When Mary Poppins hit theaters in 1964, it captured the hearts and imaginations of audiences both young and old everywhere. The story of the unceasingly busy banker, George Banks, hiring the whimsically magical nanny Mary Poppins to take care of his children as they embark on various adventures was enchanting. But so was the addition of Mary Poppin’s friend, the cockney chimney sweep, Bert.
While younger viewers were lured in by the film’s jovial musical numbers and its vibrant mix of live-action and animated sequences, older audiences appreciated the heart-warming relationship and chemistry between Mary Poppins and Bert, played by Julie Andrews and Dick Van Dyke, respectively.
Andrews and Van Dyke meshed well on-screen but they got along fabulously when the cameras weren’t rolling as well. Andrews shared in her 2008 biography Home; A Memoir of My Early Years, that Dick was ‘dazzlingly inventive, always in a sunny mood, and made her ‘roar with laughter’ with all of his silly antics. Not surprisingly, their friendship translated perfectly onto the big screen.
Mary Poppins turned out to be a huge hit and ended up being honored with five Academy Awards – one of which was Andrews’ for her leading role as the eponymous character. Andrews’ friendship with Dick Van Dyke would be one that stood the test of time. In this video, we’re going to be taking a closer look at the truth about Julie Andrews and Dick Van Dyke’s long-enduring relationship.
Julie Andrews’ First Movie Scene Was With Dick Van Dyke
Julie Andrews wasn’t the prestigious Hollywood star and Dame of the British Empire that she is today when she was cast in the titular role in Mary Poppins. Andrews hailed from a family that already had ties to the entertainment industry. Her mother was a pianist while her stepfather was a singer.
Andrews was born in 1935 in Walton-on-Thames, Surrey, England. She landed her first breakout role on stage in the late 1940s. She then traveled across the Atlantic and scored the role of Eliza Doolittle in the musical ‘My Fair Lady’ which earned her first Tony nomination.
As fate would have it, Mary Poppins was Andrews’ first film role, leaving behind the stage for the glitz and glamour of Hollywood. In her 2008 memoir, Andrews noted that she learned quickly how different acting in a film was as opposed to on a theatrical stage.
The first scene filmed that she appeared in was the Jolly Holiday song-and-dance sequence alongside her co-star Dick Van Dyke as Bert.
The first part of the scene was fairly simple. She was supposed to strike a pose when Van Dyke exclaimed ‘You look very pretty today, Mary Poppins’. After walking past him, the script called for Andrews to deliver her first line, ‘Do you really think so?’
Andrews recalls being unusually nervous and that she agonized over how to say that one line. In the end, she just delivered her lines, crossed her fingers, and hoped for the best.
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Dick Van Dyke Always Knew That Julie Andrews Would Become A Star
It was pretty obvious that Andrews was a naturally gifted entertainer – even when she was a child. The U.K.-born star grew up under her entertainment industry parents, but by the time she was a teenager, she was already performing.
After singer Petula Clark was discovered at the age of 9 on a BBC show, she and Andrews – who was three years older than she was – went on a tour across the United Kingdom via train to sing for the British troops during World War II.
According to Clark, Andrews, even back then, was a talented singer.
When Andrews was in her early 20s, she had already collected a few stage credits to her new and once she arrived in America in 1960, her talents were once again recognized when she was nominated for her second Tony nomination for her lead role in the musical ‘Camelot’.
Four years later, she successfully transitioned from Broadway to Hollywood when she landed the leading role in Mary Poppins.
Dick Van Dyke shared in 1974 when he was a guest on The Dick Cavett Show, that when Mary Poppins first came out, nobody knew who Julie Andrews was. Hollywood only recognized her as a Broadway star, but Van Dyke knew that she was destined for greatness – and of course, he was right.
Dick and Julie First Met During Dance Rehearsals
When she joined the cast of Mary Poppins in 1964, it must have been a pretty nerve-wracking experience for Ms. Andrews at the time considering the fact she had only performed on stage previously. Dick Van Dyke, on the other hand, was already a seasoned performer as well as a television favorite thanks to his enormously popular sitcom ‘The Dick Van Dyke Show’ which premiered in 1961.
But not only was it Andrews’ first film, but it was also a Disney production with an enormously intimidating budget of $4.4 million. But truth be told, it was actually Walt Disney himself who requested Andrews for the lead role after witnessing her perform in the Broadway production of ‘Camelot’.
In her memoir, Andrews recalled how she first met Van Dyke during dance rehearsals while on the set of Mary Poppins. When it was time to shoot their first scene together, Andrews was incredibly nervous, but her burgeoning friendship with Van Dyke didn’t waver, and he more than likely did his best to calm her nerves – after all, Dick has always been known to be a cordial gentleman.
