‘Peter Pan’: Disney’s Iconic Tinkerbell Is Inspired By Marilyn Monroe and Margaret Kerry

Few Disney films have the staying power that Peter Pan does. While Walt Disney didn’t invent the literary character, their portrayal helped bring him to a bigger audience than ever, but it wasn’t all because of the boy who never grew up. Peter’s companion, Tinker Bell, became one of the most famous Disney characters, and many assume her likeness came from Marilyn Monroe. However, if you ask Margaret Kerry, that isn’t quite true. 

‘Peter Pan’ brings Tinker Bell to the world

At its core, J.M. Barrie’s Peter Pan is perfect Disney fodder. It’s a magical story that takes you to a far-off fantasy land with pirates, feral children, and a compelling villain to tie it all together. The film was a massive hit for Disney thanks to the famous story that it stemmed from the revolutionary animation behind it. However, while much is made of Pan and Captain Hook, the runaway star was Tinker Bell.

Tinker Bell has no lines, but her physical presence required a real actor for them to work off of, and while the likeness may resemble Marilyn Monroe, her movement came from a young actor named Margaret Kerry. 

Margaret Kerry makes a fairy

Kerry auditioned for the role when she was 18 years old after being pushed by her agent. However, when she found out what she wanted to do, she decided to capture a little bit of humanity. She spoke with Fox about how she became the model for the now-iconic character. 

“Everyone who went to the audition did the same thing,” she told Fox. “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 nine years old and had never seen a mirror. Next thing you know, I was working.”

Of course, many assume that Monroe played a part in Tinker Bell’s appearance. After all, Kerry was a striking brunette, but she didn’t look anything like Tinker Bell. According to Kerry, the rumors of Monroe’s inspiration likely stem from one comment an executive made decades ago, which went on to achieve a life unto itself. 

“I’m told that there was a Disney executive or artist who was on the radio being interviewed,” Kerry told Fox. “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.” 

While Tinker Bell is iconic in her own right, however, Kerry had a promising career from the time that she was still a child into young adulthood.

Margaret Kerry’s long career 

Margaret Kerry Modeling White Bathing Suit
Margaret Kerry | Getty Images

According to IMDb, Kerry made her big debut playing nameless characters in several films in the mid-1930s. There, she learned about the Hollywood lifestyle for better and worse from an early age. While she never became a superstar, her work as Tinker Bell’s real-world template is more iconic than several A-listers’ top roles. 

After Peter Pan, Kerry became a successful television actress, appearing in several series from The Lone Ranger to The New Three Stooges and Space Angel. Kerry also appeared as two different characters on the iconic series The Andy Griffith Show. While she took a step back in the 1960s, she still appears on the screen from time to time, last appearing in a short film called Before There Were Wings. 

Now, Kerry has been in and out of show business for nearly 90 years, and despite never reaching the fame that she once sought, her most iconic role still resonates decades after she helped lay the groundwork. Her story and career help show just how much of an impact someone can have on the industry, even if they never become Marilyn Monroe, and for that, we should all know Margaret Kerry’s name. 

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