When Walt Disney began production on the animated classic Alice in Wonderland in 1949, he sought the perfect voice to play the literary ingénue. He was looking for a voice, recalled Kathryn Beaumont, that “would be English enough to satisfy British audiences, but not so English that it would put off American audiences.” After hearing 10-year-old Kathryn’s audition, Walt chose her for the voice of Alice and, later, Wendy Darling in Peter Pan.
Born in London, England, on June 27, 1938, Kathryn came to the United States under contract to MGM and appeared in several films, including On an Island with You starring Esther Williams. She soon landed at The Walt Disney Studios, where she not only recorded the voice of Alice, but also portrayed her on film. Animators regularly referred to her filmed performances as they brought her character to life.
She later said, “When I look at the film now, I can recognize some of the movements. It’s a little like seeing myself 30 years ago. I can see some of the mannerisms I used, which the animators captured to give the characters a naturalness of movement.”
In 1951, Kathryn went on a promotional tour for Alice in Wonderland, which included a trip aboard the Queen Mary to her native England. Within two weeks of her return, she was cast as Wendy in Peter Pan. Again, she served as both speaking voice and physical model of the animated character. She also served as a model for Tinker Bell.
Kathryn once recalled being hoisted up by a wire into the air, on one of the Studio sound stages, and swinging back and forth so animators could study her movement for the “flying” sequences. “I had a slight fear of heights,” she later recalled. “Most kids would think, ‘Oh, what fun!’ I, however, was petrified!”
In 1950, Kathryn appeared with Walt in his first one-hour television special, One Hour in Wonderland, and returned the next year, as Wendy, in The Walt Disney Christmas Show.
After the 1953 release of Peter Pan, Kathryn graduated from high school and enrolled at the University of Southern California, where she earned a degree in education. She taught elementary school in Los Angeles for the next 36 years, retiring in 1997.
Over the years, she lent her voice to Disney theme park attractions, including the Alice in Wonderland attraction in 1984. In 1992 she returned as the voice of Wendy, calling out to Peter Pan during the pirate sequence of Fantasmic! Six years later, she helped promote the release of Peter Pan on video and made a guest appearance at the Disneyana Convention in Walt Disney World. She has also occasionally revisited the characters she helped make famous in various video games and the Disney’s House of Mouse television show.