P.L. TRAVERS: She created the book called Mary Poppins and myriads of other bestsellers

APART FROM SELLING HER BOOKS IN THE MILLIONS, PUBLISHERS WERE ASKING FOR THEM TO BE TRANSLATED INTO DOZENS OF LANGUAGES.

FRANK MORRIS

TAKE 2: EMILY BLUNT, IN MARY POPPINS RETURNS. Below: P.L. TRAVERS AND WALT DISNEY HAD A ‘FALLING OUT’ OVER THE DATE FOR THE HOLLYWOOD PREMIERE. WHO WAS RIGHT? Below: P.L. TRAVERS RELAXES.

I wrote a short piece on “Biddy” Moriarty, the sister of P. L. Travers, called My Sister a Writer*. In it, “Biddy” said, she went to live in England in the thirties. She changed her name. And she had been very successful.

Not thinking on my feet, I was lured away from asking who it was. On reflection, she would have told me. Yet again, she probably wouldn’t have. I realise, I had missed the scoop of the ages.

When we first met it was 1963. I kept all my notes of the ‘Biddy’ interview. I will publish it again someday.

That was the only comment she made about her estranged sister, the internationally famous author Pamela Lyndon Travers, in my presence. The world knew her as P.L.Travers, author of the Mary Poppins adventure stories, but hardly anyone realised that she was an Australian.

In his history of Australian children’s literature, Maurice Saxby writes that her books “were so thoroughly English in tone” they cannot be considered Australian.

But it is the opinion of Queensland writer John Moran, who was researching the early life of P.L.Travers, that the author’s “memories and experiences in Australia contributed to the characters.”  Which is, really, a much more balanced perspective.

The fact that the ambitious and talented 24-year-old Travers decided to make her home in England, where she eventually was to gain fame and fortune, did not sit well with Barbara “Biddy” Moriarty (nee Goff).

EMBARRASSING EPISODES

I got the impression that “Biddy” felt her sister had turned her back on the family.  In a sense she had.

In 1964 Travers and Mary Poppins were in the news. The Walt Disney film, which was about to be premiered in Hollywood, had culminated in a falling out between the “irascible” Travers and Disney himself.

Disney did not want her rubbing shoulders with the movie kingdom glitterati. It was to prove an embarrassing episode for the author and her publishers, Harcourt Brace, but that is a story for another time.

In 1963 Travers spent two weeks in Australia.  It was her first visit home in forty years.  And her last.

In her biography of P.L.Travers, Valerie Lawson writes that Travers (was) to “find “Biddy” and (her sister) Moya living like a couple of maiden aunts…Pamela refused to give their names to a reporter…as “they wouldn’t care for publicity.”

“I DECLARE THE BRIDGE OPENED…”

In the early 1920s, “Biddy” had married Boyd Moriarty.  Intentionally or otherwise, “Biddy” let it drop in one of our conversations that Moriarty had been a member of the New Guard, a paramilitary organisation set up by Eric Campbell, and was present on that fateful day when Captain Francis de Groot ‘opened’ the Sydney Harbour Bridge.

The Sydney Morning Herald reported at the time that “de Groot caused a sensation when he rode his horse up to the ribbon…and slashed it through with his sword, shouting “on behalf of decent and loyal citizens of New South Wales I declare this bridge open.”

Moriarty was killed in World War II.  “Biddy” then went to live with her other sister, Moya.  She died in 1979.  Writes Lawson: “Pamela left no record – in a poem, letter or note of any kind – of her feelings about the death.”

There is a particular family snapshot in Lawson’s book of “Biddy”, Moya and Lyndon (Pamela) taken at their home in Bowral in 1915.  What is most noticeable in the photography was Biddy’s plaited pigtail, which hung almost half-way down her back.

SHE WAS DEDICATED

When she died, aged 96, in April 1996, Pamela Lyndon Travers, born Helen Lyndon Goff, was recognised as one of the most successful writers of the twentieth century.  Apart from selling in the millions, her books were translated into dozens of languages.

