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Julie Andrews, Making Good after a Miserable Youth

Stage and screen star Julie Andrews has written more than a dozen children's books, many co-written with her daughter. Her memoir, <em>Home</em>, recounts her childhood and rise to fame.
Stage and screen star Julie Andrews has written more than a dozen children's books, many co-written with her daughter. Her memoir, <em>Home</em>, recounts her childhood and rise to fame.
One of Andrews' most famous performances was in the role of Maria in <em>The Sound of Music</em>.
20th Century Fox / Getty Images
One of Andrews' most famous performances was in the role of Maria in <em>The Sound of Music</em>.

She's been in the public eye since her teens, but when it comes to her childhood — or her family life in the years before Mary Poppins and The Sound of Music catapulted her to stardom — Julie Andrews has had little to say.

Until now, that is.

Andrews tells Terry Gross about a family life in London in the '30s and '40s that, as her new memoir details, was far tougher than her light-hearted movie roles might lead fans to expect. Like all Londoners, her family braved wartime food rationing and German bombs; they battled poverty, divorce and drink. Her mother, the child of an abusive father, married an abusive man who drank heavily, and eventually battled with alcoholism herself; in her teens, Andrews would deal with inappropriate advances from her stepfather, and learn that her father wasn't the man she'd always called Dad.

Andrews' book details that difficult youth and charts her early entry into show business; a professional at age 12, she appeared on the bill at a royal command performance a year later. By 15, she was the family's breadwinner, and at two days shy of her 19th birthday, she made her debut on Broadway, where she would go on to triumph as My Fair Lady's Eliza Doolittle — and where Walt Disney himself would spot her and cast her as the nanny with the bottomless carpetbag. The best-actress Oscar for Mary Poppins would cement her stardom.

In the late '90s, a botched surgery deprived Andrews of her singing voice, but in recent years she's lent her singular grace to The Princess Diaries movies and as the voice of the queen in the animated Shrek films. She's the author of several children's books, as well as Thanks to You: Wisdom from Mother & Child, a story of childhood and motherhood co-written with her daughter, Emma Walton Hamilton.

Her new book is titled Home: A Memoir of My Early Years.

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