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A spoonful of genius makes ‘Mary Poppins’ a treat


EDITOR’S NOTE: This is another in The Bulletin staff’s series of reviews of movies available on various streaming services. Bulletin staff writer Mike Cook explains why “Mary Poppins” pops for him.

Have you ever made a list of the people you would most like to meet?

My list includes Dick Van Dyke, for many reasons, especially his performance in my all-time favorite movie: “Mary Poppins.”

Bert the chimneysweep is almost as iconic as Mary Poppins herself, but I am even fonder of Van Dyke’s portrayal of Mr. Dawes Sr., the elder board member at the bank where George Banks works. It’s a small part, but the bit near the end of the movie when Banks is fired is one of my favorite scenes of all times. I fall off my chair every time Mr. Dawes Sr. says, “Impertinence, Sir!”

Van Dyke was hired to play Bert and is apparently remembered – he even publicly apologized for it – for one of the worst cockney accents in movie history. He lobbied Walt Disney to get the part of old Mr. Dawes.

The late David Tomlinson’s portrayal of George Banks (“It’s that Poppins woman!”) is also one of my favorite performances of all time. Remember him and his wife, Winifred (Glynis Johns, in another absolutely brilliant performance), arguing about hiring a nanny while holding the furniture in place during a cannon firing by neighbor Admiral Boom?

Tomlinson’s performance always reminds me of Alastair Sim’s Ebenezer Scrooge in the 1951 film by that name – which is my second favorite movie ever. Tomlinson and Sim were completely believable as both their mean and cranky selves and as the joyous and reborn Scrooge and Banks.

And, of course, no one could ever top Julie Andrews’ eponymous performance in this movie. It has to be one of the greatest in film history. “Spoon Full of Sugar” always makes me cry.

Clearly, Walt Disney knew how to cast a film. And there must have been something very special indeed about this cast. The movie was filmed May-September 1963, at Disney Studios in Burbank, California, and released Aug. 27, 1964 – almost 56 years ago.

Most of the actors were seasoned professionals well into adulthood even then, but many are still alive.  Van Dyke is 94, Johns is 96, Andrews is 84. Richard M. Sherman, who co-wrote the music, is 91. His brother and collaborator, Robert B. Sherman, died at age 86.

Jane Darwell (the Bird Woman) was 87 when she died, Tomlinson was 83, Reginald Owen (Admiral Boom) was 85, Elsa Lancaster (Katie Nana) was 84. Author P.L. Travers lived to age 96. The man who painted 102 glass backgrounds of 1910London for the film, Peter Ellenshaw, lived to 103.

Matthew Garber, who played young Michael Banks, however, died of haemorrhagic necrotising pancreatitis in 1977 at age 21. Karen Dotrice (Jane Banks) is alive and kicking at 64. She was 8 when the movie was made; Garber was 7.

“Mary Poppins” won five Oscars, a Golden Globe and two Grammy awards. Andrews won both the Oscar and Golden Globe for best actress in a leading role. Van Dyke was nominated for a Golden Globe for best actor.

“Mary Poppins” was nominated for the Oscar for best picture (Disney’s only nomination in that category during his lifetime) but lost to “My Fair Lady.” Andrews had played Eliza Doolittle in “My Fair Lady” on Broadway but lost the film role to Audrey Hepburn.

So, Mr. Van Dyke, if you’re reading this week’s Bulletin, drop me a line and let’s have a spot of tea and talk about old times.

Mike Cook may be reached at mike@lascrucesbulletin.com.