Earlier this month Julie Andrews turned 81. In considering her life’s work I can’t help but first think of her serenely gliding down a grand staircase atop a mattress in The Princess Diaries 2. This is the pinnacle of Julie Andrews as she is typically thought of, well-spoken and elegant but with a sense of silliness. Her roles in Disney films, musicals and animated films have led to her becoming a beloved figure, especially as she has been a stalwart of family film for over fifty years. One of these musicals is Mary Poppins, the film Andrews won an Oscar for. She astonishingly remains one of four to ever win best actress for their film debut.
The niche Julie Andrews has carved for herself in cheesy singalong films establishes her place in popular culture alongside her more serious roles. She has moved from classic musicals like Mary Poppins, The Sound Of Music and Thoroughly Modern Millie, through a return to Disney in the Princess Diaries franchise, to animated features like Shrek 2 and Despicable Me. In an age when nostalgia is so valued her films are watched and re-watched constantly. But let us not forget either her less well-known roles; Andrews got her start starring in the original four-tony-winning production of My Fair Lady in 1956, before the role of Eliza Doolittle became Audrey Hepburn’s. Largely forgotten too is her turn in Alfred Hitchcock’s political thriller Torn Curtain. Andrews is more versatile than you think.
In early 2017 Andrews’s new show Julie’s Greenroom will appear on Netflix featuring puppets courtesy of Jim Henson’s Creature Shop, famous guests including Alec Baldwin and Idina Menzel and a song in every episode. This is a warm, comforting programme delivered in a familiar format with a gentle charming titular host. Julie Andrews returns to what we know and love her for best. We could praise her as an Oscar winner, a Dame of the British Empire and Hitchcock’s leading lady. Yet we love her because she ran around singing on some Austrian hills, she floated down to the Banks family with an opened umbrella. And because she slid down a staircase on a mattress.
Julie Andrews describes it perfectly. “Sometimes I’m so sweet even I can’t stand it”.
(Image courtesy of 20th Century Fox/Courtesy Neal Peters Collection)