"Julie is a lady, but a lady with a wonderfully humorous view of herself. 'Well, Mary Poppins blew it again,' she'll say if something goes wrong. No star ever radiated that love she does. Trouble is, audiences think they own her. They demand she be a certain thing and are disappointed when she's not."
There was a time not too many years age when the Julie Andrews name seemed positively magical. she could hiccup and draw an ovation. Maybe it was Mary Poppins' umbrella, thoroughly Modern Millie's flapper outfit or Maria Von Trapp's glockenspiel that did it. Whatever it was,, it was dynamite with audiences. As the star of "The Sound of Music" this cool, well-bread English girl heated up the box offices to the tune of $72,000,000 would wide, challenging the long-standing record of "Gone with the Wind" and rescuing the studio that made it from financial doldrums.
But, alas that was 1965, and all this changed. Adorable was out. people no longer cottoned in sufficient numbers to the sentimental, expensively mounted musical show about nice, virginal ladies with starched middy blouses and high octane singing voices (as many a producer learned when he tried to emulate "Sound's" success). They had defected in favor of the Graduates, the Bonnie and Clydes, the Shafts, the Godfathers. The film revolution, with its let-it-all-hang-out realism, had caught up. Julie found herself locked into her own sugary image.
"Julie is a lady, but a lady with a wonderfully humorous view of herself," explains her husband, producer-director Blake Edwards. " 'Well, Mary Poppins blew it again,' she'll say if something goes wrong. No star ever radiated that love she does. Trouble is, audiences think they own her. They demand she be a certain thing and are disappointed when she's not."
So Julie, game girl that she is, tried to break the mold. The results were disheartening. In "Star!", one of the '60s costliest flops, she tried to play the late Gertrude Lawrence, complete with Cartier jewels and Noel Coward dialogue. Her fans let her know how they felt about that by not showing up. In "Darling Lili," a World Ware I comedy made by Edwards during their courtship, she tried to play a Dietrich-like song-and-dance girl who's also a spy. this film so distressed Paramount that the studio, elbowing Edwards aside, cut it to shreds. What was left was mercilessly lambasted by the critics.
Shortly thereafter Julie withdrew from the film wars (she has been off the screen three years) to tend to an urgent domestic problem which had arisen with the Edwards children at home. "It was time I tried being a full-time mum," she says. Coincidentally, it gave her time to ponder her professional problem: how to find roles with range which could also fulfil her "responsibility to the audience." Sometime in the late '60s she took to the analyst's couch. "I needed some answers," she says, "and I needed them badly,"
Throughout her career she had firmly resisted serials television. Does the queen opt for the duties of the parlor maid? ABC tried every known inducement. It was thought, erroneously as it turned out, that if movie audiences were tired of the starched-middy-blouse school of performing, TV audiences were just warming up to it. It was not until Sir Lew Grade, the cigar-chomping British entertainment tycoon known as "the Mike Todd of Europe" and chief supplier of British product for American TV (Tom Jones, Engelbert Humperdink, The Saint, Secret: Agent, The Protectors, The Adventurer, etc.), came into the picture in the summer of 1971 that Julie began to consider the matter seriously.
Sir Lew not only had theatres to fill, sound stages to keep working, a network to program and money to gamble; he also had some understanding of Julie's real needs. He has known and loved her, he says, since she was a child performing in the music halls with her mother and stepfather, singer Ted Andrews. "You might say I was her first agent," burbles Sir Lew. "Everybody had tried to get her for TV without success. I kept persevering, promised her the best of everything and don't worry about the budget. It was a challenge, I said. She bent a little."
Actually, Sir Lew made it all but impossible for her not to bend. The deal he dangled also included five films to be shot in Europe, one for every year of The Julie Andrews Hour. More over at least two of these films were to be produced by Edwards, whose film fortunes also had taken a tumble. For one of them ("A blockbuster," cries Sir Lew") the script is already written. From all these activities she would realize a sum comparable to what she was making at he height of her super stardom, which for "Darling Lili" was $!,000,000 plus a percentage. "Hmph!" grumbles Sir Lew. "If this deal only goes two years I'll have £15,000,000 in it."
ABC was delighted. It had its elusive bird in had at somebody else's expense. Sir Lew is putting the show on in England, Australia and Canada. In the U.S. it's a good deal for ABC. All the network had to put up was a flat production fee and the assurance of 24 shows on the air the first year.
Nick Vanoff, the one-time dancer-turned-producer who had seven fruitful years of Hollywood Palace under his belt, was hired to produce. Nick was slick was the word going around town. He would produce not just a variety show but "a special every week," he said. a smile on his face, programming chief Mary Starger confidently penciled in The Julie Andrews Hour for that traditional ABC weak spot, Wednesday night at 10 o'clock (ET), and waited for the ratings to flatten all opposition.
Starger is still waiting. The show came on the air with a disappointing 17.3 in the Nielsens, slipped to an abysmal 11.4 in the second week. managing to beat out only a handful of relative nonentities. It has seldom risen above 14.4 ever since. What happened?
