If you were to ask the author of one of the most beloved children’s tales of all time how the character of Mary Poppins was created, she would likely tell you that the magical nanny wasn’t created, she just blew in from the East.
Author Pamela Lyndon Travers, or PLT as she was referred to, 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 and he died when Pamela 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 Brothers Grimm and for the longest time thought the word for story was grim. “Tell me a grim”, she would say.
After her father died, Pamela spent a lot of time with her Aunt Ellie. Aunt Ellie was a no-nonsense type of person who would constantly read aloud from a popular child-rearing book. Not surprisingly, aunt Ellie also carried a carpetbag…sound familiar?
In 1924, Pamela left Australia and moved to England, where she supported herself as a journalist, poet, critic, and essayist and a serious writer of fiction and nonfiction books.
She wrote and publish the first of many Mary Poppins books in 1934. Determined to weave her family of origin into the story, Pamela gave her father’s occupation to Mary Poppins in the book and her employer, Mr. George Banks, that of a bank manager. Her father, Mr. Goff, also had similar money problems to Mr. Banks.
Two of the Banks children in the story are named after some of Pamela’s relatives who lived in Australia.
In 1964, Disney created a film starring Julie Andrews based on the books. But the character portrayed on the big screen is different from the one in the original book. In the books, Mary Poppins isn’t rosy-cheeked and singing, she is actually quite strict, stern, and rigid. Physically, Mary Poppins resembles the description of a Dutch doll that Pamela had as a toy while growing up.
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 premiere of Mary Poppins, Pamela 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 her so much that she refused to let Disney make another movie about one of her books. Walt Disney tried for years to convince her to change her mind.
When Pamela was in her 90s, producer Cameron Mackintosh approached her to do the stage musical did she agree only on the condition 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 ensure her wishes were held onto, she stated all of these things in her will.
All told, Pamela lived a full life, and she was the mother of one adopted son. She passed away in 1996 at age 97.
The Mary Poppin Books
Mary Poppins, published 1934
Mary Poppins Comes Back, published 1935
Mary Poppins Opens the Door, published 1943
Mary Poppins in the Park, published 1952
Mary Poppins From A to Z, published 1962
Mary Poppins in the Kitchen, published 1975
Mary Poppins in Cherry Tree Lane, published 1982
Mary Poppins and the House Next Door, published 1988
Mary Poppins is one of my favorite stories, and I love the touch of magic that she brought to a chaotic world.
What is your favorite Mary Poppins book?
**Facts and images courtesy of Wikipedia.com**