WE KNOW HER BEST having "confidence in sunshine," longing to "have danced all night" or advocating a "spoonful of sugar" to help the medicine go down. But less known about Dame Julie Elizabeth Andrews is the hard childhood she endured, which instilled in her a tough off-screen character in stark contrast with her very celebrated, very wholesome roles. Within the industry, she's been dubbed "nun with a switchblade" for possessing traits some considered shrewd, even repulsive. My Fair Lady co-star Rex Harrison threatened to quit the production if Andrews were to stay. The Sound of Music co-legend Christopher Plummer remarked that working with her was "like getting hit over the head with a Valentine card."
On her appearance, Cecil Beaton called her "the most hopelessly unphotogenic person" he had ever met. The photos above proves otherwise, being not only beautiful, but feeling symbolic of Andrews's ability to triumph over inadequacies; superficial and otherwise. A child from an impoverished, broken home becomes Rodgers and Hammerstein’s first Cinderella. A stage actress rejected from playing the film version of her role goes on to win an Oscar, Golden Globe and BAFTA award for a role in a contending film. Late in the 60s, Julie Andrews starred in a couple of commercially disappointing films, and in the late 90s, lost her four-octave soprano in a tragic attempt to remove nodules from her throat.
But Andrews surpassed all that. The new millennium established the film and theater veteran as Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire for services to the performing arts. Perhaps "Dame" pales in comparison to Queen Guinevere but it's no doubt a big leap from Cockney flower girl. And unlike the latter two, Andrews's damehood is a real-life role to play.
"Perhaps I had a wicked childhood. Perhaps I had a miserable youth." Maria sings a most beautiful song in what may be the most awkward scene in The Sound of Music. "But somewhere in my wicked, miserable past, there must have been a moment of truth. For here you are, standing there, loving me. Whether or not you should."
Yes, Dame Julie. For filling our childhood with melodious magic and wholesome song, we love you. Whether or not we should.
Julie Andrews by Cecil Beaton, www.listal.com and by Philippe Halsman, www.magnumphotos.com