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A Memoir of My Hollywood Years
With Emma Walton Hamilton
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With this second memoir, Home Work: A Memoir of My Hollywood Years, Andrews picks up the story with her arrival in Hollywood and her phenomenal rise to fame in her earliest films — Mary Poppins and The Sound of Music. Andrews describes her years in the film industry — from the incredible highs to the challenging lows. Not only does she discuss her work in now-classic films and her collaborations with giants of cinema and television, she also unveils her personal story of adjusting to a new and often daunting world, dealing with the demands of unimaginable success, being a new mother, the end of her first marriage, embracing two stepchildren, adopting two more children, and falling in love with the brilliant and mercurial Blake Edwards. The pair worked together in numerous films, including Victor/Victoria, the gender-bending comedy that garnered multiple Oscar nominations.
Cowritten with her daughter, Emma Walton Hamilton, and told with Andrews’s trademark charm and candor, Home Work takes us on a rare and intimate journey into an extraordinary life that is funny, heartrending, and inspiring.
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I know that I am—all that I am.
And all that I am
is full and ripe.
All that I am is standing still,
waiting and watching
and bursting with life.
Holding the straining seams of my skin,
my passion and wit
and my sanity in.
Waiting for someone
to soothe and to say
“I understand. You’re home.”
—Julie Andrews, 1978
IN MY FIRST MEMOIR, entitled Home, I wrote about my youth, growing up during World War II, and my experiences performing in vaudeville from ages ten to eighteen and on Broadway in my early twenties. I wanted to share what it was like in those days; living through the Blitz, touring endlessly around England, singing in the old music halls, trying desperately to learn my craft and feel at home, in spite of my transience. Only when I became moderately successful on Broadway did I dare to trust that I’d never have to go back to the bleak existence of those early days.
In this new memoir, I describe my years working in Hollywood, beginning with the filming of Mary Poppins. For those who did not read my first book, or who might like a reminder of what led to this next chapter in my life, I offer the following recap:
I WAS BORN in Walton-on-Thames, a small suburban village in the county of Surrey, just eighteen miles southwest of London. My mother’s father was a coal miner, and her mother was a chambermaid. My mother, Barbara Morris, was just eighteen when her parents died within a year of each other. Her aspirations to become a classical pianist were cut short by the fact that she was now the primary caregiver to her thirteen-year-old sister, Joan. It wasn’t long before the girls met my father, Ted Wells, an impoverished teacher. He fell madly in love with my red-haired, vivacious mother, and offered stability for both sisters, despite his economic status. When my parents married, they moved with my aunt to a small cottage, which they called “Threesome.” My mother gave piano lessons, and my aunt taught dance, to augment my father’s wages.
My father was the family’s rock. My brother, John, was born two years after me, and Dad showed us the wonders of nature—trees, seasons, wildlife. Dad adored rivers and lakes, and often took us rowing on the Thames. He wasn’t physically demonstrative, but there was never any doubt as to his love for and dedication to us.
In the summer of 1939, when I was not quite four years old, my mother was playing at a series of concerts in a coastal town. She provided piano accompaniment to a Canadian tenor by the name of Ted Andrews. They began to tour together, and just before the start of World War II, my mother left my father and moved with Ted Andrews to London. Shortly thereafter, she sent for me to come and live with them, while Johnny remained with our dad.
The time in London was a radical awakening for me. The city was filthy with soot and gray with fog, and I was unsettled by this new man in my mother’s life. He was large, loud, and volatile, and as ill at ease with me as I was with him. My basement room in our apartment was hot and sterile, with bars on the windows. At night, rats ran across the exposed pipes. Air-raid sirens wailed often, and we were required to employ blackout curtains and keep all lights off after dark. Bombing raids became a regular occurrence, and we were frequently forced to retreat to the Underground subway stations for shelter.
After my mother moved away, my aunt Joan married her boyfriend, Bill Wilby. Because of the war effort, my dad had been assigned to work in a converted factory, making parts for Spitfire aircraft—and there he met a young widow named Winifred. By this time, Mum was pregnant with my half brother, Donald, and not long thereafter, she married Ted Andrews and Dad married Win. Mum and Ted decided that my name should be changed from Julia Wells to Julie Andrews, and that I should call my new stepfather “Pop,” presumably to make us feel more like a family.
