The Pristine Princess
A Malibu living room. Enter producer-director Blake Edwards, fuming, after a telephone call to a difficult star. “The man is crazy!” he shouts. Then his wife, Julie Andrews, comes over. “There, there,” she coos, “Mary Poppins will make you feel better.” They laugh gently, perhaps at themselves, perhaps at the knowledge that they have finally learned to cope.
If doubt remains that early success exacts a high psychic toll, consider Julie Andrews and Blake Edwards—she the pristine princess of the box office while still in her 20s, he a successful screenwriter at 24 whose directing credits include Days of Wine and Roses and Breakfast at Tiffany’s.
Blake, now 54, recalls what should have been his prime as “a nightmare. It was psychoanalysis or being locked up.” Julie, now 41, says her private agonies also erupted as her career peaked: “I was behaving in a way that scared the hell out of me. It’s terrible when all those lovely things are happening to you and you aren’t enjoying them.”
Julie and Blake were both anguishing in Hollywood in the mid-’60s. Their crises were similar and they tried similar remedies: five-day-a-week analysis (seven years for him, five for her). “It is the only decision,” Julie says, “I have ever made, totally, 100 percent in my life. It was also the wisest.” Besides analysis, both of them were also dissolving first marriages. But they were only nodding acquaintances until Julie heard one day that Blake had described her as “so sweet she probably has violets between her legs.” Ms. Poppins tartly sent him a purple bouquet, and the romance had begun.
Their courtship and 1969 marriage have done little for their careers. Two conjugal films—Darling Lili (1970) and The Tamarind Seed (1974)—were disappointments. Their two TV specials got good reviews but so-so ratings. Only Blake’s solo Pink Panther films have been unqualified hits.
Julie says she is happy to devote herself less to Hollywood and more to home. While their children from previous marriages are grown or nearly so, their rented beach house in Malibu is alive with the sounds of two Vietnamese orphans they’ve adopted—Amy Leigh, 3, and Joanna Lynne, 2. “We wanted a child and weren’t being successful,” Julie says. “It’s been wonderful to watch two pale, sad-eyed creatures blossom.”
Julie has been a mother figure nearly all her life—first as older sister to three brothers while Mrs. Andrews took to Britain’s music hall circuit with Julie’s singer stepfather. Eventually Julie joined the act, and by age 12 she was a soloist, winning most of the family bread with her freakish, four-octave soprano range. “I loathed the singing and resented my stepfather,” she says. When the chance came to do The Boy Friend on Broadway in 1954, she took it—with reservations.
Triumph there at age 19 led to My Fair Lady and Camelot. And while Julie later (and unfairly) lost those movie roles, her stage performances so impressed Walt Disney that he signed her in 1963 for her first film, Mary Poppins. The assignment took her away from Tony Walton, a British stage designer she had married during My Fair Lady. Then the Oscar she won for Poppins led to a series of leads in The Americanization of Emily, The Sound of Music, Hawaii and Thoroughly Modern Millie. She kept in touch with Walton by exchanging tapes, though less and less enthusiastically. Julie filed for divorce in 1967.
Blake’s early career was equally frenetic. After graduation from Beverly Hills High and World War II duty in the Coast Guard, he sold two scenarios for Westerns. When Dick Powell was looking for a new vehicle, Blake wrote the Richard Diamond radio series for him. From there he moved into writing and directing more B pictures and television series, including Peter Gunn and Mr. Lucky, both of which he created.
His strongest work came in the early ’60s, when he directed Wine and Roses and the first two Pink Panther movies with Peter Sellers. But hard times lay just ahead for both Blake and Julie. His stormy 14-year marriage to former actress Patricia Walker was ending badly, and his $12 million extravaganza The Great Race was a box office tortoise. Julie had been trying to shed her virginal image with indifferent success. Her next picture, Star!, was such a flop that producer Richard Zanuck dubbed it “my Edsel.”
When Paramount backed a musical Blake had written for her called Darling Lili, they moved in together on location in Ireland in 1968. The picture was a $15 million fiasco, but discovering each other tested them emotionally even more. “It seemed dumb not to admit we were in love,” Blake recalls. Julie, newly divorced, was scared. “I kept telling him it wasn’t going to work,” she says.
Back in L.A. they shared Julie’s eight-room Beverly Hills house with her daughter Emma Kate, now 14. Their decision to marry was finally forced on them when Blake’s two children—Geoff, now 17, and Jennifer, 19—asked to move in with them. Julie finally decided, “What the hell. It was just a piece of paper, and anyway it felt right.” (“Early on,” says Blake, “we had certain realities to face. Although Julie’s career was important to her, we also had a large family. That’s not to say chauvinistically that a woman’s place is in the home. But I might survive without the family. I couldn’t survive without my profession.”)
Her semihiatus from performing has allowed them to spend more time skiing and practicing yoga (both she and Blake have bad backs) at the family’s permanent home in Gstaad, Switzerland. (She is still a British citizen.) “It’s just a village, really,” says Julie, “with duckies, piggies and horses.” She has also discovered pride of authorship. Part of a family game was to assign penalties for “misbehavior.” Julie’s punishment for swearing—”Obviously I was coming out with a few healthy ‘shits,’ ” she says—was to write a story for Jennifer. The resultant Mandy was published in 1971. Three years later she wrote her second children’s book, the acclaimed The Last of the Really Great Whangdoodles. She and Blake are now collaborating on a screenplay of it.
Julie is even able to shrug off the failure of her ABC variety series in 1973. “Blake and I swapped roles completely,” she recalls. “For the first two months I felt relieved that he was taking care of everything, but then I began feeling left out.” (She still cedes serious kitchen chores to him or the cook, though she’s gone beyond her once-limited repertoire of bullshots and boiled-potato sandwiches.)
Julie has a few plans—there is talk of a record, concerts and a return to Caesars Palace in Las Vegas, where she opened a nightclub act last August. Otherwise, she says, “I intend to cool it.”
Not so Blake. His latest Pink Panther (Strikes Again) is doing well, and he already has five new projects in the works. His career is on track but if it falters again, he knows where to go for help. “Julie has great compassion for people in trouble,” he says, “but she won’t let me cop out when I’m complaining about Hollywood. She just says, ‘Bullshit, Blackie, all you have to do is make a hit.’ ”