Good health, work ethic, luck also aided success
Beauty, style, sophistication, elegance — is it reasonable to think that one person could possess so many sterling attributes? From all indications, Julie Andrews embodies them all. What’s more, she’s modest to a fault. Despite the fact that she has enjoyed an illustrious career, Andrews still thinks of herself as a working-class Brit who simply had some uncommonly good luckIn 1954, the 19-year-old performer conquered Broadway in “The Boy Friend.” That led to starring roles in “My Fair Lady” (1956) and “Camelot” (1960). Hollywood soon beckoned with offers to star in “Mary Poppins” (1964) and “The Sound of Music” (1965), two of the biggest moneymakers of all time. Andrews earned Oscar nominations for both and won for “Mary Poppins.”
Andrews will share stories and anecdotes about her remarkable career at the Integris Women’s Health Forum kickoff at 7 p.m. Saturday in Civic Center Music Hall, 201 N Walker. Andrews is the keynote speaker for this year’s Health Forum, an annual event that features lectures and discussions about a wide range of health and wellness issues.
“Certainly, it’s been a great life, and I have been blessed with good health, that’s for sure,” Andrews said recently. “My mother’s genes stood me in good stead. I think I’ve also been somebody that always saw the glass half full rather than half empty. I don’t mean to sound too Pollyanna-ish or anything, but I’m the one who was asked to perform in these beautiful shows and these wonderful movies. I know how lucky I am.”
Born Julia Elizabeth Wells in Walton-on-Thames, England, Andrews learned her craft as a vaudeville performer. Together with her parents, she toured the British provinces and quickly earned acclaim for her musical talents. She honed these talents during her teenage years, and in 1954, Andrews was asked to star in the Broadway production of Sandy Wilson’s “The Boy Friend.”
“I was so green, so gauche,” Andrews recalled of her Broadway debut. “Believe me, I’m in the throes of writing my biography, and it is painful to go back and remember just how little I knew and how scared I was. Thank God all my vaudeville training came to my aid. It was the biggest and most enormous learning experience of my life.”
Andrews is the rare performer to have found success in Hollywood (“Thoroughly Modern Millie,” “Darling Lili,” “Victor/Victoria”), in musical theater (“Putting It Together,” “Victor/Victoria”) and in television (“Our Sons,” “Julie”). She’s also a popular children’s book author (“Mandy,” “The Last of the Really Great Whangdoodles,” “The Great American Mousical”).
After a long absence from the New York stage, Andrews appeared in the 1993 off-Broadway production of “Putting It Together,” a musical revue featuring songs by Stephen Sondheim. Her long-awaited return to Broadway came in 1995 with a stage version of her hit movie “Victor/Victoria.” Blake Edwards, Andrews’ husband since 1969, directed the musical that featured a score by Henry Mancini.
During the show’s run, Andrews began having vocal problems. An examination revealed noncancerous nodules on her vocal cords. What was considered to be a fairly routine surgery had a devastating outcome. Anrews was no longer able to sing. “I simply can’t do a song,” Andrews told Barbara Walters on the television newsmagazine “20/20.”
“Thank God it happened toward the end of my career rather than the early days,” Andrews said. “As you can well imagine, it was quite a stunning blow. I needed to keep busy, and at that appropriate moment, I began to write with my daughter (Emma Walton), and we formed this company called ‘The Julie Andrews Collection.’
“She actually pointed out to me, in the most loving way, something that I hadn’t even thought about. She said, ‘Mom, you may have lost your singing voice, but you’ve found another way of expressing your voice, and that is through your books.’ It helped enormously, and I did embrace it wholeheartedly after that.”
In 2003, Andrews returned to the stage, not as a performer, but as a director. She chose a property she knew well: “The Boy Friend.”
The musical was staged at the Bay Street Theater in Sag Harbor, N.Y.
Two years later, Andrews mounted another production, this time at Connecticut’s Goodspeed Opera House.
“It was a great thrill for me and a wonderful revelation,” Andrews said. “It was as if everything that I had ever learned or absorbed or felt about theater, I was able to pass along to so much young talent. I’d love to do more, and I do have a couple of projects that I’m beginning to work on, which out of superstition I don’t want to discuss because it’s very, very early.”
Not surprisingly, Andews is one of the most honored performers of all time.
In addition to multiple nominations over the years, Andrews has won an Oscar, an Emmy, a Grammy, several Golden Globes, a Lifetime Achievement Award from the American Theatre Wing, a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame and a Kennedy Center Honor.
In 2000, Andrews was named Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire by Queen Elizabeth II.
Still youthful looking at age 70, Andrews says she’s just happy to be able to work. And new projects keep coming her way.
Andrews lent her voice to the part of Queen Lillian in the film “Shrek II.” She also appeared as Queen Clarisse Renaldi in the films “The Princess Diaries” and “The Princess Diaries 2: Royal Engagement.”
In April 2001, Andrews reunited with her “Sound of Music” co-star Christopher Plummer for a made-for-television production of “On Golden Pond.”
“I think with every project one approaches, there’s always that doubt, that fear that this time, you will have made a dreadful mistake in some way or that maybe you’ve lost whatever it was that felt so magical,” Andrews said. “So, to have survived and to keep on being able to do the things that I love and that turn me on is a tremendous gift. I love the fact that somehow I’ve been able to embrace so many different wonderful sandboxes and be able to play in them.”