"...like to be a sexy bombshell. But I'm not and never will be. So what I'd like would be really wacky comedy. I'd love to throw custard tarts at people."
There are a good many people who have the distinct impression that Julie Andrews' real name is Eliza Doolittle. Julie almost felt that way herself, after playing Eliza triumphantly on Broadway and in London. So when she stopped in at her agent's offices on a visit to Hollywood last year, the first thing she brought up was a reminder that among the various film offers that might come her way, My Fair Lady took absolute precedence in her mind. The room was crowded and all heads turned toward her. "Don't you know?" one of the MCA people said. "They announced this morning that Audrey Hepburn has the part."
My Fair Lady, in Super Panavision 70 by Warner Bros., opens this month, and next winter Audrey Hepburn will almost certainly be a nominee for an Oscar. But curiously enough, Audrey Hepburn might very well lose the Oscar — to Julie Andrews. In Walt Disney's Mary Poppins, Julie has just opened to flat-out raves in New York and Los Angeles (TIME, Sept. 18), playing P. L. Travers' classic nanny with a sparkling sweetness that belies the original but also with an inner light that is original in itself.
Warners probably turned Julie down because she was only a Broadway star and not a sure draw at the movie box office. Disney, who considers his own name insurance enough, snapped her up for Mary Poppins; then Producer Marty Ransohoff, knowing that he could only profit by following Disney, cast Julie opposite James Garner in The Americanization of Emily, which opens in a fortnight or so. Twentieth Century-Fox was emboldened enough to leap into the act, too, putting Julie to work on the film version of The Sound of Music. Suddenly, at 29, she has become a thoroughgoing movie star, in demand all over town.
No Temper. Wherever Julie goes in Hollywood these days, the natives act embarrassed and fall all over themselves with a sense of shame for what Warner Bros, did to her. Hollywood people would not know quite how to act with her anyway, because they see her sort so rarely. She is straightforward, amiable, eager to please, and her only eccentricity is a fondness for boiled-potato sandwiches. She wears little makeup, even when she is being photographed. She is infectiously enthusiastic. No matter how much pressure she is under, she never boils over.
"Some day," she promises, "I am going to lose my temper. I've never done it, and I'm determined. But if you are going to throw a temperament you have to be damn sure you're right. Otherwise it won't quite come off."
She lives with her husband, Set and Costume Designer Tony Walton, and two-year-old daughter in a rented Spanish villa with a warm-water pool in Coldwater Canyon. She doesn't smoke, but she will now and then take a little brandy and soda. With ice? Unthinkable. She would love to be able to play tennis, but she says she is too awkward: "If I throw a ball overhand," she says, "I without fail will be flat on my bottom." She confides that she would really "like to be a sexy bombshell. But I'm not and never will be. So what I'd like would be really wacky comedy. I'd love to throw custard tarts at people."
She and her husband both come from Walton-on-Thames* in Surrey, and have known each other since 1947, when he was 13 and she twelve. Julie, whose mother and stepfather were musical vaudevillians, was a professional singer even then.
She made her debut in London's Hippodrome, aged twelve, in a routine designed to sandbag the audience. In the middle of a revue, the M.C. walked down to the footlights and said, "Is there any little girl here who would care to sing to us?" Up shot a hand in the stalls. In a flap of pigtails, this little hoyden in a party frock climbed up on the stage. "Don't feel frightened little girl, just sing," said the M.C. So Julie Andrews opened her mouth and the vast hall filled with the "Polonaise" from Mignon. She had the voice of a woman. "I was a child freak," she says. "I had a four-octave range. It was a thin, reedy but very powerful voice. My parents carted me off to a throat specialist, who discovered that I had an adult larynx." Soon Julie became one of the youngest performers ever to give a Royal Variety Performance.
The day before her 19th birthday, she opened on Broadway in The Boy Friend, and overnight she was such a star that Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe thought they were simmering in luck when they got her to sign for My Fair Lady.
"The whole success of Fair Lady was so extreme and strange that it was hard for her to absorb it, and in fact she never did," says her husband. "You know, a hit like that becomes a fashion, and having Julie at your party became a catch. She never got used to that. She was dazed by it all. Her main memory of it seems to be how hard it all was." But not quite so hard as seeing someone else do the movie.
* The name of the town has no connection with his family.