Something About Me . . . and Peter Pan

albumcoverKaitlyn 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!!!!

martin (229x300)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.

books (300x297)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.

dvds (222x300)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 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.

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11 Responses to Something About Me . . . and Peter Pan

  1. Gram says:

    I will watch Christopher Walken (Helen Mirren, Judi Dench) in anything so I may watch this. Thanks 🙂

  2. Wonderful memories, Kaitlyn! I will be out tonight, but I’ll record the show and watch it sometime. I lost my fascination with Peter some time in the ’80s, when I recognized the gender and NA issues, and the coddling of men who remained boys.

    Still, when I was a kid we produced a version of the story in our basement, complete with scenery, curtain, dancing, and a “bee-you-tiful cake wif bee-you-tiful green icing and big red cherries.” Which one of the dancing pirates stepped in, of course. My mom nearly had a heart attack, because bing cherries were a wild extravagance on her budget. The nickels we charged for admission didn’t cover the cost.

  3. elena bowman says:

    Love it! I was born in 48…so I am right there with you. My family nick named me peter pan years ago! I wear it with pride!

    • Hi, Elena,
      I think it was the flying that really roped me in. I so wanted to be able to think happy thoughts and float up to the ceiling. I’m not so sure I’d have wanted to go much higher than that, though. I’m not actually that good with heights!!

  4. jt nichols says:

    when I was a kid there were PP people and Wizard of Oz people–I was totally into PP, watched it every year–I actually OWN the movie, Pan, thought it was quite good. I have no tv, so I can’t watch tonight, but—i’ll eventually catch up with it…

  5. Lil Gluckstern says:

    I’m so glad you wrote about, because I had forgotten this. I loved the stage performance on TV, and Cyril Ritchard was outrageously wonderful. “The Peter Pan”
    complex is alive and well in Psychology, as is what they call the “Wendy” complex. There is a kid in us, hopefully. It is also to be hoped that we take care of business in our adult phases.

  6. Thanks to everyone for their comments. I’m chiming in here (the next day) just to give the highlights of my reaction to this production. Sadly, it was not the best I’ve seen, although I thought Allison Williams did a great job as Peter Pan. Either my TV (or my hearing aids) had problems or the audio was off on their end because I could not hear some of the production numbers at all well, especially those with the pirates. Very frustrating. I wasn’t impressed with Christopher Walken, but that could be because I’ve been spoiled by seeing Cyril Ritchard in the role. I wish they hadn’t messed with the script at the beginning. In the other versions I’ve seen, Mr. Darling has a great riff on the tie that will tie round the bedpost but not round his neck. The whole exchange between parents and children fell rather flat.

    This is starting to sound as if I did nothing but find fault as I watched, but for an expensive, professional production, it seemed to me that there were a lot of things that could have been done better. More effective camera work, for example, should have reduced the number of times we glimpsed the flying wires. The lost boys were oddly costumed and strangely adult. And when I got to thinking about it, I wondered why this broadcast, supposedly aimed at children, lasted until 11 PM on a school night.

    What did I like besides Allison Williams? The choreography was fun, especially the first encounter between the lost boys and Tiger Lily and her men. Tiger Lily was the one in charge and the actress who played her did a good job. Unfortunately, the song they substituted for the objectionable one in earlier productions was another number I had trouble hearing. I’d like to hear it again but I won’t be buying the DVD just for that. It will be available Dec. 16, as they made sure to announce at the end of the show!

    • aneugy says:

      Only one Hook for me, the great Boris Karloff! Never saw him on stage (wasn’t yet born) but have the cd and numerous articles about and photos of his performance. His voice is pretty darn good for a non-singer. All this discussion on Christopher Walken’s voice is funny as he can’t sing at all. I like him in many of his other roles but this is one he shouldn’t have done.

  7. Lil Gluckstern says:

    I really like Christopher Walken. He just doesn’t do evil like Ritchard, His voice was too weak for me. But I think that the original Peter Pan was the classic one. And I agree with you, the production was a little “messy.” But you know, I still watched and sang and enjoyed Alison Williams.

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