Betty as Peter Pan

Betty became an overnight success with the making of Peter Pan in 1924, in which she played the starring role.  This was and remains one of the most loved movies of the silent era.  Peter Pan remains a classic of the silent screen, providing the inspiration for the later Disney animated version of 1953, the Mary Martin version of 1955 and the 1991 production of "Hook".  The restored version is now available from Kino on Video and Amazon on VHS and DVD.

Before restoration, the film was for many years seemingly only available in a very poor quality.  All prints of the film were thought to have been destroyed in 1929 (as film companies had a habit of doing in the days of the silents).  In fact, one good copy had been kept at the Eastman School of Music as a final examination piece, and this served as the basis for a modern restoration.

The director of the film department at Eastman House, Jim Card, eventually had a new print made on safety stock, and that was put aside until it could be more fully restored.  (The Moviediva site also speaks of this.)

The restoration work was finally carried out in 1995 by the senior manager of film restoration at Walt Disney Studios, Scott MacQueen, with the film's rerelease care of film historian David Pierce of Sunrise Entertainment.  It was also given a beautiful new musical score--but still in period style--by Philip Carli and the Flower City Society Orchestra.  (Click here for a review.)  The DVD has added promotional material as well as an interview with Esther Ralston, who played Mrs Darling.

Here are some promotional shots from the film.  Clicking on each picture will load a much higher quality one.

Peter Pan, along with some of Betty's next films such as A Kiss for Cinderella and Ben-Hur, was a great example of the move toward turning well-known plays into movies.  It had been very successful on stage and the early 1920's saw the time ripe to put it onto film.  Girls always portrayed Peter, and the hunt for the actress to play the coveted role was one of the biggest seen in Hollywood at that time.

There was much gossip in Hollywood over who would get the coveted role, and certainly the biggest stars were all after it, such as Lillian Gish, Bessie Love, Gloria Swanson and Mary Pickford.  Gloria Swanson later told the story of how much each actress wanted or expected the role.

But Peter Pan's author, Sir James Barrie, insisted that the actress be an unknown whom he would select himself before he would allow it to be filmed.  And in so choosing Betty, he ushered her on to stardom.  In response to his choice, Betty telegraphed him to say "I feel like a new Cinderella".

In many of the following stills Betty appears with Mary Brian (later Mary Tomasini) who played the part of Wendy.  Most of them come from pages by Steven Hill and David B. Pearson.  Thanks guys!  Actually although many of the photos here are in gray shades, the entire film is toned in sepia, with the exception of a few night scenes in the conventional blue.

Peter finds his shadow at last!

Now all it needs is to be put back on.

But it won't just stick all by itself.
Something else is needed.

What else might help pin it on?

Peter meets Wendy, with introductions all round.
"Peter Pan.  What's yours?"

Wendy sews Peter's shadow to his feet.
"I daresay it will hurt a little".

Success!  But Wendy feels unappreciated.
"I can't help crowing, Wendy, when..."

"...I am pleased with myself".

"Wendy, one girl is more use than twenty boys".

Wendy is won over...

...and Peter accepts a "kiss".

"I want to be a little boy and to have fun".

"Peter!  You know fairies?"

Peter describes how fairies began.

"--and every time a child says `I don't believe in fairies', there is a fairy somewhere that falls down dead".

Peter suddenly remembers...

...where he left Tinker Bell!

...and sets off to find her.

Now it's time to teach the children to fly.

But they all need a little fairy dust first.

"Peter, what are your exact feelings for me?"

Peter pines for a mother's love.

But he decides he'll not return to Wendy's home with the Lost Boys.

"Nobody's going to make me grow up".

Wendy is unhappy that Peter will not return with her.

Peter plays a tune to cheer himself and Wendy up.

Bad news from Tinker Bell.  "Wendy and the little boys captured by the pirates?"

Peter asks the crocodile for Captain Hook's clock.

Peter prepares to fight Hook.

"Dark and sinister man, have at thee!"

Unnoticed, Peter watches the Darling family reunited.

Esther Ralston appears in the film as Mrs Darling.  Years later she recalled having to be very visual with her emotions in order to overcome the continual cutting to written dialogue that would happen as soon as the actors opened their mouths.  She spoke warmly of both Betty and Mary as being very charming people.

The following photos show her in the main scene they share, at the end of the story when Peter is about to return to Never Never Land and wants Wendy to come with him.  Mrs Darling offers to adopt Peter, but he suffers cold feet at the thought of having to go to school, then to an office, and then possibly becoming president.  In the first picture, Mrs Darling is shaking her head, telling Peter that Wendy cannot go along.  After goodbye hugs and kisses all around, she and Wendy bid Peter goodbye, promising that Wendy will go to visit him for one week every year.

Barrie originally had some fabulous ideas for extending the play to take advantage of the new possibilities offered by film, by putting more emphasis on the flying effects.  For example he wished to include a fairy wedding (which probably explains the reference to the fairy king at the film's beginning) and a treetop game of football.  Unfortunately these ideas would have been very expensive, and weren't taken up by director Herbert Brenon, who opted for a much more conventional "stagey" setting for the film.

Still, the flying effects and Tinker Bell's appearances remain great examples of the skills brought by cameramen to silent films.  At the time, all special effects were done in-camera since laboratory techniques had yet to be invented.  Tink's timing and placement are especially good examples of this.


Betty's early years

Betty as Peter Pan

Prelude to Peter Pan

Further silent film work and the advent of talkies

Life beyond the movies

Film and promotional shots

Betty's available films

Bibliography and credits

This site is copyright © 2001 Don Koks.