Julie Andrews biography and her early life is brilliantly documented in her book ‘Home’, which I have just finished reading. My children knew that I would love it, so they gave it to me along with ‘Mother and Child', written by Julie Andrews and her daughter Emma Walton Hamilton, as a Mother’s Day gift last year.
Many of Julie’s fans know much about her during and after The Sound of Music movie. The book outlines a part of her life that not too many people knew about.
The Julie Andrews biography tells us that she was born Julia Elizabeth Wells, and had a difficult childhood. She was born on October 1st 1935 in Walton-on-Thames, England. Her mother, Barbara Wells, herself a great pianist, was married to Edward Wells. She met Ted Andrews, a Canadian tenor, and during World War Two, they went away to tour together in France, entertaining the troops.
Later, Julie’s mother moved out of the family home, and went to live with Ted Andrews. Julie also went to be with them, whereas her brother Johnny stayed with their father.
In 1943 Ted gave Julie singing lessons as a way to try and bond with his new stepdaughter. He found she had a ‘freak’ four octave voice, however Julie hated the singing lessons, along with the thirty minute practice every day. She later took proper singing lessons with voice teacher, Lilian-Stiles Allen. Looking back, she is very grateful to her parents for starting her off in the music world, with her mother also teaching her the piano.
When Barbara and Ted married in 1943, Julie officially changed her name to Julie Andrews and referred to Ted as ‘Pop’. Her father remarried in 1944 to a lady called Win.
Julie Andrews occasionally toured with her mother and Pop, and one night was asked to sing along with him, which the audience loved. According to the Julie Andrews biography, she can remember being called out of school early to go to London with them, as she was to sing in front of Queen Elizabeth, wife of King George VI. The Queen said to Julie after the performance:
“You sang beautifully tonight” - Queen Elizabeth
In Julie Andrews biography, it describes the way her career in show business took off, by having three big breaks in her life…………..
The first big break was when she was asked to sing in Starlight Express at the London Hippodrome, after Val Parnell, the London theatrical impresario, had heard her sing the ‘Polonaise’ on a BBC radio broadcast. It was Julie Andrews first taste of the big stage. The performance was full of singing, dancing and acting, and Julie was called the ‘Prodigy with Pigtails.’
She was then asked to perform at the Royal Variety Show to sing in front of Queen Elizabeth, The Princess Elizabeth and her future husband Prince Philip. Below is a video of Julie Andrews singing ‘God Save the King’ that night:
Julie Andrews next job was to be the egg in Humpty Dumpty at the London Casino Theatre, where she sang ‘I Heard a Robin Singing’. It was after one of these shows that she met Tony Walton on the train going home and a friendship, and later a romance developed.
At the age of seventeen, Julie played Cinderella at the London Palladium, and it was here that she had her second big break………. The Boy Friend was being played in London and two American producers, Cy Feuer and Ernest Martin came to watch Julie Andrews in Cinderella. They offered her the part of playing Polly Browne in The Boy Friend on Broadway.
After much indecision, she decided to go for one year only. She left for America and turned The Boy Friend into a major hit!
In 1956 Julie was then asked to play Eliza Doolittle in the Broadway production of My Fair Lady. This was a musical version of George Bernard Shaw’s Pygmalion, and again received rave reviews. At the same time, Julie appeared in Rodgers and Hammerstein's TV musical Cinderella, which was broadcast live in 1957 to over 100 million people.
My Fair Lady then went to London, where Tony Walton and Julie Andrews decided to get married on May 10th 1959 in Oatlands, near Walton, Surrey.
Julie found out that her father, Edward Wells, was not her biological father, which was very hard for her. She still viewed her father to be Edward Wells, who had raised her when she was very young. However her biological father, whose name Julie Andrews does not reveal, came to see her perform in My Fair Lady, which turned out to be the last time she would see her biological father before he died.
(I also found out from reading Julie Andrews biography ‘Home’, that Julie Andrews’ youngest brother attended the same boarding school as my own brother. They both went to Pierrepoint Boarding School in Frensham, Surrey. Unfortunately they were not there at the same time!)
Julie then returned to New York to play in Camelot with Richard Burton (see photo right).
It was at this time that she became very good friends with singer and performer Carol Burnett, and in 1962 they did a variation of The Sound of Music at Carnegie Hall. It was called The Swiss Family Pratt. Julie was totally unaware that one day she would play the lead role in the movie version of The Sound of Music!
Here is a video clip of Julie and Carol performing this piece:
Then came her third big break………….when she was in Camelot, Walt Disney came to see the show, as he wanted Julie to play the leading role in a film he was making called Mary Poppins. Julie had just found out she was pregnant, so said to Walt that she would not be able to be in his film. Walt said he would wait until after the baby was born.
In November 1962, Emma Katharine Walton was born and only a few months later, Julie, Tony, and Emma flew to America to start a new life together.
All this happened in Julie’s first twenty- seven years of her life. Julie Andrews biography ‘Home’ gives a much more detailed account, which I know will enthrall every Sound of Music fan wanting to know more about Julie Andrews and her early life. It makes a fascinating read and is beautifully written. I could certainly hear Julie Andrews' voice bouncing out of the pages, and would definitely agree with the critic's comment below about her book 'Home':
"Andrews shares each detail in a voice as direct and crystal-clear as the four octave-soprano that shot her to stardom." The Buffalo News