Also. Theory. Left: Jane Wyman in Pollyanna (1960)
Right: Julie Andrews, photoshoot during the 1960’s.
Methinks this may be from when Tony Walton was assembling accessories for Mary Poppins (1965).
I dare say they are almost identical.
Julie Andrews and Bob Wise on the set of Star! (1968)
I’m so DONE
Batch One of my witty Valentine Cards ;)
Darling Lili - Julie Andrews as Lili Smith wearing a low-cut gown made of golden silk faille and chiffon embellished with rhinestones, bugle beads and diamantés sewn into an elaborate series of panels.
The outfit also included a fur-trimmed velvet cape, satin opera gloves and a diamanté tiara.
The costumes were designed by Donald Brooks.
Because every so often, I have an epic win day. Scored not only the Blue Ray of Moulin Rouge for 10 bucks, but also for another ten bucks got The Stepford Wives, Mary Reilly AND Little Miss Marker on DVD
Let the fangirling and costume/actor/all over appreciation posts begin.
Julie Andrews, photographed by Irving Penn for American Vogue, May 1982.
The blue ray of Mary Poppins.
THE BLUE RAY OF MARY POPPINS
THE BLUE RAY!!!!!!!
I am speechless.
Another entry in Disney’s on-going, some might say desperate, attempts to rebottle the commercial lightning of Mary Poppins was Pete’s Dragon, a 1977 film made smack in the middle of what has been termed the Disney “wilderness years” (Boden). Following the deaths of Walt and his brother and business partner Roy Disney, in 1966 and 1971 respectively, Disney Productions fell into a protracted period of industrial and artistic malaise. The Disney Corporation managed to keep afloat financially and even post solid profits but this was largely due to revenue from the company’s hugely successful theme parks, merchandising operations, and lucrative back catalogue of film classics. The once great film unit of Disney Productions slipped steadily into artistic stagnation, churning out a stream of undistinguished and uninspired pictures, characterised by a preponderance of sequels and “insipid live action comedies” (Wyatt, 206). Writing in 1973, critic Richard Schickel commented: “The typical Disney movie today is static, over-reliant on low-grade verbal humor and ill-conceived comic situations—cars and chimpanzees that are almost human which is more than you can say for the people who appear in support of them.” As a result, income from Disney’s film and television production arm dropped alarmingly across this period from fifty per cent of the company’s total revenue in 1971 to less than a third in 1977 (Wyatt).
In an effort to break this spell of industrial and artistic decline, the company’s film unit recognised that it needed what a 1976 Time magazine profile called another “supercalifragilisticexpialidocious hit like Mary Poppins”…enter Pete’s Dragon. Based on an unpublished short story by Seton I. Miller and S.S. Field about a young orphan and his magical dragon friend in a turn-of the-twentieth-century Maine fishing village, Pete’s Dragon was a project that had been in the pipelines for some time. In fact, Disney had acquired rights to the property as early as the mid-1950s when it was originally intended for development as an episode of Disneyland, the popular long-running anthology TV series, with Walt Disney himself writing some dozen or so pages of rough notes outlining ideas. However, for reasons unknown, the project was shelved and wasn’t brought back out of development limbo till the mid-seventies when Disney execs suddenly thought it might provide the ideal property for a renewed stab at a Poppins-style family musical.
