DATE April 7, 2008 ACCOUNT NUMBER N/A
TIME 12:00 Noon-1:00 PM AUDIENCE N/A
PROGRAM Fresh Air
Interview: Julie Andrews discusses her life and career and new
TERRY GROSS, host:
This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.
(Soundbite of "Mary Poppins")
Ms. JULIE ANDREWS: (As Mary Poppins) Now then, the qualifications. Item
one, a cheery disposition. I am never cross.
Item two, rosy cheeks. Obviously.
Item three, play games, all sorts. Well, I'm sure the children will find my
games extremely diverting.
(End of soundbite)
GROSS: That's my guest, Julie Andrews, in "Mary Poppins," interviewing for
the job of a nanny; a very magical nanny, as it turns out. "Mary Poppins" was
Julie Andrews' first film. Her second was released the following year, 1965.
This time she was a nun turned governess, a very life-affirming governess.
(Soundbite of "The Sound of Music")
Ms. ANDREWS: (As Maria) All right, everybody, over here.
Unidentified Child #1: (In character) What are we going to do?
Ms. ANDREWS: (As Maria) Let's think of something to sing for the baroness
when she comes.
Unidentified Child #2: (In character) Father doesn't like us to sing.
Ms. ANDREWS: (As Maria) Well, perhaps we can change his mind. Now, what
songs do you know?
Unidentified Child #3: (In character) We don't know any songs.
Ms. ANDREWS: (As Maria) Not any?
Unidentified Child #4: (In character) We don't even know how to sing.
Unidentified Child #5: (In character) No.
Ms. ANDREWS: (As Maria) Well, let's not lose any time. You must learn.
Child #1: (In character) But how?
(Soundbite of guitar)
Ms. ANDREWS: (As Maria, singing) Let's start at the very beginning. A very
good place to start. When you read you begin with...
(End of soundbite)
GROSS: That's Julie Andrews in "The Sound of Music." Andrews has written a
memoir about her early years, called "Home." It's filled with surprised about
her family life, and tells how she got started in vaudeville in her parents'
act, then went to Broadway when she was still a teenager, where she soon
originated the role of Eliza Doolittle in "My Fair Lady." She's still making
movies, like "The Princess Diaries" and "Enchanted," in which she's the
narrator. But Julie Andrews can't sing anymore. That part of her life ended
after surgery on her vocal chords.
Julie Andrews, welcome to FRESH AIR.
Ms. ANDREWS: Thank you, Terry. It's a pleasure to be here.
GROSS: You know, in reading your memoir, I have to say, your family life
isn't at all what I imagined it would be. I mean, I though you'd be from a
kind of proper, straitlaced family based on my idea of who you were from your
roles. And I wonder what you think your image is and if my mistake is a
Ms. ANDREWS: It is a common one, and a lot of people have been surprised
about the book. If you know me very well, you can probably spot that my
background is real good, down-and-out vaudeville musical background, but a lot
of people, because of their association with the wonderful films like "Mary
Poppins" and "Sound of Music," they think that I am this very squeaky clean,
upper class lady that came from such a family. And it's so far from the
GROSS: Let's start with the fact that two of your grandparents died of
Ms. ANDREWS: Yes. Yeah. I mean, my background is really Dickensian in so
many ways. I was surprised when I found out those facts.
GROSS: What was your understanding of syphilis when you were a child and
found out how your grandfather died?
Ms. ANDREWS: Well, I think it was kept very much from me.
Ms. ANDREWS: I mean, it was sort of a subject that we didn't talk about.
And being a young kid, we certainly didn't talk about it. And so it was
somewhat of a mystery. It was that awful thing that was just out there, and
it wasn't until I was older that I began to really grasp its significance and
the, you know, the horror of it and what it must have been like.
I do know that my aunt--and I write this in the book--said that she didn't
want to discuss my grandfather's death because he was in a sanatorium that was
really a sort of madhouse in those days--I mean, you have to think how many
years ago this all took place--and the conditions were appalling and people
were very, very disturbed and mentally ill. And he apparently had a very
nasty time of it and passed away there.
GROSS: Now, your mother was a pianist, and she left your father to perform
with a singer named Ted Andrews, who she later married; and they left home
during World War II, when you were young, to perform for the troops. You
stayed with your father and your aunt. What was it like to have your mother
leave during wartime?
