ANIMATION ANECDOTES
October 14, 2022 posted by Jim Korkis

In Her Own Words: Margaret Kerry of “Peter Pan” Mermaids

Posing as reference for the mermaids in “Peter Pan” for Disney Animation: Margaret Kerry with harp, Connie Hilton below and June Foray at right

Suspended Animation #393

Peggy Lynch was born May 11, 1929 in Los Angeles, California. By the age of five, she was already performing in episodes of the Little Rascals/Our Gang film comedies.

She was cast in the movie If You Knew Susie (1948) as star Eddie Cantor’s daughter. She graduated high school during the production of the film. During the filming of the movie, Cantor decided that Peggy needed a more theatrical name to stand out in the entertainment business and she officially became “Margaret Kerry”.

In 1949, she started playing the role of the eldest daughter of actor Charlie Ruggles in an early ABC television situation comedy entitled The Ruggles (1949-1952) when her agent had her go to the Disney Studio to audition for a four foot tall pixie.

“They were looking for a young girl who was comfortable with dance movement. How do you audition for animation and for a character who doesn’t speak?” Kerry told me when I interviewed her in 2003. So she worked up a little pantomime to a song on a record for the audition and got the job as the live action reference model for the character of Tinker Bell in the film Peter Pan (1953).

She added, “I did a voice for one of the mermaids and they encouraged us to ad-lib and come up with our own lines and I ad-libbed a little lisp for mine. 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. We were in one piece bathing suits on these wood planks with cloth. And we had the most fun.

“I also did a voice reading for the Indian squaw but June (Foray) ended up getting that and I also did a couple of lines for Michael but I don’t think they were ever used. I think they had me do them for safety reasons…just in case his voice changed over the time. That happens to young boys, you know.”

Last year when I was finishing up work on my book Off to Never Land: 70 Years of Disney’s Peter Pan, I interviewed her again about Tinker Bell and her work as a mermaid.

Like most versions of the Peter Pan story, the mermaids serve only as a brief cameo to introduce another exotic culture to Never Land although at the end of the film Wendy remembers her encounter with them as one of the most memorable things of her trip.

The actresses who provided the voices and the live action reference were Margaret Kerry (redhead), Connie Hilton (blonde) and June Foray (brunette). Their animation and design was done by animator Fred Moore who was well known for designing cute, young women characters for Disney animated films.

Marc Davis was so pleased with Kerry’s work on Tinker Bell that he asked her to be one of the mermaids. She was shown over a dozen sketches of the mermaids. Kerry remembers that the voice recording took only two to three hours.

Kerry told me, “The three of us, Connie Hilton, June Foray and me showed up at Disney’s Sound Department about two weeks before the filming. We recorded the track and went home. 

“A couple of weeks later, the ‘set’ was ready and we dressed in our one-piece bathing suit (with cover-ups) and promptly climbed up on the prop rock. Our ankles were bound by some sort of soft tubing as I remember.

“The dialogue track was played for us and we ‘mouthed’ our lines from the track. We did not sing and received good-hearted applause from the crew when we got it right. People were coming and going watching the scenes we were doing.’

All three actresses had returned to the studio after recording the voices in one piece bathing suits and had their ankles tied so they would have to wiggle like mermaids. A minimal set was built of wood planks at different levels to mimic Marooner’s Rock in the film. They were given props. Kerry was given a lyre and Foray a conch shell.

As Foray told me in 1992, “My exhilaration is almost ineffable to describe when I received a call from the Disney studios to create the voices of a mermaid and the Indian squaw in their animated feature Peter Pan. Childhood revisited: My ecstasy was completely consummated a few weeks later when the casting director engaged me to be filmed as one of the mermaids.

“Forget the sore muscles and bruises from slithering up one side of a pile of lumber and down the other to emulate the half-human, half-marine creature on the rock in the middle of the lagoon. A mermaid in Peter Pan resembled me!”

Kerry remembers filming taking about two days where they had to sync their actions to their pre-recorded voices. Roland Dupree was costumed as Peter Pan for the scene syncing to Bobby Driscoll’s pre-recorded sound track.

“We were all about the same height, roughly five feet tall so we looked like sisters,” Kerry told me.

For This Week magazine (July 1952), writer Louis Berg got to attend the filming of the mermaids and wrote about it after wondering why a mermaid would need to wash her hair and stating that it was planned for the mermaids to do a dance but not during the time he was watching.

“Walt Disney has turned out another full-length feature, with pretty girls and songs and dances. Its stars get no billing and the public will never get to see it. For this is the big show that the Disney Studio puts on for its cartoon animators; the live-action film they use to guide them through the difficult job of making thousands of colored drawings come alive on the screen.

“An audience saw it and the actors who stole the show were not Peter Pan, Wendy, Captain Hook, the Crocodile but three anonymous mermaids.

“Disney has expanded their roles in the cartoon version and has given them an undersea ballet and various other bits of business. In the live action film, they virtually hog the show. This was the most difficult part of the picture to animate and girls who served as the models were filmed from every conceivable angle and in all kinds of sinuous mermaid poses.

517P8H+6fSL._SY291_BO1,204,203,200_QL40_“The girls are June Foray, Margaret Kerry and Connie Hilton, a brunette, redhead and blonde in that order. All are in their early twenties, all Los Angeles girls and all talented.

“Miss Hilton is a professional dancer, has been seen in regular movie musicals and also on TV. June Foray, from radio and TV, has a fine voice and will shortly get the speaking role of a witch in a new Disney short. Miss Kerry is a model and TV actress. They are unmarried.

“They wear no mermaid tails in the live-action model film, the prop man contenting himself with binding their feet with sashes. They go through the motions of swimming, but not in water.

“The model for Peter Pan in the picture above was Roland Dupree, a Hollywood dancer who has been in films. He did not quite get the hand the three little mermaids got from the appreciative audience. But then, he was a mere male and not in a bathing suit.”

3 Comments

  • June Foray was in her mid-thirties in 1952, but I can understand why Louis Berg of This Week magazine thought she was in her early twenties. All her life, she looked much younger than her actual age.

    Wendy not only mentions the Mermaid Lagoon at the end of the film. When she needs a happy little thought to start her off flying, she thinks “of a mermaid lagoon, underneath a magic moon.” When Peter Pan and the Darling children arrive at Never Land, the Mermaid Lagoon is the first thing Wendy notices. Given her apparent affinity for the mermaids, it’s too bad they weren’t nicer to her.

    Was Connie Hilton any relation to Conrad Hilton of the hotel chain?

  • Neat. Thanks for sharing. This reminded me of the joy I felt receiving every new issue of David Mruz’s MINDrot. God bless him.

  • I wish I’d worked at Disney’s then…

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