They don’t remember the first time they met, but that’s not important in fairy tales anyway. It’s how they end, and all that can happen once the magic sets in.
How else do you explain a story so fantastic Disney could only invent half of it? So wonderful that, come to think of it, maybe pixie dust really does exist? Indeed, Tinker Bell is about to be married on Valentine’s Day to a man she had not seen in 70 years, and all that is missing are the wings on her wedding dress.
Where do you even begin? “Once Upon a Time” is almost not too cliché, but maybe the starting point is simply to wonder about the circumstances in a man’s life: What if 94-year-old Robert Boeke had not served in World War II? What if he had not been in Europe last summer for the 75th anniversary of D-Day? And what if he had not seen the image of Tinker Bell in a toy store window while driving through Amsterdam, pointed his finger and said to his friend: “I’ve been in love with Tinker Bell my whole life. I’ve never forgotten her?”
Then the magic wouldn’t have happened.
But it did happen, because there really is a Tinker Bell, and her name is Margaret Kerry. She is a 90-year-old California resident who was the reference model for Tinker Bell in the 1953 Disney classic “Peter Pan.” That’s her body, those are her motions. For nine months on a dark studio stage, she dressed in a bathing suit, put her hair in a bun, and pantomimed the movements of Tinker Bell for the animated film, often with oversized props such as keyholes and scissors. For decades, people thought it was Marilyn Monroe.
No, it was Kerry, the girl who dated Boeke for over a year in the late 1940s. Having already served in the military, he was a student at the University of Southern California at the time. One night he took her to a fraternity dance and gave her a bracelet. She put it in her jewelry box, where it remained for the next 70 years. She didn’t understand the meaning at the time. No one did. They would. Again, the magic.
But first … the split. He took a job with Mobil Oil in northern California. She stayed in Hollywood and worked on set as Tinker Bell and as an actress. Their lives went on separately. Boeke was married for 50 years before his wife died in 2001. His second succumbed to cancer a decade later. Kerry was married to a TV director for 37 years and was married again for another 12. She was a widow for 20 years and raised three children along the way.
Outside of family, their lives were full and accomplished. She was a child actor, starting at age 4, and worked with Mickey Rooney, Eddie Cantor and appeared on some “Little Rascals” episodes. Later she was on the ABC show “The Ruggles,” essentially TV’s first sitcom, and appeared a few times on “The Andy Griffith Show.”
She auditioned for Tinker Bell by pretending to be a 9-year-old boy making breakfast and juggling eggs by a refrigerator. She was also selected for her legs and figure, and she remembers covering up in her swim suit when Walt Disney himself showed up on set. It was a different time.
That Marilyn Monroe was the model was a myth finally broken in the 1980s. Kerry wrote a book about her experiences, noting the effect Tinker Bell has had on people. A depressed 300-pound lady lost half of her weight because looking at her Tinker Bell tattoo was an inspiration. A 19-year-old girl filled her bedroom with Tinker Bell dolls because they represented happiness, and perhaps it was no coincidence that her brain cancer went into remission.
Boeke, meanwhile, was nothing short of inspirational himself. He was one of a few to serve in both Europe and the Pacific Theater during World War II, and last summer he went on a tour of battle sites with a friend named Dr. Sue Andracchi from South Carolina.
With their tour boat scheduled to leave from Amsterdam, they arrived a few days early, during which time Boeke saw the Tinker Bell emblem in the toy store window and remarked to Andracchi that he once dated her. Andracchi had an idea: She found Kerry’s website and sent her an email saying she was with Boeke and did she remember him? Boeke assumed she did not.
A few days later he was in France, where he was honored at the historic D-Day ceremony. He sat in the third row, and Emmanuel Macron, the president of France, shook his hand and thanked him for his service. There would be another thrill that day.
France was where Boeke saw the email. It was from Kerry. Yes, of course, she remembered him, thought about him a few times over the years, in fact. Who forgets the first man they ever dated? Especially when they’ve only dated three?
They spoke on the phone, and when she hung up she went to her jewelry box, and there it was — the bracelet he had given her at the fraternity dance 70 years ago. She never quite knew why she kept it. Now it was clear.
She appeared at an Andy Griffith show reunion this fall, and he drove nine hours to meet her for the first time in seven decades. They kissed. And it only kept getting more wonderful from there.
She proposed to him over breakfast one morning. He said yes. And now Boeke, 94, and Kerry, 90, will be married on Valentine’s Day in the same California church as Ronald and Nancy Reagan were married. They will be given a special tour of Disney, and then the happy newlyweds will be off to their new home.
He’s been here, she never has, but they know it’s just perfect for them. He likes to golf, she likes the arts, and it’s close to Disney World, where all the magic happens.
And that’s what this is, right?
“Of course,” she said. “Isn’t it?”
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