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If you like Julie Andrews's story, you might also like:
Olivia de Havilland,
Sally Field,
Ron Howard,
Jeremy Irons,
Johnny Mathis,
Audra McDonald,
Jessye Norman,
Trevor Nunn,
Sidney Poitier,
Harold Prince,
Stephen Sondheim,
Hilary Swank,
Julie Taymor and
Kiri Te Kanawa

Julie Andrews can also be seen and heard in our Podcast Center

Julie Andrews's recommended reading: The Little Grey Men

Related Links:
Julie Andrews Music on Jango
Reel Classics
The Julie Andrews Collection

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Julie Andrews
 
Julie Andrews
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Julie Andrews Interview (page: 4 / 6)

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  Julie Andrews

Doing The Boy Friend on Broadway led to other things of course. Is that what really made your name here in the U.S. too?

Julie Andrews: My life has been so fortunate. I have had most extraordinary good fortune in my life. I sort of put it into three categories, the three major stepping stones. One being that opening night when I was 12, when it started my career. The second being going to Broadway. And the third going to Hollywood. Each one of those happened under the most extraordinary circumstances.


What happened with The Boy Friend was that because I said I would only do it for one year, just before I was going to leave to go back to my family in England -- and The Boy Friend was a huge success, and it did sort of begin to help my career tremendously, I mean I think people on Broadway certainly began to know my name a little bit -- but I got a call about two weeks before I was due to leave. And, it was a man who said, "I'm the manager of two writers called Lerner and Loewe, who are doing a new musical of Bernard Shaw's Pygmalion, and could you just answer me one question? How much longer are you in The Boy Friend?" And I said, "Oh, I'm going home in two weeks." And, he said, "Oh my! I was convinced, as was everybody else, that you had a two-year contract and I said to the guys, 'Well, let me make a phone call. It'll only cost a dime.' " And because I only signed for one year, I was able to audition for My Fair Lady, and by the most extraordinary good fortune I was able to do My Fair Lady, and that's really when I think my life just took off in all directions.


Where and when did My Fair Lady open?

Julie Andrews Interview Photo
Julie Andrews: Well, it opened out of town in New Haven on a stormy winter's night. Great drama. Then it opened in 1956 at the Mark Hellinger Theater in New York City on Broadway.

There were people that thought it was a folly to tamper with George Bernard Shaw's work. Did you hear that?

Julie Andrews: I was a little curious about it myself, but I only had to hear the songs to know that Alan Jay Lerner had really done Shaw justice. I believe to this day that these songs just took off where the text of the play finished. And he was a giant. Both Lerner and Loewe, and particularly Moss Hart, who was the director of My Fair Lady. They were giants, and I was lucky enough to be led by gentle giants in every respect in those days.

How old were you? 20?

Julie Andrews: Yes, I was. I was 21 not too long after My Fair Lady opened, yes.

When you first looked at that script for your audition, did you know this was something extraordinary?

Julie Andrews: No. Actually what happened was...


I sang for Lerner and Loewe first and belted out my audition song and a couple of others, and then went in to start reading from the original Pygmalion because the script wasn't quite finished. And, I knew that I was hopelessly out of my depth. You have to remember I was raised in vaudeville. I wasn't even on the right side of the tracks. I wasn't in legit theater at all. I had never done a play other than this very, very light piece called The Boy Friend. And so, I really knew from nothing. And, I knew that I understood Eliza in some way but I was hugely shy, hugely insecure and I wondered if anybody would know that there was something inside that they could use if they knew how to get it out for me.


What was your audition like?

Julie Andrews: Pretty awful, I would imagine. There I was, singing something like -- if memory serves -- it was something like the waltz song from Tom Jones or something, an excruciatingly high big note, which I belted out as loudly as I could, and a lot of coloratura. But I guess they figured I had the voice for it, now if only I could act. And that's what Moss Hart gave me.

It was extremely daring for them to take a risk that you could act and that Rex Harrison could get by without singing.

Julie Andrews: Rex, I think, they were much more sure about. He couldn't sing, but he had an innate musicality which enabled him to kind of do a sing-speak sound, which was great and exactly right because it blended straight out of dialogue into song.


I think that probably Moss, of all people -- I've read Moss's wonderful biography, Act One, and if you read that you have to say what a generous sweet man he was. He came from extremely humble beginnings himself. And I think any other producer would have sent me home. I had a feeling that if I didn't cut it that weekend that I probably would have been on a plane back to London. But Moss was a very kind man and covered it by wit and sophistication, and all of the things that he'd acquired. But basically, I think, he must have sensed and identified with my early pain and fear because he'd had it, too. And, he was kind. It's as simple as that. He wanted to, and maybe he was perceptive enough to see -- maybe I didn't know, but there was something that they felt was there and I certainly didn't -- but he certainly seemed to feel that it was there.


