ROLAND DUPREE (Live-Action Reference Model for Peter Pan) began his career at the age of 10 as a tap dancer in his hometown of Fall River, Massachusetts.
After moving to Hollywood and enrolling in the renowned Meglin Dance School, he began auditioning for motion picture roles. His first break came when he was cast in Columbia Pictures’ “You Can’t Take It with You,” starring Jean Arthur, James Stewart and Ann Miller. He subsequently appeared with Bing Crosby in “The Starmaker.” He also danced in “Moonlight in Havana,” “Always a Bridesmaid,” “And the Angels Sing,” “Maisie Goes to Reno,” “Our Hearts Were Young and Gay,” “The Sailor Takes a Wife” and the television series “Let There Be Stars.”Dupree became a choreographer and began working in television on “The Bobby Darin Show” and “The Rosemary Clooney Show” as well as two specials starring Olympic gold medalist Peggy Fleming. In addition, he created choreography for Juliet Prowse, Barbara Eden, Lesley Ann Warren and Gavin MacLeod, among many others.
After success as a choreographer and teacher, in 1978 Dupree founded Dupree Dance, the premiere dance academy on the West Coast.
Mr. Dupree resides on the Big Island of Hawaii.
Q. “PETER PAN” IS 60 YEARS OLD! WOULD YOU PLEASE RECALL FOR US HOW YOU WERE HIRED TO BE THE LIVE-ACTION MODEL FOR PETER PAN?
RD: This is an excellent film! It’s timeless. I was 24 years old at the time, and the girl who played Tinker Bell happened to be a student of mine when I was teaching jazz classes. They asked her if she knew anyone who was a dancer who could do the live-action model for Peter Pan. And she said yes, Roland Dupree. So they contacted me. I was interviewed and auditioned, and got the role.
Q: WE IMAGINE THAT YOU MUST HAVE HAD A GREAT DEAL OF FUN WORKING ON THIS FILM.
RD: It was all a lot of fun, yes. It was very enjoyable. Bobby Driscoll did the voice of Peter Pan, and what I did is take home a record of him doing the dialogue, and I would memorize the dialogue, and then go in the next day. The animators would say to me, okay, do some action on this line. So I would say the line, and do the action that I would improvise as I went along. If they didn’t like it, they would say, “Give us something different.” And I would do that.
Q: AS THE LIVE-ACTION MODEL FOR PETER PAN, WHAT WERE SOME OF THE CHALLENGES YOU FACED?
RD: I had to fly. There was only one day of flying, but the contraption was an old one. It wasn’t dangerous but the hoist that I few in was just not fun. But I enjoyed playing Peter Pan. I have to say at my age, I am Peter Pan. The thing is, they had to get someone to play Peter Pan who was very active.
Q: HOW DO YOU FEEL KNOWING THAT FOR THE PAST 60 YEARS, AND FOREVER AFTER, YOU ARE PART OF ONE OF DISNEY’S MOST ENDURING CLASSIC ANIMATED FILMS?
RD: I feel very proud. It’s something to look back on and think, I was Peter Pan!
Q: THROUGHOUT THE YEARS, WHAT HAS BEEN YOUR DANCE STUDENTS’ REACTION TO FINDING OUT THAT YOU WERE PETER PAN?
RD: They all got excited about it.
Q: DO YOU STILL WATCH “PETER PAN” OCCASIONALLY?
RD: Yes. I think it’s a magical movie.
Q: YOU BECAME A VERY PORMINENT DANCE TEACHER. PLEASE TELL US ABOUT THAT.
RD: I was choreographing for a lot of stars, and I decided I wanted to open up a school. The Dupree Dance Academy became well known. I believe because I had a good faculty, the school grew tremendously.
Q: WHY DO YOU FEEL “PETER PAN” IS A CLASSIC?
RD: Well, I think Peter Pan lived a life of, I would say luxury. He did what he wanted to do. He was always young. He never really wanted to grow up. I think growing old, to him, was not an option. I think a lot of people, if they took on the Peter Pan philosophy, they would be happier. I’m 87 years old. People look at me, and say that the way I move reminds them of Peter Pan.
Q: DO YOU HAVE A FAVORITE SCENE IN THE MOVIE?
RD: Yes, the scene with Captain Hook, played by Hans Conried who was a big star in those days. I really felt very proud to be working with him. And it was fun just being around him. He was a fabulous and wonderful actor.
Q: DID YOU HAVE ANY PERSONAL INTERACTION WITH WALT DISNEY HIMSELF?
RD: Yes, in a sense. They used to show dailies of the work that was done. And one day I was in the theater watching the previous day’s work, and Walt Disney walked down the aisle. I saw him, and I got up to give him my seat, and he said, “No, you don’t have to do that. Thank you anyway.” And he kept on going. That was my one meeting with Walt Disney.
Q: DO YOU STILL DANCE, MR. DUPREE?
RD: No. Not at all. I am completely retired and loving it. I live in Hawaii. It’s great. I’ve made a lot of friends here.
Thanks to Walt Disney Pictures for this opportunity, PETER PAN is now available to purchase on DVD and Blu-ray.