When I was a boy, there was one actress I saw on the screen who could mesmerize me: Julie Andrews. She was the nanny I think every youngster wanted to take care of them. So it gives me great pleasure to have put this column together on the history of "Mary Poppins," the first film I remember seeing. This piece is the result of about six months of work. What you will read is a history of the film and its cast and crew, with some of the content taken from the original 1964 press releases and Disney letters that were only available to theatres and the press. What you will see are rare graphics, photographs, restored posters and original advertisements, some of them from my personal collection of movie memorabilia. Please note that many images shown here can be enlarged with a left click.
MARY POPPINS-A LOOK BACK
Compiled and edited by Robert Siegel
From the day the Mary Poppins character appeared on the American scene, straight from the pen of P. L. Travers, she was taken to the hearts of youngsters and their parents alike everywhere. In 1964, at long last she stepped from the printed page to become an unforgettable living, breathing personality through the motion picture magic of Walt Disney and the inspired performance of Julie Andrews.
Original Teaser poster.
The original film musical had long been one of Hollywood's most popular and successful forms of screen entertainment but, in recent years leading up to the release, this type of motion picture had become increasingly rare. The Disney feature was the first completely original film musical to come along in some time. With the advent of sound, the movie musical came into its own through such memorable hits as "The Broadway Melody" (the first musical to ever win an Academy Award), "Sunny Side Up" and "The Gold Diggers of Broadway."
The ensuing years produced such tuned-up extravaganzas as "42nd Street," "Flying Down to Rio," "Top Hat," "Footlight Parade," 'Born to Dance," "On the Avenue," "Holiday Inn," "Mother Wore Tights," "Cover Girl," "Meet Me in St. Louis" and a succession of "Big Broadcast," "Broadway Melody" and "Gold Diggers" musicals, starring perennial favorites like Fred Astaire, Ginger Rogers, Dick Powell, Ruby Keeler, Eleanor Powell, Alice Faye, Bing Crosby, Judy Garland, Betty Grable, Gene Kelly and Rita Hayworth.
One of the pieces posted here from my collection: Original 2nd generation print taken from the original artwork painting and title for the poster, indicating the studio originally intended the poster art to have a teal background.
Following World War II, Hollywood was influenced by the European trend toward more realism in movie-making. The con census of opinion was that the great struggle had so personally touched the public that its taste for the light and fanciful had changed in favor of more serious and profound screen entertainment. The realistic soon tended toward the sensational and seamy. Audiences began clamoring for lighter fare. Musicals and comedies once again became the vogue, but hits established on Broadway took precedence over musicals written purely for the screen.
Original film musicals had been few and far between. Stephen Vincent Benet's novel, "Sobbin' Women," was set to music by Johnny Mercer and Gene DePaul and became the Jane Powell-Howard Keel starrer, "Seven Brides for Seven Brothers." It was acclaimed by the press and public at the time as one of the freshest, most delightful musicals ever turned out by Hollywood. In "Mary Poppins," Walt Disney had taken the "Mary Poppins" books by P. L. Travers and fashioned a delightfully different and entertaining musical. Writers Bill Walsh and Don DaGradi adapted the original story and contributed to a bright and breezy screenplay. Tunesmiths Robert B. and Richard M. Sherman have composed fourteen original songs, all of hit parade caliber, and Disney assembled some of the brightest names from Broadway, Hollywood and the London stage for his cast.
During a 43-year Hollywood career, which spanned the development of the motion picture medium as a modern American art, Walter Elias Disney, a modern Aesop, established himself and his product as a genuine part of Americana. David Low, the late British political cartoonist, called Disney "the most significant figure in graphic arts since Leonardo." A pioneer and innovator, and the possessor of one of the most fertile imaginations the world has ever known, Walt Disney, along with members of his staff, received more than 950 honors and citations from throughout the world, including 48 Academy Awards® and 7 Emmys® in his lifetime. Walt Disney's personal awards included honorary degrees from Harvard, Yale, the University of Southern California, and UCLA; the Presidential Medal of Freedom; France's Legion of Honor and Officer d'Academie decorations; Thailand's Order of the Crown; Brazil's Order of the Southern Cross; Mexico's Order of the Aztec Eagle; and the Showman of the World Award from the National Association of Theatre Owners.
Animation comparison after and before.
The creator of Disneyland and Walt Disney World and the Walt Disney Studios was born in Chicago, Illinois, on December 5, 1901. His father, Elias Disney, was an Irish-Canadian. His mother, Flora Call Disney, was of German-American descent. Walt was one of five children, four boys and a girl. Raised on a farm near Marceline, Missouri, Walt early became interested in drawing, selling his first sketches to neighbors when he was only seven years old. At McKinley High School in Chicago, Disney divided his attention between drawing and photography, contributing both to the school paper. At night he attended the Academy of Fine Arts. During the fall of 1918, Disney attempted to enlist for military service. Rejected because he was only 16 years of age, Walt joined the Red Cross and was sent overseas, where he spent a year driving an ambulance and chauffeuring Red Cross officials. His ambulance was covered from stem to stern, not with stock camouflage, but with drawings and cartoons.
Trade Magazine advertisement (best available).
After the war, Walt returned to Kansas City, where he began his career as an advertising cartoonist. Here, in 1920, he created and marketed his first original animated cartoons, and later perfected a new method for combining live-action and animation. In August of 1923, Walt Disney left Kansas City for Hollywood with nothing but a few drawing materials, $40 in his pocket and a completed animated and live-action film. Walt's brother Roy O. Disney was already in California, with an immense amount of sympathy and encouragement, and $250. Pooling their resources, they borrowed an additional $500 and constructed a camera stand in their uncle's garage. Soon, they received an order from New York for the first "Alice Comedy" short, and the brothers began their production operation in the rear of a Hollywood real estate office two blocks away.
Mickey Mouse was created in 1928, and his talents were first used in a silent cartoon entitled Plane Crazy. However, before the cartoon could be released, sound burst upon the motion picture screen. Thus Mickey made his screen debut in Steamboat Willie, the world's first fully synchronized sound cartoon, which premiered at the Colony Theatre in New York on November 18, 1928. Walt's drive to perfect the art of animation was endless. Technicolor® was introduced to animation during the production of his "Silly Symphonies." In 1932, the film entitled Flowers and Trees won Walt the first of his 32 personal Academy Awards®. In 1937, he released The Old Mill, the first short subject to utilize the multiplane camera technique.
On December 21 of that same year, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, the first full-length animated musical feature, premiered at the Carthay Circle Theatre in Los Angeles. Produced at the unheard of cost of $1,499,000 during the depths of the Great Depression, the film is still accounted as one of the great feats and imperishable monuments of the motion picture industry. During the next five years, Walt completed such other full-length animated classics as Pinocchio, Fantasia, Dumbo and Bambi.
Julie Andrews with Walt Disney
Disneyland, launched in 1955 as a fabulous $17 million Magic Kingdom, soon increased its investment tenfold and entertained, by its fourth decade, more than 400 million people, including presidents, kings and queens and royalty from all over the globe. Prior to his death on December 15, 1966, Walt Disney took a deep interest in the establishment of California Institute of the Arts, a college level, professional school of all the creative and performing arts. Of Cal Arts, Walt once said, "It's the principal thing I hope to leave when I move on to greener pastures. If I can help provide a place to develop the talent of the future, I think I will have accomplished something."
P. L. Travers was born Helen Lyndon Goff in Maryborough, Queensland, Austrailia. She was the daughter of an unsuccessful banker who was of Irish background. She started to write poetry and while in her teen years, published several of them for The Bulletin newspaper. In 1924, she relocated to England, where she ventured out to ne an author. In 1933, she was sitting in front of a fire in her living room with then-roommate Madge Burnand, and pictured in her mind a nanny taking care of four children (in the original book, in addition to Jane and Michael, there are two younger children as part of the Banks family). She decided this would be a book for children, and this nanny would do incredible, magical things. Tea parties on the ceiling (forgive the pun: and highly questionable outings of every other kind). She immediately went to work on the first book, not knowing in any way what a success the book would become.
P. L. Travers.
Almost from the day the Mary Poppins character appeared on the literary scene in 1934, she seemed destined to gain additional fame through some form of the entertainment medium. Disney first became aware of Mary Poppins around 1949, when one of his daughters introduced him to the magical nursemaid. Her enthusiasm for the books prompted his reading them and he, too, saw their potential as material for a motion picture. Upon learning that film rights were unobtainable, he temporarily abandoned the idea. When Disney tried to acquire the movie rights, he learned they were not for sale. In the meantime, other producers, in turn, considered the Poppins stories perfect material for a Broadway musical, a television special and a motion picture, but their offers too were rejected. Around 1961, the paths of Disney and Miss Travers happened to cross in London. Walt told her of his interest in Mary Poppins and inquired again about the movies rights. They discussed the possibility of his bringing "Mary Poppins" to the screen and the authoress, cognizant of the producer's integrity and artistic endeavors, agreed to relinquish the film rights if his approach to the stories met with her approval. Travers confided she had never considered a theatrical, TV or film offer for fear of what might happen to her stories, and particularly her heroine, in the dramatizing process.
