Mary Poppins

From Academic Kids

Mary Poppins (right, behind) as portrayed by  in the most famous adaptation of the character.
Mary Poppins (right, behind) as portrayed by Julie Andrews in the most famous adaptation of the character.

Mary Poppins is a children's book written by P. L. Travers and originally published in 1934 with illustrations by Mary Shepard. It became the first in a series of books about the title character, a magical English nanny who in the first book arrives by windstorm to care for the Banks children of Number Seventeen Cherry-Tree Lane, London: Jane (the eldest), Michael, and twin babies John and Barbara. In the film, Mary Poppins' best friend is Bert, a Cockney who seems to have a number of jobs, including chimney sweep, pavement artist, etc, but otherwise is the one normal adult friend of Mary who is completely accustomed to her magic (the exact nature of their relationship is left a mystery). Some Mary Poppins books may have been influenced by the author's relationship with G. I. Gurdjieff, the Greek Armenian mystic and "teacher of dancing", whom she met in 1938.



The Mary Poppins book series includes the following titles:

The 1964 film

The first book was the main basis for the Walt Disney film Mary Poppins, a musical which mixed live action and animation and was released on August 29, 1964. The multiple Academy Award-winning film is considered the best live action Disney musical ever produced, and it made a major film star out of Julie Andrews, making her movie acting debut after a successful stage career. Andrews got the prime role of Mary Poppins soon after being passed over by Jack Warner for the role of Eliza Doolittle in his screen version of My Fair Lady, even though Andrews had originated the role on Broadway (the part went to Audrey Hepburn). Andrews was actually cast for the part in 1962, but filming was delayed until mid-1963 to allow for her being pregnant.

Disney cast Dick Van Dyke in the key supporting role of Bert, thanks to his work on The Dick Van Dyke Show. Van Dyke also played an elderly banker in the film.

Missing image
Original promotional poster

According to the 40th anniversary DVD release of the film in 2004, Walt Disney first attempted to purchase the film rights to Mary Poppins from P.L. Travers as early as 1938 but was rebuffed because Travers did not believe a film version of her books would do justice to her creation, plus Disney at the time was known primarily as a producer of cartoons and had yet to produce any major live action work. For more than 20 years, Disney periodically made efforts to convince Travers to allow him to make a Poppins movie. He finally succeeded in 1961, although Travers demanded and got script approval rights. The process of planning the film and composing the songs took about two years, with Travers objecting to a number of elements that actually made it into the movie (such as most of the original songs; she wanted the soundtrack to feature known standards of the Edwardian period in which the movie was set). Many elements in the film, including the music may have been influenced by the highly successful stage musical Oliver! composed by Lionel Bart in 1960, and later filmed in 1968.

A number of other changes were necessary to condense the story into feature length. In the movie, there are only two Banks children, Jane and Michael. Mary Poppins' character as portrayed by Andrews in the film is somewhat less vain and more sympathetic toward the children than the nanny in the original book. Bert, as played by Van Dyke, was a composite of several characters from Travers' stories. Travers demanded that any suggestions of romance between Mary and Bert be eliminated, so lyrics were written for "Jolly Holiday" that clearly indicated that their friendship was purely platonic, although some subtle hints of romance remain.

As mentioned above, Van Dyke played two roles in the film. Andrews did at least three: she provided the robin's whistling harmony during "A Spoonful of Sugar", and was also one of the "pearly" singers during "Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious". David Tomlinson, besides playing Mr. Banks, also provided the voice of Mary's talking umbrella as well as numerous other voice-over parts (including that of Admiral Boom's first mate). During the "Jolly Holiday" sequence, one of the singing animals was voiced by Marni Nixon, who ironically also provided the singing voice for Audrey Hepburn's Eliza Doolittle in My Fair Lady — the film that Julie Andrews was not allowed to make, causing much controversy at the time (Nixon would later play one of Julie Andrews' fellow nuns in The Sound of Music).


Several film scholars have written interpretations of the film, including several attempts by structuralist semiologists suggesting that the film has a subliminal and symbolic subtext, intended to prepare America's youth for the political radicalism of the 1960s. Such analysis generally points to politically progressive or radical themes touched on in the film, including women's suffrage, the plight of the homeless, and animal rights, as well its mockery of British Naval militarism, and the anti-Capitalist implications of the Banks' children fomenting a panic at their father's bank. The scholars' analyses also suggest that the childrens' list of requirements for a new nanny can be viewed as a sort of seminal political document (similar to the Magna Carta or Declaration of Independence) and Mary Poppins "pops in" as a sort of anarchist mentor, who consorts with chimney sweep Dick and his friends, iconoclastic representatives of a blighted urban proletariat, in an Edwardian London fattened by imperialism in its final days before World War I.

