They all wanted to know Julie Andrews’ favorite things.
Her favorite role. Her favorite animal. Her favorite musical. Her favorite word.
One by one, fans scribbled all the questions on little cards, many of which Andrews, the 84-year-old icon of stage and screen, answered on stage with her daughter, Emma Walton Hamilton, in a quirky, charming and enlightening conversation Wednesday night at Clearwater’s Ruth Eckerd Hall.
“I need to alert you all that the thousand ‘What was your favorite?’ questions are going to be the most difficult for her to answer, because she’s a true Libra, and she cannot pick a favorite of anything," Hamilton said. "'These are a few of my favorite things’ was Maria, not Julie Andrews.”
“She’s absolutely right,” Andrews said.
But she tried. Role? Thoroughly Modern Millie. Animal? The sloth. Musical? Too many to name, but she started with Sweeney Todd. Word? “Wonder.”
Andrews wanted to give people good answers. The Oscar-winning star of Mary Poppins and The Sound of Music was there to promote her new memoir, Home Work: A Memoir of My Hollywood Years, an often painfully candid account of the prime years of her film and television career, as well as her marriage to director Blake Edwards.
Seated in director’s chairs, Andrews and Hamilton used fans’ questions as jumping-off points, with Andrews laughing and engaging in her gracious, crackling accent. If they wanted to see beyond “that sugar-coated sweetness and light that everybody seemed to think was the only thing that I could do,” she tried to oblige.
“She swears like a sailor,” Hamilton said in response to a question about what people don’t know about her mother.
“But it’s very handy once in a while!” Andrews said.
There were questions about the new Mary Poppins Returns (“I thought it was great, and after 50 years, don’t you think someone’s entitled to make another one?”) and the prospect of a Princess Diaries 3 with Anne Hathaway (“I’m not sure it’s possible, but both of us would be thrilled if it was. My gosh, it would be a miracle”). Someone asked which actor she’d have loved to work with, and she said Marlon Brando, “such a delicious hunk of a guy.”
Andrews didn’t sing — she rarely does since vocal cord surgery more than 20 years ago — but she came closer than you might expect. One question about whether she had ever forgotten her lines on stage prompted a story about her Stephen Sondheim revue Putting It Together, and the difficulty of singing Company’s breakneck Getting Married Today — the lyrics to which she spewed out from memory.
“It took me ages to learn that,” she said. “I had friends out in front in the audience one night, and I was nervous for some reason. I think it might have been Streisand and Liza Minnelli or something like that. So understandably, wouldn’t you know that I went up on my lines. But because I was so nervous, something kept me muttering and uttering one of the other stanzas, and I pulled myself back in again. God knows how.”
Then there was the time she was the admirer in the audience: the 2015 Oscars, when Lady Gaga sang a tribute to The Sound of Music.
“She was trembling like an aspen leaf when I walked on stage and gave her a hug, and it was a wonderful moment,” Andrews said. “And I asked her afterward, How did you get all those really high notes? She said, I didn’t have them in my voice, but I was determined to sing all those songs in your key, and so I practiced and practiced and practiced. Which was a great compliment.”
Some fans relished the opportunity to mine life advice from one of Hollywood’s most celebrated figures. Some of the best advice she ever got came from a singing teacher: Amateurs work until they get it right; professionals work until they cannot do it wrong. Her best advice to aspiring performers: Opportunities come along when you least expect them, so do your homework and be ready.
One fan asked Andrews what she still had on her bucket list. She mentioned Machu Picchu and a river cruise down the Seine, but No. 1 with a bullet? A reading vacation. Maybe even here in Florida.
“A whole week of doing nothing but sitting under one of your magnificent trees down here on the beach, maybe, just reading, reading, reading, with a nice drink or a cup of tea beside me," she said. “I think that would be first. ... There’s lots. I just hope I get around to it."