It Was 35 Years Ago Today `Mary Poppins' floats in

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The Independent Culture
On 25 September 1964, the US public got the first sight of an umbrella-borne Julie Andrews as she flew through the air to 17 Cherry Tree Lane to rescue two children from harridan nannies and take them on a series of magical, musical adventures. Disney's Mary Poppins, adapted from a 1934 book by P L Travers, was ecstatically received, even though "passionate devotees" of the book might have found "Walt Disney's musical version - the very idea of it - an act of cultural vandalism". But "even when sentiment borders on the saccharine and Walt Disney's little pieties become more than a little sticky, it's a pleasure" (Newsweek). The New York Times urged viewers to be thankful for "the intrusion of Mr Disney and his myrmidons": "Praise heaven that there are such as they still making films". Variety thought that, though over-long, it was "a top-flight accomplishment".

Andrews charmed the critics - "all speeches and cream, with a voice like polished crystal" (Time) - and the film also starred Karen Dotrice and Matthew Garber as the cute kids, Glynis Johns as their liberal mother, and David Tomlinson as their workaholic father. It was enlivened by Dick Van Dyke as Mary's chimney-sweeping friend, Bert. Van Dyke, a talented dancer, was a risible mimic. ("My accent was terrible. I cringed when I heard it," he recently told Radio Times.)

"Mary Poppins was such a forerunner, mixing animation and real-life people, and a musical to boot," says Karen Dotrice, who was eight when she played Jane Banks. "Even then I could tell it was magical. How many kids get to have tea parties floating in the air, or fly attached to wires? You'd have to be pretty dumb not to realise it was something special."

Many British critics thought the animation/live action mix was patchy, and Dotrice recalls the difficulties of "acting in front at nothing": "When Mary and Bert have tea with the penguins and sing `Supercalifragilistic', there were cut-outs of animals with stupid-looking grown-ups jiggling them about to keep us interested. I think that's why we looked so horrified. We were watching grown-ups acting like twits." The airborne scene took 10 days to film, and after each session, Dotrice and Garber were rewarded with a toffee-apple. For that scene and the one in which they slide up the banister, they had "plaster-casts made of our bums, to which the wires were attached. I thought it was fantastic, going to have your bum imprinted. It's not quite Mann's Chinese Theatre, but it's close."

Dotrice, now bringing up a family in Hollywood, is not surprised by the film's classic status: "Walt Disney was a genius. He just knew how to appeal to kids. And for me it's wonderful to have been part of eternity."