The squeaky-clean story of Hollywood’s ultimate nanny.
Stirling charts the life and career of Julie Andrews (born 1935) with a wealth of detail and an agreeably light tone that suits the family-entertainment doyenne. There are no sexual indiscretions here, no sordid drug interludes or bouts with the bottle. The reader is left with the details of a career marked by spectacular early success followed by a long fallow period, an amicable divorce and happy second marriage, a botched throat operation and Andrews’s attempts to escape her goody-goody image—none of it exactly gripping material. The actress is depicted as a quintessentially English trouper: reserved, stoic and determined to get on with the show. She could not escape her image, ultimately, because she embodied it so completely. The author refers to her at points as an “automaton,” perhaps venting frustration over so unjuicy a subject. Stirling quotes playwright Christopher Durang, who remarked, “I almost don’t have any good Julie Andrews stories because she’s just so nice and easy to be around.” (“Tell me about it,” one imagines the biographer muttering to himself.) Early chapters on Andrews’s childhood career as a music-hall performer are of some period interest, and Stirling adroitly conveys the excitement engendered by her explosive entry into the American consciousness with the show-business hat trick of My Fair Lady on Broadway and Mary Poppins and The Sound of Music on film. She would never equal these early triumphs, appearing in some unsuitable roles in a series of flops conceived by her second husband, film writer and director Blake Edwards. At this point, the book becomes a slog through the career setbacks of a talented but fundamentally uninteresting personality who perseveres with grace and good humor.
Solid, decent, likable and a bit dull—rather like its subject.