This note accompanies the follow episode(s):
The Writer’s Almanac for October 1, 2017: History Lesson

October 1, 2017: birthday: Julie Andrews

Today is the birthday of British actor and singer Julie Andrews (books by this author), born in a suburb of London (1935). Her parents first noticed her unusual voice when she was singing “Strawberry Fair” with a group of children and her voice floated over the others, since she was singing in a higher octave than the rest. She started taking voice lessons with a retired opera singer when her doctor discovered she had a “nearly adult larynx.” Her mother and stepfather were singers who performed for British troops during WWII, and she went on tour with them at age 11.

She moved to New York and began a career on Broadway at 19, and she starred in the musical My Fair Lady. In 1964, she made her film debut with Mary Poppins, which became Disney’s greatest box-office success. The next year, she starred in The Sound of Music, which was 20th Century Fox’s biggest hit until the premiere of Star Wars.

Andrews’ voice got hoarse while performing a show in 1997, and her doctors told her she had nodules in her throat. After the surgery to remove them, her voice never reached the same range, and she mostly stopped singing. Andrews was devastated and had to learn to see herself as more than just a beautiful singer. These days she spends most of her time writing children’s books with her daughter, and she’s published over 30 books. She said: “I was bemoaning my fate to [my daughter] one day and saying, ‘You have no idea what [losing my voice] is like.’ And she said, ‘Oh, Mom, I know it must be terrible — but now you’ve found a different way of using your voice.’ What she said hit true right when it mattered, and I felt this great sort of weight drop away, and then I was able to begin recovery.”

Most people think of Julie Andrews as extremely proper and squeaky clean because of the most famous roles she’s played, including her more recent role as the queen in The Princess Diaries. Although she disagrees with this image, she has a sense of humor about it. She once said, “Sometimes I’m so sweet, even I can’t stand it.”