In the spring of 1943, Mum, Pop, Donald, and I moved out of London to a suburban part of Kent. Pop began giving me singing lessons—perhaps in an attempt to bond with his new stepdaughter, perhaps to give me something to do, since my school had shut down briefly due to the escalation of the war. I disliked these lessons intensely. I was shy and embarrassed, but Mum and Pop were surprised to discover that I had a strong soprano voice, quite unique for my age.
Our new home in Kent had an air-raid shelter in the garden, and as the war continued, we often spent nights out there. By mid-1944, the Germans were sending “doodlebugs” to England. These were pilotless flying bombs that came across the English Channel, cut out over their target, and plummeted to earth. I could tell the difference between the sound of these doodlebugs approaching and our own fighter planes. The air-raid sirens became so constant that they prevented families from accomplishing the most basic of tasks—making dinner, doing the laundry. My mother came up with the idea that I should sit on top of the air-raid shelter with a pair of opera glasses and a whistle. Whenever I heard a doodlebug approaching, I would blow the whistle, giving my mother (and, as it turned out, many other neighborhood homemakers) time to finish a chore before running to take shelter. I was on duty in all weathers. One rainy day, I rebelled, and stayed in the house. After the bomb dropped, several neighbors came to the door, demanding, “Why the hell didn’t she blow her whistle?”
My dad, Win, and Johnny moved to Chessington, about an hour away from us. I visited when I could, which was not often. Returning home from those visits was always emotionally painful.
By age nine and a half, my singing voice had improved so much that I began taking lessons with Pop’s voice teacher, Madame Lilian Stiles-Allen. “Madame,” an esteemed dramatic soprano, was short and stout, with a kindly nature. She was a phenomenal teacher, with whom I studied for many years. She provided me with a solid technical foundation that carried me through the decades that followed.
Soon after the war ended in 1945, I began to travel with Mum and Pop as they toured in vaudeville. I was struck by the contrast between the glamorous appearance of life in the theater and the rather shabby reality of it backstage. Just before my tenth birthday, Mum and Pop invited me to join them onstage during one of their performances. I stood on a beer crate in order to reach the microphone, and sang a duet with Pop, while Mum accompanied us at the piano. Little by little, I began to join their act more often.
Back at school, I struggled to find my place socially—ever aware of my bandy legs, buckteeth, and lazy eye, along with my ineptitude at sports. On Saturday mornings, whenever possible, I escaped into programs for children at the local cinema—it was my first introduction to the “magic” of Hollywood.
One day, just before Christmas of 1946, I was collected early from school. My mother told me that we were to perform for the troops that night at the Stage Door Canteen in London. When Mum, Pop, and I arrived at the venue, I learned that Queen Elizabeth, wife of King George VI, would be in attendance. After my parents performed the bulk of their act, I was introduced, and sang my duet with Pop and then a solo aria. At age eleven, I was the only child in the program. Her Majesty came backstage to greet the performers. When she approached me, I curtsied, and she said, “You sang beautifully tonight.” I was amazed that she took the time to compliment me. At school the next day, I found myself the center of attention.
Mum, Pop, and I began touring more extensively around the country. My dad and Win had welcomed a baby girl—my half sister, Celia, nicknamed “Shad”—into the family, and the following spring my mother gave birth to my youngest half brother, Christopher.
My mother had long wanted to return to her hometown of Walton-on-Thames, and she and Pop found and purchased—with a sizeable mortgage and a down payment that took almost every penny they had—a house called “The Old Meuse.” It was a major step up for us. Originally it had been the servants’ quarters to a mansion next door; Mum discovered that her mother had been a below-stairs maid there in her teens, and had actually lived in our house at that time.
“It was meant that we should be here,” my mother said.
The best thing about the Old Meuse was the large garden. It had lilac trees, an arbor with climbing roses, a vegetable plot, and a small orchard. There was a shabby grass tennis court, and beyond that a tiny copse of fir trees.
