Julie Andrews was born Julia Elizabeth Wells in Walton-on-Thames, Surrey,
England, the daughter of an actor and a pianist. She had a rare, five-octave
coloratura soprano talent (ranging from C3 to C7), and her parents enrolled her
in voice lessons to develop her abilities. Her earliest public performances were
during World War II, entertaining troops throughout the United Kingdom with
fellow child star Petula Clark. Andrews made her stage debut at an early age,
appearing in London's West End in 1947. She graduated through radio (on the show
Educating Archie), appeared in the London West End (Cinderella), and made her
American debut starring in the Broadway production of The Boy Friend in 1954.
(Late in her career, she returned to The Boy Friend, directing productions at
the Bay Street Theatre in Sag Harbor, New York, in 2003, and at Goodspeed Opera
House in Connecticut in 2005.)
In 1956, composers Frederick Loewe and Alan Jay Lerner cast Andrews as Eliza Doolittle opposite Rex Harrison's Henry Higgins in My Fair Lady (a musical adaptation of George Bernard Shaw's Pygmalion). The show became the smash hit of the year, and Andrews became an overnight sensation. During her run in Lady, she also starred in two television musicals: High Tor with Bing Crosby and Rogers and Hammerstein's Cinderella.
In 1961, Lerner & Loewe again cast her in a period musical, as Guenevere in Camelot, opposite Richard Burton and newcomer Robert Goulet. After a slow start, cast appearances on Ed Sullivan's television show ensured that the show would ultimately become a hit.
When she lost the starring role in the film of My Fair Lady to Audrey Hepburn, she received the "consolation" of starring in Walt Disney's Mary Poppins, winning the Golden Globe Award for Best Actress as a result. (Rave Broadway reviews aside, Jack Warner declined to hire Andrews for My Fair Lady because "Audrey Hepburn had never made a financial flop.") After beating Hepburn for the Golden Globe, Andrews got a measure of (as Poppins songwriter Richard M. Sherman put it) "sweet revenge": In closing her acceptance speech, Andrews—nervous and hoping the joke would play well—smiled and said, "and, finally, my thanks to a man who made a wonderful movie, and who made all this possible in the first place, Mr. Jack Warner." Her performance also won Andrews the Academy Award for Best Actress for 1965. At the Grammy Awards, she and her co-stars won the Grammy Award for Best Album for Children for Mary Poppins. She was nominated for an Academy Award again, the following year, for her role as Maria von Trapp in The Sound of Music, briefly becoming one of the most sought-after stars in Hollywood. As a result, she appeared in the three-hour epic Hawaii, co-starring with Max von Sydow, and Alfred Hitchcock's Torn Curtain with Paul Newman (both in 1966), and Thoroughly Modern Millie (1967), with Mary Tyler Moore and Carol Channing.
Star!, a 1968 biography of Gertrude Lawrence, and Darling Lili, with Rock Hudson (1970), are often cited by critics as major contributors to the decline of the movie musical. Both were damaging to Andrews' subsequent career and, despite several starring roles in musical and non-musical films—including some directed by her second husband, Blake Edwards, such as 10, Victor/Victoria, and S.O.B., in which she appeared topless—she was seen very rarely on screen during the 1980s and 1990s.
Julie Andrews starred in her own variety series (for one season, on the ABC network in 1972 - 1973, winning 7 Emmy Awards), but the greatest critical acclaim accorded her TV work was for her variety show specials with her close friend, Carol Burnett.
In 1983, Julie Andrews was chosen as the Hasty Pudding Woman of the Year by the Harvard University theatrical society.
Director Garry Marshall cast her in The Princess Diaries, opposite Anne Hathaway, and its sequel; playing the role of the Queen of an imaginary country, both of which proved to be major box office hits. She has also starred in two made-for-television movies based on the character of Eloise (playing her Nanny), the moppet who lives at the Plaza Hotel in New York City. In 2004, she lent her voice in the role as Queen Lillian to the highly successful animated hit Shrek 2, the sequel to the 2001 smash.
In the 2000 New Year's Honours, Julie Andrews was made a Dame Commander of the British Empire (DBE).
Julie Andrews has been struggling to recover her five-octave singing voice following surgery to remove vocal fold nodules from her throat, but had a short tour of the USA at the end of 2002 with Christopher Plummer, Charlotte Church, Max Howard, and the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra. In 2005 she agreed to direct a Toronto revival of The Boy Friend, the Broadway musical in which she made her debut in America.
Dame Julie's career is said to have suffered from typecasting, as her two most famous roles (in Mary Poppins and The Sound of Music) cemented her image as a "sugary sweet" personality best known for working with children. Her roles in Blake Edwards' films could be seen as an attempt to break away from this image: In 10, her character is a no-nonsense career woman; in Victor/Victoria, she plays a woman pretending to be a man (who is working as a female impersonator); and, perhaps most notoriously, in S.O.B., she plays a character very similar to herself, who agrees (with some pharmaceutical persuasion) to "show my boobies" in a scene in the film-within-a-film. For this last performance, late night television host Johnny Carson thanked Andrews for "showing us that the hills were still alive", alluding to her most famous line from the title song of The Sound of Music.
Julie Andrews received Kennedy Center Honors in 2001. She also appears in the 2002 List of "100 Greatest Britons" sponsored by the BBC and chosen by the public. For her contribution to the motion picture industry, Julie Andrews has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 6901 Hollywood Blvd.
In a recent (2006) interview, Julie Andrews said: "To be honest with you, I've never been busier in my life," Andrews said. "I'm not quite sure what I was supposed to learn from all of that. It did bother me. I can't say that I wasn't devastated. Singing, with an orchestra, being able to sing, was what I'd known my entire life. Whatever happened, I think I found so much to keep me feeling that I'm contributing still."
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