Ms. ANDREWS: Well, I was--I'm going to sound a real Pollyanna here, but I
was raised during the war. I mean, I was practically born into the war. I
think I was two years or old or something when war broke out. So I knew
nothing else, Terry. It was not so unusual to be raised in war because all my
peers were being raised the same way, and we all were in it together. I mean,
we went down to the bomb shelters together. We went down into the subway, the
underground together and took refuge from the bombs that were dropping all
over London. And so it was part of what we did to survive.
And it was scary to hear the crunch of bombs, and to this day a fire
siren--you know, one of those wailing sirens that goes off when there is a
fire in the area--evokes tremendous memories. But I don't know if it was an
indelible imprint that forever left me challenged, if you know what I mean.
GROSS: Would you describe how, after your mother brought you to London, where
she was living with the man who became your stepfather, you learned how to
distinguish the sound of the British fighter planes from the German fighter
Ms. ANDREWS: That's right.
GROSS: And you'd warn everybody by blowing a whistle when a German plane was
coming. That was probably a pretty important role that you could play as a
Ms. ANDREWS: Well, I was sent out in all weathers, regardless of--you know,
rain or shine, hail or snow. I was sent out by my mother. You have to
understand that women, toward the end of the war, could accomplish nothing
because the air raid sirens were coming so furiously, and every half hour the
siren would go off. And a woman would be baking a cake or doing her laundry
or any number of things, and she'd have to take it out of the oven or turn off
the, you know, stop washing her clothes and so on. And so it interrupted
And my mother had this great idea that if--and she knew that I could
distinguish the difference between a German doodlebug, as they were called in
those days, those pilotless planes that came over and just dropped on London
and around London; and I could tell the difference between that and one of our
fighter pilots. And so she sent me out to sit on top of our air raid shelter
with a pair of opera glasses, which were absolutely no good at all, and an
umbrella and a whistle. And when I heard the German planes coming, I blew the
whistle, which gave her a little bit more time to get on with anything she was
But, of course, there came a day when I truly rebelled and said, `I'm not
going to do it. It's too wet and it's too cold out there.' And after the bomb
had dropped in our neighborhood, we had a few irate neighbors coming around to
our door saying, `Why didn't she blow her whistle? We were relying on it.' So
I had to keep doing it from then on.
GROSS: Your stepfather became an alcoholic and became abusive. He beat your
younger brother with a cane.
Ms. ANDREWS: Yes.
GROSS: And you write, "I did nothing to stop the beatings, which lasted so
long that I suspected Pop enjoyed it or could not stop himself. I did nothing
for fear of taking sides, for fear that if I reached out, I might be the next
recipient. My brain would turn on a dime and I would think, `Well, my brother
had been naughty.'"
So looking back in retrospect as an adult on how you didn't do anything to
intervene as a child, is there anything you really could have done as a child?
Ms. ANDREWS: No. I just, I think, one just felt guilty. The fact that my
mother did nothing about it, that I did nothing about it, that my aunt, who
lived close by, did nothing about it. And this sad--well, there were two
brothers that were pretty badly--it didn't happen an enormous amount, but the
fact that it happened at all is appalling. And the child was a rebel of
sorts, but he was the middle boy and life was turbulent, and any middle child,
probably, with that kind of existence is going to act out. And it was just--I
knew it was wrong. I knew it was sad, and I wished I could have done
something about it. And I think I did feel guilty that I didn't try to stop
it. But you're right, I don't think I could have done anything about it.
GROSS: Your stepfather beat your brother with a cane. You had your own
run-in with your stepfather. Twice he came into your bedroom, climbed into
your bed and told you...
Ms. ANDREWS: Well, he didn't climb into my bed, but he certainly made an
advance. Thank God at that point he did not climb into my bed. And...
GROSS: But he told you that you needed to be taught how to kiss?
Ms. ANDREWS: Yes, he did. That was--but he was not in my bed, thank God.
That would have been very difficult. But I was able to--you have to remember,
he was an alcoholic and there were days where he wasn't an alcoholic and he
did a lot of things to further my career, to try to help me in many ways.
But, of course, because he was a stepfather, because he was seemingly a
dangerous man in the family presence, I didn't like him that much,
particularly not at first. And thank God he was decent enough somewhere to
pull back, and I was only abused in that he did try to kiss me; and he would
have probably come into bed, but I had a lock put on the door and a few things
like that, and it only happened twice, mercifully.
