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Living legend of the stage and screen, Julie Andrews

Saturday, April 28, 2007
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HH: Julie Andrews Edwards, welcome to the Hugh Hewitt Show.

JA: Thank you, Hugh. How are you today?

HH: I’m great. I’m looking forward to seeing you tomorrow afternoon. You’re going to be at the Target Children’s Stage at around 3:00, talking about your new book.

JA: That’s right, at UCLA.

HH: Now you’ve worked on this with your daughter. It’s called Thanks To You: Wisdom From Mother And Daughter. Target’s putting you out there. Where did this book come from? Did your daughter suggest it? Or did you suggest it?

JA: No, it came, as a matter of fact, as a request from Harper Collins under…we work under their umbrella. We have our own imprint, Hugh, called the Julie Andrews Collection, but the people who distribute for us, who do so much hard work for us, are Harper Collins, so we’re sort of in-house, so to speak. And they asked if we had anything, because we are mother and daughter, that we might do for Mother’s Day. And we said well, let’s put our heads together and think about it, and this came up as an idea of my daughter’s, and we were very happy to do it. And it’s turned out to be a lovely little book.

HH: Emma Walton Hamilton is your daughter. Will she be with you tomorrow?

JA: No, sadly, she will not. She’s got two very young children, and she’s a very busy lady back East.

HH: Well, you’ve got to be like the perfect grandmother. I think that’s got to be a great thing.

JA: (laughing)

HH: Let me ask you, Julie Andrews, about the fact that I was stunned you’ve never written a memoir. Why is that?

JA: As a matter of fact, you happen to ask at the right time, because I’m literally finishing one up.

HH: A-ha.

JA: And it will be out on the stands, I believe, sometime early next year.

HH: Well, as I got ready to talk to you, I asked oh, a dozen or so people, what would you want me to ask Julie Andrews, and I’m going to just run through their questions first.

JA: Okay.

HH: You have been in so many people’s lives for so long, and have been such a memory from My Fair Lady and Camelot, Mary Poppins and Sound of Music. People must approach you all the time. From all that collected experience, what do you think most people walk around thinking of you as, in terms of the role or the song in their head?

JA: Oh, my. Gosh, I almost want to turn the question back on you, Hugh, because to be very honest with you, these days, I don’t know. I think I’ve spanned the generations to some extent very happily and luckily, and in the old days, of course, it used to be either Mary Poppins or Maria in Sound of Music. And these days, it’s usually the queen in the Princess Diaries or in Shrek, or something like that.

HH: Yeah, Shrek 3 coming out pretty soon, too.

JA: It’s coming out on May the 18th, I believe.

HH: But do the children of today still know you as Maria? Or are they all into the Shrek and the Princess Diaries?

JA: Well, I think the young children today know me more for the Princess Diaries, because that’s where they’re at, at the moment. But slightly older children, of course, they are exposed to it by their parents to Mary Poppins and Sound of Music. So you know, it’s just phenomenal that those big, marvelous, family movies, you know, get brought out again like every seven years or so. You know, there’s always a new generation to see them.

HH: If you’re just finishing up a memoir, some of these questions are going to be very easy for you. Which was the hardest of all these memorable songs, whether from Camelot or My Fair Lady, or the other ones, that you had to master, which was the hardest to sing?

JA: Oh, my. Out of the two shows that you’ve mentioned, it’s a good question. I think probably, in all honesty, there was a song in My Fair Lady, an angry song called Just You Wait, Henry Higgins.

HH: Yes.

JA: …that Eliza sings, and hurls at her Svengali, so to speak. And it was not high to sing, but there was so much shrieking and rage in it, that if you weren’t careful, you could tear your voice to shreds on it. So to do that role, which I did for like three and a half years, eight performances a week, you have to be very careful, and look after your throat.

HH: Wow, do you wake up still dreaming about that kind of a run?

JA: Yes, I certainly do. And since I’ve been writing about it recently, it’s all come flooding back.

HH: Of all these great leading men that you’ve worked with, Richard Burton, and of course, Rex Harrison, and all the other ones, who was the most interesting off the stage, Julie Andrews?

JA: Oh, impossible to say, because every one of the them, I mean, not only the wonderful gentlemen in the theater, but also people like Chris Plummer and James Garner and Dick Van Dyke, I mean, they’re all consummate gentlemen in their own right, and each one had something so special to bring, that it really is impossible to say which one was the most charismatic, because I was very fortunate. I got to work with the best.

HH: You just mentioned gentlemen of the stage. Do you think that that sort of leading man is still around, who you would refer to easily as, or your counterparts today would refer to as gentlemen of the stage?

JA: (laughing) I don’t know. Just in general, I think it’s just a word I used, because obviously, when you work with people for as long as I did…

HH: Right.

JA: …you get to know them very well. But they were so special, and so interesting, and unbelievably talented.

HH: Do you have in the memoir a particularly disastrous night at the theater? Was there…

JA: Oh, there are many.

HH: (laughing)

JA: There were many, believe me. I mean, things from scenery collapsing to losing one’s voice, to turntables not working, to…

HH: Were you ever injured?

JA: I wasn’t, no, happily. But a lot of things occurred. All I can say is please read the book.

HH: Oh, we will. Now my wife asked me to ask you how did Julie Andrews become Julie Andrews, because you’re growing up in wartime London.

JA: Yes.

HH: I know you were in a theater family, but how did that career begin?

