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Happy Birthday, Julie Andrews, Actress and Singer

October 01, 2010
by Jennifer Ferris
Julie Andrews became famous as the star of Broadway’s “My Fair Lady” and “Camelot” and Hollywood’s “Mary Poppins,” “The Sound of Music” and “Victor/Victoria.” Also known as a children’s book author and tireless promoter of good works, her iconic, unforgettable characters and music are a legacy to several generations.

Julie Andrews' Early Days

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Born Julia Wells on Oct. 1, 1935, in Walton-on-Thames, Surrey, England, Andrews lived her early years as the child of Ted and Barbara Wells. Her mother, Barbara Wells, was a pianist who ultimately left her first husband for Ted Andrews, a man Andrews referred to as “Pop,” and who was later revealed to be her true father.

Starting when she was 9 years old, Andrews appeared on stage with her mother and stepfather, showcasing her remarkable singing voice. Even when she was very young, she had the pitch and range of an adult, a result of what doctors told her was a “mature larynx.”

As Andrews entered adolescence, her stepfather began to struggle with an alcohol addiction, and on several occasions he attempted to kiss or otherwise inappropriately interact with her, she wrote in her 2008 memoir, “Home: A Memoir of My Early Years.”

At 17, Andrews'  fame was skyrocketing and she was starring in productions at the London Palladium. In 1954, she was recruited by a Broadway producer to star in “The Boy Friend,” and from there she played a number of roles on Broadway, most notably that of Eliza Doolittle in the smash hit, “My Fair Lady.” Andrews received Tony nominations for her role in “My Fair Lady” (1956) and “Camelot” (1961).

Andrews' Notable Accomplishments

After seeing her play Guinevere in “Camelot,” Disney representatives approached Andrews about a film role. She considered the offer to play the eccentric nanny, Mary Poppins, while pregnant with her first daughter, Emma, and accepted only after she lost the role of Eliza in the film version of “My Fair Lady” to Audrey Hepburn.

Her work as the title character in “Mary Poppins” made Andrews a darling of the critics. Her perky good looks, combined with her four-octave vocal range, set her apart from any other singing actresses of her time. She won the 1964 Best Actress Oscar for her first performance on screen, a feat rarely achieved.

She went on to star in “The Americanization of Emily,” and “The Sound of Music,” which, at the time of its release, was the most successful American film of all time. She was nominated for another Oscar for her role as Maria, and the film won the Best Picture Oscar, making Andrews one of the most marketable actresses in movie history.

Julie Andrews starred in several more films, and in 1971, she sang "When You Wish Upon a Star" to open Orlando's Walt Disney World.   1972 she hosted her own variety television show on CBS, which won 7 Emmy awards but still lasted only one season. More film work came in the 1970s and ’80s, including roles in two films produced by her husband Blake Edwards: “10” and “Victor/Victoria,” a gender-bending comedy that once again earned her critical acclaim. She continued in both stage and screen performances through the 1990s and in 2001, she played the role of the Queen in “Princess Diaries,” followed up with parts in “Princess Diaries 2,” “Shrek 2” and “Shrek the Third.”

The Rest of the Story

Since 1971, Andrews has written children’s books, often collaborating with her daughter, Emma Walton. Her first book was “The Last of the Really Great Whangdoodles,” followed by her series of books about a dump truck. Recently Andrews and Walton were given their own imprint at HarperCollins Publishers.

Andrews also devotes much of her time to charitable work. In 1992, she was named the Goodwill Ambassador for the United Nations Development Fund for Women. She has worked with several other charities including Operation USA and UNICEF. In 2000, Andrews was made a Dame Commander of the British Empire by Queen Elizabeth II for her lifetime achievement in arts and humanities.

In 1995, she reprised her role in Victor/Victoria on Broadway, but her run was cut short by troubles with her voice. She underwent vocal-cord surgery, which she says was botched by the doctor. Andrews was briefly hospitalized for depression when it began to seem as if her musical gifts would be gone for good. But by 2001 she was singing again, and although she says she’ll never have the same astonishing range, she headlined a touring musical act during the summer of 2008.
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