GROSS: How did you get him out of your room?
Ms. ANDREWS: I kind of joshed him. You know, `Thank you. Now, come on.
It's time that I get to bed.' I don't know what I said, really, but I do know
that there was a kind of pushing and a gentle shoving, and--I didn't want to
make waves. I know that. I wanted to just get him out of the room and climb
into the safety of my bed and face the wall, so to speak.
GROSS: You told your aunt about this, and you assume that she told your
Ms. ANDREWS: Yes. She lived on our property, and my mother was away.
GROSS: How come you told your aunt? Some people would keep that--would be
like so afraid that they would just keep it a secret from anybody and carry
the burden of the secret for decades.
Ms. ANDREWS: Well, I wasn't threatened in that sense. He didn't say, `Don't
tell anybody.' He didn't say, `You'll be in trouble if you do.' There was none
of that. I mean, he was drunk, and it was just a bad moment in his life and
in mine. But I, thank God, had enough sense to say, `Auntie, what do I do
GROSS: My guest is Julie Andrews, and she's written a new memoir. It's
called "Home: A Memoir of My Early Years."
When your mother and your stepfather brought you into their vaudeville act,
who were you in the act? Like, what was your role? What kind of stuff did
Ms. ANDREWS: Oh. I think I started doing this. My father began to give me
singing lessons when I was about seven years--my stepfather began to give me
singing lessons when I was about seven years old. He was a fine singer. And
my mother was a wonderful pianist. In my youth, she was a really good concert
pianist. And she and my stepfather formed this vaudeville act, which became
pretty successful all around England and on the boards, and also on radio,
which was very big in those days. And he began giving me singing lessons at
the age of about seven and was so surprised to discover that I had a, you
know, unusually powerful adult larynx.
He very quickly realized that it probably would be a smart thing to give me
over to a fine singing teacher, and that good lady was my teacher until the
day she died, aged 90-something-or-other. So for many, many decades she was
my teacher, and she taught well and gave me a great technique.
So when I went on the boards with my parents for the first time, I was about
nine, and my stepfather--who was a good salesman, too--he went out and spoke
with the front of house manager of whatever theater they were playing in
whatever town they were, and asked permission to bring their young daughter
onto the stage that night. And he announced to the audience that he had a
surprise for the audience, that his and my mother's young daughter were
traveling with them for the holidays or something like that and they wanted to
invite me on the stage to sing a duet. And I sang a duet with my stepfather.
And I was so small that they put me on a sort of wooden beer crate, I
think--or a bottle crate, anyway--to reach the microphone beside him. And we
belted out a song called "Come to the Fair," which was a duet; and it went
down pretty well. And I seemed to enjoy it, and the audience seemed to love
it, so things progressed from there.
GROSS: Your singing teacher, who was your singing teachers for decades?
Ms. ANDREWS: Mm-hmm.
GROSS: You describe how she helped you place your voice.
Ms. ANDREWS: Yes.
GROSS: Can you describe a little bit what that process was?
Ms. ANDREWS: Oh, well, it went on for many, many years, and she gave me a
great foundation: good placement of voice, good attention to lyrics,
particularly--well, both vowels and consonants. If you have trouble with a
certain note, her technique was to practice usually the note before it. If
you have trouble hitting a high note at the end of a song, then work on the
penultimate note, which, with a good strong foundation and being placed
correctly will allow the high note to follow it in exactly the same position
As I say, vowels. One had to be very true to them and hold them firmly, and
precede them with strong consonants. I say in the book, which is probably the
best example I can give, we used to practice a lot of Handel's music because
he also had great words to his beautiful music, and we'd practice the
"Messiah," for instance. And if I was singing "Behold, thy kind cometh unto
thee," I would do a very strong "b" on the "behold." And the O of "hold" would
be strong. And "thy king," the T-H would be strong and would pull the Y of
"thy" forward. And following a note to its absolute end and then just
literally cutting off the breath so that you didn't swallow it at the end of
the sound. Many, many, many details like that.
GROSS: It's so interesting that, on the one hand, you're studying. You're
getting this great classical training with your teacher, singing Handel; and
at the same time, you're performing in your parents' vaudeville act.
Ms. ANDREWS: But, you know...
