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Julie Andrews says she's not the squeaky clean lady you might expect

DAVID BIANCULLI, HOST:

This is FRESH AIR. I'm David Bianculli, professor of television studies at Rowan University in New Jersey, in for Terry Gross.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "MARY POPPINS")

JULIE ANDREWS: (As Mary Poppins) Now then, the qualifications. Item one - a cheery disposition. I am never cross. Item two - rosy cheeks, obviously. Item three - play games, all sorts. Well, I'm sure the children will find my games extremely diverting.

BIANCULLI: That's Julie Andrews in 1964's "Mary Poppins" interviewing for the job of a nanny, a very magical nanny, as it turns out. "Mary Poppins" was the first film starring Julie Andrews, and it earned her an Academy Award. Here she is accepting that award.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

ANDREWS: Oh, this is lovely. I know you Americans are famous for your hospitality, but this is really ridiculous.

BIANCULLI: Andrews' second movie was released the following year, 1965. This time, she was a nun turned governess, a very life-affirming governess.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "THE SOUND OF MUSIC")

ANDREWS: (As Maria) All right, everybody, over here.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #1: (As character) What are we going to do?

ANDREWS: (As Maria) Let's think of something to sing for the baroness when she comes.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #2: (As character) Father doesn't like us to sing.

ANDREWS: (As Maria) Well, perhaps we can change his mind. Now, what songs do you know?

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #3: (As character) We don't know any songs.

ANDREWS: (As Maria) Not any?

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #4: (As character) We don't even know how to sing. No.

ANDREWS: (As Maria) Well, let's not lose any time. You must learn.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #4: (As character) But how?

ANDREWS: (As Maria, singing) Let's start at the very beginning, a very good...

BIANCULLI: That's Julie Andrews in "The Sound Of Music." Andrews is the recipient of this year's American Film Institute's Life Achievement Award. Her other films include "Victor/Victoria," "Thoroughly Modern Millie," "Torn Curtain," "The Princess Diaries" films, three "Shrek" and two "Despicable Me" films. Recently, she played a sharp-tongued gossip writer in the Netflix series "Bridgerton." When Terry spoke to Julie Andrews in 2008, the actress had just released her first memoir. Its title was "Home: A Memoir Of My Early Years," and it was filled with surprises about her family life. It described her showbusiness start in her parents' vaudeville act, and how she went to Broadway when she was still a teenager. Soon afterward, she originated the onstage role of Eliza Doolittle in "My Fair Lady."

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED NPR BROADCAST)

TERRY GROSS: Julie Andrews, welcome to FRESH AIR.

ANDREWS: Thank you, Terry. It's a pleasure to be here.

GROSS: You know, in reading your memoir, I have to say your family life isn't at all what I imagined it would be. I mean, I thought you'd be from a kind of proper straight-laced family based on my idea of who you were from your roles. And I wonder what you think your image is and if my mistake is a common one.

ANDREWS: It is a common one. And a lot of people have been surprised about the book. If you know me very well, you can probably spot that my background is real good down and out, vaudeville, musical background. But a lot of people, because of their association with the wonderful films like "Mary Poppins" and "Sound Of Music," they think that I am this very squeaky clean, upper-class lady that came from such a family. And it's so far from the truth.

GROSS: Let's start with the fact that two of your grandparents died of syphilis.

ANDREWS: Yes. Yeah. I mean, my background is really Dickensian in so many ways. And I was surprised when I found out those facts. It was somewhat of a mystery. It was that awful thing that was just out there. And it wasn't till I was older that I began to really grasp its significance and the, you know, the horror of it and what it must have been like. I do know that my aunt - and I write this in the book - said that she didn't want to discuss my grandfather's death because he was in a sanatorium that was really a sort of madhouse in those days. I mean, you have to think how many years ago this all took place. And the conditions were appalling. And people were very, very disturbed and mentally ill. And he apparently had a very nasty time of it and passed away there.

