An Interview with Pete Menefee, MARY POPPINS Chimney Sweep #DisneyFrozenEvent

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To say that Pete Menefee has been on the Hollywood scene a long time would be an understatement. Pete started working as a dancer professionally when he was 14, was in West Side story by the time he was 17, by 18 was in Bye Bye Birdie and at just 21 he was a Shimeny Sweep in Disney’s Mary Poppins. By this time he had already worked in television and completed five movies with Elvis!

His career since then has been long and varied. From dancing, to Broadway, to designer, to animator, he has seen it all, and all over the world. He’s worked with stars like Cher, Kiss, just about everyone in MoTown, Audrey Hepburn, and of course the great Walt Disney. Pete has been nominated for 5 Emmy’s and brought home 3 of them.

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It was such a treat to be able to sit down and hear all about his long career from the man himself. Pete Menefee took the time to chat with myself and a group of bloggers to discuss the time he spent in Hollywood, and more specifically his time spent working on Mary Poppins.

pete menefee chimney sweep mary poppins
Photo credit: Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences

An Interview with Pete Menefee

On His Time on the Set:

The movie was rehearsed here in June and July of 1963. I don’t know how many of you live in the valley but it’s warm here.  They built a special set on the back lot for us dancers. It was very springy so no one’s legs would get messed up like you do dancing on the concrete or hard surfaces. Actually,  the entire set – all the rooftops, all the chimney tops, all the railings – everything was built as a floating unit because they didn’t really know what the configuration of the rooftop was going to be until the dance number (the Chimney Sweep dance number) was set.

There were 12 of us dancers and everybody was a really good trained dancer. We also had to be able to tumble –  some people were a lot better at that than others.  The rehearsals were held on the back lot. Walt was there every day, every single day.  Walt, he knew everybody’s name.  We had to wear the name tags but we were allowed to rehearse  in swim trunks because it was blazing back there.  It was blazing and they worked everything out on that sound stage, in the back lot with the choreography.

Behind the Scenes Choreography:

The choreography wasn’t really done until we got there and they mounted it on us. The section of the film where we are jumping into the chimney puffs was done with a technical person underneath each of our chimneys, the chimney was solid with a cutout. So I would do my section, jump split and repeat but the third time we would have to tuck in and pull your knees up so you the technical guy could trip the chimney allowing us to fall into it. We would fall and hit a mattress on the floor and then roll out. I used to have nightmares about it.

It was like eight feet, which is a long. That wasn’t the bad part. 

The bad part was the chimney opening wasn’t that big.  And I don’t have a big chin but I used to have nightmares that I had tucked wrong and I would clip my chin, my teeth, my nose, you know, I mean I used to literally wake up sweating about it.

On the first day of filming, the first thing we shot is  the very last thing you see  - where  we’re all dancing down the street at the end. That was hard because although we had worked for almost a month and a half with the brooms and everything we’d been working on a plywood floor. And all of a sudden we get out and we’re on a cobble stone street and there’s supposed to be four of us tumbling right next to each other and, you put the broom down. Even if it had a rubber point you’d be all over the place.  That was really hard.

It was a real moment of adjustment but we shot that and then we went on another soundstage that didn’t have the bank’s house and the park on it that had our roof top and we shot all of the really grizzly rooftop stuff.  You know, the tumbling between the two rooftops and there’s one thing that looks very simple and it’s, it’s about ten of us and we’re running after each other and we’re running up chimney pipes.

Mary Poppins 50 BD art[1]

Mary Poppins 50th Anniversary Edition releases on Blu-ray Combo Pack & HD Digital December 10, 2013 

Thank you Disney for hosting me at the #DisneyFrozenEvent. All opinions are 100% mine.

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Comments

  1. Chris says

    I watched Bye Bye Birdie today. Pete was the kid with the cracking voice who sang “Hello Mr Garfield this is Harvey Johnson, may I speak to Deborah Sue” in The Telephone Hour

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