Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Want off the hook? Never grow up

Today is the birthday of both Mary Martin, who played Peter Pan on the stage and in the TV musical in the 1950s, and Cyril Ritchard, who played Captain Hook in those same productions.

J. M. Barrie, who wrote Peter Pan, may have based the character on his brother, David, who died in a skating accident at the age of 13. Barrie's mother never recovered from the event. Seeking his mother's affection, Barrie would dress up in his dead brother's clothing. It has been said by a biographer of Barrie that both he and his mother might have drawn inspiration from the idea that "David, in dying a boy, remained a boy forever."

The portrait of Wendy, Peter Pan's girlfriend, owes much to Barrie's mother, an orphaned "little mother" who had to raise her younger brother. Wendy borrowed her name from Barrie -- it was his nickname. He stopped growing at five feet in height.

Captain Hook meets his maker when he is eaten by his nemesis, the crocodile that was always ticking, having swallowed a clock. In Barrie's novella, Hook's last words are "Bad form." In the screenplay, they are "The croc! The croc! The croc! Pan, no words of mine can express me utter contempt for you."

Peter Pan, of course, is the character who cannot die because he will not grow up. Hook tells Peter: "Death is the only adventure you have left."