Mention the name Julie Andrews and you probably think of the joyful conquering heroine of Mary Poppins and The Sound of Music. But behind the sweetness and English charm, her life has had its dark side.
Born in 1935 in England, Julie grew up with vaudevillians mother Barbara and stepfather Ted Andrews. Julie’s early life was full of poverty, with lack of work and Ted’s alcoholism creating a very difficult home life.
At 10 years of age, Julie would perform constantly alongside her parents to keep the money coming in, describing herself at hollywoodreporter.com as a ‘sad little girl’.
At 11 her remarkable four-octave singing voice was discovered, and she starred in Starlight Roof, leading to young Julie singing her first Royal Command Performance in 1947. Her early life was definitely one of highs and lows.
Her adult career really started just before her 19th birthday, with the hit musical The Boyfriend on Broadway. Starring in the stage version of the
musical My Fair Lady soon followed, but a major disappointment awaited her when the producers decided to make a film of their hit Audrey Hepburn was chosen over Julie for the leading role.
But life had something even bigger in store for Julie.
She had been approached by Walt Disney about starring in a film called Mary Poppins. However, she was pregnant at the time, and he told her they would wait for her. The film was a hit, followed in 1965 by Julie’s next huge success, The Sound of Music, a show she loved.
Success continued to come Julie’s way, but calamity awaited her in 1997, when surgery for non-cancerous growths on her vocal cords went wrong, robbing her of her singing voice. For a woman who had built much of her career on that voice, this was devastating. It was her daughter Emma who challenged her to develop other interests, and the two of them set up a successful business with children’s books.
Despite the loss of her singing voice, Julie was still a popular box-office film draw, and lead roles in The Princess Diaries films came her way. Many other spoken film roles have followed, including voice work as Queen Lillian in several Shrek animated films.
Julie’s second marriage, to director Blake Edwards, lasted a happy 41 years until his death in 2010. Paying a heartfelt tribute to him, Julie described Edwards as ‘the man who made me laugh the most in my life’.
Made a Dame in 2000, Julie Andrews has recently been in Australia, directing a stage version of My Fair Lady, a new role that gave her great satisfaction.
While her life has had its peaks and troughs, it could be summed up by words in the Bible.
‘You have allowed me to suffer much hardship, but you will restore me to life again and lift me up from the depths of the earth’ (Psalm 71, verse 20).
May we all follow in Dame Julie Andrews’ footsteps, making the most of what life offers.