The actress was in hospital following the birth of her daughter when she received a gruff phone call from Pamela Travers
“She said: ‘Well talk to me’ .And I said: ‘I’m sorry I’ve just had a baby yesterday, I’m feeling a bit out of it’,” Dame Julie told an event at London’s Southbank Centre where she was promoting her new memoir. ”She said: ‘I understand you’re going to play Mary Poppins? You’re far too pretty of course, but you’ve got the nose for it’.”
In conversation with actor Alex Jennings – who was recently directed by Dame Julie as Professor Higgins in My Fair Lady - she gave an insight into her path from musicals and vaudeville shows to the silver screen.
Growing up in Walton-on-Thames where her mother was a singer and pianist and her stepfather was a tenor, it was he who gave her singing lessons to keep her occupied when her school was closed during the war.
“I hated the lessons but they discovered that I had this really freaky, child prodigy voice and hit high notes and dogs would howl for miles around,” she said.
Despite her talent, Dame Julie said at first she had not enjoyed learning to sing.
“The realisation that I could give the audience something didn’t come until much later,” she said.
She revealed it was the actor and comedienne Hattie Jaques who helped launch her career in the US by advising the producers of Broadway musical The Boyfriend to go and see her in pantomime.
She was subsequently offered a two-year contract in New York, which paved her way to Hollywood.
Walt Disney himself asked her to play Mary Poppins, but although she won an Oscar for her performance, Dame Julie revealed that she kept it hidden in her attic for many years, during an appearance on The Graham Norton Show on Friday night.
She said: “I thought the Oscar had been given to me as a kind of welcome to Hollywood. I had never made a movie before! It was the first movie I ever made and so I thought, ‘I don’t really feel worthy of this.’ So I stuck it up in my attic for a while. But it’s now beautifully displayed in my office.”
Dame Julie’s second memoir Home Work: A memoir of my Hollywood years is co-written with her daughter Emma Walton Hamilton.
It covers her time working with the likes of Paul Newman, Gene Kelly, Rock Hudson and Burt Reynolds.
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