Hello Mixed-Up Filers!
We are in for a real treat today. Earlier, I was fortunate enough to speak to a Disney legend, Margaret Kerry, who was the real-life reference model for the iconic Tinker Bell from the 1953 animated film, Peter Pan. She couldn’t have been kinder, and sweeter. So, please help me welcome her to our site!
JR: First of all, I’d like to thank you again for joining us today. I’m honored that you took the time to speak with us. I consider you to be Disney royalty. I was reading your autobiography, Tinker Bell Talks: Tale of a Pixie Dusted Life, and was amazed. You started your career at the age of four, as, ironically enough, a fairy, in the 1935 movie, A Midsummer Night’s Dream from Warner Bros. how much of that experience do you remember?
MK: Oh, I remember. I was a frightened little kid, as you can imagine. I had lost my mother, and was living with two people who were old enough to be my grandparents, and suddenly, the next thing I know, I was going to off to Warner Brothers. And it was amazing to walk through the streets of Warner Brothers. And all of us felt it, because the shadow of the great, huge sound stages fell on you. And Mr. Plaid-pants, that’s what I named him, was telling us what to do, and where to go. We had no idea of half of the words he was using. And one of them was, “They’re shooting.” Well, what does that mean to a four or five-year-old kid?
So, I finally got inside this dark, cavernous thing. I figured I would see this great big monster that they were shooting. You don’t forget things like that. And they separated the mothers from the kids, and took us off the lines, and the mothers were around fifty or sixty feet away from us. We had no idea what we were supposed to do. Well, I didn’t. Some of the kids did, who had been at it a year or two, but I didn’t. And they asked a few of us to step forward, and I didn’t know what that meant. But I looked over and saw that my mother was smiling, so I figured it must be good.
So, I remember it. I remember going to the costume department. That was like going to Star Wars today.
JR: Now, as we just said, you started so young. You hit the ground running at the age of four, and then kept going. Did you realize how unusual that was, or did you just think that’s what everyone did?
MK: That’s a good question. I don’t think I thought of anyone else, because I never saw anyone else. I was locked down, so to speak, with those two wonderful people who had no idea what to do with a four, or five, or six-year-old. And what you do is your work. You do your homework. You read a book, then you go practice. And then, you go to sleep.
JR: Here’s something I learned from reading your book, which blew my mind. I always watched the Our Gang/Little Rascals shorts when I was a kid. I had no idea that you were in them. How was that experience?
MK: Well, this was so interesting to me. (Shows a picture). Here I am with Spanky and Scotty Beckett. It’s always interesting to me, that everything that I seem to do, was the kind of thing that people watched. I could’ve been in some other kids thing, and it wouldn’t have been as famous as The Little Rascals. I was the most surprised person, when I was around forty, and someone said to me, “You were in The Little Rascals?” And I was like, how do they know that? So, everything that I’ve done is kind of iconic.
MK: And that was by accident, and it was wonderful.
JR: I also read that you really weren’t allowed to see yourself on the screen because of advice given by Shirley Temple’s mom to not let a kid get swell-headed? What was that about? You had to have been disappointed.
MK: I never looked at myself on the screen. Ever since. Never have. You did a job, and either they liked it or they didn’t like it. And if they didn’t like it, they didn’t use it, and that was it. And I never saw the Our Gang comedies in the movie theatres, and you also never knew when they were coming.
JR: You were one of the stars of an early TV series in 1949, called The Ruggles, which if I read it right, was the first network sitcom?
MK: It was the first family network sitcom which ABC did. And we did four seasons of 172 episodes, and we never took a break. We worked right through the summer. And I’m told that the few kinescopes that they show on YouTube are very popular.
JR: They broadcast it live?
MK: Twice. Once for the east coast, and then we would go to dinner, and come back and do it for the west coast.
MK: It was. And that was the big deal. Nobody had ever heard of a cue card at that point.
JR: Was that nerve-wracking?
