“Childhood slips like sand through a sieve … and all too soon they’ve up and grown, and then they’ve flown.”—Mary Poppins.
On August 27, 1964, Disney’s iconic musical fantasy movie Mary Poppins opened in theatres. Based on the beloved series of British children’s books by P. L. Travers, the film starred Julie Andrews as the nanny Mary Poppins, and Dick Van Dyke as Burt, the chimney sweep. Blending animation and live action, the film received 13 Oscar nominations, going on to win 5. The film has inspired a stage musical, and a sequel scheduled to open in December 2018, 54 years after the original. Below are 42 sugary facts about Mary Poppins.
42. Around the Globe
The Mary Poppins books have reached almost as far around the globe as the character herself. Since their publication, the books have been translated into 17 languages, including a Latin translation Maria Poppina ab A ad Z published by the author.
41. Near Refusal
It’s hard to imagine the original Mary Poppins as anyone other than Julie Andrews, but Andrews very nearly refused the role. Having originated the role of Eliza Doolittle in My Fair Lady on Broadway, she had hoped to be offered the role in the movie version, which was filming at the same time as Mary Poppins, but the producers passed her over because they didn’t think she was a big enough star.
Audrey Hepburn in My Fair Lady
40. Comings and Goings
In the Mary Poppins novels, Mary is “blown in by the east wind” and leaves by “popping out.” For the first three books, Mary would arrive and leave again, but in the final five, the author focused entirely on additional adventures from her first three visits. As the author explained in the introduction to Mary Poppins in the Park, “She cannot forever arrive and depart”.
39. An Unusual Staging
In 2017, late night host James Corden added Mary Poppins to his popular “Crosswalk the Musical” sketch. As if Corden playing Mary Poppins wasn’t odd enough, Sir Ben Kingsley joined in the fun playing the role of Burt. Smart move—nobody will run over Ben Kingsley!
38. Thanks for the Snub!
Andrews ended up getting the last laugh after being denied a role in the My Fair Lady movie when she beat out Audrey Hepburn for the Best Actress Golden Globe. She even thanked Jack Warner for not giving her the part in her speech!
37. My Coach Was Irish!
Dick Van Dyke definitely wasn’t winning any awards for his accent in the film. His attempt at a Cockney accent is remembered as one of the worst accents in film history, but according to Van Dyke, his vocal coach, an Irishman, was just as bad. Talk about the blind leading the blind!
36. Jumping the Gun
Walt Disney had the Sherman brothers start writing the songs for the movie before he’d secured the rights to the book. By the time Disney did get full rights, they’d already been working on the music for 2.5 years. Now that’s confidence!
35. Full Circle
Before offering the parts of Mary Poppins and Burt to Julie Andrews and Dick van Dyke, Walt Disney had been adamant about wanting Angela Lansbury and Carey Grant to play the leads. Lansbury did later play a Poppins-esque character in 1971’s Bedknobs and Broomsticks. And in a way, Disney partially got his wish with the new Mary Poppins sequel, as Angela Lansbury will appear in the film as The Balloon Lady—a favorite character from the original books.
34. Happy Birthday!
For his 90th birthday, Dick Van Dyke was treated to the surprise of a lifetime when a flash mob of dancers performed a medley of Mary Poppins numbers for him in Los Angeles. Van Dyke couldn’t be a spectator for long and ended up joining the group for a sing along when the dancing was done.
A good way to get a genuine reaction from child actors is to keep a few secrets up your sleeve until filming. In Mary Poppins, the filmmakers didn’t tell the kids playing Jane and Michael what Julie Andrews would be pulling out of the carpet bag, and the shock on Jane’s face was 100% real.
32. Do that Thing Again
Dick Van Dyke would often entertain the members of the crew with funny routines, and it was one of these routines that convinced Walt Disney to cast him as Dawes Sr. in the film. One of his schticks was an impression of an old man trying to step off a curb without hurting himself, and Disney had the crew build a six-inch riser on the set so they could incorporate it into the movie.
31. I’ll Give You a Dime!
Matthew Garber, who played Michael in the film, was afraid of heights, which definitely doesn’t make being suspended in air something he’d want to do over and over again. To get him on set, the producers offered to pay him a bonus dime every time they had to reshoot the scene.
30. Inventing a Word
As children, the Sherman brothers used to play word games at camp, and they used the games as an inspiration to create the famous word Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious. Say it three times fast—I dare you!
29. Show me the Money!
P.L. Travers’ initial agreement with Walt Disney was for a $100,000 script that she would write herself as well as final approval over the script before signing over full rights. When she visited the studio for story meetings, she demanded that they record the sessions so there would be a record of everything she wanted. Disney was conveniently absent for most of those meetings and left her to the Sherman brothers. I can’t say I blame him.
