The Rev. Charles Dodgson’s devotion to Alice Liddell is well-known, but is his fictional Alice really that plum a role? After all, it’s Alice’s task to act as audience avatar, a perplexed witness to the nonsensical residents at the bottom of the rabbit hole. Regardless, starlet Mia Wasikowa is the latest to fluff the tresses of the Victorian era’s dizziest blonde. While audiences flock to the Burtonized Alice in Wonderland, we thought it would be beamish to survey who else once ran with White Rabbits.
May Clark in Alice in Wonderland (1903)
The first surviving film that drew on Lewis Carroll’s fantasia was filmed by Cecil Hepworth, partly on the estate belonging to travel agent Thomas Cook. For the heroine of what would be the longest film yet produced in Britain, the Brighton filmmaker cast May Clark, a 14-year-old who had been doing odd jobs at his studio. Both Clark and the Hepworths’ dog Blair would reappear in Rescued by Rover (1905). Download it at Archive.org
Gladys Hulette in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (1910)
Seven years after The Great Train Robbery, Edwin S. Porter directed a version for Thomas Edison. He cast the 14-year-old Hulette, a stage actress who didn’t share her contemporaries shame over appearing in silent films. The one-reel adaptation was well-regarded, despite excising many of Carroll’s characters. As an adult, Hulette appeared in John Ford’s Western The Iron Horse (1926).
Charlotte Henry in Alice in Wonderland (1933)
Most of the credit for this ambitious Hollywood adaptation’s bizarre look belongs to production designer William Cameron Menzies, but audiences weren’t ready for W.C. Fields as Humpty Dumpty. The 19-year-old Henry was selected from nearly 7000 candidates to play Alice. After appearing in the 1934 Frank Buck serial Jungle Menace, she retired and became secretary to the bishop of San Diego.
Carol Marsh in Alice in Wonderland (1949)
Working in England during the Hollywood blacklist, puppeteer Lou Bunin released his inventive take on Carroll at the same time as Disney and saw it buried at the box office. His Alice found fame opposite Richard Attenborough in Brighton Rock (1947) and later appeared in Hammer’s Dracula (1958). The 23-year-old insisted on doing all the stunts herself, and was instructed by a French acrobat in how to fall down a rabbit hole.
Kathryn Beaumont in Alice in Wonderland (1951)
Walt Disney found his Alice after seeing the 10-year-old Beaumont in the Esther Williams splash-a-thon On an Island With You (1948). Replacing Margaret O’Brien, the Londoner contributed her voice and modeled for the animation team. After Alice flopped, Beaumont went on to work as an elementary school teacher in Southern California. That’s her voice you hear on the Disneyland Wonderland ride.
Coral Browne in Dreamchild (1985)
Indulging his obsession with paradises lost and the ‘30s, writer Dennis Potter imagined an elderly Alice Liddell reflecting on Carroll’s Wonderland while visiting Depression-era New York. The 67-year-old Australian stage actress had created the role of Mrs. Prentice in Joe Orton’s What the Butler Saw and starred in Alan Bennett’s An Englishman Abroad (1983), about her relationship with spy Guy Burgess. She married Vincent Price after they met on the set of Theatre of Blood (1973). In flashbacks, Alice is played by Amelia Shankley, 13, who later turned up in two seasons of Lovejoy.
Kristýna Kohoutová in Neco z Alenky (1988)
Few have come closer to Carroll’s mix of the queer and the queasy than Czech animator Jan Svankmajer. Kohoutová is the only human in a stop-motion universe where puppets are inseparable from their materials. The White Rabbit even eats his own sawdust stuffing. It’s a homemade effort—another creature is a shopping cart with wings—whose emphasis on metamorphosis reflects the instability of Alice’s world.
Kate Beckinsale in Alice Through the Looking Glass (1998)
This odd attempt to update Carroll’s 1872 sequel was made by the BBC, who crammed the cast with Brit mainstays like Steve Coogan (Gnat), Ian Holm (The White Knight) and Sian Phillips (a fetishistic Red Queen). Having tumbled through her daughter’s mirror onto a giant chessboard, the simpering Beckinsale, 25, maintains a stiff upper lip as her hairstyle inexplicably changes from scene to scene.
Tags: Alice, Alice in Wonderland, Alice Through the Looking Glass, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, Amelia Shankley, Carol Marsh, Cecil Hepworth, Charlotte Henry, Coral Browne, Dennis Potter, Dreamchild, Edwin S. Porter, Gladys Hulette, Ian Holm, Jan Svankmajer, Kate Beckinsale, Kathryn Beaumont, Kristyna Kohoutova, Lewis Carroll, Lou Bunin, May Clark, Mia Wasikowa, Neco z Alenky, Sian Phillips, Steve Coogan, W.C. Fields, Walt Disney, William Cameron Menzies