When she arrived in England Travers wrote for a variety of magazines.  She began to write Mary Poppins a few years later when she was recovering from an illness.

At the time she was living in an old thatched manor house in Sussex and, as she recalled in Hugh Anderson’s The Singing Roads, “the countryside spread out all around, it was full of history and legend.”

But according to Travers, she always thought Mary Poppins “came solely to amuse me.” Later she was encouraged by a friend to put some of the adventures of the nursemaid extraordinaire and the Banks children “into a book.”

The first book, Mary Poppins, eventually appeared in 1934; hard on it heels was Mary Poppins Came Back in 1935.

For people searching for autobiographical facts, Travers explains that “Mary Poppins is the story of my life.”

In The Singing Roads, she writes: “I never for one moment believed that I had invented her.  Perhaps she invented me and that is why I find it so difficult to write autobiographic notes.

It is not the facts of anyone’s life that tell you about (that person).  It is the feelings, the inner events; and if you want to find the truth about any author you look for him in his books.  They alone are the (author’s) true autobiography.

Over the years I lost touch with Biddy.  While I valued the quality of her friendship I sensed somehow that it was not one to be imposed on.

<< Grand Years; Australian Book Collector.

Frank Morris comments:

“Mary Poppins is the story of my life,” P.L. Travers explains. This line was probably a shock for the ardent “autobiographical” fact hunters. The delightful fantasy, said the reviewer, takes the two English children, minded but a strict by wonderful nanny, on a magical and powerful series of adventures.

Julie Andrews, in her film debut, is splendid in the title role. It is packed with charm and energy. Dick Van Dyke, who starred with Andrews, does not falter in the movie. The film won the Academy Award for Andrews.
The reviewer said of this film, that the children from wealthy backgrounds also need love and attention to make them truly happy.

Mary Poppins Returns has got a lot to live up to. There is more I want to say about the film. I’ll watch it first.

*I’ll look through my dungeon of files and see if I can locate it.


INSIDE OUR PAPERS: The bombing of Pearl Harbour. It’s fading into history, said editorial

THE ARKANSAS DEMOCRAT-GAZETTE LOOKS AT HISTORY, PEARL HARBOUR AND THE KIDS AT SCHOOL, AND DISCOVERED THAT IT’S FADING INTO THE DISTANT PAST. IT SOUNDS LIKE ANCIENT DISORDER.

Adapted by FRANK MORRIS

WHEN SMOKE DIDN’T GET IN YOUR EYES: MEN ARE CAPTIVATED WHEN THEIR AIRCRAFT AND OTHER SURROUNDINGS BILLOW IN SMOKE.  “WAR”, SAID, THE HONOLULU STAR-BULLETIN. Below: “JAPAN DECLARED WAR; BATTLESHIP OKLAHOMA LEFT ABLAZE”, REPORTED THE DAILY MAIL, UK.

December 7, 1941. A date that was going to live in infamy is now fading into history. Those who can remember where they were when they heard the news on the family radio becomes fewer each year. The generation that survived the Great Depression, and won the Second World War, is fast receding into the past.

The surprise attack on Pearl Harbour must sound like ancient history to the kids in school nowadays. After all, the Japanese are our friends now. What’s all this talk about a war with Japan?

Well, kids, read your history books. There was time when the term “Japanese” struck fear in an American; so much so that “we the people” gathered up Americans with Japanese backgrounds and put them put them in camps – right here in Arkansas.

As if our fellow Americans were sworn enemies; and just because they had exotic last names and dark hair. Those were different times, but oddly familiar.

WORLD TROUBLES

By 1941, Europe and Asia has been embroiled in conflict for some time. But we were assured that the world’s troubles need not be ours. (Sound familiar?) After all, there were oceans to protect us from the bad guys. (Sound familiar?)

It all sounded assuring enough. But, what were we to do when the world’s problems came to America?

