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Andrews, Dame Julie [Wells, Julia Elizabeth]

(b Walton-on-Thames, 1 Oct 1935). English singer and actress. Her prodigious talents as singer and dancer were recognized early on by her mother (Barbara Morris Wells, a pianist), and stepfather (Ted Andrews, a Canadian vaudeville performer). After vocal lessons with Lilian Stiles-Allen and sporadic appearances in her parents' act, she made her solo début at the age of 12 in the Starlight Roof revue (1947), singing ‘Je suis Titania’ from Ambroise Thomas' Mignon. She repeated this feat at the Royal Command Performance of 1948.

Following engagements on BBC radio (‘Educating Archie’, 1950–52) and in Christmas pantomimes, she was asked to play the female lead in the Broadway production of Sandy Wilson's West End musical The Boy Friend (1954). This led to her portrayal on Broadway of Eliza Doolittle in My Fair Lady (1956), a role she repeated in London in 1958 and which confirmed her pre-eminence as a singing actress on both sides of the Atlantic. Her performance in Camelot (1960) was also highly praised, as were her television appearances in Maxwell Anderson's High Tor (1957, with Bing Crosby), Rodgers and Hammerstein's Cinderella (1957), and Julie and Carol at Carnegie Hall (1962, with Carol Burnett), in which her boisterous duets with Burnett went some way towards deflating her image as a prim, perfect Englishwoman and allowed her to show off her comedic timing. However, the screen musicals Mary Poppins (1964; Academy Award for Best Actress) and The Sound of Music (1965), both of which featured her as an angelic governess, made her an international icon of purity and goodness, and, less fortunately, a victim of typecasting and critical backlash.

Her next screen musical, the 1920s homage Thoroughly Modern Millie (1967), was at least a financial success; Star! (1968), a biographical film about Gertrude Lawrence, and Darling Lili (1970), a World War I spy farce, were relative failures. The last of these was the first of many collaborations with the director Blake Edwards, whom she married in 1969 after divorcing her first husband, set designer Tony Walton. After this she concentrated on dramatic roles, television work, concerts and recordings. Her last screen musical was Victor/Victoria (1980); an acclaimed return to the New York stage (off-Broadway) in the Sondheim revuePutting it Together (1993) paved the way for a staged version of Victor/Victoria (1995). Rising above its second-rate material, Andrews subsequently made headlines when she refused a Tony nomination for her work, protesting the show's absence from other award categories.

In her prime, Andrews was the best-known example of the operetta-rooted Broadway soprano; her voice is basically light, with head voice often used throughout her range, although she can use chest voice for dramatic effect, and in general her lower register has a pleasing edge. An excellent sense of pitch, clear diction and conversational phrasing make her still one of the most distinctive of Broadway and Hollywood singers.

Bibliography

R. Windeler: Julie Andrews (New York, 1970, 2/1983)

L. Spindle: Julie Andrews: a Bio-Bibliography (Westport, CT, 1989)

R. Windeler: Julie Andrews: a Life on Stage and Screen (New York, 1997)

Howard Goldstein




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