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How Peter Pan ended up as a sorry drunk, dead under a tube train; EXCLUSIVE TRAGIC STORY BEHIND A CLASSIC FAIRYTALE.


HE was the inspiration for Peter Pan - the boy who never grew up and whose life was an eternity of fun in Neverland. But for Peter Llewelyn Davies there was no fairytale ending.

He came to despise the character he had inspired and wound up drunk, disappointed and destitute. Eventually, in despair, he threw himself under a tube train.

This tragic twist is absent from the enchanting new film, Finding Neverland, Johnny Depp's remarkable portrayal of the life of Peter Pan author JM Barrie.

The film tells the story of how the playwright came up with his most famous creation after befriending five young brothers.

Barrie is shown as a kindly benefactor to the Llewelyn Davies boys and their mum, Sylvia.

But the movie skirts suggestions that his motives might have been far more sinister with his interest in the children bordering on paedophilia.

The boys always denied the rumours but what is certain is that Barrie's role in their lives left a legacy of bitterness and, in Peter's case, despair.

Barrie had led his muse to believe he would inherit his vast fortune. And when Peter was cut out of the will, it tipped him over the edge.

Peter's son, Ruthven, has said, "From the moment I was old enough I was aware that my father had been exploited by Barrie and was very bitter...

"My first memory of my father was with a gin bottle tipped up at his mouth. He was virtually a down-and-out by the time he died. I think the final thing that drove him to suicide was that he had drunk all his money. His life had been ruined."

Barrie was a successful playwright when, in 1898, he first met Peter and two of his four brothers - George, five, and four-year-old John - as they played near their West London home.

AFTER striking up a conversation, the 38-year-old became obsessed with the boys - Peter in particular.

He met their parents, Sylvia and Arthur, and bombarded the family with letters asking to be allowed to visit.

Sylvia agreed but Arthur, a struggling barrister, had reservations and only relented when his sons told him how much they enjoyed playing with "Uncle James".

Barrie, who took them on fishing trips and joined in their games of cowboys and indians, became a regular visitor to their house. He even holidayed with them.

In effect, they became his surrogate family. In many ways they compensated for his own deeply-troubled childhood and his disastrous marriage.

Born in 1860 in Kirriemuir, North-east Scotland, James Matthew Barrie was haunted by the death of his older brother, David, in a skating accident.

David's death, at 13, broke their mother's heart. In an attempt to comfort her, James would copy his dead brother's voice - he even wore his clothes up until his late teens.

To add to Barrie's sense of inadequacy, he didn't reach puberty until he was 17 and he was only 5ft 3ins tall. He moaned, "The things I could have said to them if my legs had been longer."

He became a respected journalist and author and in 1884, he moved to London.

Works including Quality Street and The Admirable Crichton soon established him as a major talent and by the time he was 30, he was well on his way to becoming a millionaire.

In 1894 he married the beautiful actress Mary Ansell, but it's rumoured their union was never consummated - he was so terrified of sex.

Two days before the wedding, he wrote in his notebook: "Boy all nerves. Very ignorant. Must we instruct you in the mysteries of love-making?"

The marriage soon foundered and the couple eventually divorced in 1909.

So it's little wonder he was drawn to the Llewelyn Davies clan.

Being married, Sylvia presented no sexual threat and her five sons gave him a ready-made family.

It is ironic that his involvement with them led to the creation of Peter Pan - an instant hit with a public who had no idea of the high price the Llewelyn Davies children would come to pay.

WHEN Sylvia passed away in 1910, three years after Arthur had died, Barrie forged her will to name himself as the boys' guardian.

Her original will read: "What I would really like is for Jenny [the sister of their nurse, Mary] to come to Mary and look after the boys." But Barrie copied it, substituting "Jimmy" for "Jenny".

Meanwhile, rumours that his interest in them verged on paedophilia - something the children always denied - were quickly killed off by his friends on Fleet Street.

On the surface, everything seemed perfect. The orphans were sent to Eton and enjoyed privileged lives.

But tragedy soon struck. George, the eldest at 22, was killed during the First World War. Six years later, Michael drowned in mysterious circumstances in Oxford at the age of 21. It's thought he died in a gay suicide pact because his hands were tied to those of his best friend, Rupert Buxton.

The surviving boys, Peter, Jack and Nicholas, began to resent Barrie's influence over them. Worse still, when he died in 1937, he had cut them out of his will.

Peter, who married and had three sons, had tried to forge a career as a publisher, but he felt dogged by Peter Pan all his life. Losing his inheritance was the last straw.

Ruthven said: "My father hoped to inherit Barrie's money but at the last minute he changed his will. That was a great disappointment. Our lifestyle was reasonable until then.

"My father had mixed feelings about the whole business of Peter Pan.

"He accepted that Barrie considered that he was the inspiration for Peter Pan and it was only reasonable that my father should inherit everything from Barrie. That was my father's expectation. It would have recompensed him for the notoriety he had experienced since being linked with Peter Pan - something he hated.

T HE public knew he was the inspiration for Peter Pan. My father felt he could not go out because of this. It went on from when he was a child right through to adulthood.

"My father didn't really like Barrie. He resented the fact that he wasn't well off and that Barrie had to support him. But when he was cut out of the will, he was livid and tremendously disappointed.

"That anger was with him for the rest of his life and he started drinking heavily."

On April 5, 1960, Peter walked from the bar of the Royal Court Hotel to nearby Sloane Square Underground in West London.

As a train pulled into the station, the 63-year-old threw himself into its path, to the horror of onlookers.

A coroner's jury ruled he had killed himself "while the balance of his mind was disturbed".

A tragic end to the boy who found growing up so hard.


TROUBLED: Peter hated being known as the real Peter Pan; AUTHOR: JM Barrie; FANTASY: Depp as Barrie in the film; KEEPING MUM: Kate Winslet as Sylvia with Freddie Highmore as Peter; LOST BOYS: Mum Sylvia with Peter (standing) and Jack in 1899
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2004 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:The Mirror (London, England)
Date:Oct 28, 2004
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