Sun, July 14, 2024

Mary Poppins Actress Turns 100: The Untold Story of Glynis Johns

Most know her as the spirited feminist Mrs. Banks, mother of Jane and Michael, in Walt Disney’s Mary Poppins, but actress Glynis Johns has had a storied career apart from the movie masterpiece. On October 5th of this year, the South African-born British actress will have seen an entire century pass before her.

What does that century have to show? 58 movie roles — including an Oscar nomination in 1960 for the outback comedy-drama, The Sundowners alongside Robert Mitchum —  32 TV shows, 15 LP record appearances, 30 stage shows, 5 leading roles on Broadway, a handful of Radio voiceovers, and a stretch as a World-War-II pin-up model.

Johns was and is a gift to the film world, her beauty unparalleled. Her buttery complexion, piercing eyes, and nasal voice, sounding even a most exuberant moment, as if she’d persisted through half-dried rivers of tears, made her unique among fellow actresses of the era. So unique, not many knew what to do with her. She was “bittersweet” personified, but how marketable is bittersweet?

Many in America, unfortunately, don’t even recognize the name nor the story attached.

Johns costars in The Sword and the Rose released in 1953.

Many don’t know that Stephen Sondheim’s song, “Send in The Clowns,” which Barbra Streisand made a hit, was written specifically for Glynis Johns to sing onstage in the Tony-winning Little Night Music on Broadway in 1973. Nor, do they remember Johns’ short-lived 1963 sitcom Glynis, where she played a murder mystery writer who solved real-life crimes — nearly thirty years before Angela Lansbury’s Jessica Fletcher did the same in Murder, She Wrote. The public doesn’t know that she was a dance prodigy in Britain who was fully trained by age six and earned a degree in teaching at the ridiculous age of twelve.

Her story of perseverance through “crippling” anxiety from public speaking is one only recently shared by her family, but certainly not referenced in our health & wellness or self-help magazines as an inspiring, conquering tale.

But, at least, we have Mary Poppins. There is that one role cemented in American fabric that allows generations a slight glimpse into the gift of Glynis Johns. On this side of the pond, she’s a certified Disney Legend, for what it’s worth.

As for the rest of the globe, it’s time to pay up.

An article from Express earlier this year, emphasized a recent public drumming of a petition for Damehood for the actress back in the Old Country. Where has this been? In all the years of Johns’ performances and advocacy for the arts in the U.K., particularly Wales, why hasn’t this occurred? ‘Dame Glynis Johns OBE’ just sounds so poignant and…right.

While we’re at it, how about an Honorary Oscar from the U.S.? I’ll be writing more in the coming months about “Oscar Season,” and she fits the Academy’s recent mold of honorees: nominated decades ago, but never awarded. Surely her name has come up in board meetings.

Glynis Johns first appeared on stage at the age of three weeks. As she takes her final steps, she needs not only to be studied and celebrated, but given a full honor in whatever form it takes. The Dame-in-waiting has given her all in these 100 years, it’s time for us to give back.

Well Done, Sister Suffragette.

Dylan James graduated from the Savannah College of Art & Design with a BFA in Dramatic Writing. He has studied both the ‘show’ and ‘business’ aspects of show business since childhood, and writes through sociological analysis, seeking relevance in the art and commerce for the moment.

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