Home Work by Julie Andrews

with Emma Walton Hamilton

Review by Annabel, 29 October 2019

Julie Andrews’s first volume of memoir, Home, told us of her childhood, growing up during the war, and her early career on stage in Vaudeville as a child star. This led to her starring in shows in London’s West End and then huge success on Broadway. She had an unconventional childhood: her parents split when she was four when her pianist mother met a Canadian tenor Ted Andrews. They began performing together, and Julie moved to be with them, leaving her brother Johnny with her father. When she was given singing lessons, it was clear she had an exceptional voice, and she joined them on stage and her future was set.

Home took us up to the moment Hollywood beckoned with Julie winning the part of Mary Poppins – and we have had to wait eleven years for the follow-up – but finally it is here! The first film I saw in the cinema, aged four, was Mary Poppins, the second was The Sound of Music. Home Work begins with these two iconic movies – how better to hook the reader.

Julie was lucky that her husband, set designer Tony Walton, was also engaged by Walt Disney to work on Mary Poppins, but after that, their careers began to diverge, with Tony mostly working on Broadway and the couple getting little time together, or with their young daughter Emma, who has co-written this memoir with her mother. Julie and Tony’s marriage didn’t last, and Julie started analysis to help get through this tricky time – something she has embraced over the years.

It was in 1966 that she first met Blake Edwards who would become her second husband in 1969. Blake was an American filmmaker, a talented writer, producer and director who had already made waves with the first Pink Panther movies in the early 1960s. Although his many films and scripts included many serious subjects, he is perhaps remembered most for those super comedies: the early Pink Panther films, and then the terrible problems he faced with his star Peter Sellars in the later ones. Andrews remained married to Blake until he died in 2010.

Blake obviously played a huge part in Julie’s life, both professionally – as they worked together many times — and at home. She fell head over heels for him:

I’d never met anyone quite like him. … He was devastatingly funny; wicked, even. Blake took delight in tilting at authority, but was generous, humanitarian and always championed the underdog. He loved taking creative risks, pushing buttons and boundaries. There was something dangerous about him, which was irresistible to my play-it-safe nature. Why he chose to woo me was a total puzzlement – we couldn’t have been more different. I likened us to a lion and a squirrel.

Blake had two children from his first marriage who were a few years older than Emma, so Julie had to learn how to be a stepmother. They later also adopted two Vietnamese orphan babies. Blake had his own demons too, a tendency to depression, hypochondria and back pain for which he self-medicated, and Andrews doesn’t hesitate to tell us about all his ups and downs.

It’s fair to say that they found life on the move constantly very stressful. They had bought a chalet in Gstaad, and Julie thought that Swiss residency might be a good idea while the children were still in primary schools, but the consequence of only being allowed to work in the USA for a limited number of days didn’t lead to the simpler life she’d hoped for. Eventually Emma would ask to live with her father in New York.

Some of you may recall Edwards’s film S.O.B., a satire of Hollywood and the film industry in which Andrews plays a squeaky-clean actress who is persuaded to bare her boobs in a film. The British press were absolutely obsessed with this for a few days. Andrews makes it a throwaway line in the book!

Towards the end of filming for Victor/Victoria, I began doing publicity interviews for S.O.B.  I discovered that the only thing anyone seemed interested in talking about was how I felt revealing my bare chest on screen. I did my best to turn the focus back to the film itself.

Andrews tells her story with great empathy and candour, expanding on the lives of her extended family, including visits to and from her relatives back home, especially her mother and father, as well as arranging things at a distance for them. Andrews stops the story this time as she and Blake plan a return to Broadway to stage Victor/Victoria in the mid 1990s – during which run Andrews would lose her singing voice.

As in the first volume, the balance of home and work is focused more towards home life than work life – although she does have some fascinating stories to tell about the latter. While I wouldn’t be disappointed if Dame Julie doesn’t write a third volume of memoir, having grown up with her, I do hope she does. Home Work is entertaining and tugs at the heartstrings frequently too, accompanied by some super photos with many family and behind the scenes shots. Naturally, as a fan, I found it ‘supercallifragilisticexpialidocius’!

Annabel is one of the Shiny Editors, and also blogs at AnnaBookBel.

Julie Andrews, Home Work (W&N, 2019). 978-1474602167 340pp. plus photograph inserts, hardback.

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4 thoughts on “Home Work by Julie Andrews

  1. A few of the reviews I’ve read said she was too nice so the book lacked some drama. Was that your feeling too?

    • Maybe, but you could see her feet paddling underneath trying to keep everything together on the surface. I’m a bit biased perhaps.

      The first volume, Home, about her childhood and early career in vaudeville and the West End was even better – I’d really recommend that.

  2. Pingback: Non-Fiction November: Be the Expert: Recent Biographies/Memoirs/Reportage – Annabookbel

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