Born as Julia Elizabeth Wells on the 1st day of October 1935, in Walton-on-Thames, Surrey, Dame Julie Andrews is a noted English actress, singer, and author, especially famous for her crystalline four-octave mesmerizing voice. She was the daughter of Ted Wells, a schoolteacher, and Barbara, a talented pianist, who taught piano, but longed for a career on the stage. However, Andrews was conceived before Barbara was married to Ted, as a result of her affair with a family friend, and although Andrews discovered her true parentage from her mother only in 1950, she disclosed it much later, in her autobiography in 2008.
Nevertheless, her parents divorced on the eve of World War II, and while her mother married Ted Andrews, a professional singer, Julie lived briefly with her biological father. But Ted Wells soon realized that with her music knowledge, Barbara would be a better choice to provide proper artistic training for young Julie, and in 1940 he sent his talented daughter to live with her mother and stepfather. While Ted Andrews gave the little girl her first singing lessons, he was amazed by the child’s strong voice, large vocal range, perfect pitch, and gifted musical ability. At first, he sponsored her lessons at the independent arts educational school Cone-Ripman School in London, and then, at the age of eight, little Julie was taken to the noted concert soprano and voice instructor Madame Lilian Styles-Allen. Madame Allen was deeply impressed by the child’s strong voice and knew that she has the gift of absolute pitch. She trained her in the operatic repertoire and taught her the perfect diction, which would make her famous in the future.
Beginning in 1945, and for the next two years, Julie performed spontaneously and unbilled on stage with her pianist mother and singer stepfather and took the surname of her stepfather as she joined the family music-hall act. She gained her big break when she made her professional solo debut on 22 October 1947, singing a difficult operatic aria, as a part of a musical revue Starlight Roof. At the age of thirteen, she became the youngest solo performer ever to be seen in a Royal Command Variety Performance, where she performed along with American performer Danny Kaye and others before King George VI and Queen Elizabeth at the London Palladium on 1 November 1948.
Julie Andrews was spotted by songwriter Sandy Wilson and the American producer Cy Feuer, while she was playing the title role in the pantomime Cinderella. Consequently, Feuer and his partner, Ernest Martin, offered her the lead in the Broadway production of The Boy Friend. At first, she was reluctant to accept the offer and travel to America, as she was only 18 and had never traveled so far from her family. But finally, she agreed to a one-year contract and boarded the plane for the country where she would spend most of her life. On the eve of her 19th birthday, Julie Andrews made her Broadway debut on 30 September 1954, portraying Polly Browne in the American production of the highly acclaimed London musical The Boy Friend, in which she was the stand-out performer.
Before the end of her Boy Friend contract, she was asked to audition by Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe for the role of rustic flower girl Eliza Doolittle in My Fair Lady, their musical version of the play Pygmalion by George Bernard Shaw. Although the coveted role had already been played by many distinguished actresses on stage and screen, the performance of Julie Andrews in the role was universally acclaimed, and the 1956 production became one of the biggest hits in Broadway history. During the show, she also appeared in the American television musical Cinderella, broadcast live on CBS on 31 March 1957 that had an estimated 107 million viewers. Lerner and Loewe again cast her in 1960 in a period musical as Queen Guinevere in Camelot, along with Richard Burton as King Arthur. But she was disheartened when she lost the role of Eliza in the film version of My Fair Lady, as Warner Brothers thought Andrews lacked sufficient name recognition and opted for casting an established film star, Audrey Hepburn, in the role.
However, after watching her performance as Queen Guinevere in Camelot, Walt Disney went backstage to meet Julie and offered her the title role of the magical proper English nanny in his forthcoming production, Mary Poppins (1964). It is the story of Jane and Michael, the children of the wealthy and uptight Banks family, who were pleasantly surprised by the arrival of their new nanny, the magical Mary Poppins, and tried to pass on some of their nanny’s sunny attitude to their preoccupied parents by embarking on a series of fantastical adventures with Mary and her performer friend. The film turned out to be the biggest box-office draw in Disney history and Julie Andrews won both the 1964 Academy Award for Best Actress and the Golden Globe Award for Best Actress, along with the 1965 Grammy Award for Best Album for Children. In the same year, she also appeared opposite James Garner in The Americanization of Emily (1964), a comedy-drama war film set in London during World War II, and was nominated for the BAFTA Award for Best British Actress in a leading role.