Of course, there was a snag; we couldn’t afford to maintain it. In the early months, my mother’s uncle, Harry, took care of the garden for us. When he was sober, he was jolly and kind, and there was no better gardener on earth. Harry planted vegetables, pruned, and mowed; but he drank like a fish and never came often enough. I agonized when the weeds came back and the grass grew shaggy.
My aunt Joan came to live at the house with her husband, Uncle Bill. Pop erected a tiny prefab cottage in the garden for them, and converted our three-car garage into a studio for my aunt’s dancing school. Students were forever coming up and down our driveway and music echoed across the courtyard all day long. It seemed wonderful to me, for there were Auntie’s classes to attend and companionship whenever I needed it—which was often, since the main house was frequently empty.
Just prior to moving into the Meuse, I had the good fortune to be cast in a musical revue in London called Starlight Roof. It was a glamorous evening of songs, dance, and comedy. My part involved singing one aria—a fiendishly difficult coloratura piece, “The Polonaise” from Mignon, that finished with a high F above top C. My debut was surprisingly successful, and I was dubbed a “prodigy with pigtails.” Because we were playing two performances every night but Sunday, I had to drop out of school. A tutor was hired for me, with whom I worked four hours a day.
Mum couldn’t travel back and forth to London with me every night, so sometimes Uncle Bill or Aunt Joan chaperoned me. Between shows, I would do my homework, have a bite to eat, or if I was lucky, watch an hour of cartoons at a nearby cinema.
Starlight Roof ran for just over a year, and within weeks of its conclusion, I was cast in a holiday “pantomime,” Humpty Dumpty, playing the egg himself. English pantomimes are not in fact mimed shows; they are seasonal family-audience fare written around familiar fairy tales, with a good measure of popular music and comedy thrown in. I was barely old enough to do so, but for this show, I journeyed back and forth to London on the train by myself.
One evening, a group of rowdy boys sat in the front row during the performance. On my way home, they happened to be on the same train as I was, still giggling and being silly. They introduced themselves, and when it was discovered that we were all from Walton-on-Thames, they asked where I lived. I cagily replied, “Oh—the other side of the railroad tracks.”
The following morning there was a knock at the door of the Old Meuse. It was two of the boys, who had apparently looked up all the Andrews families on the “other side of the tracks” and were hoping for an autograph. They were brothers, by the name of Tony and Richard Walton (unrelated to the name of our town). I subsequently received a charming letter from the eldest, Tony, and we embarked on an easy and pleasant friendship. He was at boarding school, but we visited when he was on vacation. I met his family, whom I adored, and whose elegant home was a stark contrast to my own.
Mum, Pop, and I spent the summer of 1949 performing in Blackpool, a resort town in Northern England. I began to notice how much my stepfather was drinking. He drank so much that during performances his words were slurred, or he forgot them. He and my mother began to have loud fights, which frequently became physical. One night, after an especially bad round, my mother tearfully begged me to telephone my aunt and ask her to come immediately. Auntie remained with us for the rest of the summer.
Pop’s alcoholism escalated quickly. He would go on all-night benders, after which he would stagger up our driveway, vomit, and pass out. He tried several times to get sober, but always relapsed. Eventually, the music hall booking agents stopped hiring him. Mum and Pop began to sleep in separate rooms, and she started drinking as well. I became the primary caregiver for my half brothers, now three and seven—babysitting, fixing their meals, putting them to bed.
The more Pop drank, the more abusive he became. My brother Donald received his first caning when he was just six, due to a poor school report. This soon became a regular occurrence. Eventually, Donald was enrolled in boarding school, albeit in Walton-on-Thames, not far from our house. Soon afterward, Chris was sent there as well. He was four years old, and utterly miserable. The justification was that our parents were away so often, performing.
My dad and Win moved to Ockley, a charming country village on the Surrey/Sussex border. Dad created a thriving garden, with all manner of vegetables and flowers. Our trips through the English countryside when he would come to collect me were breathtaking, and he took great pleasure in showing me the fields of bluebells and daffodils in the spring, or listening to the sound of nightingales together in the evenings. As always, it was hard to return home from those visits.
