Magazine article The Spectator

Salt of the Earth

Magazine article The Spectator

Salt of the Earth

Article excerpt

HOME: A MEMOIR OF MY EARLY YEARS by Julie Andrews Weidenfeld, £18.99, pp. 344, ISBN 9780297643579 £15.19 (plus £2.45p&p) 0870 429 6655

As a young girl in Athens, Maria Callas would watch the films of the extraordinary Hollywood actress Deanna Durbin, and, entranced by that child-star's utterly perfect voice, vowed to become an opera singer. A couple of decades later la diva divina went backstage at a New York theatre to congratulate another former child star with an equally perfect voice on her performance in her major Broadway triumph. The triumph was My Fair Lady, and the star was Julie Andrews.

The creation of this musical, perhaps the finest ever crafted, is covered in three chapters of this book, and as Miss Andrews' memory for the process makes clear, it wasn't all luverly. She is wryly revealing on the near misogyny of her co-star Rex Harrison, who, perhaps unsurprisingly, given his reputation, wasn't above hurling the c-word at her, and she cocks an amused eyebrow at the hissy fits she sustained from her costume designer Cecil Beaton.

But this was in 1956, long before Julie's most famous film performances, especially the one that made the wee Rupert Everett pop into his mother's red peignoir, insisting, thus attired, on living up a tree. And unaccountably, Julie makes only a single fleeting reference to her first, and in many critical opinions, best movie. The Americanization of Emily, a second world war rom-com, pitted her against seasoned Hollywood and English actors, James Garner and Joyce Grenfell among them. I don't really think my view of the film is overcoloured by the fact that about this time, in Manhattan, I had been introduced to Julie by her enchanting first husband Tony Walton; they asked me to its glittering première party high up in the Rainbow Room.

Julia Wells was born in leafy Walton-onThames, where her parents, both descendants of stout Surrey yeoman stock, had, by this point in the mid-1930s, become daintified, and Julia's childhood is a touching extravaganza of an echt suburban life, spent -- bar wartime evacuation to distant Farnham -- in houses called endearingly Kenway, Threesome or Deldene; there were woolly-swimsuited breast-stroke lessons in the Surbiton Lagoon and visits with Dad to the Esher Filling Station. The very names, Auntie Gladdy, Nona-Doris, Madge, Hadge, Dingle and Winnie, bring a lump to the throat, and make Mrs Dale's Diary seem positively regal. There's even a friend called Virginia Waters and an Arcati-like figure, Madame Lilian Stiles-Allen, coaches Andrews' by now burgeoning voice. …

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