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"In retrospect, I suppose I may have wanted more of a teenage life, but I didn't really miss it at the time. I was getting a lot of attention from my family and audiences and my peers, and I loved it. I always knew my life had a direction, because I had a voice and a talent."

Julie Andrews

TV Times
Ken Martin
1972

My Strange Life as a Teenager

A fresh chapter in the Cinderella story of Julie Andrews has opened with her new ITV series, The Julie Andrews Hour, which began two weeks age. Ken Martin has an exclusive view of the birth of Julie's TV spectaculars and interviewed the star. Here, Julie recalls her precocious start on the road to stardom - and her fantasy diary of the happy family life she longed for as a child.

Sometimes, sitting in her cool yellow and white dressing-room - with Picasso prints on the walls, a tin of Fine English Assorted Biscuits on the glass table and really strong English-style tea in the pot - Julie Andrews, singing snatches of song, is worried that her show might be too good.

"People are obviously getting their money's worth," she says. (With guest stars including Tony Curtis, Peter Sellers, Robert Goulet and James Garner, who would deny it?) "But maybe we're working too hard at getting everything too professional.

"You know how the success of someone like Dean Martin is partly based on expectations that he may make a mistake? Perhaps the show would seem warmer if we didn't try so hard to be spectacular and polished."

Earlier, I had watched Julie on set, closed to all magazines except TV Times during the early weeks of recording - as she perspired freely through a lavish dance number. She had not been able to sit down, during taping, in case she had creased her gown.

But now here she was, happy and relaxed, sprawling on the carpet in an ankle length candy-striped crepe shift, trying out musical arrangements with British arranger Ian Fraser. "How is your top A sharp, Darling?" asks Fraser."It's variable," Julie says, darkly.

'By the way, do you think we should do this song in B flat? It's a lovely rich key, but it gets a bit sleepy." She starts to sing, then gradually lets her head begin to nod.

Nick Vanoff, the producer, enters. "Nick," Julie cries, "Ian and I decided . . ." She checks herself and starts again. "Ian and I wondered if it wouldn't be better. . ."

Julie works on her Hour series for six days a week, sometimes 15 hours a day. Incredibly, she hardly worked at all for the previous three years, by choice: she had an excellent TV offer for last year, but turned it down because she didn't feel ready to spend time away from her adored husband and children. one time she seemed to be the last of the compulsive workers, perhaps because her life had little else in it. . .

Julia Elizabeth Wells was born in Walton-on-Thames, Surrey, on October 1, 1935, and made her first stage appearance at the age of two in the, non-speaking role of a fairy at a dancing school pageant. Even stars have to start at the bottom. A year later` she sang on stage for the first time : as "Nod" in the school's production of Winken, Blinken and Nod. Her childish treble was enough to convince her father, Ted Wells, that she belonged on stage.

Ted Wells was a handicrafts teacher. Perhaps romancing a bit, Julie says that her mother had been a very promising concert pianist until she gave up studying to earn her living. In the summer before the war, Barbara Wells took a job as a pianist for a variety show in Bognor Regis, Sussex. Appearing on the show was another Ted - "The Canadian Troubadour," Ted Andrews, who was to become Julie's stepfather.

Both Teds had great ambitions for the small girl. "At times I loathed singing, and resented my stepfather," Julie says. "He embarrassed and upset me by asking me to perform. Later I was grateful to him, and he was as colorful and noisy as show-business itself. My real father filled in the love of the countryside and reading. When I was with him I led a quieter life."
On her parents' divorce, Ted Wells was given custody of Julie and her younger brother, John, but later returned Julie to Barbara and Ted Andrews. "Being in the theatre themselves, they were better equipped to pay for her training," he said.

The resulting assortment of relatives in Julie's life is bewildering to an outsider. Today she has the same mixture of close and casual relationships with them that develops in all large families.

"John, my full brother, who lived, with our father, is a pilot in the Air Force," she says. "I always thought of my half-brothers, the sons of my mother and stepfather, as brothers because I lived with them. Donald is a pilot with a private airline. I put Christopher, the youngest boy, through school. The last time I heard of him, he was a photographer with Vogue. My half-sister, Celia, the daughter of my father and his second wife, is the girl in charge of a hunt in England. I don't quite know the proper title for the job."

Julie's surname was legally changed to Andrews when she went to live with her mother and stepfather in Mornington Crescent, London, in the middle of the war. The family was poor then, and nowadays, when she describes the area, she makes no concessions to her fans who may live there. "It was a miserable spot," she says.

