The anniversaries are coming thick and fast here in the Parallel Julieverse and this week marks another major milestone: the Sixtieth Diamond Jubilee of the Broadway premiere of The Boy Friend at New York’s Royale Theatre on 30 September, 1954. As has been discussed in previous posts and as numerous commentators frequently proclaim, The Boy Friend was a watershed event for Julie, marking her big trans-Atlantic move to America and her debut on the Broadway stage. Even Julie herself routinely singles out The Boy Friend as one of the three major career-making breaks in her life, sandwiched between the other two: her childhood debut at the London Palladium and the launch of her juvenile career on the English variety circuit, and her later casting by Walt Disney in Mary Poppins and the subsequent transition it afforded to Hollywood superstardom. The Boy Friend signalled, in an appropriately dramatic fashion, the launch of Julie’s relatively condensed but hugely influential decade-long career as the Queen of Broadway. A charming twenties-themed musical pastiche by Sandy Wilson, The Boy Friend had already become a huge hit on London’s West End in 1953/54, with Anne Rogers in the lead ingenue role of Polly Browne, and the decision was made to transfer the show to New York. Rather than disturb the existing London company which was still playing to record-breaking houses every night, the producers decided to assemble a completely new second company and set about casting an all-English troupe of relative unknowns, with the young eighteen year old Julie Andrews tagged for the plum role of Polly Browne. The Broadway production had well documented problems during rehearsal but it opened on September 30, 1954, the eve of Julie’s nineteenth birthday, to glowing reviews, with special fulsome praise for Julie, ultimately earning her a Theatre World Award for Outstanding Broadway Debut. In the year that followed, as she performed nightly in the season’s new hit show, Julie garnered a good deal of media attention—such as here and here and here and here—much of it trumpeting her as the latest toast of Broadway. The Boy Friend in turn led to Julie’s casting in the even bigger hit show, My Fair Lady and, well, the rest as they say is entertainment history.
Apart from its significance to her professional fortunes, The Boy Friend also holds a special place in Julie’s personal affections as well. She speaks very fondly of her time in the show and forged several important lifelong friendships during its run: notably, with costar Dilys Laye, who was Julie’s New York flatmate and who would remain a close confidante right through to her passing in 2009, with producer Cy Feuer who described being so struck by Julie’s “glorious soprano…poise and…raw talent that it sorta took my breath away” (Feuer and Gross, 193), and with composer Sandy Wilson, who remained in regular touch with Julie for decades until his own recent passing in August of this year and who, as discussed in an earlier post, even attempted to develop another show for Julie in the form of a musicalization of Christopher Isherwood’s Berlin stories.
Julie’s affections for The Boy Friend were so strong and enduring that she chose the show as the vehicle with which to make her directorial debut, some fifty years later, when she helmed a 2005 summer production of the musical for the influential Goodspeed Opera House in Connecticut. By all accounts, the experience was a memorable one for Julie and the production met with considerable acclaim. It enjoyed a very successful national tour and there was even talk of a possible Broadway transfer but it didn’t come to pass.
So this week won’t you please Charleston with me as the Parallel Julieverse marks the Diamond Jubilee of the Broadway show that helped give Julie Andrews to the world. “We scheme about and dream about and we’ve been known to scream about that certain thing called The Boy Friend!”
Sources:
Feuer, Cy and Gross, Ken. I Got the Show Right Here: The Amazing True Story of How an Obscure Brooklyn Horn Player Became the Last Great Broadway Showman. New York: Applause Books, 2003.
Wilson, Sandy. I Could Be Happy: An Autobiography. New York : Stein and Day, 1975.

The anniversaries are coming thick and fast here in the Parallel Julieverse and this week marks another major milestone: the Sixtieth Diamond Jubilee of the Broadway premiere of The Boy Friend at New York’s Royale Theatre on 30 September, 1954. As has been discussed in previous posts and as numerous commentators frequently proclaim, The Boy Friend was a watershed event for Julie, marking her big trans-Atlantic move to America and her debut on the Broadway stage. Even Julie herself routinely singles out The Boy Friend as one of the three major career-making breaks in her life, sandwiched between the other two: her childhood debut at the London Palladium and the launch of her juvenile career on the English variety circuit, and her later casting by Walt Disney in Mary Poppins and the subsequent transition it afforded to Hollywood superstardom.

