A songbird’s ‘Home’ sweet home

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A songbird’s ‘Home’ sweet home

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Home: A Memoir of My Early Years. Author: Julie Andrews, Genre: Memoir, Publisher: Hyperion

Julie Andrews has one of the most distinct voices in show business. As I read “Home: A Memoir of My Early Years,” her euphonic intonation seemed to ring through my brain with each word.
As an actress, Andrews does not have to rise to the same literary occasion in her memoir as say, an unknown author. But as a performer gifted with comedic timing and charisma, Andrews manages to transplant this winning personality ? along with a pinch of wicked English wit ? onto the pages with her detailed memoir.
The story begins with the actress’s earliest memories and a textual trace of her family’s roots, but the really interesting stuff comes as she enters show business.
Born into a talented family ? her mother was a pianist and her aunt was a dance instructor ? a young, “reed-thin” Andrews with “bandy legs” was first thrust into the spotlight at age 9 upon her vaudevillian stepfather’s suggestion.
Andrews recounts her first experiences with show business through deeply sensory descriptions that evoke her emotional connection to the stage: “And the smells ? of the yellow and pink gels on all the lamps, of paint and makeup, and grease and sweat, and most of all, of warm dust from the great drapes and the painted drops and the grubby, pockmarked stage. To this day, that smell is a turn-on.”
With feelings like these, it’s no wonder she grew up to be one of the most famous actresses in the world. Most enjoyable about Home is the author’s surprising honesty. Andrews doesn’t shy away from sensitive topics such as her stepfather’s sexual abuse, revelations of family secrets, her own adolescent experimentation or embarrassing anecdotes.
One more humorous tale comes from her stint on the original production of “My Fair Lady”: “One night we had a particularly unresponsive benefit audience. Rex [Harrison] murmured quietly, ‘Bunch of twats.’
“I’d never heard of the word ‘twat’ before, and assumed it meant ‘twit’ or ‘fool.’ I echoed him gaily, ‘Yes. Twats, twats, twats! You’re absolutely right.’

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The two men looked at me as if I had lost my mind. Later I asked Tony about it and he tactfully said, ‘No, no, darling, that’s not the same word at all...’ and he explained.” Definitely worth a chuckle or two.
Even in tender recollections of events such as her wedding preparations to her first husband, Tony Walton, Andrews manages to insert some sassy humor.
“On one occasion we were introduced to the organist who would be playing at the ceremony. He announced proudly that he had ‘the finest organ in the south of England.’
Tony and I couldn’t look at each other, and later relayed the story with relish.” With such subtleties that keep her reader on her toes, Andrews’ memoir is a light, easy read, though not exactly riveting. Although she’s honest, she’s simply far too pleasant in tone to cause any real drama.Perhaps this is because Andrews simply loves her craft too much to taint her memories with ugliness: “One senses the audience feeling [bliss], too, and together you ride the ecstasy all the way home,” she writes of the musical stage.
Personally, I’d like to see Andrews pen another volume. After reading her stories of My Fair Lady and “Camelot” in Home, which ends just as she begins “Mary Poppins,” I’m eager to learn more.
She definitely evolved after her saccharine Eliza Doolittle days, and I’d like to glean insight into the making of her subsequent films, such as “The Sound of Music,” as well as the more eyebrow-raising “S.O.B.” and “Victor/Victoria.”


By Hannah Bae Contributing Writer [hannahbae@gmail.com]

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