Julia Elizabeth Wells was born on 1 October 1935 in Walton-on-Thames, Surrey, England. Her mother, Barbara Ward Wells (née Morris) (1910–1984) was born in Chertsey and married Edward Charles "Ted" Wells (1908–1990), a teacher of metalwork and woodwork in 1932. However, Andrews was conceived as a result of an affair her mother had with a family friend believed to be Alfred Westmacott, a boat builder who designed the popular XOD sailboat. Andrews discovered her true parentage from her mother in 1950, although it was not publicly disclosed until her 2008 autobiography.
With the outbreak of World War II, Barbara and Ted Wells went their separate ways and were soon divorced. They both remarried: Barbara to Ted Andrews, in 1943, and Ted Wells, in 1944, to Winifred Maud (Hyde) Birkhead, a war widow and former hairstylist working a lathe at a war work factory that employed them both in Hinchley Wood, Surrey. Ted Wells assisted with evacuating children to Surrey during the Blitz, while Barbara joined Ted Andrews in entertaining the troops through the Entertainments National Service Association (ENSA).
Andrews lived briefly with Ted Wells and her brother John in Surrey. In 1940, Ted Wells sent young Julia to live with her mother and stepfather, who, the elder Wells thought, would be better able to provide for his talented daughter's artistic training. According to her 2008 autobiography Home, while Julie had been used to calling Ted Andrews "Uncle Ted", her mother suggested it would be more appropriate to refer to her stepfather as "Pop", while her father remained "Dad" or "Daddy" to her. Julie disliked this change.
The Andrews family was "very poor and we lived in a bad slum area of London," Andrews recalled, adding, "That was a very black period in my life." According to Andrews, her stepfather was violent and an alcoholic. Ted Andrews twice, while drunk, tried to get into bed with his stepdaughter, resulting in Andrews fitting a lock on her door. But, as the stage career of Ted and Barbara Andrews improved, they were able to afford to move to better surroundings, first to Beckenham and then, as the war ended, back to the Andrews' hometown of Hersham. The Andrews family took up residence at the Old Meuse, in West Grove, Hersham, a house (now demolished) where Andrews' maternal grandmother had served as a maid.
Andrews' stepfather sponsored lessons for her, first at the Cone-Ripman School (now known commonly as ArtsEd), an independent arts educational school in London, then with concert soprano and voice instructor Madame Lilian Stiles-Allen. "She had an enormous influence on me", Andrews said of Stiles-Allen, adding, "She was my third mother – I've got more mothers and fathers than anyone in the world." In her memoir Julie Andrews – My Star Pupil, Stiles-Allen records: "The range, accuracy, and tone of Julie's voice amazed me ... she had possessed the rare gift of absolute pitch" (though Andrews herself refutes this in her 2008 autobiography Home). According to Andrews: "Madame was sure that I could do Mozart and Rossini, but, to be honest, I never was". Of her own voice, she says "I had a very pure, white, thin voice, a four-octave range – dogs would come for miles around." After Cone-Ripman School, Andrews continued her academic education at the nearby Woodbrook School, a local state school in Beckenham.
Beginning in 1945, and for the next two years, Julie Andrews performed spontaneously and unbilled on stage with her parents. "Then came the day when I was told I must go to bed in the afternoon because I was going to be allowed to sing with Mummy and Pop in the evening," Andrews explained. She would stand on a beer crate to sing into the microphone, sometimes a solo or as a duet with her stepfather, while her mother played piano. "It must have been ghastly, but it seemed to go down all right."
Julie Andrews gained her big break when her stepfather introduced her to Val Parnell, whose Moss Empires controlled prominent venues in London. Andrews made her professional solo debut at the London Hippodrome singing the difficult aria "Je suis Titania" from Mignon as part of a musical revue called "Starlight Roof" on 22 October 1947. She played the Hippodrome for one year. Andrews recalled: "Starlight Roof" saying, "There was this wonderful American person and comedian, Wally Boag, who made balloon animals. He would say, 'Is there any little girl or boy in the audience who would like one of these?' And I would rush up onstage and say, 'I'd like one, please.' And then he would chat to me and I'd tell him I sang... I was fortunate in that I absolutely stopped the show cold. I mean, the audience went crazy."