GROSS: It was a nice mix.
Ms. ANDREWS: My gimmick and my stock in trade in those days was to belt out
somewhat, you know, cut and bastardized versions of the great arias. I sang
the "Caro Nome" from Rigoletto. I sang the--I can't even remember it now--the
great aria from Traviata, "Sempre Libera." I'm sorry, I couldn't remember the
name for a second. And my great stock in trade was the "Polonaise" from the
opera "Mignon." And that a phenomenally high note at the end of it and usually
brought the house down.
GROSS: So it was almost like a stunt, a kid singing all these difficult adult
Ms. ANDREWS: Exactly. And, you know, when I finally went out in my own act
at about age 15 and my--something rather sad happened, which was that my
parents--we use to be billed as "Ted and Barbara Andrews," my mother and my
stepfather, "with Julie." And eventually the billing would say, "Julie Andrews
with Ted and Barbara." And that must have just been dreadful for my
stepfather. It must have, you know, castrated him dreadfully, I would think.
GROSS: Hm. Well, you know, he did some really bad things to you and your
brother; but at the same time, he gave you the singing lessons and...
Ms. ANDREWS: Oh, he tried to be kind.
Ms. ANDREWS: I just wouldn't have any of it, I'm afraid, because, as I say,
he was overwhelming and a big man, a powerful man.
GROSS: Yeah. Yeah.
Ms. ANDREWS: A little frightening in that sense.
GROSS: You know, I'm wondering, since so many actors draw on their own
experiences for roles, how did some of the problems that you faced as a child
that we've been discussing affect you when you were filming classics like
"Mary Poppins" and like "Sound of Music"?
Ms. ANDREWS: Well, this may sound very Pollyanna-ish, but I think I always
had a great capacity for joy in my life. My father--my supposed father--was
the sanest, wisest, kindest gentleman, who was a nature-loving man, loved the
country; and the whole family had a great sense of humor. And other than the
exceptions that I've mentioned, life wasn't terrible. People have had far,
far worse--much worse upbringings than mine. Mine was unusual and full of
wonderful characters; but I never considered it a bad or difficult childhood.
It was a childhood, and because of those vaudeville days--when the whole
attitude was that the show must go on and we must all get on with it, and you
go through everything that comes at you because what choice do you have?--I
never sort of wallowed in any of it.
And I really did enjoy my life very much, and it was full of kind of wonderful
magic for me. You can imagine being that young and having a freak--certainly
an odd, very large singing voice, very strong, very powerful, that was able to
do all these amazing sort of calisthenics and coloratura scales and arias,
condensers and so on. Life was fun to some extent. I was different. It
stood me in good stead at my school. We traveled a great deal all over
England, and it was in pretty tacky circumstances. The digs were awful, and
we put up with a great deal, but we did manage. And somehow, I think, all
that background in vaudeville, all the touring, all the getting through it
gave me an awareness of how lucky I was when those wonderful films were
offered to me. And they were the wonderful sort of passport or lifeline that
gave me my life. And I was full of joy.
GROSS: You went to New York at the age of about 20?
Ms. ANDREWS: No, it was...
Ms. ANDREWS: I came in my late--when I was just about to turn 19. And the
show that I was in was a show called "The Boy Friend," a product that was
brought over from England. It had been a huge success in London. It was a
sort of loving nod to the 1920s, a little pastiche, a little piece of lace.
And the original cast was still playing in London to enormous success; and the
American producers were not able to secure that cast for their show in New
York, so a completely new cast was, you know, assembled. And I was lucky
enough to be asked to play the leading role in "The Boy Friend." And I was 19
the day after we opened, so the great notices that the shows received were
like the most wonderful birthday gift.
GROSS: And after doing "The Boy Friend" on Broadway, you did "My Fair Lady."
Ms. ANDREWS: Yes.
GROSS: So did you have to audition or did they just give you a part?
Ms. ANDREWS: Oh, gosh no. No, I did many auditions. I sang for Alan
Lerner, and then I went up to sing for Frederick Loewe with Alan. Then I read
a lot of scenes and dialogue scenes with Alan, who somehow--God knows how,
because I'd never done a play before. I'd never played a character. I'd
never done a role in a really legitimate piece. All I knew was how to belt
out an aria on a vaudeville stage, and that was it. So...
GROSS: What about "The Boy Friend?" You'd been in that.
