A new production is getting underway– Mary Poppins– and that means a brand-new blog series highlighting the various aspects of the show!
This week, we would like to take a look at the woman behind Mary Poppins– author P.L. Travers. For our study guide, Dramaturg Robert Neblett provided an in-depth look at this legendary woman and her legacy, just in time for our Mary Poppins production set to take stage this week!
Born Helen Lyndon Goff in 1899 in Australia, P. L. Travers had a colorful life before ever being approached by Roy and Walt Disney to make a film version of her Mary Poppins books in the mid-1940s.
After her alcoholic father, a bank manager, died of tuberculosis in 1905, her mother and sisters moved to Bowral, New South Wales. While attending boarding school, she began writing poetry and pursued a career as an actress. After she moved to England in 1924, she assumed the pen name P. L. Travers and started creating the characters who would soon populate her children’s books.
In her youth, she lived a globetrotting life, studying poetry with the leaders of the new Irish national literature movement and even working in the United States studying Native American mythology and folklore.
Upon the 1934 publication of Mary Poppins, Travers became an international success, following up the original volume with seven sequels over the next 50 years. While she wrote many other children’s books and nonfiction works, none achieved the success that her Mary Poppins books did.
Beginning as early as 1938 Walt Disney pursued the rights for a film adaptation of Travers’ Mary Poppins stories. She refused him for nearly 20 years, finally agreeing to meet with him and the film’s collaborators in California in 1961 as a “consultant” on the film, largely because she was in danger of financial ruin. These encounters are dramatized in the 2013 film “Saving Mr. Banks.”
Her main objections to the film version were that she felt Mary Poppins’ character had been “softened” too much, she did not like the music composed by the Sherman Brothers for the film and was absolutely opposed to any use of animation in the telling of her story. Ultimately, Disney overrode her objections once he purchased the rights from her, claiming final cut privilege.
The tension between Travers and Disney was so strong by the time of the world premiere of the film that Disney did not even invite her to the event. She had to ask to be added to the guest list. She was supposedly so angered by the final version of the film that she wept openly during the screening. Even though the film secured her financial future and reinvigorated her fame for the rest of her life, she always regretted her decision to sell her beloved character to Disney. When asked for permission to create a sequel to Mary Poppins, she refused and would not change her mind.
Who is Mary Poppins, exactly?
The character of Mary Poppins, as written by Travers, is often cold, intimidating, stubborn and unsympathetic. Her hardness is intended to cut through the nonsense attempted by the Banks children, in an attempt to civilize their uncouth ways. However, she does take the children on a number of magical adventures in which they are exposed to compassionate, open-hearted friends, relatives and associates of Mary Poppins, all of whom seem to be as ancient and timeless as she is.
Mary Poppins’ true identity is never disclosed, although there are intimations through the books that she may be a shooting star or a “fairy tale come true.” She is referred to as “The Great Exception,” meaning that she has retained the memory of being an infant and possesses special abilities that humans lose as they grow older, including being able to talk to animals. She also remembers the eternal world from which we are born into existence on Earth.
Pulled from the Mary Poppins study guide, prepared by Robert Neblett.
Check back every Monday to uncover a new aspect of this magical production and get your tickets to our biggest show ever by calling the Box Office at (501) 378-0405 or visiting TheRep.org!