Biography

Julie Andrews IS The Sound of Music

Academy Award-winning singer, actress, dancer, director, and author Julie Andrews was born Julia Wells in Surrey, England on October 1, 1935. 

julie andrews, younger, 1940s, 1950s, english actress, british american actress, singerRight, a young Julie Andrews. (Julie Andrews c. early 1950s Photo: kate gabrielle)

Julia’s mother Barbara Morris was a classical pianist and married teacher Ted Wells. They had two children together when Barbara met Canadian tenor singer Ted Andrews and became his accompanist, shortly before World War II broke out in England. In her 2008 autobiography Home: A Memoir of My Early Years, Andrews recalls having to put on gas masks, bombs dropping during air raids, and her mother leaving to go on tour with Ted Andrews to entertain the troops during the war.

Barbara and Ted Andrews were in France when Hitler invaded; when they came back to England they began living together in London with Julia, while her younger brother John stayed with her father Ted Wells.

It was her stepfather Ted Andrews that signed Julia up for singing lessons; as a child she had a 4-octave coloratura soprano voice and had “perfect pitch” (with age her voice mellowed and she lost the upper register). Ted Andrews and Barbara had a baby together (Donald Andrews) and when Barbara’s divorce was finalized, they got married. Julia’s name was changed to Julie Andrews.

Post World War II, Julie would occasionally tour with her mother and stepfather and watch their shows. When Julie Andrews turned 10 in 1945, she began joining her mother and stepfather onstage to sing, and remembers meeting Queen Elizabeth I when they performed for her.

Her father Ted Wells remarried and had a daughter Celia, and her mother and Ted Andrews had another son, Christopher. 

In 1947 Julie landed her first stage role in Starlight Roof, and her professional career as a singer and actress was underway. A recording company persuaded her to cut some songs and she did an unsuccessful screen test for MGM Studios. Acting and piano lessons, and more stage roles followed.

New teenager Julie Andrews met young Tony Walton one evening on the way home after an evening performance, and they became friends. Her mother Barbara and stepfather Ted Andrews began drinking heavily and both became alcoholics; by 1950 Julie was headlining their performances. 

During a house party one evening when Julie was 15, she was shocked when her mother told her that the host, a man whom Julie had seen a couple of times before and had spoken to that evening, was her real father.  

Julie Andrews and Tony Walton began dating just before she turned 17, in 1952. Julie’s earnings from radio, plays, and musical performances were enough to buy a family car and co-own half of the family home with her stepfather Ted Andrews.

By 1953 Tony had left for Canada to serve in the RAF for two years and Julie was now starring in big productions, including Cinderella at the London Palladium.

19-year-old Julie Andrews accepted a one-year contract in 1954 to play the lead in the Broadway play The Boy Friend, moved to New York City, and began her first full-fledged (albeit short-lived) romantic relationship with a young Canadian actor named Neil McCallum.

Despite both Tony Walton and Julie dating other people, their friendship and letter-writing to each other continued. 

julie andrews 1957, english american actress, rex harrison, british actor, my fair lady, 1950s broadway plays(Julie Andrews & Rex Harrison 1957 My Fair Lady Photo: Friedman-Abeles / Richard Maney)

Andrews was courted by competing Broadway composers and lyricists Lerner & Loewe vs Rodgers & Hammerstein, and accepted a 2-year contract from Lerner & Loewe to star in My Fair Lady opposite Rex Harrison, opening in March 1956.

Shortly after My Fair Lady opened, Tony Walton moved to New York City to begin a career in set design, and he and Julie began a full-time relationship. Julie’s career was thriving as well. 

She was tapped to star in a live televised version of Cinderella that was seen by over 100 million viewers (baby boomer children and parents).

When her Broadway contract ended, she moved back to London to star in the My Fair Lady production there.

Julie Andrews and Tony Walton married in May 1959 and honeymooned in California; while there, they met and saw quite a few celebrities, including Jack Lemmon – who was talking to the famous movie director Blake Edwards.

julie andrews 1960, english american actress, richard burton, british actor, 1950s broadway plays, camelot, musicals(Julie Andrews & Richard Burton c. 1960 Camelot Photo: Friedman-Abeles)

After her London run in My Fair Lady was over, Julie Andrews went on to star in Camelot on Broadway in 1960 opposite Richard Burton and Robert Goulet.

Julie Andrews was introduced to up and coming actress Carol Burnett, and guest-starring appearances on television shows and specials with Carol followed; they remain lifelong friends.

Walt Disney saw Andrews perform on Broadway in Camelot and cast her in the lead role of the movie Mary Poppins; Tony Walton was hired for set design on the movie as well.

Julie Andrews and Tony Walton’s first child Emma Walton was born in November 1962. Three months later the Walton’s moved to California so Julie could film Mary Poppins (1964). 

Andrews won the Academy Award for Best Actress, and a Grammy Award for Best Album for Children, for her role as Mary Poppins. She had been passed over by Jack Warner to star in the film version of My Fair Lady (starring Audrey Hepburn) and in her Golden Globe win for Best Actress Motion Picture Musical or Comedy acceptance speech, she thanked Jack Warner for having “made this all possible in the first place.” Mary Poppins was a commercial success and Julie’s film career was launched.

