Dame Julie Andrews is a world-famous English actress who has starred in over forty films since the 60s. How old was she in her debut, Mary Poppins?
Julie Andrews was 27 years old during the filming of Mary Poppins from May to September 1963, the film being released in August 1964. She was born in 1935 in Walton-on-Thames, Surrey, England. It was her film debut, as she had previously only starred on stage.
Andrews was already a household name on Broadway, starring in My Fair Lady (1956) and Camelot (1960), but her role as Mary Poppins would propel her to new heights of fame.
Andrews’s Start on Broadway
Julia Andrews got her start in 1935 as a child actress and singer, taking part in her mother, Barbara Andrews, and stepfather’s, Ted Andrews, stage act from the age of ten. Over the next nine years, she would take on many roles in plays, radio shows, and voiceover work, often as part of the family act.
In 1954, just before her 19th birthday, she made her Broadway debut playing Polly Browne in the musical The Boy Friend. After that, she won the part of Eliza Doolittle in the Broadway musical My Fair Lady, and in 1956 appeared on stage with Rex Harrison as her co-star.
Andrews was then nominated for an Emmy for her role in the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical, Cinderella, which was broadcast live on 31st March 1957.
In 1960, Andrews played Guinevere opposite Richard Burton in Camelot.
In 1964, the Lerner and Loewe stage musical My Fair Lady, which Andrews had starred in eight years before, was made into a film by Warner Bros. Andrews was passed over for the part of Eliza Doolittle because Jack L. Warner decided that Andrews didn’t come with enough fame to make the film a guaranteed success, instead choosing to cast Audrey Hepburn in the leading role.
In her 2019 memoir, Home Work, Andrews described how this affected her: “Though I totally understood why Audrey had been chosen for the role (I’d never made a movie, and was a relative unknown compared to her worldwide fame), I felt sad that I would never have the chance to put my version of Eliza on film.”
As it happened, not winning the role of Eliza Doolittle worked in Andrews’s favor, as it freed her to play the role of the titular Mary Poppins in the 1964 film.
Andrews and her then-husband, Tony Walton, moved to Burbank California to begin filming with their three-month-old daughter, Emma. Tony Walton was also the costume designer for the film. Andrews recalls they “were green as grass, had no knowledge of the film industry, and could not possibly envision what lay ahead.”
Andrews, who had never been in a film before, faced a steep learning curve. Not only are the methods of preparing for a film very different from preparing for a stage play, but she also had to contend with the stunts and animated elements of the film as well.
“In retrospect, I could not have asked for a better introduction to film, in that it taught me so much in such a short period of time. The special effects and animation challenges alone were a steep learning curve.”
The film used a technique called sodium vapor process (also known as yellowscreen) to combine the actors with the animated backgrounds, which meant Andrews had to interact with animations she couldn’t see.
There was also an incident where her flying harness malfunctioned and she dropped like a “ton of bricks” to the ground. Thankfully she was unharmed, though she recalls: “I have to admit there were several Anglo-Saxon words I let fly.”
Overall, Andrews enjoyed her time making the film, and the finished film was released in August 1964 to critical acclaim.
Mary Poppins was the stepping stone Andrews needed to begin her Hollywood career. The film grossed $103.1 million and won five Academy Awards. Andrews herself won the Academy Award for Best Actress.
She went on to star in the equally successful The Sound Of Music (1965) as Maria Von Trapp, again to critical acclaim and fanfare. Andrews was nominated for Best Actress a second time in the Academy Awards.
Since her debut in Mary Poppins at age 27, Andrews has had a decades-long career on stage and screen, scooping numerous awards, releasing childrens’ books, and even earning herself a knighthood (DBE) in 2000 for services to performing arts.