But, by the time she was 11, her mother and stepfather's second-on-the-bill comedy act was catching on in the music halls, and the family moved back to Walton-on-Thames, to a house called The Old Meuse.

Was Julie a happy child? She remembers herself as physically "hideous," with crooked teeth, bad legs, and eyes that moved independently of one another. The buck teeth were corrected, and exercises eventually rectified the eye condition. Other scars took longer to heal. From her earliest years she kept phony diaries filled with fantasy stories of what a beautiful, happy family life she led.

She still has a habit of making everything sound a little too glorious, a little too perfect. Her children's novel, Mandy, which has already sold 40,000 copies in America, is dedicated to her husband Blake Edwards's daughter, Jenny. "It began as a forfeit in a game I lost," Julie explains. "Jenny said that I must write her a story. I was a very new mother to her at the time. I thought I might as well make it as worthwhile as possible, and try to teach her something, perhaps about the country. Jenny was a city child, and I was brought up in the country . . ." She hesitates. ". . . More or less in the country."

You wonder when she had time to notice. Her soaring, freak four-octave voice made its first public impression in a Beckenham air-raid shelter when she was eight. By then she had already been going to a singing teacher for a year. Soon she was taking singing lessons twice a day, as well as practicing at home. Regular schooling went by the board.

"I've never really tried to make up for it, in the sense of taking French lessons or whatever," she says now. "But I wish that I could live my life over again five times. My children make me wish that I could go to school again because education is made so exciting for them. I suppose that, in my day, it would have been more of a grind."

By the time Julie was 10, she was making the odd unbilled appearance in her parents' music hall act. Just after her 12th birthday, Ted Andrews brought his golf partner, Val Parnell, home to hear her sing - the aria I am Titania from Ambroise Thomas's opera, Mignon. Later that month she made her debut in London's West End, singing the same aria in a revue, Starlight Roof, at the London Hippodrome. The revue ran for a year, and resulted in Julie's being chosen for the 1948 Royal Variety Performance at the London Palladium, the youngest solo performer to be so honored.

"You sang beautifully, Julie, and we enjoyed it very much," said Queen Elizabeth, now the Queen-Mother.
The rest of Julie's teenage years were spent touring the old music halls of England, at first with Barbara and Ted, and later on her own, as their success declined. One summer, Julie starred at the main Blackpool theatre while her mother and stepfather played the pier. Soon they retired completely, and Julie, still in her teens, supported the family.

To this day she will not say a hard word about her family, although she has been visiting a psychiatrist since 1964: apparently, even the great happiness of her second marriage has not been sufficient to lay all the ghosts of her childhood.

Ted Andrews has died, but Julie's mother, Barbara, still visits her frequently in California. I wondered if she resented her workhorse childhood, and if she had difficulty breaking away from her family to make a life on her own.

"I've never lost the closeness I had to my mother," Julie says. "My father, Ted Wells, wanted me to be strong and independent and able to cope. I'm not fond of people who point fingers and say that I would be fine if only those people would straighten themselves out.

"I went through a phase like that and ended up not liking myself very much. There's usually a reason for people being the way they are, and nobody has ever consciously done anything deliberately bad to me.

"In retrospect, I suppose I may have wanted more of a teenage life, but I didn't really miss it at the time. I was getting a lot of attention from my family and audiences and my peers, and I loved it. I always knew my life had a direction, because I had a voice and a talent.

"In many ways I clung to my family. I felt behind other people: in sophistication, knowledge of the world and of myself. Coming to America when I was 19 was the best decision I ever made in my life, but I thought it was the end of the world at the time. I'd never been that far away by myself, and I was used to being cared for. I had no idea even of how to send clothes to the cleaners or go about finding a laundry."

The chance to star in the Broadway production of Sandy Wilson's The Boy Friend came during one of Julie's few flops, a disastrous provincial tryout of a show called Mountain Fire. "The story was about Sodom and Gomorrah and Lot's wife turning into a- pillar of salt," Julie recalls. "I got pregnant by a traveling salesman - in the play, of course - and, thank God, the miserable thing closed before we got to London."

But the American producer of The Boy Friend was in the audience, and even a terrible play couldn't smother Julie's joyous voice. Anyone who saw even Ken Russell's highly personal film version, of The Boy Friend can imagine what a hit it was on Broadway 18 years ago with a young star who could really sing and act and dance.

It was the success of The Boy Friend which led to Julie's playing the role that made her an international star Eliza Doolittle in My Fair Lady. The truth about what happened during the early days of the My Fair Lady rehearsals - when it seemed that Julie Andrews was so inadequate that she might be sent back to England - reads like a horror story even today.

 

 

 



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