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"Anything with Bette Davis - she was always marvelous. And that film with Brando... Viva Zapata, that's the one"

Julie Andrews on her favorite films

Richard Stirling
June 2001

There is nothing like a dame - and certainly nothing like Julie Andrews.
She's every inch the star, as Richard Sterling discovers.

Dame Julie Andrews is a transatlantic phenomenon - Britain made her a Dame in 2000 and President Reagan decorated her after she established the relief charity organization, Operation California. According to Lord Attenborough, she has probably brought more joy to more people than any other star of her generation: her hits have been many - My Fair Lady, Mary Poppins. The Sound of Music, her flops, few and far between. In 1997, she was diagnosed with throat nodules and was left without a voice by the subsequent operation for which Julie is reputed to have won damages in the region of $20 million. Now 64, Julie's hair is tinted a soft auburn, her skin is glowing, and there are only fine lines around her deep blue eyes. She lives in Los Angeles with her husband, Blake Edwards and the two daughters that they adopted at the height of the Vietnam crisis.

Unsurprisingly, her schedule is as busy as ever. In April, she teamed up with Christopher Plummer, for the first time since The Sound of Music in the USA television version of On Golden Pond, she is set to appear on the big screen in Disney's The Princess Diaries and future plans include her autobiography.

Your parents divorced when you were young. Now did this affect you?

Oh gosh. I wasn't very happy. I found it hard to get close to my stepfather at first. He began giving me singing lessons when I was about 7 or 8 in an effort to create a bond between us. I had a very pure, white, four-octave coloratura and I would stand on a soapbox beside him, so we could both reach the microphone together. But I adored my birth father, Ted Wells, and constantly worried that I was being disloyal to him and his schoolteacher roots if I spent too much time performing and enjoying it.

You found fame in Educating Archie on the wireless and Starlight Roof in the West End while you were still at school. Were you starstruck from then on?

It actually helped enormously at school - what schooling I had - to be able to show off and say that I had sung before the Queen! But I thought it was all a flash in the pan. It wasn't until Broadway came along that I felt I had really made it. Then, when Hollywood hit big, that swept me off my feet for a while. There were just so many interviews and appearances; it was very heady stuff and quite dizzy making. It's so wobbly up there, you're trying to please everybody and you get very guarded and a little too careful. It's insane.

Why at the height of your success did you feel the need to see an analyst?

It is the only decision I have ever made totally, one hundred per cent. It has also turned out to have been one of the wisest. If you survive in any way in this business, you're going to see enormous roller-coaster ups and downs. I needed to ground myself.

I had a lot of baggage that I was carrying around with me. I just needed some answers: I think I'd probably have been a pretty rotten mother without them.

Your husband, Blake Edwards, has directed much of your later work. Accident or design?

Probably both. When you have a husband who offers you a role on a platter, you'd have to be rather an idiot to turn it down.

Of all your films, which is your favorite?

That is a little like saying, which puppy in the basket do you love the best? I have enjoyed each one for different reason. One that is very dear is That's Life, which I made with Jack Lemmon. Blake had a spur of the moment idea to make a low-budget movie at home in Malibu. We sold the house and the next owners tore a great deal of it down and rebuilt it for the gentleman who was with Princess Diana. Of course, it was never lived in...

You have a very wholesome image. Does this ever bother you?

You mean "squeaky clean"? Richard Burton (her Camelot co-star) rang me up once and said, do you know you're my only leading lady I've never slept with? I said, well please don't tell everybody, it's the worst image. I have also been called "a nun with a switchblade" where my privacy is concerned. I don't have anything to hide, I just think there's a point where one says, that's for family, that's for me. I don't think people need to come into the bathroom with me. I don't understand why they should be interested.

You are married to an American. Which country do you feel is home?

I am very proud to be British. I'm very conscious of carrying my country with me wherever I go - I feel I need to represent it well.

In the 1970s, you moved to Switzerland. Was this semi-retirement?

Twice in my life I've needed to do that, really get away from it all. Once was when my husband and I married and our children needed to be part of a family, so I just didn't work for a couple of years. Then when we adopted our two babies, again we needed to settle down.

Your two little girls and your older daughter, actress Emma Walton, have what many children want at some point: Maria von Trapp as a real live mother. Your career makes you a difficult act to follow.

I've been conscious of it all my children's lives. On the other hand, that's the way it is. I would be a fool to deny my own abilities.

Let's talk about your much publicized voice problems.

It's been difficult; a major tragedy for me because I love singing, and came to absolutely adore it in the later part of my career.

Will you sing again?

I'll make the decision in private. I don't think I'll get back to the coloratura, which I don't need anyway, but I'm optimistic that a certain amount of it will return.

How do you stay in such good shape?

I've inherited good genes from my mother. I also drink a great deal of bottled water. I have found that traveling as much as I do, my skin would often break out, depending on what the local water was like. I even make my tea with bottled water. Having said that, I don't think I'd get up in the morning and give an interview without a little preparation. This business is all about image and I wouldn't want to frighten people!

Some people think of you more highly now than they might have in the past.

Well, that's longevity. Having stuck around and survived, I think eventually the body of work pulls into focus.

Do you have any unfulfilled ambitions?

I have always wished I could learn to be a potter. I love collecting ceramics; it would be so fulfilling to create something lovely.



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