The author of the "Poppins" books, P.L. Travers, approved heartily of the casting of Julie Andrews after hearing her only on the telephone. Andrews granted the interview from her bed after the delivery of her daughter, Emma Walton.
Originally Walt Disney had considered Mary Martin, Bette Davis and Angela Lansbury for the part of Mary Poppins based on the cold characterization portrayed in the P.L. Travers books. The Walt Disney Studio (with the Shermans and co-writer Don DaGradi acting as the studio's sort-of 'advance' team) first considered 'Julie Andrews' after seeing her on Ed Sullivan's The Ed Sullivan Show in January 1961 do excerpts from 'Camelot', the show she was appearing in on Broadway. About a month later, Walt Disney himself went to New York, caught the show, and sounded out Julie backstage after the show. (The show was of double interest to Disney because his The Sword in the Stone animated feature was based on the first book of T.H. White's "The Once and Future King." "Camelot" was based on the 4th book of the same novel.) It was at that February 1961 backstage meeting that Disney first sounded Andrews out, including inviting Julie's husband at the time, designer Tony Walton, to check things out in California relative to doing "Mary Poppins". While there was an open offer to Andrews, she of course, did not commit until the day after Warner Brothers announced that Audrey Hepburn would be doing My Fair Lady for them.
Walt Disney first attempted to purchase the film rights from P.L. Travers as early as 1938. Travers rejected his advances as she didn't believe a film version would do justice to her creation. Another reason for her initial rejection would have been that at that time the Disney studios had not yet produced a live action film.
Original author P.L. Travers was adamant that in the film there should be no suggestions of any kind of romance between Mary Poppins and Bert. This is explicitly referenced in the song "Jolly Holiday".
Julie Andrews initially hesitated in taking on the part of Mary Poppins as she was hoping that Jack L. Warner would ask her to star as Eliza Doolittle in My Fair Lady. That call never came, prompting Andrews to cheekily thank Warner in her Golden Globe acceptance speech.
One of Julie Andrews' favorite songs was "Stay Awake". When she heard that there were plans to delete it, she wrote a letter of concern to P.L. Travers who instantly insisted that the song remain in the film.
Not only was "Feed the Birds" Walt Disney's favorite song in the film, but it is said that anytime he visited the Sherman brothers (Robert B. Sherman and Richard M. Sherman) during the rest of his life, all he would have to do was say, "Play it," and they knew he wanted to hear "Feed the Birds".
Lyricist Robert B. Sherman had searched for nearly two weeks for a catchy phrase that could be Mary Poppins' anthem. He came across the perfect title when his seven-year-old daughter Laurie came home from school one day and announced that she had just received a polio vaccine. Thinking that the vaccine had been administered as a shot, Sherman asked, "Did it hurt?" She replied, "No. They just gave it to me on a cube of sugar and I swallowed it down." Sherman tried the idea on his brother the following morning, Richard M. Sherman put the phrase to music and "A Spoonful of Sugar" was born.
The song, "Let's Go Fly a Kite" was inspired by the Sherman brothers' (Robert B. Sherman and Richard M. Sherman) father, Al Sherman who made kites for neighborhood kids as a weekend hobby. In the film, the broken kite represents the broken family. When Mr. Banks mends the kite and the four pieces are taped back together, the four members of the family are also reunited. By transforming her "suffragette ribbon" into the kite's tail, Mrs. Banks also commits herself to being there more for her family.
P.L. Travers was a stickler about details in the script, driving many of the Disney writers to distraction about Poppins minutiae. After seeing the final film, she devised a list of changes she wanted. Her requests went unheeded after Walt himself pointed out that although she had SCRIPT approval, she didn't have FINAL DRAFT approval. Among the things that she disliked was the Sherman Bros. score. She wanted the only music in the movie to be period pieces such as "Ta Ra Ra Boom De Ay" or "Greensleeves".
Julie Andrews was left hanging in mid-air during one particularly long camera setup. The stagehands unwittingly lowered her wire harness rather rapidly. "Is she down yet?" called a grip. "You bloody well better believe she is!" fumed Andrews.
Dick Van Dyke had his heart set on playing Mr. Dawes, Sr., and said they didn't have to pay him, he just really wanted to do it for the fun. Although Walt Disney had offered him the part of Bert right out, he made him audition for the part of Mr. Dawes, Sr.
Reportedly, P.L. Travers so detested this film adaptation of her novel (though she did approve of the casting of Julie Andrews), that she left the premiere in tears. Reportedly, she most objected to the altering of Mary Poppins' character from cold and intimidating in the novel to warm and cheery in the film. She also took issue with the film's perceived anti-feminist ending, in which Mrs. Banks gives up her campaigning for women's rights to stay at home as a housewife.