On 1 November 1948, Julie Andrews (aged 13) became the youngest solo performer ever to be seen in a Royal Command Variety Performance before King George VI and Queen Elizabeth at the London Palladium, where she performed along with Danny Kaye, the Nicholas Brothers, and the comedy team George and Bert Bernard.
Julie Andrews followed her parents into radio and television. She performed in musical interludes of the BBC Light Programme comedy show Up the Pole and later Educating Archie, of which she was a cast member from 1950 to 1952. She reportedly made her television début on the BBC programme RadiOlympia Showtime on 8 October 1949.
Andrews appeared on West End theatre at the London Casino, where she played one year each as Princess Badroulbadour in Aladdin and the egg in Humpty Dumpty. She also appeared on provincial stages in Jack and the Beanstalk and Little Red Riding Hood, as well as starring as the lead role in Cinderella.
On 30 September 1954 on the eve of her 19th birthday, Julie Andrews made her Broadway debut portraying Polly Browne in the already highly successful London musical The Boy Friend. To the critics, Andrews was the stand-out performer in the show. Near the end of her Boy Friend contract, as a Londoner Andrews was asked to audition for the role of Cockney flower girl Eliza Doolittle in My Fair Lady on Broadway and got the part. In November 1955, Andrews was signed to appear with Bing Crosby in what one source calls the first made-for-television film, High Tor, which aired on the Ford Star Jubilee in March 1956.
Andrews auditioned for a part in the Richard Rodgers musical Pipe Dream. Although Rodgers wanted her for Pipe Dream, he advised her to take the part in the Frederick Loewe and Alan Jay Lerner musical My Fair Lady if it were offered to her. In 1956, she appeared on stage in My Fair Lady as Eliza Doolittle to Rex Harrison's Henry Higgins. Rodgers was so impressed with Andrews' talent that concurrent with her run in My Fair Lady she was featured in the Rodgers and Hammerstein television musical, Cinderella.
Cinderella was broadcast live on CBS on 31 March 1957 under the musical direction of Alfredo Antonini and had an estimated 107 million viewers. The show was broadcast in colour from CBS Studio 72, at 2248 Broadway in New York City. Only a black-and-white kinescope remains, which has been released on DVD. Andrews was nominated for an Emmy Award for her performance.
In 1957, Andrews released her debut solo album, The Lass with the Delicate Air, which harked back to her British music hall days. The album includes performances of English folk songs as well as the World War II anthem, "London Pride", a patriotic song written by Noël Coward in 1941 during the Blitz, which Andrews herself had survived.
Between 1956 and 1962, Andrews guest-starred on The Ed Sullivan Show (15 July 1956), and also appeared on The Dinah Shore Chevy Show, What's My Line?, The Jack Benny Program, The Bell Telephone Hour and The Garry Moore Show. In June 1962, Andrews co-starred in Julie and Carol at Carnegie Hall, a CBS special with Carol Burnett.
In 1960, Lerner and Loewe again cast her in a period musical as Queen Guinevere in Camelot, along with Richard Burton (as King Arthur) and newcomer Robert Goulet. However, because film studio head Jack L. Warner decided Andrews lacked sufficient name recognition for her casting in the film version of My Fair Lady, Eliza was instead played by the established film actress Audrey Hepburn. As Warner later recalled, the decision was easy, "In my business, I have to know who brings people and their money to a cinema box office. Audrey Hepburn had never made a financial flop."
In 1963, Andrews began her work in the title role of Disney's musical film Mary Poppins. Walt Disney had seen her performance as Queen Guinevere and thought she would be perfect for the role of the British nanny who is "practically perfect in every way!" Andrews initially declined because of pregnancy, returning to London to give birth, but Disney firmly insisted, saying, "We'll wait for you."
