As the star of Mary Poppins and The Sound of Music, Dame Julie Andrews‘ place in entertainment history is assured – she’s a performer who genuinely deserves the over-used terms “icon,” “legend,” and “beloved.” The English actress has definitely earned her “practically perfect” reputation over the years, but as she prepares to publish her second memoir, Home Work: A Memoir of My Hollywood Years, due Tuesday, here are some things about her life and career that you might not be aware of.
1. She was a child star in the U.K.
She made her professional stage debut at the age of 12, performing in a musical revue at the London Hippodrome. During this period, she was asked to do a screen test for the British division of MGM, but the studio turned her down, saying she was “unfilmable.” Oops!
2. But her childhood was less than idyllic.
Andrews writes in her first memoir, Home, that she spent the early part of her childhood living “in a bad slum area of London.” She also recalls that her stepfather, Ted Andrews, was an alcoholic who was prone to bouts of violence.
3. Her iconic opening scene from The Sound of Music was treacherous to film.
“This giant helicopter came at me sideways with a very brave cameraman hanging out the side of where the door would be normally,” Andrews recalled in 2015. “The helicopter would shoot me, and I’d come from one end of the field and he’d come from the other. I’d make the big turn, and then he’d go around me to go back and start again, and I’d run to the other end. But every time he went around me, the downdraft from the jets would fling me down into the grass.”
4. She was passed over for the movie version of My Fair Lady.
Andrews had originated the role of Eliza Doolittle in London’s West End and on Broadway, but studio boss Jack Warner decided to cast Audrey Hepburn instead because he considered her to be better known. Andrews then accepted the lead in Mary Poppins, and when she collected her Golden Globe Award for her performance – winning over Hepburn – she said, with a spoonful of sass: “And, finally, my thanks to a man who made a wonderful movie and who made all this possible in the first place: Mr. Jack Warner.” Zing!
5. In 1996, she declined a Tony Award nomination for her performance in Victor/Victoria – because it was the production’s only nomination.
“I have searched my conscience and my heart and I am afraid I cannot accept this nomination,” she said at the time. “I prefer to stand with the egregiously overlooked cast and crew.”
6. She also declined a cameo in last year’s sequel to Mary Poppins, the Emily Blunt-led Mary Poppins Returns.
Director Rob Marshall floated the idea to Andrews but she politely vetoed it. “Julie was incredibly gracious, and we talked about it in a very general way but she made it clear right up front,” Marshall told Entertainment Weekly. “She said, ‘This is Emily’s show, and I really want it to be Emily’s show. I don’t want it to be, “Oh, here comes that Mary Poppins.” I don’t want that. I really want her to take this and run with it, because she will be brilliant.’”
7. She almost starred in Bedknobs and Broomsticks.
Andrews was offered the lead role of Miss Eglantine Price, but hesitated because she felt it was a little too similar to Mary Poppins. After Dame Angela Lansbury was cast, Andrews reconsidered and contacted producer Bill Walsh, but the role had already gone.
8. She lost almost all of her five-octave vocal range in a botched 1997 throat operation.
Three years later, she settled a malpractice lawsuit against the doctors who performed the operation. Speaking about this devastating period in her career recently, Andrews said: “I went into a depression. It felt like I’d lost my identity.”
9. She may have a very proper reputation, but this didn’t stop Andrews from agreeing to appear topless, very briefly, in the 1981 movie S.O.B., which was directed by her late husband Blake Edwards.
“It [the topless scene] was very legitimate – legitimately in the script,” Andrews recalled on The Graham Norton Show. “It took 10 years to get the movie made so I had 10 years to think about it!”
10. Oh, and there’s one word you probably shouldn’t use to describe her.
“I hate the word wholesome,” she’s famously said!
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