09 April 2008

Any happy little thought

Kathryn Beaumont, like Adriana Caselotti, is not a name familiar to most, yet, both of their voices are unmistakable. Where Adriana is known as the feathery voice of a princess, Kathryn is recognized the world over as precocious and proper English darlings, as the voices, and models, of Alice, from 1951’s Alice in Wonderland, and Wendy, from 1953’s Peter Pan.

After starring as second fiddle to Margaret O’Brien on several MGM pictures, it appeared that she would also be overlooked for the part of Alice in favor of Margaret as well. Favorable circumstances, however, would turn out to be on the side of Kathryn’s destiny. Only hours after her screen tests for the role of Alice, Kathryn was offered the character. The prissy, and sometimes off-putting, Alice now had limbs to assist the animators and a voice to bring her to life. In keeping the story true to its roots, and unlike Disney heroines of the past, Alice’s story would revolve around Alice and there would be no romantic anecdotes.

With the success of one popular British narrative, Disney would strike again while the iron was hot, and work began on Peter Pan. Alice, with her know-it-all attitude, was not what the world would be looking for in Wendy. The Wendy that came to the screen, curious, relaxed, yet fiercely maternal, would again be brought to life through the modeled movements and vibrant vocals of Kathryn Beaumont.

Aside from a role in The Voyage of Captain Tom Jones, Pirate, Kathryn’s acting career would vanish, of her own accord. Kathryn returned to public school, as her mother had been her tutor while producing the features. Unlike most teen stars, Kathryn was very seldom recognized. Obviously, this is due to the fact that both of the roles Kathryn was best known for, Alice and Wendy, were animated and required no screen time, save her appearances on 1950’s One Hour in Wonderland (dressed as Alice) and again in 1951’s The Walt Disney Christmas Show (this time in Wendy garb).

After high school, Kathryn went on to the University of Southern California where she completed coursework in education. It is for this that Kathryn Beaumont has a special place in my heart. As the voice of beloved Disney characters, Kathryn could have gone on to act as any number of characters, or to work in a variety of fields closely related to the entertainment industry. Instead, she would go on to teach elementary school in Los Angeles for the next thirty-six years. She is often quoted as saying, “Teaching gave me satisfaction, and I stayed,” which is the most you can ask of any true teacher.

In 1983 Kathryn once again returned to Disney, reprising the roles of her youth. She would be, and is, the voice to the world of Alice and Wendy in Disneyland’s Alice in Wonderland and Fantasmic, as well as in the Kingdom Hearts video games, House of Mouse, and wherever else the British schoolgirls happen to wander to. In 1998, Kathryn Beaumont was honored as a Disney Legend for her accomplishments in the realm of animation vocals.

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