Encyclopedia Womannica

Leading Ladies: Julie Andrews

Episode Summary

Julie Andrews (1935-present) is an English singer and actress, who is famous for being “practically perfect in every way.” She is considered to be one of Hollywood’s most beloved figures.

Episode Notes

Every weekday, listeners explore the trials, tragedies, and triumphs of groundbreaking women throughout history who have dramatically shaped the world around us. In each 5 minute episode, we’ll dive into the story behind one woman listeners may or may not know -- but definitely should. These diverse women from across space and time are grouped into easily accessible and engaging monthly themes like Leading Ladies, Activists, STEMinists,  Hometown Heroes, and many more. Encyclopedia Womannica is hosted by WMN co-founder and award-winning journalist Jenny Kaplan. The bite-sized episodes pack painstakingly researched content into fun, entertaining, and addictive daily adventures.

Encyclopedia Womannica was created by Liz Kaplan and Jenny Kaplan, executive produced by Jenny Kaplan, and produced by Liz Smith, Cinthia Pimentel, Grace Lynch, and Maddy Foley. Special thanks to Shira Atkins, Edie Allard, and Luisa Garbowit.

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Episode Transcription

Hello! From Wonder Media Network, I’m Jenny Kaplan and this is Encyclopedia Womannica. 

Today’s leading lady is an English singer and actress, who is famous for being “practically perfect in every way.”  She is considered to be one of Hollywood’s most beloved figures. Let’s talk about Julie Andrews. 

Julia Elizabeth Wells was born in 1935 in Walton-on-Thames, Surrey, England. The father she grew up with, Ted, was a teacher, and her mother, Barbara, was a pianist. Julie would later discover her biological father was actually a family friend with whom her mother had had an affair.. Around the outbreak of World War II, Barbara and Ted divorced.

Julie’s mother remarried performer Ted Andrews. Julie later recalled that time as a dark period. The family struggled financially, and Ted was abusive and drank heavily. His violence extended to sexual transgressions, which prompted Julie to put a lock on her door. 

As a musician, Ted gave Julie voice lessons and recognized her immense talent. It’s been long rumored that she has perfect pitch and she had an  extensive vocal range. At eight years old, Julie began to study with Lilian Stiles-Allen—a rigorous vocal teacher. Lillian remained Julie’s mentor throughout her early career. 

At the age of ten, Julie joined her mother and stepfather in their vaudeville act, and made a name for herself. She gave her first solo performance at London’s Stage Door Canteen, where she was seen by the Royal Family. The following year, she made her professional singing debut in the musical revue, “Starlight Roof.”  She was asked to do a screen test for MGM. They dismissed her as “unfilmable”. 

Julie thrived in British radio, television and theater. While she was playing the title role in Cinderella, Julie was spotted by Sandy Wilson and producer Cy Feuer. Sandy and Cy were working on a musical called The Boy Friend which they planned to bring to Broadway. After hearing Julie, they offered her the lead in their show. She agreed to take on the project, traveling to appear on Broadway for the first time at the age of 19.  

The Boy Friend was an instant hit, and Julie was applauded by critics. She received rave reviews and was billed as “Britain’s youngest prima donna.” Julie was graceful, beautiful, and endearing. She wowed American audiences and a Broadway star was born.

Julie next created the role of Eliza Doolittle in My Fair Lady. The preparation for Eliza’s accent was demanding, and the show opened to critical acclaim. Julie received stand-out recognition, and the original cast recording became one of Columbia Records most successful releases. Rodgers and Hammerstein were so impressed with her performance that they cast her in their TV musical of Cinderella. Julie was nominated for an Emmy for her performance, which was broadcast to 107 Million viewers. 

In 1959, Julie married set designer Tony Walton. The next year she starred as Guenevere in Camelot. She was nominated for a Tony and the show ran for 873 performances.

In 1963, Hollywood came knocking. Julie was pregnant with her daughter Emma when Walt Disney approached her to star in Mary Poppins. She turned down the role, but Disney postponed production until she could take it. Mary Poppins became the biggest-box office smash in Disney history up to that point. In 1964, Julie won the Academy Award and Golden Globe for her role, beating out Audrey Hepburn, who had been cast as Eliza Dolittle in the film adaptation of My Fair Lady.

Just a year later, Julie starred as Maria Von Trapp in The Sound Music. The film won five Academy Awards, including best picture, and in 2001, it was selected for preservation in the National Film Registry. As of 2018, it was the highest grossing movie ever made, when adjusted for inflation. 

By 1966, Julie was an international star. At that point, she was over being typecast into pure and innocent roles. She  began to work in more serious films, including Alfred Hitchcock’s Torn Curtain. In 1967, Julie divorced Tony, and met her future husband, Director Blake Edwards, on the set of Darling Lili. Julie and Blake adopted two children together and remained married for 42 years until his death in 2010. They worked together on seven films, including dramas like S.O.B. and 10.

In 1997, while Julie starred in the Broadway run of Victor/Victoria, she developed hoarseness in her voice. She underwent surgery, permanently damaging her singing voice. Julie sued and received a settlement, reported to be as high as 30 million dollars.  

And even with her most prized possession gone, Julie went on to star in Shrek, the Princess Diaries, and Eloise. 

Julie continues to balance her artistic pursuits with her career as an author, actor, and activist. She has written more than 30 books and is a UN Development for Women Goodwill Ambassador. This year, during the pandemic, Julie launched the podcast series Julie’s Library where she and her daughter Emma read children’s books aloud. Julie continues to use her captivating presence to tell stories to rapt audiences from all around the globe. 

All month, we’re talking about leading ladies. 

For more on why we’re doing what we’re doing, check out our Encyclopedia Womannica newsletter, Womannica Weekly. 

You can also follow us on Facebook and Instagram @EncyclopediaWomannica and you can follow me directly on twitter @jennymkaplan.

Special thanks to Liz Kaplan, my favorite sister and co-creator. 

As always, we’ll be taking a break for the weekend. Talk to you on Monday!