Original handwritten letters from P. L.Travers
On Disney's return to the studio, the project was set in motion and several months later, Mrs. Travers was invited to Burbank for story conferences. Contracts were drawn and signed, and the beloved nanny and her amazing adventures were on their way to becoming immortalized on celluloid. On the Mary Poppins 40thAnniversary CD, one of those interviews with Travers is offered as an extra track. One can see how she thoroughly tore apart the completed works. “Mary Poppins” was her baby and she wasn't going to let Hollywood destroy it. During one of the conferences, a Disney writer inquired if Mary Poppins was considered ageless. "Not at all," Miss Travers answered. "She is precisely twenty-seven." Coincidentally, this was precisely the age of Julie Andrews at the time. By the time of production, Walt Disney had set aside over six million dollars on the budget, with an additional one million for promotion and publicity. People would continually ask the author if the famous English nanny was modeled from a living person. "No, she wasn't," Miss Travers was always quick to answer. "I didn't even think her up. She just brushed past me and said, 'You take it down.'"
Every one of the many thousands who had seen Wally Boag go through his gun-shooting, teeth-popping, balloon-blowing act in Disneyland's Golden Horseshoe Revue agreed that this was a mighty accomplished young man. But how many people knew Wally's greatest accomplishment? Fifteen years prior he pointed to a slight little girl among the audience in the vast London Hippodrome and invited her up to the stage. It was all part of the act, but no one was ready for the brilliantly clear tones of the aria the little girl sang.
Publicity still of Julie Andrews
For she was Julie Andrews, aged 12, and, quite accidentally, this was her first day as a performer. She was immediately signed to a run-of-the-show contract and thus launched on a fabulous career that would bring her to the world's attention as Liza Doolittle in "My Fair Lady"; as Lady Guinevere in "Camelot," and ultimately as the beloved English nanny and in the title role of Walt Disney's "Mary Poppins."
Julie Andrews, 8 years old, already singing professionally (and for the Queen).
Julie was born in Walton-on-Thames, a little town near London. Her parents' divorce when she was very young brought her a step-father who would soon determine she had a great voice and to see to its training. He was Ted Andrews, musician and singer. The discovery was made during World War II when Ted and Julie's pianist mother, Barbara, decided singing lessons would serve well to keep the child's mind off the conflict around them. "I hated it-loathed it," Julie recalled, "but it was suddenly certain that I had a freak voice, with a range of four to five octaves. A throat specialist made the diagnosis. I was a child possessed of a completely adult larynx." Julie's vocal training continued as she traveled around the province 'with her parents, whose musical act had made them the toast of the music halls. This backstage life gave Julie her first taste of show business.
Julie astounded the theatre goers at this tender age when she stepped onto the stage of the London Hippodrome in the "Starlight Roof" revue and sang an operatic aria in her clear, young soprano voice. Not only did the revue enjoy a long run but it firmly established the talented Miss Andrews as a performer with a great future in the theatre. Other revues, concert tours, guest appearances on radio and television, followed, but it was while appearing in a pantomime of "Cinderella" at the London Palladium that Julie's big break came. Vida Hope, who had produced and directed the London production of the hit musical, "The Boyfriend," was searching for an actress to play the lead role on Broadway. Julie was approached and reluctantly accepted since she had never been out of England or away from her family and friends before. She was asked to sign for a two-year run but insisted on a one-year contract. "I knew I would be terribly homesick, in a strange country, among strange people, but if worse came to worse, I was hopeful I could stick it out for a year," Julie recalled for a “Mary Poppins” press interview.
Shot of Julie Andrews taken during rehearsals.
Towards the end of a very successful year in "The Boyfriend," Julie received a call from a representative of composers-producers Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe. They were preparing "My Fair Lady," a musicalization of George Bernard Shaw's "Pygmalion," and were interested in Julie for the role of Eliza Doolittle. They were under the impression she had a run-of-the-play contract but were delighted to know her commitment was almost up. At the same time, Rodgers and Hammerstein had asked her to do “Pipe Dream.” She auditioned but Mr. Rodgers asked her if she had any other projects in the works. When she told him of the “My Fair Lady” project, Rodgers told her that this was perfect for her and she should accept that, and if that didn't work out they would be more than happy to cast her in their project. She auditioned for the role in “My Fair Lady” and was signed immediately.
The cast on the set during filming of "Step in Time.".
Upon leaving the company of "The Boyfriend," Julie returned to London to visit her family and then planed out to Hollywood for a television special of Maxwell Anderson's "High Tor," co-starring with Bing Crosby. With twelve weeks off before the start of "My Fair Lady," Julie enjoyed another holiday in England with her folks before returning to New York and five grueling weeks of rehearsals. The play opened out of town to rave notices and when it bowed on Broadway, the acclaim was overwhelming. The rest is theatrical history, for the musical enjoyed one of Broadway's longest runs. After two years in the New York company, Julie returned to England to play the captivating Eliza for eighteen months in the London run of the show. During this engagement Lerner and Loewe were preparing their next production, "Camelot," with Julie in mind to play the Lady Guinevere.
When "Camelot" bowed on Broadway, it too was acclaimed an immediate success. And Julie's portrayal of the stately Guinevere was as memorable as her delightful Miss Doolittle. During one of the performances, she received word backstage that Walt Disney was in the audience and would like to call on her after the show. Their conversation revealed he was preparing a film musical of "Mary Poppins" and would like her for the title role. Walt invited her to California to hear some of the songs, take a tour of Disneyland and the Walt Disney Studios. Julie was very fond of the score that had been written so far, and after only a very short time accepted the role, which would change her career. She would also film “The Americanization of Emily” for MGM co-starring James Garner.
Julie Andrews and Dick Van Dyke rehearsing "Jolly Holiday."
In 1963 Julie Andrews was a sensation on Broadway and in London. But she couldn't get a break in Hollywood. Rumors had been circulating: that, though Julie was talented "and delicately pretty in an aloof sort of way," she just didn't look good on screen. Her jaw was too firmly set. "My only screen test had been for MGM in England when I was 13," Julie says. "I had a freak adult larynx, skinny legs, and the poise you'd expect from a 13-year-old. They dressed me in white organdy with black patent shoes, coiffed me with curls, and breathlessly awaited the emergence of an English combination of Deanna Durbin and Shirley Temple It just didn't come off."
During this time, Julie awaited news on the casting of “My Fair Lady,” the motion picture from Warner Brothers. Jack Warner never really considered her, he wanted someone who was known and exclaimed, “Who knows Julie Andrews other than theatre goers in New York? "I wanted the part at the time," explained Julie. "After all I felt I had all of the qualifications."Playing Eliza in a big budgeted film version of "Lady" would have been a desirable way to make a grand Hollywood entrance. Julie was terribly let down by the signing of someone else (Audrey Hepburn) for the role of Eliza Doolittle. But she was very happy with the role that was given to her by Mr. Disney. Had Julie Andrews played Eliza Dolittle, she would not have been able to film either “Mary Poppins” or “The Sound of Music.” Julie would not commit to casting until the very day after Warner Brothers cast Audrey Hepburn in “My Fair Lady.” On the set of “Mary Poppins,” Julie would always show her enthusiasm and Walt remembered that she had never argued over anything he wished. After all, Disney had originally looked at casting Angela Lansbury, Bette Davis and Mary Martin for this role, and she felt very lucky to be a part of it.
Robert Wise, who had been hired (after William Wilder left the project) to direct The Sound of Music, was in search of a star to play the role of Maria. Disney permitted 20th Century-Fox and MGM producers to view rushes of Julie and Dick doing musical numbers together. The rushes were sketchy and technically incomplete but Julie and Dick glistened in them. 20th signed Julie for "The Sound of Music" and MGM gave her the title role in "The Americanization of Emily." Julie not only had her break in Hollywood; she was taking the town over. Wise had heard around Hollywood that Julie was not photogenic, and after only a few minutes of footage, Mr. Wise told Saul Chaplin, “Let's grab her before someone else does.” When they met at 20th Century Fox, which had become a studio on the brink of bankruptcy due to the enormous costs of “Cleopatra,” Robert Wise told Julie that The Sound of Music would be playing in theaters at the same time as “My Fair Lady.” Julie looked up at Mr. Wise, paused a moment, and said, “Ok fellas, let's go get them.” The rest, as far as “The Sound of Music” is concerned, is history. The film would become her 2nd film in only 2 years to break boxoffice records, with “The Sound of Music” beating Gone with the Wind on the all-time boxoffice intake chart.
Things were happening fast. Having won her Oscar for "Mary Poppins" she was nominated again for "The Sound of Music." She made "Hawaii" and was drawing like crazy at those same box-offices in which Warner had ignored her just two years before. By 1965 her films had grossed nearly $125 million. By 1971 she was Hollywood's top grossing box-office draw. Even now, she still holds on to those "Mary Poppins" days. “I can't tell you what wonderful times those were. I was fresh from London to Broadway and then fresh again from Broadway to Hollywood. I must admit that it all happened so fast, while enjoyable and surreal, it was just too much within a 4 year period. I had to go into psychoanalysis. That was the best thing I ever could have done.
Julie Andrews and Dick Van Dyke on break during rehearsals.
Following hits like “Thoroughly Modern Millie” and “Torn Curtain” for Universal, she was cast, as the final part of her 2-picture contract for 20th Century Fox, in Robert Wise's “Star!” It would not live up to the hype and boxoffice, not coming anywhere near “Mary Poppins” and “The Sound of Music.” Following “Star!” she worked with Blake Edwards (whom she was to then marry on November 12, 1969) on “Darling Lili” the film which was a headache and a cost of millions for Paramount, going way over budget. She wasn't even allowed to travel to the London premiere of “Star!” as she was working on the set of “Lili.” One has to wonder how a star could miss the world-wide premiere of a very expensive roadshow (Star! Had been filmed in 70mm) for one night . Rumors circled that Mr. Edwards would not allow her to go. Following the mountain of over-budget expense that was“Darling Lili,”
Dick Van Dyke and Julie Andrews at the 40th Anniversary Celebration, November 2004 at the El Capitan.