MK: Well, we worked with two little kids. Jimmy Hawkins and Judy Nugent, and they would look for their script. But Mr. Ruggles did too. We were told when we did rehearsals, that they never went to the full twenty-two minutes. They never did. They went short. Because the way he worked was, he would find a word during shooting, and would take it and be off and running. But, we didn’t know how long it was going to take him. Erin O’Brien Moore did that quite a bit, too.
The pressure was, if you had worked in the movies, and I did not like working in movies. I preferred television. In television, you just do it, and movies seemed to go on forever. But when you worked in the movies, the director was right there. The camera was right there. When you went to work on early television, they were moving around these monstrous television cameras, and the director might be two buildings away in a special booth with his people, and sending information down to the floor manager. But not to you. And quite often, they couldn’t move the mechanics. The microphones or the cameras. And they couldn’t figure out how to move them in time, so they had to stop us to figure it out. And we came to a standstill. But we never knew if it was our fault. And the same way when we did the show. I got fan mail like crazy, which was never given to me. They just didn’t do it.
JR: That’s awful.
MK: But TV was so new, and exciting and wonderful. Well, the wonderful one was when they would change the script around fifteen minutes before we were set to go on. And we would also have to do a one-minute commercial in front of the camera. And you had to memorize it. No cue cards.
The problem with that was, we were always trained to never look at the camera. And you know, if you ever look at a camera, a camera is like a mirror, and you see yourself. And pretty soon you’re thinking, Look at my hair.
And a one-minute commercial for Dr. Ross Dog Food is dog gone good, is the one that they finally decided to get their own announcers to do the commercial. And they always gave you the commercial when you had the largest part in the show. Your character. So, I’m standing there on the stairway, talking about Dr. Ross Dog Food. Well, this was an era, when whatever any woman, female, ever said, nobody paid any attention to. So, my closing lines were: “My dad thinks Dr. Ross Dog Food is best for our dog, and so do I.” But I come up with: “My dad likes Dr. Ross Dog Food, my brother likes Dr. Ross Dog Food, and so do I.” (Licks lips)
The next week, they have Hal Smith, with whom I did all the voices in Clutch Cargo, they had him on as the announcer.
But I loved it. It was exciting. I loved it much better than theater. And people say to me, “I would like to be in show business of some kind.” And I say to them, pick one to start with. Because they are so individual now. Television is so different than making movies. Which is so different than making a video, which is so different from theater. It goes on and on. Or do you want to be behind the scenes. So, have a good idea when you say, I’m going to spend my time trying to get into show business. For example, if you are an actor, and you come to Hollywood, you find a little theater group as fast as you can. But maybe, you’re not interested in little theater. You’re interested in films. I know a man, Michael-Leon Wooley, who does so many voice-overs, he was the alligator in The Princess and the Frog. Anyway, the first time I met him, he excused himself because he had to go home to do around six commercials. I said, “Where?” He said, “In my bedroom. They’ve given me a device and emailed me what I’m supposed to say, the script. And then I record it, and they pick it up in New York.” He said, “Do you realize that I have ten different agents?”
JR: Wow, I had a hard enough time finding one.
JR: Okay, let’s go on to Peter Pan. I read that it was one of Disney’s favorite stories, and he had been trying to get it made for close to twenty years before it actually came out. How did you first hear about the project?
MK: I had finished working at ABC. Then we did a big number called, Let There Be Stars, which only ran for one season, which starred Tommy Noonan and Peter Marshall, and from that, the choreographer, Larry Ceballos, got a job, and got put in as the choreographer for a big musical at Fox, I’ll Get By, with June Haver and Gloria DeHaven, and he needed assistant dance directors. So, he asked me. So, I went to work there, and got a phone call from my agent, who said, could you get off work tomorrow? Because they’re interviewing for a little, three-and-a-half-inch sprite. A little fairy who doesn’t talk.
So, I said, “Well, we’re finishing up right now, and there’ll be this big dance number, and I don’t know—”
And she said, “It’s at Disney!”
I said, “I’ll be there 6 a.m. in the morning.” Most people felt that way. They really, really did. So, I got the information from her, and realized I had to do something besides walk in and say, “Hi, hire me. I could do the job.” So, I put together and choreographed quickly, a little three-minute number, of an eleven-year-old boy fixing breakfast, where he drops the eggs on the floor. And I took a little record player, and I drive into the archway that says, Walt Disney, the little, itty-bitty one that they had before, and they had my name on the roster!
