Thursday, July 15, 2010

Gene & Mary Poppins: The Untold Story, Pt. 3

As you saw from the first part of this story, Gene actually did a number of wardrobe tests for Walt Disney’s production of “Mary Poppins.” Gene was so excited to have been chosen by Walt himself for this exciting project; she voraciously read each one of P.L. Travers’ books to be as familiar as possible with the magical nanny. In this post, you can see a number of the photos taken at the Disney Studio showcasing Gene wearing the costumes designed for the role.

Even though she was Walt’s first choice and made it this far, it was definitely not smooth sailing for Gene. As Walt had feared, P.L. Travers was giving him a lot of difficulty about the casting of the film. Walt kept Gene’s name under his hat, wanting Mrs. Travers to be charmed by Gene in person rather than rejecting her based solely on her somewhat daffy opinion. The wardrobe tests seen in this post were under lock and key, as Walt wanted to make sure that news of Gene Marshall making a comeback in his film didn’t leak out to the press before Gene had a chance to win over Mrs. Travers. In the meantime, Mrs. Travers had already said “no” to Mary Martin as Poppins, yet had requested Julie Harris (who could not sing).

By August of 1961, Walt was frustrated that he couldn’t commit to Gene, so he invited her for a weekend in New York to join him and his wife Lillian to see a few Broadway shows. “Camelot” was the toast of Broadway, and he felt it would be a nice treat for Gene who had been spending countless hours working with a vocal coach to get her voice in shape for “Mary Poppins,” even though she knew that there was a good chance that she might not get the role after all.

Julie Andrews played Queen Guinevere in “Camelot,” and had previously starred in “My Fair Lady.” It wasn’t long after Andrews began singing that both Walt and Gene looked at each other; the 27-year-old English actress was the perfect choice to play Mary Poppins and would be a much less difficult sell than the All-American Gene Marshall. After the play was over, Gene graciously said to Walt, “Mr. know I would love to play Mary in your picture, but I think we both know after tonight’s performance that Miss Andrews is a much better choice.”

Walt appreciated Gene’s honesty and self-sacrifice; although he was sorry to miss yet another chance to work with Gene, he knew that she was correct. From then on, the two vowed to keep everything a secret and never to let it be known that “Mary Poppins” almost became her comeback film.

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