Julie and Blake were not in demand in Hollywood. It was said that Julie Andrews was then considered “boxoffice poison.” This writer believes that if she had taken the rolls in “Bedknobs and Broomsticks” and “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang” (which she was offered) and done something other than “Star!” to complete her Fox contract, things might have been very different in a positive way. But Blake Edwards made public during the “Darling Lili” shoot that Julie wasn't interested in any nanny-type roles anymore.
Julie Andrews (top) holds her ever-famous Academy Award, winning the Best Actress Oscar over Audrey Hepburn (My Fair Lady) shown with Jack Warner (lower left) and with Best Actor winner Rex Harrison (lower right).
Julie Andrews then worked exclusively for Blake Edwards for many years, allowing him to carve the rest of her career, and never really had another boxoffice hit until “The Princess Diaries” (Victor Victoria was well received by critics but did not earn a substantial amount at the boxoffice). In discussing her career, Julie feels that her transition from stage to screen was slow because of a screen test she made as a youngster. "They dressed me in white organdy with black patent shoes and long curls. I was thirteen, skinny, and I just didn't work as an answer to Shirley Temple. And from that point on I had the reputation of simply not looking good on film."
DICK VAN DYKE
Dick Van Dyke, one of the entertainment world's most popular young stars in the 1960's, was a jack-of-all-trades and master of most. He is an actor, comedian, singer, dancer, impersonator, magician, painter, sculptor, interior decorator, sports-car enthusiast and camera bug. His professional credits at the time included a television series, "The Dick Van Dyke Show," on CBS, a daily radio show, "Flair," on ABC, a recording contract with Command Records and a hit night club act. He made his motion picture debut in "Bye Bye Birdie," recreating his original role of the Broadway production. Van Dyke had been termed a human dynamo by his business associates, who found it difficult to keep up the pace of this easy-going, but fast-moving, young man. None of his family had any theatrical inclinations and except for some clowning around in high school, Dick had never given any thought to becoming an entertainer. His first encouragement came while serving a hitch in the Air Force.
A fellow airman, Byron Paul, now his personal manager, was impressed by Van Dyke's performance in a local service show and persuaded him to try out as an announcer on "Flight Time," an Air Force radio program. Dick got the job, but upon his discharge he forgot about show business and returned to Danville to open an advertising agency. A year later Danville's answer to Madison Avenue declared bankruptcy, and formed a night club act with Phil Erickson of Danville. At the time "lip syncing" was popular in clubs and the Danville boys became "The Merry Mutes." Before the sudden collapse of the night club business in the late forties, they enjoyed successful engagements at the "Last Frontier" in Las Vegas, "Slapsy Maxie's" in Hollywood and the "Chi Chi" in Palm Springs.
With little work available in California, the team traveled across country and landed in Atlanta, Georgia, where Dick broke into television with a variety-type morning show, while his partner bought a night club. Dick's TV show was extremely popular and after a few years he received an attractive offer to do a similar program in New Orleans. He had been in New Orleans for six months when a former Air Force buddy, Byron Paul, paged him for an audition at CBS in New York, where Paul was a director. Impressed by his versatility and personality, CBS put Dick under contract. Van Dyke eventually replaced Jack Paar on his morning show and filled in occasionally for Garry Moore. Although he had worked extensively in daytime TV, Dick has guested on almost every top variety show, including Ed Sullivan, Dinah Shore, Perry Como and Jack Paar.
Dick Van Dyke and Julie Andrews in rehearsal
After establishing himself in television, Van Dyke decided to give the theatre a whirl. Despite the fact he had never taken a singing or dancing lesson, he was well received by critics in his first Broadway show, a revue called "The Boys Against the Girls," which also starred Bert Lahr, Nancy Walker and Shelly Berman. His rave notices from this show led to two TV specials. One of these, "The Fabulous Fifties," attracted the attention of the producers of "Bye Bye Birdie," who were preparing the musical for Broadway. Dick was signed for the top role and under the guidance of the director, Gower Champion, received his first professional dance training and emerged a major musical comedy star.
For his role in Mary Poppins, Dick Van Dyke has said that he had a very hard time with the English cockney accent. He took over eight months of lessons, and of course had Julie Andrews, who was very familiar with the dialect, to help him. In Mary Poppins he stars as a one-man-band street entertainer, becomes a sidewalk artist, switches to a vendor of hot chestnuts (cut from the film), then becomes a chimney sweep and ends as a kite salesman. Such a complex characterization gave full play to his wide range of talents, with greater emphasis on his ability as a comedian. Dick's idol has always been Stan Laurel, whom he considered the greatest pantomimist. "I'm very big as a Stan Laurel impressionist," he said. "Ive been doing his things all my life and much of my style has stemmed from Stan's particular school of comedy."
Dick Van Dyke on the set.
An advocate of slapstick comedy, Dick anticipated a full-scale revival of this form of movie entertainment. "Even the old custard pie routing is still hilarious, provided the timing is right," he added. "And those great comedies of the 30's and 40's, like 'Mr. Deeds Goes to Town,' The Awful Truth' and 'Nothing Sacred,' are still fracturing audiences on TV. Disney has already proven slapstick is still popular with moviegoers. Just look at the success of The Shaggy Dog,' The Absent Minded Professor' and 'Son of Flubber.'" Never formally trained as an actor, he has learned by keenly observing other performers. This, combined with a natural ability has resulted in Van Dyke becoming one of the most able and popular young comedians in movies and TV.
Dick Van Dyke publicity still.
Good humor and good luck always attend both of them when Ed Wynn joined Walt Disney in some of the latter's many motion picture and television ventures As the laugh-happy Uncle Albert, Wynn hits a high note in hilarity in his seventh assignment under the Disney banner. Ed had loved every minute of it. "Walt is one of the most creative men in our profession" he said in New York in 1964 on a national press tour, "and I never dispute his judgment when he offers me a part." And Walt offered Ed a part whenever there was one within the wide range of his vast capabilities, which made it often. This mutual admiration society began back in 1951 when Walt called on Ed to create the voice characterization for the Mad Hatter in the animated-cartoon feature, "Alice in Wonderland." He next re-created his famous Fire Chief character in the Disney live-action comedy hit, "The Absent Minded Professor." Ed's portrayal of the zany toymaker in "Babes in Toyland" was a standout. As a wacky agricultural agent in "Son of Flubber," he convulsed movie audiences everywhere. He was also co-starred in "The Golden Horseshoe Revue" on Disney's television show, "Wonderful World of Color," in which he performed several of his memorable musical-comedy routines from vaudeville days. In 1964, he repeated on the top-rated TV show as a warmhearted recluse with a sense of humor in the hour-long comedy drama, "Treasure in the Haunted House."
Famous publicity still of Ed Wynn
In “Mary Poppins” Ed plays the whimsical nursemaid's jovial uncle who suffers from a mirthful malady, excessive laughter that makes him weightless and sends him floating upwards to the ceiling, defying every law of gravity. For this role, not only Ed's comedy talents were drawn on, but also his athletic prowess was put to the test. It proved to be his most strenuous performance. "At 76 you aren't as agile as you are at 16," Ed confided, "but I feel 16 so I had no problem." Ed Wynn died in June of 1966, only two years after “Mary Poppins” was released.
Various Mary Poppins products that were merchandised through Walt Disney for the film.
The versatile and talented British star, Glynis Johns, came from a theatrical family that boasted four generations in the entertainment profession. The velvet-voiced blonde actress is descended from The Steele Payne Bell-ringers, a renowned musical touring company in Australia formed by her maternal great grandfather. Mr. Payne and his three daughters, all musicians, comprised the company, each playing one or more instruments. Glynis' grandmother was one of the first accomplished women violinists of the time. The Bellringers toured Australia, New Zealand and South Africa with their exceptional musical programs, and any daughter contemplating matrimony was expected to choose a mate who could make a contribution, as a musician, to the company. Glynis' mother, Alys Steele, showing promise of becoming an outstanding pianist, took a sabbatical from the family musical show to attend the Royal Academy of Music in London and to study in Vienna. While in London she met and married actor, Mervyn Johns, who was then a student at the Royal Academy of Arts. Although Johns was not a musician, his acting ability was put to ready use by the Steeles, and he presented dramatic scenes between the musical numbers.
Publicity still Glynis Johns
It was while the company was on tour in Pretoria, South Africa, that Glynis was born, and when only three weeks old, she was carried on stage and presented to her first audience by her proud parents Alys and Mervyn Johns. They returned to England to embark on their individual careers as concert pianist and actor when Glynis was about six. She was enrolled in a ballet class in Bristol and was soon acclaimed a child dancing prodigy. At the age of ten, she made dance history by receiving a degree to teach ballet and at twelve she was an advanced ballet teacher. As Glynis was about to join the famed Sadler's Wells Ballet, she became acquainted with the noted actor, Leo Genn, who was influential in her making her acting debut. She was sufficiently smitten by the theatre to turn from a successful dancing career to devote her entire attention to acting.
