Julie Andrews’ career took off at the ‘Mary Poppins’ premiere, she says — and she was ‘unprepared for the pressure and scrutiny’ that followed

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Julie Andrews. Andrew Eccles
  • Julie Andrews is a legendary Broadway, television, and film actress who’s written over 30 books with her daughter, Emma Walton Hamilton, for children and young adults.
  • The following is an excerpt from their book, “Home Work: A Memoir of My Hollywood Years“.
  • In it, Andrews looks back on some of her earliest films – “Mary Poppins” and “The Sound of Music” – and shares how her arrival to Hollywood and working with icons like Walt Disney completely changed her world.
  • She grapples with the demands of swelling success and motherhood, while navigating the extraordinary challenges of the entertainment industry.
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“Mary Poppins” finally premiered on August 27, 1964, at Grauman’s Chinese Theatre in Hollywood. The Walt Disney Studios pulled out all the stops; it was a glorious, old-fashioned kind of premiere. All the classic Disney characters were there, welcoming people as they pulled up in their limousines. There were crowds in the bleachers, screaming with delight, and huge searchlights raked the sky. On the large parking lot adjacent to Grauman’s, a tent had been erected for the after-show party.

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‘Home Work: A Memoir of My Hollywood Years,’ by Julie Andrews with Emma Walton Hamilton. Courtesy of Hachette Books

It was glamorous, grand, and gaudy all at the same time.

Tony and I arrived in a company limousine provided by Disney, with my dad, who had come to visit for two weeks. This was Dad’s first trip to California, and we were beyond thrilled to share the experience with him, and to give him such a splendid glimpse of Hollywood glamour. He had made the journey all by himself; my stepmother, Win, had stayed home with their daughter, Shad. Dad rented a white tuxedo jacket, which I picked up for him early in the day.

As he had done at my wedding, and on several visits to My Fair Lady in New York and London, he acted the part of my squire and protector, in a quiet but proud way. Charlie Tucker, my longtime agent and manager, had also flown over from England. Surprisingly, P. L. Travers came as well. Given the tensions that had existed between them, Walt showed great restraint that evening, and was polite and decent to her. She never said a word to me about her opinion of the film. She did send a note to Walt, in which she called it a “splendid spectacle,” and complimented my “understated” performance. High praise!

Unfortunately, my mother could not attend.

I had invited her and hoped that she would come, but she said that her arthritis was giving her tremendous pain and she’d prefer not to travel. I had a feeling that she was worried about not measuring up in some way. I would have given anything to have had her with me — I had a daughter’s desire to share my good fortune with both my parents and to make them proud. I’m sure Mum was, but I always sensed that she hid some embarrassment about how she conducted her life, relative to what she thought I had become. It made me sad.

Julie Andrews
Julie Andrews as Mary Poppins. United Archives/Contributor

Tony, Dad, and I walked along the red carpet toward Walt and his wife, Lillian, flashbulbs popping everywhere around us. Dorothy Jeakins had designed an Empire-style, cream-coloured silk jersey gown for me. On top I wore a little mink stole that I had rented for the evening. Tony wore a tux, which was a rare occurrence for him. Tom Jones had warned me that I would need to pause for interviews before entering the theatre.

Even so, I was unprepared for the pressure and scrutiny; the feeling of being pulled, poked, and shouted at by the phalanx of TV and radio reporters. There were so many people to attend to that after we arrived, I barely saw my dad or Tony for the rest of the evening.

At the party in the tent afterward, Tom continued to steer me around, a gentle hand at my elbow, introducing me to guests and more members of the press. I never sat down, and I don’t recall eating a morsel. Feeling overwhelmed, I couldn’t wait to go home, to be somewhere quiet where I could process what was happening.

Happily, the audience seemed to love the film.

I was so dazed by everything that was transpiring that I couldn’t watch it with any perspective. I do know that it received a raucous ovation, and the reviews were extremely positive.

The following morning, I had to be at 20th Century Fox by 9:30 a.m. for looping on “The Sound of Music.” That same day, Tony flew to Detroit, where “Golden Boy,” still beset with problems, was now playing.

Two days later, my dad and I flew to New York, where “Mary Poppins” had just opened. I did four days of back-to-back interviews in the city, during which time Tony briefly joined us.

There wasn’t a second to spare, except in the evenings, when we managed to treat Dad to a couple of Broadway shows. After emotional goodbyes, Tony went back to the dramas in Detroit, and my dad flew home to London. I returned to LA, and to my Emma, whom I always hated to leave behind.

The weeks that ensued became an assault of epic proportions that I could never have foreseen. I did more publicity than I have ever done in my life, before or since. After an onslaught of Poppins-related activities in LA, I embarked upon my first promotional tour, travelling to San Francisco with the Disney press team for the premiere of Poppins there; then on to Chicago, Detroit, New York again, Philadelphia, Washington, DC, and Boston.

I am well aware how irritating it is when people who have been graced by good fortune complain about its rigors.

However, this was the first time I had encountered such widespread attention, expectation, and accountability. I was a small-town English girl, naïve, undereducated, and considerably younger than my years, suddenly confronted by a scrutiny that I had no context or experience with which to manage.

The press bombarded me with questions that called for me to be introspective, to examine things about myself and my work that up to this point I had never considered, let alone formed an opinion about. I floundered about, trying to appear sophisticated, while feeling as though I were playing dress-up in my mother’s clothes.

It never would have occurred to me to say no to any of the things that the studio asked of me.

I felt that I owed them every interview — one paid one’s dues, so to speak, and I honoured every obligation and went wherever they asked me to go.

During this whirlwind, I saw a rough cut of “The Sound of Music,” which was the first time I’d seen any of the footage assembled. I marveled at its beauty, its energy, its joyousness. It seemed even larger than “Mary Poppins,” and I felt it was going to be a stunning film. It put in perspective the amount of work we had accomplished over the past months — no wonder I was exhausted!

I returned to New York for Tony’s birthday, which coincided with the low-key opening of “The Americanization of Emily.” In contrast to the pomp and ceremony of the Poppins premiere, Emily simply opened at a regular cinema, with no fuss. Since it was a relatively quiet drama, the studios didn’t feel a fancy premiere was warranted. Nevertheless, it received fine reviews, and the film has subsequently become something of a cult favourite.

Excerpted from “HOME WORK: A Memoir of My Hollywood Years” by Julie Andrews with Emma Walton Hamilton. Copyright © 2020. Available from Hachette Books, an imprint of Hachette Book Group, Inc.

Julie Andrews
Julie Andrews. Julie Andrews

Julie Andrews’ legendary career encompasses the Broadway and London stages, as well as multiple films, television shows, album releases, concert tours, directing assignments, and the world of children’s publishing. In 2000, the title of Dame Commander of the British Empire was bestowed upon her by Queen Elizabeth II for lifetime achievements in the arts and humanities. Her many other honours include a Kennedy Centre honour in the fall of 2001. She was married to film director Blake Edwards for 41 years, and the couple have five children, 10 grandchildren, and three great-grandchildren.

EmmaWaltonHAMILTON
Emma Walton Hamilton. Emma Walton Hamilton

Emma Walton Hamilton is an award-winning writer, producer, and arts educator. Together with her mother, Julie Andrews, she has written over 30 books for children and young adults. Emma is on the faculty of Stony Brook University’s MFA in Creative Writing, where she serves as director of the Children’s Lit Fellows and the Young Artists and Writers Project.