Mary Poppins became the biggest box-office draw in Disney history. Andrews won the 1964 Academy Award for Best Actress and the Golden Globe Award for Best Actress – Motion Picture Comedy or Musical for her performance. She and her co-stars also won the 1965 Grammy Award for Best Album for Children. As a measure of "sweet revenge," as Poppins songwriter Richard M. Sherman put it, Andrews closed her acceptance speech at the Golden Globes by saying, "And, finally, my thanks to a man who made a wonderful movie and who made all this possible in the first place, Mr. Jack Warner." My Fair Lady was in direct competition for the awards.
Andrews starred opposite James Garner in The Americanization of Emily (1964), for which she was nominated for the BAFTA Award for Best British Actress in a Leading Role. A comedy-drama war film set in London during World War II, Andrews has described it as her favourite film, a sentiment shared by her co-star Garner.
In 1965, Andrews starred in The Sound of Music, which was the highest-grossing film of the year. It was also the biggest hit in the history of 20th Century Fox. In 2013, it was the third highest-grossing film of all time in the US, adjusted for inflation. For her performance as Maria von Trapp, Andrews won her second Golden Globe Award for Best Actress – Motion Picture Comedy or Musical. She was nominated a second time for the BAFTA Award for Best British Actress in a Leading Role and was also nominated for the Academy Award for Best Actress, though in both awards she lost to Julie Christie, for Darling.
After completing The Sound of Music, Andrews appeared as a guest star on the NBC-TV variety series The Andy Williams Show. She followed this television appearance with an Emmy Award-winning special, The Julie Andrews Show, which featured Gene Kelly and the New Christy Minstrels as guests. It aired on NBC-TV in November 1965.
In 1966, Andrews starred in Hawaii, the highest-grossing film of its year. Also in 1966, she starred opposite Paul Newman in Torn Curtain, which was directed by Alfred Hitchcock. The following year, she played the title character in Thoroughly Modern Millie (1967), for which she received a Golden Globe nomination. At the time, Thoroughly Modern Millie and Torn Curtain were the biggest and second biggest hits in Universal Pictures history, respectively.
Andrews next appeared in two of Hollywood's most expensive flops: Star! (1968), a biopic of Gertrude Lawrence; and Darling Lili (1970), co-starring Rock Hudson and directed by her second husband, Blake Edwards. In 1970, Andrews was the first choice to play the English witch Eglantine Price in Disney's Bedknobs and Broomsticks, with the role eventually going to Angela Lansbury.
Andrews continued working in television. In 1969, she shared the spotlight with singer Harry Belafonte for an NBC-TV special, An Evening with Julie Andrews and Harry Belafonte. In 1971, she appeared as a guest for the Grand Opening Special of Walt Disney World, and that same year she and Carol Burnett headlined a CBS special, Julie and Carol At Lincoln Center. In 1972–73, Andrews starred in her own television variety series, The Julie Andrews Hour, on the ABC network. The show won seven Emmy Awards but was cancelled after one season.
Between 1973 and 1975, Andrews continued her association with ABC by headlining five variety specials for the network. She guest-starred on The Muppet Show in 1977, and the following year, she appeared again with the Muppets on a CBS television variety special. The programme, Julie Andrews: One Step Into Spring, aired in March 1978, to mixed reviews and mediocre ratings. She made only two other films in the 1970s, The Tamarind Seed (1974) and 10 (1979).
In February 1980, Andrews headlined "Because We Care", a CBS-TV special with 30 major stars raising funds for Cambodian Famine victims through Operation California (now Operation USA, on whose Board she serves). Later that year, she starred in the film Little Miss Marker. In 1981, she appeared in Blake Edwards' S.O.B. (1981) in which she played Sally Miles, a character who agrees to "show my boobies" in a scene in the film-within-a-film. That was Andrews's first on-screen nude scene and got much attention as she poked fun at her own squeaky-clean image.
In 1982, Andrews played a dual role of Victoria Grant and Count Victor Grezhinski in the film Victor/Victoria once again playing opposite James Garner. Her performance earned her a Golden Globe Award for Best Actress – Motion Picture Comedy or Musical, as well as a nomination for the 1982 Academy Award for Best Actress, her third Oscar nomination.
In 1983, Andrews was chosen as the Hasty Pudding Woman of the Year by the Harvard University Theatrical Society. That year, she co-starred with Burt Reynolds in The Man Who Loved Women. Her next two films were That's Life! and Duet for One (both 1986), which earned her Golden Globe nominations.
