Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Going Home

Going Home

In the wee hours of Monday morning, I arrived home from my two week tour of Australia. While now jetlagged, I had a fantastic trip, not only because of the sights I took in, but especially because of the friends and family I got to see (as well as new friends I had the pleasure of meeting: Rob and Harriet, Elizabeth, Jenta, Maylise, Daniela and, of course, Wayne).

Still, it was wonderful to return home. But the thought of home was never far away thanks to one particular reading selection I brought along on my journey: Dame Julie Andrews' exceptional autobiography, "Home."

Ten years ago this fall, I had an extraordinary opportunity to meet this extremely gracious and talented actress. In the fall of 1998, Julie Andrews was a keynote speaker at that year's World Travel Congress convening in Los Angeles.

As the public relations director for the trade association sponsoring the global event for over 4000 delegates, I was asked if I would mind escorting her throughout the afternoon she would be spending with us. That invitation was like asking a little child on his birthday if he'd mind opening up just one more gift.

I eagerly accepted the assignment, but was extremely tense when the moment came to greet her arrival at the convention center. I kept wondering whether I would be disappointed, whether Julie Andrews would somehow not be the same wonderfully humane and approachable individual I'd always envisioned she'd be. Plus, what if I made a buffoon of myself?!

Moments after meeting her, I was put completely at ease. Julie Andrews was the epitome of grace and kindness. She was everything I'd hoped she'd be and so much more. Easygoing, charming and absolutely nice, her demeanor helped make me comfortable so that I could in turn concentrate on doing my job: making her feel comfortable, and hopefully very welcome, in return.

The Academy Award-winning actress delivered a beautifully heartfelt and inspiring address on how traveling helped shape her life. Once her speech concluded, I showed Dame Andrews to our version of a green room, where she greeted our dignitaries and posed for pictures. Never showing any signs of tiring, this consummate professional graciously met with one after another of her gathered fans. I was personally touched when she had me join her for a series of shots taken from virtually every angle by the throng of photographers. And I'll never forget how affable she was, right up until the moment I escorted her to her waiting car.

I relay this story because if nothing else, my personal experience with Julie Andrews made me an even bigger fan. I found myself searching out the number of films of hers I had never seen. It also gave me greater appreciation for her work in old favorites, whether it was "Mary Poppins" -- one of the first films I ever saw -- or "The Sound of Music" or her more recent role in "Victor Victoria." My experience also made me eager to take in her directorial debut -- a stage revival of The Boy Friend she was helming five years ago this month at the Bay Street Theatre in Sag Harbor, New York.

So when I learned that Dame Andrews had written the memoirs for her early years, I didn't even think twice about purchasing it. I couldn't wait to read it.

And now that I've read it, I can tell you that for anyone who loves live theatre, this is a must-read. With a flair for writing, Julie Andrews walks her audience through her earliest years, including insights into her often difficult childhood and family life, as well as English vaudeville, World War II, and her budding entertainment career both in London and on Broadway right up until she and her family leave for Hollywood to begin filming "Mary Poppins."

The detail the three-time Tony nominee provides on each of her first three Broadway roles -- Polly in The Boy Friend (1954-55), Eliza Doolittle in My Fair Lady (1956-58) and Guenevere in Camelot (1960-62) -- is nothing short of a treasure trove of information on what it was like to star on the Great White Way during the Golden Age of the Broadway musical. With a sly sense of humor, she offers an abundance of amusing anecdotes that alone are worth the price of the book.

Inspiring through and through, Julie Andrews shares some of the motivation that helped transform her, including a crystalizing quote from one of her early mentors: "The amateur works until they get something right. The professional works until they can't go wrong."

Given the high level of integrity and fortitude Julie Andrews has shown throughout her lengthy and distinguished career, it's a given that she's a professional's professional through and through. But by sharing so much of her own personal anguish, longing and ultimately her sense of "home," the actress invites us into her life and the home she's created. In doing so, Julie Andrews distinguishes herself even more as an immensely gifted author.

I for one can't wait to read the next installment.

This is Steve On Broadway (SOB).

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At 06 August, 2008, Anonymous BroadwayBaby said...

I read the book based on your recommendation, Steve, and loved it!

At 06 August, 2008, Blogger Esther said...

Wow, Steve! What a brush with greatness! I had no idea that you spent an afternoon escorting Julie Andrews. What a terrific story and a wonderful personal connection. What a memorable experience.

It's also nice to know that she's so charming and gracious in person. So this means that somewhere, there's a picture of you with Julie Andrews, right? ;-)

And the book sounds great. I'd been thinking about buying it, and now I definitely will!

At 06 August, 2008, Blogger Roger said...

I'm glad to hear that she was as much of a Lady in real life as she seems on film. Thank you for this entry.

At 06 August, 2008, Blogger Theatre Aficionado at Large said...

You know, "Mary Poppins" was one of my very movies too...

My three and four year old self couldn't help but think how much more attractive she was as the dolled-up Edwardian brunette as opposed to the tomboyish and blonde nun.

That's one of the reasons I no longer stage door, I fear my illusions of the real person will be shattered.

Glad she was everything and more!

At 06 August, 2008, Blogger Emily said...

What a great story. Your experience with Julie Andrews is similar to the one described in the fiction book My Most Excellent Year by Steve Kluger. It's always wonderful to hear about classy celebrities.

At 06 August, 2008, Blogger the artist formerly known as jess. said...


Looove her. You're so lucky that you had the pleasure to be in her presence. I have no doubt that she was every bit as gracious as you say she was; she just radiates genuine kindness and warmth.

I've been meaning to borrow the book at the library...maybe when I don't have so much schoolwork to do, I'll grab it.

At 06 August, 2008, Blogger Steve On Broadway (SOB) said...

BB, Glad you enjoyed. It's a great read. Emily, I'll have to take a look at that book.

All, make no mistake, if the dictionary were to define "class act," Julie Andrews' picture would be next to the entry.

At 03 June, 2010, Blogger Linda said...

This is an old post, but I'm commenting now because you just linked to it on Twitter, and I'm so glad you did. I never knew you met Julie Andrews! She is one of the top people I'd love to meet. I'm so glad she's as nice as I always imagined her to be. She was such a part of my childhood, between two of my most watched movies, Mary Poppins and The Sound of Music. I loved this book as well. I had no idea she had such a difficult childhood before reading it. I think my favorite part was when she spoke about meeting Joseph Papp and he told her he had this idea about free Shakespeare.


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