When I was in Hollywood, I met a very interesting man. This man is Pete Menefee. He was one of the Chimney Sweeps from Mary Poppins, but Pete was also many other things! He was an amazing designer. Designing costumes you would recognize as Kiss costumes and Elvira and many more! What an artist this man is!
Pete knew from a young age that he wanted to be a dancer. He had an amazing run! Being part of the Chimney Sweep cast from Mary Poppins is quit an exciting thing! He was even in 5 movies with the King, Elvis!
I turned 21 the same year we shot Mary Poppins so I’m not gonna lie to anybody. I’m 71 now. I started working as a dancer professionally when I was fourteen and I was in West Side by the time I was 17. Doing the movie of Bye Bye Birdie by the time I was 18. It was my first film here in Hollywood. I played Harvey Johnson in the movie and, uh, Poppins was two years after we shot Birdie. I, I had worked in television. I did a lot of beach party movies. I did five movies with Elvis.
How amazing is that? Here is some of what Pete told us about his experience with working on Mary Poppins.
There were 12 of us and everybody that’s on it is a really good trained dancer and all of the guys, the other thing was everybody had to be able to tumble, you know…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 because it was so hot in swim trunks because it was blazing back there.
I learned from Pete that mopst of the stunts the dancers did were absolutely real!
Some of the stuff that’s done, I know people think are drawn or, or messed with, you know, what is called, CTG? When they do stuff after? But guys did really — three guys really did do flip flops between two buildings and it’s painted in perspective but it still is. It means that you’re throwing yourself over and catching yourself on your hands three times with a 15 foot drop below you and it’s grim. It is grim.
Sounds like a stressful thing, but he seemed to really enjoy the exciting job, even if parts did give him nightmares…
And the section jumping into the chimney puffs, uh, was done with a technical person underneath each of our chimneys and the chimney was solid with a cutout and you would do the section and jump split and do, do the section again and jump split and the third time you jump split and then you tuck in and pull your knees up and the guy would trip the chimney and you’d fall into it and you’d fall and hit a mattress on the door front roll and I used to have nightmares about it. It was like eight feet. It was like eight feet which is a long. That wasn’t the bad part. The bar 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 and I would clip my chin, my teeth, my nose, you know, I mean I used to literally wake up sweating about it.
Pete said the big dance number grew and grew because Walt was so in love with it. He said that was not something that happened often.
But it was a great job to work on. I’m afraid when we all did it, we knew that it was special. We knew the dance number was special because Walt, every day that Walt would come, the number got longer and that doesn’t happen in movies. You know, usually you have three and a half minutes and three and a half minutes, bam, you know, you better be off camera, you better be done and Didi and Mark would say, you know, we just tried something. Look at this, look at the guys going into the chimneys and he’d go that’s great. That’s gotta be in the number. I don’t know how they dealt with it, you know, as far as time and budget and stuff but the number was really put together on the back lot and Walt was, you know, fabulous about it.
Make sure you watch for Pete Menefee next time you watch Mary Poppins! Mary Poppins will be out for the first time on Blu-ray December 10th! Definitely one to put under the tree!
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