Ms. ANDREWS: Well, I'd "The Boy Friend," and I'd had a year's experience.
That's true. But, again, I staggered through "The Boy Friend," learning on my
feet as I went. And then you can imagine that George Bernard Shaw was a
hundred times, you know, stronger and important than that, and I was really
floundering. But I think because of my voice, because they sensed something,
maybe, in my makeup, they felt that I could do Eliza, and so I was offered the
GROSS: And you were...
Ms. ANDREWS: I'm sure I wasn't the first, but I was the lucky one that
GROSS: You write in your book that you didn't know how to do a Cockney
Ms. ANDREWS: Yes.
GROSS: Which is funny...
Ms. ANDREWS: Well, I mean...
GROSS: Yeah. Go ahead.
Ms. ANDREWS: Give me a break. I was so busy learning who I was and what I
was doing, and never had the opportunity to do that before. Although I had a
very good ear and had perfect pitch and many things that helped me, so help
me, I couldn't do a Cockney accent.
GROSS: So who taught you?
Ms. ANDREWS: An American professor of phonetics, my own American Henry
Higgins, a weird reversal of the Pygmalion story.
GROSS: And what's the first thing he--what's the basic principle he taught
Ms. ANDREWS: Oh, gosh. Now, that's a hard question to answer. I don't
think I can. Just literally taking me through the lines of the play and
widening vowels, shortening them, dropping Hes and all those kind--I'm pretty
sure that my general overall Cockney was not great, but it got me by, perhaps
more so in America because not many Americans know a genuine Cockney accent.
But I had a tougher time by the time I took the play England, but by then I'd
had a lot of learning experience so I fared better.
GROSS: Did your coach give you advice on how to sing "Wouldn't It Be
Ms. ANDREWS: No. No. Funnily enough, he didn't, as far as I can recall.
Alan Lerner had written the lyrics to sound Cockney, you know? `Oww, wouldn't
it be lov-er-ly.'
GROSS: So it was written like O-W?
Ms. ANDREWS: O-W-W, I think. Or E-O-W. I'm not quite sure which, but
whatever, it was written so that I knew it had to be sung, of course, in
Cockney. And "Just you wait, `enry `iggins," and all of that was written the
same way. So that was not so difficult because, A, I was singing and, B, I'd
learned enough from my dialect coach to know what I had to do.
GROSS: Why don't we hear "Wouldn't It Be Loverly"?
(Soundbite from "My Fair Lady")
Ms. ANDREWS: (Singing) All I want is a room somewhere
Far away from the cold night air
With one enormous chair
Oww, wouldn't it be loverly
Lots of chocolate for me to eat
Lots of coal making lots of `eat
Warm face, warm `ands, warm feet
Oww, wouldn't it be loverly?
Oh, so loverly sitting abso-blooming-lutely still
I would never budge till spring crept over me windah-sill
Someone's `ead resting on my knee
Warm and tender as `e can be
Who tykes good care of me
Oww, wouldn't it be loverly?
Unidentified Group of Men #1: (Singing) All I want is a room somewhere
Unidentified Group of Men #2: (Singing) Ahhhh, ahhh
(End of soundbite)
GROSS: That's Julie Andrews singing "Wouldn't it be Loverly" from the
original Broadway cast recording of "My Fair Lady."
You know, it's such a really like lovely tune.
Ms. ANDREWS: Isn't it pretty?
GROSS: Yeah. Did you, when you were given the song to sing, did you say,
`Great song. It'll be a classic'?
Ms. ANDREWS: No. I did say great song. I knew it was lovely. I knew all
the music for "My Fair Lady" was wonderful. I knew it was special and that
these gentlemen were supremely talented. I mean, can you imagine hearing
"I've Grown Accustomed To Her Face" for the first time?
GROSS: Oh, man. What a great song.
Ms. ANDREWS: I know.
Ms. ANDREWS: And "Why Can't a Woman be More Like a Man?" And "Why Can't the
English Teach Their Children How To Speak?" I mean, phenomenal lyrics.
GROSS: Now, when "My Fair Lady" was adapted into a film, you didn't get the
part. I don't know if you wanted it or not, but it went to Audrey Hepburn.
