The most surprising Mary Poppins trivia you never knew

As the Julie Andrews movie celebrates its 60th anniversary, we take a look at some of the fun facts about the making of the Disney classic.

Original Film Title: MARY POPPINS.  English Title: MARY POPPINS.  Film Director: ROBERT STEVENSON.  Year: 1964.  Stars: JULIE ANDREWS; DICK VAN DYKE. Credit: WALT DISNEY PRODUCTIONS / Album
Dick Van Dyke and Julie Andrews as Bert and Mary in 1964's Mary Poppins. (Alamy/Disney)

Mary Poppins, easily one of Disney’s most popular films of all time, turns 60 this month. To celebrate the occasion, the film — which stars Julie Andrews and Dick Van Dyke — is being re-released in UK cinemas on 29 March by Park Circus.

It was the most successful of 19 Disney live action feature films to be directed by the Anglo-American Robert Stevenson – but it almost never saw the light of day. Before Bill Walsh and Don DaGradi’s adaptation of PL Travers’ 1934 book could reach the screen, a 20-year battle raged between the Australian author and Walt Disney himself, as depicted in the brilliant 2017 movie Saving Mr Banks.

Travers categorically refused to sign away the rights of her book in order for the film to be made. She hated the resulting film and never missed an opportunity to tell anyone who would listen about her disdain for what Hollywood had done to her precious creation.

But here are some other facts about Mary Poppins which might surprise even its more ardent fans.

Mary Poppins was Julie Andrews' first feature film

MY FAIR LADY, from left: Rex Harrison, Julie Andrews at first rehearsal on New Amsterdam Roof, New York, 1956
Rex Harrison and Julie Andrews rehearsing for the Broadway production of My Fair Lady in 1956. (PA)

Before Poppins, Andrews had already been a star on stage for 15 years, debuting in London’s West End at 13, and on Broadway on the eve of her 19th birthday. She had received Tony nominations after starring as Eliza Doolittle in My Fair Lady and portraying Queen Guinevere in Camelot.

For the screen adaptation of My Fair Lady, she was expected to reprise her Eliza role, only to find that the head of Warner Brothers, Jack Warner, had vetoed the decision of casting her, preferring Audrey Hepburn.

Instead, Andrews signed up for Poppins, and when she won a Golden Globe for the role, she cheekily thanked Warner for the award at the ceremony.

Not one single scene in Mary Poppins was shot in London

MARY POPPINS - 1964 Walt Disney film with Julie Andrews
Mary Poppins arriving in London was filmed in Hollywood. (PA)

Taking place in early 20th century London, Mary Poppins sought to bring the spirit of London to the US and the world, but in fact, none of its scenes were shot In the British capital. Every single scene, sequence and frame was filmed in Disney’s Burbank soundstage in Hollywood.

The 2018 sequel Mary Poppins Returns put things right and was filmed entirely in the UK at Shepperton Studios, and on location around London. Read Yahoo's report from the set here.

The word ‘supercalifragilisticexpialidocious’ pre-dates the movie

It seems improbable, but ‘supercalifragilisticexpialidocious’ was not created for the Mary Poppins movie, although its exact origin and meaning remain elusive to language experts. While some urban myths suggest a connection to Irish or Scottish ladies of the night, this claim remains unsubstantiated.

The Oxford English Dictionary notes the word’s earliest usage, with slightly different spelling, as 1931 in a student publication in New York, but the Sherman brothers encountered it as children in the 1930s at summer camp. They had revelled in the childhood joy of knowing a secret word that was denied to adults, and decided to pass this experience on to the Banks children.

Walt Disney’s daughters convinced him to make Mary Poppins

Original Film Title: MARY POPPINS.  English Title: MARY POPPINS.  Film Director: ROBERT STEVENSON.  Year: 1964.  Stars: WALT DISNEY; JULIE ANDREWS. Credit: WALT DISNEY PRODUCTIONS / Album
Mary Poppins taking tea with Walt Disney in a publicity still for the 1964 film. (Alamy)

Disney's two daughters had fallen in love with the Mary Poppins series of books and made their dad promise to make a film based on them. He first tried to purchase the film rights from Travers in 1938, but the notoriously cantankerous writer refused for many years, doubtful that a screen adaptation could fully capture the characters she had created.

‘A Spoonful of Sugar’ was inspired by the polio vaccine

The lyrics to ‘A Spoonful of Sugar (Helps the Medicine Go Down)’, one of the film’s best-loved songs, came to composer Robert Sherman’s mind shortly after his five-year-old son, Jeffrey, told him how he had been administered a Sabin vaccine at school via a sugar cube.

