One of the most memorable parts of the classic Mary Poppins movie is when the Chimney Sweepers dance and jump and flip from rooftops in a fun, and whimsical manner that is pretty legendary and ingrained in the brains of everyone who holds an appreciation for the Disney musical.
We never give much thought into the work behind the movie, let alone the people who made magic on-screen. But I got to meet Pete Menefee, a legendary dancer, illustrator and one of the Chimney Sweepers featured in Mary Poppins, during my trip to Los Angeles for the Disney Frozen premiere.
Pete, now 71, was just 21 when they shot the Mary Poppins movie. He started working as a dancer professionally when he was fourteen and was in West Side by the time he was 17. And he was cast in the famed movie, Bye Bye Birdie by the time he was 18. Back then, Hollywood was a cool and happening place. Pete was part of that Beach Party movie era and you better believe he was rubbing elbows with Elvis. He did five movies with the King.
But Pete said he knew jumping down chimneys and dancing and jivving was just for the young kids. So as he got older he focused more on his skillset as an artist. “I’ve always been able to draw since I was a very, very small child before school really. My parents encouraged it but I never thought you could make a living from drawing,” Pete said.
And everything Pete learned in school he used to his advantaged as an illustrator. He wanted to be a Diplomatic Interpreter and studied Slavic. Who knew later he’d be designing costumes for the Moscow Circus! Pete started out at NBC as a staff sketch artist and became a costume designer. Mary Poppins was shot in 1963 and 10 years later in 1973, he was dressing Julie Andrews for the opening special at Walt Disney World in Florida.
From there Pete’s career took his around the world and designing elaborate costumes for Jubilee in Vegas (a Cabaret show) to designing detailed costumes for everyone from KISS to Motown to Miss Universe and the Jackson Five.
Pete on working on Mary Poppins
“The movie was rehearsed here in June and July of 63 and I don’t know how many of you live in the valley but it’s warm here. They built a set on the back lot for us … it was very springy so no one’s legs would get messed up like you do dancing on the concrete or hard surfaces and 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, what the configuration of the rooftop was gonna’ be.”
Was the MARY POPPINS chimney work the most physically demanding of your jobs?
“It was hard and you did it hard, you did it full out. You were not only dancing but you were tumbling. The only blessing on this was it was a movie and we just did it in setups that you don’t have to do the whole thing. Everything that you have in your body had to be saved for that number.”
About Mary Poppins 50th Anniversary Blu-ray
“Released from the Disney Vault in celebration of its 50th Anniversary, this beloved classic shines like never before on Blu-ray with an all-new digital restoration. Winner of five Academy Awards(R), including Best Actress (Julie Andrews), Best Song (“Chim Chim Cher-ee”) and Best Visual Effects, Mary Poppins is a movie experience your family will enjoy over and over again.”
This Mary Poppins: 50th Anniversary Edition (Blu-ray + DVD + Digital Copy) special edition will be released on December 10th! Preorder yours!
OR WIN one by entering BELOW! Contest Ends Dec. 10th!
Featured Pete Menefee photo credit BetterinBulk.net