With the new CGI live-action “Pete’s Dragon” out this month, you might want to check out the original, also a mix of animation and live-action. In the original 1977 version, the young orphan is running away from his hillbilly foster family, the Gogans, when an invisible force knocks them into the mud. The force is a green and purple dragon who has the power of invisibility that Pete names “Elliot.” Pete (Sean Marshall) with Elliot wander into a small Michigan fishing village, Pasamquoddy. The original 1977 version of “Pete’s Dragon” is currently available on Amazon Video ($2.99).
One of the villagers, the lighthouse keeper, Lampie (Mickey Rooney), has seen Elliot, but he was drunk at the time so no one believes him. Elliot, while invisible, has caused some accidents resulting in Pete being labeled unlucky. The villagers are a superstitious bunch and the fishermen believe that Pete has caused their run of bad luck finding fish.
Lampie’s daughter, Nora (Helen Reddy), offers Pete a place to stay, in the lighthouse with her and Lampie. Nora pines for Paul (cal Bartlett), her lost sailor boyfriend. Nora believes that Elliot is imaginary.
The next town, a quack doctor, Dr. Terminus (Jim Dale) comes into town. He’s convinced that Elliot is real and is sure that dragons can be used in medical remedies. When the Gogans (Shelley Winters as the matriarch Lena and Charles Tyner as her husband Merle with sons played by Gary Morgan and Jeff Conaway) arrive in town, demanding Pete back, the Gogans and Dr. Terminus team up although the Gogans don’t believe that the dragon is real. Their plan doesn’t work; when confronted by Elliot the Gogans flee. During this chaos, Elliot saves several villagers, including the mayor. The villagers realize Elliot is real as does Nora. In the end, Nora is reunited with Paul, who has returned and because Pete is now safe and has a family with Nora, Paul and Lampie, Elliot leaves.
“Pete’s Dragon” has an official landing page on the Disney website.
Pete: Sean Marshall was born in Canoga Park, California and began acting in 1971 when he was 6. After “Pete’s Dragon,” he was in the TV movie “The New Adventures of Heidi” as Peter and voiced an animated short called “The Small One,” both in 1978. In 1980, he was in the TV movie, “To Race the Wind.” He was also a regular cast member in the 13 episode TV series, “The Fitzpatricks” about an Irish Catholic family in Flint, Michigan whose father works as a steelworker and the six episode series “The MacKenzies of Paradise Cove” about a bachelor who suddenly becomes the guardian of five orphans.
According to Wikipedia, Marshall received a bachelor’s degree in marine transportation in 1987 and received an officer’s appointment in the Maritime Service and the U.S. Naval Reserve. He now lives in New Mexico.
Nora: The Australian-born Helen Reddy, now 74, retired from live performance in 2002 to earn her degree and become a clinical hypnotherapist. She is probably best known for her 1972 hit, “I Am Woman.” Reddy won a Grammy Award for Best Female Pop Vocal Performance and during the awards ceremony, thanked God “because She make everything possible.” In 1974, she became a naturalized U.S. citizen. She was one of the voices featured in the 1978 “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.” That same year, then California governor Jerry Brown appointed her to the nine-member commission of California Department of Parks and Recreation. She served for three years. During that time, she hosted “The Helen Reddy Special” in 1979. She made guest appearances on various TV series: “Fantasy Island,” “The Jeffersons,” “Diagnosis: Murder” and “BeastMaster.”
In 1987, she was Reno Sweeney in the Long Beach Civic Light Opera production of “Anything Goes.” She later performed on Broadway and the West End in “Blood Brothers” (1994 at the Music Box Theatre and 1997 on the West End).
Reddy did perform at night clubs in 2013-2015, but has retired again and now is a resident at the Motion Picture Home in Woodland Hills.
Dr. Terminus: English actor Jim Dale was born in 1935 and was the lyricist for the 1966 song “Georgy Girl” for which he received an Oscar and a Golden Globe nominations. He received two Grammy Awards (2008 and 2001) for his recording of the audio books for the Harry Potter series of seven books. He also narrated the Harry Potter video games.
He had a career on stage after joining the London National Theatre under Laurence Olivier where he played Petruchio in “The Taming of the Shrew.” Dale received a Tony Award portraying P.T. Barnum (Best Actor in a Musical) in the 1980 “Barnum.” He had been nominated five times.
For fans of the 2007-2009 series “Pushing Daisies,” Dale was the narrator.
Jim Dale has his own website.
Lampie: Mickey Rooney (1920-1914) had already been in many movies when “Pete’s Dragon” came out, including:
- “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” (1935)
- “Little Lord Fauntleroy” (1936)
- “Captains Courageous” (1937)
- “A Family Affair” and “You’re Only Young Once” (1937 as Andy Hardy)
- “Judge Hardy’s Children” and “Love Finds Andy Hardy” (1938)
- “Babes on Broadway” (1941)
- “National Velvet” (1944)
- “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” (1961)
- “It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World” (1963)
He would go on to make:
- “The Magic of Lassie” (1978)
- “The Black Stallion” (1979)
- “The Box and the Hound” (1981)
- “Babe: Pig in the City” (1998)
- “Night at the Museum” (2006)
- “Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian” (2009, deleted scene)
- “Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb” (2014, released after he death)
He won a Golden Globe for the 1964 “Mickey” and an Emmy and a Golden Globe for the 1981 “Bill.”