Glynis' musical talents are evident as she sings and dances her way through the role of Winifred Banks. Glynis earned a Laurel Award in 1965 for her role as Mrs. Banks, and was nominated for an Oscar in 1961 for her supporting role in “The Sundowners.” Since making the musical, Glynis went gone on to star in such films as "Dear Bridget," "Don't Just Stand There"; and her own television series, "Glynis" (she and Keith Andes starred as a married couple in which she appears as a mystery writer and Andes portrays a criminal defense attorney. The program was cancelled after thirteen episodes). She received a Tony award for Best Actress in a musical for the Broadway production of "A Little Night Music." Her roles in films after 1970 were sporadic, only making 8 more pictures.
Glynis Johns publicity still
Eighty four years young and going strong in 1964 was character actress Jane Darwell (born Patti Woodard), who turned in another of her memorable screen portrayals as the Bird Woman in "Mary Poppins." Having chalked up an amazing record of more than 200 films, Miss Darwell considered her role in the film the most unique of her entire career. "I played all my scenes with a flock of pigeons and it isn' easy with twenty-five or thirty birds fluttering around or perched all over you," she recalled in a 1964 press interview. "However, we became fast friends and they never up-staged me."
Miss Darwell said her earliest ambition was to be a circus fat lady but since she could not tip the scales that much in her favor, she turned to the theatre. She had her earliest training in stock and eventually ended up on Broadway. She started her screen career in silent films and had been active in motion pictures ever since. Miss Darwell received an Oscar for the Best Supporting Actress of 1940 in "The Grapes of Wrath," and has contributed performances in such films as "Back Street," "The Ox-Bow Incident," "Three Godfathers," "Gone With the Wind" and "My Darling Clementine." Jane made over 50 films between 1940 and 1960, and guest starred in almost one hundred television programs. She retired in 1959 after filming “Hound Dog” but (at 85 years old) she was contacted at her home, The Motion Picture Country Home by Walt Disney. She died of a heart attack on August 13, 1967 at the age of 87.
Various 1964 magazines featuring Julie Andrews and Mary Poppins.
"He looks like a very old baby," Noël Coward once observed. In Walt Disney's Mary Poppins, Tomlinson brought a happy mixture of childish petulance and bowler-hatted propriety to the role of Mr Banks, the endlessly exasperated banker. He hugely enjoyed making the film, becoming a friend of Walt Disney himself. He remembered how, when he was dining with the Disneys, Mrs Walt Disney took advantage of her husband's temporary absence from the table to hiss: "I don't know why Walt wanted to make Snow White. He's always hated dwarfs!" Tomlinson was an unabashed fan of his organization: "they pay you well, and treat you like the Aga Khan." Yet when Tomlinson saw the rough cut of Mary Poppins, he was convinced the film would be a flop. "I thought it was appallingly sentimental and very nearly said, 'Well, Walt, you can't win them all.'" Even in his eighties, he would delight the young, and sometimes silence busy restaurants, with spirited renditions of Let's Go Fly a Kite.
Rare David Tomlinson publicity still.
David Cecil MacAlister Tomlinson was born on May 7 1917, and educated at Tonbridge, where he excelled at squash and rackets. Tomlinson's success as Mr Banks may have owed something to his own father, a stern Folkestone solicitor who, he recalled, "never gave up his search for the perfect piece of beef. This was the only perfection he ever sought." If the young David and his brothers brought school-friends home for tea, his father would simply scowl at them and bark: "Haven't they got any tea in their own houses?"
David Tomlinson grew up with a stammer. When he turned 17 his father informed him, that he had secured him a job at Shell-Mex. "But I'd like to be an actor," he stuttered. "Be an actor?" expostulated his father. "Good God, you can't even speak!" Tomlinson persisted, but ran out of money before finding an acting job. Finding himself passing the Central London Recruiting Depot, he signed on with the Grenadier Guards. This was an error: "The Foreign Legion would have been a holiday camp compared to life in the Guards," he later recalled.
He eventually found a foothold with the Folkestone Repertory, and then joined John Gielgud's company, understudying for Alec Guinness. During the war Tomlinson served in the RAF. Already a qualified pilot, he became a flying instructor in Canada. In 1941, still in the RAF, he made his film debut as the lead in Anthony Asquith's Quiet Wedding. Tomlinson appeared in three other films during the war. The best of them was “Way to the Stars” (1945), co-written by Terence Rattigan and Anatole de Grunwald, in which he played an eager young airman alongside John Mills, Michael Redgrave, Stanley Holloway and Trevor Howard. After the war, Tomlinson made 19 films in four years. In 1950 he played another airman in The Wooden Horse, about the escape from Stalag Luft III. Many of the characters in the film were modelled on friends of his brother Peter, who had been captured in Holland in 1942.
Original illustration artwork.
Throughout the 1950s and 1960s, his films included Three Men in a Boat (1956), with Laurence Harvey and Jimmy Edwards, Up the Creek (1958) with Peter Sellers, and Tony Richardson's Tom Jones (1963). Shortly after the release of “Three Men in a Boat,” he found himself in court, charged with reckless flying. He had been piloting a Tiger Moth around his Buckinghamshire home when he lost consciousness and the plane crashed. One witness claimed to have seen him looping-the-loop and pretending to dive-bomb his own house. Tomlinson's counsel was at pains to rebut any suggestion of levity. "When you earn your living playing the fool," he told the court, "you like a rest when you get home. That is just the position with Mr Tomlinson." The jury returned a not guilty verdict.
He made two further films for Disney, playing the dastardly villain in The Love Bug, the top-grossing film of 1969, and the master wizard Emelius Browne in Bedknobs and Broomsticks (1971). He always told children he was chosen as Emelius Browne because he was the only actor who could sing under water. Financial security made Tomlinson less inclined to take all the work he was offered, though until 1974 he continued to appear in the theatre, notably as the Prime Minister in Bernard Shaw's “On The Rocks in Dublin” (1969). Thereafter he concentrated on films, such as “Wombling Free” (1977) and “The Water Babies” (1978), both directed by his friend Lionel Jeffries. He worked again with Peter Sellers on “The Fiendish Plot of Fu Manchu” (1980). Sellers was already seriously ill and paranoid, but Tomlinson brought out the best in him. "The only person I want to see is David," Sellers remarked in hospital shortly before his death. Tomlinson was a generous and gregarious man but shrewd in financial matters. He married, in 1953, Audrey Freeman, an actress; they had four sons.
Original limited release 1964 ad mat. These were the very first ad mats produced. Note that in all later versions other than the initial limited release, the two faces (Julie Andrews and Dick Van Dyke) were painted rather than photographed as shown here.
David Tomlinson revealed his singing talent for the first time in "Mary Poppins." "I sang in the church choir as a boy and in school theatricals," he confessed to musical director Irwin Kostal, "but never professionally." In an audition, Kostal quickly discovered that the star possessed a fine baritone voice, untrained but well modulated. With a little coaching he was soon singing like a pro. Tomlinson not only made his singing debut in the Disney filmization but he was featured in five solo numbers, "The Life I Lead," "A British Bank," "A Man Has Dreams," "Fidelity Fiduciary Bank" and "Let's Go Fly a Kite." Realizing his accomplishment, Tomlinson told the press in 1964, "With a bit more work I might even make it at the Met." Tomlinson died at the age of 83 in June of 2000
Original lobby cards.
Born in 1956 at the Royal Free Hospital, Hampstead, London, England, Matthew Garber was a pint-sized actor with a great deal of talent and a complete lack of inhibition, a trait which has won him the reputation of being the youngest method actor in movies. Method actor or not, this seven-year-old Britisher's complete naturalness in front of the camera had resulted in leading roles in two of Walt Disney's feature productions, "The Three Lives of Thomasina," and the dazzling new musical feature, "Mary Poppins."
Matthew's natural flair for acting was discovered during the filming of his first screen test. He interrupted the scene by saying, "Excuse me, I think one of my front teeth is falling out." Trying to stifle a laugh, the director replied: "Well, go ahead and pull it out." Before the eager cast and crew, Matthew did just that, while the camera continued to roll. Needless to say, the appealing youngster clinched the role once the test had been screened. His cheeky face lit up the screen and his mobile features, gentle nose twitching and general restlessness on camera, sent the audience into gales of laughter. During the filming of "Mary Poppins," whenever Matthew sensed it was nearing lunch time, he would drop a subtle hint to director Robert Stevenson by walking over and taking a look at his wristwatch. It nearly always resulted in a lunch break.
On June 13, 1977, Garber died of hemorrhagic necrotising pancreatitis at the age of 21. He contracted hepatitis. According to Fergus Garber, Matthew Garber's younger brother (by eight years), it was probably the result of eating "bad meat" while traveling in India in 1976. Apparently it had already spread to his pancreas when their father brought Garber back to England the following year.
Like her teen-age British counterpart, Hayley Mills, Karen Dotrice (Daughter of Roy Dotrice and Kay Dotrice. Sister of Michele Dotrice and Yvette Dotrice) came from yet another of the United Kingdom's acting families. She was born November 9, 1955 in Guernsey, Channel Islands, UK. At the time Walt Disney's newest discovery, the blue-eyed, blonde-haired Karen inherited her dramatic ability from both parents. Her father, Roy, was a well-known member of Peter Hall's Royal Shakespearian Company. Her mother, Kay, has appeared in a number of London's West End productions. Her sixteen-year-old sister, Michele, has already made a mark for herself with the Royal Shakespearian Company and in leading roles on television.
