A journey through two fine interpretations of Walt Disney’s 1953 animated classic, one featuring most of the original film voices and another with a British cast.
Walt Disney’s PETER PAN
RCA Records – Little Nipper Children’s Series Y-4001 (10” 78 RPM)
WY-4001 (7” 45 RPM) Mono
LP Reissues: RCA Camden CAL-1009 (Mono) / CAS-1009 (Reprocessed Stereo)
Released in 1952. Producer: Steve Carlin. Adaptation: Winston Hibler, Ted Sears. Music Arranger: Norman Leyden. Music Conductor: Henri René. Running Time: 17 minutes.
Voices: Verne Smith (Narrator); Bobby Driscoll (Peter Pan); Kathryn Beaumont (Wendy); John Brown (Captain Hook); Bill Thompson (Smee).
Songs: “You Can Fly! You Can Fly! You Can Fly!” “What Made the Red Man Red?” “Your Mother and Mine” by Sammy Cahn, Sammy Fain; “A Pirate’s Life” by Oliver Wallace, Ed Penner; “Following the Leader” by Oliver Wallace, Ted Sears, Winston Hibler.
Instrumentals: “Peter Pan Theme” by Oliver Wallace; “Never Smile at a Crocodile” by Frank Churchill.
(The RCA Camden LP reissue also includes “You Can Fly! You Can Fly! You Can Fly!” and “Never Smile at a Crocodile” by Joe Reisman’s Chorus and Orchestra, from the 1955 RCA album Walt Disney’s Song Carousel.)
Children’s records were still enjoying their postwar peak in the early 1950’s and RCA was riding high with titles based on their own properties (they were the parent company of NBC), like Howdy Doody and Kukla, Fran and Ollie. To tout the 45 RPM record format imposed by RCA magnate David Sarnoff (read more about the corporate politics behind the 45 in Jimmy Johnson’s autobiography, Inside the Whimsy Works), RCA even designed special children’s record players with Disney and other characters adorning the machines.
Disney material was shared among several labels as Disneyland Records was not yet established) but RCA was doing especially well with the Disney feature film adaptations such as Cinderella, Alice in Wonderland (which may not have been big box office but still generated lots of merchandise) and Peter Pan.
All three of the above benefitted from talent who had worked on the films. In the case of Peter Pan, the principal cast recreated their roles for RCA: Bobby Driscoll, Kathryn Beaumont and Bill Thompson. (Hans Conried may have been unavailable to revoice Hook for financial reasons, or was simply too busy, since he was virtually everywhere on radio and early TV.)
The limited disc running time in all of these productions is very much in evidence in Peter Pan. There is a lot of adventure to cover with only so many grooves in which to fit it all. Legendary Disney story artists Winston Hibler and Ted Sears adapted the recording with the expected skill, though there are some interesting, albeit awkward, moments of exposition due to the 17-minute playing time:
WENDY: He’s afraid of the crocodile, isn’t he?
PETER: Terribly. When I cut off Hook’s hand in that duel, the crocodile swallowed it. Ever since, he’s wanted to taste the rest of Hook. And Hook knows it!
CHIEF: Pan friend! Before you go back to Hangman’s Tree, anything you want to know about injuns?
PETER: Sure. What made the red man red?
Hibler and Sears, who may have been involved in the adaptation of Peter Pan for the CBS Lux Radio Theater broadcast, only had about half the running time here to allow as many story elements and dialogue as they could, so it’s quite a feat to be sure. We’re very fortunate to have this version, the Lux broadcast and the soundtrack all still in existence to enjoy.
J. M. Barrie’s PETER PAN AND WENDY
Conquest Records CR-1029 (England / 7” 45 RPM / Mono)
Wonderland/Riverside Records RLP-1441 (1961) (12” 33 1/3 RPM / Mono / Side One Only*)
Wonderland/Golden Records (AA Records) GW-208 (1968) (12” 33 1/3 RPM / Mono / Side One Only*)
(*Side Two: Thumbelina)
Released in 1960. Producer: Fiona Bentley. Conductor: Burt Rhodes. Running Time: 18 minutes.
Voices: Rex Graham (Narrator); Nicolette Roeg (Peter Pan); Mike Sammes (Captain Hook); Belinda Sinclair (Wendy); Joy Leman (Tinker Bell); The Mike Sammes Singers and The Westminster Festival Orchestra.
Songs: “Your Mother and Mine,” “You Can Fly! You Can Fly! You Can Fly!” “The Second Star to the Right,” by Sammy Fain, Sammy Cahn; “A Pirate’s Life” by Oliver Wallace, Ed Penner; “Never Smile at a Crocodile” by Frank Churchill.
British records used the 45 RPM format in a wider variety of ways than in the United States. For popular music, it was common to buy four songs by a favorite artist or group on a 7” record just as you might buy an LP. Sometimes the EP, or “extended play” disc would exist on its own, with no source LP–a highly rare occurrence in the States.
Children’s records in the U.K. followed the same lines. Perhaps it was an offshoot of 78 RPM records and albums, but it was common to have original 7” 45 EP productions produced exclusively for that format. Later these records could be reissued on 10” discs or, when imported to the U.S. paired in “double feature” style for 12” LP discs.
Such was the case for the wonderful line of Fiona Bentley-produced records for children released through HMV, Conquest and other labels in the U.K. When they reached the U.S., Riverside Records–primarily a jazz label–designed new packaging for them and distributed them on their Wonderland label in the late 1950’s/early1960’s. By the late ’60s, another Wonderland label–this time the soon-to-be former Golden Records run by A.A. Records–took on most (but not all) of their catalog, again redesigned the packaging and sold the records through the ’70s. Alas, little has been heard of them since.
Many of these records benefitted from the glorious talents of Mike Sammes and his singers, the top vocal group in London during the latter 20th century. These records were made shortly before the group recorded with Disney, The Beatles and began numerous TV appearances, most notably on The Tom Jones Show. For the Bentley records, the singers appeared as a group or Sammes himself sang lead.
Peter Pan sounds as if it was planned as something extra special. Sammes plays Captain Hook in grand British panto style, in one of the few—if any—productions in which “Never Smile at a Crocodile” is made part of the story. Indeed, the presence of the Disney songs on this record is almost bizarre because the story is clearly Barrie’s and not based on the 1953 film, except where the two have already intersected.
Like the traditional stage versions and the British Christmas pantomime show, Peter Pan is played by a woman. Well-known English TV actor Nicolette Roeg plays Peter with bravado, yet sings the romantic version of “Second Star to the Right:”
Twinkle, twinkle, little star, so I’ll know who you are
Gleaming in the skies above, lead me to the one who loves me.
And if you bring him my way, each time we say ‘Goodnight,’
We’ll thank the little star that shines the second from the right.
These alternate lyrics, common in songs such as “Winter Wonderland,” allowed music publishers to market their songs to adults as well as children. The fact that a woman is singing about a man, even she is portraying Peter Pan, could be an oversight, but more likely it’s just a given convention of English pantomime, that the audience is fully aware of the actor’s gender, the actor could also a popular celebrity, and the fourth wall is often broken in such shows.
“Second Star” and “Never Smile” are the only two Disney songs sung all the way through on the record, which packs a lot of story into its 18 minutes but minimizes the “redskins” adventure to allow for the time. “Your Mother and Mine” is also moved from near the end of the story to the very beginning.
Several talents, popular at the time to English TV viewers, were involved with this recording, including actor Rex Graham as narrator. For fans of the beloved sitcom The Good Life (known as Good Neighbors in the U.S.), the catchy theme song for that series was written by Burt Rhodes, the musical director for this record.