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Mary Poppins is 50 today

We mark the day looking back at some of the stories from the set.

Image: PA Archive/Press Association Images

ON THIS DAY 50 years ago, the term Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious entered our lexicon.

It was 27 August 1964 when Disney unleashed Mary Poppins on the world with resounding success.

But as the recent film Saving Mr Banks recounts, the movie almost didn’t happen. Walt Disney took on a 15-year task to persuade author P.L. Travers to hand over the rights to her children’s books. 

And, even when she did, an unusual script approval clause meant that things were difficult for those making the picture.

She ”objected to everything to do with music and everything about the father as a protagonist who changes” recalls music man Richard Sherman, who likened her actions during her time in LA as “pouring ice water” on their creative ideas.

Eventually, a script was signed off, songs completed and a cast formulated.

Speaking ahead of the anniversary, Julie Andrews said, “I cannot believe it has been 50 years since then… I lost about 20 years somewhere.”

And on the movie that remains a firm favourite of adults and children, alike, the Mary Poppins actor added: “You always set a bar for yourself that is high. People are so lovely and you want to give them pleasure… You hope that any movie you do, people will love to see it.

“Do you know how lucky I am? I am the lucky lady who was asked to do those movies.”

One of her co-stars, Karen Dotrice, who played Jane Banks told the Guardian last year about one of her most enduring memories from the set.

I still remember the first time I saw her smoking on set in full garb. I was shocked –Mary Poppins having a fag!

Dotrice, who is now 58 years old, also spoke to EW recently about her singing role in the movie.

My parents took me to this Shakespearean voice coach. Well, this lady was probably about 110 and used to dealing with [Laurence] Olivier and all those sorts of people. So she taught me to sing the solo I had, The Perfect Nanny, in a sort of operatic style. It was so embarrassing! I got on the set and thought, ‘Oh, I’m going to nail this. I’m really good,’ and I stood up and was singing [in this deep opera voice].
Julie just goes, “Oh my! That’s lovely, Karen. Super! Tell you what: This is what we’re going to do. I’ve got the day off tomorrow, Can I come round to your [house] and we’ll just work a little bit on the songs?’ She came over the next day and she was so sweet and taught me how to sing all those songs properly, like a little girl. …Thank God she saved the day!

The result:

Source: moviescenes4u/YouTube

She wasn’t the only one in need of direction. Dick Van Dyke also required a bit of help on set with his infamous Cockney accent. It is well documented that Irish vocal coach, Pat O’Malley, wasn’t that much better than his student. Despite his hard work, the critics still slated him for the cock-up.

Speaking to NBC, Andrews recalls:

“He always said, ‘Oh my god, I’m not that great at cockney’. But he covered it so wonderfully because he had a wonderful body that was so limber and he had such joie de vivre.

“If you want to nitpick something, no, his cockney was not that good,” adds Sherman. “So what? He was so wonderful in every other way.”

“Doesn’t seem to have harmed the film that much, 50 years later,” concludes Andrews.

Source: moviescenes4u/YouTube

As well as playing Bert, Van Dyke also took on the role of old bank president, Mr Dawes. “A couple of moments of schtick always cracks” Julie Andrews up is when the old man tries to get down the steps. Take a look here…

(With bonus backwards supercalifragilisticexpialidocious):

Source: Siaha112/YouTube

As an aside, did you know Van Dyke’s credit for the role at the end of the film is shown as an anagram of his name?

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Surprisingly, one of the problems for young Banks children was making sure they could laugh and smile on cue, while enduring the flying scenes. Matthew Garber, who was cast as Michael, made the most of his difficulties. Monetarily.

“The kids at some point, after so many takes, would have a very difficult time getting the laughs out and keeping the energy up. But Julie, Ed and I thoroughly enjoyed ourselves,” remembers Van Dyke.

Garber, however, was afraid of heights so somebody on set offered him a dime every time he went up on the wires.

“He got extra money for that,” confirms Dotrice. “Every time he did another take, he got another dime. It was quite a going concern. I was bigger on lemonade stands on the weekend, myself.”

“It was hard, hard work but it was a lot of fun,” continues Van Dyke. “There was a lot of standing and waiting… Matthew would get fidgety and bite me on the legs. He just didn’t know what to do with himself.

There was one time that they needed him to laugh. He wouldn’t laugh. They told me to go behind the camera and make him laugh. But he was determined that he was not going to laugh. I made every face and fell down, I did everything I could think of and he would not laugh. He just decided not to.

“He knew his power, that kid,” says Andrews.

Garber’s life took a tragic turn after his childhood career. In 1976, he visited India where he contracted hepatitis. His father worked to get him home to England but the infection had spread to his pancreas and he died, aged just 21.

Aftermath

The difficulties in securing the rights for the film and getting approval from Travers was all worth it come the night of the Academy Awards in 1965.

Picking up five Oscars out of 13 nominations, Walt Disney’s work paid off. Julie Andrews won her Best Actress category for the first and only time.

JULIE ANDREWS Source: AP/Press Association Images

But if that came with a ‘What If?’ Andrews had really wanted the part of Eliza Doolittle in My Fair Lady and was expected to get it when it went to Audrey Hepburn.

But that slight turned into an enormous win, as she tells herself (and My Fair Lady’s Jack Warner) at the Golden Globe awards:

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There were no hard feelings though between the two leading actresses though. They remained firm friends until Hepburn’s death.

JULIE ANDREWS WINS OSCAR Source: AP/Press Association Images

On the 50th anniversary of the glamorous premiere, let’s remember the film with the one thing that Travers and Disney agreed on. Feed the Birds was the best song of the whole shebang.

Source: moviescenes4u/YouTube

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