GROSS: Now, your mother was a pianist, and she left your father to perform with a singer named Ted Andrews, who she later married. And they left home during World War II, when you were young, to perform for the troops. You stayed with your father and your aunt. What was it like to have your mother leave during wartime?

ANDREWS: Well, I was - I'm going to sound a real Pollyanna here. But I was raised during the war. I mean, I was practically born into the war. I think I was 2 years old or something when war broke out. But - so I knew nothing else, Terry. It was not so unusual to be raised in war because all my peers were being raised the same way. And we all were in it together. I mean, we went down to the bomb shelters together. We went down into the subway, the underground together and took refuge from the bombs that were dropping all over London. And so it was part of what we did to survive.

GROSS: Well, you describe how after your mother brought you to London, where she was living with the man who became your stepfather, you learned how to distinguish the sound of the British fighter planes from the German fighter planes.

ANDREWS: That's right.

GROSS: And you'd warn everybody by blowing a whistle when a German plane was coming. That was probably a pretty important role that you could play as a child.

ANDREWS: Well, I was sent out in all weathers, regardless of, you know, rain or shine or hail or snow. I was sent out by my mother. You have to understand that women toward the end of the war could accomplish nothing because the air raid sirens were coming so furiously. And every half hour, the siren would go off. And a woman would be baking a cake or doing her laundry or any number of things. And she'd have to take it out of the oven or turn off the, you know, stop washing her clothes and so on.

And my mother had this great idea that if I - and I - she knew that I could distinguish the difference between a German doodlebug, as they were called in those days, those pilotless planes that came over and just dropped on London and around London. And I could tell the difference between that and one of our fighter pilots. And so she sent me out to sit on top of our air raid shelter with a pair of opera glasses - which were absolutely no good at all - and an umbrella and a whistle. And when I heard the German planes coming, I blew the whistle, which gave her a little bit more time to get on with anything she was doing. But, of course, there came a day when I truly rebelled and said, I'm not going to do it. It's too wet, and it's too cold out there. And after the bomb had dropped in our neighborhood, we had a few irate neighbors coming around to our door saying, why didn't she blow the whistle? We were relying on it. So I had to keep doing it from then on.

GROSS: Your stepfather was - became an alcoholic and became abusive. He beat your younger brother with a cane. You had your own run in with your stepfather twice. He came into your bedroom, climbed into your bed and told you...

ANDREWS: Well, he didn't climb into my bed, but he certainly made an advance. Thank God at that point he did not climb into my bed. And...

GROSS: But he told you that you needed to be taught how to kiss?

ANDREWS: Yes, he did. That was - but he was not in my bed, thank God. That would have been very difficult. But I was able to - you have to remember, he was an alcoholic. And there were days when he wasn't an alcoholic. And he did a lot of things to further my career, to try to help me in many ways. But, of course, because he was a stepfather, because he was seemingly a dangerous man in the family present, I didn't like him that much, particularly not at first. And thank God he was decent enough somewhere to pull back and I was only abused and that he did try to kiss me and he would have probably come into bed. But I had a lot put on the door and a few things like that. And it only happened twice, mercifully.

GROSS: When your parents - when your mother and your stepfather brought you into their vaudeville act, who were you in the act? What was your role? What kind of stuff did you sing?

ANDREWS: Oh (laughter). I think I started doing this - my father began to give me singing lessons when I was about 7 years - my stepfather. He was a fine singer, and my mother was a wonderful pianist.

She and my stepfather formed this vaudeville act, which became pretty successful all around England and also on radio, which was very big in those days. And he began giving me singing lessons at the age of about 7 and was so surprised to discover that I had a, you know, unusually powerful and adult larynx. He very quickly realized that it probably would be a smart thing to give me over to a fine singing teacher. And that good lady was my teacher until the day she died at age 90-something or other. So for many, many decades, she was my teacher.

So when I went on the boards with my parents for the first time, I was about 9. And I was so small that they put me on a sort of wooden beer crate, I think - or a bottle crate anyway - to reach the microphone beside him. And we belted out a song called "Come To The Fair," which was a duet, and it went down pretty well. And I seemed to enjoy it, and the audience seemed to love it. So things progressed from there.

