At age 18, Margaret Kerry got the role of a 3 ½ inch fairy who didn’t speak — and it forever changed her life.
The now-90-year-old had been performing since age 4, but it was the role as a live-action model for Walt Disney’s enchanting sprite Tinker Bell in the 1953 animated film “Peter Pan” that led to her rise to stardom. And while she has kept busy in Hollywood over the years, Kerry is aware that the beloved character continues to captivate audiences — and she wouldn’t have it any other way. Today, Kerry is still active and thriving, happily meeting her fans across the country for personal appearances. In 2016 she also released her memoir titled “Tinker Bell Talks.”
The actress spoke to Fox News about becoming Tinker Bell, as well as meeting Walt Disney, those rumors concerning Marilyn Monroe and what her life is like today.
Fox News: You released a memoir a few years ago. Looking back, what compelled you to come forward with your story?
Margaret Kerry: I started out so far back I don’t really remember *laughs*. After telling my story to fans so many times over the years, I felt it was time to put it down on paper. I just thought people would be interested in learning what Hollywood was like. And I started in 1933!
Fox News: What was it like starting your career at age 4?
Kerry: It was so different back then. I had just been adopted. The Depression happened. My new parents were really nice but much, much older. That’s when I started, 86 years ago. And I’m still going! But it’s been a wonderful life.
Fox News: How was it appearing on “The Andy Griffith Show”?
Kerry: You know, Andy Griffith had two personas. He was also the producer and people don’t understand what it was like to turn out a show per week for television. It’s mighty. You would see him standing aside and his stance was different. You knew he was acting as a producer. Then he walked over onto the lights and he was the actor. And he was charming, just charming. He and Don Knotts, they were just wonderful to work with. And they weren’t afraid to share the scene for most of the show!
Fox News: And what was Don Knotts like?
Kerry: It’s funny. He would go and sit on the director’s chair as we set up the scene. He would stare out into space. When they were ready for us, he would hit the lights and immediately transform. And the first thing that would come out of his mouth always made us laugh. He would break Andy up, everybody up. And we would usually get our scenes shot in one take. A lot of it was because of Don Knotts. He put us so at ease and just in the moment.
Fox News: How did you end up becoming Tinker Bell?
Kerry: I was 18 at the time and had an agent. She called me one day and said, “Get yourself over here. They’re interviewing for a 3 1/2-inch sprite that doesn’t talk... It’s a Disney.” And I said, “I’ll be there!” Everyone who went to the audition did the same thing. They just wanted to see what the inside of Disney looked like or were already fans. For my audition, you know the scene in the movie where Tinker Bell was looking at herself in the mirror? I played that as if she was 9 years old and had never seen a mirror. Next thing you know I was working.
Fox News: How much of Tinker Bell was really you?
Kerry: All [animator] Marc Davis had to work with was this little phrase that [author] J.M. Barrie put in his book. But they needed a personality for her. He spotted that when they interviewed me. I’m quirky, I’m funny. I’m a little bit adventurous. And I think that’s what he saw.
When I stepped out in front of the camera for the first time, I said “Mr. Davis, do you want her bouncy like Betty Boop or above it all like a queen of the fairies?” He said to me, “Margaret, we want her to be you.” I’m a dancer and she has a ballerina’s walk. Her arms float like a dancer. Everything she does, every move that she makes is that of a dancer, like me. I’m an actress, so of course, that goes with it… But basically, I’m me. They allowed me to be me. So I say maybe I gave her the third dimension.
Fox News: It’s been said over the years that Marilyn Monroe inspired the character.
Kerry: Intuitively that sounds right, doesn’t it? I worked with Marilyn. I thought she was absolutely gorgeous and adorable. She was a sweet thing. We were young and wearing a two-piece bathing suit for a magazine and we got into trouble for it. Yes, it was that long ago *laughs*.
But I’m told that there was a Disney executive or artist who was on the radio being interviewed. They talked about the fact that this little character came along who’s so curvy. And he said something like, “Yes, she’s curvy, like Marilyn Monroe.” And then he went on talking. Somebody picked that up. And it makes sense. But of course, she was under contract with Fox at the time and they were building her up to be a big star. Fox would never have loaned her out. Ever.
