As a child, I loved Julie Andrews.
I spent hours listening to the album soundtracks of Mary Poppins and The Sound of Music, memorizing the words to every song, and I had all the movie-related merchandise, from books to coloring books.
So when I saw a copy of Andrews' memoir, Home: A Memoir of My Early Years, in a bargain book bin at my local grocery store, I just had to pick it up.
Despite a few forays into relative raunchiness later in her career, one usually thinks of Julie Andrews as being a refined, genteel woman--a real lady. Her thoughtful, reflective memoir does little to dispel that characterization.
A troubled childhood
The book covers only the time from her early childhood until just before the making of Mary Poppins.
I knew that Julie Andrews was a child singing phenomenon in wartime England. I didn't know that her childhood was marked by her parents' divorce and the subsequent alcoholism of her mother and stepfather.
She had to assume the financial responsibility of her family at an early age, and her entire early life was filled with a yearning to be with her real father more--a man who, by all accounts, was as kind, loving and supportive as her stepfather was manipulative and troublesome.
Julie as Eliza Doolittle in My Fair Lady
"That British strength"
Yet, Andrews doesn't really milk these hardships. She has the "Keep Calm and Carry On," keep-your-chin-up attitude for which wartime Brits were famous.
At one point, My Fair Lady director Moss Hart spent 48 grueling, intense hours working with Andrews to help her grasp the characterization of Eliza Doolittle. Andrews writes:
"Later I learned that at the end of that weekend, when Moss returned home, Kitty [his wife, Kitty Carlisle] asked him how I responded.
'Oh, she'll be fine,' Moss replied wearily. 'She has that terrible British strength that makes you wonder how they ever lost India.'"
With Richard Burton in Camelot
It ends too soon
Andrews' accounts of the productions of My Fair Lady and Camelot are fascinating for any lover of musical theater.
My only quibble with the book is that it ends too early--just as Andrews is poised on the brink of the superstardom brought by Mary Poppins. The memoir ends almost abruptly as Andrews, her then-husband Tony Walton, and their brand-new baby Emma are on their way to California for the making of the movie.
I don't know if Andrews plans to write another memoir about her later life--I hope so. I'd love to get, as Paul Harvey used to say, the rest of the story.
I'm participating today in Semicolon's Saturday Review of Books. Click the icon to find out more!