By: Jamie Portman
No more sound of music for Julie Andrews
If there's any lingering bitterness over the destruction of her singing voice, Julie Andrews is concealing it well.
It's now a decade since a botched throat surgery silenced forever the silvery, four-octave soprano that captivated theatre audiences attending My Fair Lady and Camelot and later enraptured those millions of filmgoers who enshrined The Sound Of Music and her Oscar-winning turn as Mary Poppins. Yet, at 71, Andrews is a model of serenity.
Ask her about those ever recurring rumours that the voice is back, and she smiles and shakes her head. Remind her that Christopher Plummer -- who co-starred with her all those years ago in The Sound Of Music -- keeps insisting that she's now capable of delivering a sexy, torchy contralto and she laughs out loud.
"He's such a good friend!" she exclaims. She notes that she and Plummer toured together a couple of years ago doing joint stage readings. "We had such a ridiculously good time in the worst venues you can imagine." It took her back to her early days in English music hall -- "only this time, we were playing hockey stadiums. We were changing in the gentlemen's changing rooms -- which were rank, as you can imagine, and always right next to a garbage can."
It's a charming detour away from the subject at hand -- her voice -- but now she returns to it.
"The singing voice is non-existent," she says gently. "It's about 10 years now, but as my daughter has beautifully pointed out, I've found a new way to use my voice with my books."
Andrews, already a bestselling children's author as a result of such books as Dumpy The Dump Truck and The Last Of The Really Great Whangdoodles, has taken her interest in the genre further by joining forces with her daughter to oversee The Julie Andrews Collection, a HarperCollins imprint dedicated to publishing quality books, both old and new, for young readers.
"And on top of that, I'm actually finishing up my autobiography."
The memoir, due for publication next year by Hyperion, will cover the first half of Andrews's life -- including her formative years in music hall and her stage triumphs in The Boy Friend, My Fair Lady and Camelot -- and ending with her triumphant, Oscar-winning film debut as Mary Poppins.
Andrews, trim and youthful, doesn't believe in looking back with regret, and if there's one message she wants to get across, it's that she continues to lead a full and rewarding life.
There are the books, there are movies like The Princess Diaries, there are her forays into stage direction -- most recently with a revival of The Boy Friend, her first big success -- and there are the pleasures of supplying the voice of the Queen in the current Shrek The Third. And when she does look back on her early stage and screen career, she genuinely believes she benefited from the luck of the draw.
"I was fortunate enough to be in two or three of the biggest blockbusters of all time. The bigger the movie, the longer it's remembered. The more important the movie, the better it's remembered -- and therefore, so are you.
"How lovely it is to be a part of these iconic things."
But these days, Andrews is having a wonderful time delving into her memory book to recreate her years before the arrival of Hollywood fame. Currently, she's working on the chapter dealing with the troubled Toronto try-out for Camelot, the show that gave the cavernous O'Keefe Centre For The Performing Arts (now renamed the Hummingbird Centre) its official launching. She remembers how horrified she and co-star Richard Burton were by the dimensions of the auditorium.
"The place was a barn," she recalls. "The orchestra was miles away."
However, it's the years before the big stage musicals that have really stirred the memories. Andrews, who was born in 1935, was still in her teens when she served her apprenticeships in England's legendary music halls: "These were the dying days of the music hall in England, but there were many circuits that were still functioning, albeit in a very tacky way. But the traditions and the performers were phenomenal."
The most famous of them all was London's Collins Music Hall, a place whose rich 19th-century tradition couldn't help but make her conscious of being linked to the great names of the past. "It's a little piece of theatre history that not many people know about."
Family is a priority with her these days. That means her husband, director Blake Edwards, her children and grandchildren.
That's why the publishing imprint with her daughter is so rewarding.
Andrews loves restoring to print a forgotten book that she and her daughter really feel strongly about. And like Jamie Lee Curtis, another actor who pursues a successful second career as a children's author, she loves the process of writing them.
"I like the way people call us celebrity authors. I don't exactly bridle at it, but I do smile.
"People think it's so easy to turn out a book -- but it isn't."