During the era of Disney sequels, one of the few to receive a theatrical release was Peter Pan II: Return to Neverland. The animation was better quality than other sequels, but the story was lackluster compared to the original. The soundtrack, however, had several decent songs. The movie begins with this number, “The second star to right/ shines in the light for you / To tell you that the dreams you plan / Really can come true.”
These opening lyrics echoed through my head after I had the privilege of interviewing a Disney legend whose past is entwined with Peter Pan and Disney’s spokesfairy, Tinker Bell. I am writing about the gentle-voiced and notable Margaret Kerry, the reference model for the spunky pixie.
When Margaret and I spoke, I was first struck by how to she welcomed me into what she calls a pixie-dusted life. What follows is a conversation she and I had as she discusses her acting career, her time at the Walt Disney Company, and her voice-acting days as the female lead in Clutch Cargo and Space Angel.
Animated Views: I first wanted to say Ms. Kerry what an honor it is speaking with a Disney Legend and thank you for taking the time for an interview.
Margaret Kerry: Not at all, but please call me Margaret.
AV: All right, Ms. Kerry…Margaret. Sorry, it’s a reflex for me to be former when I’m excited.
MK: Very well, Ms. Grace. That’s a beautiful name by the way.
AV: Thank you. I think so too. So let’s start.
MK: I need to first begin this interview by saying what a blessing it has been to be part of Disney. When you work with the Walt Disney Company, it’s like magic. Anything related to them can only be described as “wow!” It was and is a wonderful time and I was so glad to be there.
AV: I can only imagine what it is like working for Disney during its golden age. Had you ever worked for Disney prior to posing for Tinker Bell?
MK: No, nothing. I did have an active career well before Peter Pan. I was in experimental pictures, thirty-six major films, but I preferred to work in television.
AV: How did your acting career start?
MK: I was four years old when my parents took me to auditions. I starred in many commercials during the Depression, many of which I don’t remember. One, however, I clearly remember, at least, my line: “Now kids make sure to keep those dogs away from those trees we’re planting to make America beautiful.” I took dancing lessons for many year and my teacher was Nico Charise, Cyd Charisse’s husband.
AV: Wait…the Cyd Charisse?
MK: Yes, she was a gorgeous dancer.
AV: Oh, wow! Did you ever get the practice or even dance with her?
MK: Yes, several times. Nico Charise was a choreographer and a wonderful teacher. Cyd was very dear and encouraging. I loved working with both of them.
AV: I bet so many people wish they could have had that very opportunity. So you continued to take dancing lessons and act, what do you consider to be your big break?
MK: I had many, many jobs from the time I was small, but when I was a teenager I was cast in the film If You Knew Susie. It was a musical comedy and I was working with Eddie Cantor. He was well known for his blackface comedies and he also worked for the Ziegfeld Follies. He was a very famous at the time and he was paid well. I know that when he was in the Ziegfeld Follies he earned $10,000/week.
AV: That’s still a lot by today’s standards and went further back then.
MK: He’s the one who actually gave me my name.
AV: What’s that story?
MK: My part in If You Knew Susie took eight weeks to film and I also graduated high school during filming. When the production finished, Eddie asked me how I wanted my name to appear on the credits. I did not have a stage name, so I used my real name, Peggy Lynch. Peggy is a nickname for Margaret and everyone called me that. He told me about the actress Peggy Wood and how she was tired of being referred to as “Peggy” at the age of sixty. The same thing could happen to me, so he wanted to know if I liked my first name. I told him yes and agreed to use my full name. He didn’t like “Lynch” either. Eddie had a friend named Norman Kerry, whose family came from County Kerry in Ireland. It turned out that my own family came from that same area, so I assumed “Kerry” as my last name. When the credits rolled in the movie, I was billed as Margaret Kerry.
AV: Cool. How did you land an audition for Disney?
MK: I was an assistant dance director on the movie I’ll Get By, when my agent called me about an audition at Disney. He asked if I was free on Tuesday and, of course, I said yes. Using a forty-five record, I choreographed a pantomime routine where I was fixing breakfast to prepare for the audition. When the day arrived, I took my player to Disney Studios and got on the lot, then I immediately got lost.
AV: Did you get anxious?
MK: I was worried that I wouldn’t get to the audition on time, but thankfully a man came up to me and asked if I needed help. I told him I was looking for Marc Davis—lead animator for Tinker Bell. He pointed to an open door and said, “He’s in there.” Later I learned the man who helped me was Ollie Johnson.
AV: Ollie Johnson and you didn’t have any idea who he was? He was just walking around the studio and you bumped into him?
MK: Not until later. Back when Walt Disney was at the studios, animators came and went as they pleased.
AV: After you found the right room, how did the audition go?
MK: I needed a plug for my portable record player and Marc Davis and the other people at the audition were non-plussed that I needed one. After I found a plug, I started the record and went through my preparing breakfast routine. When I was done, they asked me to pretend I was standing on a giant looking glass and I noticed the size of my hips.
AV: How did you interpret that?
MK: For this scene, I imagined that Tinker Bell had never seen her reflection before and she was quite pleased with what she saw. She preened and was happy, until she saw her hips and did a double take. I placed my hands on my hips and slowly lifted them up, aghast that at their size. Then I stomped my foot and marched off.
AV: And that landed you the job?
MK: I was asked if I could come back the next Tuesday. They never asked if it was convenient for me, but I made it work. Marc and the other animators liked what they saw in me. It was mainly my personality that attracted Disney and I was told point blank that they wanted Tinker Bell to be me.
AV: How long did you work on Peter Pan?
MK: It took nine months, off and on, to complete my work as Tinker Bell.
AV: Were you under contract?
MK: Only as an independent contractor. Every actor that Disney hired was an independent contractor, because it was cheaper for them. There were a few who had exclusive contracts. Kathryn Beaumont (voice of Alice in Alice in Wonderland and Wendy) was one and Bobby Driscoll (voice of Peter Pan) was another.
AV: Did you ever work for Disney after you completed the reference modeling?
MK: No, but I had another part in Peter Pan as the redheaded mermaid. I had one line, “We just want to drown her.” Later when Disney was working on The Little Mermaid, they went back in the archives and studied the mermaids.
AV: Are you alluding that you were also the inspiration for Ariel?
MK: It had to come from somewhere.
AV: Did you enjoy voice-over work?
MK: I was amazed by it. I came in without doing my hair and make-up, I said my lines and two hours later I was done. There weren’t any 6:30 AM mornings, so it was very relaxed compared to my prior work.
AV: Can I ask you few questions about Tinker Bell herself?
MK: Please do.
AV: There’s an urban legend that Tinker Bell was modeled after Marilyn Monroe. How did that rumor start?
MK: No one can really agree on it. I worked with Marilyn before and she was a lovely woman, but she definitely was not Tinker Bell. I am. The conjecture is that there was some publicity for Peter Pan and Disney Land and someone from the studio was interviewed. That person said she was the first femme fatale Disney lead, not a simpering heroine like in past films. It was also mentioned how Tinker Bell had curves and that was compared to Marilyn Monroe. Someone picked it up and thought the character was actually based off her. Anything related to Marilyn is big stuff, so that is why it has endured.
MK: One of those trivia games was released and it asked the question, “What famous actress was the basis for Tinker Bell’s character design?” The answer was mistakenly Marilyn Monroe. My kids were sick of the constant mess up, so they contacted Dave Smith, head of Disney Archives.
AV: What happened next?
MK: He simply said he would take care of it and the game was corrected.
AV: What do you think of the relationship between Peter, Wendy, and Tinker Bell? Do you consider it to be a love triangle?
MK: No, I don’t. I played Tinker Bell as a naive eleven-year-old thing, who only wanted to adventure and to see everything in the world. She did a double take with the mirror, because she had never seen one before. She’s not in love, she’s more of a groupie. She’s afraid that Peter will take the big-ugly girl on adventures with him and forget all about her. She’s not an eleven-year-old girl with a crush on a twelve-year-old boy.
AV: If that’s so, why is there such emphasis on a love triangle between the characters?
MK: Everything is sexual now. It’s the culture today. I remember when I was at FOX, some friends of mine, a man and a woman and relatively famous, spent some time together. They would eat dinner together and visit each other. Look magazine caught wind of this and wrote an article stating they were dating. They were actually too busy to even consider a relationship, because both were involved with a movie.
AV: It’s hard to ignore when every new movie based on Peter Pan eludes to romance between Wendy and Peter.
MK: But in the original play it wasn’t like that.
AV: You’re right. J.M. Barrie had Wendy more interested in love than Peter, who was only interested in a mother.
MK: Exactly! When Wendy says to Peter, “I can be a mother,” he gets a crafty look in his eye. He only wanted Wendy to go to Neverland to tell him stories and make pockets. He wanted her to work for him.
AV: Barrie was obsessed with mothers because he was neglected by his in childhood. He projected his emotions onto Peter, but this is often forgotten by modern audiences.
MK: Peter Pan is a story about the wonders of being a child and Tinker Bell personifies that feeling. Her childlike personality is why we love her so much. It’s like that first breath you hold when you visit Disney Land or Disney World for the first time—you’re transformed back into a child. I just want to stop this crudeness kids these days are seeing.
AV: Your comment reminds me about how many people, scholars and historians among them, believe he was a pedophile and/or homosexual. They see Peter Pan as an expression of these theories, which destroys the story’s innocence.
