This year is decidedly the year of non-fiction, and of memoirs and autobiographies for me. It may only be February but I anticipate this pattern lasting well into 2016. I am currently, slowly but surely, working my way through three titles at the moment: Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain, When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi, and Sister, Mother, Husband, Dog, etc. by Delia Ephron, all of which will be discussed here within the next couple of months.
In the meantime, I recently revisited one of my favorites, Home: A Memoir of My Early Years by Julie Andrews.
I first became enamored with Julie Andrews after watching The Sound of Music. After I saw My Fair Lady and spent hours listening to the soundtrack over and over again, I marveled at how her grace, beauty and elegance could translate so well in both acting and singing. All one has to listen to is “I Could Have Danced All Night” and then one will understand just how amazing she is. I was of course, entranced by her role in Marry Poppins, and again many years later in The Princess Diaries.
Home: A Memoir of My Early Years is a fascinating read for anyone interested in the beginning of Julie Andrews’ life before she came to these legendary roles. What many people do not realize is that she had been singing and dancing from a very young age, booking her first professional show at the age of twelve and by age eighteen she was starring in her first Broadway show. But it is the years leading up to that that she chooses to focus on in her memoir, the years that made her who she is.
Within the first few pages, Andrews paints an idyllic picture of the English countryside during the early 1900’s, and traces her family history back to her great-great grandmothers, Julia and Elizabeth, both of whom she was named after. It is clear that Britain and her childhood village are incredibly important to her. Much of the beginning of the book details the lives of her grandparents and the lives of her parents, individually and together, as their influence shaped her life in more ways than she realized at the time. Born in Walton-on-Thames in Britain in 1935, Julie was the oldest of her siblings, and distinctly recalls how transparent her mother’s depression was, due partly to the deaths of her own parents. Still, they were never as close as she wished they could be.
“There isn’t an awful lot about my mother that I recall from my earliest years, other than it seemed to me she was away quite often. I do, however, remember very specific things about my dad…wonderful things. He treated me and my siblings as his beloved companions, never dismissing or talking down to us” (Andrews, 15).
Around the time of World War II her parents separated, and her mother began living with another man, Ted Andrews, whom she had a child with before their divorce was even finalized. It was not a happy time in her family by any means.
“Someone once asked me which parent I hated the most. It was a provocative question and an interesting one, because it suddenly became apparent to me which one I loved with all my being…and that was my father. My mother was terribly important to me and I know how much I yearned for her in my youth, but I don’t think I truly trusted her” (Andrews, 18).
Although Julie was still able to visit her father regularly, she could never quite get used to the new living arrangement. She was intimidated by her new stepfather, Ted:
“It was as if by focusing on my mother and our genetic bond I could exclude him, deny that he had anything to do with us. I blanked him out, trying to make him disappear. But he didn’t” Andrews (27).
Despite what she went through with her family, involving witnessing the abuse of her younger half-brothers by her stepfather, finding out many secrets about her own family and heritage, and taking care of her depressed mother, Julie came out on top. Her years of practicing singing and co-starring and eventually starring plays across Britain paid off and for a while she was known as “Britain’s youngest singing star” (143).
By eighteen she was travelling to America to star in The Boy Friend on Broadway which became an instant hit. Years later in 1963 after Julie’s daughter, Emma, was born she and her first husband, Tony Walton, traveled to Hollywood, California to begin their work on Mary Poppins. Walt Disney had cast Julie to play Mary, and hired Tony to be a set designer.
“Disney Studios had rented and furnished a house for us in Toluca Lake, but I had not seen it. As before, when I first headed to Broadway, I was once again venturing into a totally new world. I could not know that life would tur me inside out and upside down several times in the years ahead. I only knew that in this moment, all was serene and happy, and I felt supremely blessed. Tony and I were going to work together, we had a beautiful baby daughter who was the love of our lives, and Walt Disney beckoned with kind, creative hands. As it turned out… I was going home” (Andrews, 320).
To say I am a fan of Julie Andrews is an understatement. Reading about her early childhood and learning more about her life was an absolute treat. Although it is easy to see why she purposely did not share much of this information for many years, fans of hers will only love her more for doing so.
*All photos are from Google or Pinterest or Andrews’ book and do not belong to me.