Author P.L. Travers (right), who created the character of a magical nanny in a series of Mary Poppins books, may have been all smiles with Julie Andrews and Walt Disney at the 1964 premiere of Mary Poppins. But in reality she never warmed to the film. ”She didn’t want to be remembered for the movie,” says Valerie Lawson, author of the Travers biography Mary Poppins, She Wrote.
To portray Travers in Saving Mr. Banks, Emma Thompson (with Tom Hanks as Walt Disney) threw herself into researching the author’s life. ”The more I found out, the more unusual and complex and interesting the journey became,” Thompson says. ”She was an extraordinary woman.”
Songwriting brothers Robert and Richard Sherman (played in the film by B.J. Novak and Jason Schwartzman) wrote timeless tunes for Mary Poppins. But Travers initially resisted making the film a musical. ”The first thing she said to us was, ‘I don’t even know why you are here. Mary Poppins doesn’t need music,’ ” Richard Sherman remembers.
Travers had strong feelings about how Mary Poppins (shown here in an early conceptual sketch) should be portrayed on screen. ”She had a deep belief that Mary Poppins was really a mystical creature who spoke to more than just children,” biographer Lawson says. ”She was frightened Disney would do something silly and meaningless.”
Travers approved of Andrews’ casting but strongly opposed Dick Van Dyke in the role of Bert. ”She wanted everyone on the film to be English,” says biographer Lawson.
Songwriters Robert and Richard Sherman, music supervisor Irwin Kostal, and Poppins costars Van Dyke and Andrews gather around the piano. ”Julie Andrews was born to play Mary Poppins,” Richard Sherman says. ”That characterization is part of the fabric of our lives.”
Richard Sherman, Andrews, Van Dyke, and Robert Sherman on the Poppins set. ”Walt [Disney] knew if he could harness that enchantment into one movie, he’d have a classic,” Richard Sherman says. ”And that’s exactly what he did.”
For more inside scoop on the making of Mary Poppins, pick up this week’s EW on newsstands today or buy it online now.