Mum and I continued to tour around the country, now performing without my stepfather. He and Mum were in over their heads on the mortgage for the house, so it was imperative that I keep working, even though I was only fourteen. We traveled the country by train, and during those long journeys I buried myself in books. Mum, on the other hand, simply stared out the window for hours on end as we rattled through the countryside. One day, after she and Pop had been fighting dreadfully, she had a kind of nervous breakdown on the train to Aberdeen, Scotland. She wept the entire way, worrying about finances, the house, the two boys. I did everything I could to comfort her, promising that I would help make it right and would keep working, no matter what. I had no idea what I actually earned, since Mum and Pop had always given me a small allowance of £1 per week and used the rest of my earnings for household expenses. Nevertheless, I resolved to assume responsibility for the entire family as best I could.
Sometime that fall, I attended a party with Mum at the home of a friend of hers in a neighboring town. They asked me to sing, which I reluctantly did. I remember feeling distinctly uncomfortable when the owner of the house sat beside me afterward, and asked a number of questions. Mum became very drunk—so much so that I had to drive us home, despite the fact that there was a serious London fog and I was not yet old enough to have a license. During the journey, Mum confessed to me that the man at the party was in fact my biological father; the result of a brief affair.
My immediate reaction was that it didn’t matter, that I would always consider my father to be the man who raised me. The following day, I tentatively asked Mum if what she had told me was true. She said it was. I never thought to ask whether the man I had always known as Dad was aware of the fact, and we never spoke of it again. In later years, after Mum and Dad had passed away, I finally discussed it with Aunt Joan. She confirmed Mum’s story, and told me that Dad had indeed known the truth, and had decided to raise me and love me as his own nonetheless. The selflessness of that act knocked me sideways.
When I turned fifteen, my mother decided that a tutor was no longer necessary for me. I worried about missing further schooling, but my mother stated that I would get ample education from life. Because I was so busy working to help support the family, I didn’t argue.
I was cast in another Christmas pantomime, Little Red Riding Hood, in Nottingham, about three hours north of Walton. Mum and Auntie helped me settle in at a hotel, but then returned home. They were unable to visit much, and I was dreadfully homesick. Most nights after the performance, I ate dinner by myself in the empty hotel dining room.
Mum’s and my engagements were booked by a theatrical agent named Charles Tucker, who had been my parents’ manager for several years, and who became my manager when I made my debut in Starlight Roof. “Uncle Charlie” sent me to a good dentist, and berated my mother if he saw that I had holes in my socks or that they weren’t clean. He was a great help to me and to my family in those early years.
Whenever I was working or traveling, my constant longing was to be back home at the Meuse. When I was seventeen, it was explained to me that there would be tax benefits if I purchased Mum’s share of the house, which Charlie Tucker facilitated. Not long afterward, I bought out Pop’s share as well. It was now solely my responsibility to keep up the payments and ensure that we all had a roof over our heads.
Tony Walton and I continued our friendship. He graduated from school and headed to Canada to fulfill his National Service duties in the air force, during which time we exchanged letters. I was very fond of him, and was aware that he felt the same way about me, but I wrestled with the desire to experience more of life before committing to a serious relationship.
I continued to tour in musical revues, playing one week each in thirty towns across the UK over the summer and autumn of 1953. Vaudeville was in its dying days at this time; most of the theaters were filthy, and in a terrible state of disrepair. The paint on the ceilings and walls was cracked, stages were splintered, and everything was dusty, sticky, and stale. I tried to create a cheery space in every dressing room I occupied, laying out a cloth to cover stains on the makeup table, buying a posy of flowers, putting up a family photo.
My days were a blur of vocal exercises, performing two shows a night, traveling, and moving in and out of digs. The audiences were often drunk and unruly, their cigarette smoke spiraling down through the spotlights onto the stage. I began to have serious doubts about my prospects for the future. At seventeen, I was traveling endlessly, singing the same songs night after night. I had barely any education, and no other craft to fall back on. I was supporting the family financially, but I felt as if I was going around in circles. It never occurred to me that the performance and coping skills I was gaining would become invaluable to me in the years that followed.
