P.L. Travers; Author of ‘Mary Poppins’

<i> From Times Staff and Wire Reports</i>

P.L. Travers, the children’s book author who created Mary Poppins but frowned on the Disney film about the irrepressible English nanny, has died at age 96.

Travers died Tuesday at her London home, her family said.

“Mary Poppins,” published in 1934, is the story of a nanny in Edwardian London. Down to earth and sometimes astringent, she dazzles her two young charges by making medicine taste like candy, sliding up banisters--and unpacking her belongings from an empty carpetbag.

“Mary Poppins Comes Back” was published in 1935, followed by “Mary Poppins Opens the Door” in 1944 and “Mary Poppins in the Park” in 1952.


Travers did not wholly approve of the 1964 Walt Disney film, which won five Academy Awards and starred Julie Andrews as a cutesy, knockabout Mary who kept breaking into song.

“It’s taken great strength of mind to live with that film,” she said in an interview published in The Times in 1981, adding that she greatly admired Walt Disney. “The film lives in its own world, and the books live in theirs. They’re not quite the same worlds.”

The author resisted all Hollywood attempts to make a sequel, although she sold an option to two London producers last year for a musical stage version.

Pamela Lyndon Travers was born Helen Lyndon Goff in Maryborough, Australia, of Irish parents. Travers was her father’s first name. Known to her friends as Pamela, she explained to a Los Angeles Times reporter in 1970 that she used initials in her pen name because “so often very sentimental books are written by women, supposedly for children, and I didn’t want to be lumped together with those.”

Australian newspapers and magazines began to publish her poems and articles while she was still in her teens, and for two years she wrote a human interest column for a daily newspaper.

In 1924, she moved to England. Travers later lived for a time with Navajos in the American West and studied Zen Buddhism. She wrote and lectured widely on mythology and fairy tales.

Her last book, a collection of essays titled “What the Bee Knows,” which came closest to an autobiography, included her reflections on astrology, crop circles, reincarnation and journalists who ask “stupid” questions.

Travers often said her famous character sought her out.

In a 1970 speech at Scripps College in Claremont when she was a writer-in-residence, she said she “happened to be there at the moment [Poppins appeared] in order to take it down.”

Travers was also writer-in-residence at Radcliffe College from 1965-66 and at Smith College in 1966.

She was awarded the Order of the British Empire in 1977.

Travers, who never married, lived in London’s Chelsea district, where she prided herself on her rose garden, complete with the yellow Mary Poppins and the crimson Pamela Travers roses.