They told me where to go, and I parked, and stepped outside, and immediately got lost. And a very nice fellow, who turned out to be one of the animators, stopped me and said, “You look lost.” And he took me to Marc Davis’s office. And Marc Davis was kind enough to fix my record player, and find a plug for it, and I did the pantomime. And then they brought down Gerry Geronimi, one of the directors, and I did the scene where Tinkerbell is on the mirror and looking at herself. And I played her as if she was a nine-year-old/ten-year-old girl, who had never seen herself in a mirror before. So, I don’t know if it was right then, or the following week, when I get a call and they said, would it be convenient for you to come into work the next day?
And I said, “Really?”
And I had never been asked if it would be convenient to come into work, but then Marc Davis asked, “What time would you like to come?” I thought this was a joke, because you know how disciplined you have to be. I said, “Ten o’clock.” And he said, “Fine. Go into hairdressing, get your hair done. You’re going to wear your one-piece bathing suit. It’s on the cover of my book, as a matter of fact. That was my costume. Because really what they needed to see was the outline of my body as I moved and as I twirled, so they didn’t really need to make a costume. So, that’s how I did it, and at the same time, I was working on radio and television shows. Everybody did, because it was at the time when you didn’t really know if television was going to take over for the movies. Of course, they live side by side, but we didn’t know it at the time. And it took nine months to do the different scenes. But, I get a call from Marc Davis who said Bobby Driscoll, who was my brother in the picture I made before I did this, he can’t do the fight scenes. Would you suggest somebody?
So, I said I had the perfect guy, and he would look great in green tights. Roland Dupree, who I had just worked with before this. So, Roland became the live-action model for Peter Pan. Then, I got a call from Marc Davis again. He said, Hans Conreid couldn’t come in to do the live-action work, do you know anyone who could take his place.
I said, “Yes, I do.” So, I cast that film. And they treated me so well. They were wonderful. And still are.
JR: So, you get the part, and you work closely with Marc Davis, the animator from Disney’s legendary stable of Nine Old Men. What can you tell us about with him and the process for creating Tinkerbell?
MK: Well, how we worked it was, we would meet on the soundstage, and he would show me what he had in mind for the scene, and often they had props. And I remember the first time I stepped out in front of the camera, and I said, “Mr. Davis, what do you want her to be? Do you want her to be ditzy like Betty Boop, or above it all like the queen of the fairies?” and he said, very quietly, “Margaret, we want her to be you.”
And I said, “Gosh, I think I can do that.” That was carte blanche to do what I thought she would do, and I always pictured her as a nine to ten-year-old little girl, who was finding out what life was. Who was a groupie for Peter Pan. She wanted all the adventures in life. She’s sort of like me, what’s around the corner? What adventure? And, Oh, I don’t like that, but I’ll fix it and make it work.
One of the main things they liked so much, when you see the movie again, watch her walk. She had a ballet dancer’s walk. Her hands and the things that she does, is like ballet. Cause I’m a dancer. And that’s one of the reasons that Marilyn Monroe could not have done that part, even if Twentieth Century Fox would’ve let her. But she was not a dancer. And it got around that Tinkerbell was based on Marilyn, but she wasn’t. It was little old me.
JR: Speaking of that, I read that your kids actually called Parker Brothers to make them change a Trivial Pursuit answer about that? Because they said it was Marilyn Monroe? I love that!
MK: Yes, my kids called and that got me back into working with the Disney people again. Because I was raising children, and I was doing voice-overs. And you know, I was also the red-headed mermaid in the lagoon. With June Foray, the dark-haired lady, and also the voice of Rocky from Rocky and Bullwinkle. That’s when we both decided that we would go into voice-overs instead of standing around in front of the cameras and waiting. It’s too regimented, and we said, why are we doing this? We could come at one o’clock in the afternoon. Someone hands us a script, and we don’t have to memorize anything. If they don’t like it, someone just cleans up the tape and we start over again, and then you leave. But it was a wonderful time working with that genius, Marc Davis. And he added so many wonderful things to Disneyland, and did Cruella Deville.
