Julie Andrews says she struggled with the sudden rush of fame after the success of back-to-back Oscar winners “Mary Poppins” and “The Sound of Music.”
“It was very troubling and did knock me sideways,” Andrews told nearly 2,000 Times readers Monday night at the Orpheum Theatre. “I decided there was a lot to work out, so I took myself to therapy, and it was the best thing I ever did.”
Andrews said the title of the book reflects the catching up and learning she had to do as a young stage actress when movie opportunities first came her way, one after the other. Her break came when Walt Disney offered her the starring role in “Mary Poppins.”
Three months after giving birth to her first daughter, Andrews began filming “Mary Poppins,” followed by “The Americanization of Emily,” then “The Sound of Music.” She finished filming all three movies before the first had been released and says she was stunned to take home the best actress Oscar for “Mary Poppins” in 1965.
In a conversation with Times columnist Mary McNamara, Andrews described the challenges of filming the flying sequence in “Mary Poppins” in an era long before special effects. At one point, she plummeted to ground when the wires attached to the harness in her clothing gave way toward the end of filming.
“Thank God for the counterbalances because I hit pretty hard but not as hard as I could have,” Andrews said. “I wasn’t, mercifully, hurt. But I think Disney heard a few rather strong four-letter words that he never heard before.”
In an evening co-hosted by the Los Angeles Times Book Club and the Ideas Exchange, Andrews also talked about the making of “The Sound of Music” in an idyllic Austrian countryside setting that posed unexpected challenges. She recounted being knocked to the ground repeatedly by a helicopter’s down draft while filming the memorable scene where she sings the film’s title song.
While filming the rowboat scene on the lake, she played the role of governess — and lifeguard. In that scene, her character, Maria, falls into the water along with the seven Von Trapp children as the boat capsizes. Before filming, however, Andrews says the assistant director told her the youngest child couldn’t swim. That meant Andrews had to fall forward and get to the 7-year-old as quickly as possible.
“She went under a couple of times and she was a trooper,” Andrews recalled. ”Bless her heart, she came up and threw up, and then, it was fine.”
In dealing with the demands of her movie success, Andrews said that reaching out to a therapist helped her regain her balance in her career and family life. It also led to a chance meeting with her second husband, director Blake Edwards.
Andrews recounted that she met Edwards on Sunset Boulevard as each was visiting their respective therapists. He later invited her to a meeting about appearing in “Darling Lili.” It would be their first movie together.
McNamara asked Andrews: “What was it like — working with someone that you were involved with? I’m assuming you slept with him.”
“You bet your ass I did,” Andrews shot back.
The audience erupted with laughter at the exchange.
“Sorry about that,” Andrews added. “Too good of an opportunity to miss, wasn’t it?”
The couple continued to work together on movie projects. Andrews said she felt safe working with Edwards because he “knew his craft so well.” So much so that she put aside her squeaky clean image and filmed a topless scene in the 1981 film “S.O.B.,” written and directed by Edwards.
She conceded it could be awkward appearing in romantic scenes directed by her husband. She quoted him: “Cut! That was fine, darling, but I know you can do better.’ ”
Again, the audience erupted with laughter and applause.
The event drew fans from throughout Southern California, as well as from out of town and out of the country. Steve Kwant tweeted that he flew his mother from Michigan, while Pamela Lillquist said she invited her mother (who started a Julie Andrews fan club in 1958) from Scotland.
High school teacher Kathy Briggs, from Portland, Ore., said she learned how to sing using Andrews’ records and takes her students on music field trips to Austria to locations in “The Sound of Music.”
Briggs sat in the second row to see Andrews and attended with four college friends.
“I admire so much of what she has done professionally,” Briggs said. “She’s such an exquisite performer paired with being a really good person — what’s not to like?”
The next Los Angeles Times Book Club event is Dec. 16. Homeboy Industries founder Father Gregory Boyle discusses his second book, “Barking to the Choir,” with author Hector Tobar over breakfast. For updates, sign up at latimes.com/bookclub.