VENICE – Dear Diary, Surely it’s no coincidence that – after days of sultry, stifling heat – as soon as Julie Andrews arrived on the Lido to pick up her lifetime achievement award, the winds whirled in and blew up a storm. Such is the power of Andrews’ iconic portrayal of Mary Poppins that many of us queuing up to get into the Sala Grande actually looked to the skies in expectation of her arrival via umbrella. While Dame Julie is best known for her roles in two family classics, the aforementioned Disney feature Mary Poppins and The Sound of Music, this British institution is so much more than the sum of those two parts.
Described by her singing teacher as having perfect pitch (not just “practically perfect” like Mary Poppins, but actually perfect), Andrews started her stage career standing on beer kegs and belting out tunes, including operatic arias, alongside her mother and stepfather in their vaudeville shows. From those humble beginnings, she moved onto the West End and Broadway, and onwards to Hollywood and a film career that has now spanned five decades.
As if her star wasn’t shining brightly enough already, she married director Blake Edwards (Breakfast at Tiffany’s) at the height of her popularity in 1969. In a town not exactly renowned for the longevity of showbiz marriages, the pair remained together until Edwards’ death in 2010. Together the pair made a clutch of films of varying success, including Victor Victoria, in which our heroine plays a soprano down on her luck who decides to disguise herself as a male female impersonator.
Starring alongside the immensely likable James Garner, the film is both funny and subversive and was a big hit back in 1982. In fact, plenty of Andrews’ choices have been extremely canny as she navigated the tricky route leading her away from her two seminal performances, starring opposite Paul Newman in Hitchcock’s Torn Curtain. In her husband’s film S.O.B. she even takes her top off, in a move to distance herself from the children’s classics and cement her as more than a family entertainer.
Just as her roles have been portrayals of strong, independent women, Andrews has shown time and again that she herself is no demure English rose (despite one being named after her). She got 20th Century Fox to tone down the sugar to just a spoonful in their adaptation of The Sound of Music before she’d accept the role. She sued MGM for her million-dollar pay check when they pulled out of her film.
She has survived botched throat surgery (for which she received hefty compensation), an alcoholic stepfather and a world war. She’s been working for seven decades and shows little sign of stopping. The woman is a trooper and a human phenomenon. Beautiful, almost freakishly gifted and always immensely good company, Dame Julie Andrews is one of the true Hollywood greats. Alongside her star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame and the Oscar she earned for Poppins, she can now add a Golden Lion in recognition of her services to cinema. Dame Julie, we thank you, we salute you and we love you.