When her mother and the man she believed to be her father divorced and her mother married variety performer Ted Andrews in 1939, Julia Elizabeth Wells changed her surname. Although Julie understandably disliked her abusive and alcoholic stepfather, and reflecting on this time in her life years later as 'a very black period', he and her mother's stage act provided inspiration for the young girl. They encouraged her ambitions by sending her to the independent Cone-Ripman School to study acting and dancing and then for vocal lessons with the celebrated soprano Madam Lillian Stiles-Allan. Blessed with perfect pitch and a four octave range, Andrew's talents were recognised by Madam Stiles-Allan and it was her tutoring that created Andrews' particularly precise English vocal delivery. At the age of ten she joined her parents on stage under the name of Julie Andrews, while the following year she made her BBC radio debut on Monday Night At Eight. In 1947 through her step-father's association with theatrical impresario Val Parnell she made her professional stage show debut performing the aria 'Je Suis Titania' in the revue Starlight Roof at the London Hippodrome shortly after her twelfth birthday. The same year she appeared at the Royal Command Performance, which saw her become the youngest performer ever to do so. While most girls her age were still at school Andrews' career was blossoming and was further extended with the release of her popular first recording 'Je Veux Vivre' on Columbia Records in 1948. More BBC radio appearances followed in Up The Pole and a regular role in the phenomenally popular Educating Archie comedy series, which routinely attracted audiences in excess of fifteen million listeners and provided a launch pad for many performers including Tony Hancock, Max Bygraves, Bruce Forsyth, Dick Emery and Benny Hill.
After further roles in children's shows such as Aladdin, Humpty Dumpty, Jack and the Beanstalk, Little Red Riding Hood and Cinderella she made her Broadway debut in 1954 in The Boy Friend which she followed the next year by starring opposite Rex Harrison in Lerner & Lowe's celebrated production of My Fair Lady on both Broadway and the London stage. In 1958 she released her debut solo album The Lass With The Delicate Air, a collection of folk songs that she had become familiar with on the British stage including Noel Coward's classic 'London Pride' and the standard 'The Floral Dance'. Later the same year she released her second long player Julie Andrews Sings which focused on songs written by such writers as George & Ira Gershwin, Cole Porter, Jerome Kern & Johnny Mercer, Rodgers & Hart, Rodgers & Hammerstein, Lerner & Lowe, Irving Berlin, Ivor Novello and Hoagy Carmichael. Although she lost out to Audrey Hepburn when My Fair Lady was turned into a film in 1964 she starred in four Julie Andrews Show's on BBC TV before returning to Broadway in Camelot where she starred as Queen Guinevere with Richard Burton as King Arthur. She then accepted her big screen debut in what would be one of the defining parts of her career with the leading role in Walt Disney's 1964 film Mary Poppins. Recognised with an Oscar and a Golden Globe Award for her 'practically perfect' performance and plaudits for her part in the subsequent 'The Americanization Of Emily' Andrews stock was at an all time high but her huge popularity and fame was about to pale into insignificance compared with what was to follow. An instant global blockbuster; The Sound Of Music was released in 1965 and became the highest grossing film of the year and the third highest grossing of all time. While Andrews went on to take acclaimed leading roles in popular films including Torn Curtain (1966), Hawaii (1966), Thoroughly Modern Millie (1967), Star! (1968), Darling Lily (1970), The Tamarind Seed (1974), 10 (1979), Victor Victoria (1982), That's Life (1986), Duet For One (1986) and The Princess Diaries (2001). She supplied voice acting in three of the Shrek movies even while it was always difficult to escape the spotlight of Mary Poppins and The Sound Of Music.
Her subsequent career has included more film, television and stage appearances as well as numerous successful albums including such highlights as Christmas With Julie Andrews (1982),Love Julie (1989), Here I'll Stay: The Words Of Alan Jay Lerner (1996) and Selects Her Favorite Disney Songs (2005). After having throat surgery to remove suspected nodules in 1997 her voice was left permanently impaired and she successfully brought a malpractice suit against the surgeons at New York's Mount Sinai Hospital, winning undisclosed (but rumoured to be £20 million) damages. Subsequent remedial surgery was only a partial success but has allowed her to sing again although with nothing like its former range or quality. With her daughter from her first marriage Emma Walton Hamilton, Andrews has co-written several children's books while her second husband (of forty-one years) film director Blake Edwards died in 2010 aged eighty-eight. Her dozens of career awards include an Oscar, a BAFTA, four Laurel Awards, five Golden Globes, three Grammys, two Emmy's, several Lifetime achievement awards, a BAFTA Silver Mask for her outstanding contribution to the medium and in 2000 she was made a Dame Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire by Queen Elizabeth II. With a career spanning a remarkable eight decades Julie Andrews remains one of Britain's greatest icons of 'prim and proper', and a most beloved actress and singer.
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