Wednesday, April 16, 2014

P.L. Travers, Walt Disney & Mary Poppins

Kathy Cooney Dobbs

   I was one of many moviegoers watching Disney's  popular musical , Mary Poppins  when it opened in theaters in 1964,  and like most, fell in love with the practically perfect Mary , the Banks family and chimney sweep, Bert.                                                   

   While I knew nothing about the author, I enjoyed the  book Mary Poppins , and was a  huge fan of Walt Disney -  a child of the 1950's , I grew up with The Mickey Mouse Club , Zorro, The Wonderful World of Disney and movies Old Yeller, Bambi,  Dumbo, Toby Tyler, Pollyanna and The Parent Trap . Living in Southern California allowed me , along with my family to visit Disneyland every summer. When I graduated high school we even had our all night party at Disneyland!  Walt Disney was like an old friend.                                                    

     Not until I saw the movie Saving Mr. Banks, the Disney account of  P.L. Travers and the  tug of war, what Travers referred to as 'uneasy wedlock' ,  between her and Mr. Disney  and the making of Mary Poppins, did I learn something about the author. That she was a   somewhat difficult,  determined woman, one without much  humor or joy. Her biographer, Valerie Lawson portrays the same in Mary Poppins, She Wrote  - The Life of P.L. Travers. Travers being a  rather humorless, difficult  woman, but also a woman with talent, imagination and fortitude. And most protective of what today she might call 'her brand' - her beloved Mary Poppins.

    Lawrence writes her search for Pamela Travers (born Helen Lyndon Goff) began with the discovery she was Australian, and  "like myself had been a dancer, actress and writer. For me, Travers became more fascinating the more I learned of her mystery."

    Travers began writing as young girl and wrote several poems , including  Mother Song published in The Triad in 1922

Little son,
you must be sleeping;
Baby stars are peeping,
One by one.

'Time for bed !"...
Hear the Dustman crying,
As he comes with flying
Wings outspread...

    Lawrence writes 'Mother Song' was an unabashed piece of sentimentality (I think it sweet) , notable only for its mention of stars , the theme of so much of her later work, the phrase 'time for bed' , one of Mary Poppins favorite orders, and  the idea of the flying angel in the form of the Dustman.

    On March 20, 1926 the Christchurch Sun published  "The Strange Story of the Dancing Cow" , accompanied by a panel boasting "Miss Pamela Travers, who writes this story of the Sun is rapidly winning fame for herself in London. Few writers  today can equal her in the realm of whimsical fantasy. Read here in the Old Red Cow who awoke to find herself smitten  with star fever." In the first Mary Poppins book, published in 1934 , Mary told the same story of the cow and a king within a chapter called , "The Dancing Cow."

    During one interview Travers  says, " When I was in my teens, I wrote a small story about someone named Mary Poppins putting children to bed. I can't remember what paper the story appeared in, but the name was a long  time a-growing, a long time in existence, perhaps."  While during her lifetime no one ever discovered when she created Mary Poppins, and she certainly didn't tell, one can surmise Mary Poppins was always part of P.L. Travers. I'm sure that's one reason it was so hard for her to relinquish any control to Disney for the movie adaptation. Mary Poppins belonged to her.

     Travers admitted she liked the movie, but was always peeved with the title screen,  'Walt Disney's Mary Poppins' and felt it should have been  Mary Poppins arranged for the screen by Walt Disney. In the end one might say, it was the  magic of Travers and the magic of Disney that brought Mary Poppins long lasting life, and generations of fame.

1 comment:

Patty said...

Mary was, and always will be, a favorite of mine...thank you P.L. Travers and thank you Kath for the fun blog!