Decades later, Jeffrey recalled to CNN that he had been habitually afraid of getting shots as a child, running away from doctors and nurses, but was more comfortable taking the polio vaccine. When asked by his father if it hurt, he revealed it was taken orally.

Original author Travers was not a fan of any of the music in Mary Poppins, despite them all being bangers. Her vision for Mary was far from the quirky, singing Julie Andrews we got, and made her feelings known to the songwriters. Richard Sherman remembered that, “She didn’t care about our feelings, how she chopped us apart”.

One of the Mary Poppins' most iconic props was rescued from the bin

Mary Poppins holding the snow globe that was saved from the bin. (Alamy)
Mary Poppins holding the snow globe that was saved from the bin. (Alamy)

Some years later, archivist Dave Smith, who founded the Walt Disney Archive in 1970, happened upon the movie’s snow globe, used in the unforgettable 'Feed The Birds' scene outside St Paul’s Cathedral, with birds circling.

Smith discovered the object by chance, resting on a shelf in a Disney studio janitor’s office. The janitor revealed that he had found it in a bin, but couldn’t bear to see it discarded, and so rescued it.

Mary Poppins cleaned up at the Oscars

Julie Andrews holding the Oscar that she won for Mary Poppins, flanked by fellow winners Rex Harrison and Lila Kedrova. (Getty)
Julie Andrews holding the Oscar that she won for Mary Poppins, flanked by fellow winners Rex Harrison and Lila Kedrova. (Getty)

In 1965, the film received 13 Academy Award nominations, a feat unmatched by any other Disney film before or since. Although it did not win in every category, its nominations in a wide variety of categories — screenplay, art direction, cinematography, costume design — showcased its versatility and excellence in filmmaking, highlighting the talent, dedication and teamwork of its cast and crew.

The film ended up winning in five of its nominated categories: Best Actress in a Leading Role for Julie Andrews; Best Original Song (‘Chim Chim Cher-ee’) and Best Original Score for brothers Robert B and Richard M Sherman; Best Film Editing for Cotton Warburton; and Best Special Visual Effects for the team of Peter Ellenshaw, Eustace Lycett and Hamilton Luske.

Julie Andrews feared for her life on the set of Mary Poppins

MARY POPPINS, Karen Dotrice, Julie Andrews, 1964
Julie Andrews had to be raised in a harness for her flying scenes. (Alamy)

When Andrews appeared on Stephen Colbert's Late Show in 2017, and discussed some of her experiences in stunt work, she recalled a particularly perilous and harrowing incident on the Poppins set. She described being suspended in an excruciatingly painful harness above the stage.

Sensing the wires slipping, she felt a surge of concern and, fearing for her safety, urgently requested to be lowered gently. “I plummeted to the stage,” Andrews said. “And there was an awful silence for a minute and I did let fly with a few Anglo-Saxon four letter words, I have to admit.”

Dick Van Dyke played two roles in the film

USA. Dick Van Dyke   in the ©Walt Disney film: Mary Poppins (1964) . Director: Robert Stevenson   Captioned 23rd November 2018 Ref: LMK110-J3014-231118 Supplied by LMKMEDIA. Editorial Only. Landmark Media is not the copyright owner of these Film or TV stills but provides a service only for recognised Media outlets.
Dick Van Dyke as Bert in Mary Poppins. (Alamy)

Dick Van Dyke showcased his versatility by bringing to life both the affable chimney sweep Bert – with atrocious Cockney accent to boot – and the strict, yet ultimately kind-hearted banker Mr Dawes Sr.

Van Dyke took on both roles, reportedly to allow him to display different facets of his acting abilities, but if you believe the rumours, he promised that if cast as both Bert and Dawes, he would make a donation to CalArts University.

MARY POPPINS RETURNS, Dick Van Dyke as Mr. Dawes Jr., 2018. ph: Jay Maidment / © Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures / courtesy Everett Collection
Dick Van Dyke as Mr. Dawes Jr in Mary Poppins Returns. (Alamy/Disney)

Incidentally, in the end titles of Poppins, Van Dyke’s role as Dawes is credited to the mysterious actor ‘Navckid Keyd’, before the letters in the name rearrange themselves into something more familiar.

In 2018's Mary Poppins Returns, Van Dyke picked up where he left off, playing Mr Dawes Jr, but no ageing makeup was required for the 98-year-old actor.

Mary Poppins returns to cinemas with Park Circus on Friday, 29 March.

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