The Boy Friend signalled, in an appropriately dramatic fashion, the launch of Julie’s relatively condensed but hugely influential decade-long career as the Queen of Broadway. A charming twenties-themed musical pastiche by Sandy Wilson, The Boy Friend had already become a huge hit on London’s West End in 1953/54, with Anne Rogers in the lead ingenue role of Polly Browne, and the decision was made to transfer the show to New York. Rather than disturb the existing London company which was still playing to record-breaking houses every night, the producers decided to assemble a completely new second company and set about casting an all-English troupe of relative unknowns, with the young eighteen year old Julie Andrews tagged for the plum role of Polly Browne. The Broadway production had well documented problems during rehearsal but it opened on September 30, 1954, the eve of Julie’s nineteenth birthday, to glowing reviews, with special fulsome praise for Julie, ultimately earning her a Theatre World Award for Outstanding Broadway Debut. In the year that followed, as she performed nightly in the season’s new hit show, Julie garnered a good deal of media attention—such as here and here and here and here—much of it trumpeting her as the latest toast of Broadway. The Boy Friend in turn led to Julie’s casting in the even bigger hit show, My Fair Lady and, well, the rest as they say is entertainment history.

Apart from its significance to her professional fortunes, The Boy Friend also holds a special place in Julie’s personal affections as well. She speaks very fondly of her time in the show and forged several important lifelong friendships during its run: notably, with costar Dilys Laye, who was Julie’s New York flatmate and who would remain a close confidante right through to her passing in 2009, with producer Cy Feuer who described being so struck by Julie’s “glorious soprano…poise and…raw talent that it sorta took my breath away” (Feuer and Gross, 193), and with composer Sandy Wilson, who remained in regular touch with Julie for decades until his own recent passing in August of this year and who, as discussed in an earlier post, even attempted to develop another show for Julie in the form of a musicalization of Christopher Isherwood’s Berlin stories.

Julie’s affections for The Boy Friend were so strong and enduring that she chose the show as the vehicle with which to make her directorial debut, some fifty years later, when she helmed a 2005 summer production of the musical for the influential Goodspeed Opera House in Connecticut. By all accounts, the experience was a memorable one for Julie and the production met with considerable acclaim. It enjoyed a very successful national tour and there was even talk of a possible Broadway transfer but it didn’t come to pass.

So this week won’t you please Charleston with me as the Parallel Julieverse marks the Diamond Jubilee of the Broadway show that helped give Julie Andrews to the world. “We scheme about and dream about and we’ve been known to scream about that certain thing called The Boy Friend!”

Sources:

Feuer, Cy and Gross, Ken. I Got the Show Right Here: The Amazing True Story of How an Obscure Brooklyn Horn Player Became the Last Great Broadway Showman. New York: Applause Books, 2003.

Wilson, Sandy. I Could Be Happy: An Autobiography. New York : Stein and Day, 1975.

As anyone in London or, for that matter, just about anyone in the world who reads entertainment news would know, the legendary cult British pop singer, Kate Bush is currently undertaking a record-breaking run of live concerts at the Eventim Apollo, Hammersmith. The reclusive Bush has not given a live performance in over thirty five years since her last gig, also at the Hammersmith Apollo or as it was then known Hammersmith Odeon, in 1979, so understandably the buzz has been extraordinary. Tickets for the 22-show “season” sold out in barely fifteen minutes when they went on sale in March and there has been a huge groundswell of renewed interest in the singer’s recorded backlog, with Bush setting new records as the first female artist in UK history to have eight albums in the top 40 at the same time.

Here in the Parallel Julieverse, we adore Kate Bush…not in quite the same borderline-obsessive way we do Julie, of course, but adore her, nevertheless…and these two, seemingly disparate, musical artistes share a few interesting commonalities. For a start, there are the voices. Though she has never possessed Julie’s purity of tone and, God knows, certainly not her crystalline diction—has anyone honestly ever understood the words to “Wuthering Heights" without recourse to a lyrics sheet?—Kate Bush has an extraordinary voice with an impressive range, claimed by some sources to match Julie’s four octaves, and was especially noted in her earlier career for her extremely high, bird-like soprano.

