I only knew Julie Andrews from movies like The Sound of Music and Mary Poppins, and when I purchased Home: A Memoir of My Early Years, I expected the book to cover the events through which I had even that limited connection to her work. That’s what I get for ignoring words like “Early Years” in book titles. The autobiography covers only the first twenty-eight years of her life, from her birth in 1935 until the day that she flies to Los Angeles (in a plane, of course, not with an umbrella) to begin work on Mary Poppins.
For someone raised on that crisp and perfect image of her Disney years, it was a surprise to discover some of the complications of her family life. From her mother who ran off with a piano player, to the sudden revelation during her teen years that her father was not her biological father, the bombshells fell like the literal bombs during her World War II-era London upbringing. All of it tame by today’s standards, of course. She never outright embarrasses anyone, and even when the book puts someone in a negative light, she always balances it with a list of that person’s many accomplishments.
After full coverage of her childhood upbringing, the book eventually slips into her theater years, primarily her time in the two Broadway plays My Fair Lady (reprised by some of the same cast later in London) and Camelot. She namedrops regularly from the pantheon of New York stars of the late 1950s, including her costars like Rex Harrison and Richard Burton; musical wonders Stephen Sondheim, Richard Rogers, and Oscar Hammerstein, among others; writers such as T. H. White and Truman Capote; and others just getting their start in the entertainment world, including her best friend Carol Burnett.
The memoir provides extremely thorough coverage of Ms. Andrews’ early years, detailed to the point where you are sure she must have started her diary in utero. The writing is as proper as the author’s diction. My key disappointment with the book is that it ends so abruptly at the very point where I was actually keen to take an interest in her life. It has been nearly five years since this biography came out, so hopefully a continuation of her more recent work will find its way home as well.