What would you think if I told you that the author Pamela Lyndon Travers or PLT, as she was referred to, modeled many of the characters of her book, Mary Poppins after her family? Can you imagine meeting somebody like Mary Poppins?
If you were to ask her, the author, that is, she would just tell you that she didn’t create Mary Poppins but that she just blew in, from the East I’m sure.
PLT was born Helen Lyndon Goff in Marybourogh Queensland, Australia in 1899 but she usually claimed 1906 as her birth year. During a brief time as a dance and actress, she took the name P.L. Travers as her stage name and later as her pen name. Travers was her father’s first name. He died when PLT was only 7 years old.
She was the eldest of three girls and very imaginative. She spent hours pretending she was a hen, spending hours upon hours brooding on her imaginary nest of eggs. She loved to read the Brother’s Grimm and for the longest time thought the word for story was grim. “Tell me a grim”, she would say.
In 1924 PLT left Australia, where she supported herself as a journalist. For the most part she lived in England working as a poet, critic, and essayist, as well as, a serious writer of fiction and nonfiction books.
After her father died, PLT spent a lot of time with her Aunt Ellie (Helen), whom she was named after. Aunt Ellie was a no nonsense type person who would read constantly aloud from a popular child rearing book. Not surprisingly, aunt Ellie also carried a carpetbag. We have to remember that the Mary Poppins in the books isn’t rosy cheeked and singing, she is actually quite strict, stern, and rigid. Physically, Mary Poppins resembles in her description,of a Dutch doll that PLT had as a toy while growing up.
Not leaving other family members out of her story, PLT gave her father’s own occupation to Mary Poppin’s employer Mr. Banks, that of a bank manager. Her own father Mr. Goff’s also had very similar money problems like Mr. George Banks. Two of the Banks children are named after some relatives in Australia. PLT’s childhood nurse had an umbrella with a carved parrot handle.
In 1964 Disney made a musical adaptation of the first Mary Poppins book. Travers was an adviser to the production but she greatly disapproved of making Mary Poppins so sweet and not stern. She felt the music wasn’t necessary and the animation was just plain ridiculous. At the premier of Mary Poppins, PLT went up to Walt Disney and demanded that the animation be taken out. Disney said with a smile,”Pamela, the ship has sailed.” This angered PLT so much that she refused to ever let Disney make another movie about one of her books. Walt Disney tried for years to convince her to change her mind.
She so greatly disliked the Disney version of her story ,that way into her 90’s, when producer Cameron Mackintosh approached her to do the stage musical did she agree only on the conditions that everyone in the musical had to be English and not American. Anyone involved with the creative process had to be English as well. The original songs from the movie were allowed into the stage play and to make sure her wishes were held onto, she stated all of these things in her will.
She was the mother of one adopted son and lived to be 97 years old. She died in 1996.
Photo from the NY Times
The Mary Poppin Books
I don’t know about you but Mary Poppins is one of my favorite stories. I love her touch of magic to a chaotic world and her creation of a fascinating life.
What is your favorite Mary Poppins book?