I always enter into celebrity autobiographies with a fair bit of trepidation. I know getting information straight from the horse’s mouth, so to speak, is the best way when it comes to Old Hollywood. But I’ve never read an autobiography that didn’t seem to come to with a fair bit of sanitizing. But what if the autobiography is from someone who made their career off of being squeaky clean? Therein lies the question at the heart of Julie Andrews’ memoir, Home Work: A Memoir of My Hollywood Years. Andrews and author Emma Walton Hamilton (Andrews’ daughter) create an enchanting autobiography fit for Mary Poppins herself that lacks in long-term excitement.
It might be unfair but I compare autobiographies against Esther Williams’ spectacular tome that discusses every flower and wart she experienced in her life. For Andrews, her life in Home Work is more flowers than anything else. If you didn’t read her first autobiography, Home: A Memoir of My Early Years, have no fear. The opening introduction lays out everything about Andrews’ life on vaudeville at a young age and her frenzied upbringing with her mother and alcoholic stepfather. Home Work picks up with Andrews finding her first big success on the London stage and transitioning to movies as well as meeting her husband, Blake Edwards.
Andrews’ voice rings clear on every page, aided by excerpts from the diaries she kept at the time. You’ll easily read this in her voice and it’s undeniable these are her thoughts. Her family life is paramount and though Andrews never fills the pages with adulation about her career, the reader will clearly see how much she loves her children. Nearly 3/4s of the book discusses her struggles to balance Hollywood and motherhood, trying to find the right schools for her children across several cities, countries, and continents. There is an air of repetition that permeates the book, especially as the Andrews and Edwards clan start dividing their time between their home in Gstaad, Switzerland and Los Angeles.
When the focus does turn to films there is examination, but it doesn’t feel as focused. You know where Andrews’ interests lie and film is ancillary. That isn’t to say her features are given short shrift. She devotes large swathes of the book to the production of The Sound of Music (1965) and Mary Poppins (1964) while also touching significantly on the creation of Victor/Victoria (1982). But if you’re looking for salacious stories, or even a story passing for unpleasant, you won’t find much here. Andrews does have fun stories that aren’t exactly Poppins appropriate regarding meeting her husband and hanging out with Carol Burnett, but those are the exceptions in an over 200-page book.
Yes, my biggest complaint is “this isn’t saucy enough.” But it’s hard not to finish Home Work and assume Andrews’ life was much like it was on film. Sure, she admits she isn’t as wholesome as Maria, but there’s nothing particularly gritty or exciting about familial issues, much of which is little more than statements. There’s no diving into these issues and that can leave the reader feeling removed from Andrews, as if they’re talking to a friend who touches on aspects of her life but finds them too personal to share in full. And, yes, we don’t have the right to demand the actress open up everything in her life to us but it leaves Home Work feeling mundane at best and sanitized at worst.
With all that being said, Home Work is an entertaining tome with charm on its side. Andrews is such a pleasant person that reading her life story is like entering a grandmother’s wonderful bedtime story. It might feel repetitive and bland in some parts, but where else are you going to get these stories?
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A freelance film critic whose work fuels the Rotten Tomatoes meter. I've been published on The Hollywood Reporter, Remezcla, and The Daily Beast. I've been featured in the L.A. Times. I currently run two podcasts, Citizen Dame and Ticklish Business.