Publicity still, Karen Dotrice
Three-year-old Yvette, the youngest member of the Dotrice family, had yet to make her acting debut; but her precociousness seemed to leave little doubt that she, too, would follow in her elders' footsteps. Making her second screen appearance in "Mary Poppins," following a widely acclaimed film bow in the producer's drama, "The Three Lives of Thomasina," Karen was remarkably serious and adult for one of her tender years. She lived and breathed the theatre, which she claimed was both a hobby and a pastime.
Julie Andrews and Karen Dotrice at the El Capitan, 2013
When Disney launched a talent search for a little English girl to play one of the leads in "The Three Lives of Thomasina," his London casting director remembered Karen's remarkable performance in her recent stage debut in Bertold Brecht's "The Caucasion Chalk Circle." A screen test was arranged during which Karen was called on to register every kind of emotion. She came through with flying colors and was signed for the Disney production. She would play Elizabeth Winthrop in Disney's “The Gnome Mobile” and wouldn't make another film for ten years when she was cast in “Joseph Andrews” (1977). In 1978, she appeared in “The Thirty Nine Steps” which would be her last feature film. She won the Evening Standard British Film Award for most promising newcomer.
In a 1991 interview for Entertainment Weekly, Karen commented that her favorite scene in the film to shoot was “Supercalifragilisticexpealidocious.” She said that the scene had taken two weeks to shoot, and they had gone through dozens of candied apples, which she remembered as a highlight and something that helped getting through the grueling work of that partially animated scene. “Julie Andrews came up with the idea to make the apples different flavored toffy, so we put in our order the night before and the next day we would have Cinnamon or Rocky Road, or whatever we pleased.” Karen gave up acting in 1988, and said the only thing that would bring her out of retirement would be a sequel to “Mary Poppins” where the children would be grown up.
Karen Dotrice 2013, 50th Anniversary Gala
Karen recently told Variety Magazine, “One time, I was sitting next to his desk, I said to him, “Uncle Walt, I have an idea — why don’t we move your desk closer to the door, because it’s really far.” He said to me, “Karen, dear, my desk is so far from the door because by the time those cigar-chewing executives have walked from the door to the desk, they change their mind about what they are going to ask for.” I thought it was so funny. Karen says that Walt Disney took such great care of the children, and flew her entire family over from England when the production was to start, and he even gave them use of his private jet on the weekends. She recently appeared at the Mary Poppins 50th Anniversary showing in Hollywood at Grauman's Chinese Theater, which is where the film originally premiered. Karen lives in Los Angeles and has two children.
1994 30th Anniversary re-issue poster.
After starring on Broadway in "A Taste of Honey" and Tennessee Williams' "The Milk Train Doesn't Stop Here Anymore," versatile British actress Hermione Baddeley was persuaded by Disney to return to films in the role of a comical Cockney maid, Ellen, in "Mary Poppins." Another English lady who had built a colorful career on drama, music and comedy was the inimitable Elsa Lanchester. As the nursemaid, Katie Nanna, whose abrupt departure leaves the Banks' household in a state of chaos, Miss Lanchester created another of her whimsical characterizations. Veteran comedian Arthur Treacher took time out from his role as Pelinore in the touring National company of "Camelot" to play Constable Jones, a kind hearted policeman in the Disney production.
Publicity still: Hermione Baddeley
For the role of Admiral Boom, late of His Majesty's Navy, Disney signed a thirty-five year veteran of the screen, Reginald Owen. One of Broadway and Hollywood's comediennes, Reta Shaw, appeared in title role of the Irish cook, Mrs. Brill. The grand lady of the screen, Miss Jane Darwell. continued an active career at the tender age of 84 in the cameo role of the Bird Woman. An Academy Award winner for her memorable performance as Ma Joad in "The Grapes of Wrath," Miss Darwell played in more than 200 motion pictures. In the roles of Jane and Michael Banks, Mary Poppins' young charges are Karen Dotrice and Matthew Garber, two highly talented British youngsters introduced by Walt Disney in his heartwarming feature motion picture, "The Three Lives of Thomasina."
1965 Mary Poppins comic books were extremely popular. Gold Key Comics reported selling over a million copies.
A then thirty-five year veteran of motion pictures, British performer Reginald Owen held the distinction of having played a wider variety of roles during his lengthy career than perhaps any other actor. And for a real change of pace, he literally blasted his way through his characterization in "Mary Poppins." The rather sedate Mr. Owen plays the hilarious Admiral Boom, late of His Majesty's Navy, who periodically signals the time of day by firing a cannon from the roof of his ship-shape dwelling. This character is played strictly for laughs, just as was his portrayal of the blustering detergent tycoon in the Doris Day comedy hit,,'The Thrill of It All." All of Owen's past successes were not been in a comedy vein and he was probably best remembered for his more dramatic performances.
Owen later recalled, "Ive worked with many of the screen's most glamorous women, like Garbo, Jean Harlow, Jeanette MacDonald, Joan Crawford, Myrna Loy, Bette Davis and Rosalind Russell. Gable, Bob Taylor, Bill Powell, Frederic March and those other handsome heroes always got the girl in the final clinch but I somehow managed to get the meaty roles. He would later play General Teager in Disney's “Bedknobs and Broomsticks,” which would be his last screen role before his death on November 5, 1972 at the age of 85. Hermione again plays a Cockney role, but this time it was strictly for laughs as she created a hilarious characterization of Ellen, the housemaid. Although she had played everything from high comedy to heavy drama on the screen, she was perhaps best remembered for her touching portrayal of Simone Signoref's roommate and friend in "Room at the Top," a performance which won her an Academy Award nomination. She would work again for Disney playing Mrs. Worth in “The Happiest Millionaire” and voicing Madame in “The Aristocats.”
Kraft and Jack Frost promotions
In spite of her film success, Hermione considered herself primarily a stage actress. American audiences saw her on Broadway in "A Taste of Honey" and Tennessee Williams' drama, "The Milk Train Doesn't Stop Here Anymore." As a result of her performance in this play, Williams was quoted as saying, "Hermione Baddeley is one of the four greatest actresses I've ever seen on the stage." (The other three were Laurette Taylor, Anna Magnani and Geraldine Page.) Equally at home in comedy or drama and in any medium, whether it be stage, screen, television or night clubs, Hermione was happiest when she was performing. One of her more memorable film roles was the lovable Buttercup Grogan in “The Unsinkable Molly Brown” done the same year as “Mary Poppins.” She was later known for her role as Mrs. Nell Naugatuck on the television series “Maude.” In her final full-feature film, she appeared as Daphne Drimond in “There Goes the Bride (1980), and following that she characterized the voice of Auntie Shrew in “The Secret of Nimh.”
Rare shot of Cherry Tree Lane with ceiling lighting
Long regarded by Hollywood as a sure-fire insurance policy for laughs, brilliant comedienne Elsa Lanchester made a hilarious return to the screen in "Mary Poppins." This versatile performer, who had played everything from Shakespeare to musical comedy, once again left audiences laughing long after they have left the theatre with her comic portrayal of the harassed nursemaid, Katie Nanna. Born in London, Miss Lanchester started her theatrical career at sixteen by both acting in and directing the song-and-dance skits in the Children's Theatre, which she organized. Married to the late Charles Laughton for thirty-four years, Elsa was teamed with the renowned actor in such memorable films as "The Private Life of Henry VIII," "Rembrandt," "The Beachcomber" and "Witness for the Prosecution." Upon completion of her role in "Mary Poppins" she revived her one-woman stage show, "Miss Lanchester Herself," which enjoyed extended runs in Hollywood and Las Vegas.
Director Robert Stevenson
Not many motion picture directors on either side of the big pond could list the kind of success Robert Stevenson had achieved, particularly since he went to work for Walt Disney. The ninth and biggest, Mary Poppins's production embraced all four Disney sound stages. Stevenson began his movie career writing, and at the same time coping with wiseacres who were bound to compare him with Robert Louis Stevenson as his relative and thus chief benefactor in the talent department. "I am not now nor have I ever been even remotely related to Robert Louis Stevenson, the author," said director Stevenson, who liked to be called just "Bob." Stevenson's fourth job with Walt, directing Robert Louis Stevenson's "Kidnapped," from a Robert Stevenson script, did not of course help quell the rumor. Bob's first screenplay, "Tudor Rose," was a big hit in both Britain and the United States. He soon tried directing and quickly proved himself with hits like "King Solomon's Mines," "Back Street," "Jane Eyre" and "My Forbidden Past," plus something like a hundred television shows, fifteen of them from his own scripts. His Disney pictures include such hits like "Old Yeller," "The Absent Minded Professor" and "Son of Flubber." He died on April 30, 1986 at the age of 81. His last film as Director was Disney's “The Shaggy D.A.” released in 1976, his 10th Directing job following “Mary Poppins” for Walt Disney.
Bill Walsh, Producer
For a guy who wrote songs, plus gags for Mickey Mouse, plus advertising and publicity, Bill Walsh made a pretty good Walt Disney co-producer-writer with the kind of blockbuster credits like "The Shaggy Dog," "The Absent Minded Professor," "Bon Voyage" and "Son of Flubber," that any movie-maker would be proud of. This affable gent, with a penchant for hard work and endless quips, had completed the happy process of tying together the thousand loose ends of "Mary Poppins," probably the longest-lived, most tenacious in the studio's history. Walsh not only co-produced with Walt, he co-wrote it with Don DaGradi, a story man par excellence borrowed years ago from the cartoon people.
