Julie Andrews Biography

Julia Elizabeth Wells, 1 October 1935, Walton-On-Thames, Surrey, England. The former Julia Wells changed her surname to Andrews following her mother’s remarriage to song and dance man Ted Andrews. After singing lessons with Madam Lillian Stiles-Allan, which formed her precise vocal style and typically English delivery, Andrews made her professional debut in her parents’ variety act at the age of 10. Two years later she performed at the London Hippodrome in the Pat Kirkwood musical, Starlight Roof, and the following year appeared in the Royal Command Performance. On BBC Radio, she was Archie Andrews’ playmate in Educating Archie, while appearing on stage in the title role of Humpty Dumpty at the London Casino at the age of 13.

Andrews’ big break came in 1954 when she played Polly Brown in the Broadway production of Sandy Wilson’s The Boy Friend. Having insisted on only a one-year contract for the latter show, she was available to star with Rex Harrison in one of Broadway’s major musicals, Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe’s My Fair Lady, later repeating her performance in London before returning to Broadway as Queen Guinevere, with Richard Burton as King Arthur, in Camelot. Although passed over in favour of Audrey Hepburn for the lead in the film of My Fair Lady in 1964, ironically, she won an Oscar for her performance as the ‘flying nanny’ in the title role of Walt Disney’s Mary Poppins in the same year. Following that role, her career in film musicals took Andrews from the blockbuster heights of The Sound Of Music (1965) to the critical depths of the Gertrude Lawrence biopic Star! (1968), with Thoroughly Modern Millie (1967) and a gender-bending role in Victor /Victoria (1982), in-between. The latter film, and her straight roles in movies such as 10 and S.O.B. , which were directed by her second husband Blake Edwards, sometimes seemed blatant attempts to counter her lifelong cosy, old-fashioned image. Nevertheless, Andrews has been a major film star for over 30 years, and in 1989 was awarded BAFTA’s Silver Mask in recognition of her outstanding contribution to the medium.

Andrews was less successful on the small screen with her 1992 ABC comedy series Julie, which was poorly received. It had been a different story back in the 60s when she and Carol Burnett starred in the multi-Emmy Award-winning television special, Julie And Carol At Carnegie Hall. The two actresses were paired in similar shows at the Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts (1971) and at the Pantages Theatre in Los Angeles (1989). Also in 1992, Andrews sang the role of Anna in a CD recording of The King And I, amid general amazement that she had never played the part on stage; UK actor Ben Kingsley was her regal partner in the studio. In 1993 audiences flocked to see her in the off-Broadway Stephen Sondheim revue Putting It Together, her first appearance on the New York stage since Camelot (1960). The critics were not so enthusiastic, and furthermore, they cared little for the stage version of Victor/Victoria that opened on Broadway in October 1995, although Andrews’ name guaranteed nightly standing ovations until she finally bowed out, being replaced by Raquel Welch in June 1997. Andrews won Drama Desk and Outer Critics Circle Awards for her sterling performance, but controversially turned down the 1996 Tony Award nomination for leading actress in a musical because no one else connected with the show had been nominated. In 1996 she was also inducted into the Theatre Hall of Fame, and a year later released an album of songs by composers such as Kurt Weill, Frederick Loewe, Burton Lane and André Previn, all with lyrics by Alan Jay Lerner.

After undergoing throat surgery in 1997, Andrews was warned to refrain from singing or risk never again performing in public. She was later reported to have won £20 million as a result of the ‘bungled’ operation which left her able to only hit a ‘bass note or two’. However, in June 1998 she had recovered sufficiently to travel to London in order to record 700 lines of ‘dialogue’ for Polynesia, the robotic parrot, in the stage version of Leslie Bricusse’s musical, Doctor Dolittle, and during the same trip, she compèred the all-star gala tribute to Cameron Mackintosh, Hey Mr. Producer! She also hosted two star-studded tributes to Broadway at Carnegie Hall, and attracted excellent reviews for her performance in the comedy film, Relative Values, based on Noël Coward’s play. In May 1999, she received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the New Dramatists group, and on New Year’s Eve was made a Dame Commander of the Most Excellent Order of British Empire. In 2001, she reunited with The Sound Of Music co-star Christopher Plummer for a television production of the Ernest Thompson play, On Golden Pond. Her movie career was revived the same year with a starring role in the hit comedy, The Princess Diaries. Andrews has also written numerous books for children with her daughter Emma Walton Hamilton.

Source: The Encyclopedia of Popular Music by Colin Larkin. Licensed from Muze.

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