"I never really knew a childhood, although I certainly did not seem unhappy"
Startime is invariably an image in search of a face. The countenance of war creates a desperate need for “the girl next door.” The 1940’s had it's own peculiar style; a slash of red lipstick and platform wedgies denoted an emancipated woman waiting for Johnny to come home from Guam or the Bluge. Julie Andrews began then as a singing child star and graduated to 1950’s and 1960’s magnificence. “I never really knew a childhood, although I certainly did not seem unhappy,” Julie claims.
Her life began in Walton-on-Thames, a small town 20 miles south of London. When she was quite young, her parents were divorced; subsequently her mother married an entertainer, Ted Andrew, whose name Julie took as her own. During the war, the British schools were forced to shutter, so Julie’s stepfather initiated singing lessons to occupy the girl’s time. As it turned out, Julie had a range of five octaves and an adult larynx. Her voice training continued and soon she debuted in the Starlight Roof Revue, followed by numerous other revues and concert tours.
Then, during her appearance in a pantomime of Cinderella at the London Palladium, she was signed for the Broadway run of the musical The Boy Friend. Her success had begun. Soon afterward, she was chosen to originate the Eliza Doolittle role in the Lerner and Lowe Broadway musical, My Fair Lady. However, before rehearsals began, Julie managed to squeeze in a Hollywood television special, High Tor, with Bing Crosby. Then it was two years of critical acclaim on Broadway, followed by another 18 month in the London Production. And after than, she was back on Broadway as Queen Guinevere in Lerner and Lowe’s Camelot.
Julie’s career was moving along perfectly. But when the role of Eliza Doolittle was up for grabs for the film version of My Fair Lady, ironically, the producers were doubtful about how she would draw at the box office. This would be her first film and they didn’t want to take a chance with an unknown and unproven film actress. So she was passed over for Audrey Hepburn, with Marni Nixon’s musical voiceover.
Instead, Julie had been film debut as the singing nanny in Mary Poppins, won the Oscar over Audrey, and left the producers of My Fair Lady with egg on their faces.
But her role in Mary Poppins turned out to be a mixed blessing. She created an image in that film, an image she simply could not change, Her sweeter than saccharine smile seemed to touch a nerve-ending in the American psyche.
Although Julie tried to break out of that Mary Poppins image in the Americanization of Emily, (her favorite film), playing a nurse not averse to spending the better part of an evening in bed with a naval man, it was a failed attempt at emancipation. As one critic stated, “her main problem is that she simply cannot be accepted as a hooker, in or out of a polite society.”
Then came the Sound of Music and another Academy Award nomination. she was stuck in a niche, typecast, no matter how successful was her sweetness. Although she did relish her financial success, there was little of what she considered her own nature in the characters she played.
According to Julie, “The Sound of Music was so appreciated I felt trapped . . . I would have loved to have gotten my teeth into something solid, but . . .” And so she played the young wife of a dedicated missionary in Hawaii, a lady scientist in Torn Curtain, and the legendary Gertrude Lawrence in the musical biography Star!
Exit husband Tony Walton, by then a leading set designer, a talented man with a career of his own. Enter Julie’s Svengali, her new husband, director Blake Edwards. He paired Julie with Rock Hudson in Darling Lili, but the expected cannons never went off. Her portrayal of a sexy lady spy simply missed.
An interesting fact about Julie Andrews is that in person she radiates a sexuality that has persistently resisted the screen. She actually exudes more sensuality than Grace Kelly, who was the epitome of “cool sex” during Eisenhower’s White House years. “I feel very , very feminine,” she said, as Blake Edwards seconded the motion, “and I should project that feeling as an actress.” Such statements have long been the province of actresses. In some cases the switch from hoyden to madonna has brought an Oscar. In others, the attempt of a saint to portray a Judas priest has been greeted by Des Moines raspberries. Gary Cooper, after a long career of hero rose that garnered both laurels and dollars, in his last film played the bad guy, trying to kill sweet Deborah Kerr. Nobody seriously believed he could contemplate such evil.
And so Julie Andrews seemed to have lost the precise magic that creates box office. People refused to believe her portrayal of the lady spy who gets no retribution or a Broadway actress who flirts her way through men’s hearts. “You begin to lose confidence at a point,” she firmly stated, not in the ability to project some human emotions but in their intransigent route to the public’s heart.
Now Julie has turned to television Since mid-September, she has headlined her own weekly musical variety show, The Julie Andrews Hour, on the ABC television network. The show, which is telecast 10.00-11.00 p.m. Wednesday evenings, is produced by Nick Vanoff (whose credits include Hollywood Palace and The Perry Como Kraft Music Hall), and taped at the ABC Television Center in Hollywood under the aegis of Sir Lew Grade’s Associated Television Corporation.
Generally, television for the superstar is considered the ultimate comedown unless it has traces of campiness to it. Laugh In can get a Marcel, Marceau or Sammy Davis to appear because a certain humanity comes through. These unapproachable people, for a moment, touch base with everyday truths.
