Wednesday, August 27, 2014

'Mary Poppins' Was a Musical Moneymaker

"Kindly do not attempt to cloud the issue with facts."

George Banks (David Tomlinson)

Fifty years ago, it was still possible to win an Oscar for acting in a musical that was, essentially, written for children.

Julie Andrews proved that, winning Best Actress for her performance in "Mary Poppins" over some formidable competition: Anne Bancroft, Sophia Loren, Debbie Reynolds and Kim Stanley.

"Mary Poppins" was nominated for 13 Oscars in all and won five. Few musicals have had the kind of influence on the culture that "Mary Poppins" had. For years after they saw "Mary Poppins" at the theaters, kids everywhere were singing "Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious," "A Spoonful of Sugar" and "Chim Chim Cher–ee" as effortlessly as any of the older, more traditional (and, perhaps, in some quarters, better known) songs of childhood.

My family had the soundtrack, and my brother and I listened to it over and over. Even though the movie had been away from the big screens for years. Surely, we weren't the only ones!

Just about every child must have recognized Mary Poppins with her trademark umbrella, especially when she was descending over the London skyline. It's kind of hard to forget a thing like that.

In the movie, the enchanting Mary Poppins was retained to be the nanny for two children who had a reputation for running off nannies. But things just had a way of working out for Mary Poppins.

So she came to work in the Banks household — the family patriarch, the aptly named Mr. Banks, was a banker. Turned out Mary was a close friend of a jack–of–all–trades by the name of Bert (Dick Van Dyke). Bert happened to be in her neighborhood, and their interplay suggested that they had been friends for a long time. Long enough, anyway, for Mary Poppins' abrupt arrivals and departures to come as no surprise to Bert. Apparently, he'd seen it all before.

I never had the opportunity to see "Mary Poppins" on the big screen. I saw it on my family's TV, and I loved the whole movie, but my favorite scene involved Ed Wynn as Uncle Albert who floated in the air when he laughed.

Uncle Albert loved to laugh; appropriately, his song was "I Love to Laugh."

The songs in "Mary Poppins" were all first rate. "Chim Chim Cher–ee," sung by Bert as a chimney sweep (one of several jobs he had during the movie), won the Oscar for Best Song.

It's been a long time since I have seen "Mary Poppins." In fact, I probably haven't seen it all the way through since I was a child. But even now, when I see a clip of a song, the lyrics come easily to my mind, summoned forth from wherever they were buried in my brain. I couldn't have recited the lyrics a few minutes before, but hearing the music and seeing the images brings it all back.

That was the magic of "Mary Poppins," which was the jewel of Walt Disney Studios when Disney was alive. It was the top moneymaker of 1965, bigger than "The Sound of Music," which also starred Andrews, bigger than "Goldfinger," bigger than "My Fair Lady."

Of course, those were the days when movies could — and did — stay at theaters for months, even years.

No one could blend live action with animation the way Disney could, and that was the kind of thing that made money for Disney over and over again — but never quite as well as in "Mary Poppins."

However, I would never underestimate Andrews' contributions to the movie's success.