Next in line for memoirs by inspiring female public figures. To not take away the many tantalizing and surprising bits, it was a filling, eye-opening read from an artist known not only for her unique singing voice, but cheery public image. I grew up with watching The Sound of Music and Mary Poppins, and while I was mesmerized by Julie Andrews’ singing, since I was little I had always noticed, that when she smiled, her smile reached her eyes. Not many people have that quality. That’s what makes it all the more fascinating, as well as grounding, to discover the hardships that she faced throughout her childhood and youth, filled with work. Despite the very real challenges in her life, what stands out is her enjoyment of life and people, her matter-of-fact descriptions of hard times, and the seemingly natural taking on of staggering responsibility for both her family and her career. Never once does she turn away, and when she describes her theater experience, you get the sense that she was simply where she was meant to be. Reading and writing defined her almost as much as singing did, in fact. Whatever life threw her way, and as much as she had to carry on her shoulders even when she was just a girl, she was always capable of having fun.
She also presents valuable insights on the ever current topic of what it’s like for a woman to work in the entertainment industry, and some experiences that she recounts are not that far removed from what we hear about today. One of the passages that I couldn’t stop thinking about after reading it (after the first preview of the US performance of My Fair Lady): “Everyone rushed to Rex’s dressing room to congratulate him. I slumped in my chair, thinking, ‘I don’t believe we did it…’ at which point my door was flung open and Cecil Beaton flew in. The little hat that I wore with the yellow suit was lying on my dressing table. It was an oval shape and flat like a saucer. In he haste of pinning up my hair and the hat going on my head in the quick change, it had been put on back to front. It was the only thing that night that hadn’t been done correctly. Beaton picked up the hat and slammed it on to my had. ‘Not that way, you silly bitch – this way!’ he snapped. I nearly burst into tears.”
If you’re wondering, she doesn’t elaborate any further on this incident, or recount how she felt when she got home, or indeed the next day. But as she says later in the book, “When actors work together there is a tacit understanding that the show and its message are what matters above all else. Personal issues are set aside once the curtain is up.”
Cue massive Sound of Music nostalgia (though she rarely mentions the film in her memoir).