As luck would have it, I was cast in the title role of Cinderella at the London Palladium. This prestigious and historic theater was nothing like the tacky vaudeville houses I’d been playing in. The show was glamorous, the costumes fresh, and the production values dazzling, complete with four white ponies pulling the gilded coach.
At the same time, another show was playing in London: The Boy Friend. I hadn’t seen it because of my own performance schedule, but it was very successful. To my surprise, I received an offer to play the lead role of Polly Browne in The Boy Friend on Broadway. The prospect of being away from my family for a year or more was agonizing, and given the situation at home—Pop’s drunkenness, and my mother’s and brothers’ attendant misery—I very nearly turned the job down. My dad paid me a visit, and in his loving manner, he persuaded me to accept the offer.
“Chick,” he said, “it’ll be the best experience of your life. America will open up your head. You should not miss this opportunity.”
A farewell party was planned for me at our house. Pop became horribly drunk and ended up smashing a ceiling lamp with his cane, then went on a colossal rampage. He shattered all the windows in Auntie and Bill’s house, then punched Bill in the face. The police were summoned, and my dad came to collect me, Mum, and my brothers. He took us back to Ockley for the weekend. Pop was held by the police for forty-eight hours, and Mum obtained a restraining order that prohibited him from coming near the house for several weeks, which allowed me to return and resume packing for my departure. After begging Mum to file for a divorce, I boarded the plane to America, depressed and consumed with worry. My mood was quite a contrast to the ebullience of my fellow Boy Friend company members, five of whom were on the same flight.
New York was noisy and hot, and I was miserably homesick. Our hotel was in Times Square, and my room was a tiny single that looked out over an airshaft. Worse still, I had no idea how to research a role or “break down” a script for a traditional musical. There were tensions between our American producers, Cy Feuer and Ernie Martin, and our director and writer, Vida Hope and Sandy Wilson. Eventually, Cy dismissed them and took over the directorial chores himself, which made for a sharper and livelier production. Yet I continued to feel at sea, and my uneven performance was resulting in an equally uneven audience response.
After our final preview, Cy took me out to the fire-escape steps in the alley beside the theater. He advised me to abandon every bit of camp or shtick, and to play Polly as truthfully as I could. I felt as if I was being given a lifeline. The show opened on the eve of my nineteenth birthday. After a rousing ovation, the audience danced the Charleston down the aisles as they exited the theater. The Boy Friend was a smash hit.
Although I was no stranger to hard work, I was unprepared for the amount of pressure and the sheer slog of performing on Broadway. I phoned home every week, despite the sizeable cost in those days, and looked forward to every mail delivery, in case there was a letter from Mum, Dad, or Tony. Alas, Mum and Pop were back together again, and the troubles at home had resumed. I sent half my modest salary home each week, which often left me scrambling to pay for groceries.
Performing the same role, day after day, week after week for a full year, taught me so much about the nuances of musical theater and how to conserve my energy during a long run. By the end of my contract, I was looking forward to going home. Any problems that awaited me were overshadowed by the anticipated joy of seeing my family again.
Just before I left New York, I received an invitation to meet with Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick (Fritz) Loewe, regarding the role of Eliza Doolittle in their new musical, My Fair Lady. After several auditions, I was offered the part, and a two-year contract. Despite the fact that it would mean a mere three months at home before returning to New York, it was too great an opportunity to miss.
I spent Christmas and the New Year with the family, during which time I worked with Madame Stiles-Allen on the songs from My Fair Lady. I also spent a good deal of time with Tony Walton. Having completed his military service, he was now studying at the Slade School of Fine Art in London and working part-time at Wimbledon Theatre, with an eye toward a career in theatrical production and design. Our relationship took another step forward, and we agreed that he would join me in New York as soon as he could.
I returned to America in early January. The situation at home had not improved, and I was once again deeply anxious about leaving my family for such an extended time. I spent the better part of the flight back to the States weeping copiously.
