On this day in theatre history–July 17–two curiously related things happened exactly two years apart. In 1953 the great American stage actress, Maude Adams died in Tannersville, New York, at the age of 80. She had been one of the most popular stars on the Broadway stage at the turn of the century and was at the very top of Charles Frohman’s stable of leading ladies for many years. Among her most famous portrayals was the title role in the New York premiere of J.M. Barrie’s Peter Pan in 1905. Although the original production premiered in London the year before with Nina Boucicault in the lead, Barrie had actually written the play with Ms. Adams in mind. And Peter Pan became one of Ms. Adams’ signature roles. (I will write more on the magnificent Maude Adams at a later date–she was indeed a most remarkable person.)
Also on this day, just two years later (July 17, 1955), Disneyland opened in Anaheim, California. And one of the park’s most popular rides was, of course, Peter Pan–based on Disney’s 1953 cartoon feature of Barrie’s original play, released the same year that Adams died. Even to this day, the ride continues to be among the park’s 10 most popular attractions. Interestingly, the original design had guests flying through and over various scenes from the story as if they were Pan himself. As a result, Peter Pan was never actually seen during the ride. Apparently this concept was lost on a few too many visitors, so in 1983 the ride was redesigned with the titular character more prominently featured. In any case, Peter Pan lives on in a way… though at Disneyland in 1955, the resurrected Pan cost each rider a highly valued C ticket (35¢). Today the privilege of seeing Mr. Pan at Disneyland will put you back $92 for a 1 day park pass. Meanwhile, back in 1905, you could get a glimpse of Ms. Adams from the upper balcony of Frohman’s Empire Theatre for a mere 50¢–a front row orchestra seat would cost you $1.50.