Please join the Albumism team in celebrating Dame Julie Andrews’ musical legacy and share your personal memories of her with us in the comments below!
Born: October 1, 1935
Biography (via AllMusic): At the commercial height of her career in the '60s, actress/singer Julie Andrews could claim to be the primary performer associated with the longest-running musical in Broadway history, the highest-grossing Hollywood film ever made, and the biggest-selling album of all time. Each of those achievements was surpassed by others eventually, of course, but Andrews, while experiencing the ups and downs that are the lot of any popular entertainment figure, retained her status as a theater and film legend, and even enhanced her reputation as she became a senior citizen early in the 21st century. By then, her professional career stretched back more than 50 years and included stage work, recordings, radio, television, films, and children's literature. By 2005, she had added stage director to her list of accomplishments.
For most of her career, Andrews was blessed and burdened with an established persona. Her massive successes in the film musicals Mary Poppins (in which she played a magical nanny to two pre-World War I British children) and The Sound of Music (in which she played an aspiring nun-turned-governess to seven pre-World War II Austrian children) coalesced in the public mind into the character of a sweet-voiced, proper Englishwoman quickly ready to soothe childish traumas by crooning about "A Spoonful of Sugar" or "My Favorite Things."
After those performances, she spent decades alternately conforming to and rebelling against the image they had given her. This struggle was played out against the background of the socially and politically tumultuous era of the late '60s and '70s, during which Andrews, who had conquered the entertainment world only a few years before, became virtually persona non grata, at least as far as the Hollywood film establishment was concerned. She persevered with the same determination that had brought her from a childhood in English vaudeville to Broadway stardom in only a few short years and that had sustained her.
By the '80s, she was back to making films regularly; by the '90s she was back on Broadway; and by the 2000s her movie appearances were again coming in some of the highest-grossing pictures of the day. Throughout, she made regular, if infrequent recording sessions that eventually added up to a considerable body of audio work including both solo albums and soundtrack discs. Although her exquisite four-and-a-half-octave voice was injured in a 1997 throat operation, she eventually made at least a partial recovery to the point of singing professionally again by 2004.
Julie Andrews was born Julia Elizabeth Wells in Walton-on-Thames, Surrey, England, on October 1, 1935. She was the daughter of Edward C. Wells, a teacher of woodworking and metal-crafting, and Barbara (Morris) Wells, a pianist and piano teacher. When she was four years old her parents divorced, and she went to live with her mother, who married Ted Andrews, a vaudeville entertainer. Her mother and stepfather performed together, and Andrews, who soon revealed an excellent singing voice, began participating in the family act, using the name Julie Andrews. She started taking singing lessons at the age of seven. She also studied acting and ballet at the Cone-Ripman School in London.
In 1946, she made her radio debut with her mother and stepfather on the BBC program Monday Night at Eight, and on December 5 of that year the family appeared at a royal command performance at the Stage Door Canteen in London for Princess (later Queen) Elizabeth and Princess Margaret. Andrews gradually became the star attraction in the act, and the following year was cast in her first legitimate stage show, singing the "Polonaise" aria ("Je Suis Titania") from Ambroise Thomas' 1866 opera Mignon in the revue Starlight Roof at the London Hippodrome starting on October 23, 1947, shortly after her 12th birthday.
She made her recording debut on the double-78 EP cast recording of the show, made for the English Columbia label. As the child labor law required, she appeared in the revue for only one year, then went back to touring the country with her parents. On November 1, 1948, she became the youngest performer ever chosen to appear in the Royal Command Variety Performance at the London Palladium. The same year, she released her first single under her own name when English Columbia issued the 78 "Je Veux Vivre"/"Come to the Fair," on which she sang with her stepfather to a piano accompaniment by her mother. During the Christmas season, she began a year-long run in the London Casino's pantomime show, Humpty Dumpty. She made her television debut on the BBC program Radiolympia Showtime on October 8, 1949.
Andrews continued to take major roles in children's shows over the next several years: Little Red Riding Hood (1950), Aladdin (1951), Jack and the Beanstalk (1952), and Cinderella (1953). Meanwhile, she had a continuing role on the BBC radio series Educating Archie starting in 1950, and in 1952 hers was one of the dubbed-in English-language voices heard in a version of the 1949 animated Italian movie The Rose of Baghdad, her screen debut. In 1954, she appeared in a play, Mountain Fire, her debut as a dramatic stage actress. That summer, she was cast in the leading role in a British musical, The Boy Friend, for its Broadway production. She arrived in the U.S. for the first time in August 1954 and opened in the show on September 30, the day before her 19th birthday. Both the show's notices and hers were good, and The Boy Friend ran for 483 performances. RCA Victor Records recorded the original Broadway cast album, marking her U.S. record debut.
After leaving The Boy Friend, Andrews was cast opposite Bing Crosby in a musical adaptation of Maxwell Anderson's play High Tor for television, with songs by Anderson and composer Arthur Schwartz. Sometimes referred to as the first made-for-TV movie, the production was shot in Hollywood in November 1955 and broadcast as an episode of Ford Star Jubilee on CBS on March 10, 1956, Andrews' American television debut. A soundtrack album was recorded and released by Decca Records. At the start of 1956, Andrews began rehearsals for My Fair Lady, a musical based on George Bernard Shaw's play Pygmalion, with songs by Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe, playing the title character, a London flower girl who is passed off as an upper-class woman by an elocutionist played by Rex Harrison.
Andrews, then 20 years old, opened in the show on March 15, 1956, and it went on to become the longest-running Broadway musical up to its time, continuing for 2,717 performances. Andrews, who earned a Tony Award nomination for her performance, naturally appeared on the cast album recorded and released by the American Columbia Records label, which hit number one in the Billboard chart and in 1986 was certified for sales of three million copies in the U.S. (Worldwide sales by 1966 were estimated at six million copies.) Among the songs Andrews introduced were the standards "Wouldn't It Be Loverly" and "I Could Have Danced All Night." [Read more via AllMusic here]