This progressiveness theory is undercut or countered somewhat at the end of the film, when Glynis Johns throws away her suffragist banner and joins husband and children in the family kite-flying get-together. By far the strongest message at the film finale seems to be the very conservative ideal of 'family first'. Both parents had been neglecting their children as they pursued their own presumably self-involved activities. In this alternate viewpoint, far from being an anarchist, Mary Poppins is arguably an angel or a God-figure, sent to rescue the family from itself, as it were.


  • "Sister Suffragette" — Glynis Johns, Hermione Baddeley and Reta Shaw, with non-singing interruptions by Elsa Lanchester. Also briefly heard in an a capella rendition by Johns
  • "The Life I Lead" — David Tomlinson (later reprised with Julie Andrews)
  • "The Perfect Nanny" — Karen Dotrice and Matthew Garber
  • "A Spoonful of Sugar" — Julie Andrews
  • "Jolly Holiday" — Dick Van Dyke and Julie Andrews, with Thurl Ravenscroft, Marni Nixon, Paul Frees and others
  • "Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious" — Julie Andrews and Dick Van Dyke with J. Pat O'Malley and others
  • "Stay Awake" — Julie Andrews
  • "I Love to Laugh" — Dick Van Dyke, Julie Andrews and Ed Wynn
  • "Feed the Birds (Tuppence a Bag)" — Julie Andrews (Walt Disney's favourite song from the score)
  • "Fidelity Fiduciary Bank" — Dick Van Dyke, David Tomlinson and others
  • "Chim-Chim-Cheree" — Dick Van Dyke and Julie Andrews (won the Academy Award for "Best Original Song")
  • "Step in Time" — Dick Van Dyke
  • "A Man Has Dreams" — David Tomlinson and Dick Van Dyke. This is a slower-paced rendition of "The Life I Lead" which incorporates a modfied version of "A Spoonful of Sugar".
  • "Let's Go Fly a Kite" — Glynis Johns, David Tomlinson, Dick Van Dyke and others

Deleted songs

A number of other songs were written for the film by the Sherman Brothers and either rejected or cut for time. Richard Sherman, on the 2004 DVD release, indicated that more than 30 songs were written at various stages of the film's development. No cast recordings of any of these songs have been released to the public, only demos or later performances done by the songwriters — with the exception of the rooftop reprise of "Chim-Chim-Cheree" and the "smoke staircase yodel" mentioned below.

