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Mary Poppins, She Wrote: The Life of P. L. Travers Paperback – December 3, 2013
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From Publishers Weekly
The original Mary Poppins was not as "saccharine" as the movie character, says Lawson, and her bittersweet biography of the supernanny's elusive creator, Travers (1899–1996), convincingly portrays a writer who created her character out of the childhood sorrows that haunted her. Drawing on archival sources and private papers, Lawson, a writer for the Sydney Morning Herald, sensitively traces Travers's emotionally deprived girlhood in Australia, where she was raised largely by an elderly aunt; her early career as an actress and columnist; and her 1924 emigration to London, where she worked as a journalist and theater reviewer. Emphasizing how Travers's desire for the father who had died when she was seven affected both her life and work, Lawson explores mythological and literary influences on the six Mary Poppins stories, written over 54 years (the first was published in 1934). Never married, Travers adopted an Irish baby boy; Lawson movingly reveals the emotional fallout of their failed relationship. After detailing Travers's fussy movie negotiations with Walt Disney and the downplaying of her authorship in the 1964 hit film, Lawson captures the melancholy of Travers's retreat into isolation and old age. 2 photo inserts. (Oct. 14)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
This ambitious biography of P. L. Travers was first published in Australia in 1999. The occasion for this American edition is the imminent opening of the Broadway musical version of Travers' timeless, "supercalifragilisticexpialidocious" tales of Mary Poppins, the imperious nanny who arrived one morning on the East Wind. It turns out there was a lot of the difficult Travers in Poppins. The early death of Pamela's father (she was born Helen Lyndon Goff in Australia) left the family dependent on wealthy Great-Aunt Ellie, another early inspiration for Poppins. The untimely bereavement also inspired Travers' lifelong search for a father substitute, first in the Irish poet AE (George Russell) and later in such dubious gurus as Gurdjieff and Krishnamurti. The translation of the Poppins stories into the celebrated Disney film brought Travers a decade of international fame, which had declined considerably by the time of her death at age 96 in 1996. This meticulously researched but overlong biography may help restore a diminished literary reputation, but its unsparing portrait of an exceedingly unsympathetic human being will win Travers no new posthumous friends. Michael Cart
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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My favorite part of the book is the no-holds-barred retelling of Travers' negotiations with Walt Disney for the move rights, and subsequent alienation she encountered while becoming a thorn in the side to the production, so much so that she wasn't invited to the Hollywood premiere and almost literally crashed the event. This reaffirms everything I know from listening to the commentary of the film, as well as the Sherman Brothers remembrances of Travers' less than helpful suggestions for the movie.
If you love to hear about the behind-the-scenes goings on on film sets as much as I do, the chapter on the Disney movie will be a favorite.
Despite having read all the Poppins books as a child, I knew nothing about P. L. Travers. She changed her name, she was Australian, though she comes across as British as a cup of strong tea, she had been an actress on the stage and she followed mystic Gurdjieff, among other odd facts. The book is detailed, especially about Travers' parents. This is slow going at first, but provides valuable background into her childhood, not a happy childhood but one that created vast sources to draw from to create the world of Mary Poppins. It was fascinating to learn who was the real life Mrs. Corry and her gigantic daughters who ran a candy shop. Was her domineering and inflexible great-aunt the source of the more rigid and snappish side of Mary Poppins?
I couldn't put this book down. You have to like biographies, with lots of detail, because Lawson is a journalist and really goes into journalistic detail. This book was actually originally published in Australia in 1999, but due to the recent film "The Real Mr. Banks", it has gotten attention. I couldn't put it down--I love biographies, especially of authors and I was amazed at what I didn't know about the life of P. L. Travers. Highly recommended, with the caution that you have to like a lot of factual stuff because this is a biography and not a novel.
While I understand the necessity of information about how these people formed and informed Travers as a person, and the way she lived and how she thought, and what she believed, most of the time it felt like a series of mini biographies. Usually the information was interesting and did give good insight, it just felt like too much, and frankly distracted me from the fact that the book was about Travers.
I have loved Mary Poppins since I was a child and for the most part I enjoyed learning about P.L.Travers and her life and how she came to write all the Mary Poppins books. It does provide insight and actually gave me a new appreciation of my precious Mary Poppins.