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Behind the Scenes of Mary Poppins with Chimney Sweeper Pete Menefee

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Pete Menefee

As the film “Mary Poppins,” celebrates 50 years of spreading magic to families around the world, it will be released for the first time on Blu-ray combo pack and Digital HD on December 10th. With the upcoming release of the 50th Anniversary Edition of the film, we got a behind the scenes look into the making of “Mary Poppins” with one of the chimney sweepers in the film, Pete Menefee.

Menefee, who is currently 71, had just turned 21 the year “Mary Poppins” was filmed. He started as a professional dancer at the age of 14 and was doing the film “Bye Bye Birdie” by the age of 18. He has done five films with Elvis, a lot of beach party movies, but “Mary Poppins” was his first film.

“There were 12 of us, and everybody is a really good trained dancer,” said Menefee. They had the auditions in New York, and because it was so hot, they danced in swim trunks. “Walt was there every day, every single day, and he knew everybody’s name,” said Menefee. He continued to tell us how most of the chimney sweep scenes were choreographed while they were filming.

“Three guys really did do flip flops between two buildings and it’s painted in perspective. 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 really grim.”

The dancers had long grueling days working out the chimney sweep scenes and Menefee told us,”The chimney was solid with a cutout. You would do the section and jump split. The third time you jump split and then tuck in and pull your knees up and the technical person would trip the chimney and you’d fall into it. You’d fall and hit a mattress on the door front roll, and I used to have nightmares about it.”

The hardest scene that Menefee filmed was when they were tumbling between two rooftops. “It looks really simple, and it’s about ten of us running up chimney pipes. They were literally just pipes with a pad on top, and they went up to eighteen feet,” said Menefee. He would have one person in front, and some in the back of him doing it really fast. “I was scared to death of that,” said Menefee. After filming an entire day of that physically grueling scene, they sat all the dancers down and told them that there was as scratch on the film, and they had to do it all again.

All of the tricks that the dancers and tumblers did for the film was all negotiated. Menefee said, “It’s called a bump. We would negotiate with the AD or whoever is handling the money on the show. You would say to the guy ‘I’ll run up the wall and flip over for a thousand dollars,’ and they would say, ‘that’s too much’, and you would say ‘would you like to try it?'” Everything was negotiated, and Menefee got 500 dollars a week to work on the film “Mary Poppins.” That was a lot at the time, and normally a dancer on a regular dance show would have gotten under 200.

“For most of us it was a job. It was your gig for that summer, but it was — we knew it was special when we were doing it. You don’t get choreography that good every day or an idea that’s that good. It was just terrific to do.” Pete Menefee

“Mary Poppins” will be released on Blu-ray combo pack and Digital HD on December 10th.

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