It has been almost exactly nine years since I read, and loved, Julie Andrews’ first memoir Home. That memoir of her early years in vaudeville and her time in the theater and the breakout roles on Broadway was well told and extremely well narrated. This memoir, Home Work, picks up with the filming of Mary Poppins, right where the first memoir left off.
I mostly listened to Home Work, with some occasional reading on kindle (I bought both on sale). The production of this audiobook did not use any music as the first one did, but that makes sense because the period is covering an era when Julie Andrews was mostly acting in film and then singing in variety shows or specials on TV.
The weakness of Home Work is an expanded version of the problems of Home, the detail. I am not sure how to avoid the issue as a writer. As a reader, especially as a reader that has not seen any of her movies between Sound of Music and Princess Diaries, the details about shooting and costars was not why I picked up the book. I am sure others are more interested in that portion of the book.
What was engaging about Home and was also present here is her introspection. Mostly she is opening herself up to the world and sharing what her life has been like. The level of drug abuse and alcoholism around her is tragic, with children, siblings, parents, her husband. She shares freely about her struggles of depression as well as the depression of her husband and many others. There are more than a few suicide attempts by those around her.
Home Work is a story of ‘more money, more problems’. Her first marriage ended essentially because both she and her husband were never together. After all, they were pursuing separate careers in the film world. She had long stints filming around the world, and he had long jobs designing films (so that even when they were working on the same movies, they were not working at the same time). Later, when she married her second husband, Blake Edwards, a director, and mostly working together on movies, they bought houses and boats and spent money taking care of dependent relatives so that they felt compelled to keep working. It was a bitter cycle; they had to work to pay for their lifestyle, but also had to pay for assistants and nannies and people to take care of their homes because they were working all the time.
It is incredible to think that Julie Andrews had filmed Mary Poppins, The Americanization of Emily, and The Sound of Music before any of them were released. From 1964 to 1986, she starred in 20 full-length movies, was the host of two TV seasons where she hosted a show and did about 10 network specials. That is in addition to occasionally touring as a singer. During that same time, she had her daughter from her first marriage, two stepchildren from a second marriage, two adopted children and cared for a much younger half brother.
She started psychotherapy reasonably early in her film career, and I think that probably matters to how she introspectively tells the story of her life. (She also frequently quotes extended sections of her diaries.) Her need to care for the people around her, from financially supporting her parents by the age of 16, to caring for a whole host of family and people around her throughout her life, I think she does accurately talk about the importance of home to her. The reason she wanted a home in Switzerland, and worked hard to keep primary residence there, was that she was trying to build a safe place for family. The pressure she accepted to care for others was enormous, not helped by her second husband, who also needed constant care between his depression and addictions to pain pills.
I do not want to bring my work on spiritual direction into every book, but as much as we can work to bring maturity and personal health into our own life, we cannot force others around us to also mature and get healthy. We can encourage it, and sometimes go as far as cutting people off as a protective measure, but we cannot control them. Julie Andrews did not participate in the drug and sex culture of Hollywood, but it still impacted her. She worked hard and tried to take her art seriously. She appreciated that she had been lucky and was rewarded for her talent, while others with equal or more considerable talent had not.
In the end, while I did not think that Home Work was quite as good as Home, I did very much enjoy it, and I do have even more respect for her than I did before, and I will immediately pick up the next memoir when it eventually comes out.