Julie Andrews Defended Dick Van Dyke When The Critics Tore Him Apart
Mary Poppins panned out to be a momentous success story. The film was awarded five Oscars and was praised by critics and audiences alike. In fact, it’s the 25th highest-grossing film of all time.
While Julie Andrews’ performance was celebrated by critics, not everyone felt so fondly about Dick Van Dyke’s performance as Bert. Van Dyke, an American actor born in Missouri, was cast as the chimney sweep Bert and suddenly found himself in a position where he had to deliver a cockney accent.
The critics tore his performance to shreds. While it later came out that actor David Tomlinson helped Van Dyke develop his accent, he was probably one of the worse choices to tutor Van Dyke on cockney accents. Tomlinson came from an upper-class family in Henley-on-Thames, while cockney accents are typically associated with lower-class individuals from East London.
In the years that followed the release of Mary Poppins, however, Andrews has stood by her friend and has been quick to shower Van Dyke with praise whenever the press touches on his attempt at the accent.
Julie Andrews Scared Dick Van Dyke
When shooting wrapped up for Mary Poppins, Julie Andrews and Dick Van Dyke were at distinctly different points in their respective careers. Van Dyke was already a well-established comedian who had spent years performing in movies, television shows, and on Broadway.
Julie, however, was pretty new to Hollywood but had already achieved a modicum of success on Broadway. Beyond that, she had been singing for many years already. That skill came in handy, for sure, when she was cast in the Disney musical.
Julie was actually such a fantastic singer that it actually made Dick Van Dyke nervous. In his biography ‘My Lucky Life In and Out of Show Business’, Van Dyke noted that Julie’s voice was so pure and refined that it could be used to tune a piano. While she had the gift of perfect pitch, he never did, and that scared him. Recording with her was a challenge because of that.
The Author Of Mary Poppins Was Unimpressed By Andrews and Van Dyke
If you’ve seen 2013s, Saving Mr. Banks, then you know how difficult it was for Walt Disney to acquire the rights to Pamela Lyndon Travers’ series of Mary Poppins books to bring them to the movie screen. It took Disney two decades to convince Travers to sign over the rights for the film and then she fought him fiercely all the way through its product.
As it turned out, Travers was not at all pleased with the cheerful Disney adaptation of her books after she saw the film. Notably, she despised the ‘prancing and dancing’ and the musical aspect of the movie. But those weren’t her only qualms with the flick. Travers was not a fan of Julie Andrews or Dick Van Dyke’s performances. She didn’t think that either of them we’re a good fit for the roles.
Travers hated the film so much that she actually put it in her will that no Americans would ever be given permission to work on a Poppins project ever again.
Julie And Dick Were Almost In Another Film Together
After Mary Poppins hit theaters in 1964, critics praised Dick Van Dyke and Julie Andrews for their undeniable on-screen chemistry. Two scenes, in particular, were heavily praised by The New York Times – the animated ‘Jolly Holiday’ sequence and the ‘Brilliant Ballet’ scene that featured the duo leaping and dancing about alongside a gang of soot-covered chimney-sweeps on the London rooftops.
Andrews and Van Dyke famously got along very well on a professional level, And immediately after they met, they quickly became close friends. Considering how perfectly they meshed with each other, it’s pretty incredible that they didn’t get a chance to share the silver screen together again.
But they almost did with Van Dyke’s 1968 film ‘Chitty Chitty Bang Bang’ – a movie that he repeatedly turned down. At first, he thought that the Roald Dahl-written film had too many plot holes and unanswered questions, but he eventually conceded and signed on to the project. The film’s producer, Albert Brocolli, desperately wanted to get Andrews and Van Dyke to appear in the film together once again, but ultimately he was only able to get Van Dyke.
Julie Andrews turned Brocolli down because she didn’t want to do anything similar to her Mary Poppins character, and the role of Truly Scrumptious was just a bit too close for comfort.
Dick Van Dyke and Julie Andrews may not have starred together in any other films, but their friendship persists to the present day. Van Dyke at the age of 95 and Julie Andrews at 85 are still fortunately in relatively good health and spirits, but even after they inevitably pass away, they will always be fondly remembered for, among many other things, the magic that they brought to the screen in 1964s Mary Poppins.
What was your favorite scene in Mary Poppins? Was it the ‘spoonful of sugar’ scene, perhaps? Or maybe you’re a big fan of that absurdly infectious super-cali-fragil-listic-expi-ali-docious song? Either way, let us know in the comments section below.
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