Thursday, October 31, 2013

Peter flies by mail

He's everywhere, our Peter, including on postage stamps. They're a nice way to find art on a small scale by some fine illustrators.

These 1991 stamps from the island of Jersey feature paintings by Edmund Blampied, originally created for a lavish 1939 art book edition of Peter and Wendy.

The British Royal Mail issued this series by artist Colin Shearing in 2002, in commemoration of the 150th anniversary of the Great Ormond Street Hospital, to whom J.M. Barrie willed the proceeds of his book.

These beautiful 2010 stamps, issued to commemorate the 150th anniversary of J.M. Barrie's birth, are by David Wyatt, who illustrated the cover of the UK edition Geraldine McCaughrean's "Peter Pan in Scarlet."

(The above two sets were also issued in alternate packages featuring other characters, as you see above. But I think by now you know what to expect when you visit this blog.)

New Zealand health stamps have been issued since 1929. A portion of each sale goes to seven social service agencies formerly known as Te Puna Whaiora Children's Health Camps, which in April 2013 changed their name to Stand Children's Services. This stamp, from 1945, depicts the statue of Peter Pan in London's Kensington Garden.

Unsurprisingly, most of these stamps were issued in the U.K. This gorgeous set, however, is from the Republic of Palau in Micronesia, issued in 2012 for the 75th anniversary of Barrie's death. (There are many excuses to put out Peter Pan stamps, I'm finding).

And there are many stamps from around the world that celebrate pirates and other nautical topics. I've avoiding collecting most of the Disney Peter Pan stamps for reasons we have already discussed, but these are all right. And the rest are very nice, besides.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Okay to be in Neverland

I had thought I was reasonably well-versed in professional productions of J. M. Barrie's famous play, so it was a real surprise to discover that Leonard Bernstein wrote the songs for a rarely-performed production of Peter Pan, starring Boris Karloff as Captain Hook and Jean Arthur as Peter.

Wendy was played by Marcia Henderson, an actress who had been encouraged to pursue a stage career by writer Sinclair Lewis. The show premiered April 24, 1950, starred Boris Karloff as Hook and Jean Arthur as Peter, and was a success at the time. But it was swiftly eclipsed by the 1954 Broadway Peter Pan with Mary Martin and Cyril Ritchard, the 1953 Disney film, and Bernstein's own works, including of course West Side Story. The fact that the production included songs only for Hook, Wendy, two mermaids, and a pirate chorus probably didn't help.

"Invited to provide only a few dances and incidental cues, [Bernstein] found himself 'losing his head' and surprised the producers by writing seven songs as well, including original lyrics," writes Garth Edwin Sunderland in Prelude, Fugue & Riffs, a publication of the Leonard Bernstein Society.

But "Bernstein was in Europe during the rehearsal period for the show, unable to participate in the creative process as he usually would for a new theatre work." He commissioned a friend, composer Marc Blitzstein to help with the score, which also included instrumental music by Alec Wilder. Many changes in the production occurred between its writing and performance, including the omission of "Captain Hook's Soliloquy" and "Dream With Me," which weren't performed due to the vocal limitations of the cast. The final production comprised five vocal pieces--Bernstein's "arias"--and incidental music.

 Jerome Robbins was originally tapped to direct, but as Jean Arthur was not a singer, he was replaced by English director John Burrell at Arthur's request, and the production was scaled down from a full musical to "a fantasy with music." (Peter Pan on Stage and Screen 1904-2010, Bruce K. Hanson)

Only small-scale productions of Bernstein's Peter Pan were staged until 2001, when conductor Alexander Frey approached the Leonard Bernstein Office with a proposal to record the score in its entirety. The original orchestral parts had been sent to the Bernstein archive at Library of Congress, and thus were able to be restored for a 2006 recording.

Conducted by Alexander Frey with Broadway singers Linda Eder and Daniel Narducci

The songs have varying degrees of congruence with J.M. Barrie's original. "Hook's Soliloquy" includes Barrie's original words--"Better perhaps for Hook, to have had less ambition!" while "Dream With Me" presupposes that Peter does return Wendy's feelings, contradicting Barrie's portrayal of the boy. But the recording is an interesting variation on the Peter Pan songs most of us are familiar with.

