Re-discovering Peter Pan at The Wittliff

By Wittliff student worker, Eric Robertson-Gordon.

Growing up, my childhood was filled with movies. My father would often show me and my sister movies that he remembered loving when he was a child. My dad was a cinephile and it percolated down to me and my sister as young children. Throughout those years, he would show us movies ranging from comedies such as Young Frankenstein to cinema classics like Double Indemnity. One of the more memorable movies was a filmed stage production of Peter Pan from the early 1960s that had aired on television at the time. My sister and I became obsessed with this movie, watching it on repeat whenever possible. I remember vividly not ever wanting to see the ending of the movie when Peter returns to the Darling family house to find a grown-up Wendy Darling. I just never wanted the story to end.

Over the years, I had mostly forgotten about this movie, until this semester when I started my internship at the Wittliff Collections. One particular day, I was going through the Jane Sumner Collection, typing up notes from interviews that Sumner had conducted as a journalist for The Dallas Morning News. I remember turning over a microcassette and reading the name “Mary Martin” written on it. As I put the microcassette into the player, I knew that I recognized the name, but I couldn’t quite put my finger on who this individual was. After the first couple of minutes, it dawned on me that this was the actress who played Peter Pan from the movie I had loved as a child. As I continued listening, I could not help but smile as a rush of memories floated into my mind of my sister and I watching the movie in our childhood home. One of the best moments to me was when Mary recalls being asked by a middle-aged man, as she was walking down the street if she could crow for him (a signature verbal call to action of Peter Pan) to which Mary says she did without a second thought. I will always remember how she sounded in this interview. You could tell from her voice that she was beaming from ear to ear, reminiscing about how much her role as Peter Pan had a positive effect on children after so many years. This is one of the more profound moments I have had as a Public History student at Texas State University and one that validates my interest in becoming an archivist.


Below is an excerpt from Sumner’s interview with Mary Martin telling the story of how she was asked to “crow” on the street by a fan.


Below is an excerpt from Sumner’s interview with Mary Martin talking about how playing Peter Pan influenced the lives of children.


Editor’s Note: Eric Robertson-Gordon is a graduate student in the Public History graduate program at Texas State. In addition to digitizing tapes, Eric has been uploading archival content to the digital collections page, including the first 10 years of Action Magazine. He hopes to finish uploading the Sam Shepard-Johnny Dark conversations before the end of the summer.

Jane Sumner is an award-winning journalist best known for her film writing in the pages of the Dallas Morning News. Her literary papers, preserved at The Wittliff, detail the many topics she reported on during her career, ca. 1973-2015, which paralleled the rise of a viable Texas film industry. Mary Martin was born in 1913 in Weatherford, Texas. She starred on Broadway, notably in “South Pacific” and “The Sound of Music.” And, as noted below, Martin performed as Peter Pan in the Broadway production, which was later performed for television, in color, in 1955, 1956, and 1960. Martin passed away in 1990, not long after her delightful interview with Sumner.

More on Mary Virginia Martin (December 1, 1913 – November 3, 1990) was an American actress, singer, and Broadway star. A muse of Rodgers and Hammerstein, she originated many leading roles over her career including Nellie Forbush in South Pacific (1949) and Maria von Trapp in The Sound of Music (1959). She was named a Kennedy Center Honoree in 1989. She was the mother of actor Larry Hagman.

Read another student’s reflections on the Jane Sumner Interviews here. Since the Wittliff is currently closed, many student workers are diligently captioning these and other a/v materials, to enhance their access to researchers and fans alike.