JA: My parents were in Vaudeville in show business, in music hall, and they…during the war, my school closed down because of the escalation of the war, and a lot of schools closed, and to keep me quiet, so to speak, my step-father, who was a fine tenor, who sang himself, decided to sort of give me some singing lessons, maybe to hook up or connect with this new step-daughter that didn’t like him very much. But to his surprise, he discovered that I had one of those freak, four octave voices that could do the most amazing gymnastics. And so, he very quickly realized that I should probably be put in the hands of a good teacher. And from about, oh, I started when I was about seven, but actually, from about nine years old onwards, I started training properly, and made my debut around twelve years old.

HH: Well, in wartime London, was there much music? Do you recall…

JA: Well, there was a lot of entertainment for the troops, and a lot of shows that survived, somehow, a lot of radio, of course. There wasn’t much television in those days.

HH: And do you have memories of wartime London?

JA: Yes, I do indeed, lots of memories, and you know, the bombed sites, and the houses…

HH: Would you have to go down the tube, or did you have a…

JA: Yes, we did. We went down in the underground, as we used to call it…

HH: Which station? Do you recall?

JA: It was usually one in a not very good part of London, because we were very poor in those days. And we were in a place called Mornington Crescent, which was…it’s pretty up-market now, but in those days, it was very run down.

HH: And when you get, when this career takes off, one more war question…do you have memories of Churchill as a wartime leader?

JA: Yes. As a matter of fact, he came to see My Fair Lady one day. As a wartime leader, I remember him very well, and all his wonderful speeches. But we actually had the privilege of having him come see our show as he, when he was an old man, and he was quite fragile, and we knew he couldn’t come backstage to meet us, but he paid us the honor of sending for our script, so that he may read it in the afternoon, so that he would completely understand it when he saw the show in the evening.

HH: Oh, wow.

JA: And I think to a person, we plaid the show for him that night.

HH: And did you have a favorite theater in which to perform in London?

JA: Well, there are lots. Two in particular, one is Drury Lane, which is the great theater where all the big, big musicals plaid, but the Drury Lane theater is very full of history and prestigious. But there’s another one called the London Palladium, which I’m sure everybody’s heard about…

HH: Yes.

JA: …which is the great Vaudeville theater. Of course, musicals play there as well, now, but in my day, all the headliners plaid at the Palladium, and I was fortunate enough to do so as well.

HH: Now as an actress on the stage, did you have a critic that was particularly fair to you, one who made…

JA: We had a lot that were very tough.

HH: …were not, yeah.

JA: No, I just, you know, because I was so young, and because I had such a freak voice, I was, I guess you could call it a gimmick for a while, and everybody, it was the little girl with the big voice, if you know what I mean.

HH: Yeah, did it seem like work at the time, Julie Andrews?

JA: Eventually, it did, because of course, as time goes by, you pay your dues, and you tour endlessly around England, and do a lot of musicals. So all my early training was Vaudeville.

HH: And was there disappointment in there? Or was that just unbroken success from the moment you started?

JA: Oh, no. There was a lot of disappointment, and a lot of funny things that occurred, and you know, a lot of traveling, and very, very hard work. But I wondered in those days what good it was doing me, and these days, of course, I’m so glad that I had that background and that kind of strength that it gives you.

HH: Well, three more questions, and I know you’re busy, and we’ll see you hopefully on the stage tomorrow at 3:00 at the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books. The first is, what’s the title of the memoir?

JA: The title of the memoir I’m not going to reveal just yet, because I’m just maybe thinking of changing it. But I will, I mean, I’ll clue you in as soon as I may.

HH: Oh, I will read it, and I look forward to a longer conversation about it.

JA: Thank you.

HH: The second one is, if a listener’s new to Julie Andrews, and they could hear one song, what would you want them to hear, with the range of your voice?

JA: Oh, my God, Hugh, one song? I, really, gosh, you know, what? Have you got about an hour, I could think that one up?

HH: (laughing)

JA: I’m sorry I’m not being very helpful here.

HH: No, it’s a question that was suggested to me, and I said it’s a wonderful question.

JA: It is a lovely question.

HH: …because artists, it’s like choosing among your children.

JA: The truthful answer, Hugh, is that there are so many beautiful songs that I’ve had the joy of singing, and I honestly couldn’t tell you which one I’ve loved the most.

HH: And the last one’s a hard question, but we were talking, I was talking to Mark Steyn about you yesterday, great theater critic, and also great writer, and it occurred to us, you really don’t have any enemies. You’ve never been involved in political things. In fact, my wife said, we don’t even recall even a hint of any kind of untoward story about Julie Andrews Edwards for the last many years that we’ve been following you. Of course, we grew up with you, so how did that happen? That’s just so rare in show business.

JA: Well, I just think my entire career, I’ve been very, very lucky. And all my issues, political as I am, privately, my big issues are all humanitarian issues. The causes that I support, and the organizations that I help, they’re all humanitarian organizations. And I guess, I think that coming from England, people have been very, very generous to me, and have welcomed me so much.

HH: Well, tomorrow I’m sure someone will be there to see Mary Poppins, and some to see Guinevere, and others to see Eliza Doolittle, but I’m sure most are coming to see the leading lady of the stage for the last many, many years. Julie Andrews Edwards, thanks for joining us. Good luck tomorrow.

JA: Nice talking to you, Hugh. Thank you so much.

HH: Thank you.

JA: Bye, bye.

End of interview.

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