28. She’s the One!
Composer Richard Sherman first spotted Julie Andrews performing a song from Camelot on The Ed Sullivan Show and encouraged Walt Disney to go to New York and check her out. As soon as Walt Disney saw Julie Andrews perform on Broadway, he wanted her for the role of Mary Poppins.
In 1965, heavyweights such as The Beatles, The Rolling Stones and the king himself Elvis Presley all had popular albums, but the Mary Poppins soundtrack outsold them all, spending 14 weeks in the top spot on the Billboard charts. The soundtrack for The Sound of Music also spent a couple of weeks at #1, so it was a good year for Julie Andrews!
26. Making Nice
When asked about his first meeting with P.L. Travers, Dick Van Dyke joked that he’d “blocked it out,” but Julie Andrews tried to reach out by sending her messages about how filming was going. She doesn’t remember what Travers answered back, but while she may have appreciated the effort, it didn’t make her appreciate the final film.
25. Something Catchy
To further entice Andrews to take the part, Disney told the Sherman brothers to write a song just for her. The first song they wrote was called “The Eyes of Love,” but Andrews hated it. They went back to the drawing board, and inspiration struck when Robert Sherman went home to see his kids and learned they’d received their polio vaccines on a sugar cube. The kids simply swallowed the sugar, and it didn’t hurt at all. It was from this that “A Spoonful of Sugar” was born!
24. She Could Talk to the Animals
In the Mary Poppins books, Mary didn’t only speak to birds—she spoke to creatures of all types. She held conversations with a dog, a snake, and sea creatures. She also talks to and dances with the sun and planets, and in the books, gets a burn on her cheek from being kissed by the sun.
23. Play Me a Melody
One of Walt Disney’s favorite songs ever was “Feed the Birds” from Mary Poppins, and he used to call up Richard Sherman most Fridays requesting that he play him the song. At the dedication ceremony for the Partners Statue of Walt and Mickey Mouse at Disneyland, Sherman performed the song in his honor. Disney would have loved it!
22. Stepping it Up
The “Step in Time” sequence in Mary Poppins was originally slated to last for nine minutes, but when Walt Disney learned that the producers were planning to cut it down to two minutes, he increased the length to 14 minutes. If they’d tried to make it any shorter, it probably would have run an hour.
21. Not So Sweet
The Mary Poppins of the books was not nearly as nice as the Disney version. She’s arrogant, ill-tempered, and believes in discipline and good behavior. Despite her stern exterior, her charges love her, and find her exciting. Who wouldn’t want to talk to animals and step into pictures?
20. Definitely Not!
The sequel to Mary Poppins has been over half a century in the making, but that isn’t for lack of trying. When the film became a hit, the studio started making plans for a sequel, but Travers refused. She did agree to a stage musical version, but only on the condition that only British writers work on the musical, and that nobody from the original production—and especially the Sherman Brothers—be involved.
19. A Horrific Nanny
The nanny seen at the beginning of the movie is portrayed by Elsa Lanchester, who might seem familiar to horror-movie fans. She’s best known for her role as the Bride of Frankenstein, so at least she had experience with monsters!
18. I’ll Wait
When Andrews finally accepted the role of Mary Poppins, she was pregnant with her daughter Emma and was worried that Disney would rescind the offer. Disney wanted her so badly he not only offered to wait for her, but he offered to let her husband Tony Walton design the costumes and gave them a personal tour of Disneyland and the studio to convince them.
17. I Want a Song!
Glynis Johns, the actress who played Mrs. Banks, mistakenly thought that she was being offered the role of Mary. She would only agree to do the film if she had her own song, so at Disney’s request, the Shermans ended up converting the cut song “Practically Perfect” into “Sister Suffragette” to appease her.
16. Get It?
Disney World’s Frontierland contains a subtle reference to Mary Poppins. Inside the lost and found is a wooden leg with the word “Smith” on it. During the tea party scene in the movie, Bert and Uncle Albert told a joke about a man named Smith.
15. Still Useful
Altogether, the Shermans wrote 30 songs for Mary Poppins, but only 10 of them ended up being used. The work wasn’t totally a waste, however. The songs ended up finding homes elsewhere in the Disney universe with melodies being used in Jungle Book, and Bedknobs and Broomsticks.
14. First of Its Kind
Disney was known for their technical innovations and is credited with creating the first audio-animatronic in the whistling mechanical robin. In preparation for the 1964 World’s Fair, Disney formed an entire division of the company which was devoted exclusively to working on the figures. He called it the Manufacturing and Production Organization, or MAPO (short for Mary Poppins) and used the flying nanny silhouette as its logo.
