Julie Andrews - Biography

By J Poet

The Grammy Award-winning singer Julie Andrews has one of the longest-running and most active careers in show business, encompassing theater (both as an actor and director), recordings, radio, television, films, and children’s literature. At her peak in the 1960s, not only was Andrews in the cast of My Fair Lady – the longest-running musical in Broadway history, but she was also the star of The Sound of Music – a film that was the highest-grossing of its time with a soundtrack that happened to be the top-selling album of that decade.


Andrews was the product of a broken home and bounced around between the homes of her mother and father in England. Her mother, Barbara, was a singer and entertained the troops during WW II with her second husband Ted Andrews. In 1940, Julie moved in permanently with her mother and her abusive, alcoholic stepfather. Her stepfather did provide voice lessons with the famous instructor Madame Lilian Stiles-Allen, through which Julie discovered she had perfect pitch. In 1945, she joined her mother and stepfather in their variety act. Her stepfather introduced her to Val Parnell, a London stage producer, who gave her a part in a revue called Starlight Roof while she was only 12 years old. In 1948, she became the youngest performer ever to be seen in a Royal Command Variety Performance, singing for the family of King George VI at the London Palladium. She made her TV debut on the BBC program RadiOlympia Showtime and landed a regular role on BBC radio’s Educating Archie from 1950 to 1952.


In 1954, Broadway producer Cy Feuer saw Andrews in Cinderella. He was planning to bring the popular West End musical The Boy Friend to New York and wanted to have an all-British cast. He offered the 19-year-old Andrews the starring role. The show was a smash and Andrews made her first record, The Boy Friend Original Broadway Cast Recoding (1955 RCA). Lerner and Loewe saw her in The Boy Friend and cast her as Eliza Doolittle in the 1956 stage production of My Fair Lady. A legend was born. My Fair Lady Original Broadway Cast Recoding (1956 Columbia) stayed on the charts for years and by today’s standards would be multi-platinum.


A few days before My Fair Lady opened, Andrews appeared in the TV musical High Tor, with Bing Crosby. Rodgers and Hammerstein then tapped her to star in Cinderella, a made for TV musical that led to the release of Cinderella Television Cast Recording (1957 Columbia, reissued 1999 Columbia). After taking My Fair Lady to London, Andrews returned to Broadway to star as Guinevere in Camelot with Richard Burton and Robert Goulet. The soundtrack was released as Camelot Original Broadway Cast Recording (1960 Columbia, reissued 1998 Columbia). Between shows, Andrews found time to make The Lass with the Delicate Air (1957 RCA), a collection of English theater songs, and Broadway’s Fair Julie (1961 Columbia), her interpretation of Broadway show tunes.


While waiting to start production on Disney’s 1964 film Mary Poppins, Andrews made Don’t Go in the Lion's Cage Tonight (1962 Columbia), a collection of British music hall numbers given a tongue in cheek reading, and Julie & Carol at Carnegie Hall (1962 Columbia), a live performance with Carol Burnett. Mary Poppins and the associated soundtrack (1964 Vista, reissued 1999 Walt Disney Records) made Andrews an international star and she took home the Best Actress Oscar and a Best Children’s Recording Grammy. Rodgers and Hammerstein cast her in the 1965 film version of The Sound of Music, taking over the Broadway role of Mary Martin. The film became an iconic classic and won the Oscar for Best Picture of the Year. The Sound of Music soundtrack (1965 RCA, reissued 2005 RCA) is an enduring favorite.


Andrews continued making films into the 1960s, including the 1966 dramas Hawaii and Alfred Hitchcock’s Torn Curtain, plus the following year’s musical Thoroughly Modern Millie, an adaptation of The Boy Friend, and its soundtrack (1967 Decca, reissued 1992 MCA). In 1967, Andrew released A Christmas Treasure (1967 RCA), which is a collection of hymns, mostly from the Church of England’s liturgy. Although the songs were unfamiliar to Americans, the Christmas album proved to be successful. Darling Lili, a musical spy story, and its soundtrack (1969 RCA) were a flop, but it introduced Andrews to her future husband, director Blake Edwards.


The 1971 album Julie & Carol at Lincoln Center (1971 Columbia) led to The Julie Andrews Show, a weekly hour-long television program on CBS. She also mounted a successful one-woman show that played across the U.S. and Britain. In 1977, she released An Evening with Julie Andrews (1977 RCA), a mix of standards and the songs she had made famous. She also started writing children’s books in the early 70s, some of which were written with her daughter Emma Walton. Mandy, The Last of the Really Great Whangdoodles, Dragon, Simeon's Gift, and the Dumpy the Dumptruck series were all successful.


Blake Edward’s 1982 film Victor/Victoria features Andrews playing a woman pretending to be a young man who is a female impersonator. The film’s soundtrack (1982 GNP, 2002 Rhino) was composed by Henry Mancini. Also in 1982, Andrews released possibly the oddest albums in her catalog, Love Me Tender (1982 Bainbridge), in which she sings country songs including a duet with Johnny Cash. Love, Julie (1989 USA Music Group) is a collection of standards, while on Broadway: The Music of Richard Rodgers (1994 PolyGram) and Here I'll Stay: The Words of Alan Jay Lerner (1996 Philips) feature a return to the show tunes that made her famous. 


In 1995, Andrews returned to Broadway with a theatrical production of Victor/Victoria, which spawned Victor/Victoria Original Broadway Cast Recording (1995 Philips). The show ran for two years, but was ended when Andrews discovered she had developed vocal polyps. She had an operation, but the surgery damaged her larynx and ended her singing career. She sued and settled for a reported 30 million dollars.


Her acting and voice over career stayed on track and Andrews appeared in 2001’s The Princess Diaries, 2004’s Shrek 2, 2007’s Shrek the Third, and on TV as Ethel Thayer in On Golden Pond in 2001. In 2003 she directed a revival of The Boy Friend, which toured nationally. By July 2008, her voice had recovered enough for the Julie Andrews’ Gift of Music tour.


In her long career, Andrews has won many awards including Outstanding Broadway Debut for The Boy Friend, a Golden Globe for Mary Poppins, a British Academy Award for Most Promising Newcomer for Mary Poppins, a best actress Golden Globe for Sound of Music, an honorary Golden Globe Association Henrietta Award for World Film Favorite – Female, an Emmy for The Julie Andrews Hour, a Kennedy Center Honor in 2001, a Society of Singers Life Achievement Award in 2001, a San Sebastian International Film Festival Lifetime Achievement Award in 2001, and a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Screen Actors Guild in 2007.




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