A spoonful of sauciness! As Julie Andrews - who found fame as prim and proper Mary Poppins - releases a new memoir, we reveal her less than saintly off-screen life that suggests she isn't practically perfect in every way

Anyone who has seen the classic Disney musical Mary Poppins starring Julie Andrews may well have noticed the hint of sauciness about the morally-upstanding Edwardian nanny.

'While supervising my fittings, Tony Walton [her first husband and the film's costume designer] pointed out hidden touches like the primrose or coral linings of Mary's jackets, or her brightly coloured petticoats,' Andrews reveals in a forthcoming memoir, Home Work.

'He said, 'I fancy that Mary Poppins has a secret life, a kind of quiet pleasure at being a little wicked and naughty,' she revealed.

The actress and singer Julie Andrews, who became a huge Hollywood star playing sweet and squeaky clean characters such as Mary Poppins, had a saucy side to her

The actress and singer Julie Andrews, who became a huge Hollywood star playing sweet and squeaky clean characters such as Mary Poppins, had a saucy side to her

The same might be said of Andrews herself. 

The actress and singer who became a huge Hollywood star playing sweet and squeaky clean characters - Mary Poppins was followed by The Sound of Music in which she played the wholesome nun-turned-nanny Maria - certainly had some flamboyant petticoats off-screen.

Starting with an unhappy childhood in Surrey in which she was forced to become the breadwinner for her alcoholic parents, followed by two difficult marriages and a career riddled with disappointments, Andrews' life was most unlike that of her saintly on-screen personas....

 

Breadwinner who sang on a beer crate 

Born Julia Elizabeth Wells in 1935 in Walton-on-Thames, Surrey, to two teachers, Julie had an impressive four-octave singing voice which was soon put to profitable use — her mother left her father for a Canadian tenor, Ted Andrews, whom Julie's mother accompanied on piano.

Standing on a beer crate to reach the microphone, Julie joined the family vaudeville act when she was nine.

On a summer tour in Blackpool, she noticed Ted, now her stepfather, was drinking heavily. Her mother soon followed suit. 

Julie had an impressive four-octave singing voice which was soon put to profitable use

Julie had an impressive four-octave singing voice which was soon put to profitable use

Andrews, who never had time for much formal education, was 15 when she discovered her biological father was a family friend with whom her mother had had an affair.

Ted Andrews tried twice, when drunk, to get into bed with her. She prudently fitted a lock to her bedroom door.

Starring roles in the West End meant Andrews was the family's main breadwinner when she was in her teens and able to buy the family home for them.

 

A red-hot scene left her weak at the knees  

Andrews was in her late 20s when she moved into films, but admits that she was still painfully naive about men.

Mary Poppins, her first film, didn't make any calls on her romantically, but The Americanisation Of Emily, a wartime comedy drama also made in 1964, involved filming her first love scene.

Luckily it was with James Garner, one of Hollywood's most charming male stars. Andrews, then 28, admits she was shaking at the prospect of their on-screen love-making. 

Andrews, then 28, admits she was shaking at the prospect of their on-screen love-making with James Garner

Andrews, then 28, admits she was shaking at the prospect of their on-screen love-making with James Garner

'Terrified. I had no idea what one was supposed to do with a kiss and all of that,' she told ABC TV recently.

'James Garner, who was delicious, made it very easy and I began to feel it's getting very hot in here.'

She went on: 'I thought I can manage this, and I got up and my legs buckled because it really had hit me rather hard.'

Asked if she knew much about men at the time, she laughs: 'No I didn't!'

 

Hills were alive with the sound of chopper blades 

The 1965 musical The Sound Of Music is cherished for Andrews joyfully singing 'the hills are alive with the sound of music', as she runs through an Alpine meadow in the movie's opening scene.

Hairy experience: Andrews as Maria in The Sound of Music

Hairy experience: Andrews as Maria in The Sound of Music

Filming it, with the cameraman hanging out of a helicopter, certainly wasn't joyful, she says.

'As the helicopter drew closer, I spun around with my arms open as if about to sing,' she recalls. 'All I had to do was walk, twirl and take a breath.'

