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If you like Julie Andrews's story, you might also like:
Carol Burnett,
Olivia de Havilland,
Sally Field,
Ron Howard,
Jeremy Irons,
Johnny Mathis,
Audra McDonald,
Jessye Norman,
Trevor Nunn,
Sidney Poitier,
Harold Prince,
Stephen Sondheim,
Hilary Swank,
Julie Taymor and
Kiri Te Kanawa

Julie Andrews can also be seen and heard in our Podcast Center

Julie Andrews's recommended reading: The Little Grey Men

Related Links:
Julie Andrews Music on Jango
Reel Classics
The Julie Andrews Collection

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Julie Andrews
Julie Andrews
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Julie Andrews Interview

Legend of Stage and Screen

June 10, 2004
Chicago, Illinois

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  Julie Andrews

Could you tell us about Walton-on-Thames? What was that like when you were growing up?

Julie Andrews: Walton-on-Thames, Surrey, which is where I was born, is about 20 miles south-southwest of London, and when I was very young it was just a country stop on the railway line and it is now part of Greater London and very much suburbia. And I know the ins and outs of it, but there are very few places that you recognize in terms of the way it used to be. But, it's a very sweet place. It's sort of the middle village between a very up-market village and a very low, poverty village, at least in the early days.

What did your parents do?

Julie Andrews: My real father was a school teacher. He taught practical crafts and English and Math.

My mother remarried when I was about four or five years old, so I then went to live with my mum and stepfather, and he was a fine tenor, he had a singing voice. He was from Canada, from Toronto. He joined forces in more ways than one with my mother in that she was a really wonderful pianist and probably should have been a performing concert pianist but, in fact, due to circumstances and the war and tremendous poverty and things like that, they became part of a vaudeville act. And consequently, I knew nothing else but that, and to their amazement, I think, they discovered when I was about eight years old -- my stepfather, I think in an attempt to become a little closer to me, decided to give me some singing lessons because my school had closed down because of the escalation of the war. And, I think he thought it would just sort of "keep me quiet," so to speak. And, they discovered that I had this four-octave soprano voice, which surprised them since it was my stepfather who sang, not my real dad at all. And so, I knew nothing but vaudeville -- music hall -- gradually began to appear with my mum and my stepdad and tour the halls, and made a fairly important, for me, debut when I was about 12 years old.

Before we get to the debut, is it true that you made an appearance on stage at age two?

Julie Andrews Interview Photo
Julie Andrews: You've done your homework! Yes, my mother was the pianist. My aunt was a dancer and they were two extraordinary ladies. I'd love to write about them one day. My aunt founded a dancing school, which she ran for almost 50 years in Walton-on-Thames. She would put on her local shows and that was when I think I made my real first debut. I think I was either Winken, Blinken or Nod, one of the three.

No speaking role?

Julie Andrews: No speaking role but probably a lot of bouncing about in a baby suit of some kind.

So really there was never a time that you weren't on stage?

Julie Andrews: Not really. I enjoyed it immensely.

You mentioned that the schools had shut down during the war. Does that mean there was really no school to go to?

Julie Andrews: Yes. There was a lot of evacuation going on at that time. All the children were being evacuated into the country. I was, too, for a while. The air raids towards the end of the war particularly were coming so fast and furiously -- with the doodlebugs (buzz bombs) as we called them -- that no housewife could get anything done and everything just ground to a halt for a while.

And then, were you eight when you met another voice teacher?

Julie Andrews: Yes.

My stepfather was very smart, in that he knew he didn't have the ability to teach, and because it was such a very young voice, but such a sort of oddly powerful one, he knew that he had to put me in good hands if he could. And so, he took me to his teacher who was a very fine dramatic soprano, an English dramatic soprano. She'd done a lot of Handel. I can't even think of the right word at this point. But, she was a very gentle woman and I was with her for most of my early life. Only when I went to Broadway did I kind of not work with her, and of course I prepared with her to go to Broadway, but she didn't actually come with me. But, the foundation that she gave me and the technique -- the technical foundation -- was terrific.

[ Key to Success ] Preparation

What was her name? Did she have anything to do with the diction that you're famous for?

Julie Andrews: Her name was Lillian Stiles-Allen and she had an extraordinary voice. A voice much like Kirsten Flagstad or Birgit Nilsson, that wonderful kind of fluted sound that comes out of those extraordinary dramatic sopranos. She firmly believed -- and taught me -- that your voice would hold up for you if you were true to your words. She said there could be people in the audience that needed to see what you were saying, because maybe they were hearing impaired in some way. But more than anything, she said if you relied on those words the voice would come through for you. In other words, be true to your vowels, be true to the consonants that were strong, and not in a kind of glottal way but just really use them as stepping stones to a good foundation for a voice. She was absolutely right.

What else did she teach you?

Julie Andrews: I sang in those days a lot of sort of opera and operetta. I felt that I knew, and I believe that I was right, that I really didn't have the voice for it. My own voice was very white, very, very thin, and I was able to do these incredible sort of gymnastics with it, tremendous sort of calisthenics, but in a coloratura way, and it was so high that dogs for miles around would howl when I took some of the high notes on. But, she gave me the groundwork of opera and she always said, "Go beyond your reach. If you're doing something light, practice something even more difficult. Practice it a tone up so that when the night comes and you have to sing it, it is so within your range." And for many, many years I did that.

[ Key to Success ] Preparation

That's sounds like a baseball player who practices batting with two bats so when he's holding one it's very light.

Julie Andrews: Exactly. Yes, very similar.

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This page last revised on Mar 31, 2008 14:50 EDT
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