David Tomlinson (Mr. Banks) also voices several of the animated characters that Bert and Mary Poppins encounter in the chalk drawing, including a penguin waiter and the jockey who allows Mary Poppins to pass on her carousel horse. He also voices the Parrot Umbrella Handle at the end of the movie. Original choices for George Banks included Richard Harris, Terry-Thomas, George Sanders, James Mason and Donald Sutherland.
Julie Andrews was determined to nail the lullaby "Stay Awake". She took nearly 50 takes (most reports suggest 47) in the Disney recording studio to create the perfect "soft" voice quality for the song. Dick Van Dyke, on the other hand, took only one take to record his verses as Mr. Dawes, Sr. on "Fidelity, Fiduciary Bank".
Ed Wynn's character, Uncle Albert, was originally written as having a Viennese accent. Wynn, however, didn't attempt the accent - or even an English accent, for that matter. He was just himself, ad-libbing many of the lines he says while laughing on the ceiling in the "I Love to Laugh" scene.
With five wins out of 13 nominations in total, this film marked Walt Disney's single most successful night at the Academy Awards. Never before or since, as of 2006, has a single Disney film won as many Oscars in one evening.
The word "supercalifragilisticexpialidocious" seems to pre-date the movie, but language experts have yet to pin down by how much, or what exactly, it originally meant. An urban myth is growing that it had something to do with Irish (or Scottish) prostitutes. Its use in the movie may have been inspired by a nonsense word the Sherman brothers (Robert B. Sherman and Richard M. Sherman) learned at summer camp. They remembered having a word that the adults didn't know, and thought the Banks children should have one, too.
This film was in slow development at Walt Disney Studios because the studio still had not obtained the rights to film the property from author P.L. Travers. This did not happen until sometime in 1961 or 1962.
Walt Disney cast Julie Andrews for the lead after seeing her in "Camelot" on Broadway. When she mentioned she was pregnant, he offered to wait until she had her baby to start filming and offered her then-husband, Tony Walton, the job of designing costumes and some sets for the film. Disney also gave the couple a personally escorted tour of Disneyland and the studio to help them make up their minds.
This was the final film for Jane Darwell (who appears here as the bird lady). She had retired in 1959 and was living at the Motion Picture Country Home in Woodland Hills, California, when she was approached by Walt Disney Pictures to play the Bird Woman. She at first refused, but Walt Disney was so set on having her in the film that he personally visited her at the MPCH and eventually persuaded her to take the part. He even sent a limo to fetch and return her during her one day of shooting.
The character of Bert is actually an amalgamation of several of Mary Poppins' friends from the books. Among them, the minor character of a chimney sweep. It was a drawing of that sweep by one of the animators that inspired the song "Chim Chim Cheree."
There are 19 distinguishable names in "Jolly Holiday" when Bert and the penguins are discussing how no one is better than Mary Poppins. The names are as follows: Mavis and Sybil [have ways that are winning,] Prudence and Gwendolyn [set your heart spinning,] Phoebe [delightful,] Maude [is disarming,] Janis, Felicia, Lydia [charming,] Cynthia [dashing,] Vivian ['s sweet,] Stephanie [smashing,] Priscilla [a treat,] Veronica, Millicent, Agnes, Jane [convivial company time and again,] Doris, Phyllis, Glynis [of sorts, I'll agree are three jolly good sports. But, cream of the crop, tip of the top, it's Mary Poppins and there we stop.]
A sequence known as "The Magic Compass", consisting of four songs, was dropped from the film in preproduction. One of those songs, "The Beautiful Briny", later resurfaced in Bedknobs and Broomsticks. The melody for another song from this sequence, "The Land of Sand", was used for "Trust in Me (The Python's Song)" in The Jungle Book, using completely different lyrics.
This Disney film, as of 2006, holds the record of having the longest in-print status on video. The film was released on video in 1981, and has been re-released several times, managing to stay in video stores since then. Not once has the film been out of print on video.
This was the only film personally produced by Walt Disney to be nominated for a Best Picture Oscar. (Beauty and the Beast was also nominated for Best Picture, but that film was made in 1991, and Disney died in 1966).
The film makers didn't inform Karen Dotrice or Matthew Garber about some "surprises" that were going to show up in the movie. Karen's dumbfounded look when Mary Poppins takes out item after item from the carpet bag and her little scream when Mary Poppins gave them medicines of different colors were genuine. They also didn't tell the children who was acting as Mr. Dawes Sr., and were worried that the horrible old man was going to fall down and die at any moment.
