North side of the 6900 block of Hollywood Boulevard
By age 12, Julie Andrews, who would later rise to worldwide fame as Eliza Doolittle in the stage version of "My Fair Lady," then on film as Maria in "The Sound of Music" and, of course, as the original supernanny, Mary Poppins, was hitting a high F above C in a London musical review called "Starlight Roof." Her astonishing performances had British reviewers labeling her "the prodigy with pigtails."
(Regrettably, she says, complications from surgery to her vocal cords in the late 1990s have left her vocally impaired.)
But, as "Home: A Memoir of My Early Years" explains, all was not precocious on-stage triumph for young Julie. In fact, while her evenings may have been ripe with song in a cavalcade of rundown English theaters, her days were characterized by wartime air raids, shaky finances, the specter of alcoholism, barely dodged molestation and uncertain parentage. If her first word was, as she reports on Page 1, "home," it eventually became a lament, shorthand for a childhood sacrificed to talent and other people's demons.
Her mother deserted the upstanding country schoolteacher who, for years, Andrews believed to be her biological father. The boozing troubadour with whom her mother then took up and married later made unsuccessfully lecherous visits to Andrews' bedroom. Then she learned that Dad actually wasn't — that her birth had been the result of an adulterous tryst between her mother and a man whom Andrews is at one point introduced to, but whose identity we never learn.
The twin revelations of "Home" were tightly held secrets for Andrews until the book's publication. "I didn't speak of it until now because I didn't want to hurt the family," the 72-year-old dame commander of the British Empire said.
For Andrews, the lesson of a difficult mother-daughter relationship has been to develop richer engagements with her own children, specifically her daughter Emma, with whom she has written numerous children's books.
Andrews' life has featured several strong women, most notably her childhood singing instructor, but perhaps because of her relationship with her stalwart "real dad" — a "rock solid" personality who would do things like take her to fields of nightingales to hear them sing in unison — and her challenging connection to her mother, great men of the stage and screen figure prominently in her storytelling.
The section on "My Fair Lady" finds her dueling with costumer Cecil Beaton and a flatulent Rex Harrison, as well as being trained to be a cockney lass by Moss Hart. "Camelot" places her under the seductive gaze of the charismatic Richard Burton, whom Andrews claims made a (failed) dressing room pass at her. She eventually marries Tony Walton, a childhood friend and prominent set designer, and, by the memoir's end, she's headed to Hollywood at the behest of Walt Disney, who had wooed her to play Mary Poppins.
For the last 38 years, she has been married to director Blake Edwards, with whom she did her most controversial movie, "S.O.B.," which involved an undercutting of her squeaky-clean image, culminating in a glimpse of her bare breasts.
Was it her talent that allowed her to transcend adversity, or adversity that fueled her talent? She considered the question for about a minute, acknowledging its coy inversion but zeroing in on the salient aspect: her continual quest for home. "I wanted to be pulled up," she finally said. "I was looking for a way to make life better."
Points of interest
|1964||Best Actress||Mary Poppins||Win|
|1965||Best Actress||The Sound of Music||Nomination|