Ms. ANDREWS: Well, I don't think there's any doubt about the fact that I
would have loved to have played Eliza on film; but I really at the time
understood the choice to not go with an unknown, because although I was fairly
well known on Broadway, but I was only really just making my name. Certainly
I wasn't known in the world or in the movie industry; and in those days, you
know, a star was required. And Audrey was asked to do the role. And we
became great friends, Audrey Hepburn and I.
Ms. ANDREWS: And she said to me one day, `Oh, Julie, you should have done
it, but I didn't have the guts to turn it down.' Which was lovely and charming
of her, and I completely understood why she was asked to do it.
GROSS: And she ended up being dubbed by Marni Nixon. Now, when...
Ms. ANDREWS: Her singing voice, yes.
GROSS: Her singing voice. Her singing voice.
On the other hand, when "The Sound of Music" was adapted from stage to film,
Mary Martin didn't get cast in the movie, you got...
Ms. ANDREWS: No. So...
GROSS: You got the movie role.
Ms. ANDREWS: There you go.
GROSS: Yeah. So did you feel bad about Mary Martin?
Ms. ANDREWS: I did. Just for a moment, Terry. Yes, I did think, `Oh, my.
I wonder how she feels about this?' But for whatever reason, she had done it
onstage just as I had done "My Fair Lady." She probably felt pretty bad, too.
GROSS: Let's get back to our interview with Julie Andrews. She has a new
memoir about her early years called "Home." Here she is in one of her most
famous performances from the movie "The Sound of Music."
(Soundbite of "The Sound of Music")
Ms. ANDREWS: (Singing) The hills are alive with the sound of music
With songs they have sung for a thousand years
The hills fill my heart with the sound of music
My heart wants to sing every song it hears
My heart wants to beat like the wings of the birds
That rise from the lake to the trees
My heart wants to sigh like a chime that flies
From a church on a breeze
To laugh like a brook when it trips and falls
Over stones on its way
To sing through the night
Like a lark who is learning to pray
I go to the hills when my heart is lonely
(End of soundbite)
GROSS: Now, "The Sound of Music" provokes very strong reactions from people.
People tend to just like love the film or not because they think it's too
Ms. ANDREWS: I know.
GROSS: So where do you fit in on the scale?
Ms. ANDREWS: I now how hard we all tried, recognizing that there was a
saccharine quality to it. I mean, you have a whole, you know, whole family of
children and a nanny governess, and a lot of countryside, and a lot of
religious ladies flying around the place, and you're going to get a bit of
saccharine there. That's for sure. And we all knew that, even though the
music was lovely, that we had to play, if possible, against that saccharin
quality. And I know that Christopher Plummer--I, certainly--we did our utmost
to push it away somewhere.
I remember distinctly one scene where I really wanted Maria to be absolutely
horrified that she was going to have to take care of seven children, because
that's the way somebody would have reacted, I think. I mean, you know, being
nanny to one child is enough, but seven! So we did try, and we were aware
that there were saccharine moments.
But then the beauty of "Sound of Music" was the scenery was so gorgeous and we
did film in Austria, and we had a symphony orchestra all that glorious music,
and I think that saccharine quality was compensated for in a million ways.
GROSS: Let me ask you about what might be the most famous shot from the film,
which was used on advertising posters. And it's a picture of you, while
singing "The Sound of Music,' with your arms out.
Ms. ANDREWS: Yes.
GROSS: Twirling around, alone in the mountains.
Ms. ANDREWS: Yes. That's right, in the very, very, cold, rainy, wet
GROSS: Talk about that shot.
Ms. ANDREWS: Oh, well, that shot--the bulk of that shot was filmed from a
helicopter. And I would start at one end of this long field and the
helicopter would start at the other end of the field, and we would come
towards each other. The very brave cameraman was hanging out of the side of
the helicopter, where the door would normally be, strapped in with a camera
attached to his chest. And the helicopter sort of came at me sideways, rather
sort of crab-like, edging its way towards me, and I walked towards it and
executed that now-famous turn just before singing. And we did that shot many
times to be sure that the focus was right and that everything about it was
But the trouble was that, once that shot had been completed and we each went
back to our own respective ends of the field to start again, the downdraft
from the helicopter circling around me dashed me off my feet and into the
grass, it was so strong. Now, this is fine for, you know, one or two takes;
but after about four or five takes, I began to get quite angry about it and
thought, you know, there must be a way that I don't have to be leveled every
time we finish this shot. So I signalled to the pilot to please make a wider
circle around me. And all I got was a thumbs up and, you know, `Great. I
think we got it. But let's do it one more time.' And I bit the dust and I
sort of spat mud and hay and everything else for every single take of that
GROSS: That's so great because the story behind the shot is so different than
the shot itself.