  • "The Chimpanzoo", was originally to follow "I Love to Laugh" during the Uncle Albert "ceiling tea party" sequence, but it was dropped from the soundtrack just before Julie Andrews and company were to record it. The fast-paced number was not unveiled to the public until Richard Sherman, aided by recently uncovered storyboards, performed it on the 2004 DVD edition. The recreation suggests it was to have been another sequence combining animation and live action.
  • "Practically Perfect" was intended to introduce Mary but instead the melody of the piece was used for "Sister Suffragette" (used to introduce Mrs. Winifred Banks).
  • "The Eyes of Love", a romantic ballad, was intended for Bert and Mary, but according to the Shermans this song was vetoed by Julie Andrews herself.
  • "Mary Poppins Melody" was to be performed when Mary introduces herself to the children. Elements of the song later became part of "Stay Awake". The melody was the basis for a couple of other songs that were ultimately cut from the film.
  • "A Name's a Name". Heard on a recording taken of a meeting between the Sherman Brothers and P.L. Travers, this song was originally intended for the nursery scene that later became "A Spoonful of Sugar." The melody was reused for "Mary Poppins Melody".
  • "You Think, You Blink" was a short piece that Bert was to sing just before entering the chalk painting (and starting the "Jolly Holiday" sequence). In the film, Dick Van Dyke simply recites the lyric instead of singing it.
  • "West Wind" was a short ballad to be sung by Mary. The song was later retitled "Mon Amor Perdu" and used in the later Disney film, Big Red.
  • "The Right Side" was to be sung by Mary to Michael Banks after he gets out of bed cranky.
  • "Measure Up" was to accompany the scene in which Mary takes the tape measure to Jane and Michael.
  • "Admiral Boom" was to be the theme song for the cannon-firing neighbor of the Banks Residence, but it was cut by Walt Disney as being unneccessary. The melody of the song remains in the soundtrack, and is the bombastic theme heard whenever Boom appears on screen. One line from this song ("Greenwich, they say, takes its time from Admiral Boom!") is spoken by Bert early in the film.
  • "Sticks, Paper and Strings" was an early version of "Let's Go Fly a Kite."
  • "Lead the Righteous Life", an intentionally poorly-written hymn, was to have been sung by Katie Nanna (Elsa Lanchester) along with Jane and Michael prior to Mary Poppins' arrival. The melody was later reused for a similar song in The Happiest Millionaire
  • "The Pearly Song" was not deleted per se but was instead incorporated into "Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious".
  • The Compass Sequence, a precursor to "Jolly Holiday", was to be a multiple-song sequence. A number of possible musical components have been identified:
    • "South Sea Island Symphony"
    • "Chinese Festival Song"
    • "Tim-buc-too" — elements of this were reused for "The Chimpanzoo" which was also cut
    • "Tiki Town" — the melody was reused for "The Chimpanzoo"
    • "North Pole Polka"
    • "Land of Sand" — later rewritten as "Trust in Me" for the animated version of The Jungle Book
    • "Beautiful Briny" — later used in Bedknobs and Broomsticks
    • "East is East" — another variation on the unused "Mary Poppins Melody".
  • The "Step in Time" sequence ends with the chimney sweeps being scattered by an onslaught of fireworks fired from Admiral Boom's house. In the final film, the scene plays out with sound effects and no music. The DVD release included the original version of the scene which was accompanied by a complex instrumental musical arrangement that combined "Step in Time", the "Admiral Boom" melody (see above), and "A Spoonful of Sugar."
  • Andrews recorded a brief reprise of "Chim-Chim-Cheree" which was to have accompanied Mary, Bert, and the children as they marched across the rooftops of London (an instrumental reprise of "A Spoonful of Sugar" was used instead).
  • Andrews also recorded a brief yodel which breaks into the first line of "Chim-Chim-Cheree" which was to have been used to "activate" the smoke staircase prior to the "Step in Time" number. Although cut from the film, footage of Andrews performing this exists and was included on the 2004 DVD. The DVD also indicates that an alternate version of the yodel performed by Dick Van Dyke may also exist.

The Cat That Looked at a King

In 2004, Julie Andrews appeared in an animated/live action short that was produced for the 40th anniversary DVD release of the 1964 film. Entitled The Cat That Looked at a King, the film was based upon part of the P.L. Travers book Mary Poppins Opens the Door and could be seen as something of a sequel or followup to the movie.

The film opens in the modern day with two children looking at chalk paintings at the same location where Bert did his artwork in the original movie (the set was recreated). Andrews, dressed in modern clothes, greets the children and takes them into the chalk drawing where they watch the tale unfold.

Whether Andrews is playing a modern-day Mary Poppins or not is left to the viewer's imagination, although some sources identify Andrews' character as Mary Poppins.[1] (

The stage musical

On 15th December 2004 Cameron Mackintosh's stage adaptation of the Disney film adaptation opened at Prince Edward Theatre, London to enthusiastic critical acclaim. The part of Mary was taken by Laura Michelle Kelly, who subsequently won the 2005 Olivier Award for Best Actress in a Musical for the role. Her co-stars included Gavin Lee (Bert), David Haig (Mr Banks) and Linzi Hately (Mrs Banks).

There was additional music and lyrics by George Stiles & Anthony Drewe, composers of the Olivier Award winning Honk, and the book was written by Julian Fellowes. It was directed by former National Theatre artistic director Richard Eyre and co-directed by Matthew Bourne, who also acted as co-choreographer with Stephen Mear. Some elements from the books that had been omitted from the film — the walking statue, the ladders rising to the stars — were restored.


  • Ellen, the maid
  • Mrs. Brill, the cook
  • Katie Nanna, the disgruntled nanny who quit the Banks family
  • Mrs. Winifred Banks
  • Mr. George Banks
  • Jane Banks and Michael Banks, the kids
  • Mary Poppins
  • Admiral Boom and his assistant, Mr. Binnacle
  • Bert, the jack-of-all-trades and Mary's friend



External links

de:Mary Poppins nl:Mary Poppins sv:Mary Poppins (film 1964)


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