One of the special joys of going to the library is finding books you don't know about: one such this past month was a Julie Andrews memoir of her "early years," those being from birth to about the age of 25. Hard as it may be to believe, Andrews starred on Broadway in "My Fair Lady" when she was only 21, with already another Broadway success, "The Boy Friend," behind her at 18. She went on very quickly to achieve another, "Camelot," with the great actor Richard Burton, then to become an Academy Award winner and household name in Walt Disney's "Mary Poppins" by the time she was 25. Whew! Did success spoil Julie Andrews? The answer to that is a whopping NO! Ultimately she went on to create what was perhaps the most memorable role of her film career, Maria in "The Sound of Music."
Not surprising to read that Julie Andrews came from a family performance tradition. Both her mother, a seasoned and very talented pianist, and her aunt, a dancer and dance teacher, as well as her stepfather, a singer from Canada, contributed to her early life on the stage. By the time she was five, she was totally comfortable there and in the process of developing a clearly phenomenal voice that went up to a high-F. (If you don't know how high this is, try it sometime!). Even before her teens she was singing the famous "Polonaise" from "Mignon". (Listen to it on Youtube and prepare to be astounded.) If she lacked anything by the time of creating Eliza Doolittle, it was only a Cockney accent, which she had to learn, and a certain insecurity in her acting, which she credits Alan J. Learner himself for helping her to overcome.
This memoir takes Andrews through her rise to stardom and ends with her arrival in Hollywood with first husband Tony Walton and baby daughter Emma, to take on the role of Mary Poppins in the film that brought her fame and a much wider audience than those brilliant Broadway musicals ever would have. The memoir is at its most interesting, however, when it tells the story of the development of those Learner and Loewe musicals that made history, even as Rogers and Hammerstein had done two decades earlier. The team of L&L, along with their great director, Moss Hart, is truly the stuff of Broadway legend, and Julie Andrews was there in the thick of all of it. Her movie career, her late loss of her voice, and her career as a children's author with her daughter, Emma, is the stuff of yet another story.