BARRIE, Sir James M. Carbon typescript scenario for the silent film Peter Pan or The Boy Who Wouldn't Grow Up, (the scenario by Josephine Lovett Robertson) WITH ADDITIONS, REVISIONS AND DELETIONS BY J.M. BARRIE, written in ink on some 40 pages, totalling approximately 350 words, n.p., n.d. [early 1921]. 107 pages, small folio, typed on rectos on bond paper, a very few corners creased, otherwise in very good condition.
BARRIE AND THE FIRST FILM VERSION OF "PETER PAN"
A remarkable record of the first, unrealized, attempt to translate Barrie's classic tale of childhood to the cinema. The silent film, from an original scenario by Josephine Lovett-Robertson (based on Barrie's stageplay of 1904), was to have been made in America by the noted Canadian-born director John S. Robertson (Lovett's husband) for the Vitagraph Company.
Barrie's handwritten revisions, in his small, clear hand, carefully focus and shape telling details of the scenario, and amply demonstrate the novelist and playwright's ready acceptance of the conventions and techniques of what was, to him, an entirely new medium. On page 4, he makes an important change in subtitle 9: "The fairies taught him [Peter Pan] how to fly, and he made his home on an island called Neverland, which has everything a boy needs, except perhaps a mother." Scenes 10 and 11 (Subtitle 5), depicting the infant Peter, are virtually rewritten by Barrie. For Scene 11 Barrie writes: "An empty London street at night with Kensington Garden Gate at far side. The baby [Peter] is seen crawling across the deserted street. He should be seen in the light of a policeman's lantern." In Scene 34, depicting the Indian encampment, Barrie deletes a scene with Tiger Lily, and substitutes the following: "This should be a rather comic episode. The brave goes on his knees pleading his suit. She suddenly gives him a kick and he departs sadly. She yawns as if this were an everyday occurence."
Occasionally, Barrie gives purely cinematic directions: on page 13, in a scene where Peter sits on the windowsill of the Darling nursery, poised for flight, Barrie changes the "semi-close up," to "Long shot"; the same change he makes on page 15, page 21 and in other places. In scene 257, Barrie deletes a shot of Captain Hook's nemesis, the crocodile, noting that "The crocodile should not be seen yet." When Peter proposes that the Lost Boys should build a house around the unconscious Wendy (scene 310), Barrie adds: "The boys are delighted." Later a sequence of scenes featuring Wendy and Tootles (one of the Lost Boys) is bracketed by Barrie, who writes in the margin: "Queried by J.M.B." and "This scene 466 should be taken out if 464 and 65 are." When the inside of Captain Hook's cabin ("largely furnished like a boy's room at Eton....arranged in the eccentric Eton way") is to be shown, at scene 468, Barrie instructs that it should include "a bed that folds up against wall." Further on, when the combat between Tiger Lily's braves and the pirates takes place, at scene 510, Barrie writes that "probably the whole fight should be seen in the distance as the later one on ship is. This would make it more realistic." When Captain Hook and his crew listen fearfully with drawn cutlasses while several pirates are dispatched by the unseen Peter in the darkened cabin, Barrie makes it clear that Hook is startled, not frightened, by a sudden noise: "but he is never a coward except about the crocodile." And, in the climactic scene 628, where Peter and the Lost Boys fall upon Hook and his murderous crew, Barrie insists that during their battle "There should be no comic fear by the pirates. They are grim and game to the end."
Quite aside from Barrie's holograph notes and revisions, the typescript is significant in that it preserves the text of no fewer that 180 subtitles: many -- perhaps all -- written by Barrie himself. In a letter to Josephine Lovett-Robertson, dated 13 June 1921, Barrie made it clear that he himself would write all the subtitles--a very key narrative element of a silent film (his letter sold at Christie's, 9 June 1992, lot 6). In an unusual touch, Barrie's subtitles were to appear on screen in the author's own handwriting. (One wonders how successful this might ultimately have proven, given Barrie's minute and often difficult-to-read left-handed script.)
It is likely that the project for Peter Pan or the Boy Who Wouldn't Grow Up originated at Vitagraph, perhaps with Josephine Lovett or her husband; he already had a number of successful films to his credit, including the well-known Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1920) starring John Barrymore. Vitagraph, for whom he worked, had as early as 1912 released a movie version of The Little Minister based upon Barrie's 1897 novel, and a remake was released in 1921. It is believed that Lovett and Robertson went to England in 1921 to confer on the film with the author. Sadly, the promising collaborative film was never made. Perhaps Barrie's great personal tragedy, the death by drowning of Michael Llewellyn-Davies, his twenty-year-old ward, in May 1921, may have led to its abandonment, or the project may have been a casualty of the intense and bitter commercial contest between Vitagraph and Paramount. Whatever the cause, it is ironic that, four years later, Peter Pan, the boy who wouldn't grow up, made his cinema debut in a film by Famous Players - Lasker, distributed by Paramount, with a screenplay by Willis Goldbeck, directed by Herbert Brenon (see American Film Institute Catalog F2.4217). An identical typescript for this version -- with virtually identical autograph revisions and additions by Barrie -- was offered at Christie's on 9 June 1992, lot 8 ($20,000).