On the day of her 80th birthday, Glenn Dunlea looks at some of Dame Julie Andrews’s most iconic roles on stage and screen.
Julie Andrews has been a performer all her life. Since her childhood she has appeared on stage in variety shows and revues, and stunned audiences with her unparalleled four-octave range. Moving to New York to perform on Broadway in 1954, she was soon catapulted into stardom, and was spotted and recruited by Walt Disney himself for her first feature film role. Her career since has reached glistening heights, but hasn’t been without its hard-knocks. Time and again however, she has proven herself to be one of Hollywood’s most sophisticated and well-spoken players, admired world wide for her grace and elegance. During her lengthy career Andrews has created and become synonymous with some of the most iconic roles on stage and on screen, for which she has always received consistent praise and recognition. Listed below are some of her more iconic roles, but believe me, there are many, many, more superb characters portrayed by Andrews, all you have to do is go out there and look them up!
Maria Von Trapp, The Sound of Music
Perhaps one of the most recognisable cinematic figures of all time, the role of Maria Von Trapp was handed to Andrews before she had even completed filming her first film. If that doesn’t convince you as to how amazing she is, nothing will. Before Andrews played Maria on film however, the iconic stage star Mary Martin created the role on Broadway, but when it came time for the film to be produced, the only person anyone could visualise in the role was Julie Andrews. After some initial hesitation, Andrews finally agreed, and thus cinematic history was made. With adjusted inflation taken into account, The Sound of Music remains to this day, 50 years after it’s initial release, the third highest grossing motion picture of all time.
Queen Guinevere, Camelot
The role of Queen Guinevere in Camelot was written specifically for Julie Andrews. Fresh from her success in My Fair Lady, Lerner and Loewe were eager to capitalise on their newfound star. It is one of the greatest sadnesses in stage history then that Camelot never really reached it’s full potential. With an all-star cast also boasting the great actor Richard Burton and Roddy Mcdowell, the production was beset with issues from the very beginning. Still, that didn’t prevent Andrews from shining through as a Broadway legend. The original cast recording is evidence of this, with Andrews’s dramatic skill, comedic timing, and sheer brilliance evident on every track. When it came time for the film version of Camelot to be made, Andrews was too big a star to commit to the filming schedule, as she had too many projects lined up; the complete and total opposite problem to when it came time to turn My Fair Lady into a film.
Victoria Grant/Count Victor Grazinski, Victor/Victoria
Andrews starred first in the film version, then a decade later in the stage version of Victor/Victoria. The plot is an interesting one, about a female singer who must masquerade as a male transvestite in order to make any kind of advancement in her career. The role played by Andrews here is definitely one of her most challenging, but as usual it seems effortless when watching her in either version. The 1985 film was directed by her husband Blake Edwards, and earned Andrews her third Academy Award nomination. The 1995 stage version proved more controversial. When she was announced as a nominee for that years Tony Award for Best Performance by a Leading Actress in a Musical, which she most definitely would have won, Andrews declined her nomination, on the grounds that nothing and no-one else in the entire production had been nominated.
The story of Victor/Victoria on stages becomes even more harrowing when, in 1997, Andrews took some time off the show to undergo some routine surgery to remove several benign nodes on her vocal chords. Initially apprehensive about the procedure, Andrews was persuaded by her doctor to allow it to go forward, after he reassured her that there would be no recovery time necessary and that she would be performing again the following week. If only that had been the case. After the surgery she couldn’t even speak. Andrews had to endure years of vocal rehabilitation to regain her speaking voice. In one fell swoop she lost what was essentially the key to her career. For years afterwards Andrews struggled to come to terms with her situation, but has since forged a career as a children’s author, and has in the past few years begun to re-appear in more prominent cinematic roles. Her singing voice has never returned.
Eliza Doolittle, My Fair Lady
The role that literally launch Andrews into unprecedented stardom, Andrews will always be fondly remembered for creating the iconic role of Eliza Doolittle, the Cockney flower seller in Lerner and Loewe’s seminal masterpiece My Fair Lady. Starring at the tender age of 21, Andrews was carefully chosen for the role by Lerner and Loewe themselves. When it came time for Warner Brothers to make the film adaptation in 1964, there was outrage when Audrey Hepburn was chosen to play the lead role. Andrews has since commented that although she was upset at the time, she later became good friends with Hepburn, and understands now that she simply was not a big enough star to draw the same kind of crowds Hepburn could at the time. As Jack Warner later recalled, the decision was easy, “In my business I have to know who brings people and their money to a cinema box office. Audrey Hepburn had never made a financial flop.” Had Andrews been given the role of Eliza onscreen however, she would never have gotten the opportunity to play another of cinemas most iconic characters…
Mary Poppins, Mary Poppins
Julie Andrews will always be remembered as the English nanny that came floating down from the sky with an umbrella in hand. Hand picked for the role by Walt Disney, Mary Poppins was Andrews’s first foray into film, but a more assured and steady performance one has rarely seen onscreen. Made at the same time as My Fair Lady, the two went head-to-head at that years Academy Awards, and although My Fair Lady nearly swept the board, Andrews won the Academy Award for Best Actress in a Leading Role, when Audrey Hepburn wasn’t even nominated for My Fair Lady.
And just incase you want to while the evening away with a bit more of Julie’s best: