Growing up isn't so bad 
when you've got Peter Pan as a pal
(c) Associated Press April 18, 1998    

Wendy grew up after Peter Pan brought her and her brothers Michael and John back home, leaving them to gaze in awe at the London skyline as the hero of their bedtime stories flew back home to Never Land.

Kathryn Beaumont grew up, too. But that's all right, she says, because every time "Peter Pan" is re-released, the young girl in her, the one that was the voice of Wendy in the 1953 Walt Disney classic, gets to be a child again.

So it's time once more to rejoin the Lost Boys, to dodge the crocodile that ticks and to do battle with the nefarious Captain Hook. It's time to live for one more magnificent night of childhood before Mr. Darling banishes his oldest child, Wendy, from the nursery forever, consigning her to adulthood and all its trappings.  
It's time, because Disney has just released a 45th anniversary edition of "Peter Pan" on video. And Ms. Beaumont, who never completely left childhood behind, is back in the limelight again.

"It's really exciting to hear all of this happening all over again," she says from Los Angeles, that same English-accented, so-polite-and-proper, yet somehow so-slightly mischievous-and-delighted Wendy voice coming over the telephone.

"Obviously, it gives me a feeling of great nostalgia, because when something repeats itself like this you're going back and remembering a lot of wonderful experiences from way back when."

Way back when started in the early 1950s, when Ms. Beaumont, having recently arrived from London at age 8 with her family, went to work at the Walt Disney Studios in Burbank, Calif. Disney found her when he went looking for someone with a child's voice for the lead role in his animated movie "Alice in Wonderland" in 1951.

"Basically, I was sort of right under his nose," Ms. Beaumont, who had worked on a Disney TV episode the year before, recalls with a laugh.

"Walt Disney was looking for a voice that would be pleasing to American ears and British ears, something that wouldn't be too American for the British or too British for the Americans. And oddly enough we were already out here."

What's more, she knew the whole story of Alice, as well as Peter Pan.

"Just from being British in the first place," she says. "Those are the things you tend to read as a child."
So she was cast in both movies. And off she went each day to Disney Studios, getting her schooling in the three R's as well as in songs about never growing up, and in fighting off hungry crocodiles and comically evil pirates. She remembers how she particularly enjoyed working with Hans Conreid, the voice of Captain Hook.

"He was just so marvelously evil," she recalls, laughing.

Disney, she says, was anything but." He was a very friendly person. Not at all what you'd expect a boss to be. ... I remember going to a small screening room, and he was in there, sitting with everybody else, and this woman walked in. She was looking for a place to sit. And he got up and let her sit in his seat. This was just the way he was."

But after "Peter Pan" came out in 1953, Kathryn Beaumont grew up. After making two of the biggest animated movies of all time, she left Hollywood and never went back." I just went into another career," she says matter of factly. "I was just very young when I did these roles, so I went back to school and I had other ideas of things I wanted to do."

She went into teaching, introducing generations of second-graders to the animation experiences she had as a child. And every few years, when "Peter Pan" would be released again, someone in her class would recognize the voice, and she would be Wendy again.  
And, as she revisited the movie herself over the years, she would be fascinated with how much more there was to the story than what she remembered as a child.

"It's a lot of fun for children, it's a great adventure," she says of Peter Pan's epic battle with Captain Hook.

But there's also great storytelling people will only pick up on as adults, she continues, including Tinker Bell's delightful bouts of jealousy over the arrival of Wendy, and of the responsibilities all adults must eventually face.And, of course, there is the child the story will bring out, years later, in adults who revisit it. The wistfulness it will inspire that maybe, just maybe, if you really believe in fairies, if you think good thoughts long enough and hard enough, if you can only find some of that magic pixie dust, maybe you really can fly.

"Maybe that's why it has such universal appeal," Ms. Beaumont muses. "It's something adults look back on, and they can enjoy the nostalgia of childhood itself."