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Five things you don’t know about Mary Poppins

Some might say Tom Hanks looks “practically perfect” as entertainment mogul Walt Disney in the recently leaked photos of the set of Saving Mr. Banks. The movie, in which Hanks plays Disney, focuses on the creation of Mary Poppins and the drama Disney faced when negotiating with Poppins author P.L. Travers. Since the tell-all movie won’t be released until Dec. 2013, read below to see what two Disney experts think are five interesting things you don’t know about the making of Mary Poppins.

1. Mary Poppins was supposed to be mean.

Author P.L. Travers never intended for people to view her character as the firm but kind English nanny that Julie Andrews portrayed on film. Disney Journalist Jim Korkis says the Poppins in Travers’ short storybooks was “a lot stricter and frightening,” so much so that Disney originally considered horror actress Bette Davis for the role. Eventually, Disney opted for a more family-friendly image of the magical nanny.

“Travers’ tale is more episodic and much darker [than the novel],” Korkis said. “Walt’s version introduced her books and her character to a much wider audience than she would ever have gotten otherwise.”

2. It took Disney 23 years to purchase the film rights from Travers.

According to Disney World Radio Host Lou Mongello, Disney first tried to obtain the Poppins film rights in 1938 but Travers rejected the offer, worried a movie would not capture her stories as she envisioned. The Australian-born author finally relented to the ever-persistent Disney in 1961, on the condition that she would retain all script approval rights. The decision made her a millionaire.

A documentary called The Making of Mary Poppins reveals that Travers described talking to Disney during those negotiations as talking to “a friendly, charming uncle who took from his pocket a gold pocket watch and dangled it enticingly before your eyes.”

3. Disney and co. wanted Julie Andrews to play Mary Poppins after seeing her perform on The Ed Sullivan Show.

Mongello said that Poppins composers Richard and Robert Sherman wanted to cast Julie Andrews as Poppins after seeing her perform an excerpt from her Broadway play, Camelot, on The Ed Sullivan Show in Jan. 1961. According to the Making of Mary Poppins documentary, Disney traveled to New York to see a production of Camelot and offered Andrews the role backstage after the show.

Korkis said the selection of both Andrews as Poppins and Dick Van Dyke as Bert helped make Mary Poppins a “perfect storm” of a film. “The thing that makes Mary Poppins stand out is the quality. High production values for the time, outstanding and memorable music and, of course, the engaging personalities of Julie Andrews and Dick Van Dyke, who were not only talented but lovable,” Korkis said.

4. P.L. Travers made many demanding suggestions to filmmakers about the script.


“She [Travers] was reportedly extremely difficult to deal with during the entire development and filming of the movie,” Mongello said. According to IMDb.com,  Travers objected to many aspects of the film that did not remain true to her original vision,  including the chalk animation scene. “The History of Mary Poppins” reveals that when Travers suggested cutting much of the animation, Disney simply retorted, “we aren’t going to change a thing.”

“I think the push and pull between Walt and Travers resulted in a better product than what either could have done on their own,” Korkis said, despite the stress Travers brought to production. “Neither…had any idea of Mary Poppins becoming the phenomenon it became and still is.”

5. Travers was so upset with Disney’s interpretation of her books that she never wanted Americans to adapt her story again.

When Sir Cameron Mackintosh approached Travers in 1993 and asked if he could adapt Mary Poppins into a Broadway musical, Travers agreed only if “no Americans” were involved in the production, according to Tulsa World. Although Travers allowed the Sherman brothers’ songs from the Disney movie to remain in the play, the request revealed her dissatisfaction with how Disney enshrined her story for the ages.

“The problem is that anything the Disney Company made became the Disney version in the mind of the entire world,” Korkis said. “I felt Walt was honest with Travers and actually relinquished a lot of the control he had on every other Disney film, but that Travers simply did not understand the film making process and what was required, and how it was actually done.”

Do you think Tom Hanks makes a good Walt Disney?

Mary Poppins photo courtesy of the Fine Art Diner Blog: thefineartdiner.blogspot.com/2011/09/mary-poppins-frankenstein-animal-farm.html

Tom Hanks and Walt Disney photo courtesy of the Orange County Register: www.ocregister.com/articles/disneyland-376876-hanks-park.html


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The Hub Bub is a collection of articles, videos, audio, photo slideshows, interactive maps and other media produced by students enrolled in journalism courses at Loyola University Chicago's School of Communication. For more about the School of Communication, our award winning faculty, and our state of the art facilities located in the heart of Chicago, visit our website.