And if you're wanting a musical battle like that between the Sharks and the Jets, you won't be disappointed--"Pirate Song" includes a duel between the tenors and the basses.

We are eviler far than the tenors are
It is true that the basses have eviler faces, but we are more evil inside
Ha ha! They are trying to bolster their pride
Not true! Our sweet voices are just a disguise!
Ha ha! Their good heartedness shines in their eyes
Not true! Our sweet voices are just a disguise!

Friday, October 18, 2013

Of kisses and lost children

One of the most evocative images from Peter Pan is Mrs. Darling's unattainable kiss.

Her romantic mind was like the tiny boxes, one within the other, that come from the puzzling East, however many you discover there is always one more; and her sweet mocking mouth had one kiss on it that Wendy could never get, though there it was, perfectly conspicuous in the right-hand-corner.

The beauty of the kiss as a metaphor is how many meanings it can encompass, and how much truth each of them can contain: Her innermost self, her remembered youth, her ability to live in more than one world at a time. I always took it as her longing for magic, a longing fulfilled when she meets Peter Pan face to face. He takes the kiss with him when he leaves the nursery that night, and she is left content in the knowledge that magic is indeed real, as she has always suspected and hoped.

But another meaning of the kiss has presented itself to me upon my repeated readings of the text, one drawn directly from James Matthew's own life, and mine as well.

Alice Woodward, 1907

Barrie's childhood was changed when he was six by the death of his fourteen-year-old brother David in a skating accident. His mother was disconsolate and never fully recovered from the tragedy, and young James sought to comfort his mother in any way he could, including pretending to be David in successful efforts to make Margaret Ogilvy smile. No doubt he felt the strain of being a replacement child, as this is a role that can never be fully successful. I have an understanding of this as I too am a replacement child, born four years after the death of the toddler who would have been my sister. Barrie recalled playing underneath the table that held David's coffin, and one of my earliest memories is of being taken to put yellow chrysanthemums from our garden on Elaine's grave. For fifty years her solemn face has looked down from a portrait on my parents' wall. I suspect her presence is not so different from that of David Barrie following his death.

Perhaps this explains the ambivalence shown by the narrator of Peter Pan for the characters of both Peter and Mrs. Darling. Consider that in an early draft of the play, Barrie planned to have one actress play both Mrs. Darling and Captain Hook. (Hook and Mr. Darling are traditionally performed by the same actor, bringing a world of new meanings to the narrative, but this came about when the actor hired to play Mr. Darling quit and Gerald DuMaurier asked to play the part in addition to his role as Hook.)

You see, the woman had no proper spirit. I had meant to say extraordinarily nice things about her, but I despise her, and not one of them will I say now. She does not really need to be told to have things ready, for they are ready. All the beds are aired, and she never leaves the house and observe, the window is open. For all the use we are to her, we might as well go back to the ship.

An apt description of the resentment and bitterness a son or daughter feels toward a mother who cannot let go of her departed child. Yet only paragraphs later, he recants, in an equally apt portrayal of the regret the child feels at having these emotions, and pity and love reassert themselves.

Now that we look at her closely and remember the gaiety of her in the old days, all gone now just because she has lost her babes, I find I won't be able to say nasty things about her after all. If she was too fond of her rubbishy children, she couldn't help it. Look at her in her chair, where she has fallen asleep. The corner of her mouth, where one looks first, is almost withered up. Her hand moves restlessly on her breast as if she had a pain there. Some like Peter best, and some Wendy, but I like her best.

Gwynedd M. Hudson, 1931

Barrie is ambivalent toward his ostensible hero as well. No harmless sprite in the book, Peter Pan is a self-absorbed child who kills pirates and steals children away with no thought for the damage he causes. This attitude on the author's part comes as no surprise to me. No matter how guilty one feels about it, it's hard to feel unconditional love for the child one replaces, the one who will always remain perfect and untouched and unchallenged by the world we live in. The replacement child cannot possibly hold the same place in a parent's heart, and coming to terms with this reality is a long and painful process, possibly one with no permanent resolution.

Mrs. Darling's own experiences with Peter Pan remain mysterious.

