I have to admit, this one’s personal. I have a thing for MARY POPPINS (1964). I loved the movie as a kid. Still love it as an adult. And, since I saw Saving Mr. Banks (2013) (the Tom Hanks-Emma Thompson movie about author P.L. Travers and the making of MARY POPPINS) last year, I’ve been meaning to rewatch the film that inspired it. TCM screened the movie this morning at the enchanting El Capitan Theater. I hadn’t seen MARY POPPINS in years, and I could not have picked a more perfect venue to rediscover a favorite. Projected in widescreen digital, the event celebrates the 50th Anniversary of the film, which was released August 27, 1964.
Making today’s presentation even more of a treat (and really the kind of thing that makes the TCM Classic Film Festival a unique experience), was our special guest—music man Richard Sherman. Sherman is half of the brother musical team, who, along with older brother Robert, penned the unforgettable songs from MARY POPPINS. The entire soundtrack is one sing-along classic after another—the Shermans’ work including tunes like “A Spoonful of Sugar,” “I Love to Laugh,” “Chim-Chim-Cheree,” “Let’s Go Fly a Kite,” “Feed the Birds” and of course, “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious.” And that’s just to name a few. The Sherman Brothers were featured prominently in Saving Mr. Banks, often at odds with P.L. Travers about the tone of the movie. As Mr. Banks told it, Travers wanted to maintain a more serious, less whimsical, no-animated-dancing-penguins kind of tone. While Walt Disney and the Shermans wanted to…make a Disney film.
Richard Sherman sat down with film historian Donald Bogle, after today’s screening, to share his recollection of making MARY POPPINS. He addressed the events and characterizations in Saving Mr. Banks, likening Travers to someone “pouring ice water” on their ideas. Sherman said that the author “objected to everything to do with music and everything about the father as a protagonist who changes.” He felt the father’s depiction in MARY POPPINS ruined the perfect image Travers held of her father. But, despite all the conflict, Sherman still has fond memories of the time. He called Julie Andrews as sweet and humble then as she is today. And he admitted that it feels “slightly surreal” for MARY POPPINS to be 50 years old. “It changed our entire lives,” he said of the film.
The Sherman Brothers were practically born into the business. Their father, Al Sherman, turned out hits for Tin Pan Alley and Hollywood, writing for stars like Maurice Chevalier, Louis Armstrong and Eddie Cantor. Soon after the boys’ college graduation, their father challenged them to write songs. And, within a few years, they had their first hit. In 1958, the song “Tall Paul,” sung by Mouseketeer Annette Funicello, reached #7 on the Billboard Hot 100. It was the first time a female singer scored a top ten rock and roll single. The song caught Walt Disney’s attention, and he hired the brothers as staff writers for Walt Disney Studios.
The Shermans’ first Disney project was composing for the TV series Walt Disney’s Wonderful World of Color in 1961. They would go on to compose for Disney movies like The Sword and the Stone (1963) and The Jungle Book (1967), as well as creating what was perhaps their most famous song for the studio—“It’s a Small World” for the 1964 World’s Fair. MARY POPPINS would be the Sherman Brothers crowning achievement at Disney. They won two Oscars for the film, Best Score and Best Song for “Chim-Chim-Cheree.” And they made a fan out of the boss. As the story goes, “Feed the Birds” became Walt Disney’s favorite song from MARY POPPINS. And whenever he visited the Shermans in the years that followed, all he had to do was say, “Play it,” and they knew exactly which song he meant.
MARY POPPINS would receive a whopping thirteen Academy Award nominations, wining five in total (Best Actress for Julie Andrews, Best Editing and Best Visual Effects being the other three). It remains Disney’s most successful night at the Oscars. And it would be Disney’s top grossing film for 20 years. That’s not to mention box office winner for 1965.
Richard Sherman once said, “we write for Grandpa and the four-year old and everyone in between.” And speaking personally, that seems to hold true. MARY POPPINS felt every bit as magical and hopeful today (with me in the “between” category) as it did in childhood (and as I expect it to in old age). For that, Richard Sherman, we thank you.