And here’s something you don’t know. I’m standing with Alice, his wife, and we were out in front of the El Capitan Theatre, and we had just seen Tinkerbell. And I asked, what was his favorite film to work on? And she said that she really thought it was 101 Dalmatians, because of Cruella Deville, because he designed Cruella Deville. He also got to animate Cruella Deville through that whole movie. Nobody else did it. And he was in seventh heaven, because usually he would create characters, and hand them over to someone else, and sometimes see them go in a direction that he was not pleased with. It was fine, but not what he had intended.
One day, I was talking to Kathryn Beaumont, who played Alice in Alice in Wonderland, and I asked if she ever felt anything unsafe, and she said she always felt 100% protected. And I was a pretty good-looking young gal in a bathing suit, under the lights, and sometimes the crew people could get pretty crude, but Marc Davis would not put up with it. He protected me. That’s who he was.
And his wonderful wife made the costumes for Pirates of the Caribbean. And they weren’t regular costumes. They had Velcro, because some were locked down to the scene they were in. And she told us that she designed them and once they were okayed by everyone, they were going to send them out to have them made up. She told them they had to make up two, and they said, no, just one. Well, one day, she gets a frantic phone call, that something went awry n the Pirates ride and some of the costumes were ruined. She said, “Don’t worry about it, I ordered the second set.”
JR: That’s funny. How often did you get to interact with Walt Disney?
MK: He came over around four or five times over the nine-month period, that I saw, but I wasn’t there every week. And we didn’t have to have the doors closed on the sound stages, so we could keep the doors open and let the warm air in. Because sound stages are notoriously cold. And I’m doing my work, and I look over, and I see a group of about a dozen men, and you could see their shadows because the sun is behind them. And they would talk about something, and then when that group broke up, Mr. Disney would come over and talk to Marc, and the cameraman, and the director, and I was invited into the conversation. And he was just a delight. I never saw him smoke. He was very trim, and a wonderful smile, and I was so juvenile, and in awe, because I was looking at the head of a studio! I was brought up since the time I was four, that the head of the studio was God. And you never saw them, but if they came within a block of you, you curtsied.
I had gone to school with the Disney girls, Sharon and Diane, and I told someone, and evidently, someone told him. And Mr. Disney said to me, “I understand that you went to school with my daughters.”
Well, I was tongue-tied.
But one of the reasons that I went to an all-girls school, was because I could get a permit to go out and work in the movies. You couldn’t do that in a public school. So, he had known this, and stepped back and said, “I’m sure they liked you.” So, that’s when I met Walt Disney and shook hands with him, but never got a picture because nobody had those kinds of phones.
JR: How often do you watch the movie, and what comes into your mind when you do?
Mk: Are you ready for this? I lost my DVD of Peter Pan. And my husband, Robert Boeke, has never seen the film.
JR: Oh no! That can’t be! He must watch it!
MK: Well, our first anniversary will be February 14th, Valentine’s Day, and I said, “We have a date.”
JR: Are you still very involved with Disney?
MK: If I want to be, I can, but of course, moving to Sarasota. I don’t know anyone in Walt Disney World. So, I’m mostly doing shows. Celebrity shows, signing autographs, and hopefully making people happy.
JR: You very much are. You’ve mentioned your voice-over work, and were presented with the Ward Kimball award. Can you tell us a little bit about your work with that?