GROSS: Your singing teacher, who was your singing teacher for decades?

ANDREWS: Mmm-hmm.

GROSS: You describe how she helped you place your voice.

ANDREWS: Yes.

ANDREWS: Can you describe a little bit what that process was?

ANDREWS: Oh, well, it went on for many, many years, and she gave me a great foundation - good placement of voice, good attention to lyrics, particularly - well, at both vowels and consonants.

If you have trouble with a certain note, her technique was to practice usually the note before it. The - if you have trouble hitting a high note at the end of a song, then work on the penultimate note, which, with a good, strong foundation and being placed correctly, will allow the high note to follow it in exactly the same position and place. As I say, vowels - one had to be very true to them and hold them firmly and precede them with strong consonants.

I say in the book, which is probably the best example I can give, we used to practice a lot of Handel's music because he also had great words to his beautiful music. And we'd practice the "Messiah," for instance. And if I was singing, behold, thy kingdom cometh unto thee, I would do a very strong B on the behold. And the O of hold would be strong, and thy king, the T-H would be strong and would pull the Y of thy forward. And following a note to its absolute end and then just literally cutting off the breath so that you didn't swallow it at the end of the sound - many, many, many details like that.

BIANCULLI: Julie Andrews speaking to Terry Gross in 2008. More after a break, This is FRESH AIR.

(SOUNDBITE OF DICK HYMAN AND RUBY BRAFF'S "WITH A LITTLE BIT OF LUCK (FAST)")

BIANCULLI: This is FRESH AIR. Let's get back to Terry's 2008 interview with singer and actress Julie Andrews. Andrews is the recipient of this year's American Film Institute's Life Achievement Award. When we left off, she was talking about working with her singing teacher.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED NPR BROADCAST)

GROSS: It's so interesting that on the one hand, you're studying - you're getting this great classical training with your teacher singing Handel - and at the same time, you're performing in your parents' vaudeville act.

(LAUGHTER)

ANDREWS: But you know...

GROSS: Nice mix.

ANDREWS: My gimmick and my stock in trade in those days was to belt out somewhat, you know, cut and bastardized versions of the great arias. I sang "Caro Nome" from "Rigoletto." I sang the - oh, I can't even remember now - the great aria from "La Traviata." "Sempre Libera" - I'm sorry. I couldn't remember the name for a second. And my great stock in trade was the polonaise from the opera "Mignon." And that had a phenomenally high note at the end of it and usually brought the house down.

GROSS: So it was almost like a stunt, a kid singing all these difficult adult arias.

ANDREWS: Exactly. And, you know, when I finally went out in my own act at about age 15 and my - something rather sad happened, which was that my parents - we used to be billed as Ted and Barbara Andrews - my mother and my stepfather - with Julie. And eventually, the billing would say, Julie Andrews with Ted and Barbara. And that must have just been dreadful for my stepfather. It must have, you know, castrated him dreadfully, I would think.

GROSS: Hmm. Well, you know, he did some really bad things to you and your brother, but at the same time, he gave you the singing lessons and...

ANDREWS: Oh, he was...

GROSS: Yeah.

ANDREWS: He tried to be kind. I just wouldn't have any of it, I'm afraid, 'cause I - as I say, he was a - he was overwhelming and...

GROSS: Yeah.

ANDREWS: ...A big man, a powerful man...

GROSS: Yeah.

ANDREWS: ...And a little frightening in that sense.

GROSS: You went to New York at the age of about 20?

ANDREWS: No, I was...

GROSS: Nineteen?

ANDREWS: I came in my - when I was just about to turn 19. And the show that I was in was a show called "The Boy Friend," a product that was brought over from England. And the original cast was still playing in London to enormous success. And the American producers were not able to secure that cast for their show in New York, so a completely new cast was, you know, assembled. And I was lucky enough to be asked to play the leading role in "The Boy Friend." And I was 19 the day after we opened. So the great notices that the show received were like the most wonderful birthday gift.