Like Julie, Bush sires from a southern English, middle class family and sports many of the hallmarks of that particular cultural background: RP Estuary accent, emotional restraint, fierce domestic privacy and general bourgeois “niceness”. Indeed, Ron Moy (2007) argues that Bush is “one of the most resonant exemplars of Englishness in popular music” (58), placing her as part of, among other things, the cultural lineage of the English pastoral tradition of Handel, Elgar, Delius and Butterworth (61) that was equally crucial to Julie’s formative musical training. Also like Julie, Bush started her career at an early age and was catapulted to stardom at just 19, the same age as Julie’s star-making turn in The Boy Friend, when her debut album, The Kick Inside, was released to rave reviews and platinum sales.

And if all that weren’t striking enough, both performers made highly publicised comebacks after a 35 year absence from the stage—in Julie’s case, it was her return to Broadway in Victor/Victoria in 1995…we’ll just conveniently gloss over the fact that, where Julie’s return met with a warm but muted critical response, reviewers have been outdoing each other in the superlatives for Bush’s comeback. And, wait for it, barely three months before Kate Bush hit the Eventim Apollo stage, Julie was treading those very same boards with her two show London stint in An Evening with Julie Andrews, on 30-31 May!

Mere coincidences…or is it, as we fancy here in the Parallel Julieverse, some kind of, hitherto unrecognised, celestial connection? As if the cosmos itself were trying to impart that these two singing goddesses were secretly destined to have been paired. Well, ye gods of the musical heavens, we hear your call and so here they are, together at last: Julie and Kate…and it’s supercalifragilis-babooshka-ya-ya!

Sources:

Moy, Ron. Kate Bush and Hounds of Love. London: Ashgate, 2007.

Thomson, Graeme. Under the Ivy: The Life and Music of Kate Bush. London: Omnibus Press, 2012.

This week marks another significant anniversary in the world of Julie Andrews’ fandom and, ergo, another red-letter day here in the Parallel Julieverse: the centenary of the birth of Robert Wise.

Born on September 10, 1914, in Winchester, Indiana, Robert Earl Wise was a classic Hollywood success story and one of the great studio all-rounders. True to the “self-made man” archetype, Wise started his career at the bottom as a messenger boy at RKO during the heart of the Depression in the early-1930s before working his way up to a junior position in the editing department. Cutting his teeth as an assistant to William “Billy” Hamilton, Wise quickly rose through the ranks at RKO before assuming the position of principal editor on such landmark films as Bachelor Mother (1939),  My Favorite Wife (1939) and, most famously, the two Orson Welles’s classics, Citizen Kane (1941) and The Magnificent Ambersons (1942). The latter film proved rather controversial when RKO wrested control from Welles and charged Wise with both re-editing the final cut and shooting some additional scenes: an unenviable outcome that has seen Wise cast unfairly as the villain in some commentaries on the problem-plagued Welles film. Regardless, these early years in the editing suite furnished Wise with an unparalleled appreciation for the technical construction of film shots and sequences, something that would stand him in very good stead later in his directorial career.

Wise received his first credited directing position at RKO when he was called in at the last minute to replace the original director on the 1944 horror film The Curse of the Cat People. The studio was so pleased with his efforts that, over ensuing years, it assigned ever more important directing projects to Wise, including the melodrama Mademoiselle Fifi (1944), the horror film The Body Snatcher (1945), the Western Blood on the Moon(1948), and several popular film noirs such as  Born to Kill (1947) and The Set-Up (1949).

This extraordinary ability to work with equal deftness across a diverse range of genres is something that would come to typify Wise’s directing career as a whole. Striking out as an independent in the 1950s, Wise went on to helm a host of major pictures for various studios such as The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951),  Executive Suite (1954), Helen of Troy (1955), Somebody Up There Likes Me (1956), and I Want to Live! (1958). He would find even greater success in the 1960s as both producer and director on a string of award-winning films including, West Side Story (1961), Two for the Seesaw (1962), The Haunting (1963), The Sand Pebbles (1966) and, of course, the two Julie Andrews musicals, The Sound of Music (1965) and Star! (1968).

