More than half a century after it hit theaters, Mary Poppins is still one of the most beloved films ever. Here are some of the most interesting facts about Mary and the people who brought her to the silver screen.
1. It took more than 20 years to convince the author of Mary Poppins to sell the movie rights.
It all started in the early 1940s, when Walt Disney told his daughter Diane that he would make her favorite book into a movie. He was probably assuming that any author would be thrilled to hitch her name up to the Disney wagon, but quickly discovered that P.L. Travers was not just any author. For more than 20 years, Travers refused to deal with Disney. It was only in 1961 that she finally relented, mostly because she needed the money.
2. Julie Andrews and Dick Van Dyke weren't the only options for the lead roles.
3. Julie Andrews almost passed on the movie.
Because she had originated the role on Broadway, Andrews was hoping to be cast as Eliza Doolittle in My Fair Lady, so she didn't accept Disney's offer right away. Warner ultimately decided that Audrey Hepburn was their Eliza. Andrews and Hepburn ended up vying for a Golden Globe for their respective roles. When Andrews won, she took the opportunity to cheekily thank Jack Warner during her acceptance speech (which you can see above).
4. Dick Van Dyke’s Cockney accent has been named one of the worst accent attempts in film history.
Van Dyke has defended himself in recent years, saying that his vocal coach, an Irishman attempting to do a Cockney accent, was just as bad. “I don’t talk to British people because they just make a mess of me,” he told NPR in 2010.
5. The Sherman Brothers wrote 30 songs for the movie.
Roughly 20 of them were cut, but some found new homes. “The Beautiful Briny" was later used in Bedknobs and Broomsticks, and the melody from “Land of Sand” was eventually recycled as “Trust in Me” from Jungle Book.
6. “A Spoonful of Sugar” was inspired by the polio vaccine.
To help woo Andrews to the part, Walt Disney had the Sherman Brothers write a special tune for her. The duo penned a lovely song called “The Eyes of Love.” Andrews hated it. The rewrite ("something catchier," according to Walt) proved to be a struggle for Robert Sherman—until he went home to see his kids. They had received their polio vaccine that day and informed him that it hadn’t hurt at all; the medicine was simply placed on a sugar cube and they ate it like candy. Voila.
7. Walt Disney’s favorite song was “Feed the Birds.”
Not just his favorite song from the movie—his favorite song ever. Richard Sherman has said on several occasions that Walt would stop by the Sherman Brothers office every Friday and request a private performance.
8. P.L. Travers hated the movie with a passion.
Though Travers was given script approval, she wasn’t given final script approval. She wept when she saw the final result at the movie’s premiere. “I said, ‘Oh God, what have they done?’” she later said. Travers hated the animated sequence. She hated the house the Banks family lived in. She hated that they changed the time period. She hated that Mary Poppins was pretty. She hated the songs. And she loathed Dick Van Dyke. Travers vowed that she would never work with Disney again.
You can hear her going over her notes with the Sherman Brothers and screenwriter Don DaGradi below:
9. Some of the nannies lined up at the beginning of the movie are actually men.
I bet you can tell which ones.
10. That’s Julie Andrews whistling the robin’s part during “A Spoonful of Sugar.”
An accomplished whistler (who knew?), Andrews recorded the robin's sweet tune. In order for the bird to move and nod during the scene, by the way, Andrews had to wear a ring that connected to it. Yards of cable ran from the ring, up her arm, and out to engineers who could control the bird’s movements.
11. Disney was sued over “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious.”
Though the Sherman Brothers claimed they made the word up themselves, a 1949 song called “Supercalafajaistickespeealadojus” would seem to say otherwise. The writers of the song, Barney Young and Gloria Parker, sued for $12 million. They lost because lawyers were able to present evidence showing that the nonsense word had been around, in some form or another, for decades. Indeed, the Sherman Brothers later claimed that their made-up word was a variation on a similar word they had heard at summer camp back in the 1930s: “super-cadja-flawjalistic-espealedojus.”
12. David Tomlinson did double duty.
Tomlinson, the actor who portrayed the stodgy Mr. Banks, also provided the voice for the talking parrot on the end of Mary Poppins’ umbrella. Tomlinson also did a couple of voices for the “Jolly Holiday” scenes, including a jockey and a parrot.
13. The children were originally nannied by the Bride of Frankenstein.
The nanny who leaves the Banks family at the beginning of the movie, making way for Mary Poppins, is Elsa Lanchester. Horror movie buffs know her better as the Bride of Frankenstein.
14. There was almost a Mary Poppins ride.
Due to the popularity of the movie, a Mary Poppins ride was scheduled to be installed at the Magic Kingdom instead of Peter Pan’s Flight, a hit attraction at Disneyland. Roy O. Disney canceled the project, feeling that East Coast guests who had never gotten the chance to visit Disneyland would want to be able to ride the same rides.
15. The “Feed the Birds” snowglobe was almost trashed.
Wondering what happened to the “Feed the Birds” snowglobe from the movie, Disney archivist Dave Smith hunted through company storage to see if he could dig it up. He located it in a janitor’s closet. The janitor told Smith that he had spotted the snow globe in a trash can, but felt it was too pretty to throw away.
16. The cherry trees on Cherry Tree Lane were real—but the blooms weren’t.
To create the effect of blossom-laden branches, artists hand mounted thousands of twigs and paper blooms.
17. Disney Imagineering exists because of Mary Poppins.
Without the financial success of the film, Walt wouldn’t have been able to expand his baby, W.E.D. Enterprises, the department that helped create that animatronic robin. In 1965, he made a division of W.E.D. Enterprises just for animatronics, calling it MAPO—Manufacturing and Production Division, but also MAry POppins. MAPO later created animatronics for Pirates of the Caribbean, the Enchanted Tiki Room, Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln, and more. W.E.D. (that's Walter Elias Disney, by the way) Enterprises was later renamed "Imagineering."
18. Disney won five of the 13 Academy Awards for which Mary Poppins was nominated.
The company had never experienced such a successful night at the Oscars—and hasn’t since. (Poppins didn’t win Best Picture, however; that prize went to My Fair Lady.)