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Peter Pan The Real-Life Story

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coincide with the centenary of the first performance of Peter
Pan and the recently premiered movie Finding Neverland, a revealing
and unique collection of letters, photographs, manuscripts,
books, costumes and other effects – from the Llewelyn-Davies
family archive and the collection of Andrew Birkin – will be
offered in a sale of English Literature and History at Sotheby’s
London on Thursday, December 16, 2004. The collection, which
is being sold on behalf of Great Ormond Street Hospital Children’s
Charity, documents the tragic and extraordinary real-life story
behind J. M. Barrie’s Peter Pan, and is estimated to fetch in
excess of £80,000.

early in 1897, J. M. Barrie was walking in Kensington Gardens
and made the acquaintance of a delightful five-year-old boy
named George and his four-year-old brother Jack, who were accompanied
by their nurse, Mary Hodgson, and their baby brother, Peter.
So began the friendship between Barrie and the Llewelyn-Davies
boys – the ‘lost boys’ – which was to inspire the story of Peter
Pan, arguably the best known of all characters in children’s

The collection comprises 19 lots and was formed by the screenwriter
and director Andrew Birkin as part of his research for his trilogy
of plays The Lost Boys and his definitive biography, J. M. Barrie
and the Lost Boys. Birkin tracked down the surviving brother,
Nicholas (Nico) Llewelyn-Davies, and subsequently acquired from
him a trunk stuffed with old family letters, photograph albums
and the unpublished typescript of his brother Peter’s ‘Family
Morgue’ (a transcription of a large number of family papers).
Birkin later acquired more papers, costumes, books and other
effects from further surviving members of the family, as well
as from antique shops.

Birkin – who donated the present collection to the Great Ormond
Street Hospital – felt touched by the legacy of J.M. Barrie’s
curse: "May God blast anyone who writes a biography about
me". His son Anno, a promising song-writer, poet and musician,
was killed, together with three other band members, in a car
crash in Italy in September 2001, the night after completing
the first full rehearsal of their first studio album. Like Michael
Llewellyn-Davies at the time he was drowned in 1921, he was
one month short of his twenty-first birthday.

One of the collection’s most important lots is the annotated
typescript of Act IV of Peter Pan (illustrated above), revised
by Barrie for the highly successful first American production.
This typescript relates to the first New York production of
Peter Pan, which opened at the Empire Theater on November 6,
1905 with Maude Adams in the title role. It was a sensational
success with the American public, with full houses on Broadway,
a record run for the company, and extended tours throughout
the country. The present typescript of Act IV, the scene in
which Peter and the children capture the pirate ship, is all
that is known to survive of Barrie’s working typescript for
this production. Virtually no other comparable manuscripts or
typescripts for the original stage version of Peter Pan are
known to remain in private hands. It is estimated to fetch £8, 000-£12,000.

Also to be offered for sale is the Llewelyn-Davies family archive.
The archive contains not only autograph letters by each of the
Llewelyn-Davies boys, George, Jack, Peter, Michael and Nicholas,
but also a series of letters written by members of the Du Maurier
family – chiefly George Du Maurier, Sylvia Llewelyn-Davies’
father – as well as autograph letters from Mary Hodgson (the
boys’ nanny) and Henry James. It contains over three hundred
letters, thirty telegrams and other associated items – upwards
of 1,000 pages in all – and is estimated to fetch £25,000-£35,000.

In 1909 Sylvia Llewelyn-Davies – the boys’ mother – was suffering
a series of collapses, and she was soon diagnosed as suffering
from cancer. The archive poignantly contains her draft autograph
wills, including the early, four-page draft, in which she writes
"I may die at any time but it’s not likely to happen yet"
and expresses warm affection for various members of her family
and concern about the future of her beloved sons, ending:

"…I should like all my dear one’s love letters to me
to be burnt unread…& lie with me & Arthur in the Hampstead
churchyard close to that other dear grave…Of one thing I am
certain — that JM Barrie (the best of friends in the whole
world) will always be ready to advise…"

Shortly before her death she composed a second will, which
is also present in the archive, although it was not actually
found until several months after her death. Barrie’s later mistranscription
of the will, replacing the name of "Jenny" [i.e. Jenny
Hodgson, the boys’ nurse and nanny Mary’s sister] with that
of his own, "Jimmy", is also included in the archive.

At the outbreak of war in August 1914 both George and Peter
joined up as officers in the Special Reserve of the 60th Rifles
and within a short time they were at the front in France. Barrie
and George maintained a frequent correspondence during the ensuing
months and on March 11, 1915 Barrie wrote a letter to George
informing him that his uncle Guy had been killed. It was the
last letter to reach him alive. A few days later, in the early
hours of March 15, George was killed in an advance on the Germans
at St. Eloi. Inevitably the effect on Barrie, as Peter Davies
wrote in his Morgue, was "dire". Barrie’s last letter
to George is the most tragic and poignant he ever wrote and
is offered for sale alongside a series of correspondence – the
only letters between the author and the five "lost boys"
known to remain in private hands – which is estimated to fetch

series also contains the only surviving letter by Barrie to
Michael Llewelyn Davies (illustrated right), the major model
for Peter Pan. When Michael went up to Eton in 1913, three years
after the death of his mother Sylvia, he was extremely homesick:
"he missed [his nanny] Mary Hodgson; he missed Uncle Jim
[Barrie]; most of all, he missed his mother". Barrie tried
to ease his miserable loneliness by writing to him every day
(instead of once a week as he had done with George). To the
eighteen-year-old Michael on March 29, 1918 he remarks on how
lonely he is on bank holidays, although he rejoices in the thought
that Michael and Nico are almost on the way home, and writes:

"…I got your dressing-table out [of Campden Hill] all
right & have been trying various plans to make the rooms

Tragically three years later in May 1921, Michael and his friend,
Rupert Buxton drowned whilst bathing in a mill-pond at Standford
Pool, Oxford. Michael had never been able to swim and there
was widespread speculation after his death, that in fact the
two inseparable companions had made a suicide pact.

collection also includes The Llewelyn Davies photographic archive,
which contains more than four hundred photographs, of which
many are unpublished, and is estimated to fetch £15,000-£20,000.
The great majority are vintage prints and include a large number
taken by Barrie himself, such as the famous series of George
Llewelyn-Davies as Peter Pan. A small number are by named photographers
or studios including Frederick Hollyer, H.S. Mendelssohn and
Lizzie Caswall Smith. Other celebrated images include some from
the expedition to Black Lake in 1901 (the inspiration for The
Boy Castaways, the precursor to Peter Pan) as well as many beautiful
images of the Llewelyn-Davies boys with their mother Sylvia
or their father Arthur.

Other highlights in the collection include a group of four
original official photographs of the first production of Peter
Pan (one of which is illustrated above). The photographs originally
belonged to Nina Boucicault, who first played Peter Pan and
are estimated to fetch £1,500-£2,000. These will
be offered alongside the Peter Pan outfit worn by the actress
Zena Dare (1887-1975), who played Peter Pan in the first provincial
production of the play that opened at the Prince’s Theatre,
Manchester, on 24 December 1906, which is estimated at £2,000-£3,000.
The collection also includes the programme (one of a group of
three) for a special private performance of Peter Pan given
to the bed-ridden Michael Llewelyn-Davies at his home in 1906
– recreated in the film Finding Neverland – which is estimated
at £1,500-£2,000.

The collection will be on view at Sotheby’s London from:
Sunday, December 12 – Wednesday, December 15

For more information visit

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