GROSS: And after doing "The Boy Friend" on Broadway, you did "My Fair Lady."

ANDREWS: Yes.

GROSS: So did you have to audition? Or did they just give you a part?

ANDREWS: Oh, gosh, no. No, I did many auditions. I sang for Alan Lerner. And then I went up to sing for Frederick Loewe with Alan. And then I read a lot of scenes and - dialogue scenes with Alan, who somehow - God knows how, because I'd never done a play before. I'd never played a character. I'd never done a role in a really legitimate piece. All I knew was how to belt out an aria on a vaudeville stage, and that was it. So...

GROSS: What about "The Boy Friend," you'd been in that?

ANDREWS: Well, I'd done "The Boy Friend." And I'd had a year's experience. That's true. But again, I staggered through "The Boy Friend," learning on my feet as I went. And then you can imagine that George Bernard Shaw was a hundred times, you know, stronger and more important than that. And I was really floundering. But I think because of my voice, because they sensed something, maybe - and my makeup - they felt that I could do Eliza. And so I was offered the role.

GROSS: And you...

ANDREWS: I'm sure I wasn't the first, but I was the lucky one that landed it.

GROSS: You write in your book that you didn't know how to do a cockney accent...

ANDREWS: (Laughter) Yes. Well, I mean...

GROSS: ...Which is funny. Yeah, go ahead.

ANDREWS: Give me a break. I was so busy learning who I was and what I was doing and never had the opportunity to do that before. And I - although I had a very good ear and had perfect pitch and many things that helped me, so helped me, I couldn't do a cockney accent.

GROSS: So who taught you?

ANDREWS: An American professor of phonetics, my own American Henry Higgins - a weird reversal of the "Pygmalion" story.

GROSS: And what's the first thing he - what's the basic principle he taught you?

ANDREWS: Oh, gosh. Now, that's a hard question to answer. I don't think I can. Just literally taking me through the lines of the play and widening vowels, shortening them, dropping H's and all of those - I'm pretty sure that my general, overall cockney was not great. But it got me by, perhaps more so in America because not many Americans know a genuine cockney accent. But I had a tougher time by the time I took the play to England. But by then, I'd had a lot of learning experience, so I fared better.

GROSS: Did your coach give you advice on how to sing "Wouldn't It Be Loverly"?

ANDREWS: No. No. Funnily enough, he didn't, as far as I can recall. Alan Lerner had written the lyrics to sound cockney - you know, oh, wouldn't it be loverly?

GROSS: So it was written like O, W?

ANDREWS: O, W, W, I think.

(LAUGHTER)

ANDREWS: Or E, O, W. I'm not quite sure which, but whatever it was, it was written so that I knew it had to be sung, of course, in cockney and "Just You Wait" and Regan's and all of that was written the same way. So that was not so difficult because I - A, I was singing. And, B, I'd learned enough from my dialect coach to know what I had to do.

GROSS: Why don't we hear "Wouldn't It Be Loverly"?

ANDREWS: (Laughter).

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "WOULDN'T IT BE LOVERLY")

ANDREWS: (As Eliza, singing) All I want is a room somewhere far away from the cold night air with one enormous chair. Oh, wouldn't it be loverly? Lots of chocolate for me to eat, lots of coal to make lots of eat - war face, warm hands, warm feet, oh, wouldn't it be loverly? Oh, so lovely, sitting abso-blooming-lutely (ph) still. I would never budge 'til spring crept over me windowsill. Someone's head resting on my knee, warm and tender as he can be, who takes good care of me - oh, wouldn't it be loverly? Loverly, loverly, loverly, loverly.

GROSS: That's Julie Andrews singing "Wouldn't It Be Loverly" from the original Broadway cast recording of "My Fair Lady." You know, it's such a really, like, lovely tune. Isn't it pretty?

ANDREWS: Yeah.

GROSS: Did you - when you were given the song to sing, did you say, great song, it'll be a classic?

