The word "veteran" has various connotations: a uniformed chest bristling with medals or, maybe, an old car pop-popping its way along the London to Brighton road. It is not, however, a word I have ever thought of in connection with myself - until this week, that is, when the accolade was applied to me by the…
I quote: ‘“It gleams and glistens on the screen,” veteran British broadcaster and Disney expert Brian Sibley said this weekend…’
The veteran (that is, I) was referring to Walt Disney’s animated classic Peter Pan, the restored print of which is shortly to be newly re-released on a 2-disc DVD.
As Buttons has already reported, I was engaged to help re-launch the screen career of the Boy Who Wouldn't Grow Up in the capacity of ‘Disney Historian’, but nobody said anything about needing to be a veteran!
Anyway, I had an interesting time preparing for the event refreshing my knowledge of J M Barrie and the genesis of Pan. I also discovered a fact overlooked by all the many biographies of Walt Disney that his decision to film Barrie's 'fairy play' was inspired by the youthful experience of having seen the original American Peter, Maude Adams (left), in a touring production which visited Disney’s boyhood home-town of Marceline, Missouri in 1914, and that not long after Walt had himself played Peter in a school production...
It only took getting on for forty years for his version of the story to reach the cinema screen; but then Disney was noted for his determination and persistence.
The event also meant that I got to work with Margaret Kerry (right), who at the age of nineteen had performed - in pantomime for the live-action camera - reference footage on which the animators based the curvaceous character and spritely movements of Tinker Bell; and my dear friend Kathryn Beaumont (left) who, as a 12 year-old living in Hollywood with an impeccable English accent, had been personally chosen by Disney first to speak and sing for the eponymous heroine of Alice in Wonderland and then to act as both the voice and the physical model for Wendy Darling in Peter Pan.
You can read a diverting account of the event (including all the things that I didn’t get to do such as taking a helicopter flight over London and clambering up inside Big Ben) as seen through the American eyes of Kit Bowen in the New York Post.
I am quoted as saying (amongst other things):
“The quintessential story, the message, remains the same: It’s important not to lose touch with the innocence and imagination of childhood and of being young. We ought to think it’s tragic that Peter doesn’t grow up. Peter, we would say, doesn’t lead a fulfilled life because he doesn’t become a full-grown human and have emotional interactions with people. But of course, what Barrie is saying is that Peter keeps the spirit of youth, the spirit of imagination alive…”
And since it has the ring of an unedited transcript of a verbatim recording, I guess I very probably did!
On the subject of Disney movies, the fourth edition of Walt’s People has just been published.
Edited by Didier Ghez and with cover-art featuring the brilliant caricatures of Pete Emslie, this latest volume in a highly-valuable, on-going archive of Disney history, contains interviews with several decades of Disney talents including the late Marc Davis, the animator responsible for Tinker Bell’s memeorable on-screen persona.
There also just happens to be an interview with me about the relationship between Walt Disney and P L Travers, the author of the Mary Poppins books, along with a lot of information about the unmade sequel, Mary Poppins Comes Back, for which I wrote the screenplay.
That was - good heavens! - TWENTY YEARS AGO! Blimey! I am a ruddy veteran!!