Born in Great Britain, Julie Andrews took the American musical stage by storm. She’s a leading lady known for her soaring voice, her ability to play both comedic and dramatic roles, her old-fashioned ways, and her regal bearing. She did not play on the Broadway stage a lot, but she did have memorable roles like Eliza Doolittle in My Fair Lady and as Queen Guinevere in Camelot. The rising stage star went on to become a respected Hollywood actress and TV star, but Andrews has always carried the torch for the Broadway stage.
Julia Elizabeth Wells (October 1, 1935), was born in Walton-on-Thames, Surrey, England. Her mother, Barbara Ward Wells, was married to Edward Charles “Ted” Wells, who was a teacher of metalwork and woodwork. Julie was a child of an affair her mother had with a family friend. She only discovered it from her mother in 1950, though it wasn’t publicly disclosed until her biography in 2008.
When World War II began, Barbara and Ted Wells went on their separate ways and were soon divorced. Her mother was remarried to Ted Andrews, while Ted Wells married a war widow. Young Julie lived briefly with Ted Wells and her brother in Surrey. Eventually, Ted Wells sent her to live with her mother and stepfather, because Wells thought it was better for Julie to be with her mother as she can give better provision for her daughter’s artistic training.
The Andrews family was impoverished, but as the stage career of Ted and Barbara Andrews improved, they were able to move in a better home. Julie’s stepfather sponsored lessons for her, first at the Cone-Ripman School, an independent arts educational school, and with concert soprano Madame Lilian Stiles-Allen.
As a child, Julie performed on stage and on the road with her parents. With her four-octave vocal range, her talent was undeniably unstoppable. However, she grew up very fast, helping the family make money. At a young age, Julie lived a life full of responsibility.
At the age of 10, Julie began singing in music hall acts with her pianist mother and singer stepfather, whose last name she legally adopted. Julie made a professional solo debut in 1947, singing an operatic aria in Starlight Roof at the London Hippodrome. It was her big break on stage. In 1948, she became the youngest solo performer to be seen in a Royal Command Variety Performance before Queen Elizabeth and King George VI.
Julie also followed her parents to radio and television. She performed in musical interludes of the comedy show Up the Pole and became a cast member of Educating Archie from 1950 to 1952. She made her TV debut on the BBC program RadiOlympia Showtime in 1949.
Theatre and Broadway Career
Andrews first appeared on West End theatre at the London Casino, where she played the role of Princess Badroulbadour in Aladdin and the egg in Humpty Dumpty. She also performed in provincial stages, performing in Jack and the Beanstalk, Little Red Riding Hood, and the lead role in Cinderella.
On the eve of her 19th birthday, Andrews made her Broadway debut with the role of Polly Browne in the successful London musical The Boy Friend. In 1956, she originated the role of Eliza Doolittle in Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe’s My Fair Lady, starring opposite Rex Harrison. Her performance was universally acclaimed, and the production went on to become one of the biggest hits in Broadway history. The role of Eliza Doolittle brought her first Tony Award nomination.
In 1960, she had another hit playing the role of Queen Guinevere in Camelot, another musical by Lerner and Loewe. In 1993, she starred in the American premiere of Stephen Sondheim’s revue, Putting it Together at the Manhattan Theatre Club.
Andrews reprised her former film role in Victor/Victoria on Broadway in 1995. It stirred up a controversy when she refused the Tony Award nomination for her performance because she felt that the rest of the cast and crew were overlooked.
In 1957, Andrews starred in the American TV musical version of Cinderella, which was written for her. Andrews was nominated for an Emmy Award for this role.
Andrews lost the part of Eliza in the film version of My Fair Lady (1964), but she made her film debut that same year. After being impressed by her performance in Camelot, Walt Disney offered Andrews the title role in Mary Poppins. The film became Disney’s biggest moneymakers, and Andrews won both an Academy Award and a Grammy for her performance. In 1965, she starred as a governess and aspiring nun named Maria von Trapp in The Sound of Music – one of the top-grossing films of all time – earning her another Academy Award nomination. Due to these wholesome and goody-goody roles, she had a hard time shedding that image.
Andrews attempted to change her image by starring in non-musical, dramatic films as The Americanization of Emily (1964) and Alfred Hitchcock’s Torn Curtain (1966). Still, these films were overshadowed by her musical roles, which made her one of the biggest stars of the ‘60s.
Later on, Andrews appeared in two of Hollywood’s most expensive flops, Star! (1968), and Darling Lili (1970). Her second husband, Blake Edwards, directed the latter, and she co-starred with Rock Hudson. She did not have another notable film role until 1979 when she starred in the comedy 10. Starting with that movie, the audience began to see her in a wider range of roles.
Andrews proved herself a versatile actress talented at both comedy and drama. She received an Academy Award nomination and a Golden Globe Award for her performance as a male-female impersonator in Edwards’ Victor/Victoria (1982). She was nominated for a Golden Globe Award after starring in Duet for One (1986).
Her later films included family comedies The Princess Diaries (2001) and its sequel. She also narrated the Disney film Enchanted (2007) and acted as a voice talent in the animated Shrek films (2004, 2007, 2010), Despicable Me (2010), Despicable Me 3 (2017), and Aquaman (2018).
Julie Andrews is an exceptional actress on stage and on screen. For her work in theatre, she was given prestigious nominations for the Tony Awards as Best Actress in a Musical in My Fair Lady (1957), Camelot (1961), and Victor/Victoria (1996), the latter which she declined.
She also won a Theatre World Award for an Outstanding Broadway Debut for The Boy Friend (1955), and a Drama Desk Award for being an Outstanding Actress in a Musical for Victor/Victoria (1996).