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Julie Andrews on fame, family and favorite movies


Notice: Transcripts are machine and human generated and lightly edited for accuracy. They may contain errors.

Judy Woodruff: Finally tonight: Julie Andrews, she's one of those legendary entertainers everyone seems to know.

Next year, Andrews will receive her latest accolade, the American Film Institute's life achievement award.

John Yang sat down with 84-year-old Andrews and her daughter, Emma Walton Hamilton, to talk about their new book, which reveals some stories people don't know about Andrews from her time in Hollywood.

This is part of our ongoing arts and culture series, Canvas.

John Yang: Both "Sound of Music" and "Mary Poppins" were touchstones in my early...

Julie Andrews: In your youth? Yes.

John Yang: My youth.

Julie Andrews: Actually, they were in mine too.


Emma Walton Hamilton: And mine as well.

John Yang: And yours as well.

Emma Walton Hamilton: Yes.

John Yang: And then, talking to my colleagues, they are showing their children.

Julie Andrews: Yes. Isn't that phenomenal? I mean, that's a bonus and -- that you just don't expect, but those timeless, good musicals -- and they were so beautifully made.

John Yang: Andrews' legendary career includes the stage, movies, TV, concerts, and recordings. She's a dame commander of the British Empire and has six Golden Globes, three Grammys, two Emmys, an Oscar, and a Kennedy Center honor.

Andrews and Hamilton, a professional writer and arts educator, have written more than 30 books for children and young adults. They wrote "Home Work: A Memoir of My Hollywood Years" as a team.

Emma, as you were growing up, were there movies or projects of your mothers that were particular favorites?

Emma Walton Hamilton: Oh, I was pretty much there most of the time on set for most of the films. I couldn't sit through "The Sound of Music" for years without weeping, because any time I saw my mother cry on film, I burst into tears myself.

Julie Andrews: Yes, she'd suddenly say, I'm just going out for a little bit, blinking very furiously.

Emma Walton Hamilton: Yes.

But I have to say, probably now, among my favorites of her films is "Hawaii."

I think her performance in it is so different than many of her other films and so strong.

John Yang: Of the three early ones you made, "Americanization of Emily," one of your favorites.

Julie Andrews: It's the virtual war that is the fraud, not war itself. It's the valor and the self-sacrifice and the goodness of war that needs the exposing.

It's a very timely theme, more than ever maybe, about the folly and excess of war and the needlessness of it.

John Yang: Writing about your early days in Vaudeville, you talked about the contrast between the glamorous appearance of life in the theater and the rather shabby reality of it backstage.

Julie Andrews: Yes.

John Yang: And you give us a lot of examples in your moviemaking, particularly of that wonderful opening scene of "Sound of Music." The camera discovers you on a mountaintop.

Julie Andrews: Yes, but actually being photographed by a cameraman hanging from the side of a helicopter.

I kept being dashed to the ground by the downdraft from the jet engines. But every time, I came up with grass and hay all over me.


John Yang: One lyric in the movie you never quite got.

Julie Andrews: There's just one tiny line I really didn't know how to sing.

And I just thought the best thing to do is, since I'm out in the wild and so on, just say -- sing through the night like a lark. It was "learning to pray, I go to the hills," and carry on very fast after that.

John Yang: For her very first film, "Mary Poppins," she won the Oscar.

Julie Andrews: I know, a stunning surprise. I didn't expect to.

And I really thought for a while that maybe was given to me as a kind of welcome to Hollywood gesture. And what a lucky, lucky moment in my life.

John Yang: The book focuses on the importance of family, Emma, the child of her first marriage to theater director Tony Walton, two step-children, Jennifer and Geoffrey, from her second marriage to noted film director/writer/producer Blake Edwards, and the two daughters she and Edwards adopted, Amelia and Joanna.

Edwards, who died in 2010, directed Andrews in seven movies, including "10" and Victor/Victoria."

Julie Andrews: I love the unity that it provides. And working with Blake, I felt so very safe in his embrace, so to speak. And I knew that I didn't have to worry about a thing, but -- on camera.

But just sticking together, traveling together, being together, it's why home in "Home Work" is there, because making a home, keeping family together means so much to me.

Emma Walton Hamilton: There's a sweet story in the book of when she flew in to surprise me for my 15th birthday. And she only left about two weeks prior to go back to work in Europe.

And I came home from school and discovered her sitting on my bed completely wrapped in wrapping -- well, crepe paper, I guess it was.

Julie Andrews: Yes.

Emma Walton Hamilton: And then I burst into tears, happy tears.

Julie Andrews: Yes. Thank God, yes.

John Yang: Yet not all the memories are happy.

Julie Andrews: Blake was a very depressive personality, and yet devastatingly funny. But when he was in a bad way, it was very sad.

John Yang: You felt the need to make things better, to make people happy.

Julie Andrews: Well, it's sort of my job in a way, John, if you think about it, being on stage all my life. It's about hopefully giving joy. And I love to do it.

John Yang: In her next book, Andrews also expects to deal with the emotional impact of losing her singing voice after throat surgery in 1997, though she says she can't discuss the procedure itself.

Julie Andrews: Unfortunately, I can't talk about it, since it was part of my agreement in a settlement where I gave all the settlement to charity and so on.

But it was a devastating time in my life.

John Yang: She's still working, though, recently creating and appearing in "Julie's Greenroom" on Netflix.

The children's series produced with The Jim Henson Company is about puppet staging their own musical under the watchful eye of Andrews, now herself a grandmother of 10 and great-grandmother of three.

For the "PBS NewsHour," I'm John Yang in New York.

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