Every Monday, Culturess chooses one woman in pop culture to be our Woman of the Week. These women inspire and empower us to kick ass, take names, fight the good fight, and live our best lives. Today, our Woman of the Week is Julie Andrews!
Is there anyone among us who can say that we didn’t grow up with Julie Andrews? Certainly everyone of my generation did. From our first viewing of Mary Poppins as toddlers to everyone’s favorite guilty pleasure The Princess Diaries, Dame Julie’s beautiful voice guided us through our adolescence. But there aren’t enough people who know the struggles she faced. And even now, she hasn’t stopped advocating for young people and the arts.
Julie Andrews was born in 1935. Among the hardships she faced in her childhood were poverty, the German blitzkrieg of London in World War II, and a violent stepfather who attempted to sexually abuse her. But her mother and stepfather, both stage performers, recognized her talent early and sent her to an arts school. Her naturally pure singing voice garnered very early attention, and led her to be recognized as a valuable talent as a young teenager.
She appeared several times in West End theatre. But her first big break was in a brand new Broadway show called My Fair Lady. Yep, that one. Andrews played Eliza Doolittle on stage to rave reviews, but when it came time to cast the film, studio head Jack Warner did not think Andrews would draw enough of a crowd. They cast her co-star Rex Harrison, but replaced her with Audrey Hepburn in the movie.
As much as that must have hurt, it turned out to be a blessing. Andrews was instead cast as Mary Poppins, which became Disney’s highest-grossing hit at the time. Julie Andrews was awarded both the Academy Award for Best Actress and the Golden Globe for Best Actress in a Comedy for the role. And Andrews delivered the most epic subtweet of all-time in her Golden Globes speech:
"“Finally, my thanks to a man who made a wonderful movie and who made all of this possible in the first place, Mr. Jack Warner!”"
Of course, Julie Andrews went on to make the incredible The Sound of Music, Victor/Victoria, and a slew of other films and musicals. She even refused a Tony nomination for the stage version of Victor/Victoria, because no one else in the production was nominated. But in 1997 she left the show after developing a raspiness in her voice. She underwent surgery to remove vocal nodules, but discovered soon after that the procedure had been botched. Her once-pure four-octave singing voice was gone. She had four more surgeries to attempt to restore her voice, and while her speaking voice improved, her singing voice never recovered.
But despite that setback, of course, Andrews didn’t stop working. She may not be able to sing her trademark soprano anymore, but she could still perform. She did some voice work and appeared in a few films. Then, of course, she re-teamed with Disney to portray the Queen of Genovia in The Princess Diaries films. The second Princess Diaries movie featured the first time Andrews sang on film since her surgery, which the movie’s music supervisor said she nailed on the first take. And that settled it; Dame Julie wasn’t going anywhere.
Nowadays, Andrews is focusing on the next generation of performers. She has long held a dream of creating a children’s series to help inspire and teach young kids performing arts. This year, she’s done it. Andrews created and stars in the Netflix show Julie’s Greenroom, a series for the preschool set. In each episode, Julie and some of her famous artist friends help teach the “Greenies” (children-puppets from the Jim Henson Company) all about the arts. At a time when arts funding is being threatened, Julie’s Greenroom is here to nurture the creativity of young kids.
Julie Andrews started out as a talented, poor young girl in Surrey. She became a legend and an icon in performing arts. She endured disrespect in the industry and a surgery that ruined her trademark voice, but it never stopped her from acting or singing. And on top of that, she has created her own series to help young children learn about the performing arts. Not only is she a fierce, unstoppable force, but she is teaching the next generation to be the same.
Thank you, Julie Andrews!
You can find Julie Andrews’s work here:
Julie’s Greenroom: You can watch Julie Andrews’s children’s series on Netflix now!
Home: A Memoir of My Early Years: You can purchase Julie Andrews’s first memoir online at Amazon. And keep an eye out for her second one – it is due out in September!
Mary Poppins: You can watch Julie Andrews’s film breakout role by renting it on Amazon!