Starting with Johnny Tremain, Robert Stevenson made a career of directing some of the best movies that DIsney made, such as Darby O’Gill and the Little People, The Absent-Minded Professor, That Darn Cat!, Bedknobs and Broomsticks and many more. Of all these movies, Mary Poppins is the best considered.
Beyond being a commercial success — It was the highest-grossing film of 1964 — Mary Poppins received a total of 13 Academy Awards nominations and won five: Best Actress for Julie Andrews, Best Film Editing, Best Original Music Score, Best Visual Effects and Best Original Song for “Chim Chim Cher-ee.” This would be the only time in Walt Disney’s lifetime that he’d see that kind of recognition for one of his studio’s films.
Disney first attempted to purchase the film rights to Mary Poppins from P. L. Travers in 1938. Travers refused, as she didn’t think that a film version would work. For two decades, Disney tried to make the movie until Travers agreed in 1961 with the condition that she receive script approval, finally being listed as the consultant to the film.
She wasn’t a fan of the film, feeling that it cut down too many of the rougher aspects of Poppins, didn’t like the music and truly disliked the animation. The result? She ruled out any further adaptations of the later Mary Poppins novels.
Travers was not invited to the premiere but managed to get an invitation from a Disney executive. At the after-party, she walked up to Disney and loudly informed him that the animated sequence had to be removed. Disney responded, “Pamela, the ship has sailed” and walked away.
While the film is really about the redemption of George Banks as Poppins brings his family together, as I saw this as a kid at the Super 51 drive-in, it was really a chance to get a longer episode of The Dick Van Dyke Show, one of my childhood favorites.
It also had to be some kind of victory for Julie Andrews, who made her feature film acting debut after a successful stage career. She had just dealt with Jack L. Warner, who had replaced her with Audrey Hepburn for the role of Eliza Doolittle in his screen adaptation of My Fair Lady, despite her originated the role on Broadway. It’s pretty amazing to do that — Disney even held up production so she could have her first child — and win the Best Actress Oscar.
If you ever want to see the lasting legacy of this film today, take a ride on the Walt Disney World Monorail System, which this movie paid for. The safety system on all of the train cars is called the MAPO (MAry POppins) safety system and all Walt Disney World Railroad steam locomotives are fitted with a boiler safety device marked MAPO.