Earlier this month I sat down with Pete Menefee, one of the chimney sweeps from Disney’s classic movie, Mary Poppins to get the inside scoop on what it was like to be a dancer in a movie that was quick to become a Disney classic. And yes, those chimney sweeps even rehearsed in swim trunks because they filmed in the summer and it was boiling hot!
Pete was just 21 when he filmed Mary Poppins, a movie that is celebrating 50 years next week when it releases from the Disney Vault on December 10th. You can check out the new Mary Poppins Blu Ray DVD combo package and it’s available online and in stores for purchase on the December 10th.
My children and I absolutely adore everything Mary Poppins as it is one of the very 1st Disney movies I ever introduced to my kids – I knew the music would captivate them and the story would capture their hearts!
I loved hearing Pete spill his story as he reminisced about his days on set filming Mary Poppins.
I’ll never look at the movie or the Chimney Sweep scene the same way again as I’ll have a whole new appreciation for all the dancers extremely hard work and rehearsals after hearing Pete’s tales.
Chimney Sweep Pete Menefee on Mary Poppins Rehearsals:
PM: “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 because it was so hot 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.”
Chimney Sweep Pete Menefee on the Chimney Sweeps Rooftop Stunts in Mary Poppins
Question: How did you jump into the chimneys?
PM: ” The sequence jumping into the chimneys, was done with a technical person underneath each of our chimneys and the chimney was solid with a cutout and you would do the sequence and jump split and do the sequence 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.
Question: How far down was the jump into the chimney?
PM: “It was like eight feet. 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 and I would clip my chin, my teeth, or my nose. I mean I used to literally wake up sweating about it! “
Pete Menefee on the Mary Poppins Chimney Sweep cast realizing they were part of something extraordinary
PM: “It was a great job to work on. 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.
“For most of us it was a job. It was your gig that summer but in this case we knew that it was special when we were doing it. You don’t get choreography that good every day or an idea that’s, that good and it was terrific to do.”
On the Wages of Chimney Sweeps in Mary Poppins
Someone asked “What was the wage of the Chimney Sweeps?” and I thought this was a great question since we have no idea what dancers make today or even back in the day. But in the case of Mary Poppins, these men truly became immortalized in a piece of Disney history. Priceless to me!
Questions: What was the wage of the Chimney Sweeps?
MENEFFE : Well I tell you. I remember. We got 500 dollars a week and that was a lot of money then and normally a dancer would have gotten probably just under 200 for a regular dance show but you’ve gotta remember that we had stunts.
Pete Meneffee is one talented man and listening to his stories was fantastic. I could have talked to him for hours! He stayed involved in the movie and theater business with a big focus on costume design. He worked with KISS, various Olympics and recently with How to Train a Dragon. Awesome!
Pete brought some of his costume art drawings to share with us
You can buy the 50th Anniversary Mary Poppins Blu-Ray DVD when it releases from the Disney vault on December 10th, 2013.
Note: Thanks to Disney for paying our travel expenses to attend the Frozen premiere and press event. As always, all thoughts and opinions are my own.