“Sometimes I’m so sweet even I can’t stand it.”
Her parents divorced when Julie was a baby. Both parents remarried and Julie lived primarily with her mother and stepfather Ted Andrews, whom she called “Pop.” Julie’s last name was changed to Andrews to make the transition easier. According to Julie they were “very poor and we lived in a bad slum area of London,”
In the movie version of The Sound of Music she sings “Perhaps I had a wicked childhood / Perhaps I had a miserable youth / But somewhere in my wicked, miserable past / There must have been a moment of truth…” While those lyrics were written for her character, Maria, they echo a past that Andrew’s called “a very black period in my life.” Her stepfather was an alcoholic (so was her mother to a lesser degree.) Julie had to put a lock on her bedroom door after Pop tried, drunkenly, to get into bed with her, twice.
Both her mother and her stepfather were entertainers. Her mother, who had trained as a classical pianist, helped to make ends meet by giving lessons and accompanying vaudeville acts. Mom and Pop had their own act and at about 10 Julie began to appear with them on stage. Soon Julie joined the act on a regular basis. She’d have to take a nap in the afternoon so she could be bright and alert on stage late into the night. She took singing lessons and was said to have both perfect pitch and a four octave range. (She denies the perfect pitch.)
During World War II she lived through the Blitz.
She remembers spending some nights on the neighborhood subway platform, listening for unmanned bombers so that she could alert the neighbors of danger. Her parents once awakened to find an unexploded incendiary bomb in the tenement courtyard just outside their kitchen window. They once watched a mid-air dogfight directly above them. [Visions Fantastic]
She performed for King George VI’s family during the 1948 Royal Command Variety Performance in London. (She is the youngest performer ever to do so.) The Andrews act went on radio and TV. She was a cast member on the radio show Educating Archie from 1950-1952.At 19 she made her Broadway debut as Polly Browne in The Boyfriend. Next she auditioned for the new musical adaptation of George Bernard Shaw’s Pygmalion and created the role of Eliza Doolittle in Lerner and Loewe’s My Fair Lady. During her Broadway run of My Fair Lady she transformed from rags to riches again in the 1957 Rodgers and Hammerstein television musical version of Cinderella for CBS TV.
In 1959 she married set designer Tony Walton.
Her next Broadway triumph was in 1960 as Queen Guinevere to Richard Burton’s King Arthur and Robert Goulet’s Lancelot in Lerner and Loewe’s Camelot.
She was terrific as both Eliza and Guinevere, but when it came time to make major motion pictures of the musicals the producers opted for actresses with more proven box office success. Jack Warner gave Eliza to Audrey Hepburn. Vanessa Redgrave got Guinevere. Andrews returned to England to have her daughter Emma instead.
The Disney company thought Andrews would be Practically Perfect for their adaptation of P.L. Travers’ Mary Poppins and offered her the role in their 1964 film. Andrews won an Oscar for this, her first, major motion picture. In her acceptance speech for the Golden Globe Andrews, with a bit of whimsy, thanked the man who “made all this possible in the first place, Mr. Jack Warner.”
In 1965 Andrews stepped into the role of Maria Von Trapp for the 20th Century Fox movie of The Sound of Music. It went on to become the third highest grossing film ever made. The soundtrack sold more than 11 million copies.
United Artists produced Andrews next movie, Hawaii based on the novel by James A Michener. The film earned more than $6 million, and was 1966’s biggest box office hit.
Also in 1966, she co-starred with Paul Newman in Cold War psychological thriller Torn Curtain for director Alfred Hitchcock.
Andrew’s next movie musical was Thoroughly Modern Millie for Universal Pictures.
The 70s were quiet for Andrews. She divorced Warner and married director Blake Edwards. Although she continued to do television work — including a variety show, guest spots and specials — she focused much of her time during the disco decade raising her family.
In Edwards’s 1981 film S.O.B. she rather famously shed her innocent image by barring her breast. The next year she played dual roles in Victor Victoria and earned another Golden Globe Award.
The Princess Diaries gave her career yet another breath of fresh air as she co-starred as Queen Clarisse Renaldi with Anne Hathaway. She put on the crown again for The Princess Diaries 2: Royal Engagementt in 2004. The same year she donned an animated crown was Queen Lillian for Shrek 2 (and the subsequent Shrek sequels) and she narrated Enchanted. She also voiced the character of Marlena in Despicable Me in 2010.
She was given the title Dame Commander of the British Empire by Queen Elizabeth II in 2000 for her work both in the entertainment industry and for her involvement in charitable organizations like Save the Children, the UN’s Fund for Women and the Foundation for Hereditary Disease.