MK: That is what happens when adults get too analytical. They take a fun and magical world and ruin it. But Tinker Bell fights this.
AV: Tinker Bell especially does this in the Disney Fairies product line. What do you think of the books that continue Tinker Bell’s adventures?
MK: They are wonderful. Gail Carson Levine wrote the first book that all the others are based on. She had Tinker Bell break her leg and sit with Mother Dove during a climatic point in the book. Her publishers didn’t like this, thinking it was too violent and they asked her to change it. She refused. Levine said that she had creative control over her story and if they wanted to argue they could read her contract.
AV: And Tinker Bell’s spunkiness lives on in those who write her adventures. Moving on from Tinker Bell, what did you do after Peter Pan?
MK: June Foray, voice actress of Rocky and Natasha Fatale from The Rocky and Bullwinkle Show, and I worked on Stan Freeberg Presents The United States and St. George and the Dragon. I played the maiden in the latter one.
AV: You did more voice acting in ç and Space Angel, correct? Would you explain you work and what those series were?
MK: Yes, Clutch Cargo was the first color, action, syndicated TV show produced by Cambria Productions. It had limited animation with real human lips superimposed over the characters mouths. It was called the Syncro-Vox system. We had a limited budget, but we produced 52 episodes at four minutes each. I voiced Spinner, Paddlefoot, and the other female characters on the show. After Clutch Cargo I worked on Captain Fathom and Space Angel .
AV: Did Space Angel use the Syncro-Vox system?
MK: It did use the same technique. I played Crystal and all the other female roles too. I played these in many different dialects. Hal Smith, who played Otis the town drunk on The Andy Griffith Show, played the Scottish engineer. That character was actually Gene Roddenberry’s inspiration for Scottie on Star Trek.
AV: What were the recording sessions like for Clutch Cargo and Space Angel ?
MK: They were a joy! We had group recordings, where we would all huddle around the microphone and do the voices. We actually wrote the episodes as we recorded. Each episode was four minutes and cost $3,600 to make. They were syndicated around the country in twenty-two minute blocks, usually five episodes with commercials between each one.
AV: What did you think about the animation style?
MK: The artwork was beautiful for our limited budget! Not having to animate the mouths made it easy for both the artists and voice actors.
AV: Did you work on any other cartoons at Cambria Productions?
MK: Yes, I also filmed 156 episodes of The New Three Stooges with the original Larry, Moe, and Curly.
AV: Moving onto Cambria Productions as a business, didn’t they have legal problems?
MK: The studio was actually stolen by C.G. Aberhalin. We sued multiple times and always won, but he never paid us the money we were owed.
AV: Prior to my interview with you, I did some research on Wikipedia and IMDB to familiarize myself with your career. You mentioned some projects, like Captain Fathom that weren’t mentioned at all on these pages. What was that show about?
MK: It was an animated adventure about a submarine akin to The Hunt for Red October. I played a French girl on the sub. That’s all I remember on that, but I have to ask am I really on IMDB and Wikipedia?
MK: I wasn’t aware of that. I don’t even know who wrote those and posted them on the Internet.
AV: Possibly a dedicated fan and/or a movie buff.
MK: When you say that it reminds about why I say I have a pixie-dusted life, because no one did anything rude or mean in my presence. I was always treated like a lady and if someone cursed, they would immediately apologize. My career has been a joy and everyone I have met were wonderful to me.
AV: Not many people in the business can say that, but that ties in to how you want people to view Tinker Bell as someone who makes them happy. That reminds me, how did Tinker Bell become Disney’s mascot?
MK: When Walt Disney was creating Disneyland, he was advised to not use Mickey Mouse, Goofy, and Donald Duck as promotional items in case the park failed. The characters would inadvertently fail as well and Walt Disney Studios’ main properties would lose value. At that time, there weren’t any further projects for Tinker Bell. Once Peter Pan was complete she was no longer needed. When the park was planned, Disney decided to use Tinker Bell and Jiminy Cricket as the mascots, so if the park didn’t work, these one-movie characters would take the blow. On opening day, Disneyland, of course, was a success and everywhere you looked there was Tinker Bell. Her role as Disney’s mascot has helped her endure all these years.
AV: And you with her. Margaret, I have run out of questions for you. Is there anything you would like to add before we finish the interview?
MK: Let me say a two of my favorite quotes: “The bet dreams are those when they are awake,” said by Walt Disney and “Memories are God’s gift of roses in December” from J.M. Barrie. I want people to read these quotes and remember their good memories and look forward to creating new ones.
AV: That’s powerful and inspiring stuff. They’ve worked on me already. One last thing, you are writing a biography, any news on the release date?
MK: It’s almost finished, but my website www.Tinker Belltalks.com will have the latest news on it.
AV: Margaret, thank you so much for your time.
MK: My pleasure.