Kathryn Beaumont was just 11 years old when Walt Disney chose her to be the voice of Alice in Alice in Wonderland. She was under contract with MGM at the time, but Disney took over her contract and promptly put her to work, first as Alice and then as Wendy Darling in the 1953 animated classic Peter Pan. Now, in honor of Peter Pan‘s 65th anniversary — for which Disney is releasing a special-edition Blu-Ray, complete with brand-new bonus features — Beaumont is reflecting on her childhood as a Disney star and her lasting legacy as a Disney legend.
Brit + Co: How did you land that first role with Disney?
Kathryn Beaumont: I actually was at MGM under contract, and Disney was looking for an Alice who was pleasing to the ears of both countries — England and America — and so I was called to read for the part, and then I was called back to read again, and then again a third time. And then they decided they wanted to have me do the role of Alice, which I was just so excited about. It was a lovely, lovely experience for me.
B+C: Can you walk us through the process of recording Wendy’s voice?
KB: The recordings were done when the storyboards were finished and they had the dialogue all set up. So they would set up the script and then I would go in and record the voice part. … [Often,] the other characters were there at the same time, so we were able to read our parts and then communicate together. Then there were times when I was there alone and just had to imagine what the other characters were saying or doing. So it was always a different experience.
B+C: You also acted as the live-action reference model for Wendy. What was that like?
KB: They wanted me to do the live-action, because that was a wonderful reference for the artist to see the different movements and make the movements more realistic. The most interesting parts were the flying sequences, naturally, because they wanted that to look very natural. … I remember them supporting me with a sort of harness, and they lifted me up into the high part of the soundstage where they actually were filming. They filmed it so the artists could watch the movements of me sort of floating around in the air above. What they didn’t know was that I was afraid of heights!
Mindy Johnson, historian and author of Tinker Bell — An Evolution: The live-action really was an integral part of staging and interpretation and helping the animators to achieve a believable illusion of life. … At the time of Peter Pan, they had their sort of go-to people. Marge Champion had done quite a bit of live-action reference work as a dancer for Snow White and Pinocchio and Fantasia. Helene Stanley, as well, came in for Cinderella and did some other work on Peter Pan for Tinkerbell. So they had a few go-to people that they knew had a sense of what they were looking for, but the voice actors were a large part of it. All of the voice actors in Peter Pan participated in the live-action.
B+C: Kathryn, you mentioned you were afraid of heights. How did you overcome that for your flying scenes?
KB: Gritted my teeth! That’s about all you can do. I thought, ‘Oh, well, I have to do what I have to do.’ So you grit your teeth and you do it.
B+C: Do you have a favorite memory from your time on the movie?
KB: Oh, gosh. You know, it was a long time ago. I think just the wonderful experience of working for Walt Disney, whom I admired so much, and having the experience at the studio, which was a welcoming place. It was such a lovely atmosphere with the artists. We would meet at lunchtime — one of the directors, he was a golfer and he liked to practice at lunch [with a couple of friends]. They’d say, “Come and join us!” So I would join them during lunch period. They’d say, “Try a few balls. Keep your head still, watch the ball, keep your eye on the ball.”
It was a great experience. There were so many creative people there, and I responded to that so well. I just loved being in this happy atmosphere of people who were enthusiastic about their work and sort of made me part of it. They would invite me to see the progress of the film, the animation, the drawings they were creating. I was getting a wonderful education in animation, as well as my own education.
B+C: Besides Peter Pan and Alice in Wonderland, do you have a favorite Disney movie?
KB: Oh, gosh, I can’t say. Those Disney films were so special, each in their own way, that they were all special. So there isn’t one that really stands out, because they were all wonderful.
The Walt Disney Signature Collection edition of Peter Pan is available now on digital HD and Blu-ray.
What’s your favorite Disney animated movie? Tell us @BritandCo!
(photos via PA Images via Getty Images + Walt Disney Studios)