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Stephen Schochet

 

 

 

by Stephen Schochet

 

 

When you are in business every person you hire gets paid before you do and it may take years, even decades before you see a payoff. That was certainly the case with Walt Disney who spent his whole working career dealing with tough-minded bankers, demanding stockholders and difficult employees, not that Walt himself was always a ball of sunshine. But when Disney had a dream he understood the perseverance needed to carry it through.

In 1944, Walt went to his daughter's bedside to tuck her in when he saw a book called Mary Poppins. "What's this?" "You should read it Daddy; it would make a great movie." Disney took her advice and was enthralled; imagine a flying nanny on the screen. However there was a huge obstacle to his plans, the author Pamela Travers. She wanted Mary Poppins to have nothing to do with Hollywood, let alone a cartoon-maker.

Over the next several years whenever Walt would travel to England to make films like Treasure Island, he would pay visits to Mrs. Travers, charming her with his personality and telling her about his inspiring ideas for Mary Poppins. After sixteen years the writer gave in to him.

Who should play Mary Poppins? She was described as middle-aged and frumpy in the book, kind of like her creator. Betty Davis turned it down so Walt changed direction with a younger, more attractive actress. His secretary suggested the Broadway star of My Fair Lady, Julie Andrews. Walt chose her after watching her performance in Camelot and being impressed by her loud clear whistle. She agreed to the part only after Jack Warner rejected her for the for his studio's adaptation of My Fair Lady, claiming the actress was not photogenic.

After years of being more personally involved with Disneyland than his films, Walt's personal touch was involved with every aspect of Mary Poppins. Disney was in love with London; to Mary Poppins he added the sidewalk painting fantasy sequence, the one-man band and the amazing chimney sweep dance over the rooftops. Disney's greatest contribution was being the model for the character of the father: An impatient man with a gruff exterior who sometimes could not see past his own problems but was a nice guy underneath it all, and like Walt had big problems with banks.

Walt Disney's long perseverance paid off, critically and financially Mary Poppins was the greatest success of his life. This was in 1964, 20 years after he read the book and two years before he passed away. Julie Andrews even received Jack Warner's vote towards her academy award for best actress! The stockholders, bankers and employees were almost as thrilled as Walt himself.

 

 
Stephen Schochet is the author of the upcoming book
Hollywood Stories: Short, Entertaining Anecdotes About the Stars and Legends of Hollywood
.
He is also the author of two acclaimed audiobooks
Tales of Hollywood
and Fascinating Walt Disney.


View samples at www.hollywoodstories.com.
 

 

 

 
 

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