Before she started working on Peter Pan, Betty was interviewed by Moving Picture
Stories magazine in 1924 by Dorothy Donnell. Here we present the article verbatim,
complete with the pictures and their captions.
"The way Betty Bronson tells it, it seems the simplest thing in the world for an unknown girl to persuade canny producers to entrust her with the most important role ever given to a screen actress," says DOROTHY DONNELL.
Ever since they began hunting for a Peter Pan for the screen I have been afraid that they would decide upon some famous actress with a movie Past, somebody whom we would remember as wearing gorgeous, low-necked evening creations and strange pearl-and-feather
Betty Bronson is round-eyed, brown and tiny, and she believes in fairies. And why shouldn't she? Wasn't it a fairy who gave her a funny little pointed chin and queer little elfin ways and the tiniest hoppity feet that simply can't keep still?
And, of course, none of these could possibly be Peter, our dear Peter who never grew up, and who believed in fairies so much that he was even able to make us believe in fairies, too. You remember that Peter Pan once ventured into a human nursery and before he could fly out somebody shut the window on his shadow and he hunted and hunted for that shadow? Well, honestly, I believe that over on the Famous Players lot Peter Pan has found his shadow again.
The sins of movie producers are many. They take perfectly good human girls and make manikins of them, and they take Life and paint its face and deck it out in fantastic guise and call it "Brides," or "Flaming Moments," or something terrible like that. But you do have to hand it to them once in a long while. Yes, sir! If Mr. Lasky is present in the audience will he please step up on the platform while we personally hand it to him.
All this to introduce Miss Betty Bronson, or rather Miss Pan, round-eyed, brown and tiny, who believes in fairies--and why shouldn't she? Wasn't it a fairy who gave her a funny little pointed chin and queer little elfin ways and the tiniest, little hoppity feet that simply can't keep still? Wasn't it a fairy that whispered into one ear when she was going to school in East Orange, New Jersey, and told her to persuade her mother and her grandmother and her older brother and her younger brother and her sister to pack up all their things and come out to Hollywood? And quite clearly it was only a fairy that could have led her onto the Lasky lot while they were making tests for Peter,
Here is Peter and her proud family, Mrs. Pan and the brothers Pan.
Betty Bronson had done two little "bits" at the Long Island Paramount studio, such very tiny bits that there isn't a single still picture in existence with her in it. She tried for a third bit, that of a flapper, and would have gotten it, only when they told her to smoke a cigarette she blew and blew and the smoke just wouldn't come out, so they knew that she wasn't a flapper and sent her away.
But years and years ago, she says (seventeen is very lavish, speaking of time!) she read the "Little White Bird" and as soon as she read it she knew that she was Peter Pan. No question about it. Not a single doubt. She just knew it. And then she heard they were going to put Peter on the screen, so she just came out and asked if she couldn't play it. The way she tells it, it seems the simplest thing in the world for an unknown girl without influence or money or experience to just walk quietly into a studio and persuade hard-boiled directors and canny producers and everybody who saw her that she could play the most important role ever given to a screen actress.
And what is more, she even persuaded the author of "Peter Pan"! Sometimes Herbert
Brenon, the director who made all the screen tests and sent them over to Barrie, wondered
why on earth he had included Betty Bronson's test among the rest. (They're not
saying who tried for the part, but one hazards a guess that the top-notchers of the
profession were among them--Bessie Love, Viola Dana, Betty Compson, May McAvoy, famous
actresses, great beauties, established favorites.) Then he would go into the
projection room and have Betty's film run over, and each time he would say to himself:
"There's something about that girl."
It's the something about Betty Bronson that makes her Pannishness. For one thing, she can't keep still a minute--she has to be dancing first on one foot and then on
The fairies led Betty right by the Paramount Studio gateman, who is worse than any dragon guarding an enchanted castle. And what chance do you think this screen aspirant has of following in little Peter Pan's footsteps?
"I don't know exactly how I'm going to do when I play Peter," she confides shyly--yes, she really is shy and she giggles and claps her hands and blushes in this day of the Wise 'Uns and the Flapper with her color that comes out of a round box, her know-it-allness and her garter flask--"I think I shall just wait till the moment comes, and then I'll know how." She doesn't mind talking about most things, but to talk about Peter is rather a delicate subject. She seems to feel instinctively that it will spoil things to make plans and practice cut-and-dried gestures--like trying to stick a pin through a butterfly and a fairy so as to study them.
"He was a happy person--Peter," she says, "but you just can't put him into words, can you?"
To us who are old, or at least older than we once were, and a little tired and know too much for our own good, Peter Pan stands for youth--joyous, eager, hopeful youth. He is the memory of our own childhood. And Betty Bronson is extraordinarily young--the world is still an amazing place to her round, gray-hazel eyes, and all this fame and attention that has suddenly come to her she takes as a matter of course, because life itself is amazing and wonderful to her still.
"What did you think after you had made your tests?" we queried--she has probably been asked that question a hundred times in the last few days, but, anyhow, we were the first to ask it!
"I tried not to think about it, at all"--Betty pointed a brown forefinger--"I was afraid to. Of course, I knew I couldn't hope to be chosen, and yet way back in my mind I did hope it. I think it's a good idea to hope things, don't you? Even if they don't happen, the hoping is sort of nice."
"And what did you do when Mr. Lasky called you up into his office and showed you Barrie's telegram saying he wanted you to play his Peter?"
Betty gazed at us wonderingly.
"Why, of course," she said, "of course, I cried."
And afterward she ran home to tell her mother--just ran through the streets of Hollywood without stopping to catch her breath till she had thrown herself into her
Betty's test for Peter was taken on the "Heaven and Hell" set of Cecil DeMille's Paramount production of "Feet of Clay"--not very inspiring to be happy and gay and full of the joy of living.
Betty belongs to a church and goes to services every Sunday. She loves to read books, the queerest kind of books for seventeen--poetry, political speeches and fairy-tales--not love-stories. She and her mother have always made her clothes. She never has been on the stage even at school or dressed up in her mother's long skirts and acted in front of her bedroom mirror, as most little girls do.
"Once they were going to give `King Arthur' at school, and I begged the teacher to let me be Arthur. I said that in armor and all nobody would know I was a girl, but she just laughed," Betty confides. "She said I was too small for the part, and I said `But I can look lots taller,' and when I came to try for Peter I was afraid they'd think I was too tall for the part, so I said `I can look lots smaller.' It's easy. All you do is feel small."
The annals of Betty Bronson are short ones, just the story of all little home girls who tease their mothers to let them put their hair up, and don't like to do the dishes and grow up to be seventeen years old. What these annals will be from now on--who knows?
"But I'm not going to be conceited," Betty promised. "It would spoil everything. I mustn't take myself seriously or what people say to me, for Peter Pan wasn't a serious person. And, anyway, a girl with two brothers doesn't have a chance to get conceited."
Back to "Prelude to Peter Pan"
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