Creator Backlash: P.L. Travers called the second chapter of the first book, "The Day Out", the worst Mary Poppins story she ever wrote. (For people who haven't read the book: Take the "Jolly Holiday" scene of the movie, remove Jane, Michael, the talking animals, and the horse race, and replace the penguin waiters with a human waiter, and you'll have an idea of how "The Day Out" goes.) Incidentally, this was the first Mary Poppins story - an earlier version, "Mary Poppins and the Match-Man," was published as a short story in 1926.
The 1934 version of the first book has gone out of print, meaning that fans who want to read the unedited version of "Bad Tuesday" have to hunt down an old copy, keeping in mind that there was a good reason Travers felt like she had to edit it herself.
The individual editions of Mary Poppins in Cherry Tree Lane and Mary Poppins and the House Next Door have also gone out of print. The 2010 omnibus Mary Poppins: The Complete Collectionnote Which actually only has six of the eight books, skipping Mary Poppins From A to Z and Mary Poppins in the Kitchen has those two stories, albeit with either most or all of their pictures removed.
Spin-Off Cookbook: Mary Poppins in the Kitchen is a Cookery Book with a Story by P.L. Travers. As the title suggests, this one has a story, in which Mary teaches the Banks kids to cook.
The character of Mr. Banks is based on the author's own father, Travers Goff.
Mary Poppins herself was based on Travers' Great Aunt Ellie (Helen Morehead).
The Disney movie
Ability over Appearance: Uncle Albert was originally written as having a Viennese accent. Ed Wynn, however, didn't attempt the accent—or even an English accent, for that matter. He was just himself, ad-libbing many of the lines he says while laughing on the ceiling in the "I Love to Laugh" scene.
Awesome, Dear Boy: Walt Disney wanted only one person for the small part of the Bird Woman—Jane Darwell, his favorite actress. Darwell had a long, storied career in character parts (she's probably best remembered for playing Ma Joad in The Grapes of Wrath, which won her an Oscar), and by that point was retired, so she politely declined when a representative offered her the role. Undeterred, Disney himself personally traveled to Darwell's retirement home to ask her to accept, even offering to have a private limousine sent to pick her up and bring her back on her single day of shooting. Darwell was so touched by the offer and Walt's appreciation for her that she agreed to appear in the film.
Walt Disney hand-picked Julie Andrews after seeing her in Camelot on Broadway. He was so keen to cast her that he waited until she gave birth. What really sealed the deal was when P.L. Travers spoke to her on the telephone from her hospital bed. In fact, Andrews was one of the few things that Travers liked about the film.
As noted under Awesome, Dear Boy and Stunt Casting, Disney wanted his favorite actress, Jane Darwell, for the part of the Bird Woman, going so far as to personally travel to her retirement home and arrange a private limousine to transport her to and from the set.
Creator's Favorite: "Feed the Birds" is widely reported to have been Walt Disney's favorite song, and he would often request that the Sherman Brothers play it for him. Disney's love for the song was such that Richard Sherman played it to dedicate the "Partners" statue at Disneyland, saying "Now I'll play Walt Disney's favorite song... and it's just for him."
"The Land of Sand" brought Mary Poppins and the children to a desert. The melody was recycled for "Trust in Me" from The Jungle Book.
"The Beautiful Briny Sea" had Mary and the children travel underwater. The song was finally used in Bedknobs and Broomsticks.
"Chimpanzoo" told of a place in which animals could watch humans misbehave inside cages; it's inspired by the "Full Moon" chapter of the original book. The tune became used for a song in Little Nemo: Adventures in Slumberland.
A song about Admiral Boom was written for the film. Although the song does not appear in the film, the music can be heard in the score.
Mary had a song called "Practically Perfect", the melody was used for Sister Suffragette. An unrelated song with the same title was later written for the stage musical.
"Let's Go Fly a Kite" was going to have a Tin Alley melody until Disney resulted it sounded more British.
P.L. Travers wanted the film to have non-original songs like Ta-ra-ra Boom-de-ay and Greensleeves, but the Sherman brothers convinced her they wouldn't work (however Greensleeves does appear in the background).
While not a song, Mary Poppins was going to Yodel to the chimmary smoke to make the stairs and the fireworks scene had a whole underscore of Step in Time but both were deleted and can be heard and seen in a documentary, Mary Poppins: A Musical Journey, which is a trivia goldmine.
Development Hell: Walt Disney had first considered making a live-action adaptation of Mary Poppins as early as 1938, but P.L. Travers didn't think it could do justice for her books, mainly because Disney hadn't done any live-action films at the time.
