Jessie Cadle | Staff Writer
When asked about Dame Julie Andrews, most people break into song. It’s inevitable given her iconic status. Her music harkens back to easier, childhood days.
She is the woman who taught generations of children that when you sing you begin with “do-re-mi,” a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down, and the hills are alive with the sound of music.
Now, Andrews teaches a new generation of children not only through song, but also with the written word in over 20 children’s books penned with her daughter Emma Walton Hamilton.
At the morning lecture series in the Amphitheater, Chautauquans will meet the writer’s side of Andrews through a conversation with Hamilton and Roger Rosenblatt in the final presentation of the “Roger Rosenblatt and Friends” week.
The most popular of Andrews and Hamilton’s books, published as part of the Julie Andrews Collection, include the Dumpy the Dump Truck series and The Very Fairy Princess series.
“I’ve never been one to get excited about celebrities, but she has brought joy through her most famous roles to hundreds of millions of people around the world and connected generations,” said Charles Guld of Richmond, Va., who will attend the conversation. “When her name is brought up, grandparents and grandchildren … know her music, know her songs, and it puts a smile on their face.”
Though many are familiar with Andrews, some are unfamiliar with her daughter Hamilton’s work. After acting and directing for over a decade, Hamilton became a founding member of Bay Street Theater in Sag Harbor, N.Y., according to her website.
Hamilton is now executive director of the Young American Writers Project, a faculty member for the Stony Brook Southampton’s MFA in Creative Writing and Literature program and the author of the book Raising Bookworms, which aims to associate reading with pleasure for kids.
The most popular books she has written with her mother were for Hamilton’s two children: Sam, who loves trucks, and Hope, who is a little princess, she said in an interview with ParentDish. To her grandchildren, Julie Andrews is “Granny Jules.”
The mother-daughter partnership has been shockingly seamless, they said. Hamilton focuses on the books’ details, while Andrews sees the big picture.
Writing aside, Andrews has become a behemoth of the entertainment industry as an Academy Award-winning and five-time Golden Globe-winning actress and singer.
Her love for books and reading carried her throughout her entire life. Even as a child, her governess discovered Andrews’ penchant for the written word.
“(My governess) quickly recognized that if she wanted me to do anything, all she had to do was say, ‘Do this first and then you may write your story,’ ” said Andrews in an interview with the Academy of Achievement. “That was obviously what I loved to do most of all.”
Andrews herself took on the role of governess in her most notable roles: Mary Poppins in the 1964 Disney movie “Mary Poppins” and Maria Rainer in the 1965 film “The Sound of Music.”
Jean White, from Richmond, Va., is on the grounds to see Andrews. She remembers seeing “The Sound of Music” eight times in theaters alone. Andrews’ character Maria taught White many life lessons, one being that it is acceptable — even encouraged — to break the rules for the right reasons.
“Another thing about that character is ‘I Have Confidence,’ and ‘I have confidence in me,’ which was a very meaningful song to our teenage daughter when she had no confidence,” White said. “She sang it regularly.”
White’s husband David spent a summer in Salzburg, Austria, where “The Sound of Music” was filmed, and distinctly remembers feeling Andrews’ presence there.
“I used to ride my bicycle by the place where the nuns stole the carburetor in the movie,” White said.
Connie Rose, also from Richmond, remembers Andrews for her classic roles and her later, more progressive roles.
“Everybody thought of her as this sweet little Mary Poppins, but she was also in movies like ‘Victor Victoria,’ where she was just the exact opposite of what everybody thought she would play. She played a man and a woman,” Rose said. “She pretty much broke the mold.”
After years of singing, Andrews’ 1997 throat surgery left her voice irreparably changed, which effectively ended her singing career. She continued to act in speaking roles. Having appeared in more than 43 films since 1949, Andrews is most recently known for her role as Queen Clarisse Renaldi in “The Princess Diaries” movies and as the voice of Gru’s mom in “Despicable Me.”
Despite the setback in her singing career, she continues to inspire.
“She has gone on and done other things in her life,” Rose said. “She’s been happy and made a success of what she has done, which is the writing of these books after her singing career was over.”
Now all her characters — those she has played and those she has created with her daughter in their books — continue to teach today’s youth.
“I thank her for her gift to us and the fact that we can close our eyes and see her and hear her,” Guld said. “The hills are alive. Thank you, Julie.”