Today marks 50 years since the release of Walt Disney’s seminal family adventure 'Mary Poppins'.
Based on the book by PL Travers, directed by Robert Stevenson and starring Julie Andrews and Dick Van Dyke, the film was an enormous success. A worldwide phenomenon, it was nominated for 13 Academy Awards and won five on its way to becoming a cultural mainstay for years to come.
For all its magic, and revolutionary use of cartoon animation mixed with live action actors, the film owes a lot to its child stars - who as the Banks children represent the heart and soul of a film. It is, after all, about them and their journey having met the titular nanny.
Fifty years on, we decided to find out what happened to child actors Karen Dotrice and Matthew Garber…
The child of two stage performers, Garber was born in London in 1956. In 2004 he was inducted as a Disney Legend, with a piece written about the child star saying he was a “spirited and bright boy, who enjoyed pulling practical jokes on friends, competing in sports, and reading books rich with adventure, mythology, and even poetry.”
His acting career was short and comprised entirely of Disney roles. His first was in ‘The Three Lives of Thomasina’ in 1963, followed by ‘Poppins’ a year later and finally ‘The Gnome-Mobile’ in 1967. He acted alongside ‘Poppins’ co-star Dotrice in each.
As Garber entered his teenage years he stopped acting, unaware that ‘The Gnome-Mobile’ would be his final role. Tragically during a trip to India in 1976 he contracted hepatitis, which soon spread to his pancreas and became untreatable, eventually causing his death one year later at the age of just 21.
Dotrice was the daughter of two Shakespearean actors, Roy and Kay Dotrice and was born in 1955 on the isle of Guernsey. Entering the world of acting thanks to her parents (who also introduced Garber to Disney’s casting directors), her first three film roles were the same as Garber’s.
Unlike her younger co-star however, Dotice’s career continued at a steady pace through her teenage years and beyond, with roles in numerous TV series and TV movies, including ‘Upstairs, Downstairs’ in 1975. Aside from ‘Mary Poppins’, her biggest film role came in 1978’s ‘The Thirty-Nine Steps’.
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Following a stint in TV series ‘Voyagers!’ in 1982 she retired from acting to focus on raising a family, only returning briefly for 2005 TV series ‘Young Blades’. Like Garber she was inducted in 2004 to celebrate Poppins’ 40th anniversary.
Her entry includes a selection of quotes in which she described Walt Disney: “I think Walt really liked English kids. He was tickled pink by the accent and the etiquette. And when I was being very English and polite, he would look proudly at this little charge who had such good manners.”
On her co-star Garber she said: “I can’t imagine making movies would have been half as much fun without him. He loved being naughty, finding and jumping off of small buildings on the back lot.
"While I was Victorian proper and wouldn’t let myself get dirty or muddy, Matthew had a great sense of fun and danger. He was a daredevil and could have been a race car driver. And he did live a full life over his 21 years."
Photos: Moviestore/Rex/PA/Silverside/Daily Mail