Disowned Adaptation: P.L. Travers absolutely hated the film, due to its changing of several elements of her original stories and the inclusion of the animated sequence. So much so, that at the premiere, she approached Walt Disney before its first screening, demanding the sequence be removed. Disney refused, and later, when the film had concluded, Travers broke down crying, not because the people hated the film, but because they were giving it a standing ovation. Perhaps not surprisingly, the Disney-produced biographical film Saving Mr. Banks finesses these facts like mad. According to rare interviews and secondary accounts, Travers said that she thought the film was well made and had a lot of positive aspects to it, including Julie Andrews' portrayal. However, she felt it was so different from her books that she wasn't happy with the final product.
Used a couple of times with the young actors playing Jane and Michael.
The medicine bottle that pours different colors was a real working prop. The children were not informed of its purpose, so Karen Dotrice's shriek of delight is real.
The children were unaware that Mr. Dawes Sr. was played by Dick Van Dyke. According to Karen Dotrice (Jane), she didn't know till she saw the end credits.
Likewise, Karen Dotrice says that in the scene in which the children run away from the bank and get grabbed by a mysterious figure, they weren't told beforehand that the soot-covered figure was actually Bert, who was trying to calm them down.
Dick Van Dyke. That accent. Ironically, he also plays Mr. Dawes, Sr, doing so brilliant a job that many viewers don't even realize it was him. Dick van Dyke's Cockney accent is a contender for second most notorious film example of all time. If you're wondering who owns the title for most notorious, see here. Dick defended himself on NPR's Wait, Wait, Don't Tell Me by explaining that his accent coach was J. Pat O'Malley, who didn't speak Cockney any better than he did. Though J. Pat O'Malley was English, he was from Burnley, Oop North and nowhere near London. To hear his take on Cockney listen to Jasper in the original 101 Dalmatians, for whom he provided the voice, as well as the voice of the Colonel.
Much more successfully in the case of Mrs Brill, who was played by the Maine native Reta Shaw
Inspiration for the Work: The song "Let's Go Fly a Kite" was inspired by The Sherman Brothers' father, Al Sherman, who made kites for neighborhood children as a weekend hobby. In the film, the broken kite represents the broken family. When Mr. Banks mends the kite and the four pieces are taped back together, the four members of the family are also reunited. By transforming her "suffragette ribbon" into the kite's tail, Mrs. Banks also commits herself to being there more for her family.
Irony as She Is Cast: David Tomlinson, who portrayed the stern and emotionally distant patriarch, George Banks, was by all accounts a loving and devoted father in real life. Even at the height of his career, he was known to avoid showbiz circles and regularly turned down social invites (despite getting tons of them) in order to spend as much time as he could with his family at their home in Buckinghamshire.
Keep Circulating the Tapes: The 1997 Walt Disney Masterpiece Collection Laserdisc included an isolated score, which didn't make it onto any DVD/Blu-Ray/Digital releases. Not even the soundtracks include all of it, due to Disney's tendency to save discs two onwards for bonus features. Three of the Laserdisc's other extrasnote The documentary Practically Perfect in Every Way, a Hollywood Goes To a World Premiere vintage newsreel, and a trailer for the original wide theatrical release did make it to DVD, on the 2000 Gold Classic Collection disc; the later releases replace them with extras that cover the same ground, but in more detail.
Uncle Albert is played by Ed Wynn, who appeared in numerous Disney films, most notably being the voice of the Mad Hatter in Alice in Wonderland.
In addition, the film's vocal coach, J. Pat O'Malley, also appeared in numerous Disney films; he voiced Tweedledee and Tweedledum, as well as both the Walrus and the Carpenter in Alice in Wonderland, voiced both Jasper Badun and the sheepdog Colonel in 101 Dalmatians, and he was also both Hathi the elephant and Buzzy the vulture in The Jungle Book (1967).
Hermione Baddeley, who played Ellen, the Banks' parlormaid, would later voice Madame Adelaide Bonfamille in The Aristocats.
In addition, Thurl Ravenscroft, who voiced the hog in the barnyard scene in the animation sequence, also appeared in The Aristocats as the Russian cat.
Director Robert Stevenson spent much of his career directing live-action Disney films.
In addition, music editor Evelyn Kennedy also worked on various Disney films, live-action and animated alike.
Jane, played by Karen Dotrice, previously appeared in The Three Lives Of Thomasina and later appeared with co-star Matthew Garber (Michael) in The Gnome Mobile.
Betty Lou Gerson has a cameo as the witch-like crone whom the children run away from. That's right, they escaped from Cruella de Vil herself! However, Gerson had a less threatening Disney role as the narrator of Cinderella.
Saved from Development Hell: Walt Disney first attempted to purchase the film rights from P. L. Travers as early as 1938. However, Travers refused, as she didn't believe that a film version of her books would do justice to her creation. He spent over twenty years trying to convince her to allow him to make the film. He finally succeeded in 1961, although she demanded and obtained script approval rights.
