BY STEVE ROTHAUS, srothaus@MiamiHerald.com
Disney and Target have a practically perfect spokeswoman for their National Princess Week, April 22-28: a regal fair lady who gave the sound of music to a generation of moviegoers, Dame Julie Andrews.
Walt Disney himself brought Andrews to Hollywood after she reigned on Broadway in My Fair Lady (1956) and Camelot (1960), both by Lerner and Loewe.
“It was lovely serendipity for me,” says Andrews, who also had played TV’s Cinderella in 1957. “Disney had this phenomenal ability. One was to take a gamble on new talent. He had a pretty good idea what he wanted and was usually right.”
Playing the magical nanny Mary Poppins in 1964 softened the blow for Andrews, who that same year lost the plumb role of Eliza Doolittle to established movie star Audrey Hepburn in Jack Warner’s film adaptation of My Fair Lady. For Andrews’ film debut, she won the Oscar. Hepburn wasn’t nominated.
In 1965, Andrews played her most famous role: postulant Maria in Rodgers and Hammerstein’s The Sound of Music. The romantic blockbuster about a governess to seven children who falls in love with their widowed father became the world’s most popular film of the mid 1960s through mid ‘70s.
Andrews, now 76, “appreciates” that fans everywhere have bestowed upon her legend status.
Andrews helped raise five children with her second husband, film director Blake Edwards. When they married in 1969, Andrews had a daughter, Emma, from her first marriage to set and costume designer Tony Walton. Edwards brought two children from a previous marriage and together the power couple adopted two more.
Edwards, who directed Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1961), the Pink Panther series with Peter Sellers and Victor/Victoria starring Andrews in 1982, died at 88 in 2010.
“We talked short hand,” says Andrews, who made nine feature films with Edwards, including Darling Lili and 10. “He just assumed often that I’d know what he wanted. I put my hand up quite often, ‘Can I ask you a question about this?’ It was a very special time.”
She keeps busy by making movies and co-writing children’s books with Emma. As part of the princess promotion, Target is selling the mother-daughter’s The Very Fairy Princess: Here Comes the Flower Girl!, as well as the first Blu-ray coupling of Disney’s The Princess Diaries (2001) and The Princess Diaries 2: Royal Engagement (2004), which co-starred Andrews and Anne Hathaway.
Andrews has performed nearly 70 years, beginning as a child in British music halls during the 1940s. In her singing prime, she was noted for a four-octave range. In 1997, during an extended Broadway run of Victor/Victoria, she underwent throat surgery that damaged her vocal chords.
“I have a few notes left in my voice. If I sing at all it’s with extreme care. It’s not easy,” she says. “Thank God, if it was going to happen, it happened late in my career.”
“If you’re not careful, eight shows a week is killing. It can be very dangerous. I did it for too long and was supposed to go on tour with it,” she says. ”The operation was suggested and I regret it deeply. What I should have done was rest and rest.”
She admires pop star Adele for doing just that. “She did a very smart thing. She went to the great specialist that I eventually found, who I would trust with my life as far as my vocal chords are concerned.”