My Fair Lady was directed by the legendary director and writer Moss Hart. Moss was one of the most significant mentors in my life. It quickly became apparent in rehearsals, as it had been with The Boy Friend, that I was struggling with my role. Though I adapted easily to the songs, I was utterly out of my depth as an actor. I couldn’t master the Cockney accent, and searched desperately for any clue that would help me play this complicated character. Rex Harrison, who played Henry Higgins, seemed completely at home in his role, and was imperious and impatient with me.
Eventually, Moss set aside a weekend to work with me one-on-one. He literally shaped Eliza Doolittle for me. For forty-eight painful hours, he bullied, cajoled, scolded, and encouraged. I returned to rehearsals with the company more grounded in the role, and Rex was somewhat mollified.
Our out-of-town opening in New Haven nearly ground to a halt as the result of a whiteout snowstorm, monstrous technical problems, and a major panic attack on Rex’s part. Not being a singer, he was having trouble finding his way with the orchestra, and he threatened not to go on for the first preview. During the ensuing weeks, Moss and Alan continued to refine the show, and by mid-March, when we opened on Broadway, we were in much better shape.
The show received a phenomenal reception, and thus began another great learning period of my life; two years of nose-to-the-grindstone discipline in order to sustain my energy, my voice, and my commitment to delivering a consistent performance every night.
Tony joined me in New York City in April, and from then on, we were inseparable. He began looking for a job, and eventually took one designing caricatures for Playbill and other magazines. He sat for the United Scenic Artists union exam, passed it, and got a job designing sets and costumes for a production of Noël Coward’s Conversation Piece.
During my second year in My Fair Lady, I was invited to play the title role in a live television production of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Cinderella.
- "Home Work is a quiet revelation. And by quiet I don't mean dull. The book is packed with emotion, action, gossip, and fascinating tidbits about craft. The Julie Andrews we get to know is salty, funny, passionate, hard-working, gracious, and above all, a brilliant vocalist and actress who has braved many disappointments."—O Magazine
- "A frank and intimate storyteller whose radiant spirit fills these pages, Andrews chronicles the peaks and valleys of her life and career. This event-packed memoir is a must for fans of Andrews's life and work, students of cinema history, and anyone who is curious about musical film production."—Library Journal (starred review)
- "Details Andrews' transformation from traveling performer to movie star."—Los Angeles Times, Book Club Pick
- "Shares reflections on Andrews's astonishing career, and discusses her famous roles in Mary Poppins, The Sound of Music, Victor/Victoria, and more."—Bustle, New Celebrity Memoirs that Will Leave You Starstruck This Fall
- "A warm, entertaining memoir...An insightful treat for Andrews's fans."—Kirkus Reviews
- "[Home Work gives] readers long-awaited details about [Julie Andrew's] earliest films like Mary Poppins and The Sound of Music.... Andrews continues to approach life -- and writing -- with strength and grace."—People
- "Full of delicious details...and poignant recollections."—Long Island Living
- "Sincere and inspiring...This charming account of Andrews's professional and personal life will no doubt serve to make the venerated performer all the more beloved."—Publishers Weekly
- "[W]arm, graceful, and candid... This deeply pleasurable and forthright chronicle illuminates the myriad reasons 'home work' has such profound meaning for artist and humanitarian Andrews... [a] treasury of delectable Hollywood revelations."—Booklist
- "The inside-look into the perils and stress of movie making, and the honest portrayal of Andrews' struggles to blend her career, home life, and complicated personal matters offers a rich glimpse into a resilient star. Edward's mercurial but brilliant and generous nature is vividly recounted...her memoir makes it vividly clear that her stardom was not an easy path to achieve."—The Missourian
"Thrillingly honest but never unkind, Andrews mixes fascinating behind-the-scenes stories of filming... with moving revelations....This enchanting memoir reveals Andrews as a rare creature: a mega-star whose feet remain firmly on the ground."
- "Julie Andrews's two memoirs, Home and Home Work, are at once heartbreaking and awe-inspiring."—"Our Mothers Ourselves"
- "[Home Work] is everything you could hope for and more."—Scribbles by Kat
- On Sale
- Oct 15, 2019
- Page Count
- 560 pages
- Hachette Books