Is Peter Pan Always Played By a Woman?

Most of us know actress Allison Williams as the insufferable Marnie Michaels on HBO's Girls and the daughter of NBC Nightly News anchor Brian Williams. But by next week, we'll see her take on the title role in NBC's musical extravaganza Peter Pan Live! premiering on Dec. 4. Since it'll be broadcast live, the only preview we'll get of the Girls star turned leader of the Lost Boys is the peacock network's behind-the-scenes special The Making of Peter Pan Live! airing Wednesday night. Viewers will also get glimpse of Christopher Walken as a tap-dancing Captain Hook, Broadway and Sound of Music Live! veteran Christian Borle as Mr. Darling and Smee, and Williams as the Boy Who Never Grew Up. But why Williams? Why not? Peter Pan has been played by many women since the 1900s.

On Broadway and on TV, the role of Peter Pan has been historically played by young actresses dressed in the character's famed green body suit. It all started upon the suggestion of Broadway producer Charles Frohman, who produced the first stage productions of Peter Pan author J.M. Barrie's original play in the early 1900s. Frohman theorized that a man can't possibly play Peter Pan and, if a young boy was cast, the other children would have to be smaller than him. Then, there was the matter of the law: English law prevented the use of minors under 14 on stage after 9 p.m. So Frohman casted his protege actress Maude Adams in the role and the rest is history.

Besides the history, Williams is in good company. Here are three other notable ladies who have taken on the role of the Boy Who Never Grew Up:

Mary Martin

Martin is notable because she originated the part of the eternally young boy at age 41 in the Broadway musical version of the tale, Peter Pan, The Boy Who Wouldn't Grow Up. She won a Tony Award for the role in 1955, then went on to continue playing Peter Pan in three NBC telecasts of the musical in 1955, 1956, and 1960, earning an Emmy for the TV edition in 1956.

Mia Farrow

At age 31, the well-known actress donned the Peter Pan green uniform in 1976 for NBC and Hallmark Hall of Fame's revamp of the musical for TV. The Rosemary's Baby actress won an Emmy for her performance, which included new songs not from the Broadway musical. The legendary Julie Andrews sang one of the songs in the credits and Sir John Gielgud served as the special's narrator.

Cathy Rigby McCoy

Now 61, McCoy has been playing the part of Peter Pan since she was 20, after retiring from a highly decorated, world champion gymnastics career. Her stage tenure as the Boy Who Never Grew Up gathered just as many accolades. McCoy began playing the role in an off-Broadway performance in 1974, then played him on Broadway from 1990 to 1999, during which she earned two Tony Award nods. She has also played Peter Pan on touring productions and in an A&E movie version.

She retired from playing the character in 2013. "I've done everything I can with this role," she told Broadway World. "I think it's the best it's ever been. But I don't want to be on the road touring any longer. Peter Pan is a part of me, so it's not like I feel I'll ever give it up. And I have so many pictures and memories that it's not like I will get lonely for it. But it's the 100s of cast members over the years and the audiences that I'll miss."

Images: Virginia Sherwood/NBC; Getty Images