The Stunning Transformation Of Julie Andrews

With her angelic voice, her mesmerizing on-screen presence, and her unwavering air of warm elegance, Dame Julie Andrews is nothing short of an icon. After her performing career began as a child in London thanks to her, as she once put it to Vanity Fair, "freaky adult" voice, she shot to fame on the West End and Broadway. After enchanting audiences as Guinevere in "Camelot," Cinderella in the Rogers and Hammerstein version of the musical, and Eliza Doolittle in "My Fair Lady," Andrews began her film career in 1964 with an Oscar-winning turn in Disney's "Mary Poppins." It was the first of many roles for the actor that would go down in cinematic history. 

Her film career continued with roles in "The Sound of Music," "Thoroughly Modern Millie," and "Victor/ Victoria." In more recent years, she's won the hearts of new generations in "The Princess Diaries" as Mia's strict but kind-hearted grandmother, Queen Clarisse Renaldi of Genovia. Even more recently, you've probably heard her more than you've seen her, as Andrews has taken on a string of voice-acting roles.

"I think the things that happened were mostly beyond my wildest dreams," Andrews told Backstage in 2019, reflecting on her career. "Who could have imagined that life would have taken such marvelous twists and turns or that I would often be so fortunate to be in the right place at the right time? Performing is always a learning process, even today." Let's take a closer look at her journey so far.

Julie Andrews grew up in Surrey without much money

Julie Andrews' start was a humble one. Born in 1935 in Walton-on-Thames, England, she was initially raised by her mother, Barbara Morris, and her father, Ted Wells. She later moved in with her mother's second husband, Ted Andrews, and took his last name. As Andrews recalled to The Guardian, her home was in a "slum" area of London.

Home life was unstable. Andrews' mother was a pianist and her stepfather was a vaudeville performer and an alcoholic. "My mother was terribly important to me, and I know how much I yearned for her in my youth. But I don't think I entirely trusted her," Andrews wrote in her memoir, "Home" (via The Guardian). 

To make matters more complicated, the Second World War began in 1939 — schools were shut down, families had to live off of rations, and London became dangerous. "There was a lot of evacuation going on at that time," she said in an interview for the American Academy of Achievement. "All the children were being evacuated into the country. I was, too, for a while."

Julie Andrews began singing during World War II

From a very young age, Julie Andrews was surrounded by her parents' vaudeville act. After her school closed due to the war, Andrews' parents decided to put her in singing lessons — and they soon discovered she had a rare four-octave vocal range. "It wasn't long before I became part of their act," she told Vanity Fair. "At the age of about 10 I began climbing on a box to sing beside them on stage."

Andrews began to receive recognition for her remarkable voice after she appeared in a variety show at the London Hippodrome at the age of 12. "That night was very successful for me," she said. In another interview with the American Academy of Achievement, she recalled that she received a standing ovation and that members of the press actually followed her home after her performance. "You know, the kind of thing when you're a young fluke in a way, and that was the beginning of a very busy few years right through my teens of touring and radio and early, early television and so on," she shared.

Julie Andrews arrived on Broadway in 1954 with The Boy Friend

Julie Andrews spent the rest of her teen years performing in London and all over the U.K. "I was in a London production of 'Cinderella,'" she told Vanity Fair, when American producers came to London to cast the American version of the musical "The Boy Friend." One of Andrews' friends suggested they see her in "Cinderella." The next thing she knew, she had been invited to move to New York to star in "The Boy Friend" on Broadway. It was, as she put it, a moment of "serendipity."

She was just 18 when she made her Broadway debut. "I had toured around England endlessly throughout my teens, but when I came to the U.S. to perform on Broadway, that was a huge step," she explained to Backstage — and she had to learn fast. As she told Vanity Fair, "As I arrived, I turned 19 and it really was the biggest learning curve you could imagine."

Years later, when Andrews took a stab at directing at her daughter's theater in Long Island — what play did she choose? "The Boy Friend." Talk about a full-circle moment.

Julie Andrews originated the role of Eliza Doolittle – but wasn't cast in the film

"The Boy Friend" led to a whole new chapter in Julie Andrews' career. After just one year in the show, she was invited to originate the role of Eliza Doolittle in "My Fair Lady" on Broadway. "Then the really, really hard work began," she recalled to Vanity Fair. "All of it was hard work, but I was learning on my feet, so to speak. It was a very good time on Broadway, full of wonderful shows. A wonderful era. ... I was in 'My Fair Lady' for almost three and a half years, and that's an endurance test. Two on Broadway and one and a half in London."

However, in 1964, when the musical was made into a film, Andrews was snubbed and the leading role was given to Audrey Hepburn. As Andrews later said on "The Dick Cavett Show," the producers had been worried about casting Andrews as she had no experience with films at the time. "I had never made a movie," she said. "I was not a star, I was not box office." She added that while she had been sad to lose the role, she did get some form of compensation with another major film role — Mary Poppins.

