Peter Pan's Wendy now is retired teacher

Watching Walt Disney's Peter Pan may make viewers young and old wish they, too, could fly with the help of nothing more than happy thoughts and pixie dust. But, for Kathryn Beaumont, watching the 45-year-old classic, coming out on video again Tuesday, brings back real childhood memories of flying.

Ms. Beaumont provided the voice of Wendy, the eldest of the Darling children, in the animated James M. Barrie tale of an imaginary boy who doesn't want to grow up. As a 12-year-old girl, Ms. Beaumont also was the Disney artists' physical model for her character.

"They asked me to do a little live action for the animators as inspiration," Ms. Beaumont recalls, her soft voice still reflecting her English roots. "It was basically an empty stage, except for the cameras and some lights. There were boxes and stands that you imagined were various pieces of scenery. The animators were able to watch it and learn how the human body would move and react."

The animators wanted to study the children and costumes as they would appear in the flying sequences, both in the Darling nursery and in mythical Never Land, so Ms. Beaumont and her young co-stars - Tommy Luske as Michael and Paul Collins as little John - were hoisted on cables and swung around.

"Most kids would say, 'Oh gosh, I get to be strung up on this wire - what fun,' but I was a little nervous," she says. "I was hooked up with a harness and was thinking the stage looked so far down there."

Before making Peter Pan, Ms. Beaumont did the title voice in Alice in Wonderland, and, as a young Disney contract player, she also appeared in two of its early television specials.

But soon after Pan, she resumed her regular schooling, which she was happy to do without having become famous as an actress.

"In a sense, the roles that I did were somewhat anonymous because I lent my voice, not my physical being," says Ms. Beaumont, now a retired elementary school teacher. "When I went on to school, it became a past experience."

Kathryn Beaumont.jpg (6210 bytes)Sometimes her previous career became known to her students when Alice or Pan was re-released and an alert child recognized the voice belonging to the woman who now answers to Mrs. Levine.

"I really had some wonderful experiences as a teacher, so that has been very gratifying for me," she says.

Now in her late 50s, Ms. Beaumont seems happy with how her life has turned out. But Peter Pan might be disappointed to see his beloved Wendy grown up.

(Cincinnati Enquirer, 1998)