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Peter Llewelyn Davies

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Peter Llewelyn Davies in 1917 at age 20
Peter Llewelyn Davies in 1917 at age 20

Peter Llewelyn Davies (February 25, 1897 – April 5, 1960) was the middle of five sons of Arthur and Sylvia Llewelyn Davies, one of the Llewelyn Davies boys befriended and later informally adopted by J. M. Barrie. Barrie publicly identified him as the source of the name for the title character in his famous play Peter Pan, or The Boy Who Wouldn't Grow Up. This public identification as "the original Peter Pan" plagued Davies throughout his life, which ended in suicide.

Contents

Childhood

Peter in 1901
Peter in 1901

Peter Davies was an infant when Barrie befriended his older brothers George and Jack during outings in Kensington Gardens, with their nurse Mary Hodgson, and him in a pram. Barrie's original description of Peter Pan in The Little White Bird (1902) was as a new-born who had escaped to Kensington Gardens. However, according to family accounts, his brothers George and Michael served as the primary models for the character as he appeared in the famed stage play (1904) and later novel (1911), as a pre-adolescent boy.

Barrie became guardian of Peter and his brothers George, Jack, Michael, and Nico following the separate deaths of their father (1907) and mother (1910). Like his brothers (apart from Jack), he attended Eton College.

Adulthood

He volunteered along with his brother George to serve in World War I, and received a commission as an officer, at the age of 17. He was a signal officer in France and spent time in the trenches; at one point he was hospitalized with impetigo. He ultimately won the Military Cross, but was scarred by his wartime experience. His brother George was killed at 21 in the trenches in 1915. His brother Michael drowned at the age of 20 while at Oxford University in 1921, along with Michael's best friend, Rupert Buxton.

In 1917, while still in the military, Peter met and began to court artist Vera Willoughby, a married woman 27 years older than him (born only four years after his late mother), with a daughter older than he. He stayed with her when on leave, which scandalized Barrie and caused a rift between the two. His former nurse and mother figure Mary Hodgson disapproved strongly as well. The relationship continued after the War, and Peter had limited contact with his family (and less with Barrie) for a number of years.

Margaret Leslie Hore-Ruthven
Margaret Leslie Hore-Ruthven

After the war, Peter ran an antique shop for a while. Possibly with Barrie's involvement, he went to Edinburgh to study the printing business, and in 1926, he founded a publishing house, Peter Davies Ltd. One of his first publications was an edition of George Farquhar's 1706 comedic play The Recruiting Officer, featuring illustrations by Willoughby. His brother Nico joined him in the business in 1935. In 1951 the company released his cousin Daphne du Maurier's work about their grandfather, the famous illustrator and writer, entitled The Young George du Maurier, letters 1860–1867.

Peter Davies married Margaret Leslie Hore-Ruthven (daughter of Walter Patrick Hore-Ruthven, 10th Baron Ruthven de Freeland) in March 1932 (sample headline from the Chicago Tribune: "Barrie Guest as 'Peter Pan' Is Married"). They had three sons: Ruthven Barrie Davies (b. May 9, 1933), George Caesar Davies (b. June 1, 1938), and Peter Theodore Davies (b. April 28, 1940). Note that they did not give the boys the more attention-drawing double surname Llewelyn Davies.

Peter Davies and his surviving brothers were excluded from inheriting most of Barrie's fortune. In 1929 Barrie gave the copyright to the Peter Pan works to Great Ormond Street Hospital for Children in London. When Barrie was on his deathbed in 1937, Peter set aside his dislike for Barrie's secretary Cynthia Asquith and phoned to let her know of his condition. She drove through the night and apparently gave Barrie a new will to sign, giving most of his estate to her. Some have speculated that this drove Peter Davies to drink; he eventually became an alcoholic.

Peter grew to dislike having his name associated with what he called "that terrible masterpiece". His son Ruthven later told an interviewer:

"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."

Death

On April 5, 1960, after lingering at the bar of the Royal Court Hotel, 63-year-old Peter Llewelyn Davies walked to nearby Sloane Square and quietly threw himself under a train as it was pulling into the station. A coroner's jury ruled he had killed himself "while the balance of his mind was disturbed". He had been editing family papers and letters, assembling them into a collection he wryly called the Morgue. He had more or less reached the documents having to do with his brother Michael's drowning (and possible suicide). Other contributing factors in his suicide were ill health (he was suffering from emphysema), as well as the knowledge that his wife and all three of their sons had inherited Huntington's disease, which leads to unpleasant loss of coordination and is usually fatal. Although he remained unhappy about losing the inheritance from Barrie, that was old news by then, and not likely a substantial factor.

Predictably, newspaper reports of his death referred to him in their headlines as "Peter Pan".

Peter's wife died not long after his suicide. His sons all chose not to have children, to prevent passing Huntington's to another generation. Ruthven ("Rivvy") developed Huntington's (and his wife Mary Bridget Pearce suffered from Multiple Sclerosis), becoming depressed and bitter about what he perceived as Barrie's negative impact on his father's life before he died in 1995. George did not marry, leaving the UK for New York, traveling extensively in South America, and returning to Brooklyn where he died. Peter Junior married Frances Jane Carson in 1965, but had no children. He committed suicide in 1990, at the age of 47.

Portrayals

Freddie Highmore as young Peter Llewelyn-Davies
Freddie Highmore as young Peter Llewelyn-Davies

In the 1978 BBC mini-series The Lost Boys, he was portrayed at various ages by Jean-Benoit Louveaux, Matthew Blakstad, Dominic Heath, and Tom Kelly.

In the 2004 film Finding Neverland he was portrayed as a child by Freddie Highmore; Highmore received a Screen Actors Guild Award nomination for his performance.

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