Sleeper Hit: Lindsay Ellis noted that musicals seemed to be waning in popularity in the early 1960s, and the film's budget was relatively small compared to some of the other glossy studio releases - suggesting Disney didn't expect it to be a mega hit. It ended up grossing over $100 million worldwide, turned Julie Andrews into a household name, won six Academy Awards and got nominated for an additional eight.
Stillborn Franchise: After the film's success, Walt Disney approached P.L. Travers for rights to film the other books, but given her thoughts about how the film deviated from her stories, she unsurprisingly refused.
Stunt Casting: The role of the Bird Woman was offered specifically to the retired Jane Darwell - because she was one of Walt Disney's favorite actresses. He tracked her down to her retirement home and she was so stunned by the gesture, she agreed to play the role.
Mr. Dawes Sr.'s trouble walking down the stairs was something Dick Van Dyke did between takes.
Bert's Cockney accent is this, basically. Van Dyke tried doing a serious Cockney accent but found he could only manage a bad one.
Mary's "Cheeky!" comment when her reflection starts showing off was ad libbed by Julie Andrews.
During Mary Poppins' conversation with Andrew, Miss Lark's dog, the dog sneezed, and Andrews, still in character, said, "Bless you."
In the script, when Bert suggests going to the circus, he was supposed to do a sabre-throwing routine, but instead, Van Dyke performed a tightrope act.
When Glynis Johns, who played Mrs. Banks, was invited to the studios for the first time, she mistakenly assumed that she was going to be offered the part of Mary, and was taken aback when she was told about her smaller role. Walt Disney, thinking quickly, loudly told her that she didn't have to worry, because the Sherman Brothers (who were standing nearby) had written Mrs. Banks an incredible song that she was sure to love, which they'd play for her right after he took her to lunch. Needless to say, that "incredible song" didn't exist yet—it was Walt's way of signaling the brothers to write something immediately. When Disney and Johns returned from their lunch, "Sister Suffragette" was ready for the film.
Wag the Director: One of Julie Andrews' favorite songs was "Stay Awake". When she heard that there were plans to delete it, she wrote a letter of concern to P.L. Travers, who instantly insisted that the song remain in the film.
Walt was negotiating to have the rights to film Bedknobs and Broomsticks in case negotiations for the rights to Mary Poppins fell through.
The book had a chapter in which Mary Poppins and the children use a magic compass to visit different countries. The Sherman Brothers wrote a wide assortment of songs to use for their journey, but the chapter ultimately went unadapted.
Hayley Mills at one point was announced as being attached to star, presumably as Jane. This was in 1961 when she had a multi-film contract with Disney.
P.L. Travers suggested dropping a few hints that Mr. Banks used to have Mary Poppins as his nanny.
Mrs Banks has no name in the books. The planned name for her was Cynthia but PL Travers wanted a more English sounding name - and they came up with Winifred. The names that Bert lists during the "Jolly Holiday" sequence are among those that were considered for her.
Tony Baxter, former Senior Vice President of Walt Disney Imagineering, joined the company after sharing this concept for a Mary Poppins ride. Had it actually become built, guests would mount merry-go-round horses that would leap off their turntables, and prance through the same chalk drawings where Mary Poppins, Bert, and the Banks children shared a "Jolly Holiday". After the rain dissolves the drawings, the horses would take their riders across the rooftops of London.
The Sherman Brothers originally planned to use the song "Chim-Chim-Cheree" for all the music in the rooftop finale. However, when special effects supervisor Peter Ellenshaw brought the English pub song "Knees Up Mother Brown" to their attention, they decided to make their own variation, resulting in "Step In Time".
The stage musical
Acting for Two: Depending on the production, the actress who plays Miss Andrew also plays either Queen Victoria or the Bird Woman.
"Temper Temper" eventually was cut from the stage musical, due to complaints by parents and that the producers of the show's Dutch production didn't like the idea of the kids being put on trial. The slightly tamer nightmare-inspired "Playing The Game" replaced the song when the US tour began and the changes have been reinstated to the Broadway production as well as future productions of the show.
"What I Can Do" (a precursor to the song "Being Mrs. Banks") and "She's Ever So Mary Poppins" were two songs originally written for the show, but cut for various reasons.
Development Hell: Cameron Mackintosh first met with P.L. Travers in 1993 to discuss adapting the Mary Poppins books to the stage. While initially turning down the use of the film's songs, she ultimately agreed to an adaptation as long as no one involved with the film was directly involved. After Travers' death in 1996, plans for the show were in limbo until 2001 when Mackintosh met Thomas Schumacher, head of Disney Theatrical Productions, and the show began development the following year.