Julie Andrews married her first husband, a childhood friend, in 1959, and had her daughter in 1962

Julie Andrews met her first husband, Tony Walton when she was 11 years old. After Walton saw Andrews perform, he wrote to her, and they began exchanging letters. In her memoir, "Home," Andrews recalled being 22 and having dinner at his family home. "We looked at each other and smiled, and I honestly don't know how it came about, but one of us whispered to the other, 'We should get married soon'" (via People). The pair tied the knot in 1959. A few years later, in 1962, Andrews had her first and only child with Walton, Emma. 

For a while, the family seemed to do everything together. Walton, who had become a set and costume designer, was even a design consultant on "Mary Poppins." However, by 1968, Andrews and Walton had decided to part ways. Andrews went to therapy to help get through the split, and she and her daughter formed an even stronger bond. "Emma's dad, my first husband, and I separated, and that helped us," she told The Guardian. "I knew it was really important for me to make Emma's childhood as normal as possible, even though it was incredibly abnormal in many ways."

Walton and Andrews remained close after their divorce. After he died in 2022, she told People, "Tony was my dearest and oldest friend. He taught me to see the world with fresh eyes and his talent was simply monumental."

Julie Andrews shot to Hollywood fame with her Oscar-winning role in Mary Poppins

Everything changed for Julie Andrews in 1964 when she landed the role of Mary Poppins in the Disney movie musical. To make the film, Andrews, her husband, and her newborn baby traveled back to London. "We were green as grass, had no knowledge of the film industry, and could not possibly envision what lay ahead — but we were industrious, open-minded, and we had each other," she wrote in her memoir. The filming process was filled with surprises and challenges. "In retrospect, I could not have asked for a better introduction to film, in that it taught me so much in such a short period of time ... I had as yet no idea how to assess my performance, or how the film might be received," she wrote (via Vanity Fair). Despite the pressure, the actor enjoyed the filming process.

It was her first big screen role, but she proved herself to be more than capable. When the film was released, it was a huge success. In 1965, she even took home the Oscar for best actress for the role.

The Sound of Music became a life-changing project for Julie Andrews

Shortly after making "Mary Poppins," Julie Andrews leaped into her next film project, "The Sound of Music," alongside legendary actor Christopher Plummer, who became a lifelong friend. While "Mary Poppins" proved to be huge for the young star, "The Sound of Music" was even bigger. Initially, she worried about accepting the role of Maria von Trapp, the kind-hearted Austrian nanny. "It would be my second nanny role, almost on the heels of the first," she wrote in her memoir "Home Work" (via Forbes). However, she took the role — and thank goodness she did. Not only did it earn the actor her second Oscar nomination, but the film went on to become a beloved classic that is still revered to this day.

"It was hugely successful, though at first not that critically successful, but it grew and grew and grew," Andrews said in a 50th Anniversary interview. As for her cast mates, the actor is still very close with them. As she told Today in 2022, "We do keep in touch, but not on a really regular basis ... we just bonded so hard that I think we're family anyway."

Julie Andrews married Blake Edwards in 1969

Julie Andrews married for a second time in 1969, this time, to director Blake Edwards, best known for "Breakfast at Tiffany's." The pair were together for a remarkable 41 years until Edwards' death in 2010. Andrews later told "Good Morning Britain," "Success in our marriage was to take it one day at a time and so, lo and behold, 41 years later there we still were" (via Daily Mail). The pair adopted two daughters from Vietnam, Amy and Joanna, in 1974 and 1975. In the late '70s, they both took a hiatus from their jobs to live quietly in Switzerland. As Edwards once said, it "restored" them (via Country Living).

Edwards and Andrews didn't only have a long, successful marriage — they also worked together on seven projects that gave Andrews a chance to explore new types of characters. As she told Backstage, he "saw other aspects to my character that could be brought out." She added, "Working with him, I always felt very, very protected, that I would be safe in whatever I did."

Throughout the '80s, Julie Andrews starred in a few critically acclaimed films and stage shows including Victor/Victoria

Although Julie Andrews' most iconic roles came in the '60s, she returned to Hollywood after a brief break with several hits in the '80s. The biggest of these was "Victor/Victoria," a film version of a stage musical she had starred in on Broadway. The musical followed a woman who dressed as a man to find work as a male soprano.

As Andrews told Vanity Fair, her husband, Blake Edwards, had written the musical with her in mind after seeing a German film with the same premise. "It was fascinating to play that role," she said. "It stood me on my head, was I a woman becoming a man or was I a woman playing a man, but thinking like a woman, or was I trying to be a man only but then got stuck with thinking like a woman? It was crazy ... it was great fun to do." Andrews was nominated for her third Oscar for the film.