“Funny, or embarrassing things really do happen to me,” Julie has openly admitted (not caring to play the Goddess-who-never-goes-to-the-toilet role off screen), “and now I’ll try to show that side of me.” Unlike the feature film, television has been unkind to actresses who did not subscribe to the role of slapstick comedienne or the wise wife. Still, Julie asserts, “This series is giving me room to expand, and to get out from under any images, true or false.” But a successful star like Shirley McLaine was axed from her TV slot in less than half a season Julie Andrews knows the odds. She is a girl who has always had a lot of confidence. No lost little girl quality resides within her. She has been a performer since the age of eight or nine and starting from a bomb shelter she as progressed through a multi-faceted career against all kinds of criticism. She sings well, dances will enough, and can act better than most. The combination should be unbeatable.
“I should never encourage my daughter to become an actress because the competition is fierce,” Julie allows. She knows that from much experience and realizes that since mid-September she has had to contend with the ratings. Her previous specials in prime time, were received with hurrahs. For two of them, Julie and Carol at Carnegie Hall, and Julie and Carol at Lincoln Center she worked with Carol Burnett. They teamed well, getting laughs in the right places and singing duets that touched base with humor, pathos, and empathy. But Carol Burnett has paid her dues as a single. She has suffered the rage of second banana to panel masters with no talent, but great sponsor identification. Now her funny girl, come to life, has paid off. Julie may be too pretty for a lasting solo run, but she self-confidently claims, “I shall surely try to accomplish whatever is needed,” (and the statement is not as bland as it might first sound, being that Julie is the consummate professional).
According to Julie, Blake has helped her quite a bit to change her image. But, he as a film director could only do so much. Now Blake is on higher ground in advising Julie. He was the resident boy genius on Peter Gunn taking a lackluster film personality like Craig Stevens and turning him into a hard hitting, albeit charming, private eye. He knows the medium. Julie trusts his judgment.
“I owe him a lot,” Craig Stevens has said more than once; “He knew just what to do, every step of the way.” But on male telling another in an impersonal way how to shove a .38 into a mug’s face is only part of the game. Lucille Ball had Des Arena, a Cuban bongo player, and now turns to Gary Morton, an experienced club comic, to time her laughs, cool any overdone skits, and make her laugh when the lights get too hot. Carol Burnett has Joe Hamilton’s experience to guide her through the shoals. Love between husband-wife pairings is one thing, professional expertise another. Blake has moved hard guys through a TV club called Mother’s where Peter Gunn hung his hat. The female touch is another bag of jelly beans.
“She’s a unique human being and a great performer,” Edwards states.
He’s sure she will succeed on her own terms. She smiles easily at compliments, but is no one’s fool. Garbo retired when Two Faced Woman with Melvyn Douglas proved to be far less than Ninotchka had been. Marilyn Monroe took too many sleeping pills when her image became a gargoyle of Green Giant proportions. The price is all too high when the image-makers let slip and Julie has gone full circle in her overriding attempt to circumnavigate the toothy miss who smiles through Hell’s high waters.
“She’s a fine trouper,” said Alfred Hitchcock recently, “only, Julie as a scientist in Torn Curtain proved too unbelievable. I thought big names, her’s and Paul Newman’s, would make the difference, but the public proved me wrong.” the master redid Grace Kelly and made Madeline Carroll a household word late in the 1930’s, always a cool type in circumstances beyond her control. He bailed them out with leading men such as Cary Grant and somewhat implausible chase endings. They each worked. With Julie, the image proved to be too much.
“Television is a force that reaches people on a less superficial level than film,” Julie said, not unaware that her specials have had an impact. Torn Curtain and Star were images thrust upon Julie. She had little choice in the minute details that enrich a character and make her come to life. She took direction and the master plan proved fallible. In her new TV series Julie is trying to make an image with which she is satisfied. She considers this image relatively unique, not too sugar-sweet, never too pushy or aggressive, and certainly bearing little or no resemblance to buffoons. “People needn’t always laugh at pies in the face or catastrophes about to happen,” she theorizes. Julie grew up watching British music hall performers doing basically the same act for 30 years, getting by in a time far slower in pace and less critical of change. She loved them and laughed at each special brand of lunacy and sweetness. Then, one day when there was no war and economic comeback was a happening in Europe, Julie saw precious little of these clowns who refused to change. Nothing is sadder than a clown with tears in his eyes and no one to clap as he eventually smiles through white makeup and tomato patch lips.
“I can make then change necessary to survive,” is her very British outlook on survival, “I can . . .” Still, no one sits in judgment more than an American audience watching TV for free. They don’t mind paying the sponsor a few pennies more per product box so long as he supplies them with Julie and fistful of stars. But, then, when the moving finger, having turned the dial, decides that stars, superstars, and almost stars are not what he wants, then there is no recourse but to go back to the lab and come up with a new product. Julie is not new, she is merchandise-tested and found to be true in a formula. Only the formula has for some time been less than surefire. Julie knows that getting a chance can sometimes elude the novice performer for a dozen harsh years before even a second banana opportunity is presented. But, Julie has been at the top, with a public inclined to accept its own vision of Saint Joan and Doris Day wrapped in a British package. Now the judgment can be all too harsh. It can cheer silently through a Nielson rating system that decides whether twelve hundred selected homes are America and the taste of today. Or it can yawn less than politely.
“This series is what I want it to be,” she says in a calm precise manner, far less Mary Poppins than Winston Churchill facing a crisis.