The Japanese attacked on Sunday morning December 7. In a few hours, more than 2300 Americans were lost and a good part of the American fleet wiped out at Pearl Harbour. We shouldn’t have been surprised. But, of course, we were!

What happens when the monster comes in search of us? As a wise man once commented, to every complex question there is always a simple answer – and the wrong one.

Remember Pearl Harbour. And learn from it.

<< Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, December, 2018.


REMEMBER WHEN: A flight from Brisbane to Sydney cost seven pounds           

ERNEST HEMINGWAY ONCE SAID “WE ALL HAVE A NEW GIRL AND HER NAME IS NOSTALGIA.”

PAUL SCOTT

WEEKEND AT THE MOVIES: WATCHING THE 3D VERSION OF HOUSE OF WAX “WAS LIKE SPENDING AN HOUR ON THE RACK”, SAID ONE CRITIC. Below: THE FAMOUS MICKEY MOUSE WATCH. NOSTALGIA IS ALIVE AND TICKING

Many years ago, Newsweek magazine came to the realisation that nostalgia was here to stay.

“Nostalgia is more than seasonal,” declared the magazine. “The vogue for the old is a full-blown phenomenon that is sweeping the world.”

In the 1990s, I am happy to report, nostalgia is alive and ticking like a Micky Mouse watch. Best-selling Alvin Toffler(Future Shock, etc) believes “the tremendous wave of nostalgia mirrors a psychological lust for a simpler, less turbulent past.”

Maybe. In rosy retrospect, they were years of cockeyed optimism. Maybe, as Webster says, it is “an abnormal yearning” to want to return to those irrecoverable days of yesteryear.

Or is it?

In any case, it does no harm to remember when …

WRIGLEY’S chewing gum promised to “aid indigestion.”

A FLIGHT from Brisbane to Sydney cost seven pounds ($14) and took 5 hours.

HEARNE’S Bronchitis Cure was “the best for the chest.”

ON THE RACK

SHELL oil boasted that it was “as modern as the moment.”

WILL ROGERS and Janet Gaynor strutted their stuff in the film, State Fair.

A GENTLEMAN’S home” with tennis court and spacious rooms cost 850 pounds ($1700).

STATE EXPRESS cigarettes promised they could change a man’s personality. “Watch those lips relax when he draws the first puff,” an advertisement said.

HUMPHREY Bogart, as Rick in Casablanca (1943), said: “You played it for her. You can play it for me! If she can stand it, I can. Play it.” Usually, but wrongly, remembered as “Play it again, Sam!”

WE donned those funny cardboard-framed Polaroid glasses to watch Hollywood’s new 3-D movies, House of Wax and Bwana Devil. “Watching the House of Wax was rather like spending an hour and a half on the rack,” said one critic.”

<< The author used to write for Airlines Magazines and umpteenth newspapers and magazines. There’ll be some more Scott along the way.


VIEW FROM THE TOP: ONLY BIG WIGS GO THE ROYAL BOX OF MILAN’S LA SCALA.  UNDER: MARILYN MONROE EYEING THE PUBLIC DOING THEIR THING.

SCENES FROM ABOVE: Famous backdrops for those more notable than us!

FRANK MORRIS

A SCENE TO BE ADMIRED. If you’re looking for some of the bigwigs that come from the world of politics or foreign dignitaries then your port of call will be the royal box of Milan’s La Scala. Otherwise, your next step, according to Cornelia Kumfert of Reader’s Digest, will be “you either need to book a guided tour of the famous opera house. Or an invitation from the Italian president”. The opulent royal box “is reserved” for those type of guests.

FROM WHERE TO BE ADMIRED FROM. The balcony of this hotel in New York certainly leaped into a distinguished mode when a movie star made her presence known.  The place was the Ambassador Hotel. The star? Marilyn Monroe. The story is that the “future icon” wanted to shake the “dumb blonde” type of movies and the world like to see her as a serious actor.

<< Based on Balcony Scenes, Reader’s Digest.

Posted in: Grand Years with Frank Morris at 18 January 19

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