When Jennifer Edwards landed her first lead role in Heidi, at age 10, her father, director Blake Edwards, had lots of advice, but her stepmother, Julie Andrews, had just a few words. “I remember her saying, ‘Have fun,’ as I was getting on the plane,” Jennifer tells Closer exclusively. “It was also, ‘Don’t forget to have fun.’ I thought that was very appropriate. Don’t take anything too seriously.”

Generations of children have watched Julie Andrews in The Sound of Music and Mary Poppins and wished she could be their friend and confidante. Jennifer, 67, the daughter of Blake and his first wife, costume designer Patricia Walker, grew up with Julie as an important part of her family. “My stepmother, Julie, was the rock for all of us,” says Jennifer. “ We love each other very much.”

After a chance meeting outside their shared therapist’s office, Julie and Blake teamed up to work on the 1970 musical Darling Lili and fell in love. Jennifer remembers meeting Julie for the first time at her dad’s home. “I had seen Mary Poppins like five times,” she says. But as a child of Hollywood, she rarely felt starstruck. “I could walk down the stairs to Audrey Hepburn or Tony Curtis in the living room,” she explains, adding that she mostly wondered about the nature of her father’s relationship with Julie. “He was introducing me to her, so it was like, ‘Is he serious about her?’”

He was! Julie and Blake, who were both divorced with children, wed in 1969 and created a blended family. “We were so young, it wasn’t difficult to acclimate,” says Jennifer. “Julie’s biological daughter, Emma, was around 3. My brother was 5, and I was 7.”

Julie Andrews’ Stepdaughter Reveals Private Home Life With Star
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Julie Andrews and Her Family Were Happy at Home

Jennifer spent much of her childhood in London with her mother, but she visited her father and Julie for several months every year. “Julie believed I should have quality time with my dad. If we went out to dinner, she would make sure I was seated next to him,” Jennifer notes. “She was very conscious about not wanting me to feel jealous of his attention to her.”

The couple’s home life in Malibu, California, and Gstaad, Switzerland, was “very Ozzie and Harriet,” despite their fame. “It was very important to my parents that we would always have dinner together as a family,” Jennifer says. In the evening, they played charades and did puzzles. Julie loved to read to the children before bed. She and a 10-year-old Jennifer also performed the ballet Swan Lake together. “She played the prince, and I played the swan. It was just hilarious,” recalls Jennifer. “She would lift me and do all these crazy ballet moves. We performed it for my dad, brother and sisters, and they all laughed. It was a great family time.”

Julie could be strict about manners and being tidy, but “not in an aggressive way,” says Jennifer, who adds that her stepmom was also extremely fair. After getting the children to promise to pick up after themselves, Julie said that in return she would stop swearing. “She has a potty mouth!” confides Jennifer. “People just don’t expect that she will sound like a sailor sometimes.”

When Julie slipped and Jennifer caught her cursing, the actress asked what her punishment should be. “I said, ‘I need you to write me a story,’” recalls Jennifer. That tale became Julie’s 1971 children’s book, Mandy. “She held her promise and even dedicated the book to me,” she says.

Growing up with Julie and Blake helped Jennifer fall in love with storytelling. In addition to her life as an actress, her first novel, When Angels Cry, was released in 2014 and is available on Amazon. The author is readying a second novel for publication and credits her family for making her “fall in love with writing and reading.”

Julie Andrews Cherishes Being the Family Matriarch

During their 41-year marriage, Julie and Blake created a strong family unit, which also included their youngest daughters, Amy (who prefers Amelia) and Joanna, who were adopted in the mid-1970s. “One of the things they agreed on early was that if my dad was making a movie, she would be home,” says Jennifer. “And if Julie was doing a show, he wouldn’t work. They would switch off, so we always had a parent in the house.”

Losing Blake in 2010 at age 88 was hard on everyone. “It was a love story,” says Julie. “Success in our marriage was to take it one day at a time, and so, lo and behold, 41 years later, there we still were.”

Julie Andrews’ Stepdaughter Reveals Private Home Life With Star
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Jennifer always admired the couple’s humor and respect for each other. “Their commitment was there from the beginning,” she says. “They both had good senses of humor, respected each other highly and listened to each other. If one of them had an issue, they would sit down and really hash it out.”

Today, their extended family is separated by miles but remains united in love. Julie and daughter Emma, 61, are East Coast based, while Jennifer and her other siblings, Geoffrey, 64, Amelia, 50, and Joanna, 49, live out West. “We do family Zooms and emails, so everyone is very much in the loop,” says Jennifer. When they do get together, Julie revels in her role as the family matriarch. “She’s a great, great grandmother, and she loves it,” Jennifer says. “You know, she was one of four kids, so she’s an old hand.”

As for Jennifer, she remains grateful to have Julie in her life. “I learned patience from her,” she says. “And if there’s ever anything wrong, I could always go to her and talk about it.”