There were odd stories about him, as that when children died he went part of the way with them, so that they should not be frightened.

While she slept she had a dream. She dreamt that the Neverland had come too near and that a strange boy had broken through from it. He did not alarm her, for she thought she had seen him before in the faces of many women who have no children. Perhaps he is to be found in the faces of some mothers also.

Trina Shart Hyman, 1980

When she finally meets the boy, she recognizes him.

She started up with a cry, and saw the boy, and somehow she knew at once that he was Peter Pan. If you or I or Wendy had been there we should have seen that he was very like Mrs. Darling's kiss.

And when he leaves, 

He took Mrs. Darling's kiss with him. The kiss that had been for no one else, Peter took quite easily. Funny. But she seemed satisfied.

In this way, Barrie restores comfort to her in a way he could not do for his own mother. Wendy could not take the kiss because it was not meant for her, or for her brothers or her father. Barrie's mother's kiss was saved for David, not little James Matthew, and my own mother's kiss is meant for Elaine, not for me.

Barrie said in a program note he wrote for the 1908 Parisian production of Peter Pan: "[O]f Peter you must make what you will--perhaps he was a boy who died young and this is how the author perceives his subsequent adventures. Or perhaps he was a boy who was never born at all; a boy whom some people longed for but who never came--it may be that these people hear Peter more clearly at the window than children do."

Michael Hague, 1988

"O Nana, I dreamt my dear ones had come back."

Now that I've seen Mrs. Darling's kiss through this lens, I can't look away. What it shows me is too true to my own life, and it seems luminously stated throughout the book, if you know where to seek it. It is a clear-eyed look at a wrenching human experience--the death of a child--which marks indelibly more than those directly involved, leaving confusion and warring emotions in its wake.

Perhaps this is why the story has always resonated so deeply with me. Perhaps it's why I know how to look for Peter Pan, and why I also am skeptical of his charms.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

On the trail of Tinker Bell

Tinker Bell's transformation from a spot of light dancing about a stage to the winged pin-up girl we see everywhere today is directly a result of the 1953 Disney animated film.

Tinker Bell had appeared on film before, in a 1924 version of Peter Pan.

However, when Disney artists began work on their own version, they had their own preferences for the character. Two of the principal animators at the studio wrote that story artist 'Joe Rinaldi wanted Tinker Bell to look more like the popular bathing beauties of the time," according to Murray Pomerance in Tinker Bell: The Fairy of Electricity" in Second Star to the Right: Peter Pan in the Popular Imagination. The human model for Tink was Margaret Kerry, an actress known as "The Best Legs in Hollywood" (not Marilyn Monroe, as has often been rumored). Kerry also provided the voice of the red-haired mermaid in the film. 

The pixie's fiery personality was also developed in animation--not so far from Barrie's original descriptions, in fact.

Roy Best, 1937. Tinker Bell as drawn by a pin-up artist is less of a pin-up girl than Disney's version.

As to why Barrie included a fairy in Peter Pan to begin with, reasons are numerous. Barrie's work was influenced by the folk tales of his native Scotland, and "Kensington Garden" by Thomas Tickell, written in 1722, is frequently cited as the inspiration for the setting of Barrie's entire fairy world of Kensington Park.

In 1901, Barrie and the Llewellyn David boys were enchanted by Seymour Hicks's theatrical hit Bluebell in Fairyland, which they went to see together during Christmas time.

And specifically, in Barrie's dedication "To the Five," he writes, "As our lanterns twinkled among the leaves [Michael] saw a twinkle stand still for a moment and he waved his foot gaily to it, thus creating Tink."

Special thanks to and the (sadly) largely inactive for information used in this post.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

The wrong Jolly Roger

Whatever I may say about the accuracy of character portrayals on "Once Upon a Time," I applaud the show regularly for getting Captain Hook's ship right.

You may also recognize the Lady Washington as the Interceptor from Pirates of the Caribbean.

The producers are using the Lady Washington as their Jolly Roger (some of the filming has been done on the actual ship, the rest on a full-sized replica). And the Lady is a brig, as is the Jolly Roger, according to J.M. Barrie. You will note she has two masts. I know right away when artists haven't done their research, or have chosen to dispatch with Barrie's vision, the moment I see three masts. 