ANDREWS: No (laughter). I did say great song. I knew it was lovely. I knew all the music for "My Fair Lady" was wonderful. I knew it was special and that these gentlemen were supremely talented. I mean, can you imagine hearing "I've Grown Accustomed To Her Face" for the first time?

GROSS: Oh, man. What a great song.

BIANCULLI: Julie Andrews speaking to Terry Gross in 2008. After a break, we'll continue their conversation and I'll review the new season of "Evil," the former CBS series now streaming on Paramount+. I'm David Bianculli, and this is FRESH AIR.

(SOUNDBITE OF RUBY BRAFF'S "I'VE GROWN ACCUSTOMED TO HER FACE")

BIANCULLI: This is FRESH AIR. I'm David Bianculli, in for Terry Gross. Back with more of Terry's 2008 interview with Julie Andrews. The singer, actress and author is the latest recipient of the American Film Institute's Life Achievement Award, honoring a movie career that began with "Mary Poppins" and "The Sound Of Music" in the 1960s. She's acted in movies in every decade since. Here she is in one of her most famous performances.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "THE SOUND OF MUSIC")

ANDREWS: (As Maria, singing) The hills are alive with the sound of music, with songs they have sung for a thousand years. The hills fill my heart with the sound of music. My heart wants to sing every song it hears. My heart wants to beat like the wings of the birds that rise from the lake to the trees. My heart wants to sigh like a chime that flies from a church on a breeze, to laugh like a brook when it trips and fall over stones on its way, to sing through the night like a lark who is learning to pray. I go to the hills when my heart is lonely.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED NPR BROADCAST)

GROSS: Now, "The Sound Of Music" provokes very strong reactions in people. People tend to just, like, love the film or not because they think it's too saccharine. So...

ANDREWS: I know.

GROSS: So where do you fit in on the scale?

ANDREWS: I know how hard we all tried, recognizing that there was a saccharine quality to it. I mean, you have a whole, you know, whole family of children and a nanny governess and a lot of countryside and a lot of religious ladies flying around the place. And you're going to get a bit of saccharine there, that's for sure. And we all knew that even though the music was lovely, that we had to play, if possible, against that saccharine quality. And I know that Christopher Plummer, I certainly, we did our utmost to push it away somewhere. I remember distinctly one scene where I really wanted Maria to be absolutely horrified that she was going to have to take care of seven children, because that's the way somebody would have reacted, I think. I mean, you know, being nanny to one child is enough, but seven? So we did try, and we were aware that there were saccharine moments. But then the beauty of "Sound Of Music" was that the scenery was so gorgeous. And we did film in Austria. And we had a symphony orchestra playing all that glorious music. And it - I think that saccharine quality was compensated for a million ways.

GROSS: Let me ask you about what might be the most famous shot from the film, which is used on advertising posters. And it's a picture of you while singing "The Sound Of Music" with your arms out, twirling around, alone in the mountains.

ANDREWS: That's right - in the very, very cold, rainy, wet mountains.

GROSS: Talk about that shot.

ANDREWS: Oh. Well, that shot - the bulk of that shot was filmed from a helicopter. And I would start at one end of this long field, and the helicopter would start at the other end of the field. And we would come towards each other. The very brave cameraman was hanging out of the side of the helicopter where the door would normally be, strapped in with a camera attached to his chest. And the helicopter sort of came at me sideways, rather sort of crab like, edging its way towards me as I walked towards it. And it executed that famous - now famous turn just before singing. And we did that shot many times to be sure that the focus was right and that everything about it was right.

But the trouble was that once that shot had been completed and we each went back to our own respective ends of the field to start again, the downdraft from the helicopter circling around me dashed me off my feet and into the grass. It was so strong. Now, this is fine for, you know, one or two takes, but after about four or five takes, I began to get quite angry about it and thought, you know, there must be a way that I don't have to be leveled every time we finish this shot. So I signaled to the pilot to please make a wider circle around me, and all I got was a thumbs up and, you know, great. I think we got it. But let's do it one more time. And I bit the dust. And I sort of spat mud and hay and everything else for every single take of that particular shot.