MK: Well, my first husband, yes, I’ve had three husbands now, he was Dick Brown, and he was the associate director at ABC. And because I had done some work for Disney, and he could hear my voices, he got to thinking that animation was the deal. He’s the man who changed the whole direction of animation for television. He had the idea that they needed an adventure show in animation. You know, they were showing the old Popeye shows. Felix the Cat, and the ones they couldn’t show of Betty Boop. And he had a friend who did all the great artwork for Buzz Sawyer, which was a comic strip at the time, and they came out with a new way of designing a series. And they didn’t go into Hannah Barbera or MGM or any of the other companies, so they started their own. They used their own money to finance it, so every episode was on a budget of $3,666.00. Unheard of. In animation, the big cost is animating the mouth, and in an adventure, people are talking, so we had to come up with a new way. So, we had a syncro-vox, where they filmed our lips with white or brown lipstick, whatever went with the character, and then could project it onto the still artwork. Sort of like anime. We did 279 episodes, and did very well with them. We did the Three Stooges cartoon, and Johnny Quest started in our art department. And eventually because of a lot of things that happened, we had fallen on hard times, and Hannah Barbera came in and hired our whole art department, and they did Johnny Quest. It wasn’t called Johnny Quest at the time, but it was the same idea. And it worked, and that made me feel good.
JR: As I mentioned, I started reading your book, Tinker Bell Talks, and as you can tell, I find it fascinating. Can you tell us a little bit about that?
MK: I decided to write sort of a Reader’s Digest book. It has eighty stories in it. 160 pictures. And the longest story is eight pages. The shortest story is one page. So, you can pick it up at any time, and get a complete story, beginning, middle, and end, and of course, I love comedy, so I put comedy all the way through it. And you will find how a child actor got along in Hollywood. The longest story is about the Three Stooges, and working with them.
JR: Now, since we’re a site devoted to children’s books, can you tell me what your favorite childhood book was?
MK: The Secret Garden. It’s the most wonderful children’s book, and Margaret O’Brien played in the MGM movie, and did a great job. I read it to my children, and they read it to their children.
JR: With so many people loving Peter Pan, what was your favorite movie?
MK: Mary Poppins. I see something new every time. And I’m a dancer, and the chimney sweep dance, I still can’t believe. The second is, Peter Pan.
JR: Of course!
MK: And the third is Pinocchio, because after having worked with them, I realize what it takes to make something as great as that.
JR: Before I let you go, you have a fairytale story of your own. You reconnected with a former boyfriend after 70 years and got married this year on Valentine’s Day! That is such an amazing, and heartwarming story. How did that come about?
MK: I was a widow for twenty years. Jack passed away just before we changed into the 2000’s. It was 1999. And I was working and so on, and something told me that I was going to move out of California. People would say, where are you going, and I would say, I don’t know. But I know that I’m moving out of California. And one day, I receive an email from Amsterdam. And it said, would you like to reestablish contact with one, Robert Boeke? You knew each other seventy years ago. Well, my heart melted. So, I sent back, very lady-like, Yes, I would be delighted. A little excited. I got a phone call from him two days later, and he was calling from France. He was there to mark the 75th anniversary of D-Day. A ship was coming to take all these former soldiers from Amsterdam. So, he figured he’d first see Amsterdam. And he’s walking across, and lo and behold, he comes across a store, and I have a picture of it, the store says, Tinker Bell Toys. And he says to someone, “Did I ever tell you that I dated Tinker Bell?”
And there was a wonderful woman, named Sue, and she said, “Let’s find her.”
And we did, and kept in contact, and one day, went up for Mayberry Days in North Carolina, because I was in Andy Griffith, two episodes, and he lived in South Carolina. So, I called him up and said, “Robert, is there any way you can get to North Carolina?”
So, he drove the eight hours to North Carolina, and walked into where we were, and I looked at him, and he looked at me, and it was love at second sight.
JR: That is really amazing.
MK: And we haven’t yelled at each other yet. The best part is, he’s a magnificent cook.
JR: I’m so happy for you. How can people follow you on Social media?
JR: I thank you so much again. This was a real pleasure, and extremely gracious of you.
MK: Before we leave, I have to wish you, Faith, Trust, and a whole bunch of Pixie Dust.
JR: Thank you, and I wish you the same.
MK: You’re a fun person to talk to.
JR: I appreciate that, I’ll have to tell my kids someone said that 🙂
Well, Mixed-Up Filers, I hope you enjoyed that as much as I did. Thank you again to Margaret Kerry. Please check out her book, Tinker Bell Talks. It is filled with fascinating stories of Disney and old Hollywood. If you go to her website, you can get a signed copy!
Until next time . . .