Mary Poppins, premiered on August 26, 1964… exactly fifty years ago today! It has been considered “Walt Disney’s crowning achievement as a film maker,” (waltdisneystudios.com) and remains one of the most beloved movies of our time. According to The Smithsonian, “Mary Poppins would be the greatest live action success of Walt Disney’s career. It won five Oscars, including two—Best Song (“Chim Chim Cher-ee”) and Best Music, Original Score—for the Sherman brothers, whose music makes the entire production soar.” (Smithsonian.com) The story of the Banks family and Mary Poppins has touched so many people’s lives since its premiere. Personally, this film was a big part of my childhood. I absolutely loved Julie Andrew’s portrayal of the strict but kind Mary Poppins and adored the lovable and funny Bert… and of course the entire Banks family! The music, dancing and characters in Mary Poppins make this film truly special. Some of my favorite scenes in this film involve the combination of animation and live action, displaying Walt’s storytelling genius, humor and his animator’s beautiful artwork. The film was a huge financial success, it was Disney’s highest grossing film for twenty years. (Imdb.com) According to Walt, “As the original Mary Poppins budget of five million dollars continued to grow, I never saw a sad face around the entire studio. And this made me nervous. I knew the picture would have to gross 10 million dollars for us to break even. But still there was no negative head-shaking. No prophets of doom. Even Roy was happy. He didn’t even ask me to show the unfinished picture to a banker. The horrible thought struck me — suppose the staff had finally concluded that I knew what I was doing.” (notablequotes.com)
Legend has it that Walt’s daughters first introduced him to the Mary Poppins book series, and asked their dad if he would make a movie based on the beloved stories. If anyone has seen the recent film, Saving Mr. Banks, you know that Walt Disney had quite a time obtaining the rights to Mary Poppins, written by P.L. Travers. After more than twenty years of toil and struggle, Disney finally managed to convince Travers to allow him to make a movie based on her books. She agreed under the condition that she had approval rights, and was notoriously difficult to deal with as the movie was made.
Luckily, the cast members were not quite so difficult! Julie Andrews and Dick Van Dyke were a dynamic duo. We can all thank our lucky stars that Audrey Hepburn was given the role of Eliza Doolittle in My Fair Lady, because Julie was hoping to play Eliza, and only accepted the role of Mary Poppins after Hepburn was offered the role. The part was transitional for Julie, taking her off the stage and into film. “”I’m the lucky lady that was asked to do this wonderful movie,” says Andrews. “It’s one of those breaks in life, one of those breaks in your career. I knew it then and I know it now.” (USA Today)
Dick Van Dyke, whose cockney accent was taught to him by an Irishman, played one of my favorite characters, Bert, chimney sweep extraordinaire, master chalk artist, and an all-around good guy. Van Dyke also played the part of Mr. Dawes Sr. the president of the bank at which Mr. Banks works. Dick wanted to play this role, and according to him, “I had to go to Walt and talk him into letting me do the old [bank president]. I said, I’ll do that part and I won’t even charge you. So he made me do a little screen test and gave me the part. … And he didn’t pay me — I had to donate $4,000 to his CalArts school. He was a little horse trader.” (CNN.com)
Mr. and Mrs. Banks were played by David Tomlinson and Glynis Johns. Like most of us, I first watched this movie as a child, and I identified most with Anna and Michael Banks, played by Karen Dotrice and Matthew Garber. Songs, like A Spoonful of Sugar, meant more to me than just part of the movie, they were part of my life and childhood. The story of the Banks family is very touching, more so now that I am an adult. I recently re-watched the movie for the first time in a very long time and was touched by the sentimental side of the film. Mr. Banks troubles seemed more real to me now, as did the family dynamics.
I love how the family comes together in the end. Family was one of the most important things to Walt, and this value comes across very clearly in Mary Poppins. Premiering just two years before his untimely death, I hope this post pays tribute not only to the actors, actresses, songwriters etc who made Mary Poppins possible, but also to the man who would not give up on his promise to his daughters and brought their dream to reality and made so many lives brighter, Walt Disney.
References: (There are a lot of really interesting articles here if you want to read more about Mary Poppins!)