Below, Julie Andrews as Mary Poppins, Dick Van Dyke as Bert, and David Tomlinson as Mr. Banks, are featured in the movie trailer for Mary Poppins

More film comedies and musicals followed for Julie Andrews after the break-out success of Mary Poppins, including a co-starring role with James Garner in the WWII romantic comedy The Americanization of Emily (1964).

julie andrews 1964, english actress, british american actress, james garner, american actor, 1960s movies, 1960s comedies, the americanization of emily(The Americanization of Emily 1964 Photo: Classic_Movie_Gals)

Andrews is perfect as perky, idealistic Emily in the movie. Also in The Americanization of Emily are Melvyn Douglas, James Coburn, Edward Binns, Keenan Wynn, William Windom, and John Crawford.

The Sound of Music (1965) remains, as of 2013, the 3rd highest grossing film of all time in the US. Andrews co-stars with Canadian actor Christopher Plummer and they make movie magic on screen.Julie Andrews won another Best Actress Golden Globe and was nominated a 2nd time for an Academy Award Best Actress, losing to Julie Christie for Darling (1965). 

Below, the movie trailer for The Sound of Music features Julie Andrews as Maria, Christopher Plummer as Captain Von Trapp, Eleanor Parker as The Baroness, Nicholas Hammond as Friedrich, Duane Chase as Kurt, Angela Cartwright as Brigitta, Debbie Turner as Marta, Kym Karath as Gretl, and Heather Menzies-Urich as Louisa. 

The Sound of Music was followed up with television guest-starring appearances and specials, before she appeared with Max Von Sydow, Richard Harris, Gene Hackman, and Carroll O’Connor in the blockbuster historical epic Hawaii (1966).

More starring roles followed, including a dramatic role in Torn Curtain (1966) opposite Paul Newman and another comedy, Thoroughly Modern Millie (1967), co-starring Mary Tyler Moore, James Fox, Carol Channing, and John Gavin.

Below, Julie Andrews with daughter Emma in 1965, at one of friend Roddy McDowall’s house parties. 

julie andrews 1965, julie andrews daughter emma, english american actress, younger(Screenshot by permission of Luke Sacher and Carol Langer)

Professional success was not being mirrored in her personal life; Julie Andrews and Tony Walton divorced in 1967, although they did remain friends and Tony did illustrations for The Great American Mousical (2006) one of the children’s books she co-wrote with their daughter Emma.

Andrews plays 1920s-1940s English stage singer, dancer, and actress Gertrude Lawrence in the film Star! (1968). Her supporting cast that includes Richard Crenna, Michael Craig, Robert Reed, Alan Oppenheimer, and J. Pat O’Malley. Not only are there some similarities with their unique talents and life story, Andrews even resembles Lawrence (below). 

julie andrews, 1968, british american actress, english singer, 1960s movies, star, 1968 film, red dress, gertrude lawrence, english actress, stage, london west end, broadway plays, movie musicals, (Gertrude Lawrence 1929 Ad: Exhibitor’s Herald World | Julie Andrews Photo: Bess Georgette / Flickr)

The photographer has captured Julie Andrews perfectly in character as glamorous Gertrude Lawrence in the movie Star!, wearing a stunning red gown for the cover of Australian Women’s Weekly c. 1968.

While driving one day, Andrews met director Blake Edwards coming the other direction. As she told Good Morning Britain presenter Kate Garraway in 2015,

He rolled down the window after smiling a couple of times and he said, “Are you going where I just came from?”‘ ‘I was going to a therapist he was coming from.

Julie Andrews and Blake Edwards married in 1969; their family included Andrew’s daughter Emma, Edwards’ two children Jennifer and Geoffrey from a previous marriage, and 2 Vietnamese baby girls (Amy and Joanna) that they adopted in the 1970’s.

Husband Blake Edwards encouraged Julie to take creative risks, and they worked together on 7 movies directed by Blake that she starred in. Darling Lili (1970) co-starring Rock Hudson was one such movie that flopped, while 10 starring Bo Derek (1979) was a hit. 

During the seventies, Julie Andrews appeared much more frequently on television – in specials and in The Julie Andrews Hour (1972-1973) her own Emmy Award-winning TV variety series – than in movies.

In the eighties, although Julie Andrews continued to appear in television variety specials (quite often with friend Carol Burnett), her movie career picked up.

S.O.B. (1981) directed by Blake Edwards was a flop, while Victor/Victoria (1982) co-starring James Garner (again) was a hit. Victor/Victoria and earned Julie Andrews a 3rd Academy Award nomination for Best Actress, and won her a Golden Globe Award. Below, Julie Andrews, James Garner, Robert Preston, Alex Karras, Lesley Ann Warren, are featured in the movie trailer for Victor/Victoria

As she turned the corner into her 50+ years, Andrews worked steadily in the movies and on television, through the remainder of the 1980’s and early 1990’s.