In December 1987, Andrews starred in an ABC Christmas special, Julie Andrews: The Sound Of Christmas, which went on to win five Emmy Awards. Two years later, she was reunited for the third time with Carol Burnett for a variety special which aired on ABC in December 1989.
In 1991, Andrews made her television dramatic debut in the ABC made-for-TV film, Our Sons, co-starring Ann-Margret. Andrews was named a Disney Legend within the year. In the summer of 1992, Andrews starred in her first television sitcom, the short-lived Julie aired on ABC for only seven episodes and co-starred James Farentino. In December 1992, she hosted the NBC holiday special, Christmas In Washington.
In 1993, she starred in a limited run at the Manhattan Theatre Club in the American premiere of Stephen Sondheim's revue, Putting It Together. Between 1994 and 1995 Andrews recorded two solo albums – the first saluted the music of Richard Rodgers and the second paid tribute to the words of Alan Jay Lerner. In 1995, she starred in the stage musical version of Victor/Victoria. It was her first appearance in a Broadway show in 35 years. Opening on Broadway on 25 October 1995 at the Marquis Theatre, it later went on the road for a world tour. When she was the only Tony Award nominee for the production, she declined the nomination saying that she could not accept because she felt the entire production was snubbed.
Andrews was forced to quit the show towards the end of the Broadway run in 1997 when she developed hoarseness in her voice. She subsequently underwent surgery at New York's Mount Sinai Hospital to remove non-cancerous nodules from her throat. (However, Andrews has recently stated that it was due to "a certain kind of muscular striation [that] happens on the vocal cords" as a result of strain from Victor/Victoria, adding "I didn't have cancer, I didn't have nodules, I didn't have anything.") She emerged from the surgery with permanent damage that destroyed the purity of her singing and gave a rasp to her speaking voice. In 1999 she filed a malpractice suit against the doctors at Mount Sinai Hospital, including Scott Kessler and Jeffrey Libin, who had operated on her throat. Originally, the doctors assured Andrews that she should regain her voice within six weeks, but Andrews' stepdaughter Jennifer Edwards said in 1999 "it's been two years, and it [her singing voice] still hasn't returned." The lawsuit was settled in September 2000 for an undisclosed amount.
Andrews admits that she has never recovered from the botched attempt to remove nodules from her vocal cords back in 1997. Her famous, four-octave soprano was then reduced to a fragile alto – she was quoted at the time as saying "I can sing the hell out of "Old Man River."
Subsequently, from 2000 onwards, Steven M. Zeitels, director of the Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) Center for Laryngeal Surgery and Voice Rehabilitation, operated on her four times and while able to improve her speaking voice, was unable to restore her singing.
Despite the loss of her singing voice, she kept busy with many projects. In 1998, she appeared in a stage production of Dr. Dolittle in London. As recounted on the Julie Andrews website, she performed the voice of Polynesia the parrot and "recorded some 700 sentences and sounds, which were placed on a computer chip that sat in the mechanical bird's mouth. In the song 'Talk to the Animals,' Polynesia the parrot even sings." The next year Andrews was reunited with James Garner for the CBS made-for-TV film, One Special Night, which aired in November 1999.
In the 2000 New Year Honours List, Andrews was made a Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire (DBE) for services to the performing arts by Queen Elizabeth II at Buckingham Palace. In 2002, Andrews was among the guests at the Queen's Golden Jubilee Hollywood party held at the Beverly Wilshire Hotel. She also appears at No.59 on the 2002 poll of the "100 Greatest Britons" sponsored by the BBC and chosen by the British public.
In 2001, Andrews received Kennedy Center Honors. The same year, she reunited with Sound of Music co-star Christopher Plummer in a live television performance of On Golden Pond (an adaptation of the 1979 play).
