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TitleLIFE Mary Poppins: The Magic, the Adventure, the Love
Author
LanguageEnglish
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Table of Contents
                            Cover
Title
Contents
Introduction
Disney’s Gamble
P.L. Travers’s Battle
Mary Poppins’s Film Debut
The Nanny’s Comeback
Copyright
                        
Document Text Contents
Page 66

Richard Burton as King Arthur and Julie Andrews as Queen Guinevere singing “What
Do the Simple Folk Do?” from the hit Broadway musical The songwriter was
overwhelmingly impressed. “I called my brother, I said, ‘Bob, oh my God, she’s
absolutely perfect!’” Richard said. “Next day we walked into [screenwriter Don]
DaGradi’s office, and Don DaGradi says, ‘Did you see last night?’
So we walked down the hall—the three of us . . . We wanted to see Walt.” Intrigued by
the writers’ enthusiasm, Disney flew to New York to see

Born Julia Elizabeth Wells in 1935—the child of an affair her mother had had with a
family friend—Andrews started singing and dancing with her mother and stepfather, a
vaudeville team, at the age of four. “I had a very pure, white, thin voice, a four-octave
range—dogs would come for miles around,” she said. Later, she appeared on radio and
television. In 1954, she made her Broadway debut in a pastiche of
1920s musicals set on the French Riviera.
Near the end of that show’s run, Andrews was asked to audition for the role of Eliza

Doolittle, the cockney flower girl in Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe’s
the musical version of George Bernard Shaw’s . She got the part and

played opposite Rex Harrison. In 1957, she released her first solo album,
which reflected her music hall background.

In 1960, Lerner and Loewe cast Andrews opposite Burton in At the same
time, was being made into a film at Warner Bros. Naturally, Andrews
wanted to play the role that she had originated, but the studio head, Jack Warner, cast
the established star Audrey Hepburn instead—even though she didn’t sing. “In my
business, I have to know who brings people and their money to a cinema box office,”
Warner said. “Audrey Hepburn had never made a financial flop.”
Naturally, Andrews was disappointed, but an even more promising opportunity soon

arose when Disney, having traveled to New York to see , went backstage to
meet her after the performance. “He was very demonstrative,” the actress later said.
“He started acting out the whole script of . After, he said that he’d enjoyed
the show and would I like to come to Los Angeles to see the storyboarding and hear the
songs?”
At the time, the 26-year-old was expecting her first child with set designer Tony

Walton, who was with her backstage that night—a fact that Disney took full advantage
of. “And what do you do, young man?” he asked Walton. When he learned that Walton
was a designer, Disney intimated that perhaps he, too, could be involved in the film. “I
wanted to convince her I was capable of making a picture with live actors as well as
cartoons,” Disney said at the premiere. “I didn’t know what she thought
of me and everything.”
Before long, Andrews and Walton were traveling to Los Angeles courtesy of Disney,

Page 67

Before long, Andrews and Walton were traveling to Los Angeles courtesy of Disney,
who gave them a personal tour of Disneyland. “See that tree?” he said while showing
the couple around. “There are three million leaves on it and four million flowers. They
said only God could make a tree.”
Andrews was too savvy to be swayed by Disney’s braggadocio, but the Sherman

brothers’ songs were something else again. “My background, my early years, were all in
music hall and vaudeville,” she said. “My stepfather sang, my mother played the piano
for him, and so I had the opportunity to stand in the wings and watch thousands of
wonderful performers—vaudevillians and comedians and acrobats. So when I saw the
sort of ‘rum-tee-tum’ quality of the music and got the feeling of what fun Mary and Bert
could have together, it appealed instantly. I kept thinking, yes I recognize that. Maybe I

bring something to it that would connect. And it certainly connected and
resonated with me.”
She had trouble with one tune, however. The Shermans were particularly fond of

“Through the Eyes of Love,” which they had written for Mary Poppins, but Andrews
felt that it was too “on the nose.” (Its lyrics read, in part, “Until you learn to see with
your heart beauty hides behind the commonplace But through the eyes of love, you can
start / Seeing beauty face to face.”) The actress thought that the nanny who “never
explains anything” wouldn’t explicitly articulate these ideas. So Disney asked the
brothers to come up with something else. They were stymied—until Robert’s son, Jeff,
told his father that he’d been given the Salk vaccine against polio at school that day.
“Did it hurt?” Robert asked. No, Jeff said: You just took it with a lump of sugar that

they put on a spoon. Robert’s mind started racing—“I couldn’t wait to tell Dick,” he
said—but Richard wasn’t as inspired as Robert thought he would be. “You’ve got to be
kidding me,” he said, but before long they had come up with “A Spoonful of Sugar.”
The new song clearly worked. “The best moment came when I first heard Julie
Andrews singing ‘A Spoonful of Sugar,’” said Richard. “I was crying because she was
articulating the whole essence of the movie—which was about the power of love.”
Everyone agreed that Andrews was, like Mary Poppins herself, “practically perfect in

every way,” but Disney was concerned that Travers might object to the actress’s youth.
Casually, he asked the writer how old she thought Mary Poppins was. “Twenty-four to
twenty-seven,” the writer replied—a relief! But Travers still had to approve Andrews’s
casting. On November 27, 1962, the actress was in a London hospital, having just given
birth to her daughter Emma Kate, when the writer called. “P.L. Travers here,” she
announced. “Speak to me, I want to hear your voice.” Though Andrews was still
recovering, “I hadn’t spoken to her for five minutes before I realized she had the inner
integrity for the part,” Travers said. (“She said I had the nose for it,” according to
Andrews.) She told Disney she thought the actress was “very alert and intelligent.”

Page 132

Mary Poppins
EDITORIAL DIRECTOR Kostya Kennedy EDITOR/WRITER J.I. Baker
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Shaffer

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Page 133

Vol. 18, No. 26 • December 7, 2018

LIFE is a trademark of Time Inc., registered in the U.S. and other countries.

Dick Van Dyke and Julie Andrews, 1964. AF ARCHIVE/ALAMY
© WALT DISNEY PICTURES, COURTESY PHOTOFEST

PRIVATE COLLECTION/BRIDGEMAN IMAGES

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