Thursday, March 12, 2009

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By Julie Andrews
Hyperion Books

Julia Elizabeth Wells was born in Walton-on-Thames, Surrey, eighteen miles south of London, on 1 October 1935. She was named after her two grandmothers.

Her father, Edward C. "Ted" Wells was a teacher of woodwork and metalcraft in a state school. Her mother, Barbara Morris Wells was a part-time pianist for an evening dance school run by her sister, Joan. When Barbara Wells played the piano for the dance classes, she took the infant Julie along with her in a pram.

Joan gave Julie her first parts on stage. When she was two she appeared in the dancing school's pageant in the non-speaking role of a fairy. The next year Julie had her first singing and speaking part: as Nod in the school's production of Winken, Blicken and Nod. Ted Wells built the nursery set and Barbara Wells played the piano, as usual.

In the summer of 1939, Barbara Wells took a job as the pianist for a variety show and met a Canadian, Ted Andrews, who had emigrated to England as a vaudeville entertainer.

When World War II erupted in Europe in September of that year, both Barbara Wells and Ted Andrews joined ENSA, the volunteer organization that entertained British troops. The marriage between Barbara and Ted Wells collapsed, and shortly afterwards, Barbara became Mrs. Ted Andrews.

Ted and Andrews as a second act in vaudeville began to achieve greater success. By the time Julie was eight, the family had moved to Beckenham, Kent. The Andrews occasionally joined their neighbors in air raid shelters whenever German bomber planes appeared to be approaching the area. The crowd would sometimes joined Ted Andrews in an a cappela chorus. Julie's voice drew attention when she unwittingly sang an octave above the crowd's.

Ted Andrews was delighted with Julie's newly discovered talent, and he literally forced her to develop it. He sent her to a new voice teacher, Madame Lilian Stiles-Allen. Ted Andrews pushed hard. To avoid overstraining her young voice, Julie was made to practise singing only half an hour a day.

Sometimes Julie attended the Cone-Ripman School in London, which taught acting and ballet in the morning and more conventional subjects in the afternoon.

In 1945, when Julie was ten, the War ended. The next year the Andrews family moved back to Walton-on-Thames. Soon thereafter, Julie made her first public singing appearance in her parents' vaudeville act. She was allowed to do this occasionally during the next few years.

In 1946, Julie made her first radio broadcast, singing a duet with Ted Andrews on a BBC variety show called Monday Night at Eight. On December 5, 1946, she performed alone for the first time in a royal command performance at London's Stage Door Canteen. The Queen and Princess Margaret were in attendance.

In Fall, 1947, Ted introduced Julie to Val Parnell of the well known theatrical booking firm, Moss Empires. Parnell signed Julie on the spot for her first professional stage appearance without her parents. She made her debut in the Starlight Roof and sang "Polonaise" from the opera Mignon. That night, she was a success. She reached F above high C with ease.

Starlight Roof did lead to Julie's being requested to appear at a Royal Command Performance at the London Palladium. The performance, on November 1, 1948, was played to an impressive audience, most notably Queen Elizabeth and Princess Margaret. The same year Julie first met Tony Walton. She was appearing in Humpty Dumpty at the London Casino. The two of them began corresponding and visiting each other whenever possible.

In 1950, Julie began apearing regularly on a very popular BBC radio show Educating Archie. She archieved fame throughout England for her work on the show, which she continued until 1952, when she left the cast.

In 1951, Julie was back at the London Casino for the Christmas pantomime Aladdin, she played Princess Balroulbadour.

Aladdin closed in February 1952. Then she was cast in a touring revue called Look In. In May, she joined her parents in a variety show at the Victoria Palace in London; she was featured in a BBC radio series, Here Comes the Pleasure Boat; and she ended the year at the Conventry Hippodrome playing Princess Bettina in another Christmas pantomime, Jack and the Beanstalk.

Julie's voice was used in an animated feature, The Rose of Baghdad, which was released in Britain in 1952. The cartoon was produced in Italy in 1949, then redubbed into English, with Julie as the voice of Princess Zeila. The movie was retitled The Singing Princess and released in US in 1967.

In 1953, Julie toured for three months in a revue called Cap and Belles, singing as well as dancing with the elaboratedly costumed corps de ballet. On June 5, 1953, Julie sang for a BBC radio show with the Roy Terry Orchestra and the George Mitchell Mariners. On November 21, Julie appeared in a BBC television program Puzzle Corner.

Same year in December, Julie played the title role in a pantomime, Cinderella. During the run of show, Julie was seen by theater director Vida Hope and composer Sandy Wilson, who were casting a Broadway production The Boy Friend. They offered her a two-year contract, but Julie turned them down.

In 1954, Vida Hope and Cy Feurer (director of The Boy Friend) visited Julie after the show Mountain Fire and again brought up the proposition of her Broadway debut. Ted Wells strongly encouraged her to seize this opportunity. Julie relented, but only for a one-year contract. On September 30, The Boy Friend opened and the entire performance was excellently received.

Less than a month before Julie's scheduled return to England, an agent of the famed composer / lyricist team Alan Jay Lerner / Frederick Loewe called to invite Julie to audition for their upcoming musical My Fair Lady. Julie auditioned for them and was awaiting their reaction, when she got another impressive call. This was to audition for Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II for their upcoming musical Pipe Dream.

Julie was offered the starring female lead role of Eliza Doolittle in My Fair Lady, opposite Rex Harrison. Before rehearsals of My Fair Lady, Julie was cast in a major American network television special High Tor costar with Bing Crosby.

On January 3, 1956, Julie began rehearsals with director Moss Hart and the cast of My Fair Lady. The show was the biggest challenge that Julie had faced up to that time. My Fair Lady opened on March 15. It was an instant hit, an instant classic, and it catapulted Julie into a whole new category of international stardom.

While still performing My Fair Lady, Julie worked on an original musical for television Cinderella, created by Rodgers and Hammerstein in 1957.

Julie remained in the Broadway production of My Fair Lady for two years, then opened the show in London on April 30, 1958. On 10 May, 1959, during a three-week vacation, Julie married Tony Walton at St. Mary's village church of Oatlands, Weybridge, Surrey.

In 1960, Julie played Queen Guinevere in Lerner and Loewe musical Camelot. Julie appeared in this show for almost two years.

In Spring 1962, Julie taped a special Julie and Carol at the Carnegie Hall, for broadcast that June. She costarred with her good friend Carol Burnett in the hour of song, dance and comedy sketches.

Walt Disney had seen Julie in Camelot on Broadway, and then offered her the role as Mary Poppins. Tony and Julie returned to England in September 1962 to enjoy a rest and await the birth of their child. Emma Kate Walton was born on November 27, 1962 in London.

The Book ends right before Julie starts filming Mary Poppins in the Spring of 1963.

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