Margaret Kerry, the model for the iconic character, tells us everything about what it was like working on that special animated film
With the upcoming release of the Peter Pan: Platinum Edition, we had a chance to sit down and talk with one of the film's "stars," Margaret Kerry. I put the quotations around stars because Kerry didn't do any voice work in the film, but she was the model for the iconic characterization of Tinker Bell. It is apparent that as the years have gone by this has done nothing to quell Kerry's zest for both life and the character she embodied.
How did you get the job of modeling Tinker Bell?
Margaret Kerry: Well, I started in show business when I was 4 years old. So I did A Midsummer Night's Dream, I was the fairy in that, do you see a theme developing here? (Laughs) I did movies and then television. I was pretty savvy in the entertainment business. I got a call, I was working at Fox as an assistance dance director, I got a call from my agent who said, "They are interviewing for a three and a half inch fairy who doesn't talk. Would you like to try out at Disney Studios?" That was the magic word, Disney Studios. It was magic for anybody who worked in the business.
Then I went home and I thought, "How do you interview for a three and a half inch sprite who doesn't talk?" So I had a .45 record... I had an instrumental. So I stayed up and choreographed a pantomime to this music of fixing breakfast. Opening up the fridge door, standing in front of it, finally getting the eggs... for three and a half minutes. So the next morning I took my little player and my little .45 and went over. So I walked on the wonderful, magical Disney lot. It is magical over there. So I went to this little room where Marc Davis, one of the directors of the movie is there and I plugged it in and I do my pantomime and I think they were taken aback; I'm sure nobody else did that.
Then they said, "What we want is... where she lands on the mirror and she looks down and preens herself and then measures her hips. Can you do that?" I said, "Certainly." So I did it. Out of that came the request, "Would you consider coming to work next Tuesday?" I thought, "Nobody's ever asked me would I consider... yes, I will be right there!" That's how I got the job. Later on, Mark told me one of the reasons why they liked my work so much was that I had my up mind that Tinker Bell had never seen a mirror before. So she does a double take. The she looks down. He said, "We watched you look down, through the mirror, past the floor and back up again." So we knew that you could imagine what we needed.
Is that how it was when you modeled the character? Was there a lot of that back and forth?
Margaret Kerry: Oh my, yes. They would get me on the big, ole drafty, smelly soundstage where there's nothing there; every once in awhile there would be a prop. They would show me what they had in mind and then I made up my mind of who Tinker Bell was and what her character was. I've always thought that she was about a thirteen year old girl, who was very naive and who really was out to find out what life was all about. Each time I would put that dimension with what they wanted, which would change it a little bit from what they were thinking of; or expand it.
One time, how I knew I was working with an absolute genius, Marc Davis said, "All we need from you for this scene is for you to stand there, listen for things, and then suddenly look upset." I said, "Marc, how upset?" That man took a piece of paper and a pencil and within 30 seconds he had drawn the face of Tinker Bell; just what he wanted. He turned it around said, "That upset." I thought, "Good glory, I am looking at a genius here." As time went on I depended on him, because I knew what he had in mind and he would see if what I was doing was what he wanted. So I did it and he said, "Fine, lets take another take for protection." So we did two takes and that's why I became know as "Two Take Tink."
What did you think when you saw the completed film? Where you able to see yourself in that character?
Margaret Kerry: Oh my goodness, yes. There I was up on the screen. You couldn't miss it, that team of Marc Davis and the animators he had caught everything that I did. Absolutely, everything. It was remarkable. I remembered of course when I filmed the different scenes, where I was and what I did even to... you know where she's standing on the leaf and Peter's upset at her because she shot down the bird? And he says 'Tink, come here!'" And she's walking out on the leaf and she says, "Who me?" And he says, "You are banished." I turned around and I flipped my hands and walked away. Sure enough there it was exactly the same. It was my acting.
It's also amazing what people take from these characters and make of them.
Margaret Kerry: She is today's woman who was in 1953! Which is a real kudos to Marc Davis because he had a lot of people who were concerned about Tinker Bell being too curvy. He told me, one of the ways that he sold her to the people was that he made her a little girl from the waist up and a woman from the waist down. He often showed her with her back to the viewer. So she's looking over her shoulder. People would miss it! You realize in that time and culture... back in 1953, Leave It to Beaver, those kinds of shows... the woman with the apron, very sweet, demure mother who wouldn't yell or do anything. Wendy was the role model. That was what was acceptable in the culture then. Tinker Bell was not. Tinker Bell was right down naughty. She showed her underpants more than almost any other character that's ever been in an animated film! This is 1953.
What was it like being involved in such an iconic film like Peter Pan?
Margaret Kerry: It was a highlight. I knew it then but I didn't because I was doing other things at the same time. I will tell you, Evan, when you walk onto the Disney Studio Lot this creativity just hits you right in the face. Happy people, smiling, figuring out how you do this... what teamwork is going on. I knew that that place was so different from Warner Bros., which is a concrete jungle, because they didn't do animation they did movies. Or, MGM where I'd always get lost. So you walked on and here were fun things. There were little Mickey Mouses. It was a place you wanted to go and be and you knew you were gonna come out with something absolutely superb. That's a wonderful feeling for an actor.
I see on your resume that you did The Andy Griffith Show. That is one of this site's favorite shows. Can you talk at all about what it was like working on that?
Margaret Kerry: It was absolutely a delight. What was so nice was you came on the set and you had the A Team that knew everybody. They were a family. Ron Howard and the whole group. Then you appeared for the episode and so you were an outsider. They reached out to all the outsiders, and they made you feel for those two, or three, or four days or whatever you were working, as if you were part of the A Team. That was wonderful. It was a lot of laughs. They knew exactly what they were doing.
The other thing that surprised me was that Don Knotts would walk out of the set, and get up on his big director's chair with his name and he'd read or he'd do something. He was in the shadows. When they would call for the A Team to come to do the scene, he would get down and you would see his eyes twinkle. He'd come into the scene and he would say something that would get everybody laughing. Then he would do the scene and everybody would have a wonderful time. Then he'd walk out into the shadows, sit down, and be this very quiet gentlemen. It was so interesting to watch him. Not that he wouldn't talk to you but he got his cue and that's what he was there for to relax everybody. What a doll.
What are you working on now?
Margaret Kerry: A book and it's called Tinker Bell Talks! Tales of a Pixie Dusted Life. It's coming along fantastically well. I work for the radio station as an independent contractor. I go over and do voice overs on their commercials and I do some narration for them. On the other side I get to travel and be with fans... you talk about a wonderful family it is marvelous. Every once in a while I get invited to a collector's show and I get to see all my old friends who are sitting there, signing autographs on their photos. So I'm having a pixie dusted life.
The Peter Pan: Platinum Edition comes to DVD March 6 from Buena Vista Home Entertainment.
Dont't forget to also check out: Peter Pan