Kaitlyn Dunnett, aka Kathy Lynn Emerson here. So—how many of you are going to watch the live production of Peter Pan tonight on NBC? I wouldn’t miss it for the world. You see, Peter Pan and I go way back—more than sixty years. The Disney film came out in 1953, when I was six, but the night I’ll never forget was the first television broadcast of the musical play starring Mary Martin as Peter.
There I was, age eight, already in my jammies, sitting cross-legged on the floor in front of our black and white television set. I was so excited. You think the hoopla over this new production is something? It’s nothing compared to the publicity generated back in 1955.
The show came on as scheduled. I sat there, eyes glued to the screen, enraptured. And then, without warning, the picture vanished.
There was something wrong with our TV! It had stopped working!
Eight-year-old kids do not react well to having the treat they’ve looked forward to for weeks taken away from them!!!!
Fortunately, my parents understood that this was a crisis. Mom made a quick phone call. Then they bundled me into the car, still in my pajamas, and drove me to my best friend Patty’s house, getting me there so fast that I probably missed no more than ten minutes of the production.
I’ve seen many versions of Peter Pan since then, everything from a PTA-sponsored amateur production to movies like Hook and and the Syfy channel’s Neverland. I still love it. I have the VHS edition of the 1960 Mary Martin production. By that time, the third broadcast, it was filmed in color. When I was still a kid, I acquired an LP of an earlier (1950) musical version of the play starring Jean Arthur as Peter and Boris Karloff as Captain Hook. This recording featured only five songs, but they were written by Leonard Bernstein, and it included all the dialog—no wonder I’m so fond of listening to audiobooks. I have the DVD of the Disney classic, and the original comic book, and three Little Golden Books, each telling part of the story. The Disney version, of course, commissioned its own songs.
I have a copy of the J. M. Barrie play, written in 1904. It’s much darker than the musical versions. I’ve also seen Finding Neverland, although I wasn’t that impressed with it, and the 2003 film with a boy playing Peter. Traditionally, the role is played by a woman. Another usual practice in the stage play is for the same actor to play both Mr. Darling and Captain Hook—that adds another dimension to the story, don’t you think? But tonight, Christopher Walken is just Hook and the actor playing Mr. Darling is doubling as Smee. I don’t know what that’s supposed to mean. Another new wrinkle is that Nana, the dog, will be played by a real dog instead of an actor in a dog suit.
There’s a new theatrical release titled Pan due out next year. As in Neverland, new characters are added, Peter is played by a real boy, and an attempt is made to explain how he got to Neverland in the first place. Why the fascination with the story of Peter Pan? There are lots of theories. Some of them are discussed in the blog found at http://hellogiggles.com/ways-peter-pan-ahead-time where gender issues and the concerns about stereotyping Native Americans are also raised. It makes for interesting reading, but I think there may be a simpler answer. I suspect that there is a little of the child left in all of us, a kid who still does not want to grow up.