Julie Andrews has portrayed some of the most iconic women on film. She’s won every award on the planet and has inspired a generation of musical theater fanatics. In celebration of her 78th birthday on Tuesday, we’re counting down the five most iconic roles she's played.
What could have been a throwaway part in another Disney disappointment, not only gave us a breakout star (Anne Hathaway), but also introduced a new generation of moviegoers to the wonder that is Julie Andrews. Andrews is the type of grandmother we all want — stern yet caring, and a queen of course. Most importantly, as Queen Clarisse in the not-stellar sequel, Andrews sang for the first time since having throat surgery in 1997. So while the film itself may not be groundbreaking, it did give Andrews’ voice back to the world.
It’s a familiar plot now — a struggling performer can’t get a job so she pretends to be a cross-dresser. But in 1982, Andrews’ turn as Victoria Grant was as groundbreaking as it was genius. The film follows Victoria as she transitions from struggling female soprano to successful female "impersonator" Victor, blending musical comedy with social commentary and giving us some of the best musical numbers on film ( "Le Jazz Hot," among others). However, it’s Andrews’ turn as the gender bending protagonist that stands out, and earned her both Golden Globe and Academy Award nominations for the role.
Most of you will point out this role was famously played by Audrey Hepburn in the successful film adaptation. You are right, however My Fair Lady began as a successful Broadway musical which starred none other than Julie Andrews as the Cockney heroine at the center of Rex Harrison’s wager. So popular was the original run, the cast recording was the best-selling album of 1956, and garnered Andrews her first Tony nomination. Ultimately the studio didn’t want to risk a big-budget film on a stage actress, but to many people Andrews is the original Eliza Doolittle, without whom the film wouldn’t even exist. Besides, Hepburn’s casting as Eliza meant Andrews was free to pursue other projects.
So what do you do when you’re passed over for the role of a lifetime? If you’re Julie Andrews, you find a better role of course. After losing out on the film adaptation of My Fair Lady, Andrews signed on to a film that would become a Disney classic, Mary Poppins. It’s become one of Andrews’ most beloved roles, with even the new generation of Disney fans clamoring for the nanny who is “practically perfect in every way” (it was the first Disney film to be released on DVD). Mary Poppins is so popular there is even a film being made about its journey to the big screen, Saving Mr Banks, a testament to both Walt Disney’s persistence and Andrews' performance. Oh, and it won her an Academy Award.
There are few films that inspire hordes of people to dress up and sing along in a public movie theater. The Sound of Music does just that, having become a true classic since its release in 1965. Much of that is due to Andrews’ turn as Maria, the young nun who leaves a convent to become a governess. With vocal performances such as "My Favorite Things" and the titular "The Sound of Music," Andrews brings her famous voice to the role, imbuing it with both the levity and gravity a film about escaping Nazis calls for. And whenever someone spins on a hill, it's her voice playing in their head. Andrews’ Maria has gone on to become one of the most beloved characters of all time, nominated as one of AFI’s greatest movie heroes and inspiring a generation of aspiring Broadway actresses. Mary Poppins may be her greatest achievement, but Maria von Trapp will go down as Julie Andrews' most iconic role of all time.