- The Washington Times - Saturday, December 1, 2001

The public's appetite for the elegant, beatific persona of Dame Julie Andrews continues 36 years after she declared that the hills were alive with the sound of music.
Most recently, Miss Andrews played a variation on her cherished image in a G-rated Disney film, "The Princess Diaries."
No matter that the versatile performer has bared her breasts on screen, in 1981's "S.O.B.," or that her film resume includes such complex turns as in Alfred Hitchcock's "Torn Curtain" and the Paddy Chayefsky-scripted "The Americanization of Emily." She remains the beloved singer-performer to millions weaned on "The Sound of Music," "Mary Poppins" or her other classic roles on the silver screen and Broadway. That range, and her still-dynamic presence, earned her a place as one of this year's five Kennedy Center Honors recipients.
"I'm thrilled and extremely honored," says Miss Andrews, 66, during a recent phone interview. "It's special because it's not won through any competition."
Like the careers of many previous winners, that of Miss Andrews is far from a completed masterpiece. Her most recent role, that of Queen Clarisse Renaldi in "The Princess Diaries," suited her ageless beauty and penchant for purringly precise diction.
"I adore Garry Marshall's work," she says of the film's director, who she says "goes out of his way to make a set a very special place to be."
The role allowed her to dabble in Giorgio Armani suits and "jewels galore," she says. It also tweaked her velvety persona.
"It was fun to laugh at myself," she says of the Pygmalionesque yarn, which cost less than $35 million, a far from regal sum in today's film market. She confirms that a sequel is under serious discussion, to her delight, although she would not say whether she had signed an agreement to star once more.
During a promotional push for "Diaries" earlier this year, star Anne Hathaway said Miss Andrews inadvertently casts a spell on all those around her.
"When I talk about her, I need to sit up straighter," Miss Hathaway said.
But she added: "In addition to being this beloved actress and incredible philanthropist and writer of children's books and extraordinary person, she's just Jules. She's funny and she kicks it with people on the set."
The movie provided Miss Andrews with an unexpectedly nostalgic moment. She shot much of "Diaries" on the same soundstage used for 1964's "Mary Poppins."
"Disney gave me my first break. The people at Disney are very special they are family," she says. "I met a lot of the people [from the 'Poppins shoot] who are still there."
That voice, even over phone wires, is as elegantly clipped as ever. Miss Andrews' manner is forthright yet charming. She apologizes for her voice's slight scratchiness, attributing it to a busy work schedule.
In 1997, she underwent what doctors said would be a routine operation to remove noncancerous nodules from her throat. The botched procedure robbed her of her four-octave voice. She settled out of court on the case last year for an undisclosed amount.
"I'm still not singing, but I'm still optimistic," she says. Daily vocal exercises, and the ever-present contributions of voice specialists, are working to restore some of the luster to the voice of a performer who once declared, "I'm not an actress. I'm a singer."
Now, she is changing her tune.
"I began as a singer, but my body of work speaks for itself," she says.
Today, Miss Andrews and longtime husband, director Blake Edwards, split their days between homes in Los Angeles; Long Island, N.Y.; and Switzerland. The latter she calls her family's base, a respite from prying eyes where they can gather for holidays.
The duo have five children Miss Andrew's daughter, Emma Walton, from her first marriage to Tony Walton; two children from Mr. Edwards' previous marriage; and two adopted Vietnamese daughters.
In conversation, Miss Andrews is casually prim, straightforward and polite, without a trace of anger or sadness when the inevitable voice questions emerge. Nor does any bitterness surface when she discusses her fixed image on the public's radar.
Playing the polite, feisty governess-type has served her well. She is as happy to keep that character alive as her fans seem to be. "That image it's given so much pleasure to so many people," she says.
Nor does she regret a childhood saturated with performances before live audiences.
"I didn't know anything else," she says. "My mother and stepfather were in vaudeville. I grew up knowing the theater."
Her mother played piano to her stepfather's tenor vocals, and Miss Andrews eventually became part of the act once her glorious voice made its presence felt.
"I had this freaky, very powerful, very big-sized voice," she says of her younger self. "I was the Charlotte Church of my day. I'm very grateful for it. It helped give me an identity."
She made her Broadway debut in 1954's "The Boy Friend," following up that role with "My Fair Lady's" first Eliza Doolittle. Miss Andrews made such an impression on the songwriting team of Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe that they penned "Camelot" for her.
Hollywood passed on letting Miss Andrews star in the film version of "Lady," giving the plum role to Audrey Hepburn. Miss Andrews earned the last laugh when Walt Disney caught her work in "Camelot" and chose her for the Poppins role, which won her a best-actress Oscar.
In the late 1970s and the 1980s, Miss Andrews teamed with her husband for a string of films, from "10" to "That's Life" and later, "Victor/Victoria," which led to her most recent Oscar nomination and her last vocal performance as part of the Broadway show of the same name.
Miss Andrews is not content to traffic in a select genre.
In 1971, she penned her first children's book, "The Last of the Really Great Whangdoodles," after losing a playful bet with one of her stepdaughters.
"I thought I'd write a couple of pages," she says. "Then, I began to enjoy it so much."
"Dumpy Saves Christmas" is her latest book project, a collaboration with her daughter Emma for grandson Sam, who is besotted by trucks of any variety.
She brings the same enthusiasm for her varied projects to her longest-running gig, her enduring second marriage. She celebrated 33 years with Mr. Edwards on Nov. 12.
With a second marriage comes more caution, more wisdom at the prospect of longevity, she says. Her approach to marriage changed the second time around.
"Let's not have a grand and joyous plan, let's just take it one day at a time," she says of her philosophy, one she renewed with her husband last month on their anniversary. "It gets you rooted into the day."
The duo may work together again, although no project awaits them both. "He comes up with 10 ideas a day," she says.
Miss Andrews will not have to wait for one of her husband's projects to keep her engaged, though.
She recently turned to producing, with a movie of the week coming next year for CBS; more books on the way; and the recent release of the "Classic Julie, Classic Broadway" album, which packages her material for a new generation.
"I so enjoy the business in every way," she says. If she can find the time, she is gearing up to produce an autobiography.
"I'm in the throes of [gathering] a whole mass of material," she says of the book, which will focus on her early years in England's vaudeville circuit. "It's a piece of history that people don't know about."
Miss Andrews laughs off talk of any regrets over her career, labeling occasional box-office duds such as 1986's "Duet for One," "learning experiences."
"Any career is like a graph; it goes up and it goes down. That's a good thing," she says.

LOAD COMMENTS ()

 

Click to Read More

Click to Hide