The Walsh touch was in evidence around the studio since the late forties when he won a national ad contest and got hired by the publicity department where, among other sidelines, he began writing for the Mickey Mouse comic strip. He wrote Walt's first big Christmas television show in 1950, did it again in 1951, and thus helped found the original series of hour-long shows called Disneyland. A great many other assignments followed, including the vastly successful Davy Crockett shows and feature, and the massive job of putting together the daily, hour-long Mickey Mouse Club, the latter so well done that it was on the air again in 1964 and going stronger than ever on a coast-to-coast syndication basis. Then came many more movies.
The Walsh character can probably best be defined by Bill's reputation around home-town Cincinnati, where he is still remembered for the wild black bearskin coat he wore and the Purcell high school anthem he wrote, "Onward Cavaliers." A football scholarship got him to the University of Cincinnati with an eye to become a chemical engineer. As time went by and he got to writing school musicals with pal Ed Birnbryer and to hearing from former classmate Ty Power in Hollywood, Bill's eye for chemistry grew jaundiced. Frank Fay and Barbara Stanwyck, passing through town on their way to Broadway with a thing called "Tattle Tales," caught a Walsh-Birnbryer show, invited the pair along to New York as "Tattle Tales" music men, and wrecked the original Walsh dream. But the show folded. Birnbryer decided to become a New Yorker anyway and Walsh, thoroughly bitten by the Hollywood bug, went west to become one of the most all-around competent young men in filmdom.
Following “Mary Poppins,” Bill went on to make more Disney pictures including “That Darn Cat,” “Lr. Robin Crusoe,” “Blackbeard's Ghost,” “The Love Bug,” “Bedknobs and Broomsticks,” among others. His final job for Disney theatrical was a first draft screenplay for “The Shaggy Dog” starring Tim Allen, which he wrote in 2005. Bill Walsh died on January 27, 1975 at the age of 61.
Exciting dancing and unique staging play an important part in every stage or film musical and choreographers Marc Breaux and Dee Dee Wood contributed both to the feature. This husband-and-wife team, whose work had brightened many a Broadway musical and television special, gave its talents to a motion picture for the first time. Dee Dee Wood would tell the press, “What a glorious time we are having here at Disney. This project is nothing but sheer happiness.” Wood spent an entire month studying dance from 1910 London. “It's really quite simple. Vaudeville was the thing. One could go for a show and watch maybe a dozen acts in one night for a very low price, and see some wonderful entertainers. I am trying to bring that feel to the choreography of “Mary Poppins.” The movies were much more intense than they are now. They really danced their socks off in those days.”
Hollywood Reporter Oscar announcement cover
The technique of combining live-action photography with the animated cartoon on the same screen had long been considered one of Walt Disney's major contributions to the motion picture medium, but never had it been used more expertly or effectively than in "Mary Poppins." To bring the stories to the screen, every magical Disney trick was employed to strengthen the believability of the fantasy and to enhance the enchantment of the feature. "We have used the combination of live-action and animated cartoon technique in several of our films but only when the story needed it," Disney recalled. "In the 'Jolly Holiday' sequence of 'Mary Poppins' it's a natural." When Dick Van Dyke as Bert invites Mary Poppins, and her two young charges to come for an outing in one of his chalk-drawing pictures, they step into a fantasy world of painted backgrounds inhabited by a wide assortment of appealing Disney cartoon characters.
Animation cel art
The technique was pioneered by Disney some eighty years ago in a series called "Alice in Cartoon-land." These short subjects, involving a little girl's adventures in a fantasy world of animated-cartoon creations, featured a child actress in the title role. The series was eventually abandoned for technical and acute financial reasons, but Walt held on to the technique until 1945 when it was used again in his cartoon feature, "The Three Caballeros." In this musical, Donald Duck, Jose Carioca and Panchito, the rooster, danced and frolicked with some of Latin America's top entertainers to the rhythms of the samba and la bomba. The following year Disney produced "Song of the South," based on the "Uncle Remus" stories of Joel Chandler Harris. He again combined animation with live-action to incorporate actor James Baskett and child stars Bobby Driscoll and Luana Patten into the cartoon adventures of Brer Rabbit, Brer Fox and Brer Bear. The technique continued to amaze the movie-going public. It clamored for more.
Original Illustration art.
For an encore, "Melody Time," released in 1948, featured organist Ethel Smith cavorting with cartoon-characters Donald Duck, Jose Carioca and the Aracuan bird through a musical sequence called "Blame It on the Samba." Sixteen years later, Disney's most ambitious use of the combination technique (for “Mary Poppins”) would delight millions. These colorful scenes were under the expert guidance of animation director Hamilton S. Luske, with McLaren Stewart handling the art direction. The simulated chalk-drawn backgrounds were painted by Al Dempster, Don Griffith, Art Riley and Bill Layne, while artists Milt Kahl, Ollie Johnston, Frank Thomas, John Lounsbery, Hal Am-bro, Ward Kimball, Eric Larson, Cliff Nordberg and Jack Boyd created the exciting character and effects animation.
The talented song-writing team of Richard M. and Robert B. Sherman and Academy Award-winning musical director Irwin Kostal proved an unbeatable musical combination for "Mary Poppins." The brothers Sherman, who pooled their musical talents at the suggestion of their hit song-writing father, Al Sherman, had been staff composers at the Disney Studio for five years prior. During this time, they had composed hit tunes for such Disney successes as "The Parent Trap," "Bon Voyage" and "Summer Magic," plus original music for "Walt Disney's Wonderful World of Color" on the NBC-TV Network.
Publicity still: The Sherman Brothers with Julie Andrews and Dick Van Dyke
However, "Mary Poppins" has proved the greatest challenge and most rewarding musical assignment of their careers. When the film was in the planning stages, the Sherman Brothers suggested that Disney move the story from the 1930's to the Edwardian era, as they could then use vaudeville and its sounds, which also was perfect for Julie Andrews, whose parents played vaudeville and she herself did as well in the last years of that musical era. The Shermans composed fourteen completely original songs, including such unique titles as "Spoonful of Sugar," "Jolly Holiday," "Love to Laugh," "Chim-Chim-Cheree," 'Feed the Birds" (Tuppence a Bag), "Step in Time," "Stay Awake," "Sister Suffragette," "A Man Has Dreams," "The Life I Lead" and "Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious." The score would take the Sherman Brothers, who composed the finished score plus seven unused songs, over a year to complete.
Promotion of Disney albums and the score. Ironically, the children's album (center photo top left LP) released alongside the soundtrack was sung by Marni Nixon, who sang the voice of Eliza Doolittle in the film "My Fair Lady" in which Julie Andrews was turned down for the role by Jack Warner.
Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious would roll off Walt Disney's tongue on many days at the studio with regularity and it became the mode around the studio to get one's own tongue around it, difficult as this may seem on paper. All of which was music to the ears of the talented brothers who wrote it. The Sherman Brothers and Walt would call the movie while it was in production, “supermagnificentiladocious.” Good song writers, like good prose writers, never throw anything away. When they were kids Bob and Dick dreamed up the tongue-twister as a gag during a summer camp doldrums and had forgotten it until Walt requested a superior effort for his superior picture. If musical talent is hereditary, the Sherman boys surely could have credited part of their success to their dad, Al Sherman, whose hits included novelty tunes like "You Gotta Be A Football Hero," "Potatoes Are Cheaper," "No, No a Thousand Times No." "On a Dew-Dew-Dewy Day," "Ho-ho, Ha-ha Me Too," "Save Your Sorrow" and "Comes A-long A-love."
Realizing his sons' musical prowess, Al advised them to pool their talents. They did, and together Bob and Dick Sherman wrote their first hit "Things I Might Have Been," which was made a standard by Kitty Wells. The partnership was temporarily suspended when Dick entered the Army. Then, in 1958, the boys teamed up again to compose "Tall Paul," a smash hit for Walt's young singing star, Annette. The record sold 700,000 singles. A succession of hits for recording artists like Johnny Burnett, Doris Day, Fabian and Annette followed. The Shermans' first film assignment came when Walt asked them to write a song for Annette to sing in "The Horsemasters." He liked the results and subsequently engaged them to compose a song for Hayley Mills in "The Parent Trap." The tune, "Let's Get Together," became an instant hit. Hayley's record alone sold over 800,000 singles to reach Number Five spot in the nationwide music polls.
A Smile on the faces of the Sherman Brothers holding their Oscars for Best Original Score (shown with Debbie Reynolds, who was nominated for "The Unsinkable Molly Brown"
For "Mary Poppins," the brothers were called on to block 14 songs into a story line scripted by Bill Walsh and Don DaGradi. "In a musical you are involved with enhancing characters, you're extending the story line," said Richard. "It's continuity. A title song is more a showcase, a spot of entertainment that touches on the story without giving it away. The story was supposed to be set in 1935, but that was too limiting," said Richard. "We wanted it to take place in 1910. That was a greater age of innocence, and it gave us a chance to use material that was more vaudevillian. Songs like "Supercal," and "Jolly Holiday," show the vaudeville influence.
