Julie Andrews and Blake Edwards: A lasting love

The 40-year marriage of Julie Andrews and Blake Edwards is one of Hollywood's unlikeliest success stories

Blake Edwards Julie Andrews

by Valery McConnell |

He was a top Hollywood director, not only acclaimed for Breakfast At Tiffany's and Days of Wine and Roses, but the successful Pink Panther franchise.

She had not only received an Oscar for Mary Poppins, but starred in the Sound of Music – the highest-grossing box-office film of 1965.

Blake Edwards and Julie Andrews couldn't have been riding higher. In private however, things were different. A recovering alcoholic, Blake was in the throes of a divorce after a turbulent marriage, aware that the clinical depression that haunted him all his life could return. Julie Andrews' marriage to childhood sweetheart Tony Walton was faltering and memories of her traumatic early life were threatening to overwhelm her. A child star, she had been pushed into performing by a step-father who tried to sexually abuse her. Her mother not only drank too much but confessed, to her that Julie was the result of a one-night stand and the man she adored as her father, was no such thing.

No wonder both were in psychoanalysis – even sharing a therapist. Luckily, they already shared a wicked sense of humour. Julie's wholesome public image had caused Blake to remark at a party, “She's so sweet she probably has a lilac bush between her legs.” She promptly sent him a bunch of the purple blooms.

Did you know?

Julie's first husband, Tony Walton, a set designer, produces the illustrations for the children's books she writes with their daughter Emma.

Darling Lilli

And then the chance came to get to know each other better when he directed her in Darling Lilli in 1968. They fell in love. Julie, now newly divorced was scared about entering a new relationship with this charismatic, but driven man 13 years her senior. She also had her young daughter and Blake's two older children to consider. In fact it was his children who decided things for her. Blake was now living with her and they asked to move in too. What bigger endorsement could a step-mother have? Julie thought, “What the hell. It was just a piece of paper and anyway, it felt right.”

Hollywood was surprised and didn't think it would last – especially when Darling Lilli was a huge flop. How would two big film egos deal with that? What they didn't realise was that Julie had a great need to create a happy family life. Years later Blake said, “Julie has a lot of depressing memories... What we see in her is mostly this tremendous struggle to overcome that by taking care of people. Me. The children. The cast and crew. Everybody.”

Their blended family decamped to Switzerland where Julie announced, “I travel as Mrs Edwards these days... I don't know when my next film will be, it all depends on whether it fits my schedule with the children. I don't consider it a sacrifice because I'd rather be with my family.”

That family was soon to include two more little girls in need of love. Sadly unable to have a child together, the Edwards' decided to adopt. It was just at the end of the Vietnam war, and in 1974 and 1975 two Vietnamese orphans, Amy and Joanna – who had both been abandoned by their families – joined the household. While initially Julie was able to say, “It's been wonderful to watch two pale, sad-eyed creatures blossom,” the girls troubled beginnings would later lead to challenging behaviour, but they eventually came through it.


Did you know?

Julie Andrews is famous for her swearing. In his Oscar acceptance speech Blake described her as, “the beautiful English broad with the incomparable soprano and the promiscuous language”.

Perfect partners

Julie didn't abandon her career – she just made sure she always worked with Blake. He was happy to challenge Hollywood's image of the 'nice' Julie Andrews. He said, “I don't think she's even come close to her potential because nobody's really explored what she can do.” And Julie agreed: “I've always had a body – a rather nice one too – but people assumed I was either sexless or puritanical”.

Julie Andrews and Blake Edwards

They made seven films together. Most were non-singing roles, and in 1981's S.O.B., Blake's satire on Hollywood, she played a pastiche of her wholesome image – and went topless. This prompted TV host Johnny Carson to thank her for, “showing us that the hills were still alive”.

Their most commercially successful joint film was 10 – although Julie's role was rather eclipsed by Bo Derek. But it was 1982's Victor/Victoria, in which Julie played both a woman and a man, that really showed off her talent and earned her an Oscar nomination.

By the mid-Nineties Julie and Blake could rightly feel proud that despite naysayers and family challenges their marriage was still rock solid. They were working together on a successful stage production of Victor/Victoria when Julie was persuaded to have a small operation on her vocal chords. “I was told that in two weeks I'd be singing better than I'd ever sung in my life.” In fact she lost almost all of her vocal range for good. They were both devastated with Julie revealing, “I think Blake was even more upset than I was.”

Then Blake developed Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, making it more difficult for him to work – vital to keep his demons at bay. These were hard times. Once again, Julie turned to her family. With her daughter Emma, she produced a range of children's books, that helped her come to terms with the loss of her voice. Speaking roles in The Princess Diaries and Shrek saw her in demand again in films.

While Blake's battle with depression meant he contemplated suicide at times, he never gave up on his marriage. He movingly told a reporter, “I think if she were ever to leave me, it would be such an indictment of myself that I couldn't stand it.” And despite Blake's failing health, which caused Julie to turn down roles, she described him as, “the man who made me laugh the most in my life.”

Blake passed away in 2010, aged 88, from pneumonia. Until the end he came up with projects – and they would always have a role for Julie. Five years later she confessed that she was still dealing with his death, adding, “I wish he were here – but he is in a way. I think one carries that love always.”

It turns out that one of Hollywood's most enduring love stories was not a screen romance, but lived at the heart of a modern family.

Did you know?

Blake Edwards real name was Wiliam Blake Crump.

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