Enjoying what was for the time a hefty $11 million budget, the production team behind Pete’s Dragon went all out in an effort to rekindle the old Poppins magic, with an emphasis on high production values, dazzling special effects, and good old-fashioned family-friendly entertainment. Earlier script treatments had framed the story as a broadly realist drama with Elliott the dragon left unrepresented on screen, along the lines of an imaginary friend à la Harvey who may or may not have been real, but that approach quickly changed when the property was reconceived as a big screen spectacular. The decision was made to bring the story’s fantasy elements to the fore, using the kind of eye-popping, whiz-bang, live action-animation blend that had been a venerable Disney tradition but that hadn’t been essayed by the Studio since Bedknobs and Poppins. In further keeping with the Poppins-redux strategy, it was also decided to turn the film into a musical with a suite of big song-and-dance production numbers. Disney’s traditional go-to songwriting team, and the pair behind the award-winning Poppins score, the Sherman Brothers, had since moved on to become freelance operators and were either unavailable or uninterested, so the Studio contracted a new songwriting team in the form of Al Kasha and Joel Hirschhorn, a young pair who had just had considerable success penning the Oscar winning theme songs for The Poseidon Adventure (1973) and The Towering Inferno (1975). Kasha and Hirschorn were essentially pop songwriters and this was their first attempt at a traditional book musical score. Their inexperience and pop sensibility arguably shows in the songs they penned which are serviceable but lacking the kind of jaunty energy and child-friendly hummability of classic Disney scores. Nevertheless, they managed to compose a full suite of eleven original songs which were given a definite lift, as well as a more traditional Disney sound, by legendary musical arranger and Poppins alumnus, Irwin Kostal. To round out the old-fashioned musical feel, celebrated Broadway choreographer, Onna White was brought in to stage the numbers, and a range of classic Hollywood stars were cast in supporting roles including Mickey Rooney, Red Buttons, and Shelley Winters.
As suggested by its title, the narrative of Pete’s Dragon is principally focussed on the twin characters of Pete, the juvenile lead, and his animated fire-breathing pal, Elliott, but there was also provision in the tale for a lead adult female role in the form of Nora, the local lighthousekeeper’s feisty spinster daughter who takes Peter in and forms a strong maternal bond with him. No surprises for guessing who was top of the studio’s wish list for this role, at least in initial stages: Julie. Several sources (Spindle, Stirling) state categorically that Julie was offered the part but that she turned it down, possibly for the same reasons she passed on Bedknobs, as well as for the fact that by 1977 she was in an extended period of semi-retirement in Europe, focussed principally on child-rearing and limiting her work to the occasional TV special and live concert. In a 1978 interview, songwriters Kasha and Hirschorn also mentioned that there was some concern Julie, who would have been 41 at the time of filming, “was too old for the part” and that the production team was interested in “having someone from the pop market play the lead.” To that end, after Julie passed, the two candidates who emerged as frontrunners for the role were a pair of pop singers, both Australian as it happened, who were enjoying great success in the charts at the time, Olivia Newton-John and Helen Reddy. Newton-John opted to do the film version of Grease, a wise career move as that film became a huge success, which left Helen Reddy as the eventual female star of Pete’s Dragon.
Interestingly, publicity stories in the press at the time tried to forge comparisons of varying degrees between Reddy and Julie with the pop singer described as everything from the ”new Mary Poppins" to the "next Julie Andrews”. While Reddy had substantial experience as a recording and concert artist, she was essentially a newcomer to film, having made just one picture prior to Pete’s Dragon, the star-studded disaster flick, Airport 1975 in which she appeared in a cameo role as, funnily enough, a singing nun. In her autobiography, Reddy glosses over the whole experience of Pete’s Dragon with curious brevity, treating it almost as a marginal footnote to her career. “Even though I fulfilled my girlhood dream of starring in a Hollywood musical,” she writes, “I found film work to be boring.” (Reddy, 146) She would not make another major film again after Pete’s Dragon. However, there would be a few more Julie-related film connections. Notably, Reddy went on to sing the theme song, “Little Boys" for Blake Edwards’ 1983 movie, The Man Who Loved Women, starring Burt Reynolds and Julie, and, in duet with Dudley Moore, Reddy also performed “It’s Easy to Say”, the theme song from 10, at the 1980 Academy Awards ceremony.
