Around the Island

Island bookshelf: A memoir of her Hollywood years

“Home Work” 

By Julie Andrews with Emma Walton Hamilton 

Hachette Books

The title of this memoir reflects the very difficult experiences that Julie Andrews, stage and screen star, repeatedly faced in trying to create a stable home for her family. She seemed from afar to have a magical existence, being tapped for leading roles in “Mary Poppins” and “The Sound of Music,” as well as a sophisticated drama with James Garner, “The Americanization of Emily.” Those three films were made in the space of a few years in the early 1960s, launching the former vaudevillian into the highest Hollywood echelons.

But her first marriage, to theater set and costume designer Tony Walton, would come apart, forcing them to divide their daughter Emma’s time between two households. Later, she married director Blake Edwards and his two children joined the mix, while his ex-wife caused a series of crises they had to deal with. Ms. Andrews had a younger brother in England who began to show up at her home in California, with an addiction problem she would have to address. Her parents, whose dysfunction was revealed in Ms. Andrews’ first memoir, continued to have challenges, from depression to suicidal behavior. She coped with that by bringing them to California with her in order to get them help. With both Tony Walton and Blake Edwards, she was often working on shows with her husband, or trying to create a home that would sustain their family while separate projects kept them apart. Over the years, they lived in London, California and Switzerland, but repeatedly needed to move as shows were mounted on both sides of the Atlantic. 

Ms. Andrews and Blake Edwards adopted two baby girls from Vietnam, after they learned of their friend Mia Farrow’s successful experience with such an adoption. With new shows always keeping her busy, it was necessary to have a nanny for the babies. And of course, the nanny winds up pregnant with Blake’s assistant Tony, whom she had secretly married.

Ms. Andrews coped with this turbulent life by beginning psychoanalysis and keeping a journal, which has proved a valuable resource for her and Ms. Hamilton’s writing.

“It’s thrilling to discover contemporaneous notes,” Ms. Hamilton said of her mother’s journals. Over a span of 22 years, mother and daughter have written 32 books together, including two memoirs and numerous children’s books.

Islanders have spotted Julie Andrews in Sag Harbor over the years, striding down Main Street or having a quiet meal at The American Hotel. Their family has become part of the East End community, since Ms. Hamilton and her husband, Steve, co-founded Sag Harbor’s Bay Street Theater with Sybil Christopher in 1992. Today, the Hamiltons are actively supporting the effort to rebuild the Sag Harbor Cinema that was devastated by fire. Last month, Ms. Andrews and Ms. Hamilton held a book signing at Bay Street to benefit the theater and the cinema, in conjunction with a screening of the Blake Edwards film, “That’s Life.”

That film, devised by Mr. Edwards as a “peace offering,” Ms. Hamilton said, was an “extraordinary experience.” After years of turmoil caused by Mr. Edwards’ bouts of depression and hypochondria, he proposed an independent film shot in their own California home, a darkly funny movie using their family and friends as cast. Jack Lemmon played the character based on Blake Edwards, whose mid-life crisis is driving his family crazy. “Jack Lemmon was one of Blake’s favorite actors,” Ms. Hamilton said, “ever since they worked together on “The Days of Wine and Roses.” Ms. Andrews plays the wife trying to balance her husband’s fears, other issues that pop up in the family and a frightening medical issue of her own. Awaiting results of a throat biopsy, she copes with everyone else’s complaints until she receives reassuring news.

Members of their families, including Jack Lemmon’s wife and son, Ms. Hamilton, and Mr. Edwards’ children, played the family, often ad-libbing their lines. Today, Ms. Hamilton said, “it’s like watching home movies.” She recently showed it to her own children, a 16-year-old daughter and a son who’s 23, the same age as she was during the filming. 

As fate would have it, the movie foreshadowed health issues that Ms. Andrews would encounter years later, ending her ability to sing in public. There were other glimpses into the future, including Ms. Hamilton’s boyfriend in the film. The character was named Steve, which would turn out to be her husband’s name.

This book is not a celebrity tell-all, although Ms. Andrews’ career connected her to charming leading men, outstanding directors and writers as well as fellow performers, like Carol Burnett, who would become lifelong friends. It’s a warm, sincere account of her love for her family and a reflection on her most valued relationships. When you’re looking for a Christmas gift for someone special, this is one enjoyable, moving book to curl up with on a cold winter’s night.