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Mary Poppins: Facts, Trivia About 1964's Biggest Movie

Entertainment | August 27, 2020

With a chart-topping soundtrack, Disney animation and the screen debut of Julie Andrews, the Oscar-winning Mary Poppins was one of the films that packed movie theaters in the mid-'60s. Songs like "A Spoonful of Sugar," "Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious," "Chim Chim Cher-ee," and "Let's Go Fly a Kite" had kids singing at the top of their lungs, and never have so many clean American children wanted to be grubby London chimney sweeps. What was so special about this remarkably successful Disney movie? Its story and the trivia behind its development and production is a story worthy of its own movie -- which did in fact come to pass with the 2013 feature film Saving Mr. Banks.

Transforming A Book

Source: (IMDb)

Mary Poppins was based on P.L. Travers book of the same name. The book was Walt Disney’s daughter Diane’s favorite book. He told her in the 1940s that he was going to turn it into a movie. It then took 20 years for him to convince Travers to sell him the rights. Apparently she regretted her decision as she refused to work with Disney again, and was quite vocal about her hatred of the things that Disney had changed in the adaptation. One of those changes was the addition of Dick Van Dyke’s character, Bert. Disney did partially comply with one of her requests; she did not want the film to be animated. Of course, the film was a combination of live action and animation.

It Starts And Ends With A Kite

Bert with kites, which are part of the opening and closing images. Source: (IMDb)

Mary Poppins begins with the Mr. Banks discovery that his children, Jane and Michael, have run away. When they return, they tell him that they ran away because of a broken kite, which they ask him to fix. The kite becomes symbolic of the Banks family, in that they are broken, as the kite is. By the end of the film, when Mr. Banks has decided to be supportive of his family, the kite has been repaired. 

The incident of the broken kite spurs Mr. Banks to advertise for a new nanny. The advertisement draws a crowd of applicants. For that scene, several of the “women” were actually played by men. When Mary Poppins blows in, the crowd disperses. Mary Poppins, of course, was played by Julie Andrews, in her first live-action film.    

Finding Mary Poppins

Julie Andrews. Source: (IMDb).

Julie Andrews was not the only choice for the role, and when she was offered the part, she was pregnant. Walt Disney offered her the role after seeing her on Broadway as Guinevere in Camelot. Walt Disney offered to wait to start filming until after she had her baby and he offered her then-husband Tony Walton the role of designing some sets and costumes for the film. She was hesitant to take the role because she was hoping to be cast in My Fair Lady as Eliza Doolittle. However, Jack Warner decided to cast Audrey Hepburn in the role instead. When the Oscars rolled around, both Andrews and Hepburn were nominated for Best Actress, but Andrews won.  

Source: (Julie Andrews)

Winning Awards

Julie Andrews won her first Oscar for Best Actress in a Leading Role in 1965. She was cast in The Sound of Music based on what Robert Wise and Ernest Lehman observed when they visited the set of the film to view to view rushes. The film was also the only Disney film directed to be nominated for the Best Picture Oscar while Walt Disney was alive. It was the most successful Oscar night for Disney to that point and they have not had as much Oscar night success since.

The Actors Had Multiple Roles

Julie Andrews with her parrot head umbrella. Source: (IMDb)

Julie Andrews not only played the part of Mary Poppins, but also provided the bird whistle for the animatronic bird in the song “A Spoonful of Sugar.” David Tomlinson, who played Mr. Banks, also provided the voice for several animated characters, including Mary Poppins’ umbrella parrot.

Dick Van Dyke Was Multiple Characters As Well

Dick Van Dyke with the penguins. Source: (IMDb).

Dick Van Dyke was entertaining the crew with comic routines on the test film in between takes, and one of those routines was of an old man stepping off a curb without trying to hurt himself. When Walt Disney saw this, he decided to cast Van Dyke as Mr. Dawes Sr. and asked the crew to build a riser so that Van Dyke could incorporate the routine. In Mary Poppins Returns, Van Dyke had an appearance as Mr. Dawes Jr., the son of Van Dyke’s secondary character.

The Cost Was Worth It

From "Step in Time" scene. Source: (The Dissolve).

The film was Disney’s most expensive movie to date, but it also became one of the highest grossing films of the 1960s, eventually bringing in over 102 million dollars. It was won the most Oscars of any Disney film, bringing in five of the thirteen Oscars it was nominated for.  

A Successful Soundtrack

Julie Andrews with the animatronic bird. Source: (IMDb)

The Sherman brothers wrote more than 30 songs for the film, but about 20 of them did not make the cut. One of the songs that didn’t make it into the film, “The Eyes of Love,” was written specifically for Julie Andrews, but she did not like the song, so it was replaced by “Spoonful of Sugar,” a song inspired by an incident in Robert Sherman’s life. As he was trying to rewrite the original song, he went home, and one of his children told him a story about taking the polio vaccine that day. It didn’t hurt at all, as they put the vaccine on a sugar cube, making it easier to take. 

 Of course, the song “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious” made a new word popular. The first time it was seen in print was in 1931 in a newspaper column and a variant was used in a song in 1949. The Sherman brothers won an Oscar for their soundtrack. The soundtrack topped the charts for 14 non-consecutive weeks in 1965.

Disney Has Animatronics Because Of Mary Poppins

Source: (clickamericana.com)

The show incorporated animatronic elements as well as cartoons into the film. They did get quite creative with the set design. For example the cherry trees on Cherry Tree Lane were real but the blooms were actually paper blooms attached to twigs and mounted on the trees. After the success of the film, which used a combination of live action and animatronics, Disney had the finances to create a division called MAPO, Manufacturing and Production Division, which is just for animatronics. The name is also a play on MAry POppins. Because of the creation of this division, many other Disney projects were made possible.

Tags: Dick Van Dyke | Disney | Julie Andrews | Mary Poppins | Movies In The 1960s | Walt Disney

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Cyn Felthousen-Post

Writer

Cyn loves history, music, Irish dancing, college football and nature. Social media is also her thing, keeping up with trends and celebrities with positive news. She can be found outside walking or hiking with her son when she's not working. Carpe diem is her fave quote, get out there and seize the day!