Book Review - Home: A Memoir of My Early Years
by terry mathews - news-telegram arts editor
Home: A Memoir of My Early Years
By Julie Andrews
Hyperion. $26.95. 352 pp.
May 15, 2008 - "I am told that the first comprehensible word I uttered as a child was 'home.'"
So begins Julie Andrews' charming recollection of her life from birth on Oct. 1, 1935, at a maternity hospital in her hometown of Walton-on-Thames.
Her mother, Barbara Ward Morris, was a classically trained pianist who married Andrews' father, Ted Wells, over the deathbed objections of her maternal grandmother.
Wells was a mechanic turned school teacher who, by all accounts, was a lovely man who adored his daughter and son, Johnny.
Andrews' mother worked as an accompanist on the vaudeville circuit when Andrews was an infant. It was there she began an affair with another man named Ted - dashing Ted Andrews, "The Canadian Troubadour."
Barbara left Ted and the two children to travel with Andrews. She moved to London during the worst of World War II and sent for her two children.
Julie's harrowing recollections of German bombing raids over London and the surrounding countryside are stark, bleak and explain why the actress is still afraid of sudden, loud noises.
Donald, a new baby arrived, despite the fact that Barbara and her first husband were not divorced.
In 1943, Barbara and Ted Andrews married and moved their growing brood from the center of London to Beckenham, Kent. It was around this time, when Andrews was about 8, that her mother changed her young daughter's name from Julia Wells to Julie Andrews.
"I presume Mum and Pop (as she called Andrews) wished to spare me the outside feeling of being a step-child," Julie writes. "I didn't have a say in the matter, and I don't think my father did either. He must have been hurt."
It wouldn't be the first or last time Barbara inflicted pain on those closest to her.
She was critical of her young daughter's appearance. She wasn't ever there for the shy girl. She was jealous of Julie's boyfriend's mother. She drank too much. She allowed her husband to beat Donald. Even after Andrews had gone to work on the stage, supporting the family, her mother continued her cruelty.
As if leaving her father for another man wasn't enough, Barbara had one more shot to fire. One night, after getting plotzed, Barbara blurted out to a stunned Julie that Ted Wells was not her biological father.
Despite a harsh upbringing and not much support from her mother and step-father, Julie's talent was not to be denied.
Once she leaves home for the stage, we can take a breath and relax. The itinerant life of a struggling singing actor may have not been the rosiest, but at least she was free from the troubles at home.
There were good people in Julie Andrews' life. Her father and his new wife, Win, hosted her and her brother as often as they could.
At one point, Wells had to ride several miles on a bicycle to fetch her, but he never missed a visit. He taught Julie to appreciate Mother Nature and all her glory.
Julie was blessed with a long and positive relationship with her vocal teacher Lilian Stiles-Alan, whom she called "Madame" from the time of her first lesson through her work on Broadway.
Her enormous talent was rewarded with performances for the Queen of England, roles in "My Fair Lady" and "Camelot." Her stories about what really goes on backstage are thigh-slapping funny.
In the last scene of the book, Julie, her husband Tony Walton and their infant daughter Emma Katherine are on a plane from England to Hollywood to begin filming of Walt Disney's "Mary Poppins."
The last line of the book gives us a peek into the future.
"As it turned out, I was going home."