Every summer and holiday growing up, my parents would haul us to our grandparents’ house in rural Tennessee where we would watch either The Sound of Music or Mary Poppins in my grandparents’ tiny bedroom, in order to avoid the fantastic staring contests being held by all the adult members of our family. If it was a overnight visit, we’d watch them both. Twice. We had all the time to kill in the world while tales of the local Church of Christ potluck were being bandied about in the Southern kitchen across the house.
Despite my average level of comprehension and awareness, though, I was completely unaware that the characters of Maria Von Trapp and Mary Poppins were played by the same actress. I could have read the credits. I could have looked at Julie Andrews’ face, which to my knowledge wasn’t altered through plastic surgery during the time between the films. But I didn’t. Her different haircuts in the movies just threw me off completely. Remember that cute Jennifer Aniston with her nice Rachel haircut? Whatever happened to her?
As far as I can tell, Julie Andrews was the only person who was qualified to sing in a movie in the 1960s. I’m sure other people auditioned for the roles of Frauline Maria and Mary Poppins, but Jules was Illuminati like whoa back then and she beat them out before they even had a chance. She was the nanny of choice for several generations. Need a buttoned-up taskmaster who can also pull lamps out of her bag? Mary Poppins is your gal. How about a flighty failed nun who will warm your heart as well as the hearts of your 32+ kids? Have I got a governess for you!
In honor of Dame Julie Andrews*, who basically babysat me while I was at my grandparents’ house, today I thought I’d break down her two nanny films.
*I’m not sure if she is a “dame”, but if Judi Dench gets that title, then certainly Ms. Andrews deserves it too. I mean, she dealt with Anne Hathaway before she went to Oscar Reform School. Kudos to her for that.
Mary Poppins (1964) was basically an appetizer to The Sound of Music. Mary Poppins is a flying nanny who comes to watch the two Banks children. They are portrayed to be difficult children, but really the only “naughty” thing they do is avoid cleaning up their room. Incidentally, they appear to share their room despite the fact that they are different genders, to which I can only respond “ewww.” If their parents can afford tons of in-house help, you’d think they’d be able to afford a place that can house their entire family comfortably. Hopefully they upgraded before the kids hit their teen years.
Mary Poppins flies in one day and strong arms her way into the home. The kids love her even though she is not exactly warm and fuzzy. She has them cleaning their room within 20 minutes of her employment. Jane and Michael’s mom doesn’t really take much of a stance on Mary Poppins because she is too busy campaigning for women’s suffrage, which for those of you who aren’t up on history was the bra-burning of the turn of the century. However, their father doesn’t like her at all, which is odd to me because he is really a serious, grouchy person and so is Mary. I guess he was jealous that she had a best friend in Dick Van Dyke while he had to hang out with 120-year-old bankers all day. Mary is forced to leave her job after she invites a bunch of dancing chimney sweeps into the Banks residence. Mr. Banks is understandably livid that his house is covered in soot and the residue of Industrial Age child labor, but Mary Poppins has already done her damage of softening his heart towards his kids. By the end of the movie, he is flying kites with Jane and Michael. Dang hippy.
Although it came out only a year later, The Sound of Music was where Julie Andrews really came into her nanny self. I’ve heard before that the historical Maria Von Trapp was really not a pleasant person to be around, but you’d never know it from Ms. Andrew’s silver screen portrayal of her. She is adorably naïve and sweet – essentially the most likable character in any movie ever. The setting is Austria at the beginning of World War II, and Captain Von Trapp needs a governess to watch his seven children. Unlike the Banks kids, these kids really are bad, evidenced by the flagrant hijinks they play on Maria – a woman of the cloth, for cripes sake – on her first day in their
castle home. It turns out, though, that they are really just sad and lonely because their mom has died* and their father’s only means of communicating with them is via whistle signals. Frauline Maria teaches them to sing like professionals in the space of an afternoon and makes playclothes for all seven of them out of the curtains that are hanging in her room. Like Mr. Banks, Captain Von Trapp is angered by her rampant tomfoolery and honeywaggery, but instead of staying angry he falls in love with her. WHAT.
*I am going on the record saying that I don’t buy this. She had seven kids and a husband without a sense of humor. I’d run too.
It turns out that Maria loved him all along too, and once that tart Baroness Schraeder is out of the way, the Captain makes his move and they are married by the next scene. And by the way, it is really hard to find a long-sleeved wedding dress like Maria’s. I know. I looked into it for myself. From then on, the movie gets really serious and there are a bunch of swastikas and Hitler Youths running around ruining everyone’s day. The one bright spot is that the kids now call Frauline Maria “Mother”. Awwwww. Even though the family has to escape their beloved Austria on foot because the Captain refuses to serve the Nazis, all is well because Maria has taught them to sing properly.
To be completely honest, I’m not sure Julie Andrews was in any movie during the time between The Sound of Music and The Princess Diaries. But it doesn’t matter if she wasn’t. She was practically perfect in every way in both of her nanny roles so she earned her 30 years off. If not for the singing, then at least for spending all that time watching other peoples’ kids.