Emma Thompson as P. L. TraversCredit: Google      

                                            Emma Thompson as P. L. Travers - Google

P. L. Travers is the author of several books about Mary Poppins, the special nanny to the Banks family.  Travers name was actually Helen Lyndon Goff, the daughter of Travers Goff, an alcoholic bank manager who had difficulty holding down a job.  Helen’s love of fantasy was infused in her by her father’s stories and his affectionate ways with his children, who loved him dearly.  At one point, Travis shaved off his facial hair so it would not hurt his daughter’s face.  Helen had a brief run as an adult in pursuing a stage career, which was the point at which she chose Pamela Travers as her stage name, and it stuck.

Walt Disney promised his two little girls, who loved the story of Mary Poppins, that he would one day make a movie about the imaginative nanny.  He reminded them that he never went back on a promise.

“Saving Mr. Banks” is not that movie, but it is the background story of how the film “Mary Poppins” came to life.  For twenty years, Walt Disney (Tom Hanks) tried unsuccessfully to acquire the screen rights to Mary Poppins from its author P. L. Travers (Emma Thompson).  In 1961, the author’s financial advisor informed her that the royalties on her books had diminished to the point where she could possibly lose her home.  This prompted Travis to set up a meeting with Walt Disney in Los Angeles to discuss the matter.


Tom HanksCredit: Google

                                                                  Tom Hanks - Google

Her meetings with Disney, his scriptwriter and songwriters (the Sherman Brothers), lasted two weeks.  Her demands were impossible.  The film was not to be a musical.  She objected to how Mr. Banks was characterized as cold and cruel, since he was neither.  She wanted no part of Dick Van Dyke as Mr. Banks; and there was to be no facial hair on Mr. Banks (an insight into P. L. Travers insistence on petty details).  Unreasonably, there was to be no color red in the film, and no animated characters.  She was to have final say on all decisions about the film.  At one point, she even threw the script out the window.  She was equally cruel to the Sherman Brothers when they sang their creations to her, especially “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious.” “She was terrible to us, just very negative and unreceptive,” said Richard Sherman.  “Mary Poppins and the Banks’s are family to me,” stated Travers.

Walt did everything he could to accommodate Pamela, as he chose to call her, although she corrected him each time, insisting on “Mrs. Travers.”  She was warned by his staff that he preferred to be called “Walt” but would only refer to him as “Mr. Disney.”  He had set her up in the Beverly Hills Hotel where her room was filled with stuffed animals from Disney productions - Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck, and all the rest.  She stuffed them all in a closet, out of the way.  She had a chauffeur-driven limousine with a designated driver, Ralph (Paul Giamatti) with whom she was able to relate.


Paul GiamattiCredit: Wikimedia Commons

                                                             Paul Giamatti - Wikimedia

The events occurring in Los Angeles in 1961 were interspersed through flashbacks with the story of the Goff family at the turn of the twentieth century.  Travers Goff (Colin Farrell) developed tuberculosis, complicated by his alcoholism, when little Helen was seven years old.  Her mother Margaret (Ruth Wilson) attempted suicide around that time, and was halted by Helen who discovered her mother walking in a deep pond, and persuaded her to come back to the house.  Mrs. Goff’s inability to care for the children during this stressful time prompted them to seek help from a family member.  Helen’s aunt Ellie (Rachel Griffiths) came to live with them, and taught the girls how to do household chores.  Aunt Ellie became the model for Mary Poppins several years later when Helen created her character.

In a last-ditch effort to persuade “Pamela” to sign away the screen rights to Walt, he offered to take her to Disneyland, the happiest place on earth.  He insisted that she should take a ride on the Merry-Go-Round also.  Nevertheless, she returned to her home in London without giving her approval for the film.

Walt Disney was undaunted.  He followed her to London, now equipped with the insight that the story of Mary Poppins and the Banks family was autobiographical and that Pamela felt the sting of her sad childhood when it was presented to her in the form of a musical film.

He told Pamela about his own childhood and how he had to get up each morning at four a.m. to deliver newspapers, and the cruelty shown to him by his father when he made any mistakes.  He urged her to forget the past and not allow it to affect the present and the future.  He told her he loved Mary Poppins and wanted Pamela to share her with him and with the world.  After so many years of struggling, Walt  did obtain the screen rights and “Mary Poppins” had its première in 1964.


Walt DisneyCredit: Wikimedia Commons

                                                                  Walt Disney - Wikimedia

Walt did not invite Pamela to the premiere because he was afraid of what she might verbalize to the media.  She came anyway and showed up in his office on the big day.  Ralph chauffeured her to Grauman's Chinese Theatre in Los Angeles, reminding her that “None of this would be possible without you.”  Mickey Mouse took her by the hand and walked her down the Red Carpet and into the theater.  She was shown in tears while viewing parts of the film.  However, she never did give full approval to the way Mary Poppins was portrayed on the screen, and she managed legally to prevent any sequels to the film.

“Mary Poppins” received thirteen Academy Award nominations and won five Oscars, including:  Best Actress (Julie Andrews), and Best Original Song and Best Original Score by Robert and Richard Sherman. The award for Best Song went to “Chim Chim Cher-ee” which won out over the other hits in the show which included: “A Spoonful of Sugar,” “Let’s Go Fly a Kite,” “Jolly Holiday,” and "Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious."  

I am happy to say that all of my children and grandchildren have had the wonderful experience of viewing the film “Mary Poppins,” and we offer our thanks to Walt Disney for his persistence over a period of twenty years to share her story with the public.

Mary Poppins
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