UltimateDisney.com > Interviews > Margaret Kerry, Model for Tinker Bell in Peter Pan

UltimateDisney.com Presents An Interview with Margaret Kerry, Tinker Bell's Live-Action Model

By Renata Joy

Margaret Kerry may not be a household name, but her animated persona certainly is. A little over fifty years ago, Kerry was a regular on "The Ruggles", one of network television's first sitcoms, playing the daughter of comedian Charles Ruggles. She was asked by the Disney studio to model for Tinker Bell, the spunky pixie of J.M. Barrie's Peter Pan, for a feature-length cartoon adaptation. Back then, modeling entailed a complete performance of the character's actions; this was photographed as reference for animators, who were also on hand to make sketches of poses.
Margaret Kerry, the model for Disney's Tinker Bell, appears in a present-day publicity photo.
Like Dopey and Dumbo before her, Tinker Bell was a character who never spoke. Thus, the actions were everything and Kerry's soundstage pantomime -- occasionally aided by giant props -- thoroughly mapped out the antics of the pint-sized pot mender who would win over hearts throughout the world.

Though legend has commonly held that Marilyn Monroe inspired Disney's curvy fairy, the records clearly show otherwise. Margaret Kerry does not hesitate in asserting that she truly is Tinker Bell. Disney animators simultaneously captured the essence of Pan's magical dust-distributing diva and the essence of a spirited lady in her early twenties who was summoning years of work as a dancer and actress. Kerry and the people who know her recognize many of the model's attributes that made it into the Disney staff's early-'50s rendering. And they have had plenty of opportunities to draw comparisons, since Tinker Bell has maintained a prominent place in culture, driven by Disney's willingness to meet the demands of a public that does believe in fairies. As the mascot of Walt's long-running weekly anthology series, as the flier who soars above the parks' nightly fireworks shows, as an emblem of as much clothing and accessories as nearly any fictional creation, Tinker Bell continues to live on, more than 100 years since her creator revealed her to be "no more." She flourishes today as an amalgam of Barrie, Disney, and Margaret Kerry.

Tinker Bell is even at the center of Disney Fairies, a new franchise that has been expanding since 2005, when Gail Carson Levine's novel Fairy Dust and the Quest for the Egg took readers into a world of Tink and her fellow enchanted inhabitants of Pixie Hollow. Merchandise has ensued and a feature-length direct-to-video Tinker Bell movie is due to reach stores in the fall of 2008.

In support of tomorrow's two-disc Platinum Edition DVD re-release of Disney's Peter Pan, the 1953 classic that personified Tinker Bell like never before, Margaret Kerry recently took some time to talk to UltimateDisney.com about her lifelong association with one of the world's best-loved fairies.

UltimateDisney.com: How were you chosen to model for Tinker Bell? What was the audition like?

Margaret Kerry: I was working at Fox at the time and an agent called and said they were looking for a reference model for Tinker Bell and could I get over there and talk to them. So I'm thinking, how do you interview for a 3-inch fairy who doesn't talk? You know? That's not the usual thing. That night, I got out a recording I had -- a 45 record, remember those? -- and I choreographed a pantomime of fixing breakfast, like going to the refrigerator that wasn't there and juggling eggs that weren't there and washing my hands, all of that. So I took my little player the next morning and the little record and I went to this crowded little office where [Tinker Bell's lead animator] Marc Davis was and I did it for them. And they said "Hmmm!" And then they said, "But what we want her to do is to land on a mirror on Wendy's dresser top and preen herself." I said, "Oh, I can do that!" So I did it and their answer was, "Would it be convenient for you to come to work next Tuesday?" And that's how I was cast as Tinker Bell!

Margaret Kerry poses as Tinker Bell. Tinker Bell's model sheet, seen on the new Platinum Edition DVD, illustrates various Tinker Bell poses that Margaret Kerry modeled. Margaret Kerry acted out Tinker Bell's antics to visually aid the animators who brought the "Peter Pan" pixie to life.

