Home: A Memoir of My Early Years

Julie Andrews and Carol Burnett are friends, you guys. Really good friends.

Probably everyone over 45 knows this, but I learned it upon reading Andrews’ memoir, and now I’d like to be their third wheel, thank you very much. (J + C, please invite me over! Thanks in advance.)

It’s pretty common knowledge that I love Julie Andrews unconditionally, and it’ll probably come up in conversation if we talk about our top 5 movies. The Sound of Music is my favorite, Christopher Plummer as Capt. Von Trapp is my ideal man, and Maria is the woman I want to be. (Except I don’t want to be a nun or abandon nunnery for a life with seven children.) I also loved her in Mary Poppins, and upon seeing those two movies, decided that she could have chemistry with a rock, she’s that charming. But you’d think that my “unconditional love” statement would imply that I’d seen more of her movies or knew more about her. Nope! I’m a fraud.

It was time to reverse that fraudulence with a dip into her early years. I thought I might be a little bored by it, since my interest in her is mostly based on the two movies I’ve seen, but it turns out she’s just as eloquent and effervescent in talking about her childhood as she is playing a character in a movie or appearing on a talk show. Andrews is a delicate, clear writer with keen observation skills (“The newscasters had serious names like Alvar Liddell and Bruce Belfrage, and in their serious, well-cadenced voices they read the news with careful precision and crisp diction,” p. 37) who looks back on her childhood with some fondness and some pain. She’s diplomatic about recalling certain memories, but she doesn’t take too much care not to offend anyone — if someone from her past was an arse, she’ll say so. She’s also honest about her family’s problems, including the alcoholism of her parents. (This tone was an especially nice contrast after reading her aforementioned co-star’s wordy, pretentious memoir a few years ago, linked to above.)

She seems to literally sing through the pain, never letting herself get too down about anything, not really dwelling on having anything to be down about, and having quite a balanced perspective on her own life. Though she had a rather transitive childhood — moving around a lot between parents’ houses, aunts and uncles’ houses, taking trains to London to perform, flying to America to perform — she seemed to be aware of her capabilities and limitations, proud of her talent, and incredibly considerate of her family. The music truly seems to lift her up, and being such a diligent student must have genuinely helped her in her teen years — there are pages of descriptions about specific vocal and breathing exercises and visualizations that her coach taught her, and it’s truly fascinating to read.

Andrews was essentially a solo Von Trapp kid, which may be why she identified so strongly with the role of their eventual stepmother. Early on, her talent became pretty clear, so she became a child star — though she seemed to have a choice in the matter. If there was any intense pressure put upon her, it certainly wasn’t from her parents. Andrews simply acknowledged that her greatest asset was her voice, and found a way to enjoy it immensely. She’s one of the lucky ones, someone who was able to embrace the lifestyle that accompanied her natural skills. This quote, about her profound love for performing live theater, is truly inspiring:

p. 254 // “There is a sudden thrill of connection and an awareness of size — the theater itself, more the height of the great stage housing behind and above me, where history has been absorbed, where darkness contains mystery and light has meaning.”

She’s also a lot cheekier than you might think, but not in the braggy way that Plummer was about his conquests. Andrews was more passive, observing the insanity around her and waiting for just the right time to make her quip. These two quotes made me laugh:

p. 156, describing her experience of performing “Cinderella” onstage // “The ponies were adorable, but had a phenomenal talent for taking a dump onstage whenever I had friends in the audience.”

p. 171, on living with a roommate who brought her boyfriend over a lot // “They would occasionally become amorous, so I would retreat to the bedroom, but I couldn’t help overhearing the mounting sexual exertions taking place on the couch in the next room.”

I think I’d be annoyed at anyone else for writing a book like this — it’s generally pretty upbeat, and so inclusive of homey, random details. But she keeps these bits interesting and anecdotal. She doesn’t take them seriously, instead appreciating them genuinely, and that attitude rubs off on the reader. She’s a reasonably optimistic person — someone we should all strive to be, I suppose.