Julie Andrews returned to her stage roots with a vengeance in 1993 and until she was sidelined in 1997, enjoyed a Broadway run of shows including the stage musical of Victor/Victoria and a subsequent world tour for the production. She also recorded two albums of songs celebrating Broadway legends Richard Rodgers, and Alan Jay Lerner.

A 1997 operation at Mount Sinai Hospital to remove nodules from her throat when she was in her sixties, had a disastrous effect on Andrews’ singing voice – reducing it from a 4 octave soprano to an alto. Andrews subsequently filed a malpractice suit against the doctors that was settled in 2000, and had 4 more operations that improved her speaking voice but could not restore her singing.

Julie Andrews was awarded a Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire (DBE) in 2000 by Queen Elizabeth II. She and Christopher Plummer (her co-star from The Sound of Music) reunited for a live TV performance of On Golden Pond (2001), about an older couple of seniors and their grown daughter.

Next she co-starred as the older Queen Clarisse Renaldi in Disney’s The Princess Diaries (2001) and it’s sequel in 2004, in which she sang her first song on film since her 1997 throat surgery. Below, Anne Hathaway, Julie Andrews, and Hector Elizondo are featured in the movie trailer for The Princess Diaries.

Julie Andrews directed her first stage musical in 2003, returning to her history again to direct The Boy Friend; ex-husband Tony Walton did scenic and costume design for a 2005 repeat run and subsequent national tour in 2006.

Her long association with Disney continued when she was cast as the nanny in two children’s television movies based on the Eloise books by Kay Thompson, and she served as a Disney Ambassador from 2005-2006. Andrew’s movie career turned to speaking roles in animated movies for Disney and other films, beginning in 2004 with Shrek 2 (2004), voicing Queen Lillian in that movie and it’s 2 sequels. She was given a Lifetime Achievement Award by the Screen Actors Guild in 2007, and published “part one” of her autobiography the following year, Home: A Memoir of My Early Years (2008).

2010 was a year of ups and downs for 75-year-old Andrews. It began well with several professional highlights, including the re-emergence of her singing performances (although still limited vocally), with a concert in London. Her 23rd children’s book (co-written with her daughter Emma Walton) The Very Fairy Princess was published and went to #1 on the New York Times Best Seller List for Children’s Books. Her 3rd Shrek film, Shrek Forever After, was released, and a new movie Despicable Me in which she voiced actor Steve Carell’s mother Marlena, proved to be a hit. Sadly, the year ended on the lowest of lows; her husband of 41 years, Blake Edwards, died in December 2010. 

julie andrews 2013, british american actress, english singer, senior citizen(Julie Andrews 2013 Photo: Eva Rinaldi)

Andrews and her daughter Emma were recognized with a 2011 Grammy Award for Best Spoken Word Album for Children for A Collection of Poems, Songs and Lullabies, and Andrews was given a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award. She toured Australia and New Zealand in 2013 and England in 2014, with a former The Sound of Music co-star, former child actor Nicholas Hammond (Friedrich von Trapp).

Julie Andrews is a great-grandmother now, and during the COVID-19 pandemic, she launched the Julie’s Library children’s story-reading podcast co-hosted with her daughter Emma. Andrews is currently scheduled for “An Evening of Conversation With Julie Andrews” live event at the historic Ryman Auditorium in Nashville, Tennessee on April 25, 2021. Fans hungry for more of the inside scoop about her life can now read her second memoir, Home Work: A Memoir of My Hollywood Years, published in 2019.

 

Note: This article was first published in 2015 in two parts, under the title Celebrating Seniors: Julie Andrews is 80. It has been updated with new & additional content.

*Images are believed to be in the public domain or Creative Commons licensed & sourced via Wikimedia Commons, Vimeo, YouTube, or Flickr, unless otherwise noted*

 

Anita Hamilton

50+ World editor & baby boomer writer Anita Hamilton has always been interested in the "real people" stories behind the characters that create and inhabit the world of music, books, movies, television shows, current events, history, etc. A lifelong love of research (ok, nosiness) and writing, combined with a loving and supportive family complete with 3 mini-dachshund minions, keeps her busy.

Comments

Elizabeth Wood August 25th, 2016 at 11:54pm

Done in very good taste. Dame Julie has a presence about her that I believe, grabs every one see her in any of her movies, able to hear her wonderful voice into the 1990's. Now, giving her love and affection in many different ways through the wonderful books she and her daughter have written and continue to give us enlightenment of what comes from her imaginary, clear, adventurous and the reader has been suck in to wanting to keep reading and turning the pages! I may be wrong, but it seems I first heard of her Directing in the the State was with a play she came to the United States years ago to star in a play called "The Boyfriend. Emma was encouraging her and said to her mom, you'll have all you need around you if you need help, but she'd do find, just do what she does best!! Then there was the "Mousical" - a wonderful book she had written. I was not aware that she brought it to California, I would have loved to have seen it! What a sense of pride her family, kids, grand kids and friends now that she has been Director of "My Fair Lady" in Australia. I think it is wonderful BUT, I will be praying her health continues to be in good shape to bring it to the US for all we "old" "original" fans since the '50s! God bless you and the work you have done hear on our Dame Julie Andrews.

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