How familiar were you with Disney films prior to your role?

I had never worked with Disney, I had just been enthralled with Disney movies. That was a big thing when a Disney movie was coming out, it was almost like Christmas: "Oh, we get to go! Oh, this is exciting!" So that's when I knew that Disney films were magic and I always knew that they would be.

Did you get to work with Walt Disney directly very often?

No, not too often. He would come over and see what we were doing once in a while. And then I did meet up with him again in the projection room when they were showing pencil tests. Did you know that a lot of people on the Disney lot at the time didn't think that curvy Tinker Bell was going to work? Because, you see, in that day and age, Wendy was the model. Wendy was what women should be, what girls should be. We had had Cinderella, we had had Snow White, and they were demure, and whatever happened to them happened to them. But here came this little curvy thing who was determining her own life and was not going to take a lot of guff and people didn't think that that would fly (you should pardon the pun) in 1952 and '53.
And so the projection room was just jammed with people to see whether it would work, and there was applause. And Mr. Disney was there, and he was standing alongside the wall and he was not smiling but he was not looking unhappy, he just was taking it all in. He nodded to all of us and then left. So obviously, Marc Davis had won the day.

And the interesting part about her is that she started out to be a brunette, and then for the longest time she was a redhead. And then, they found out that the red hair did not do well against the greenery that she had on and in Never Land, a lot of foliage. So they changed it to a blonde and I have a press book that they sent out to the theaters, you know, with the ads and the little blurbs that you could put in the newspaper, and they still had her as a redhead. Somebody forgot to tell the publicity department! I know that you've seen the wonderful DVD and seen that she went though all kinds of machinations until she came out that darling little Tinker Bell that everybody sort of loved. She grabbed their hearts, I think. And she's still going!

In addition to modeling for Tink, Margaret Kerry (left) joined Connie Hilton (center) and June Foray (right) in lending live reference and voice work to the three mermaids of Never Land. The Never Land mermaids as they similarly appear in the lagoon scene of the final film. Kerry voiced the redheaded mermaid on the left who she claims to be Ariel's great-grandmother.

Speaking of redheads, you also modeled for and voiced the redheaded mermaid in the Never Land lagoon scene. Has it ever been said that you inspired Ariel of The Little Mermaid?

I have claimed to be her great-grandmother, and Ariel has never denied it. So I just figure I will go ahead and say it! (Laughs) They had us up on the stage, it was great fun because we did the voices. June Foray -- who was the voice of Rocky for "Rocky and Bullwinkle" and the grandmother in Mulan, she's this great voiceover person -- and Connie Hilton and myself, we were the mermaids. And they tied our legs together, and they had us sliding and slipping all over this built-up area that was supposed to be rocks that we were sitting on. And we had the best time! I have photos of it, and was looking at it, I said "Hmm.... I will definitely claim to be Ariel's great-grandmother."

There is a popular rumor that Marilyn Monroe was the real inspiration for Tinker Bell. Is there any way we can set people straight on this matter once and for all?

Absolutely! You can go to the archive, the Disney archives. Actually, I didn't even know it was going on because I was working on other things at the time, and my now-grown children were playing a trivia game, a Parker game, and it said: Who is the model for Tinker Bell? And it said Marilyn Monroe. So they got very upset and called the Parker Brothers people and said that it was not. And the Parker people got the Disney people, and they said "No, it was Margaret Kerry." And you will see me in all the encyclopedias and so on, and it will say Margaret Kerry, which is really, really neat because I just claimed her and she claimed me. And I would like to say that Marilyn, whom I worked with, I just adored her, she was a fabulous person, was not a dancer. So all the work I did as Tinker Bell was dancing, and my body language because I was a dancer and an actor. So that was not at all what she did.

Being that you acted out scenes alone, did you have much interaction with other cast members?