"A difficult question," says Starger somberly, "But this is a difficult kind of show. sure, the ratings were - uh, a little lower than anticipated. But look at Dean Martin. He was a slow-starter, too. If there is a lesson here it is that variety is not the show to do if you're looking for the Top 10 right away."
Vanoff figures that the time slot is largely to blame. "Ten o'clock is too late," he says sadly, adding what surely must be the back handed compliment of the year: "Julie's fans are all asleep." It took Starger until mid November to see the wisdom of this. He announced that henceforth the show would be seen at 9 p.m. on Saturday in order to "maximize her audience potential." "I am confident," he added, "you will be seeing her for a long time to come." Only Sir Lew Grade remained unflappable. "I'm thrilled," he says. "If a musical show can hold its own again two action thrillers in this day and age, you're doing fine."
Julie Andrews? A patsy for action thrillers? If the gods move in mysterious ways they have nothing on TV executives. All this proved numbing for Julie. Typically she met the crisis with unflagging good humor and heavy doses of British stiff-upper-lip. a superb performer, who never gives less than her best and sometimes puts in an 18 hour day getting director bill Davis's effects for him, she is fiercely proud of the show. she does what she does, and if it somehow fails to fit the perverse requirements of the TV market place, too bad - and how sad.
Julie talks about it over cold cuts in her cheerful, flower-decked penthouse dressing rood. she wears freshly-minted blue jeans, a polo shirt, canvas slip-ons and thin gold earrings. a floppy spaniel puppy named Klutz nips at her heels. "Why do I do this? I could give you six reasons," she muses. "It was a very generous offer and the timing seemed right. Before, I'd always declined; I wouldn't be able to manage the special problems with the children. then I talked it over with Blake.
"TV has always scared me. but I had not worked for two years. If I waited any longer I would be too old and tired - I certainly couldn't have the energy I have now."
The ratings? I they bother her she isn't letting on. "The jury's sill out. I think people want to see something joyous and pleasant and filled with emotion." she fondles Klutz's fuzzy ears. "If we're really in trouble, Nick [Vonoff] will let me know."
That's Julie for you. always waiting for someone to "let me know" when the roof's falling in. she accepts the fact, she says, that "people's tastes change. sometimes you time well. sometimes you don't I would like to be someone who's considered reasonably well-rounded. but that's not as easy as it seems."
Julie has weathered some difficult times before. there was her stepfather who broke her into show business, "an overpowering man built like Burl Ives, whose very size frightened me. At the time I resented him bitterly. I was made to buckle down. He made all the moves. He sold me. but he made me hang on to my talent."
There was her fear of Hollywood. "I was very naive and felt inadequate. It took a while before I could stop feeling guilty about all the luxury, sun and sand." There was the crushing disappointment of not being allowed to play Eliza Doolittle, the role which made her on Broadway; Jack Warner cast the then better known Audrey Hepburn in the film Julie swallowed hard and said she thought it was fine "because I'm such a fan of Audrey's." But in the end it was Julie who triumphed: she won the Oscar that your for "Mary Poppins"; Audrey's performance in "My Fair Lady" was an also-ran. earlier when she accepted another award, Warner was present at the banquet. "My thanks to Jack L. Warner," said Julie, hugging the trophy to her bosom, "for making all this possible."
While TV "absolutely terrified" her, she felt more secure, she said at he time she did her second starring special (1965), "when I have a song to sing." she had long since despaired of ever being a femme fatale. "I'd like to be a sexy bombshell," she declared at one point, "but I'm not and I never will be." Umbrellas, she confessed, suited her better. Not long after that she did the very un-Mary Poppins-like thing of shedding her first husband, Tony Walton, the British costume designer, and marrying Edwards, the man she now refers to as "my stunning husband."
Edwards, accused by some of "playing Svengali to her Trilby," is very influential in her life and there is little question that had he been against the TV project she never would have agreed to do it. Basically he is a porch-climbing romanticist himself, the type who sends 20 dozen yellow roses when a dozen red ones will do. At the same time he is perceptive enough to be able to separate - in their private life at least - the real girl form the public image, something very few others seem able to do. "I know it sound corny," Edwards insists, a perceptible mist fogging his eyes, "but this is not a corny girl!"
Richard Burton, her leading man in "Camelot" before he cast his lot with Liz, once remarked, "Every man falls a little bit in love with Julie." Burton's Law continues to operate today, no matter what misfortunes may befall and what capricious rationalizations are put forth to explain them. Even the women are drawn to Julie - once they get to know her. Says Mama Cass Elliot, who guest on an early show and got along so well that Julie immediately brought her back: "I came not prepared to like her. One night it got to be 4 o'clock in the morning and the actors wee ready to kill each other, Julie was putting out on every take as if it were the last one she'd ever make. I was embarrassed to complain. I dunno, but there is something very special there, which you grow to love. If she could just free it up a little, I mean - groovy!"
Judging by Julie's past tenacity, it may yet come to be. when it does, it will probably have very little to do with juggling time slots, analyzing rating trends, or even hearty reassurances from Sir Lew Grade. It will just happen; she really will discover "who I am." and when it does, stand back