You wouldn’t know it from her confident, Oscar-winning performance, but Julie Andrews was nervous on the set of Mary Poppins. “I was scared to death,” she has said of her 1964 movie debut. “I knew nothing about filming.”
Everyone else, it seems, had a great time — including Dick Van Dyke, who was blissfully unaware that his Cockney accent was less than convincing as chimney-sweep Bert, the love interest for Julie’s magical nanny. “I was concentrating on the dancing, mostly,” he says. “They had given me a voice coach who turned out to be an Irishman, and his Cockney accent wasn’t much better than mine. During the making of the picture, nobody kidded me about it, but I sure took it afterward.”
Julie didn’t mind. “Dick covered it so wonderfully because his body was so limber and he had such joie de vivre,” she raves. “It doesn’t seem to have harmed the film that much.”
She can say that again. Mary Poppins remains an enduring classic, and now Disney has made a sequel, Mary Poppins Returns, which will hit theaters on Dec. 19. The new film’s stars hope to capture the joyful spirit of the original. As Karen Dotrice, who played young Jane Banks, has said, “Everything you feel when you see the film, that euphoria that people get stepping into this magical world, that’s how we felt.”
That good feeling filtered down from the top: Walt Disney considered Mary Poppins his beloved pet project and spent a great deal of time visiting the set. “I really enjoyed Uncle Walt — he was such a cool dude,” Karen has gushed. “He just treated me and Matthew [Garber, who played young Michael Banks] like his own kids. We started to feel like one big family and that we were all making something fun together that really felt magical.”
The actors were unaware of the struggles Walt went through to convince author P.L. Travers to allow him to film her book. (The backstory was depicted in the 2013 movie Saving Mr. Banks, with Tom Hanks as Walt and Emma Thompson as P.L.). “You’re far too pretty, of course,” the acerbic author told Julie after she was cast in the role. “But you’ve got the nose for it.” In the end, “I don’t think she was as fond of the movie as we all hoped she would be,” Julie says of the writer. “But I’m sure she cried all the way to the bank.”
The Perfect Nanny
Julie, 83, became a role model to Karen both on-screen and off. “It was Julie’s day off, but she just popped in to see if I was OK,” the former child actress has recalled of one memorable experience. “She said, ‘Let’s just run through the “Perfect Nanny” song.’ I started it and she took me aside, God bless her, and she said, ‘This is a song about a little girl — just be a little girl rather than a miniature opera singer. And we nailed it. It was great!”
Dick, 92, was equally good with his youthful co-stars. “My dad was working, so Dick became a father figure to me,” Karen previously said to The Guardian. “He was like a big baby — he would muck about on the sidelines and then, as soon as the camera started rolling, put on a straight the camera started rolling, put on a straight face. But I’d be piddling myself laughing and couldn’t get myself together, meaning there were many retakes.”
In fact, “There were so many retakes of the ‘Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious’ scene that we got sick of the toffee apples we were supposed to be eating,” says Karen. That song, as it turns out, has its own hidden history. Composer Richard Sherman told The Guardian he and his brother and writing partner, Robert, “had been to summer camp when we were young and had held a contest to find a word longer than ‘antidisestablishmentarianism,’ the longest word in the dictionary.”
But the best moment, Richard says, “came when I first heard Julie singing ‘A Spoonful of Sugar.’ I was crying because she was articulating the whole essence of the movie — which was about the power of love.” Ah, sweet memories!
Inside The Sequel
Don’t expect to see Julie poppin’ up in Mary Poppins Returns. Director Rob Marshall offered the Oscar-winning actress a cameo and “she immediately said no,” he previously remembered to Variety. “She said, ‘This is Emily [Blunt]’s show, and I want her to run with this. I don’t want to be on top of that.’” Emily appreciated the gesture. “Julie was so generous,” the star says. “She said to Rob, ‘This is Emily’s version of her, and I don’t want it to be that she’s playing Mary Poppins the whole way through, but then I come in, and it’s like, oh, there’s the real Mary Poppins, you know?’”
Plenty of other big-name actors signed up for small roles, including Dick, Meryl Streep, and Angela Lansbury — a veteran of the Disney musicals Bedknobs and Broomsticks and Beauty and the Beast. “There’s a lot more to the Balloon Lady than just selling balloons,” the 93-year-old legend has said of her role. “She’s sort of a magical character.” Naturally!
Both Emily and Lin-Manuel Miranda bring musical chops to their roles. “There wasn’t even a possible other choice,” the director, Marshall, has said of Emily. “She’s rare in this world — she’s British, and she can sing and dance.”
Meryl plays a small role as Mary’s cousin. “It’s fun — the movie is just great,” Meryl previously raved at the Montclair Film Festival’s annual An Evening with Stephen Colbert fundraiser. “This is not my movie, this is Emily Blunt and Lin-Manuel Miranda’s movie. It’s like a little tiny gift to America at Christmas.”
For more on Mary Poppins, pick up the latest issue of Closer Weekly, on newsstands now — and be sure to sign up for our newsletter for more exclusive news!