A cosplay fan dresses like Tinkerbell from Peter Pan. Source: (Photo by Dan Kitwood/Getty Images)
One of Disney’s most beloved characters—and one that had stood the test of time—is the adorable, spunky, and slightly sexy Tinkerbell. The scantily clad pixie from Disney and J.M. Barrie’s Peter Pan was the highlight of that 1953 film. While it is true that the animators at Disney used a real-life model when creating Tinkerbell, it may not be who you think it is. Let’s dispel some myths and uncover the real story of Tinkerbell.
Was Tinkerbell Modeled after Marilyn Monroe?
The short answer is no. Although Marilyn Monroe was at the height of her popularity in 1953 – that’s the year she starred in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes – the rumor that she was the inspiration behind Tinkerbell was really just a rumor. Although Tinkerbell was also a blonde, her body was not quite a curvy as Monroe’s and her character was more playful and innocent than flirtatious and sexy, like Monroe.
Then Who Modeled Tinkerbell?
The Disney animators used a young sitcom actress named Margaret Kerry to model for Tinkerbell. Kerry appeared on The Ruggles, one of the first sitcoms in television history. During her time on this show, Kerry was asked by Disney execs to model for a character in an upcoming animated feature film. What this entailed was essentially to act out the entire movie while photographers captured her every move. This way, they could refer back to the photos when doing their drawings.
Kerry had to Pantomime
In Peter Pan, Tinkerbell doesn’t talk. She communicated through gestures, body language, and pantomime. When Kerry was asked to audition for the job as the model for Tinkerbell, she was at a loss about how to prepare for the audition. She later explained that the night before the audition, she put on one of her records and choreographed an entire pantomimed routine about cooking breakfast. She included searching a refrigerator for ingredients, juggling invisible eggs, and frying food over a stove. When it came time for her audition, Kerry brought out her portable record player and played her record while performing her pantomime routine for the casting directors. Afterward, Kerry recalled, they asked her to start right away.
Kerry Worked Alone
As a character model, Margaret Kerry primarily worked alone and had very little interaction with other cast members. The animators occasionally called in body stand-ins, but most of Kerry’s work involved posing by herself. The character of Tinkerbell is a 3-inch fairy, so her character didn’t interact with the other characters in Peter Pan in the same way as full-grown actors.
A Six-Month Gig
Working as the model for Tinkerbell took Margaret Kerry about six months. She worked full time for the Disney Studio in a secluded sound stage, wearing a leotard. Many times, she worked with oversized props, including a giant jewelry box and a massive keyhole. With each prop, Kerry acted out the scene and worked with a director to determine how best to work with the props.
The Tinkerbell Legacy
Tinkerbell proved to be a hit with audiences and her star power continues today, 66 years later. Part of Tinkerbell’s appeal was her looks, but the other part was her spunk and determination. She was not the typical damsel in distress that was common in early Disney animated films. In recent years, Tinkerbell has found her voice and stars in her own movies and TV shows. Although today’s animators rely more on computers, Tinkerbell still retains the body image that was created for her after model, Margaret Kerry.
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