Not too much. They would call me in when they had a scene that they wanted to do. Now, Roland Dupree was a good friend of mine. I was working with him, he was a dance director at Fox. They needed the dancing part of Peter Pan, so I said, "Well you've got to get Roland." And I've found him after 50 years, he's living in New Mexico. He was just one of the greatest dancers I've ever worked with. So, I worked with him, and of course with the mermaids, and naturally there was some interaction with Wendy. Not much with the little kids.

Margaret Kerry leans on a Disney animator in this behind-the-scenes production photo. Bobby Driscoll appeared in character as Peter Pan for a Walt Disney Christmas show, which is excerpted on the Platinum Edition DVD. Driscoll, who modeled for and voiced Peter Pan, had worked with both Walt Disney and Margaret Kerry prior to "Peter Pan."

Peter Pan is not the first time you had worked with Bobby Driscoll, the voice of Peter. What are some of your memories of him?

I worked with him in a movie called If You Knew Susie. It starred Eddie Cantor and Joan Davis, and he played my little brother. And we went to school together on that set, believe it or not. It was the two of us in a schoolroom that was 12' by 12', and we would work. So I got to know him fairly well, although our age difference, of course. And he would go out and do his scenes and I would go out and do my scenes, and we'd do them together.
And the interesting part to me was that I graduated high school doing that movie, so I didn't have to go back to school the last three weeks I was working there, and Bobby said "Oh, come back, come back please! Stay in the school, I'm all alone!" So I would read to him and the teacher would work with him. He was a fun little guy to work with, always knew his lines perfectly, and was always listening carefully to the director. I was impressed with him as a little boy and as an actor.

I read that your husband, upon seeing Peter Pan, commented on your recognizable thighs. What other aspects of yourself do you and others see in Tinker Bell?

Well, I must tell you, Marc Davis, said to me one time when we were having lunch later on with his delightful wife Alice. He leaned over and said, "You are still Tinker Bell." And I said, "Marc, that's the nicest thing you've ever said to me." He said, "No, that's you up there!" And people see it all the time. All I have to do is a Tinker Bell smile to them and they go, "Aha! That's Tink!" So, you know, there's no sense in even saying that I don't play her or she doesn't play me.

You know, Tinker Bell's attitude is just so absolutely wonderful and captivating, and I think in the new remastered film, it is just remarkable to see that. You remember the scene where she falls over backwards in Wendy's dresser drawer? Well, you see the stills that I have and they have me falling over backwards onto a mattress. And the animators then copied it and put it in the film. Well, the mattress was about half an inch thick, or at least it seemed like that, and I went over backwards, and I went *thud*. And they caught that as the animators drew it for the film, and the look on my face was identical. They just did the most beautiful job. So often I say to people, "Now if you realize that Tinker Bell looks just like me, we'll get along just fine." And they laugh.

What are your favorite qualities of Tinker Bell?

Well, I think that she's very child-like, and I enjoy that. She is adventure-full. She wants to see what's around the corner, she sees everything through new, bright, and enthusiastic eyes. She's not quite sure what life is all about, but she's gonna find out. But she's not going to take any guff either, which I really enjoy. And people connect to that. Much more so today than I think they did way back in 1953. Because there weren't many models like that that they could connect with.

But today, I tell you, how many notes and letters and e-mails I get from the guys. Ohhh, they just think that she's the best. They've been in love with her for years. And I try to tell them, when they say "Well, she's jealous of Wendy", she's jealous in a different way. She has been the buddy of Peter Pan. I mean, he's a 12-year-old boy -- what does he know about girls, right? They've been off on adventures fighting Captain Hook, doing all these things, and she's had all this attention from her hero. And suddenly this big, ugly girl gets his attention, and that's why she's jealous. Not because of the love angle. So she doesn't quite understand her actions. And aren't we all like that? We really are! So she says a lot for us, and she gets a lot done too. And then she makes mistakes. And then she rectifies them. I think she is a well-rounded, delightful, enchanting, and beguiling character. I say the same thing for me. If anybody asked, "What about you, Margaret?", I say the same thing. I'm enchanting, I'm beguiling... (laughs).

Tinker Bell gets ready to kick a dandelion in "Peter Pan"... ...Before she did, Margaret Kerry had already kicked a bag of sand standing in for the same dandelion.

But I think [some people] are a little confused about this love thing. Tinker Bell doesn't really know what that is. It's more hero worship. And so she gets provoked because Wendy comes there, so I say to them, give her some slack! She's magic. Remember that Tinker Bell is magic. And when you say she mends the pots and pans -- that's why her name is Tinker -- she does it with pixie dust! She doesn't sit there and pound it like a tinker would, fixing and mending a pot. She's magic. Always remember that. And I think that's what people want in their lives. They want happy magical movies to go see. There are a lot of dark magical movies, and those are fine. I have no problems with those. But this one comes along and you forget how much you can laugh and enjoy, and it's fun. Even the crocodile, who should be pretty scary, is great fun. You can laugh at him. Well, that is the Disney genius. It really is. Because, how often can you make the crocodile who's stalking a man funny? They do.

And Tinker Bell darts. Did you ever notice that? The other people fly. But not Tinker Bell. She darts. She's gotta see what's going on here, there, and the other place.

Many have called Tinker Bell a brat. Others say she is merely sassy. What's your verdict?

I don't think she's either. You know, James M. Barrie said that she is so tiny she can only hold one emotion at a time. Either she's very good or she's very bad. I think her motives are like almost any 13-year-old girl's. "What is this world about? I've got to protect myself. I've got to find out what's going on here. I'm not sure, so I'm going to do what I think is right." Some say that her attitude is "I want it all, and I want it delivered." And, why not? When you're 13, you think you can have it! I think maybe that's why this idea of a brat or sassy comes from.

I've asked hundreds of people as I go around the country and chat with fans of Tinker Bell. And it's very hard for them to put it into words, because I think she's made an emotional attachment. And it's lovely that she's has touched their hearts. And if I've touched their hearts over these years doing that work, then believe me, when you look up on that screen, that's me up there. It's a wonderful thing. It's been a blessing.

Margaret Kerry provides reference modeling for the scene in which Tinker Bell finds herself inside a keyhole. Tinker Bell is seen as a brunette in this piece of concept artwork, found in the Platinum Edition DVD's extensive Disc 2 galleries. Tinker Bell sizes herself up atop a handheld mirror.

How much have you been involved in the making of the Tinker Bell movie?

I've been over there quite a bit.
We've been talking about this, that, and the other, and they have been doing some of the sketching while I'm there.

Now that Disney has chosen to make Tinker Bell speak, do you at all wish that this decision had been made in the original film so that you could have given her a voice?

Not at all. Not at all! I think that watching in pantomime, I thought that was terribly interesting because it was up to the animators, and to me, to give her the body language in showing what she was thinking. Marc Davis said it so well. He said, "That spoke more volumes than if she'd said something."

In the book, you know, she talks. You know that her opening line in the book is "You silly ass." People are shocked when I read to them. I do different cartoon voices. I've done over 600 cartoons and live voiceovers, including the Three Stooges and so on. So I do all these different voices and I read to audiences from the opening scenes of Peter and Wendy and Tinker Bell and I end up with the line from Tinker Bell. And the audience looks so surprised (laughs). It's great fun.

Peter Pan: Platinum Edition DVDPeter Pan on UltimateDisney.com:
Buy the 2-Disc Platinum Edition DVD
Platinum Edition DVD Review
Interview with Kathryn Beaumont, Voice/Model for Wendy
Report from Opening Night at El Capitan
Top Animated Classics Countdown (#7)
Top 100 Disney Songs Countdown (#44, 29)
Disney Villains Countdown (#7)
Disney Heroes & Heroines Countdown (#11M, #21F)

Recommended Reading:
TinkerBellTalks.com - Margaret Kerry's official website

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Interview conducted February 22, 2007. Published March 5, 2007. All images copyright Disney.

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