Getting To Know You
THESE ARE A FEW OF ALEC BALDWIN’S FAVORITE THINGS ABOUT JULIE ANDREWS: SHE’S STRONG, SHE HAS INTEGRITY, SHE’S GODDAMN FUNNY, AND, OF COURSE, THAT VOICE. AS THE HAMPTONS INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL PREPARES TO HONOR HER WITH A LIFETIME ACHIEVEMENT AWARD, HE PAYS TRIBUTE
What is it about Julie Andrews that has held our interest and admiration for over 50 years? Her entry into the highest orbit of movie stardom came by winning the Academy Award for Best Actress for her first starring role, in Mary Poppins, in 1964. The following year, she starred in The Sound of Music and was nominated again for Best Actress (losing to Julie Christie for Darling), completing one of the great one-two punches in Hollywood history. Andrews would go on to represent classic Hollywood stardom — just as that idea seemed to be fading — with her euphonious voice, her beauty and poise, and an indefinable integrity that I think most actresses today don’t even bother to attempt.
With Paul Newman in Hitchcock’s "Torn Curtain," 1966.
By today’s standards, Julie wasn’t particularly productive in terms of movie output. While she would appear on television with great frequency over the years, including her recent project Julie’s Greenroom for Netflix, she made only around 20 films in the two decades after her Oscar, several of those with her husband, the director Blake Edwards. She was also a mother throughout much of her career. When I first saw her in The Sound of Music, I was struck both by her singing and speaking voice, with its crackling Britishness, her sense of vulnerability and strength in the same moment. But she was not an object of desire, per se, in either of those landmark roles. Julie Andrews was chaste and proper. Ann-Margret, for example, was only five years younger but became every pubescent boy’s crush (mine included) in Bye-Bye Birdie in 1963. And then something changed for Julie.
"Hawaii" was the role that opened Baldwin’s eyes to Andrews’s acting prowess; in it, she plays a missionary bride.
As the lead character in two of the greatest movie musicals of all time, Andrews is the hood ornament on a vehicle trimmed in family values and moral certainty. However, in certain films that followed, where the singing is set aside and, thus, the stilted characterizations and acting that often ensue, she reminds us that she is a remarkably gifted dramatic actress as well. I think the first time I saw Julie, actually saw her for the acting talent she was in those days, was in Hawaii.
Julie had shot Torn Curtain with Hitchcock and Paul Newman around the same time as Hawaii (Torn Curtain was released in July of 1966, Hawaii that October) and although she made for a completely reliable Hitchcock femme fatale, in Hawaii she is something else. Passionate, emotionally complicated, and seeking, her character is a woman of tremendous piety and contradiction. Should the plot have run thin along the way, there was no breaking into Edelweiss to distract the audience. With the depth of James Michener’s novel, that wasn’t necessary. The young Julie is a woman, a real woman, in this film like no other.
Over time, starring in film dramas with the likes of Max Von Sydow (who was at the top of his game as an international film star) or hit romantic comedies with James Garner (the highly successful Americanization of Emily) might have been enough for her, but audiences wanted Andrews to pause every now and then and sing. As one of the greatest female vocalists in all of entertainment history, that’s to be expected.
Returning to singing, Thoroughly Modern Millie was a success, while Julie’s later attempts at darker material with her husband, Blake Edwards, were hit and miss, sometimes in the same film. Throughout those years, I’d like to think she was getting ready for something, a project that Blake and she could cook up together that had it all. The songs, the characters, the plot, the pace, the jokes, the acting . . . Victor/Victoria is that film. It’s the movie that pulls together all of what Julie became, post–Sound of Music, into one sweet, bawdy, truly hysterical ride — one that she then reprised on Broadway. It also highlights that Julie is, in addition to everything else, so goddamn funny. With Jim Garner, Robert Preston, and Lesley Ann Warren hitting every note perfectly and Edwards’s direction so flawless, it’s my favorite Julie Andrews movie of all. It also brought her a third Best Actress Oscar nomination.
The Hamptons International Film Festival will be screening Victor/Victoria this fall for our 25th anniversary season, followed by a Q and A with Julie, hosted by yours truly. In addition, we will present our Lifetime Achievement Award to Julie in recognition of her incomparable musical talent, her dramatic film acting, authorship of her wonderful children’s books (with her daughter, Emma Walton Hamilton), and her graceful, iconic presence in the world of entertainment these many years.
At Author’s Night, the East Hampton Library’s big summer fund-raiser: Alec and Hilaria Baldwin with the actress Gwyneth Paltrow. He returned this year with his new book, Nevertheless: A Memoir; Hilaria was there with her own book, The Living Clearly Method: 5 Principles for a Fit Body, Healthy Mind & Joyful Life. Photograph by Durell Godfrey. At top: Julie Andrews in 1970, the year she was a spy in Blake Edwards’s "Darling Lili."