After "Mary Poppins," the Shermans went on to score such musicals as "Chitty Chitty Bang Bang," "Bedknobs and Broomsticks," and "Charlotte's Web." They not only scored the United Artists release, "Tom Sawyer," but scripted it as well. The evolution of the Shermans into screen writers was a natural thing," explained Richard. "In blocking our songs for earlier musicals, we became so closely involved with the story line that you could scarcely tell where our contribution ended and the writer's began. Writing was the next logical step." Their stage play, "Victory Canteen," a gentle satire of the '40s starring Patti Andrews of the Andrews Sisters, was Broadway bound and opened as “Over Here.” The Original Cast CD, available from Sony Broadway Masterworks is a delight. They were able to create the 1940's all over again, including “Drum Dreamin,” sung by a very young John Travolta. "Charlotte's Web," "Tom Sawyer," and "Mary Poppins," were in an unprecedented consecutive run at the Radio City Music Hall. For all their success, the Shermans still considered"Mary Poppins" among their finest work. "We loved Walt Disney," said Richard. "As far as I'm concerned he was the greatest producer who ever lived."
Irwin Kostal launched his career on radio and then made a name for himself arranging music for Sid Caesar's "Your Show of Shows” between 1950 and 1955. He went on to become one of Hollywood's most distinguished conductors and orchestrators of both feature films and television programs. Kostal earned the first of two Oscars in 1962 for orchestrating and supervising Leonard Bernstein's score for "West Side Story." The second Academy Award came after he orchestrated and conducted "The Sound of Music" (1965). The soundtrack album for this film also earned Kostal a Grammy. Kostal would be nominated for the Oscar four more times for "Mary Poppins" (1964), "Bedknobs and Broomsticks" (1971), “Pete's Dragon” (1977), and for the restored version of Fantasia (re-released in 1990). While working on "The Garry Moore Show" between the late '50s and early '60s, Kostal won an Emmy for his arrangements and conducting. He was awarded two more Emmys for conducting on “The Julie Andrews Hour.” In addition to his work on the big screen and television, Kostal also occasionally worked on Broadway.
The Sherman Brothers with (center) Julie Andrews, Irwin Kostal and Dick Van Dyke
Irwin Kostal, who won an Oscar for the scoring of his first motion picture, "West Side Story," completed the supervision, arranging and conducting of the music for "Mary Poppins." He was musical director of the hit tune-show, "Fiorello," and was currently represented on Broadway with the musical-comedy "A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum." Kostal was wielding the baton over a 75-piece orchestra in post-scoring sessions on "Mary Poppins," He loved Walt's movie music ideas. "So many producers are content with a good visual picture," Kostal said in an on-set interview. "They don't care about the sound track. To me, this is equally important, which is why it has been an extreme pleasure to work for Mr. Disney, the man who developed a multi-track sound system for his famous 'Fantasia' way back in 1940." The talented song-writing team of Richard M. and Robert B. Sherman composed fourteen delightful new songs which Kostal incorporated into the over-all musical score.
With the completion of "Mary Poppins," Hollywood persuaded Kostal to delay his return to Broadway and television just a little longer. Following the project, he was hired as musical director on "The Sound of Music," and later for musicals “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, “ “Bedknobs and Broomsticks” and “Charlotte's Web.” Mr. Kostal received many awards for his work, including the 1962 win for best scoring of “West Side Story,” the Oscar for Best Scoring of The Sound of Music” in 1965, the 1962 Grammy for Best Soundtrack Album (“West Side Story”), Best Recording for Children at the 1965 Grammy's, and was nominated for primetime Emmy Awards for The Julie Andrews Show and the 1973 “Dr. Jeckyl and Mr. Hyde,” as well as a Laurel Award nomination for “West Side Story.” Other Oscar nominations for scoring included “Bedknobs and Broomsticks,” and “Pete's Dragon.” Irwin Kostal died in November 1994 at the age of 83 years.
Step in Time
A roof top ballet, set to the swiftly-paced tempo of "Step in Time," and featuring Julie Andrews, Dick Van Dyke and twenty-four rugged male acrobatic dancers in the garb of chimney sweeps, is one of the real show-stoppers in "Mary Poppins." To achieve terpsichorean perfection, choreographers Marc Breaux and Dee Dee Wood put the stars and dancers through a month's rigid training while performing the strenuous routine in a mock-up of the set on the studio back lot. The difficult number is an elaboration of an old English pub dance, and involves some very intricate acrobatic dancing that included special effects. Once the routine was set, two weeks of actual shooting was necessary to put the dance or film. The set, like all the others was an elaborate and unique reproduction (which took the studio over a month of daily grueling work) of London's skyline and roof tops during the turn of the century.
Don DaGradi, Co-Scripter
Don DaGradi, who shares co-writing credits with Bill Walsh on "Mary Poppins," was a former Disney animator-turned sequence consultant-turned screenwriter. In the mid-30's he joined the growing Disney animated cartoon staff and following an apprenticeship on short subjects, he was elevated to feature animation assignments. His creative talents were put to good use on such Disney classics as "Pinocchio," "Bambi," "Fantasia," "Dumbo" and "Lady and the Tramp." Don got his first crack at live-action when Walt picked him to design the underground cavern sequences for "Darby O'Gill and the Little People." Don was the first to admit he was a "misplaced cartoonist" at heart. The visual gags were his particular meat and there was nothing he liked better than an assignment from Walt for some humorous pseudo-scientific thinking on a project. When the Julie Andrews-Dick Van Dyke starrer came along, Don had a field day developing scenes that would stagger the average writer's imagination.
Tony Walton, Costumes
Noted English designer Tony Walton was Walt Disney's choice to create the colorful costumes for his sparkling new musical-fantasy, "Mary Poppins," and in addition to serve as design consultant on the overall production. For the young Britisher, the Disney tune-film marked the first time Walton had ever worked in the motion picture medium, just as it was the screen debut of his equally talented and charming wife, Julie Andrews, who plays the title role. Disney wanted Julie Andrews happy, and to sign her for the role, he offered Walton the position.
Julie Andrews with costume designer Tony Walton
Walton's brilliant career has previously been confined to Broadway, the London stage and television. In London he designed the sets and costumes for such productions as "Valmouth," "Fool's Paradise," "A Most Happy Fella" and the Prokoviev opera, "The Love for Three Oranges" at the Sadlers Wells Theatre. In New York, Walton did the sets and costumes for the American production of "Valmouth," a revival of Noel Coward's "Conversation Piece," "Once There Was a Russian" and the long-run Broadway hit, "A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum." Walton then turned producer and with Richard Pilbrow and Harold Prince, produced "A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum" for London audiences.
Original costume sketch for Glynis Johns
The premiere of “Mary Poppins” was broadcast Live over KTTV, Channel 11 in Los Angeles. The premiere was sponsored by the California Institute of the Arts, with the feature being preceded by "The Cal Arts Story" (I have located this film on the Cal Arts website, narrated by Sebastian Cabot) http://blog.calarts....-calarts-story/. The showing was a benefit for California Institute of the Arts, which had just been incorporated. Premiere showtimes were daily at 12:00, 2:30, 6:09, 8:27 and 10:45 PM. Walt Disney wanted to make sure this was the premiere of all premieres. He went to special lengths to invite Hollywood's celebrities and studio staff. Frolicking around the area were all of the Disney characters, in suit. The lights beamed from the beautiful Chinese Theatre marquee, the lights glimmering for miles around.
A crowd of thousands of fans lined the streets outside the theater looking for (and getting) the pomp and pizazz that Hollywood premieres could offer. William Thedford, Pacific Coast Division Manager for Fox West Coast Theatres, said, “I wish we could have more Disney premieres and parties like this one.” Thirty Disneyland hostesses in colorful hats ushered the people from their cars down a red-carpeted path to the doors where fourteen Nation General Corporation girls in “Mary Poppins” costumes and fourteen young men in skimmers and Van-Dyke blazers placed them in their seats. Supervising the proceedings were tall English “bobbies” with their British police helmits outlined against the lights, with multi-colored gels, using all of the primary colors. TV station KTTV carried pre-premiere festivities with the image projected on a theatre screen through closed circuit.
Street-side entertainment from Disney was in the form of a 125-piece “pearlie” band, singing groups and 8 chimney sweep dancers who joined twenty famous Disney characters from his films who came in an eight car train with locomotive. In a stunning display, the top came off and 2,000 balloons reflected the lights as they shown upward, to the cheers of an awed crowd. Walt Disney was interviewed on the theatre grounds and told the story of his approach to Julie Andrews while she was appearing on Broadway. He said, “At first she was reluctant and so we discussed it, when she came off stage after the performance, and I outlined what I had in mind, she was sold. Julie Andrews added, “Yes he sold me and I am delighted.”
Before the film went on, Disney was introduced by Mrs. Richard Von Hagen, Chairman, board of trustees of the California Institute of the Arts, the school sponsoring the world premiere. The 500 guests present paid no admission charge, nor were there any solicitations made for funds. The unique method of a film premiere was designed to Introduce the institute to the cultural, political and educational leadership of Los Angeles. Disney cooperated by supplying the film, and additionally producing the 15-mlnute picture. "The Cal Arts Story," for the school. Discussing "Mary Poppins," he said, "Our little outfit has been going on for about 40 years. We've been praised and condemned, but we're lucky, for we've been rolling and rolling, and building and building. Our friends and critics agree that this is Disney's best and for once I'm not going to disagree with the critics." He then went on and suggested that the guests avail themselves of the champagne toast to the picture by the Technicolor Corp., provided in a colorful tent alongside Grauman's.