He sounds like a great man.

Julie Andrews: Lovely man, and I credit him with all that I am today, because had it not been for Moss I probably would have gone back to England.


I was absolutely atrocious at all the early readings and poor Rex Harrison wondered what on earth he had been landed with, this young girl that could sing and had not a clue how to get into the arc of a character. I had no idea how to develop a character at all. He intimidated me tremendously because he was so, so good. He was also very, very nervous and very, very demanding and selfish because he was scared to death because he had never sung before. So, I knew I could pull off all the singing stuff and he, for sure, knew he could pull off all the dialogue, but he wasn't about to give anybody else any time and I know that Stanley Holloway, who played Doolittle, also had problems and was waiting for his sort of fleshing out of the character. And, Moss took me for a long weekend and dismissed the entire company and worked with me in the most brilliant way.

[ Key to Success ] Perseverance


What did Moss Hart get you to do in that weekend that you hadn't been doing?

Julie Andrews Interview Photo
Julie Andrews: Moss Hart really just helped me find Eliza and he demonstrated. He said, "No, no, no, you're acting like a school girl," or "That's better, that's better," you know. It's hard to say what he did. He created pictures in my head. He helped me understand some of Eliza's dilemma.

I don't know which was the hardest part, the first half or the second half because they were both very hard. I was struggling with the Cockney accent. I'm not great at accents, believe it or not. Even though I have a good ear for things, I don't have a great ear for accents. But I was struggling with that, too. He just helped me see what courage this young lady had. Eliza Doolittle that is.

We rehearsed on the roof of the New Amsterdam Theater, which in those days was the scruffiest, dirtiest place. That's the theater where all the Ziegfeld Follies had been, and there was this great nightclub up above that had gone into terrible disrepair. Anyway, I knew going down to the New Amsterdam that I was in for an awful time.


It was a little bit like going to the dentist. You knew it was going to be very painful, but if you could stick it out, maybe with luck you'd come out feeling a heck of a lot better. And, that's what Moss [Hart] did for me. It was painful. And, he said, "We have no time for embarrassment. We have no time for anything but the blunt truth." And, he shaped, pushed, cajoled, wheedled, loved me, yelled at me, just helped me become Eliza Doolittle. And although by the following Monday, I'm sure I retreated 50 percent, I had gained 50 percent and it gave me the foundation from which to really start working on the role. And, I played My Fair Lady for three-and-a-half years. And, Alan Lerner once said that he felt that a long run in a very good role was more help to a performer than doing repertory with lots and lots of short roles. You might become very facile, but what I did was learn what did get a laugh, what didn't get a laugh, and why I didn't get it if I didn't get it. What the difference was in terms of it raining outside or snowing or an audience that was coughing their hearts out or one that was too hot in the seasons, when your leading man has a headache or when you have a voice that's hanging on by a thread. I think I learned in My Fair Lady everything that set me up in later years in good stead because I really learned how to preserve and take care of myself and I was learning on my feet every single performance.

[ Key to Success ] Preparation


It played havoc with me physically because three-and-a-half years is a very long time. It was like a long tunnel. I did get a break between England and America, but it wasn't that long.

What a discipline!

Julie Andrews Interview Photo
Julie Andrews: It was a discipline. And when I finished it was like, "Well now, what to do with my life? I have no life." Because it is in a way like becoming a nun or just disappearing into this long tunnel. Wednesdays always seemed very black to me. Black Wednesday was the day that you had two shows and got up feeling awful on Thursday and had to pull yourself up only to be slammed back into the Saturday matinee again, because they were exhausting. It is one of the hardest roles, My Fair Lady. I don't think I know any of the Eliza Doolittles that truly survived vocally or physically. It took its toll on all of them.

It's hard to find an actress that can look the part and sing, and act this transformation Eliza goes through.

Julie Andrews: And also that can sustain the yelling and screaming and the Cockney accent, and the rage that comes in the first two or three songs, and then pure, pure singing in things like "I Could Have Danced All Night." Plus the big dramatic role, too, as you say.

It's a great role.

Julie Andrews: It is probably one of the best roles for a lady in musical theater. That and perhaps Gypsy. There's a few others. Sweeney Todd is pretty heavy, I would imagine, for all the principals.

But Eliza evolves so dramatically.

Julie Andrews: It's the best Cinderella story really, yes.

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This page last revised on Mar 31, 2008 14:50 EDT