GROSS: That's so great, because the story behind the shot is so different than the shot itself (laughter).

ANDREWS: Yes. Yeah.

GROSS: I think you're suffering to do it.

ANDREWS: There's a lot of things about "The Sound Of Music" that had that, though. I mean, the weather was not great in the mountains particularly. And it rained a great deal of the time. And we would sit under tarpaulins and and manage to get through a day with sometimes just 30 seconds of film footage. And it was cold, and it was damp. But the clouds and their strength and the beauty that they brought to the film itself was a gift that, I mean, if we'd just been a sunny postcard, I mean, it was a postcard enough, but it gave texture to the movie, which helped enormously.

GROSS: You had such a lovely singing voice. And you haven't been able to sing since about 2005. You had surgery to remove a node on one of your vocal cords and haven't been able to sing since. And I understand you sued your surgeon because of that. I figure it must have been really difficult for you to not be able to sing. I mean, obviously, that affected you professionally. But just like personally and emotionally, what did it mean for you to not be able to do that anymore?

ANDREWS: It wasn't a node. I didn't have cancerous nodes, as so many people think I did. I just had a small sort of cyst in my - seemingly I had a cyst in my vocal cords, and even that has now been proved to be rather suspect. But I'm not allowed to talk about the operation itself but - because of, you know, lawyers and people like that would ask me not to. But I can tell you that it was, of course, devastating. I'm very glad it happened toward the end of my singing life, rather than at the beginning. I miss singing with an orchestra enormously. I think I was in denial for a year or two, thinking that perhaps I was just taking longer to heal than most people, that my throat was a little more sensitive than most. But then, there did come a day when I had to begin living with it, and I live with it to this day.

I guess in the sort of old tradition of vaudevillians, I could give up and crawl away, or I could make what was left of my life something decent. And I wondered what I was meant to learn from it. Perhaps there was a lesson in it all. I - God knows what that was. But I did begin to write more, and it allowed me time to write this autobiography. And I've kept very busy. I seem to be busier these days than I've ever been, and I don't get it. But I'm extremely grateful.

GROSS: One more thing before we have to let you go - the 1982 movie "Victor/Victoria" that you starred in, you played a woman pretending to be a man pretending to be a woman. You played a woman pretending to be a man performing in drag. And with the help of that movie, as even the Wikipedia points out, you've become an icon for family films and also something of an icon in the gay and lesbian community because of "Victor/Victoria" and maybe also because of "Sing-A-Long Sound of Music."

ANDREWS: (Laughter) Seem to have sort of covered the whole spectrum somehow.

GROSS: So is that a surprise to you, that you're both?

ANDREWS: I'm delighted. I just thrilled by it. I think it's the nicest thing that could happen. And, you know, that squeaky clean image, which was brought about by such lovely films that were so successful such as "Poppins" and "Sound Of Music" - I'm hoping that the body of work that I've done since then has kind of dispelled that squeaky-clean myth. But I'm delighted to be embraced by families, by kids, by the gay culture, by everyone. And people are genuinely lovely when I meet them. I love going out and lecturing and meeting people and talking about my work and so on. It's a great pleasure.

GROSS: Well, it's been wonderful to talk with you. Thank you so much.

ANDREWS: And you, Terry. Thank you so much.

BIANCULLI: Julie Andrews speaking to Terry Gross in 2008. After a break, we'll listen to parts of a more recent conversation from 2019. This is FRESH AIR.

(SOUNDBITE OF JOHN COLTRANE'S "MY FAVORITE THINGS")

BIANCULLI: This is FRESH AIR. The American Film Institute is honoring Julie Andrews with this year's Life Achievement Award. Now, we're going to replay parts of another conversation between the actress and Terry Gross, this one from 2019.

In recent years, Julie Andrews has lent her voice to the "Despicable Me" and "Shrek" and "Aquaman" movies and the voice of Lady Whistledown on the Netflix TV series "Bridgerton." And on camera, in 2017, she starred in "Julie's Greenroom," a Netflix children's series, which she also co-created.