In 1997, Julie Andrews lost her famous voice

In 1997, tragedy struck for Julie Andrews. After a routine throat surgery, Andrews woke up to find that her vocal cords had been severely damaged: She could no longer sing. In an interview with Barbara Walters a year and a half later, she shared, "I've just been unable to sing." Andrews explained that, at first, she was in denial about her voice. "To not sing with an orchestra, to not be able to communicate through my voice, which I've done all my life, and not to be able to phrase lyrics and give people that kind of joy, I think I would be totally devastated," she said.

Sadly, her voice never returned to its former state. In 2000, she settled a malpractice lawsuit against the two doctors who performed the operation. In 2004, Andrews once again sang on screen, despite her now limited vocal range, performing the song "Crowning Glory" in "The Princess Diaries 2." "She nailed the song on the first take. I looked around and I saw grips with tears in their eyes," the film's music supervisor, Dawn Soler, told The Associated Press (via CBS News). Still, in an interview with The Guardian in 2019, the actor said that losing her voice was her biggest disappointment.

Julie Andrews could not have been more grateful to star in The Princess Diaries

Julie Andrews' next big role came in 2001 when she played Queen Clarisse Renaldi of Genovia, the grandmother of Anne Hathaway's Mia Thermopolis, in "The Princess Diaries." She also starred in the movie's 2004 sequel. 

For Andrews, the role was unexpected, but a delight nonetheless. "I just think I'm very lucky to be allowed to do all of it," she said in an interview with "To get away with it." In a way, she felt she had come full circle. "['The Princess Diaries' is] a Cinderella story again. 'My Fair Lady' was a Cinderella story ... and this time I get to play Professor Higgins!" Andrews also gushed about her young co-star. "It was clear from the very first day of shooting that she was going to be a star," Andrews said of Hathaway when speaking with Vanity Fair. "She was incredibly talented ... it was great fun to watch her growing and learning. And I kind of think I probably was a bit of a mum to her, too."

Although fans would love a third film, Andrews has said that while she'd love to film a sequel, it might be too late.

Julie Andrews took on a series of voice acting roles

As Julie Andrews got a little older, she began a new era of film roles — roles she could do off-screen. She voiced Fiona's mother in "Shrek" and Gru's mom in "Despicable Me." She also used her voice as the narrator of "Enchanted," "The King's Daughter," and "Bridgerton."

As Andrews explained to Vanity Fair, voice acting proved to be a welcome change. "I have to tell you, it's an extremely different technique. Nothing like making a movie," she said. After all, voice actors work alone in a sound booth trying out different intonations for each of their lines over and over again. "I'm kind of happy to be doing them," she went on, adding, "You can just come in your dressing gown if you want." 

Although "Bridgerton" is still running on Netflix as of 2023, and many fans are hoping to see Andrews appear in the show, she doesn't think it's likely to be anything more than a voice role. "You know who Lady Whistledown really is, so I'm afraid it stays with me in the background. But I'm very happy to do that," she told Entertainment Tonight.

Julie Andrews became a children's author

When Julie Andrews isn't acting (either on or off-screen), she can usually be found writing. Since the '70s, Andrews has been writing children's books. It began with "Mandy" in 1971, which was followed by "The Last of the Really Great Whangdoodles" in 1974. More recently, she has written a series of books about Gerry, the "Very Fairy Princess." As of 2023, Andrews has another book in the works, "Waiting in the Wings," which she wrote alongside her daughter.

As Andrews told The Guardian, her unexpected transformation into a children's author probably came from her lifelong love of children. "[The early films I made] led me into this concern for kids, and I think probably subliminally I was trying to give them as good a feeling as I could," she said. Writing also gave her a new outlet after the loss of her singing voice. "It has been very refreshing for me and reviving in a way, because of course, it was a very sad event," she said to Forbes.

Julie Andrews started a charming podcast with her daughter – but her life is pretty quiet these days

In 2020, Julie Andrews and her daughter, Emma Walton Hamilton, launched a podcast called "Julie's Library." "It celebrates children's literature, mostly picture books," her daughter told Roger Ebert. "It's a read-aloud podcast, and we'll be celebrating at least one and sometimes two books per episode. We'll have special guest visitors, with kids voicing and calling in, and we'll have activities around the stories." Andrews herself added, "We hope that the listener will feel like they are in a special place, listening to stories and snuggling down together." Honestly, we can't think of anything we'd rather listen to.

While Andrews is busy with her podcast, her voice acting, and her writing, her life is pretty quiet these days. And that's just how she likes it. As she told Time in 2017, "My favorite things really are the quiet moments with family, everything from simply pruning my roses to playing with my dogs."