Mary Poppins, shaped by Walt Disney with music and lyrics by Richard and Robert Sherman, was a commercial and critical phenomenon. Poppins marked the big-screen debut of Julie Andrews in the titular role playing a mysterious, magical nanny who literally descends upon a well-to-do household. Her task, ostensibly, is to provide guidance for her two young charges but she is in truth far more concerned with a family’s collective heart.
Poppins went on to win five Academy Awards out of 13 nominations, including prizes for visual effects and the song “Chim Chim Cher-ee.” Yet despite its successes, the musical’s history was fraught, with P.L. Travers, the author of the books on which the film was based, highly critical of the end results of the adaptation. And while Poppins can still be seen as a magical romp for children, some contemporary audiences might question the work’s traditional themes, including deference to a rigid father and over-sentimentalizing of the working class.
Still, the project holds a distinguished place in the Western cinematic pantheon due in no small part to its cast. Here’s a look at the path the Poppins lead players took after their song and dance starring roles:
Julie Andrews had already been a revered force of live theater, both in England and via her Broadway performances in My Fair Lady (1956) and Camelot (1960). The actress’ solo singing voice is first heard in Poppins in the signature tune “A Spoonful of Sugar,” a memorable performance rivaled by the slower, more sublime “Feed the Birds (Tuppence a Bag).” Poppins heralded her first and thus far only Oscar win, though Andrews would receive a second Academy Award nomination the following year for her role as Maria in The Sound of Music. The Austrian-based musical, with no overt supernatural themes and far more gravitas, saw Andrews once again responsible for the welfare of children dealing with an emotionally detached patriarch.
Though starring in 1967’s madcap Thoroughly Modern Millie, Andrews later opted to go for more adult, edgy fare, as seen with Star! (1968), where she portrayed theatrical performer Gertrude Lawrence. During the 1970s and ’80s, she starred in several projects directed by her husband Blake Edwards, like The Tamarind Seed (1974), 10 (1979), and Victor Victoria (1982). For Victoria, Andrews received her third Oscar nomination, playing an impoverished singer who finds fame pretending to be a man working as a female impersonator. Andrews would later return to the Broadway stage in a 1995 production of Victor Victoria, for which she would also receive her third Tony nomination.
Andrews went through major health trauma when a 1997 operation resulted in the loss of her four-octave singing voice. She filed a lawsuit in 1999, eventually reached a settlement. She has continued to lend her grace to screen projects, playing queens in the Shrek and Princess Diaries franchises and agreeing to do a “speak-singing” mode of performance in Princess Diaries 2. In 2017, Andrews launched the Netflix children’s program Julie’s Room and has lent her voiceover talents to 2018’s Aquaman.
Dick Van Dyke
Dick Van Dyke portrayed Poppins’ ever-cheerful friend and potential amorous interest Bert, a singing, dancing, one-man-band who also works as a visual artist, chimney sweep and kite seller. The actor’s popular sitcom The Dick Van Dyke Show was still running during his turn in Poppins, and Van Dyke would go on to star in several other Disney movies, namely Lt. Robin Crusoe (1966), Never a Dull Moment (1968) and Chitty Chitty Bang Bang (1968). He made a go of another series with The New Dick Van Dyke Show during the ’70s and over the decades has become a small screen fixture with TV movies as well as guest spots on programs like The Carol Burnett Show and Highway to Heaven. Van Dyke has also publicly discussed his struggles with alcoholism, a dynamic mirrored in the 1974 TV film The Morning After. He eventually returned to ongoing series work for several years with a lead role in Diagnosis Murder, starting in 1993.
The Tony Award winner returned to Broadway in 1980s The Music Man and decades later made an appearance in Chita Rivera: The Dancer’s Life in early 2006. Having again popped up in film in the new millennium via the Night at the Museum outings, Van Dyke also appears in Poppins Returns as Mr. Dawes Jr., having played Mr. Dawes Sr. in the original production as well.
A trained pilot, David Tomlinson was a veteran of the British stage and screen by the time he took on the role of the uptight banking officer George W. Banks. Though initially assuming that Poppins would be a box office flop, Tomlinson maintained ties with the Disney organization and went on to star in other films from the studio — the sentient racecar comedy The Love Bug (1968) and Bedknobs and Broomsticks (1971), starring Angela Lansbury. The latter was another Sherman brothers musical that, like Poppins, featured a blend of 2D animation and live action. After several more screen projects, Tomlinson’s last film was the 1980 Peter Sellers vehicle The Fiendish Plot of Dr. Fu Manchu, after which the actor retired. Tomlinson died on June 24, 2000.
Glynis Johns had established a rich film career before her role as the voting rights mother Winnifred Banks in Poppins, belting her memorable line from “Sister Suffragette”: “Our daughters’ daughters will adore us…” and running to support women who were persecuted for their activism. From the late 1930s through the ’60s, Johns starred in dozens of films, including the mermaid feature Miranda (1948), in which she also starred with Tomlinson, and an earlier Disney outing The Sword and the Rose (1953), where she portrayed Mary Tudor. After Poppins, Johns continued her screen work through the ensuing decades, appearing on TV shows like Batman, Cheers and The Love Boat, and later the films While You Were Sleeping (1995) and Superstar (1999).
In the realm of live theatrical work, she won a Tony and Drama Desk Award for her lead role in the 1973 Stephen Sondheim production A Little Night Music. Sondheim specifically wrote the song “Send in the Clowns” for Johns’ voice.
Karen Dotrice portrayed the older Banks sibling, Jane. Dotrice had previously appeared with Poppins brother Matthew Gerber in The Three Lives of Thomasina (1963), and the two once again played siblings in The Gnome-Mobile (1967), both Disney productions. Dotrice did some acting work in the 1970s, culminating in a prominent role in the film The Thirty Nine Steps (1978). Outside of rare TV appearances, she decided to retire from acting after reportedly being requested to do a topless scene and has later expressed some remorse about being involved in the Poppins production, citing the potential stress and harm connected to being a child star though citing Disney as a protective figure. Though born in the Channel Islands, she eventually relocated to an area of Los Angeles where she reportedly lived not far from Andrews and Van Dyke.
Born into a family of performers, the cherubic Matthew Garber stole the show as Michael Banks with his refusal to give his tuppence to his father’s bank. Garber appeared in The Three Lives of Tomasina and The Gnome-Mobile, and stopped acting after the latter film. He died in 1977 at the age of 21 from pancreatitis. The condition developed due to a hepatitis infection believed to have been contracted while traveling.