Growing up, one of my favorite movies to watch with my family was Mary Poppins. It’s such a genuine and warm-hearted film that can bring families together. It’s hard to believe, but the 50th anniversary of the film is this year, and in honor of this huge milestone, Disney is releasing a 50th Anniversary Edition next week!
A couple of weeks ago, I had the chance to meet and interview Pete Menefee, who is a longtime dancer and costume designer. Menefee was a dancer in the famed Chimney Sweep ensemble in the movie.
Menefee started his career as a dancer professionally when he was fourteen. He did several films, including West Side Story, By Bye Birdie, and five movies with Elvis. At just 21 years old, Menefee got the role in Mary Poppins.
The movie started its rehearsals in Los Angeles in the summer of 1963. “They built a set on the back lot for us that was very springy so no one’s legs would get messed up like you do dancing on the concrete or hard surfaces. The entire set that you see, all the rooftops, all the chimney tops, all the railings, everything was built as a floating unit because they didn’t really know until they set the dance number with the configuration of the rooftop was going to be,” explained Menefee. “Walt [Disney] was there every day, every single day. He knew everybody’s name.”
And just because they shot the chimney scene on a set doesn’t mean that it made it any easier for the dancers. “The chimneys were made out of metal and the end of them have a rubber tip on it so that you can do walkovers and tricks. Some of the stuff that’s done during the scene people think are drawn or messed with after,” admitted Menefee. “But guys really did do flip flops between two buildings and it’s painted in perspective but it still is.”
Although the choreography and the dance numbers were tough, it didn’t take away from the feeling that Menefee got as he walked on set every day. “It was a great job to work on. When we all did it, we knew that it was special. We knew the dance number was special because every day that Walt would come, the number got longer and that doesn’t happen in movies,” Menefee told us. “For most of us, it was a job. It was your gig that summer, but we knew that it was special when we were doing it.”
And he’s right. Mary Poppins is truly special.
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Read more from Lauren at her personal blog, A Mommy in the City, where she chronicles her life living in New York City with a suburban mentality. For more updates, follow Lauren on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Instagram!