Hoagy: Red Buttons (1919-2006) played Dr. Terminus’ sidekick. Buttons has already won an Best Supporting Actor Oscar for the 1957 “Sayonara.” His original name was Aaron Chwatt, but he got his name from his red hair and his flashy buttons that he once wore on a bellhops uniform. He was drafted into the United States Army Air Forces where he performed in the Moss Hart World War II morale booster “Winged Victory” along with Mario Lanza, John Forsythe, Karl Malden and Lee J. Cobb. He would go on to be in the movie version directed by George Cukor.
Although usually known as a comedic actor, Buttons played an American airman stationed in Kobe, Japan during the Korean War in the movie, “Sayonara.” The movie starred Marlon Brando, but also featured James Garner and Ricardo Montalban. Brando plays Ace, the son of an army general who is in love with a Japanese entertainer (Miiko Taka) who performs in a theater company. His friend Joe (Buttons) is marrying a Japanese woman (Miyoshi Umeki), but the U.S. military will not recognize the marriage. Ace is initially against the marriage, but eventually changes his attitude and serves as best man. Joe is punished for his marriage and puts up with the prejudice until he is ordered home to the States without his wife. He and his wife commit suicide together. The movie, based on a novel by James Michener, won four Academy Awards including Best Actress in a Supporting Role for Miyoshi Umeki, Best Art Direction-Set Decoration and Best Sound.
Other movies that Buttons performed in include:
- “Hatari” (1962)
- “Five Weeks in a Balloon” (1962)
- “The Longest Day” (1962)
- “They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?” (1969)
- “The Poseidon Adventure” (1972)
- “Alice in Wonderland” (1985)
Lena Gogan: Shelley Winters (1920-2006) won an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress as Mrs. Petronella Van Daan in the 1959 version of “The Diary of Anne Frank” and another as Rose-Ann D’Arcey for the 1965 race relations movie “A Patch of Blue.” In “A Patch of Blue,” Winters played the prostitute mother of a blind young white woman who befriends an educated black man (Sidney Poitier). The black man helps free the woman from her abusive home life and finds her a place in a school for the blind. Winters won a Golden Globe for her role in “The Poseidon Adventure” as a once national level competitive swimmer who in her last efforts helps save the survivors.
Other movies Winters was in include:
- “Lolita” (1962)
- “The Greatest Story Ever Told” (1965)
- “The Three Sisters” (1966)
- “Harper” (1966)
- “Alfie” (1966)
- “Blume in Love” (1973)
- “Cleopatra Jones” (1973)
Elliot: Pete’s dragon was voiced by comedian and actor Charlie Callas (1924-2011). He played Malcolm Argos, a former con-man and the restaurant owner friend of the lead characters in the Robert Wagner and Eddie Albert TV series “Switch” (1975-1978).
Callas was a regular guest on the Dean Martin show roasts, “The Andy Williams Show” as a parody of superheroes “Captain Weird,” “The Flip Wilson Show” and “The Joey Bishop Show.” He also appeared on “Larry The Cable Guy’s Christmas Spectacular” (2007) and “Larry The Cable Guy’s Star-Studded Christmas Extravaganza” (2008).
Merle Gogan: Charles Tyner (8 June 1925) was a Broadway actor who debuted in 1957 in “Orpheus Descending” and two years later would appear with Paul Newman in “Sweet Bird of Youth.”
- “Cool Hand Luke” (1967)
- “Harold and Maude” (1971)
- “The Cowboys” (1972)
- “Fuzz” (1972)
- “Jeremiah Johnson” (1972)
- “The Midnight Man” (1974)
- “The Longest Yard” (1974)
- “The Outlaw Josey Wales” (1976)
- “Planes, Trains and Automobiles” (1987)
Gogan boys: Gary Morgan (1950) and Jeff Conaway played Grover and Willie Gogan. Morgan became a stunt man (the 1995 “Batman Forever” and the 2011 “The Muppets”). Conaway (1950-2011) is probably better known. He played Kenickie in the 1978 movie “Grease” and as the struggling, vain actor Bobby Wheeler in the TV series “Taxi” (50 episodes, 1978-1982) He also played Zack Allan in “Babylon 5” (74 episodes from 1994 to 1998).
Mayor: Jim Backus (1913-1989) is probably best known for his voice as the nearsighted and accident-prone cartoon character “Mr. Magoo” and for his role as Thurston Howell II in “Gilligan’s Island” (1964-1967).
“Pete’s Dragon” is currently available on Amazon Video ($2.99).