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Al Lutz
The Mary Poppins 30th Anniversary Reunion
(Originally posted on 10/14/94)

Hello everyone! I just wanted to report on a wonderful event last night:

The Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences and the Academy Foundation Present:

Walt Disney's

MARY POPPINS

A special 30th Anniversary reunion of original cast and crew members.

Hosted by Leonard Maltin. Friday, October 14, 1994, 7:30 PM

Samuel Goldwyn Theater, Beverly Hills, CA

Special Guests for the evening included:

Marc Breaux & Dee Dee Wood (Choreographers)

Edward Colman, A.S.C. (Cinematographer)

Peter Ellenshaw (Special Effects)

Bill Justice (Animator)

Irwin Kostal (Musical Conductor and Arranger)

Richard M. and Robert B. Sherman (Composers)

and

Karen Dotrice-Nalle ("Jane Banks")

This had kind of been kept top secret, and I didn't find out about it until it was posted as an upcoming event in the Hollywood Reporter. I got there at 6 PM, and found the lines already started. Thankfully enough people had shown to almost sell the house out! Academy members paid $3, the public (like myself) paid $5.

In the lobby of the Academy there was a wonderful exhibit from the Walt Disney Archives. On display were: Karen Dotrice's Costume, Julie Andrew's costume (complete with hat and shoes), Peter Ellenshaw's matte painting of London, (used at the beginning of the movie under the first set of credits), various licensed merchandise, including doll sets, tea sets, children's books, toy carpet bags, etc. Also on exhibit were a series of album releases, (including rare "pre-release" editions, and foreign language versions), Bill Walsh's Gold Record of the soundtrack album, Sheet Music, ViewMaster "Sound" reels, and 8 mm movie highlights. Some of the original one-sheets and posters were also on display, as well as a story board which detailed the penguin sequence.

The program began with a quick screening of Hollywood Goes to a World Premiere a short made of the opening night at the Chinese Theater, which features a parade of stars, Walt and Lillian Disney, Dick Van Dyke (who got a round of applause when he said how proud he was to be in this movie) and Julie Andrews. (This short is included in the Exclusive Archive Edition LaserDisc of "Mary Poppins.") The lights came up, Leonard Maltin made some short remarks, introduced the special guests listed above, and then started the movie. The print was a new one (probably the one they used to master the Archive LaserDisc from) and the projection and sound were crystal clear and terrific. I guess if you're going to see a movie anywhere, Oscar's home would probably be the best place ever! It's a shame you can't see this on a big screen, since it adds so much to the movie. I had just recently seen the restored "My Fair Lady" and it was the same experience.

The lights came up slightly, and another piece of film began, this time the matte painting of the skyline of London, and then after a few minutes Mary went floating across the screen slowly, until she went out of the shot and the film was over. Maltin explained this footage was created for the Radio City Music Hall presentation of the film, to play when the audience was arriving and then leaving the theater. The special guests came up to be seated in front of the screen and the conversations began, with Maltin moderating it all. As to be expected, the Sherman Brothers tended to overwhelm everyone with their stories, but we were all rapt listeners.

Among the nuggets of information brought up were: Glynnis Johns was invited to a Friday dinner with Walt and the Sherman Brothers to be asked to be in the movie. She immediately thanked Walt as she had always wanted to be Mary Poppins! After a few awkward moments, Walt explained that he had already cast Julie Andrews, upon where Glynnis was beginning to look disappointed. Immediately he began to tell her about the great musical number that had been written for her, and she then was excited about the picture. Both the Sherman brothers were surprised, since they had not written one for her, and Walt then asked Glynnis to stop by the studio on Monday to hear it. They racked their brains all weekend, and then finally got the idea to use a discarded song which was written to be sung by Julie Andrews when she looked at the tape measure and read Practically Perfect in Every Way. With a lyric change it became Sister Suffragette and all was saved. They also told the now very familiar stories about how without knowing they had chosen the same six chapters in the book to dramatize as had Walt without knowing it, and the Jane Darwell casting of the Bird Lady role.

Marc Breaux was the voice of the cow who sang to Mary Poppins in Jolly Holiday and Peter Ellenshaw was the voice of one of the penguins. Ellenshaw also commented that of all the difficult effects shots in the film, the simplest one was the one that got the greatest reaction from the audiences, the shot of London where the sun sets and the water glimmers when Mary and everyone look out over the rooftops. His most difficult effect was the smoke stairway.

Marc & Dee Dee Wood were students of Michael Kidd, and told about how nerve-wracking the chimney dances were, since in one sequence where the sweeps bounce down into the chimney and then back up required special trap doors that both Marc & Dee Dee had to control manually since they knew the exact beat of the music. (If this pull-lever was not pulled at the right time, the dancer would hurl his chin against a metal bar.) After getting it right on the first take, the next day they were told the sequence had to be re-done since there was a scratch found on the film. Dee Dee also brought two of the cardboard penguins used to give Dick Van Dyke a height reference for his steps (and inspire him to penguin dance) and she also introduced four of the original chimney sweeps who stood up to take a bow.

Maltin asked Karen Dotrice-Nalle what it was like to work in the movie, and she talked about how Walt had made a point of bringing her whole family over with her, so she wouldn't miss them while filming. Also she told the story of Elsa Lanchester being cast in the movie as Katie Nana. Her mother had suggested Elsa to Walt (she happened to be Karen Godmother also), as Charles Laughton had just died, and she was out of kilter. Both Walt and Karen's mother thought it would help take her mind off of things if she went back to work. And that's how she ended up in the movie.

There were many other wonderful stories, and too quickly the time came to end the evening, upon which everyone headed downstairs to see the exhibit again. I had a great time, and I hope that this incomplete report hopefully gave you an idea of how wonderful this event really was. My only regret is that with all the excitement of the Lion King, and now Snow White arriving on video, I kind of think that Mary Poppins 30th Anniversary was kind of forgotten by the Disney company. (Although they were instrumental in assembling this event.) I'm sure a new 30th Anniversary edition of the film, released to theaters again and then made available on home video would have been a fitting tribute.

And yes, even Leonard Maltin made note of it, we still all cried at the end.

Thanks!
 

 

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