It may be officially old enough to retire, but Walt Disney’s Peter Pan has never grown up. To celebrate its 63rd birthday, here are a few fun facts about the perpetually pubescent Pan.
1. As a young boy, Walt Disney saw a touring production of Peter Pan.
Walt Disney broke his piggy bank to get the money for tickets to the performance starring actress Maude Adams. He remembered the performance fondly and later asked her to look at an early reel of his version of Peter Pan; she declined. Disney said that to her, “The Peter whom she created was to her real life and blood, while another’s creation of this character would only be a ghost to her,” and surmised that “Miss Adams is simply living in the past.”
2. Walt later landed the title role himself.
Perhaps inspired by the performance he saw, Walt went on to play Peter Pan in a school production. “No actor ever identified himself with the part he was playing more than I,” he said.
3. Disney had to make a deal with a hospital to make the movie.
Author J.M. Barrie famously left the rights to Peter Pan to the Great Ormond Street Hospital when he died. The hospital made a deal with Disney in 1939, giving them the exclusive animation rights. It doesn’t receive income from the sales of DVDs or toys though, because those things weren’t in the 1939 contract. However, according to the hospital’s website, Disney has been very supportive nonetheless. “Since 2008, when Disney partnered with Great Ormond Street Hospital Children's Charity, they have raised more than £10 million [$14.5 million] towards the hospital's vital redevelopment program and continue to support the hospital and charity with fundraising events and donations.”
4. Roy Disney was against Peter Pan.
The elder Disney found the $3 million budget hard to swallow and was probably livid when costs soared to $4 million; he and Walt ended up in a big fight about the whole affair. It all worked out in the end: Pan grossed more than $40 million upon its original release, and another $46.6 million when it was re-released in the 1980s.
5. Animator Milt Kahl thought drawing Peter Pan was dull work.
Milt Kahl had hoped to be assigned to the villainous Captain Hook instead and found himself bored with the work on Pan and Wendy. The hardest part about drawing Peter, he said, was making it look realistic when he was floating in mid-air or landing. Kahl resolved the latter by having Peter’s upper body arrive first, with his lower body catching up afterward.
6. Wendy Darling was voiced by Kathryn Beaumont, who was fresh off of another Disney movie.
Beaumont also played the title role in Alice in Wonderland, which came out two years before Peter Pan.
7. It’s long been rumored that Marilyn Monroe provided the inspiration for Tinker Bell, but that’s false.
Actress Margaret Kerry was the animators’ model for the fairy, acting out scenes to provide them with a reference for her movements. Footage of her acting out the part starts at around 7:10 below:
8. The song “The Second Star to the Right” was originally written for Alice in Wonderland.
At the time, it was called “Beyond the Laughing Sky.” Here’s the Peter Pan version, then a brief explanation of the Alice song from Alice and Wendy herself, Kathryn Beaumont.
9. Actor Hans Conried provided the voices for both Mr. Darling and Captain Hook.
The dual role upholds a longstanding theater tradition in which the same actor portrayed both the strict Darling father and the one-handed pirate.
10. It’s said that Walt didn’t actually care much for the finished product.
He believed that the Peter Pan they had created was cold and unlikable.
11. Despite this, Disney believed author J.M. Barrie would have approved of his Pan.
In a 1952 article called, “My Plans for Peter Pan,” Disney wrote, “I believe that if Barrie were alive today, he would be only too happy to write the adventures of Peter and Wendy directly for the screen, realizing that here at last was a chance to perform his miracles exactly as he wanted them, that here was a medium which could do full justice to the quality of his showmanship.”
12. Sadly, the boy who voiced Peter Pan fell victim to the child actor curse.
As Bobby Driscoll got older, the roles seemed to dry up and he turned to drugs. After a prison stay in the early ‘60s, Driscoll became part of Andy Warhol’s Factory scene. He died of heart failure in 1968 at the age of 31.