schooling and four hours of work. It wasn’t like a full day of work, so it took them a lot longer to work my portion of the film, to do my part of it. It was very, very different in those days, but I have wonderful fond memories of how it was, how the process was then…which was a lot different than it would be today.

MS: Mindy, is there anything that surprised you about the making of Peter Pan?

MJ: Well, when I first began research for Tinker Bell: An Evolution, I was really surprised to learn the length of time involved. Walt had started as early as the mid-30s to explore the story idea, he’d always loved it as a child. But WWII got in the way, other factors helped to define and shape the ultimate production. For me, it was fascinating to learn how many artists had a hand in shaping this film, how it evolved through the look, the feel, the tone, the tenor…the different explorations they were going into. I think it’s a real testament to the film’s staying power is all things come together for right when they need to. Walt just kept working, he didn’t rush it. He knew certain elements had to be in place. I think he had a pretty extraordinary sense of timing…and wasn’t about to…just because he had story rights, he wasn’t about to rush into it. If he felt his artists needed to cultivate their skills, once getting back after the war, he knew there was still more to the story that would take time to flesh out so he chose other titles that were more ready at that point. So I think we owe the timelessness of this film to Walt’s extraordinary sense of timing. That to me has always been fascinating.

MS: And that worked out perfectly with Kathryn and the other actors being available.

MJ: You’re absolutely right. All the elements as Kathy said….her age, her voice, the quality of everything, her experiences…the timing was right.

MS: Turning back to Kathryn, in the bonus feature you talk with Paul Collins and you just speak so fondly of Walt Disney – even like with him and his tray in the cafeteria. Can you share another favorite memory or two?

KB: (Laughing), Oh, gosh. When you’re in conversation, something pops up…something reminds you of a particular thing. Right now I can’t think of anything other than those. I know that we had a lovely time working on Peter Pan and the fact that…in this particular case, I had someone that I could relate to – working and having my schooling at the same time. That was fun, as opposed to being pretty much by myself. That made it a fun experience as well.

MS: Can you tell me about being one of the models for Tinker Bell? I hadn’t known about that.

KB: Well, it was a lot of fun! They were looking for – they were having trouble figuring out exactly how they wanted Tinker Bell to be. And so, they tried different kinds of approaches and they had me do a scene because, ‘we’ll see how this might work’ because they were scrambling to see what would work. They didn’t want this person to be a femme fatale, they didn’t want them to be a child…they weren’t quite sure what it was that would actually work.

MS: So that is how I did a scene (laughing). And I was one of many who did.

MS: You left acting to become a teacher, but you returned to voicing the characters occasionally after that.

KB: There have been times that I have been brought back to play one of the roles again, either for the park or different things. So every once in a while I am called back, and I relish that and enjoy it and feel wonderful…happy that I am part of it still.

MS: And did you expect to still be voicing the characters for so many years past the original film?

KB: No (laughing)…it’s just a lovely feeling that people enjoy it over the years and want to see it again.

MS: Can you tell us your favorite memory of Peter Pan?

KB: Oh, that’s impossible! One may be that I actually got to play against other people, whereas with Alice, basically a lot of what I did was alone on the set. And so, it was nice to have others to relate to in the various different scenes. I think that was a big difference in the two films for me.

MS: Mindy, did you know Kathryn before?

MJ: I did, I’ve known Kathryn for many years. It’s always a delight when she shares her stories and experiences to see the magic…to tap into other people’s eyes and ears when they get to hear her voice. And I think that is the charm of it, the timelessness. And what’s beautiful about Kathryn’s voice is it’s still there…the essence and the characters are there. To get that in front of audiences…and there is always a sense of disbelief that the minute they hear her and meet her and see how genuine…and you can see her presence…animators and artists infused that into each of the characters….unique aspects of her into each of the characters. It’s a real testament, not only to her contributions but also to the artists working with her…and the differences they applied to each of the characters. It’s really very special.

MS: Mindy, is there anything you’ve learned new while she’s been talking today?

Mindy Johnson

MJ: There’s always new little stories she pops out with. The big classic moment (previously) was the discovery of her as Tinker Bell. And she had never spoken about that. When I was researching Tinker Bell: An Evolution (published 2013), we were having lunch one day and she just happened to mention it and I was just about to dropped to the floor (laughing), because again, that had never been discussed. We never talked about it, and so everybody thought it was one person (Kathryn interjects here, ‘it was a lot’)  and it turns out we found Ginni – and Ginni Mack’s contribution, that was a photograph that sat in the photo archives….Roy Williams was identified as the artist, but all it said was “and the model for Tinker Bell”, and nothing more. So that launched a multi-year search to find her – and sadly we just lost her last year, but it was my great joy and honor and delight to get her out as well and for Kathy to meet her (Kathy is agreeing verbally with almost everything that is being said throughout) and to get most of the ladies who were involved…Colleen Stanley (I could not find the name, so guessing on the spelling) and others, but it was a real delight, because Ginni knew she did the role but her work at the Studio was more identified through her inking and painting. So it was a real joy for her and her family to get a little bit of a light cast on her contribution. Tinker Bell and the experiences of this film are so timeless and everybody has a favorite and can identify with it in some way. It was a real delight to put some of the dots to…Pixie Dust the dots together….because men and women and boys and girls enjoy that character. Walt and the artists recognized that and they continued her role in the parks and on television. She sort of embodied so much of the magic that Walt and his artists were working to strive for, and so it was a real joy to be able to find these ladies and give them all the credit due and get the origins of that little pixie out there. It’s been a real joy.

From Denise: The interview took an interesting turn at the end, I need to read Tinker Bell: An Evolution. It was a huge honor to talk with both Kathryn Beaumont and Mindy Johnson, I am a huge fan of Mindy’s writing including the above mentioned Ink & Paint: The Women of Walt Disney’s Animation – a fantastic and huge history book that I recommend to anyone interested in Disney history. It isn’t only about ink and paint, it isn’t only about women, it really encompasses quite a bit more than that. And Kathryn was a delight to speak with, and it was fun hearing her encourage Mindy as she spoke about Tinker Bell. We will have some of this interview on a future show in July, we have been traveling a lot and had to record a number of shows ahead.

Thanks again to Kathryn Beaumont and Mindy Johnson! And be sure to pick up Peter Pan as part of the Walt Disney Signature Collection.