In 2001, Andrews appeared in The Princess Diaries, her first Disney film since Mary Poppins (1964). She starred as Queen Clarisse Marie Renaldi and reprised the role in a sequel, The Princess Diaries 2: Royal Engagement (2004). In The Princess Diaries 2, Andrews sang on film for the first time since having throat surgery. The song, "Your Crowning Glory" (a duet with teen idol Raven-Symoné), was set in a limited range of an octave to accommodate her recovering voice. The film's music supervisor, Dawn Soler, recalled that Andrews "nailed the song on the first take. I looked around and I saw grips with tears in their eyes."
Andrews continued her association with Disney when she appeared as the nanny in two television films based on the Eloise books, a series of children's books by Kay Thompson about a child who lives in the Plaza Hotel in New York City. Eloise at the Plaza premiered in April 2003, and Eloise at Christmastime was broadcast in November 2003; Andrews was nominated for an Emmy Award. The same year she made her debut as a theatre director, directing a revival of The Boy Friend, the musical in which she made her 1954 Broadway debut, at the Bay Street Theatre in Sag Harbor, New York. Her production, which featured costume and scenic design by her former husband Tony Walton, was remounted at the Goodspeed Opera House in 2005 and went on a national tour in 2006.
From 2005 to 2006, Andrews served as the Official Ambassador for Disneyland's 18-month-long, 50th-anniversary celebration, the "Happiest Homecoming on Earth", travelling to promote the celebration, and recording narration and appearing at several events at the park. On 17 March 2005, Andrews appeared onstage during the curtain calls for the musical of Mary Poppins at the Prince Edward Theatre in London's West End, where she gave a speech recalling her own memories from making the film and praised the cast for their new interpretation.
In 2004, Andrews performed the voice of Queen Lillian in the animated blockbuster Shrek 2 (2004), reprising the role for its sequels, Shrek the Third (2007) and Shrek Forever After (2010). Later, in 2007, she narrated Enchanted, a live-action Disney musical comedy that both poked fun at and paid homage to classic Disney films such as Mary Poppins.
In January 2007, Andrews was honoured with the Lifetime Achievement Award at the Screen Actors Guild's awards and stated that her goals included continuing to direct for the stage and possibly to produce her own Broadway musical. She published Home: A Memoir of My Early Years, which she characterised as "part one" of her autobiography, on 1 April 2008. Home chronicles her early years in Britain's music hall circuit and ends in 1962 with her winning the role of Mary Poppins. For a Walt Disney video release, she again portrayed Mary Poppins and narrated the story of The Cat That Looked at a King in 2004.
In July through early August 2008, Andrews hosted Julie Andrews' The Gift of Music, a short tour of the United States where she sang various Rodgers and Hammerstein songs and symphonised her recently published book, Simeon's Gift. These were her first public singing performances in a dozen years, due to her failed vocal cord surgery.
In January 2009, Andrews was named on The Times’ list of the top 10 British Actresses of all time. The list included Helen Mirren, Helena Bonham Carter, Judi Dench, and Audrey Hepburn. On 8 May 2009, Andrews received the honorary George and Ira Gershwin Award for Lifetime Achievement in Music at the annual UCLA Spring Sing competition in Pauley Pavilion.
In January 2010, Andrews was the official United States presenter of the New Year's Day Vienna concert. This was her second appearance in this role, after presenting the previous year's concert. Andrews also had a supporting role in the film Tooth Fairy, which opened to unfavourable reviews although the box office receipts were successful. On her promotion tour for the film, she also spoke of Operation USA and the aid campaign to the Haiti disaster.
On 8 May 2010, Andrews made her London comeback after a 21-year absence (her last performance there was a Christmas concert at the Royal Festival Hall in 1989). She performed at The O2 Arena, accompanied by the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra and an ensemble of five performers. Earlier (on 15 December 2009 and on many other occasions), she appeared on British television saying that rumours that she would be singing at the performance were not true and that she would be doing a form of "speak singing". Yet she actually sang two solos and several duets and ensemble pieces. The evening, though well received by the 20,000 fans present, who gave her standing ovation after standing ovation, did not convince the critics.