Unfortunately, as she completed her twirl, the downdraught from the helicopter's blades was so powerful it hurled her to the ground. 

'I'd haul myself up, spitting mud and grass and brushing off my dress and trek back to my starting position,' she recalls. 

'Each time the helicopter encircled me, I was flattened again. It took nine takes. Finally, the shot was deemed acceptable and I was grateful to return to my hotel and take a hot bath.'

Even her hairdo was beset by misfortune. Her blonde crop was designed to cover up a hairstyling mishap that had turned her brown hair orange.

Andrews admits she found the story 'too sentimental and saccharine and over the top' when she first saw it as a musical on Broadway: 'I mean, you have mountains and nuns and seven children — but all together?'

 
Julie lights up in 1967's Thoroughly Modern Millie

Julie lights up in 1967's Thoroughly Modern Millie

Uncle Walt was left blushing 

'I swear a lot,' Andrews admitted recently. While filming Mary Poppins — released in 1964 — she was supposed to fly through the air on a flywire, but ended up hurtling to the floor 'like a ton of bricks'.

As a result, she says: 'I think I said a few words he [producer 'Uncle' Walt Disney] had not heard very often.'

A few words? Karen Dotrice, who played her young charge Jane Banks, described her shock as an eight-year-old at seeing Andrews, then 28 — in full prim Edwardian costume — smoking a cigarette and exchanging some blue language with the film crew.

Andrews also admits that she can be feisty, saying: 'I've got a good right hook.'

 

Topless in a 'porn' shocker

Having played a magical nanny (and a novice nun-turned-nanny), Julie Andrews was determined to shed her saccharine-sweet image. 

She once told an interviewer: 'Does Mary Poppins have an orgasm? Does she go to the bathroom? I assure you, she does.'

She got her wish in 1981's S.O.B., a satire of Hollywood made by husband Blake Edwards, in which she bared her breasts.

Andrews played a squeaky-clean film star in S.O.B., a satire of Hollywood made by husband Blake Edwards, in which she bared her breasts

Andrews played a squeaky-clean film star in S.O.B., a satire of Hollywood made by husband Blake Edwards, in which she bared her breasts

She played a squeaky-clean film star who allows her director husband to turn their floundering film into a soft porn movie.

Featuring a head-in-the-oven suicide attempt, an orgy, cross-dressing and giant erotic toys, the film had mixed reviews but cinemagoers never saw Andrews in quite the same way again.

 

The 'dangerous' older man she fell for

Andrews learned quickly about men in Hollywood. She had moved there with first husband Tony Walton and their daughter Emma but the couple drifted apart because of work. She was making The Sound Of Music as they were heading towards divorce.

To save her marriage, she reveals in her memoir, Home Work, she saw a psychoanalyst and briefly thought about giving up acting and singing.

As she was leaving the therapist's office one day, she met her next husband, Blake Edwards, while he was driving through LA in his Rolls.

First love: Andrews moved to Hollywood with first husband Tony Walton and their daughter Emma but the couple drifted apart because of work

First love: Andrews moved to Hollywood with first husband Tony Walton and their daughter Emma but the couple drifted apart because of work

'I was trying very hard not to fall in love with him,' she says of the director of Breakfast At Tiffany's and the Pink Panther films. 

'He was devastatingly funny, wicked even, but there was something dangerous about him.' 

He was 13 years her senior and it took her two years to agree to marry him, in 1969. 

Between them, they had five children — Emma, Edwards's two, Jennifer and Geoffrey, and two adopted Vietnamese girls, Amy and Joanna.

Volatile: Andrews's second husband, director Blake Edwards, was 13 years her senior

Volatile: Andrews's second husband, director Blake Edwards, was 13 years her senior

Andrews became a real-life nanny with Blake, who was beset by gall bladder problems, chest pains, infectious mononucleosis (called 'the kissing disease'), back pain and flu.

'Yes, very stressful times, always,' she says. They were together until his death from pneumonia in 2010.

Julie Andrews's spoonful of sauciness

The comments below have not been moderated.

The views expressed in the contents above are those of our users and do not necessarily reflect the views of MailOnline.

We are no longer accepting comments on this article.