In August 1964, I was a high school sophomore and a musical theatre devotee. I dreamed of being in big Broadway shows since I was a singer. I adored musical movies as well. I was in hog heaven when MARY POPPINS opened in our local theaters. I must have seen it half a dozen times. It was light, funny, dramatic, amazing special effects, and had huge musical numbers. It contained sweet songs to lull children to sleep, the skyline of London, cartoons wrapped around and among the actors, dancing on rooftops, and giggles that would make you float in the air while drinking tea. I was mesmerized. I memorized every single song. I even learned some monologues and did scenes with my fellow Thespians. I was enthralled. It was magical. It was brilliant, and I longed for a nanny to ride up a banister with me. I aimed to be “perfectly perfect.” MARY POPPINS influenced me when I later became a director. Big production numbers were my specialty. I have carried this musical in my heart for my entire life. It molded me into the kind of theatre teacher I was for decades. It always made me dream of fantastical moments. Sitting on top of a cloud will always be on my bucket list. MARY POPPINS pushed me forward along my creative journey. “Spit spot.”
MARY POPPINS was nominated for eleven Oscars and took home five for Best Actress in a Leading Role (Julie Andrews), Best Editing, Best Effects, Special Visual Effects, Best Original Song (CHIM CHIM CHER-EE), and Best Music. Julie Andrews and Dick Van Dyke also each won a Golden Globe for Best Actor and Actress. At the Globes, Julie thanked Audrey Hepburn. They were both up for the role of Eliza in MY FAIR LADY. Of course, Audrey was cast, and they were both nominated for the Golden Globe. Julie thought it was only fitting to thank Audrey since she would not have won the award otherwise. The movie cost a mere six million dollars to create but grossed over a hundred million. Walt Disney Studios produced MP. Walt had not attended a premiere since 1937 for SNOW WHITE AND THE SEVEN DWARFS. His favorite song was FEED THE BIRDS. The movie is based on the P.L. Travers book series and was filmed entirely on two Disney sound stages.
MARY POPPINS is basically about how to be a good, caring parent, enjoy every moment of life, and hire the best nanny for your children. Of course, that means employing Mary since she was determined to help the floundering Bank’s family after receiving Jane and Michael’s advertisement. Most people don’t know that the long queue of “mean nannies” were mostly men in drag. What a fun scene to film as they flew down Cherry Tree Lane. Winnifred Banks (Glynis Johns) became a suffragette at the last moment to keep her out of the house and not caring for her family. Dick Van Dyke had double duty as the working-class Bert and as the bank owner where George Banks (David Tomlinson) worked. Dick ad-libbed getting up some stairs as a schtick he did for the crew. Walt Disney loved it so much that the carpenters built a curb so it could be included in the scene, and Dick could do his thing.
Walt was in love with Dame Julie Andrews. After he saw her perform on Broadway, he knew she was “the one.” Julie and Dick created memorable performances in CHIM CHIM CHER-EE, STEP IN TIME, EVERY DAY’S A HOLIDAY WITH MARY, and SUPERCALIFRAGILISTICEXPIALO-DOCIOUS. Whew! What a great word to be used whenever you don’t know exactly what to say. The mix of reality and animation was spectacular. Jumping into a chalk drawing was genius and allowed for unique creativity. The English countryside, the dancing penguins, the carousel horses joining a fox hunt and a horse race was sheer perfection. And as the London rains pelted down, it all faded away. So entertaining. The chimney sweep dance routine took five days to create and perform in two takes. The first film take was scratchy, so they had to redo it again. Ed Wynn, as Uncle Albert, ad-libbed many of his lines on the ceiling. Michael, played by Matthew Garber, was afraid of heights, so they paid him ten extra cents every time he put on the harness to raise him to the tea table.
P. L. Travers was adamant that there would be no romancing between Bert and Mary. They didn’t need to do anymore to showcase their deep-abiding love and respect for each other. Every scene they were together was hypnotizing. Their stares, joy, and delight in each other’s company were evident in every frame. They made it all look so easy and natural. They talk, sing, dance, and laugh, all with grace and class. I know in my heart that audiences loved this film because of THEIR connection. It was breathtaking. I have always been a huge fan because of their “work” in MARY POPPINS.
MARY POPPINS is a triumph of fantasy, music, and legendary moments with Hollywood’s best. It is extraordinary and a little mysterious. It hits the nail on the head even today with showing parents how to be “present” and totally in their children’s lives, no matter what. It teaches audiences to look for those small everyday moments that will be treasured in a child’s heart forever. Perhaps every family should fly a kite together to laugh and enjoy each other’s company. Since the first time, MARY POPPINS has made me feel remarkably deep inside. It is a classic film for a lifetime. My wish is always… ”Don’t stay away too long, Mary.” Our busy lives could always use your dazzling touch.
MARY POPPINS is available to stream on DISNEY+.