A brig has two masts, square-rigged.

I call Disney as the original instigator of this travesty.

Yes, maybe I'd like to have one of these models, but that does not mean I think this is accurate.

James Coleman, "Moonrise Over Pirate Bay," current fine art for Disney by one of its animated film landscape artists. Beautiful! But not a brig.

I suppose Disney's version has become the popular default.

Nadir Quinto, 1982

But it's hardly just Disney.

Model for the ship in the 2003 film of Peter Pan. Looks to me like a clipper, maybe, not a brig

I don't know why it's hard to get this one right. It's easy enough to do the research, and a brig is a lovely ship--it's not as though it weren't just as pretty as a clipper or a frigate, even if less imposing.

A brig! Robert Ingpen, 2004

Of course, it's not as if I'm not also confronted regularly with the placement of the Captain's hook on the incorrect hand. I just realized even one of my favorite Peter Pan artists' renditions has that issue.

Gwynedd M. Hudson,  1931. It is almost impossible to find biographical information about her online, and I was sorry to discover this may be because she died at the age of 26.  Hudson studied at the Brighton School of Art, and is also remembered for her illustrations for Alice's Adventures in Wonderland.

At least I know artists have used the play as their inspiration at least as much as the book as regards the hook, which is an element that has changed from one production (and actor) to the next. I don't think they have as good an excuse for ship inaccuracies.

Friday, October 4, 2013

Hook vs. Hook

It's hardly a secret by now that I gnash my teeth over portrayals of Captain Hook that clash with the original by J.M. Barrie (possibly I need a bumper sticker that reads "Barrie is my co-pilot.") And ABC television's "Once Upon a Time" has provided rant fodder for me in general for its fast-and-loose handling of classic stories. When the show added Captain Hook to its roster (well after I had started The Stowaway), my objections suddenly became more personal.

The TV Hook is Captain Hook in, er, name and hook only. And actually not even in name. Somehow on the way to the small screen, Captain Hook became Killian Jones. (Admittedly, if he turns out to be related to Davy Jones of "locker" renown, I will applaud a job well done.) I've accepted that--for the most part. But the more I watch--and I feel compelled to watch just so I know what's being put out there--the more I think OUaT's Captain Hook is actually Long John Silver.

Robert Newton as Long John Silver with Bobby Driscoll as Jim Hawkins in the 1950 film of Treasure Island.

Bobby Driscoll was also the voice of Peter Pan in the 1953 animated Peter Pan. Around we go again...

Both John Silver and Killian Jones form alliances as they are convenient and betray them just as easily. Witness how easily Jones changes his alliances with Regina and her mother Cora, depending on who seems to have the upper hand on him or can most benefit him, as Long John Silver did with the officers and crew of the Hispaniola. And both repeatedly face capture and betrayal themselves, which the original Captain Hook would have found too embarrassing to endure.

Silver murders one of the sailors he recruited to his mutiny with apparently no remorse, and Jones both steals Aurora's heart and shoots her, showing no regret about either. James Hook is described as murdering out of temper (and, I argue, sometimes that reaction could be considered justified), but not for manipulation.

Colin O'Donoghue's Hook with Dylan Schmid as Baelfire, the son of Hook's beloved Milah.

Most significantly, perhaps, Jones and Silver have a fatherly side which is completely absent in James Hook. Silver's mentorship and eventual protection of Jim Hawkins are the only demonstration that there is more to the man than duplicity and greed. Jones craves a fatherly relationship with Bae even to the point of sailing to retrieve Bae's son Henry from Neverland, a place Jones swore he would never return.

By comparison, James Hook's relationship with children can be summed up as follows.

F. D. Bedford, 1911

I wonder often if the writers of OUaT have a good knowledge of their source material and are using it as a starting point, or if they genuinely have only the barest conception of their characters' origins. Given that this is a Disney property and all the characters have been featured in Disney films, I'm going to go with the first and hope I'm right. It baffles me sometimes, though, how far afield they go from the original conceptions. I suppose my concern is that people without background in fairy tale lore will take these as the final word, and not be open to other interpretations--including those which are written with the utmost concern for keeping to the spirit and word of the original. It's personal, in other words.