Fox News: How did you get in trouble with Marilyn Monroe?
Kerry: I got a call from a PR man one day. I had done all of these things for ABC, and ABC wanted some publicity for me and for them. So we were going to the Beverly Hills Hotel. It was just a gorgeous place with bungalows. I was 18, 19 years old and drove myself to the photo shoot. I came with my little model’s bag because I was going to be wearing a two-piece bathing suit for a magazine layout. There was going to be seven of us. I find the little bungalow and the models are all practically there by the time I get there. But then comes a knock at the door.
This beautiful, beautiful young thing is standing there in a white, two-piece bathing suit. I just can’t begin to tell you how beautiful she was. Her hair was beautifully done. Her makeup was immaculate. She came in and said very softly, “I’m so sorry I’m late.” … Then this little man who was taking the photos barged in with three cameras around his neck. He sees Marilyn and we just all knew who's going to be featured… But we posed by the pool. And the PR people went frantic trying to come up with a sweet story about us to write because we were wearing a two-piece swimsuit. And that was quite scandalous. So we got into trouble over that.
Fox News: You also inspired the redheaded mermaid in “Peter Pan.” Is it safe to say you would go on to inspire Ariel in “The Little Mermaid”?
Kerry: I like to tell people I’m her great-great-grandmother *laughs*. I think everything Disney does inspires something else. June Foray, who voiced Rocky in "Rocky and Bullwinkle," she was one of the mermaids. She was the dark-haired mermaid… After two days, June and I looked at each other and she said, “Why are we fighting to be in front of the camera? This is the way to go — voiceovers. No makeup, no hairdo, no costume, no 8 o’clock in the morning. You go in, do it, if they make a mistake, they re-run the tape.” So we both went into voiceover acting from there. I blamed Disney for doing that *laughs*.
Fox News: And how was it meeting Walt Disney himself?
Kerry: Well, I was trained from the time I was 4 that the head studio is like God. You never met him, you never saw him. But if you did, you curtsied. So here I am in the middle of this sound stage and I suddenly see these groups of shadows come in. Buddy Epson is leading them because you can’t miss his walk… When the other men walked away, Walt Disney came over to say hello to Mark Davis and the cameramen. He observed the sketches to see what was going on. Then, I was called over to meet him.
I was dumbstruck. He was the head of the studio! I just didn’t know what to do. So I answered his questions like a schoolgirl. He learned from somebody that I went to school with his daughters. He asked me about it and I didn’t know what to answer… I just thought, “I think I’m in love” *laughs* He was just so wonderful. He was very charming and dressed so smartly. He was very skinny — much more than I ever thought. And he was more handsome than his pictures showed — really! I met him about four times and I just felt like myself.
Fox News: What was your initial impression of Bobby Driscoll, who voiced Peter Pan?
Kerry: He was my brother in 1948’s “If You Knew Susie.” He always called me his big sister. We both loved chocolates, so that played out really well. And he was just adorable. He could have been one of the Mouseketeers if he had been there at a later time. He just was a dear, dear person. And his mother was precious. Just precious.
Fox News: Did you ever find out what happened to him after Hollywood?
Kerry: I’m told when his dad was dying much later in life, his mother went to Mr. Disney and said, "My husband needs to find and know where Bobby is." I’m told that Mr. Disney put a detective on it and found him as close to the grave as he could get in potter’s field, in New York. Because he had been found in an alley, evidently on drugs, they didn’t know who he was. He just could not turn the corner to become an adult actor. He couldn’t quite understand it, I’m told. Why he wasn’t getting the parts? Because he was no longer that little boy. It was too much for him to handle. It was just absolutely tragic.
Fox News: What is life like for you today?
Kerry: It’s wonderful — I’m Tinker Bell! She’s recognized around the world. I sprinkle the love of Tinker Bell and I can do that. It’s delightful. Things have changed so much in our culture. People have tried to make Tinker Bell very sexy. She’s not – she’s about 9 years old. All this time, I’ve been looking for a word that best describes her. And the word I came up with is beguiled. She’s all about love. And people relate to that. I relate to that. And people who love Disney and "Peter Pan" love her. How good could it get?