March 30, 2015 12:00 PM

A Little Direction

“He was a darling guy,” says Andrews of director Robert Wise (on-set with the children). “You can tell he’s adorable. And little Kym [Karath], who’s so young. Well, we all were.”

A Star in the Making

Andrews checked her makeup between takes. The actress wasn’t megafamous yet, as Mary Poppins hadn’t hit theaters. “I was so green!” she says.

The Role of a Lifetime

Andrews “clowning around” out of costume. “I never could have guessed the movie would be this iconic,” she says.

Sisterhood On-Set

Karath took a break with Charmian Carr. Andrews was surprised “how quickly the cast bonded as a family. We’re still that family.”

Here Comes the Bride

“That dress was exquisite,” says Andrews of Maria’s gown. “It was shot in the abbey and on the soundstage—the walk across the courtyard was Hollywood, and the actual church was Salzburg [Austria].”

A Labor of Love

“It was hard work. We were up in the Alps, it was cold, it was raining a lot,” says Andrews of the production. “It was meticulously planned.” Here, the lighting and camera crews prepared for a scene in Austria.

‘How Lucky Can a Girl Get?’

Like the governess she played in The Sound of Music, Julie Andrews needed to win over seven young people. On the first day of shooting, “I wanted to make the kids feel as much at home as possible,” the star, 79, tells PEOPLE. Andrews had just played the title character in Mary Poppins, “so they asked me if I could sing ‘Supercalifragilistic,’ and I did,” she recalls. “Then they asked me to sing it backward, which I did. They loved it.”

Andrews’s soaring soprano and twinkling charisma propelled the musical to a Best Picture Oscar– and, following her own Best Actress win for Mary Poppins a year earlier, cemented her Hollywood superstar status at the age of 29. “I think people assume I chose [to play Maria], but I wasn’t in a position to do that,” she says, noting that before Sound of Music, she was best known as a stage performer. “They asked me, and then I became a part of history,” she marvels. “How lucky can a girl get?”

Following the film’s massive success – its anniversary is being celebrated with a new Blu-ray and DVD edition and a return to theaters in April – Andrews earned a third Oscar nod for 1982’s Victor Victoria, directed by her husband, Blake Edwards. (They were married 41 years until his death in 2010.) She also focused on her family life, raising five children. “Being a mum,” she told PEOPLE in 2012, “always seemed to me like putting in pieces of the puzzle that you never quite knew.”

The actress faced one of the biggest personal and professional challenges of her life in 1997, when a botched throat surgery permanently took her famed four-octave singing voice. “I thought at the time my voice was what I am – and it is to some extent,” she says, “but it seems it’s not all that I am.” These days, she writes children’s books with her daughter Emma Walton Hamilton – “I seem to be busier than I’ve ever been” – and she savored the warm reception she received at the Oscars’ Sound of Music tribute alongside Lady Gaga last month. “Lady Gaga hit it out of the ballpark,” she says. Overall, “it’s a lovely time in my life. I have gorgeous grandchildren and a home I adore. I don’t think things could be better than that.”

Mama Maria

Andrews checked out the latest Hollywood news with her daughter Emma.

Pajama Game

She prepped to sing “My Favorite Things” with director Wise. “I remember him telling me what he wanted.”

Things on Strings

The famed Salzburg Marionette Theatre inspired the puppetry in “The Lonely Goatherd” scene.

Kidding Around

The children used their downtime to do homework or work on dialogue, says Andrews. Left: Nicholas Hammond and Duane Chase on the Fox lot in L.A.

The Kids Then & Now THE SOUND OF MUSIC’S YOUNG STARS, ALL GROWN UP

“They were great kids. And they are great friends to this day,” says Andrews of her onscreen charges. From left (above, with Andrews and Plummer at a 1964 costume test and, left, in 2012): Kym Karath (Gretl), Debbie Turner (Marta), Angela Cartwright (Brigitta), Duane Chase (Kurt), Heather Menzies (Louisa), Nicholas Hammond (Friedrich) and Charmian Carr (Liesl).

Learning to ‘Respect’ His Role

Christopher Plummer, now 85, admits that for years he was a bit “thankless” about having played Captain von Trapp. “I didn’t think the part was the greatest ever written,” says Plummer, who won an Oscar for Beginners in 2012. But he now has “a great respect for it. It’s a terrific picture of its time.” And he enjoyed more than the crisp apple strudels. His fondest memory: “getting to know Austria and getting to know some Austrian girls – they’re very beautiful!”

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