“As a mother, my children have always come first,” Julie says, “and even though I’ve always been a working woman, I have also tried to have them with me, as often as I could.” The juggle was not easy, “but there were other children [playing Maria’s children] on set. I tried to make things silly and funny, so we all had a good time.”
In an interview with The Australian Women’s Weekly on the occasion of the 50th Anniversary of The Sound of Music, Julie said by the time the film wrapped, Julie and her husband were formally separated (they remain “great chums”). By the time it came out, she was dating Blake, a director who made Breakfast At Tiffany’s and, later, made a star of the beady-headed Bo Derek in 10 (nobody remembers this, but Julie Andrews played the woman whom Dudley Moore scorns in 10).
Blake didn’t know Julie all that well before they started dating. In fact, he had only seen her in Mary Poppins and apparently told friends she was “so sweet she probably has violets between her legs”.
Julie promptly sent him a bunch of purple flowers, which was terribly cheeky, but hey, this was the ’60s. The romance was on and isn’t it funny how life mirrors art?
There was Julie playing a stepmother – Maria – who had to win over the von Trapp children on screen and there was Julie thinking of ways to win over Blake’s two children in real life.
“I still went through a lot of stepmothering. And it was rarer [than today] because divorce was rarer and there was an idea that stepmothers must be wicked. But Maria, in the film, turned out to be not so wicked,” Julie says. “Not even in real life, from what I gather. She brought a quality of life to the children that they hadn’t had. I think they had a lot of nannies. She brought fresh air and fresh life into the family.
“But it is difficult,” Julie says. “And besides being a stepmother, I’m an adoptive mother, too. I have my natural-born daughter and Blake’s two children, and then we adopted two children … can you imagine the hodge-podge?”
Julie adopted her daughters, Amy Leigh and Joanna Lynne, at two months and five months old, from an orphanage in Vietnam just as US troops were being airlifted out after a long, miserable war.
“We wanted a child and it hadn’t happened,” she says. “Amy came into our lives and it was wonderful. Then Saigon began to fall and within three months, we had another one. We said [to the orphanage where Amy had come from], ‘We know you are not going to be able to do this for long. Once the South falls [adoptions will cease] so if you care to send us another one, please do.’ So suddenly Joanna was with us and they were not sisters, but like sisters.”
Early video of Julie playing with her “sad-eyed” girls on a Malibu beach shows a woman devoted to her new daughters. The road ahead wasn’t trouble-free, for reasons that many adoptive parents will instinctively understand: Julie and Blake had in mind what “we could do for the children” and not what the children would have to go through, adapting to life in America. “But,” says Julie, “the love kept us going.”
Julie’s decision to adopt two infants led directly to her decision to step down, if not entirely away, from her film career.
“I wanted to be there,” she says. “To make a proper protein breakfast for them before school in the morning. To go to parent-teacher interviews. It is important. I do admire women who manage to do both. I tried and it is extremely difficult.”