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TAKE THREE / Three Views of the Southland | AL MARTINEZ

A House at Pooh Corner

September 26, 1997|AL MARTINEZ

The party, fueled by wine and high spirits, was a noisy affair, its level of sound edging steadily upward as the evening progressed, which made silence at the height of the gaiety all the more remarkable.

Nothing gigantic or momentous caused the stillness, which lay like a warm blanket over the evening's participants. It simply came about with the presence of a man named Peter Dennis and a little bear named Pooh.

The party was in honor of the 90th birthday of Betty Lello, a former teacher who, in imagination, has often walked the trail to Pooh's house through the 100 Aker Wood, past the trap for heffalumps and the place where the woozle wasn't.

In her honor, Dennis, a transplanted Brit, read from A. A. Milne's "Winnie the Pooh," a book she loves, dramatizing the sweet and compelling stories of a little boy named Christopher Robin and his bear.

Sixty people were drawn to the small living room of the home where the party was held to hear Dennis re-create the voices of Eeyore and Piglet and the always-caring Pooh. They listened in enchanted silence.

Dennis, 63, who has lived in the U.S. for six years, performs a show called "Bother!" around the world for audiences that have numbered in the thousands. His readings of the Pooh stories are compiled in two sets of audiotapes.

The performance on the night of the party was spontaneous. What made it even more special was the presence earlier of Lesley Milne, widow of Christopher Milne, who died last year. Christopher Milne was the Christopher Robin in his father's books, and while he was known to resent the melding of his childhood with that of the little boy in the Pooh tales, it was nonetheless his brush with immortality.

The house at Pooh corner is the place where time lives.


Peter Dennis discovered Pooh in 1969 at a London exhibition of the works of Ernest Shepard, the man who illustrated all of the original Pooh books.

Already an actor, he fell in love with Milne's stories and began his one-man show "Bother!"--which is what Pooh says when he's annoyed. He's been performing it ever since in England and America, to everyone's delight.

On this night at a house in Topanga he began reading in a voice as soft as the wind.

Eeyore, the old gray donkey, stood by the side of the stream and looked at himself in the water. "Pathetic," he said. "That's what it is. Pathetic."

I glanced around the room. It had begun as an afternoon party and now the light was fading from the sky and a darkness was creeping into the house, softening the faces of those who sat enraptured. Betty, at 90, listened as closely as Jeffrey, who is 4.

The brief story was about Eeyore's birthday. The gloomy old donkey was sad because no one had remembered.

"It's bad enough," said Eeyore, almost breaking down, "being miserable myself, what with no presents and no cake and no candles, and no proper notice taken of me at all. . . ."

Dennis gave the sadness substance and Pooh's caring significance, applying it somehow to the sadness in everyone's life when no one cares, and the triumph of the spirit when someone does.

Pooh cared and, although he ate the honey intended as a present for Eeyore, he gave him the Very Useful (empty) Pot instead, and Piglet gave him a limp balloon, which had burst when he fell running to the party.


"Pooh is my life," Dennis would say later, "and he's in other people's lives, too. There's a great commonality to him. There's so much caring."

He pauses and repeats the line from the story he has just read in the voice of the character he has come to know so well. "You ran too fast, I expect," said Eeyore. "You didn't hurt yourself, little Piglet?"

His own childhood was joyless, Dennis says, and the little bear from the 100 Aker Wood gives him an opportunity to make contact with the small boy that remains unfulfilled inside him.

He was trained at London's Royal Academy of Dramatic Art. His list of credits on stage, in film and on television is impressive, but his association with Pooh and Christopher Robin is what he loves most.

Dennis and his wife Diane, who now live in Calabasas, were there as guests, not performers. With them were Lesley Milne, on a short visit to the U.S. Still grieving over the death of her husband, she preferred not to talk about him or his father's stories, and left with Diane before the reading.

I wish she'd stayed, because there was a loving quality to the presentation, a oneness to those of us in the room who listened, a gentle commonality which, for a little while, bound us together with ribbons provided by Pooh.

Among my volumes of encyclopedias, poetry, classic fiction, powerful biographies and endless research books are two by Milne, "Winnie the Pooh" and "The House at Pooh Corner."

I pick them up every once in a while, reaching back myself, I guess, to a childhood of my own that was similarly unfulfilling. I read them after the party, alone in a room warmed by the eternal presence of a little bear.

"Wherever you go," Peter Dennis likes to say, "there is always Pooh."

And so there is.

Al Martinez can be reached online at

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