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  • Writer's pictureCarrie Specht

TCM Presents: Starring Julie Andrews

Generations of movie fans know and love Julie Andrews. Whether it's because of her early successes such as Mary Poppins and The Sound of Music, or her triumphs in the 80s such as Victor/Victoria and That's Life, or her later work as a grand dame in The Princess Diaries or Shrek films, you're familiar with the ever vivacious and charming lady who, like her perennial pixie haircut, has transcended the fads and trends of decades.

Turner Classic Movies proudly presents Julie Andrews, one of the most-loved international stars, as an on-camera co-host with Ben Mankiewicz for a screening of four Andrews films. Andrews will discuss three of the films with the TCM prime time host, whose unrestrained admiration for his guest is infectious. As it happens, Andrews' appearance comes just days after the publication of her new book, "Home Work: A Memoir of My Hollywood Years". Not that you need any incentive, but the nearness of the two events is likely to prompt devoted fans to pick up the book, and possibly catch Ms. Andrews at one of the many book signing dates to follow. Honestly, I can't see how anyone could miss out on such a rare, and privileged opportunity to not only get a personally signed book, but to also directly, one-on-one meet a living legend. I'm checking now with my local bookstores to see just where and when Andrews will appear!

A performer noted for a crystalline four-octave soprano voice, Andrews made her Broadway debut in The Boy Friend (1954) and became a major stage star with her performances as Eliza Doolittle in My Fair Lady (1956) and Queen Guenevere in Camelot (1960). However, she did not appear in any of the movie adaptations of those stage plays since she was considered a box office risk having had no previous screen experience. Hollywood would soon rectify the situation when she did make her spectacular movie debut in the title role of Walt Disney's Mary Poppins in 1964. She received both a Best-Actress Oscar for that performance, beating out fellow nominee Audrey Hepburn who was cast as Eliza Dolittle in the film version of My Fair Lady. Andrews later earned a Screen Actors Guild Lifetime Achievement Award, the Kennedy Center Honorary Award and the Disney Legends Award. In 2000, she was made a Dame by Queen Elizabeth II for services to the performing arts. And last month it was announced that Andrews will be next year's recipient of the AFI Life Achievement Award. That's quite a resume!

Andrews' notable movies include The Sound of Music (1965), which is one of the most successful films of all-time remaining on the list of top ten money earners since its initial release. She also headlined the 1966 production of Hawaii, which is nearly forgotten today, but did receive seven Oscar nominations. Other big titles are Alfred Hitchcock's Torn Curtain, the 1968 Gertrude Lawrence biopic Star!, and the Anne Hathaway breakout film, The Princess Diaries. And yet, Andrews has chosen to present four other titles October 29: The Americanization of Emily (1964), Thoroughly Modern Millie (1967), Victor/Victoria (1982), and That's Life (1986), which will be appearing for the very first on TCM.

For those unfamiliar to the WWII drama, The Americanization of Emily was Andrews' follow-up release to Mary Poppins. The romance with dark overtones was a definite change of pace from the light-hearted children's film. Set in 1944 London during the weeks leading up to D-Day, James Garner (The Great Escape, The Rockford Files) plays a Navy officer charged with supplying creature comforts (including women) to his superior officers, and Andrews is the war widow who falls in love with him. Sounds simple enough, but the story has a lot more going for it with some twists and turns and entertaining surprises. The multiple Oscar winner, Paddy Chayefsky wrote the screenplay and Arthur Hiller of Love Story fame directed the excellent cast that also includes Melvyn Douglas (Ninotchka, Hud), Keenan Wynn (The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit, Dr. Strangelove) and James Coburn (The Magnificent Seven, Affliction).

One of my favorite Andrew films, Thoroughly Modern Millie, is a satirical musical set in the fancy-free flapper world of the 1920s. She has the title role as an innocent from Kansas who comes to the Big City to find liberation, love and a rich husband. The (purposely) campy antics are enhanced with the puritan performance of Mary Tyler Moore as a naive ingénue, and the outrageous persona of Muzzy Van Hossmere as played by Broadway legend, Carol Channing who was Oscar-nominated as Best Supporting Actress for this role. Also on hand is the dashingly handsome John Gavin who brilliantly plays to type, and James Fox who plays delightfully against type as Andrew's love interest. Oscar winner George Roy Hill (The Sting) directs, and Elmer Bernstein (The Magnificent Seven) won an Oscar for his original score.

Victor/Victoria reunites Andrews with James Garner in this highly entertaining musical farce directed by the master of the farce, Andrews' late husband, Blake Edwards (The Pink Panther, The Great Race). She plays the title character(s) who becomes the toast of the town after being coached by the wonderfully flamboyant Robert Preston (The Music Man, The Last Starfighter). There's some masquerading and a lot of misunderstandings before the inevitable (and hilarious) happy ending. Garner is a macho gangster who falls for him/her, and Lesley Ann Warren (Clue, Life Stinks) is the gangster's shrill-voiced moll. The movie scored seven Oscar nominations including nods to Andrews, Preston and Warren, and won for the original score by Henry Mancini (Breakfast at Tiffany's, The Pink Panther).

The final film of the night is That's Life. This TCM premiere is another comedy-drama co-written and directed by Edwards. The impressive cast is bookended by Andrews and Jack Lemmon (The Apartment, The Odd Couple) who play a married couple facing mid-life problems with mid-life anxieties, very much reflecting the lives of the director and his muse. The independently produced production was shot at the real life Malibu beach house home of the famous couple, and has many of their family members in supporting roles, such as Chris Lemmon (Jack's son), Emma Walton (Julie's daughter) Jennifer Edwards (Blake's daughter), and Lemmon's wife, Felicia Farr. Although the film wouldn't really stand out were it not for the two leads, it is the last good production the husband and wife team would share together. That is likely the reason behind its inclusion here.

All in all, it's a wonderfully curated slate of films hand picked by one of the screen's greatest, most enduring stars. So, be sure to tune in Friday, November 29 at 8:00pm (EST)/5:00pm (PST) for a night of memorable performances by a lady who long be remembered by old and young alike, Julie Andrews.


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