Julie Andrews continued to work on Broadway, until the release of The Sound of Music (1965), the highest-grossing movie of its day, and one of the highest-grossing of all time. It is the story of a young woman named Maria, who after failing miserably in her attempts to become a nun was given the job of a governess, to handle the seven mischievous children of Navy Captain Georg Von Trapp. The Captain's wife is dead, and though he is often away, he wants to strictly run the household just like his ship. The children are unhappy and resentful of the governesses that their father keeps hiring and have mischievously managed to run each of them off one by one.
However, after initial hostility, Maria managed to win their hearts by her understanding, kindness and sense of fun and at the same time succeeds in bringing happiness and music back to the house. The Sound of Music made Julie Andrews an international star and one of the biggest stars of the decade. She won her second Golden Globe Award for Best Actress for her wonderful performance in the film and was also nominated for the Academy Award for Best Actress, as well as the BAFTA Award for Best British Actress in a Leading Role, but narrowly missed the last two awards to Julie Christie for her performance in Darling (1965).
After the unbelievable success of The Sound of Music, Julie Andrews appeared in Hawaii (1966), the second-highest box-office movie of the year, and starred opposite Paul Newman in Torn Curtain (1966), a thriller, directed by Alfred Hitchcock. In Thoroughly Modern Millie (1967), Julie played the role of one of the two young girls, living in a Single Young Ladies Hostel in 1922 New York City. The film proved to be the second biggest hit in the history of Universal Pictures, and Julie Andrews received a Golden Globe nomination for her performance in the film.
In the same year, her marriage to Tony Walton ended on 14 November, after they married on 10 May 1959. However, the pair remained close friends and have often collaborated in the years since.
Andrews next appeared in two of Hollywood's most expensive musical flops, one of which was Star! (1968), a biopic of Gertrude Lawrence, an English actress, singer, dancer, and musical comedy performer. The other one was Darling Lili (1970), a musical spy story on the background of the First World War, co-starring Rock Hudson, and produced, directed, and co-written by Blake Edwards, whom Julie married on 12 November 1969. She featured only two more films in the 1970s, The Tamarind Seed (1974) and 10 (1979). In S.O.B (1981), she played Sally Miles, a character who agreed to show her boobs in a scene in the film-within-a-film. She proved herself a versatile actress in Victor Victoria (1982), playing the role of a woman impersonating a male female-impersonator. Her performance in the film earned her a Golden Globe Award for Best Actress and a nomination for the Academy Award for Best Actress.
After that, she featured in The Man Who Loved Women (1983) that chronicles the affairs of an artist, as told from the perspective of his analyst and eventual lover. She was nominated for the Golden Globe Award for Best Performance by an Actress for her next film That’s Life! (1986), and was also widely praised for her portrayal of a violinist struggling with Multiple Sclerosis, a progressive disease of the central nervous system, in Duet for One (1986), which again earned her a Golden Globe nomination. She made her dramatic television debut in 1991, in the ABC made TV film Our Sons (1991) and was named a Disney Legend within the year. Her later films include the family comedies The Princess Diaries (2001) and its sequel The Princess Diaries 2 (2001).
In 1995, she brought a stage version of Victor/Victoria to Broadway with enormous success with critics and the public. However, after two years, she was forced to quit the show, when she developed hoarseness in her voice, due to the growth of ovules on her vocal cords. She subsequently underwent surgery at New York's Mount Sinai Hospital, but the operation damaged her larynx irreparably, effectively ending her singing career. In 1999, she filed a suit against the doctors at Mount Sinai Hospital, including Scott Kessler and Jeffrey Libin, who had operated on her throat. The lawsuit was settled in September 2000 for an undisclosed amount. Subsequently, from 2000 onwards, Steven M Zeitels, director of the Massachusetts General Hospital Center for Laryngeal Surgery and Voice Rehabilitation, operated on her four times, which improved her speaking voice, but could not restore her singing.
However, despite the loss of her singing voice, she kept herself busy with many projects. In 1997, Julie Andrews was inducted into the Theater Hall of Fame and three years later, in the New Year Honours List of 2000, she was made a Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire. She received Kennedy Center Honors in 2001and was also honoured with a special Grammy for lifetime achievement in February 2011.
Julie Andrews published the first volume of her autobiography in 2008, while the second volume was published in 2019. Apart from that, Andrews and her daughter, Emma Walton Hamilton, have written and published more than 30 books for the children and young adults.