Disney took the occasion to compliment Technicolor, which had provided a booklet for the affair with a congratulatory message. It stated, "Technicolor Corporation congratulates Walt Disney Productions on its outstanding presentation of 'Mary Poppins.' We are proud to be a part of this fine motion picture production and proud of the association which has made us a part of every color film ever produced by Walt Disney." He said, "Our good friend the Technicolor Corp. is throwing a champagne salute in the 200-year old garden outside ... I might add we just put it up this morning. "I had the great honor In 1932 of being the first to use the famous three-color Technicolor process. To me, it was a new door to film greatness which had been opened. I am very grateful to Technicolor. Since 1932, all Disney color films have been In Technicolor. This is from my heart, for nothing in my contract, states that I have to tell the facts about Technicolor."
Photographs from the premiere
Among those present was Francis X. Bushman, now 83, who told the happy Dick Van Dyke that his performance was "therapeutic." Van Dyke responded, "I'm now the therapeutic Mr. Van Dyke." He also remarked that he hadn't seen the film with the animation before this showing. Many notables were in attendance, both from within and without the industry and from across the country and London. Some of the Hollywood celebrities attending the Premiere included: Julie Andrews, Anne Baxter, Walter Brennan, Michael Callan, Robert Cummings, Arlene Dahl, Brandon de Wilde, Walt Disney, Irene Dunne, Buddy Ebsen, James Fraciscus, Anette Funicello, John Gavin, George Hamilton, Van Heflin, Celese Holm, Glynis Johns, Brian Keith, Carol Lynley, Roddy McDowell, Dorothy McGuire, Fred MacMurray, James MacArthur, Vera Miles, Ray Millard , Ann Miller, Mary Tyler Moore, Hugh O'Brian, Vincent Price, Louis Prima, Debbie Reynolds, Edward G. Robinson, Connie Stevens, Inger Stevens, Danny Thomas, Dick Van Dyke, Meredith Wilson, Ed Wynn and Ephram Zimbalist, Jr.
When the film was released, almost all of the critics were unanimous. “Mary Poppins” was a five-star extravaganza that could only come from the wonderful world of Disney. Mary Poppins cost Walt Disney about $7 million including promotion of the film, and as of today, the film has earned $102 million dollars domestically (but considering inflation, if each ticket were sold today, the intake of the film would surpass $625 million dollars bringing it very close to the intake of films like “The Godfather,” “Raiders of the Lost Ark,” “Jurassic Park,” and “Grease.” Adjusted for inflation, It would even surpass the huge boxoffice of Marvel's “The Avengers.” The films actually ranks #526 on the all-time boxoffice chart, but adjusted for inflation rises to #25. The film would be reissued by Disney, first in a wider release on June 1, 1966, then May 25, 1973 and May 23, 1980.
3-sheet poster (41" x 81")
The Proposed Sequel
Following the release and success of Mary Poppins, Disney, who was not admirable of sequels, wanted to bring Mary Poppins back to the screen. So what he instead considered was hiring back Dick Van Dyke and Julie Andrews for a film that was then titled, “The Poet and the Nightingale.” Van Dyke would have played Hans Christian Anderson and Andrews would play his love interest. He would hire the full Mary Poppins production team, including the Sherman Brothers for the score. But Andrews and Dick Van Dyke had become top Hollywood stars, with Andrews moving on to the immensely popular “The Sound of Music.” So the stars were not available anymore.
Boxoffice Barometer, showing most films playing at the same time as "Mary Poppins." Notice that the film had a better week than "My Fair Lady," and "Mary Poppins" had practically no competition in the family market, indicating a very wise choice of release date for the film.
In fact, Albert "Cubby" Broccoli, producer (many Bond films) proposed to Disney a co-production of “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.” It was first to be named “The Magical Car.” But Walt had never done, nor did he ever want to do a co-production. So Broccoli instead hired much of the talent from “Mary Poppins.” Instead for his next musical projects, Disney put a greenlight on “The One and Only Genuine Original Family Band” and “The Happiest Millionaire,” neither of which even came close to the grosses of “Mary Poppins.” When the studio went into production on “Bedknobs and Broomsticks,” Julie Andrews was immediately offered the role. But by that time she felt that doing more films in which she takes care of children would harm her career (a sad decision, in this writer's opinion, as she could have had roles in both “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang and Bedknobs and Broomsticks” which suited her perfectly.) In fact, during casting on “Bedknobs,” Julie kept putting off a decision which Walt Disney perceived as her not wanting to do the role, so Angela Lansbury was hired. On the same day Angela Lansbury was hired, "Bedknobs" producer Bill Walsh received a telegram from Julie Andrews saying that she would love to play Eglantine Price.
All of the "Mary Poppins" Video released (VHS, Laserdisc and DVD)
In the 1980's, script conferences were held at Disney Studios on a Mary Poppins sequel. One of the main roadblocks of the project was permission from P.L. Travers. She wanted complete control over the project. So Brian Sibley, award-winning screenwriter, composed a letter to Roy Disney who immediately sent a representative to London to talk with him. The title of the film would be “Mary Poppins Comes Back.” It would be based on P.L. Traver's second book. It looked hopeful. Of course, Julie Andrews was always first considered and had not yet lost her singing voice due to vocal chord surgery, and with her still-youthful looks could be made up to look quite young.
Bert (the character played by Dick Van Dyke) was not to be in the picture, but he would have a brother who would. But Pamela Travers, after months of meetings with Brian on the storyline, was, in his opinion, much too picky. She would change nearly all of each page of his proposed script. Julie Andrews was contacted but nothing came of it. The project greenlight failed due to casting problems and the fact that Disney had been taken over by new executives. In 1994, when Michael Eisner took over Walt Disney Films, one of the first projects he wanted off the ground was a sequel to “Mary Poppins.” He even hired P.L. Travers to write the script. This idea also went no further.
From Film to the Stage
All was not lost, if no sequel was to be made, then fans of the theatre would be able to see it live. Walt Disney Theatrical had done very well with stage versions of “Beauty and the Beast” and “The Lion King,” the latter earning Tony Award wins including best musical. They decided, at long last, “Mary Poppins” belonged on the stage. The music of the Sherman Brothers was kept intact (though some scenes of the music changed) and new music was added by George Stiles and Anthony Drewe. Stage giant Cameron Mackintosh (“Phantom of the Opera”) would be one of the producers.
Broadway Musical teaser poster
The year is 1993, and Pamela Travers, daughter of P.L. Met with Cameron Mackintosh and gave him the rights to do the stage version of the famous “Mary Poppins” books. The project would further escalate in 2001, Mackintosh met with Thomas Schumacher, who was the head of Disney theatrical, as he wanted to use the music from the film and a very similar outline in story. The agreement was made and the first script came in to being around 2002. The world premiere was September 14, 2004 at the Bristol Hippidrome on London's West End. The reviews were ecstatic. The audience reaction was nothing short of spectacular, with night after night of standing ovatioins.
"Mary Poppins" on Broadway (Step in Time)
On October 14, 2006, the New Amsterdam Theatre on Broadway held its first preview the stage musical, “Mary Poppins.” The musical would open on November 16, 2006. It would play for seven years, a total of 2,619 performances, and so far tour the county twice. The show recouped its original investment in one year.The stage musical has toured in 17 different countries (London was the city of its premiere).
The 2013 Restoration
According to Disney, the restoration of MARY POPPINS began with the scanning of all 28 A and B rolls of the original cut camera negative (Eastman 5251). This is the first time that the film negative had ever been scanned. The negative was scanned at a "4K" resolution on a Northlight 2 scanner, and all digital color grading and dirt clean-up/wire removal was done at Technicolor in Hollywood. The colorist was Lou Levinson. The animation sequence was restored by Reliance MediaWorks in Burbank. This was probably the most demanding part of the project as the sequence had a great deal of built-in optical printing artifacts and dirt/scratches. No grain management tools were used.
Also used was an original 1964 "dye-transfer Technicolor" 4-track stereo print to serve as the “as released” color and sound reference, and the prior film and video masters were used to confirm all fades and dissolves that had to be rebuilt from the negative scans. The original 35mm 3-track stereo magnetic masters were used for the new 5.1 and 7.1 mixes, and the original 3.0 mix is also available on the Blu-ray.
More on the restoration below.
NOTE: Due to confidentiality agreements, HTF has removed the portion of this piece on the restoration at the request of the corporate entities involved in that restoration. We hope to be provided some approved details about the restoration we can share soon.
What a thrill it is to sit down and watch this film newly restored and in high definition. "Mary Poppins" is a one-of-a-kind, truly original film that has proven that quality entertainment can stand the test of time, and will be loved by generations to come. Walt, in the photos taken at the premiere, has a never-ending smile, and that smile was truly earned. This film is certainly the spoonful of sugar that will help any medicine go down.
Information in this article obtained from research and original press releases from “Mary Poppins” and the movie memorabilia collection collection of Robert Siegel. ALL photographs, posters and graphics copyright The Walt Disney Company. All rights reserved. Boxoffice information from Boxofficemojo.com. Premiere ad courtesy of collector George Hughes. Special thanks to Disney historian B. Rank. Special thanks to Mark Weenan, who attended the premiere and provided partial details input for the “premiere” section. Broadway photo from Newcitystage.com, Movieland Magazine from Whosedatedwho.com. Researched text copyright 2013 Robert Siegel. Thanks to the Home Theater Forum for hosting this article.