On 18 May 2010, Andrews' 23rd book (this one also written with her daughter Emma) was published. In June 2010 the book, entitled The Very Fairy Princess, reached number 1 on The New York Times Best Seller List for Children's Books. On 21 May 2010, her film Shrek Forever After was released; in it Andrews reprises her role as the Queen. On 9 July 2010, Despicable Me, an animated film in which Andrews lent her voice to Marlena, the thoughtless and soul-crushing mother of the main character Gru (voiced by Steve Carell), opened to rave reviews and strong box office.
On 28 October 2010, Andrews appeared, along with the actors who portrayed the cinematic von Trapp family members, on Oprah to commemorate the film's 45th anniversary. A few days later, her 24th book, Little Bo in Italy, was published. On 15 December 2010, Andrews' husband Blake Edwards died at the age of 88, of complications of pneumonia at the Saint John's Health Center in Santa Monica, California. Andrews was by her husband's side when he died.
In February 2011, Andrews received a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award and, with her daughter Emma, a Grammy for best spoken-word album for children (for A Collection of Poems, Songs and Lullabies), at the 53rd Grammy Awards.
At the age of 77, Andrews undertook her first tour of Australia and New Zealand in 2013, hosted by Nicholas Hammond who was a boy of 14 when they appeared together in The Sound of Music. In place of singing, she planned a series of speaking engagements in Australia's five mainland state capitals. There were security concerns surrounding the event at New Zealand. The following year she took the same show on a tour of England, culminating in two shows in London.
In 2015 Andrews made a surprise appearance at the Oscars, greeting Lady Gaga who paid her homage by singing a medley from The Sound of Music. This became a social media sensation, trending all over the world. Lyndon Terracini announced in August 2015 that Andrews will direct My Fair Lady in 2016 for Opera Australia at the Sydney Opera House.
In 2016 Andrews created the preschool television series Julie's Greenroom with her daughter, Emma Walton Hamilton and Judy Rothman. Andrews will be joined by her assistant Gus (Giullian Yao Gioiello) and “Greenies,” a cast of original puppets built by The Jim Henson Company and will premiere on Netflix in 2017.
Andrews has been married twice, first to set designer Tony Walton from 1959 until 1967, then to director Blake Edwards from 1969 until his death in 2010.
Andrews married Walton on 10 May 1959 in Weybridge, Surrey. They had first met in 1948 when Andrews was appearing at the London Casino in the show Humpty Dumpty. Andrews and Walton headed back to London in September 1962 to await the birth of daughter Emma Katherine Walton, who was born in London two months later.
Andrews married Edwards in 1969; his children from a previous marriage, Jennifer and Geoffrey, were 3 and 5 years older than Emma, Andrews' daughter with Tony Walton. In the 1970s, Edwards and Andrews adopted two daughters; Amy in 1974 and Joanna in 1975. Andrews is a grandmother to nine and great-grandmother to three.
Termed "Britain’s Youngest Prima Donna", Andrews' classically trained soprano, lauded for its "pure and clear" sound, has been described as light, bright and operatic in tone. When a young Andrews was taken by her parents to be examined by a throat specialist, the doctor concluded that she had "an almost adult larynx." In spite of the fact that her voice teacher, English soprano Lilian Stiles-Allen, continually encouraged her to pursue opera, Andrews herself felt that her voice was unsuited for the genre and "too big a stretch for [her]". At the time, Andrews described her own voice as "extremely high and thin", feeling that it lacked "the necessary guts and weight for opera", preferring musical theatre instead. As Andrews aged, so did her voice, which began to naturally deepen. Losing her vast upper register, her "top notes" became increasingly difficult to sing while "her middle register matured into the warm golden tone" for which she has become known, according to Tim Wong of The Daily Telegraph.
Musically, Andrews had always preferred singing music that was "bright and sunny", choosing to avoid songs that were sad, depressing, upsetting, or written in a minor key, for fear of losing her voice "in a mess of emotion". She cited this as yet another reason for avoiding opera.
†Mrs Andrews declined the nomination for her role in Victor/Victoria citing that she felt that the rest of the company had been overlooked
Andrews has received many honorary degrees in recognition of her distinguished career in entertainment. These include:1970: University of Maryland – Doctor of Fine Arts1999: Yale University – Doctor of Fine Arts2012: Stony Brook University – Doctor of Letters