When Julie Andrews returned to FRESH AIR to talk with Terry, she had just released her second memoir. Co-authored with her daughter Emma Walton Hamilton, its title is "Home Work: A Memoir Of My Hollywood Years." Julie Andrews got her start in her parents' vaudeville act when she was 9 years old.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED NPR BROADCAST)

ANDREWS: One of the reasons - I really enjoy it when I'm working because I've worked my entire life - I mean, to the point where I really wasn't attending school. I had to have a tutor that came and worked with me. But I really - I would love to have attended university. And I had a very sort of rarefied and rather pitiful education in a way. My mother said to me, oh, you'll get a much better education from life out there. And to a certain extent, I did. But I was always scrambling to catch up on history or things that really fascinated me.

GROSS: Julie, you started psychoanalysis after you were in a committed relationship with Blake Edwards, and I can't remember if this was before or after you were actually married. But basically, the way you describe your...

ANDREWS: Before.

GROSS: Before. When you started psychoanalysis, it's like a dam opened up. I mean, you just started, like, weeping. (Laughter) And I'm wondering if you felt you had to hold in a lot of feelings and just be strong and not show any vulnerability because, one, you grew up during the war years. You were living in London during World War II when you were getting bombed all the time. And you were going in and out of bomb shelters. You were blowing a whistle and literally warning people when the planes were coming when you were a child. And then you're a child, and you're touring with your parents in vaudeville, performing, and the show must go on no matter what. So did that kind of teach you to just, like, hold everything in?

ANDREWS: Yes, absolutely, whatever it was, that I had been sort of being stiff upper lip about in my youth. And I did take care of most of my family in every sense financially and, you know, emotionally because we were - you know, my stepfather was an alcoholic, and it was not an easy situation. But there was a lot that I needed to sort out in my head and - the failure of my first marriage, which hurt a lot.

And I wasn't sure about anything. And I was - it - the wonder is that my wonderful therapist suddenly realized that what I craved, probably more than anything, was an education. And so being a Merlin-like personality, he decided to give me one. And I got so many answers in terms of some of the things in life that I needed to learn. And it was a phenomenal experience for me.

If I wanted to learn about astronomy or geology or anything in life - you know, history, geography - just - I could ask any question, and he would be able to answer it.

GROSS: So Blake Edwards became your husband, but he also directed you in several films. He directed you in "S.O.B.," which was a satire of Hollywood, in "10," which was a romantic comedy, "Victor/Victoria" in which...

ANDREWS: About midlife crisis, really.

GROSS: And midlife crisis for the men. Yeah. "Victor/Victoria," which you played a woman impersonating a man in drag - and, you know, also a comedy...

ANDREWS: Impersonating a woman, right.

GROSS: Yeah. And you have a great showstopping number in that. But he saw you really differently than the preconception that people had of Julie Andrews.

ANDREWS: I guess that having me as a wife and our sleeping together and being great - we were married, well, we knew each other 44 years before he sadly passed away. But he was somebody that knew me very, very well. And I think I knew him very well. This was a marriage that lasted. And it was complicated and wonderful and quite magical at times. And he was the most mercurial, talented, attractive man. And it was quite an experience to be married to Blake Edwards, believe me.

GROSS: But, I mean, just getting back to him directing you, you were topless in one scene in one of his films. You know, there's a lot of, like, you know, gender stuff going on in "Victor/Victoria."

ANDREWS: Yeah. It's very daunting, Terry, when your husband says in a love scene that you're doing with your leading man on camera, he says, well, that's fine, darling, but I know you can do it better.

(LAUGHTER)

ANDREWS: And that's rather difficult in the film studio when you're filming it.

BIANCULLI: Julie Andrews speaking to Terry Gross in 2019. The American Film Institute has bestowed her with this year's Life Achievement Award in a celebration to be televised next Thursday on TNT. Coming up, I review Season 3 of "Evil," the TV series returning Sunday on Paramount+. It's from Robert and Michelle King, creators of "The Good Wife" and "The Good Fight." This is FRESH AIR.

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