Ms. ANDREWS: Yes.
GROSS: You know? It's like you're suffering to do it.
Ms. ANDREWS: There were a lot of things about "The Sound of Music" that had
that, though. I mean, the weather was not great, in the mountains
particularly. And it rained a great deal of the time. And we would sit under
tarpaulins and manage to get through a day with sometimes just 30 seconds of
film footage. And it was cold and it was damp. But the clouds and their
strength and the beauty that they brought to the film itself was a gift that,
I mean, if we'd just been a sunny postcard--I mean, it was a postcard enough,
but it gave texture to the movie, which helped enormously.
GROSS: If you're just joining us, my guest is Julie Andrews, and her new
memoir is about her early years, and it's called "Home."
You had such a lovely singing voice and you haven't been able to sing since
about 2005. You had surgery to remove a node on one of your vocal chords and
haven't been able to sing since, and I understand you sued your surgeon
because of that. I figure it must have been really difficult for you to not
be able to sing. I mean, obviously that affected you professionally. But
just like personally and emotionally, what did it mean for you to not be able
to do that anymore?
Ms. ANDREWS: Mm, it wasn't a node. I didn't have cancerous nodes, as so
many people think I did. I just had a small sort of cyst--or seemingly I had
a cyst in my vocal chords, and even that has now been proved to be rather
suspect. But I'm not allowed to talk about the operation itself because of,
you know, lawyers and people like that would ask me not to. But I can tell
you that it was, of course, devastating. I'm very glad it happened toward the
end of my singing life rather than at the beginning. I miss singing with an
I think I was in denial for a year or two, thinking that perhaps I was just
taking longer to heal than most people, that my throat was a little more
sensitive than most. But then there did come a day where I had to begin
living with it, and I live with it to this day.
I guess in the sort of old tradition of vaudevillians, I could give up and
crawl away or I could make what was left of my life something decent. And I
wondered what I was meant to learn from it. Perhaps there was a lesson in it
all. God knows what that was. But I did begin to write more, and it allowed
me time to write this autobiography, and I've kept very busy. I seem to be
busier these days than I've ever been, and I don't get it, but I'm extremely
GROSS: Well, you're still making movies, you know.
Ms. ANDREWS: That's right.
GROSS: You can't forget about that.
Ms. ANDREWS: "The Princess Diaries." And I do go out on speaking
engagements, which I enjoy very much. And I'm a huge advocate for literacy
and bringing art into schools for children and helping school libraries, which
are so underfunded. Everything about the arts is underfunded, it seems.
GROSS: One more thing before we have to let you go. The 1982 movie
"Victor/Victoria" that you starred in, you played a woman pretending to be a
man pretending to be a woman. You played a woman pretending to be a man
performing in drag. And with the help of that movie, as even the Wikipedia
points out, you've become an icon for family films and also something of an
icon in the gay and lesbian community because of "Victor/Victoria" and maybe
also because of "Sing-a-long Sound of Music."
Ms. ANDREWS: Seemed to have sort of covered the whole spectrum somehow.
GROSS: So is that a surprise to you that you're both?
Ms. ANDREWS: I'm delighted. I'm just thrilled by it. I think it's the
nicest thing that could happen. And, you know, that squeaky clean image which
was brought about by such lovely films that were so successful, such as
"Poppins" and "Sound of Music," I'm hoping that the body of work that I've
done since then has kind of dispelled that squeaky clean myth. But I'm
delighted to be embraced by families, by kids, by the gay culture, by
everyone. And people are genuinely lovely when I meet them. I love going out
and lecturing and meeting people and talking about my work and so on. It's a
GROSS: Well, it's been wonderful to talk with you. Thank you so much.
Ms. ANDREWS: And you, Terry. Thank you so much.
GROSS: Julie Andrews' new memoir is called "Home." You can read an excerpt of
it on our Web site, freshair.npr.org, where you can also download podcasts of
our show. This is FRESH AIR.
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Filler: By policy of WHYY, this information is restricted and has
been omitted from this transcript
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