The scene where Mr. Dawes, Sr. (Dick Van Dyke) has trouble negotiating the step in the bank's meeting room was not originally in the script. While viewing a make-up test for Dick Van Dyke in the projection room, Walt Disney saw Van Dyke entertaining crew members on the test film between between takes with some comic routines, among them the "stepping down" routine of an old man trying to step off a curb without hurting himself. The test film not only convinced Disney to cast Dick Van Dyke as Mr. Dawes, Sr., but Walt specifically requested that crew members "build a six-inch riser on the board room set so Dick can do that stepping-down routine".
Originally in the movie, there was a scene when all of the toys in the nursery come alive. Since it proved to be too scary for children, it was cut out. However, in the Broadway musical of Mary Poppins, the toys coming alive idea is used.
The Broadway version of "Mary Poppins" opened at the New Amsterdam Theater on November 16, 2006, has run for 2600 performances as of February 2013, and was nominated for the 2007 Tony Award (New York City) for Best Musical. This show is also the 22nd longest running show on Broadway as of February, 2013 and is planned to be closed in Spring, 2013.
In her 2004 autobiography "'Tis Herself", Maureen O'Hara says she pitched the idea to Disney of making a film version of the book "Mary Poppins", which was rejected. Soon after, Walt Disney purchased the rights to the book.
Walt Disney was so determined to cast Julie Andrews that he offered to delay filming until the summer of 1964 if Andrews was cast as Eliza Dolittle in My Fair Lady. Since Audrey Hepburn was cast as Eliza, both movies began filming around August/September 1963. (When President John F. Kennedy was assassinated in November 1963, Hepburn, over at the Warner Bros. studios, was hit particularly hardest by the news. She was inconsolable for a few days.)
The old woman in the park Bert talks to in the beginning of the film (with the two tall daughters) is Mrs. Corry. In the book she ran the sweet shop in the park and in the Broadway show this is where they buy the letters to make the word "supercalifragilisticexpialidocious". The shop is mentioned once by Mary Poppins in the film before she and the children make a detour to Uncle Albert's house.
Although Dick Van Dyke considers this the best film he has appeared in, he nevertheless maintains to this day that he was somewhat miscast as Bert. He has suggested that either Jim Dale or Ron Moody would have played the part better.
When Dave Smith went on a search for the snowglobe from this movie, which featured birds flying around Saint Paul's Cathedral, he finally found it on a shelf in a janitor's office. The janitor explained that he saw the snowglobe sitting in a trash can, but found it too pretty to throw away and kept it himself.
On an episode of National Public Radio's "Wait, Wait, Don't Tell Me" (broadcast October 25, 2010) Dick Van Dyke was asked by host Peter Sagal about his notorious accent in this film. Van Dyke stated that his vocal coach was Irish-born J. Pat O'Malley, who had an even worse British accent.
"Feeding the birds" at Saint Paul's Cathedral, seen as a charitable act of kindness in the film, became forbidden by law in the 21st century, having resulted in excessive defecation from the expanding avian population.
In the beginning, George W. Banks sings "it's grand to be an Englishman in 1910, King Edward's on the throne..." King Edward VII died in May 1910 and his son, King George V, became king. So we shall assume the movie is set in the spring of 1910 just before King Edward died.
The Sherman brothers originally planned to use the song 'Chim-Chim-Cheree' for all the music in the rooftop finale. But when special effects supervisor Peter Ellenshaw brought the English pub song 'Knees Up Mother Brown' to their attention, they decided to make their own variation, resulting in 'Step In Time'.
When Dick Van Dyke read the script, he'd already been cast in the role of Bert but found the part of the Mr. Dawes, Sr. so hysterical he lobbied Walt Disney for the role, even offering to play it for free. Disney not only made Van Dyke audition for the part, but forced the actor to make a substantial donation to CalArts, Disney's own pet-project film school.
P.L. Travers never forgave Walt Disney for what she saw as vulgar and disrespectful adaptation of her "Mary Poppins" novels. Forty years after the release of the film, stage producer Cameron Mackintosh approached Travers about a musical theatre version of her work. The author initially refused, citing the film as a reason why she would never again allow an adaptation of her "Mary Poppins" series. After several meetings, the author relented, though when Mackintosh suggested using the songs from the Disney film in the production, Travers again balked. After much more pleading, Mackintosh convinced Travers to allow a stage production with the songs from the film on the strict proviso that no Americans participate in the development, and further that no one involved with the film version--including original film composers the Sherman Brothers, both of whom were still alive and working at the time--could participate. Mackintosh proceeded with development of the stage adaptation for several years without any involvement from Disney, per Travers' wishes, though after the author's death in 1996, the Walt Disney Company was allowed some degree of creative involvement and went on to co-produce the musical with Mackintosh.
After playing in New York's prestigious Radio City Music Hall in its original 1964 release, "Mary Poppins" was brought back for a repeat engagement nine years later as part of a 50th anniversary tribute to producer Walt Disney.