When Pete’s Dragon finally reached the screens in November 1977, its reception was less than stellar and Disney’s hopes that it might have another Poppins on its hands were quickly dashed. Reviews were lukewarm at best, with many negative to the point of hostility. ”Pete’s Dragon should have been titled ‘Disney’s Turkey’,” wrote Fred Crafts of the Register-Guard, describing the film as “overlong, under plotted” and “about as much fun as getting the flu on Christmas morning.” Keeping the scathing puns flowing, Edward Jones of the Free-Lance Star dubbed the film, “Pete’s Draggin’,” dismissing it as a “two-and-a-quarter-hour film with decidedly unmagical artificiality,” while John Ruddy of The Montreal Gazette complained that the “movie lacks verve” and “good music” with songs that “are silly, boring and relatively tuneless.” As for Reddy, most reviews found her performance tolerable if undistinguished. ”She’s no Julie Andrews,” wrote Bunny Smith of the Lawrence Journal-World, “but Helen Reddy is well suited for the smooth and easy music and lyrics…and she’s reasonably convincing.” “Miss Reddy is passably sweet and sincere,” noted Dominique Paul Noth of The Milwaukee Journal, while Janet Maslin of the New York Times, in one of the film’s rare enthusiastic reviews,commented that ”Reddy is serviceable but undistinguished as an actress.” Even in her home country of Australia, Reddy was generally panned, with Martha DuBose, critic for The Sydney Morning Herald, writing: “Helen Reddy has been quoted predicting Pete’s Dragon will do for her what Mary Poppins did for Julie Andrews…[b]ut I’m afraid that both Helen Reddy and movie-goers expecting another supercalifragilisticexpialidocious experience are in for a disappointment. Pete’s Dragon is a cute film…but lacking the charm and the wit that made Mary Poppins something special.”
When awards season rolled around, Pete’s Dragon was largely ignored, other than in the music categories. It won a Golden Globe for Best Original Score, and was nominated for, but didn’t win, Academy Awards for Best Score and Best Original Song for the lovely ballad, “Candle on the Water”. This song, which is arguably the only memorable tune to come out of the score, was also released in a commercial pop version by Reddy, but it ultimately lost out at the Oscars to “You Light Up My Life" from the film of the same name.
Despite the critical drubbings, Pete’s Dragon fared surprisingly well in commercial terms with the film posting solid receipts. It certainly didn’t recreate Poppins box office magic for Disney but it managed to earn a respectable domestic gross of $18.5million, enough to make it the 17th highest ranked earner of the year according to Variety. It was however slow to start and, panicking that they might have a flop on their hands, Disney execs ordered substantial cuts to the film ahead of its international release, excising almost forty minutes of the film’s original running time, including many of the musical numbers. Whether or not the cuts were warranted, the film ended up doing brisk business abroad and, when international revenue was factored in, Pete’s Dragon realised final takings in excess of $38million, ensuring a solid profit for Disney.
It wasn’t enough, however, to stop the sense of industrial and creative malaise at Disney. Not long after the release of Pete’s Dragon, problems at the ‘Mouse Factory’ reached a peak and hit the headlines when, in late-1979, a group of fourteen senior creative personnel from the Studio’s animation department, lead by Don Bluth who had been director of animation on Pete’s Dragon, walked out, citing compromised artistic and working conditions, and set up their own rival company. It would be several more years and a few more rounds of industrial reorganisation before Disney would regain some of its former glory with the so-called ‘Disney Renaissance' of the 1990s when the Studio enjoyed a string of major new hits…and, as will be seen in the next post here in the Parallel Julie-verse, that's an episode of Disney history with yet another Julie connection!
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Harris, Thomas J. Children’s Live-Action Musical Films: A Critical Survey and Filmography. McFarland & Company, 1989.
Hischak, Thomas S. The Oxford Companion to the American Musical: Theatre, Film, and Television. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008.
Krämer, Peter. “‘The Best Disney Film Disney Never Made’: Children’s Films and the Family Audience in American Cinemas since the 1960s”. Genre And Contemporary Hollywood. Steve Neale, ed. London: British Film Institute, 2002.
Pallant, Chris. Demystifying Disney: A History of Disney Feature Animation. London: Continuum, 2011.
Reddy, Helen, The Woman I Am: A Memoir. New York: Tarcher/Penguin. 2006.
Spindle, Les. Julie Andrews: A Bio-Bibliography. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1989.
Stirling, Richard. Julie Andrews: An Intimate Biography. London: MacMillan, 2008.
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