J.M. Barrie's classic children's story "Peter Pan" has delighted children since its creation. In addition to countless stage productions, the story has been turned into a classic animated feature by Walt Disney and given a comedic twist in 1991's "Hook." In 1924, Paramount Studios decided to turn the beloved story into a film for the first time and the result was a beautiful silent film version.
J.M. Barrie had overseen many aspects of stage productions of "Peter Pan" and did the same when it came time to make the first film version. The role of Peter had traditionally been played by women on stage since they were easier to lift and fly on wires. Barrie also felt that a petite woman could more easily resemble a boy in stature than could a grown man. The author insisted on finding the actress himself and he, along with Paramount producers, auditioned such silent film mega-stars as Mary Pickford and Lillian Gish. They ultimately gave the role to an unknown teenager with a background in ballet named Betty Bronson.
Other Cast Members
With Peter found, director Herbert Brenon moved on to finding the perfect performers to play the other characters. He believed that children often thought of their mothers as beautiful and young, so Brenon cast 23-year-old Esther Ralston as Mrs. Darling. Cyril Chadwick played Mr. Darling, and George Ali reprised his onstage role of Nana, the dog. Silent film regulars Mary Brian and Philippe De Lacy played Wendy and Michael, and Jack Murphy played youngest brother John. Ernest Torrence played the dreaded Capt. Hook, Anna May Wong played Princess Tiger Lily and Virginia Brown Faire played the impish fairy Tinker Bell.
Crew and Production Details
Joining director Herbert Brenon were Paramount producers Adolph Zukor and Jesse L. Lasky. Willis Goldbeck adapted the book and wrote the screenplay, and James Wong Howe served as director of photography. David Drazin wrote a moving score that perfectly accompanied the film's moments of childlike excitement and dramatic tension. Roy Pomeroy handled the special effects for the movie, none of which could be added in the editing process. If the crew was unable to make a trick happen live, it did not make it to the screen. Pomeroy and Howe relied on adept performers and innovative camera positions to make alligators attack and characters appear to fly.
Following its 1924 release, "Peter Pan" was seemingly lost along with many other films. During the earliest years of cinema, films were often considered to be ephemeral as live art forms such as theater. Copies of movies were rarely made as it was assumed that once an audience had seen a movie during its run in theaters they would not necessarily care to see it again. In the 1990s, Eastman-Kodak film curator James Card found "Peter Pan" in a vault filled with nitrate films, which are highly flammable and dangerous. Card set about transferring and restoring the films, "Peter Pan" among them. In 1999, Paramount re-released the restored version on DVD.
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