13. Most Rewarded
Mary Poppins was nominated for 13 Academy Awards, of which they won five, including Best Song and Best Actress. This might not seem like a lot, but it was a tremendous achievement for Walt Disney himself. Although at that point he already held the record for most Academy Awards in history, they were all for his short films. Mary Poppins was the first and only feature-length film to garner him a Best Picture nomination.
12.Not What You Think
It may surprise you to learn that the line-up of potential nannies pictured at the beginning of the film are men in drag. Maybe that’s where Mrs. Doubtfire got the idea!
11. Making Magic
Aside from the film’s use of animatronics, which was totally cutting-edge, Disney created movie magic by using several other types of special effects. In the “I Love to Laugh” scene, wires were used to make the characters look like they were floating, but the real magic was in keeping the audience from noticing them. To protect the illusion, they varied the types of shots between long and close-ups, and they spun the room. It worked—I never would have guessed!
10. Real-Life Counterparts
Many of the characters in the Mary Poppins novels had a connection to author P.L. Travers’ life. Jane Banks draws from elements of Travers’ own childhood, and her father strongly resembles the author’s own father, who was also a bank manager. The titular character of Mary Poppins was inspired by Travers’ aunt Ellie who was as no-nonsense as Mary Poppins and would often tell the children “spit spot into bed” when they came to visit.
9. Double Duty
In the “Spoonful of Sugar” sequence, thanks to the wonders of animatronics, Julie Andrews was able to control the robin’s movements. The bird was connected to her finger with a piece of string and a ring, and long wires were hidden under her costume running up her sleeve and onto the bird. She also whistled the part of the robin in the song, but not at the same time.
8. Symbolic Meaning
The kite in the Mary Poppins movie is more than just a simple kite. The broken kite is symbolic of broken Banks family, and the mended kite symbolizes the family being made whole again. The use of Mrs. Banks’ suffragette ribbon as the tail represents her promise to her family to spend more time with them. That’s so deep!
7. A Rare Appearance
Walt Disney did not make a habit of attending all of his film premieres, but he made an exception for Mary Poppins. The movie’s 1964 premiere was the first one he had personally attended since Snow White all the way back in 1937, so this one was definitely special to him!
6. Where’d That Thing Go?
Viewers might remember the beautiful snow globe used in the “Feed the Birds” sequence and one would assume that something like that would be put away somewhere safe, but that’s not quite what happened. When David Smith, a Disney archivist, started hunting for the globe, he didn’t find it in Disney storage. Instead, he found it in a janitor’s closet and was shocked to discover that it nearly got thrown in the garbage. Luckily, the janitor who discovered it thought it was too pretty to toss, and he ended up keeping it. Little did he know what a treasure he’d found.
5. Coming Around
When the composer of an Oscar-winning score to a beloved Disney film is not asked to write the new songs for the stage adaptation, you can imagine he’d be a little hurt, but Richard R. Sherman eventually made peace with the idea when he realized that just as he’d promised Travers that her books would always be sacred, so would the film, no matter who wrote the new songs for the musical. When Sherman heard the new music, his tears were of genuine happiness, so it all worked out ok in the end.
4. Persistance Pays Off
Mary Poppins was Walt Disney’s daughter Diane’s favorite book, and when he promised her that he’d turn it into a movie, he had no idea that it would take two decades to make it happen. Despite Disney’s pleas, author P.L. Travers adamantly refused to give him the rights. When she finally caved in 1961, it was primarily for financial reasons and not a sudden change of heart.
3. Passing the Torch
Fans hoping to see Julie Andrews make an appearance in the Mary Poppins sequel will be disappointed to learn that Andrews has chosen to sit this one out, but not for any negative reasons. When she learned that Emily Blunt would be playing her star-making role, Andrews was reportedly delighted. She also wanted to make sure that Blunt got a chance to make the role her own and didn’t want to get in the way by making a cameo.
2. Let me Down Gently
Julie Andrews’ flying umbrella sequence was created by suspending Andrews in the air in a harness secured with load-bearing wires, but as Andrews told Stephen Colbert in an interview, things didn’t go quite as expected. Towards the end of filming, Andrews felt the wires giving out on her and she dropped 6 inches. The crew promised to bring her down gently, but she ended up plunging down to the ground instead. Luckily she wasn’t hurt, but she did use a few colorful words when she landed.
1. Tears of Rage
The tears of happiness that Travers shed in the film Saving Mr. Banks at the premiere of Mary Poppins were not happy tears at all. Travers hated the movie and never forgave Disney for softening Mary Poppins. Though the film’s success saved her from financial ruin, she truly hated everything—and I mean everything—about it. She thought Julie Andrews was too pretty and sweet, disliked Dick Van Dyke, criticized virtually every word of the script, and still wanted to make changes after the film’s premiere. No wonder Disney was frustrated!
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