When I was a child going the movie theater was a big deal. I was seven years old in 1964 and there was a new Disney film out. My dad stayed home with my baby sister and my mom took me to the movie. The movie was Mary Poppins.
I wouldn’t say that I developed a boyhood crush for Mary Poppins, or for Julie Andrews. No, that honor was reserved for Vera Ellen. But the character of Mary Poppins was magical. What child would not want a nanny, or a babysitter, who could take you on adventures through a chalk pavement drawing, or serve tea from a tea setting floating near the ceiling. With her charming, but firm disposition, her practically perfect ways and a spoon full of sugar, she managed to transform the Banks children, the Banks household and finally, Mr. Banks himself.
As for Dame Andrews, Mary Poppins was the first in a long line of film successes. Walt Disney was so taken by her performance as Guinervere in the Lerner and Lowe production of Camelot, that he waited until after the birth of her daughter to begin filming. Her performance earned her the 1964 Academy Award for Best Actress. This was only the second time in Academy history that an actress was awarded for their first motion picture role. It happened previously with Shirley Booth in Come Back Little Sheba. It has occurred since with Barbra Streisand in Funny Girl and Marlee Matlin in Children of a Lesser God.
Something else forever linked to the success of Mary Poppins, is the musical score. In the years since the film opened, two songs continue to hold a special place in my memory. Feed the Birds is quite simply one of the greatest songs ever written. The Sherman Brothers crafted a song with a simple, yet profound, message. With 146 words they expressed this truth: it doesn’t take much effort to be kind and to genuinely care for another person. Add to that the image of Jane Darwell sitting at the foot of the stairs of the majestic St. Paul’s Cathedral, spreading her love, mixed with a bit of seed, and you have a beautiful moment in film.
The other song is A Man Has Dreams. The opening two lines could very well serve as an anthem to every man who ever dared to dream.
“A man has dreams of walking with giants
To carve his niche in the edifice of time.”
What man hasn’t dreamt of becoming something more than they are. I have dreamed and continue to dream. But I do so with the understanding that it is matters not what I become, if along the way, I lose the one’s I care most about.
I aspired to greatness and found it. It is, for me, to be a good husband and son, a good father and grandfather, a good brother and uncle, a good man. I have had my whole life to understand that this is who I am and to become perfectly content in that understanding. But, looking back over all these years, I can look to a time when I was seven and an English nanny came into my life and taught me a few things about what it means to be good.
Thank you Mary Poppins.