OFFBEAT: From film to faux tales, mythical fairies fascinate generations

Phil Potempa's daily entertainment news column
2013-04-01T00:00:00Z OFFBEAT: From film to faux tales, mythical fairies fascinate generationsBy Philip Potempa, (219) 852-4327

Happy April Fools' Day!

I'm not fooling when I report 20th Century Fox has a new computer-animated feature film hitting screens next month dedicated to mythical forest fairies.

"Epic," which will be released to theaters May 24, features an all-star vocal cast that includes Beyonce Knowles, Steven Tyler, funny Jason Sudeikis, Colin Farrell and Amanda Seyfried.

One of the greatest and most celebrated hoaxes of all time continues to fuel a real debate about whether fairies exist.

The first time I heard about the tale of The Cottingley Fairies was in 1984 reported on in an episode of the ABC television show "Ripley's Believe It or Not" hosted by Jack Palance and Marie Osmond.

The Cottingley Fairies were said to be mythical imps captured in a series of five photographs taken by Elsie Wright and Frances Griffiths, two young cousins who lived in Cottingley, near Bradford, England.

In 1917, when the first two photographs were taken, Elsie was 16-years-old and Frances was 10. One of the reasons the photos and story garnered international attention was because of the interest shown by writer Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, who wrote the series of Sherlock Holmes mysteries.

Doyle, an enthusiast about spirits and mystical subjects, used the photos to illustrate a magazine article on fairies he'd been commissioned to write.

It's believed Doyle's connection and reputation added credibility to the argument the images were genuine, while other experts insisted they had been faked.

Decades later, during a 1966 newspaper interview, Elsie, by then an adult, said she believed somehow it was her thoughts that had been photographed.

The photographs were the result of young Frances' and Elsie's fondness for playing near the stream of the family manor's vast English gardens. They spoke to their parents often about having seen fairies, and to prove it, Elsie borrowed her father's camera.

Elsie's father, Arthur, an amateur photographer with his own darkroom, was skeptical when the developed negatives showed Frances behind a bush with four tiny dancing fairies. A second photograph depicted Elsie sitting on the lawn holding out her hand to a 1-foot-tall winged gnome, leading her mother Polly to believe the images authentic.

Next came a third photo of Frances with a leaping fairy tapping her nose, along with a fourth photo of a floating winged fairy offering a flower to Elsie. A later fifth photo showed ghostly transparent images of fairies sunbathing amid the leaves and branches of a bush.

Authorities from around the world, including researchers from Kodak agreed the film and negatives had not been tampered with or altered. After years of defending their story, in the early 1980s, the cousins admitted they had used painted cardboard cut-outs of fairies to stage the first four photos, but they insisted the fifth "sunbathing fairies" photo was genuine. Frances died in 1986, Elsie in 1988.

The opinions expressed are solely those of the writer. He can be reached at or (219) 852-4327.

Copyright 2014 All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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