The astonishing diversity of Wise’s directorial output has been something of a double-edged sword in critical terms. For the longest while, he was unfairly dismissed by many critics as a “hired gun” whose work lacked the kind of distinctive personal “signature” prized by post-war traditions of authorial film criticism. However, in more recent times, critics have reassessed Wise’s oeuvre and come to recognize him as a major talent whose directorial gift was indeed his versatility and self-effacing craftsmanship. As Richard Keenan (2007) writes:

"The feature films that Wise completed since becoming a director in 1944 represent a cross section of American film genre. In his work, Wise maintains an unshakeable fidelity to the narrative; there are few striking camera angles and few visual flourishes that might distract from what the director considers the primary obligation and responsibility—to present the story to the audience. Robert Wise’s role as an artist of the cinema is invariably subsumed by his role as the craftsmen who uses talent and experience to present a story to his audience that engages, informs and entertains." (viii)

It’s possibly for this reason that Wise would prove such a superb complementary fit for Julie, who shares much of this same reputation for self-effacing craftsmanship and a commitment to the needs of the property and the audience rather than an indulgence in artistic ego. Under Wise’s sensitive direction, Julie would deliver two of her greatest screen performances; Maria in The Sound of Music and Gertie in Star! and the two would remain lifelong friends till Wise’s passing in 2005 at the age of 91. “I would say Julie Andrews is the most talented actress I’ve worked with,” Wise reflected warmly in a 1982 retrospective (cited in Gehring, 164). 

On the occasion of the centenary of his birth, the Parallel Julieverse salutes Mr Wise and honours his great legacy as a master of Hollywood fillmmaking at its well-crafted, populist best.

Sources:

Gehring, Wes D. Robert Wise: Shadowlands. Indianapolis: Indiana Historical Society Press, 2012.

Keenan, Richard C. The Films of Robert Wise. Metuchen, NJ: Scarecrow Press, 2007.

Leeman, Sergio. Robert Wise on His Films: From Editing Room to Director’s Chair. Los Angeles: Silman-James Press, 1995.

Marymania: Front Page Round-up…and Fleet Street goes wild!

The (Un)Official Golden Jubilee Portrait: Happy Fiftieth Birthday, Mary Poppins!

The (Un)Official Golden Jubilee Portrait: Happy Fiftieth Birthday, Mary Poppins!

Up where the smoke is all billowed and curled, ‘tween pavement and stars is the Mary Poppins Golden Jubilee Dance Party, and this one promises to create the biggest splash in London society since Mrs Whitbourne-Allen chained herself to the Prime Minister’s carriage….so come on mateys, step in time!

Up where the smoke is all billowed and curled, ‘tween pavement and stars is the Mary Poppins Golden Jubilee Dance Party, and this one promises to create the biggest splash in London society since Mrs Whitbourne-Allen chained herself to the Prime Minister’s carriage….so come on mateys, step in time!

The Golden Queen of the Silver Screen…long may she reign!

The Golden Queen of the Silver Screen…long may she reign!

The Mary Poppins Golden Jubilee Plate…practically perfect for rasberry ice and then some cake and tea!

The Mary Poppins Golden Jubilee Plate…practically perfect for rasberry ice and then some cake and tea!

What’s a Golden Jubilee without a special commemorative issue from the Royal Mail? And here’s one that’s practically perfect in every way…now Jane and Michael will be able to write to their “perfect nanny" in grand style!

What’s a Golden Jubilee without a special commemorative issue from the Royal Mail? And here’s one that’s practically perfect in every way…now Jane and Michael will be able to write to their “perfect nanny" in grand style!

I’ll drink to that…and while we’re at it, let’s charge our cups of tea or, if you’re after something a bit stronger, possibly r-r-r-r-um punch, and toast Mary’s next fifty years! Long may she reign!

I’ll drink to that…and while we’re at it, let’s charge our cups of tea or, if you’re after something a bit stronger, possibly r-r-r-r-um punch, and toast Mary’s next fifty years! Long may she reign!