Friday, June 19, 2009

Never Never Land

Come with me where dreams are born,

And time is never planned.          Mary Martin, as Peter Pan, “Peter Pan”, 1954



I had a 7:15 date with  my wife last night and had about thirty minutes before I had to leave to meet her. I did what I often do, early in the evening, and pulled up YouTube. I had been thinking about the Broadway Star from Texas, Mary Martin. Martin is seldom spoken about today, but was one of the greatest of stars from the 40s to the 60s of the last century. She is best known for “South Pacific”, “The Sound of Music “, for her rendition of Cole Porter’s “My Heart Belongs to Daddy” and, apropos to this blog, “Peter Pan”. All of which Is not too bad for a girl from Weatherford, Texas who started her career with a dance studio  in Mineral Wells.


When I was a child, life had a more definite rhythm to it. There was a lot less technology and thus, a lot less distraction. There were things that you could count on happening. The “Andy Griffith Show” was on at 8:00 every Tuesday if I recall correctly. It was preempted by a Christmas special once a year, but other than that it was always there. New shows ran until June, when they ran twelve weeks of reruns.Ed Sullivan was on every Sunday night. Once a year they ran “The Wizard of Oz”, around Easter as I recall, once a year was the Miss America Pageant, the World Series and the Rose Bowl. Once a year we had the annual showing of Mary Martin’s “Peter Pan”. Everyone in the country watched all of these shows, usually together as a family.


Movies were not shown on T.V. then  as they are today. It would take years and years to get a film from the big screen to the small. In those days the Studios would rerelease a good film every few years back  into the  Theatre. Most people thought that “Gone With the Wind” would never be shown on Television. Prime Time movies were shown on one NBC from eight to ten every Saturday night (“Saturday Night at the Movies”)The movies were usually ten or fifteen years old, a lot of Martin (Dean not Mary) and Lewis.. There was a lot less excitement, but a lot more regularity in those days.


As mentioned, once a year they showed “Peter Pan”. It is one of my earliest television memories. I think it came out in 1956 and was redone in color in 1960. I had never seen the color version until I saw some of it on you tube last night while clicking around, watching Mary Martin sing. Mary might not be a big star today because she was not beautiful (although she had been ). She never got the movie versions of her shows. She probably only played Peter Pan on T.V. because she was playing a boy. Watching these old videos of her, the thing that surprised me is that I did not think that she was all that great of a singer. Obviously, a lot of Broadway producers had a different opinion than I have.


Back to Peter Pan. As I watched some of it last evening, a familiar chill ran down my spine. I recalled for the first time in years that I thought the Martin version of Peter Pan was downright creepy. Actually, many versions are downright creepy. It bothered me as a child that a woman was playing the part of a boy. Everyone could see that it was a woman, who was she trying to fool, and perhaps more importantly, why  ? It also seemed to me that she had practically kidnapped the Darling family and I felt sorry for their parents. As a child I was strangely intrigued and disturbed  by Wendy. Years later I finally understood how much of the story was really about her passing into womanhood, leaving the nursery.  In the Martin version Wendy grows old and Peter comes back and takes her daughter away. How creepy is that ?    And what was the deal with all of those “Lost Boys” and why were they all  living with a flying cross dresser and a tiny fairy, whom in the play was portrayed by a flashlight  ? The whole thing was quite unsettling and I would be somewhat filled with an unknown dread for a few nights after watching it. It would be hard for me to sleep and I did not know why.


The sexual connotations of Barrie’s work have now been described for many years, so I gather that what I was probably really scared of was growing up myself. As Wendy entered puberty and Peter continued to deny it (other than swooping in every few years and stealing  a female member of the Darling family) we all saw the advantages of youth and , of course, that’s what Pan was, the spirit of youth. Perhaps I was not so much disturbed by the play as its underlying theme. Or perhaps Cyril Ritchard, as Captain Hook was just a very bad actor and I was acting as a critic, unaware. Richard badly damaged the production, just as the voice of Hans Conried (the fabled Uncle Tonoose) enriched the Disney production. A singularly uncreepy version of the story, and one my daughter adored.


In the end we all grow up, some more than others. I had not seen Martin flying around the stage for a good many years. It helped me remember what it was like before I grew up and used to watch her on my parents old T.V. set. It was interesting seeing her again, but I think that will be the last time I go back there.




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