- The Washington Times - Friday, February 6, 2004

Kathryn Beaumont passed through Washington recently on a promotional tour for a new DVD edition of Walt Disney’s 1951 animated version of “Alice in Wonderland,” the movie that made her a disembodied juvenile “star” for a time. Miss Beaumont went on to play Wendy in the studio’s 1953 version of “Peter Pan” and in subsequent years and decades contributed to soundtracks for amusement park rides and other supplements to the original films.

Disney’s new DVD package restores “Alice” with flattering vibrancy while adding some priceless supplements. There’s a splendid Mickey Mouse cartoon of 1938, “Thru the Mirror,” a dress rehearsal with Lewis Carroll’s Alice books as the animators’ inspiration.

Disney acquired film rights to “Alice in Wonderland” and “Through the Looking Glass” in 1933, so a feature version was in gestation for a very long time. The late ‘30s were the most inventive and exuberant time of all for Disney cartoons. “Thru the Mirror” reflects that vitality and anticipates the gleeful card stunts that highlighted the finale of the feature, in which Alice encounters the Queen of Hearts and her craven subjects. Also a racier proposition, the cartoon depicts Mickey sharing a honky-tonk dance with a far more agreeable and shapely queen than the stout tyrant dubbed by radio comic Verna Felton years later.

The DVD extras also include a Sterling Holloway recording of an abandoned ditty (one of 30 songs rejected for the movie’s song score) for the Cheshire Cat, “I’m Odd,” illustrated in part by preliminary sketches. The team responsible for “I’m Odd,” which deftly summarizes the character in a nutshell, was composer Gene de Paul and lyricist Don Raye.

Miss Beaumont, now a married, retired schoolteacher in her middle 60s, narrates a couple of DVD supplements, but none draws adequately on her recollections of the period and the production itself, which kept her employed for about three years.

Her late father, Ken Beaumont, also was in the vocal cast, as one of the playing cards who hastens to paint the queen’s roses red. He had been a broadcaster in England. Keen on trying his chances in Los Angeles, he also encouraged Kathryn, an only child, to try out for juvenile roles. MGM, which had been fortunate in Elizabeth Taylor, Roddy McDowall and Angela Lansbury, cast the girl in small roles in “The Courage of Lassie,” which starred Miss Taylor, and in the Esther Williams musical “On an Island With You.”

A common-sense choice for the Disney Alice, Miss Beaumont sounded like a well-bred, unassuming English girl. Legions of voices had been auditioned or bandied about, including such senior candidates as Mary Pickford and Ginger Rogers.

Still a Los Angeles resident after all these years, Miss Beaumont recalls that the animation team went out of its way to make her part of the creative family. Moreover, she never recorded or pantomimed scenes in isolation. Such famous voices as Ed Wynn (as the Mad Hatter), Jerry Colonna (as the March Hare) and Mr. Holloway were with her in the recording studio and on makeshift sets.

“They invited me to see the storyboards, which preceded the script,” Miss Beaumont explains. “They figured I would have a better understanding of what I was doing if I saw the process evolving. All the head animators were there. Sometimes Walt Disney would sit in. They’d discuss things, interrupt each other, act out prospective gags. If an idea occurred to someone, he would quickly do a sketch and pin it up on the board for comment.”

In due course, the storyboard was refined into a screenplay, and Miss Beaumont read her lines repeatedly at recording sessions. The recorded scenes also were re-enacted as live-action rehearsals, photographed to provide the animators with guides to realistic or expressive movement. Modeling human figures had always been a difficult stylistic feat, dating to “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.” It was particularly important to have Miss Beaumont on film to anticipate the movements of a cartoon Alice.

“For the live-action tea party, we had a table and chairs,” she recalls. “No china. We had to simulate holding saucers and sipping from cups. Ed Wynn and Jerry Colonna had been reassuring from the first recording session, so it was a pleasure to act out the same scenes with them. We were used to bouncing lines off each other, and a lot of changes were made on the spot.”

More than half a century later, Miss Beaumont still marvels at her good fortune: “There I was, taking in all this creativity. It was just fascinating to me.”


TITLE: “Alice in Wonderland”


CREDITS: Directed by Clyde Geronimi, Hamilton Luske, Wilfred Jackson and Winston Hibler. Based on books by Lewis Carroll. Production supervisor: Ben Sharpsteen. Music by Oliver Wallace. Songs by Bob Hilliard, Don Raye, Mack David, Sammy Fain, Gene de Paul, Jerry Livingston and Al Hoffman. Supervising animators: Milt Kahl, Ward Kimball, Frank Thomas, Eric Larson, John Lounsbery, Ollie Johnston, Wolfgang Reitherman, Marc Davis, Les Clark and Norm Ferguson.

RUNNING TIME: 75 minutes


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