Since there's been a great deal of publicity lately regarding the new film Saving Mr. Banks (starring Tom Hanks as Walt Disney and Emma Thompson as the irritable P.L. Travers), this seems like a good time to learn more about the woman who created Mary Poppins. Pamela Lyndon Travers was born on August 9th, 1899 in Queensland Australia, and her birth name was Helen Lyndon Goff. Her mother was the niece of the Premier of Queensland, and her alcoholic father was an unsuccessful bank manager who died of influenza when Helen was only eight years old (1: No Paternal Safety Net).
Biographers believe that her creative career choice actually began only a few weeks after her father died. Her grief-stricken mother (who planned to drown herself in a nearby creek) had left her alone at home and in charge of her two younger sisters on a dark stormy night. To entertain her sisters she told them a fairytale about a magical white horse that could fly even though it had no wings--26 years later she would write about a magical nanny who could also fly without wings. And as a teenager, she also wrote poems and articles for local publications (2: An Early Sense Of Direction).
After her father's death, the family moved to New Zealand, but soon Helen changed her name to Pamela Lyndon Travers, and moved to Sydney where she began a career as a writer, dancer and model. When she was 24, she travelled to England with only ten pounds in her pocket (11: Risk Addiction). The gamble paid off, and she began writing newspaper columns for The Sun.
She began travelling to Dublin, and became friends with George Russell, the editor of The Irish Statesman. He became her mentor, and introduced her to a wide variety of accomplished writers, including Yeats (4: Supportive Someone). During her visits to Ireland she became exposed to various forms of astrology and mysticism; she also became an acolyte of the spiritual teacher George Gurdjieff (3: Belief in the Unbelievable).
In 1934, while recuperating from pleurisy (a lung disease), she moved out of London and into a cottage in Sussex, where she entertained two visiting children with a story about a nanny with an umbrella and a carpetbag. The story turned into Mary Poppins, was illustrated by the daughter of the Winnie the Pooh artist, and was published in 1934. The Mary Poppins books published from 1934 through 1989 became wildly successful (7: Magnificent Obsession).
She had an unfortunately turbulent love life, and her lovers included a much older man, then an American bookshop owner, followed by an Irish poet (15: Forget About Prince Charming). As A broken-hearted 40 year old, she travelled to Killiney, Ireland where she was going to adopt a baby boy from a poor family. When she arrived she discovered there were twins, and on the advice of her astrologer she chose to adopt only one. Her new son's name was Camillus, but both his young years and adulthood were unhappy.
Travers was constantly able to change homes and locales during her life--to England, Ireland, New York, Arizona, Russia, Harvard, Japan, etc... (14: Selective Disassociation). Walt Disney's daughter fell in love with the book Mary Poppins, but it took him twenty years to persuade Travers to give him movie rights. She was notoriously difficult to work with, and made no secret about her dislike of everything connected with the movie. Richard Sherman who over a two and a half year period co-wrote the musical score for the movie told an interviewer, "She didn't care about our feelings, how she chopped us apart." She hated all the music, including Chim Chim Cheree, A Spoonful Of Sugar and Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious (5: Life Is Not A Popularity Contest). In spite of her disdain, Mr. Sherman and his brother won two Academy Awards for their work on Mary Poppins. Julie Andrews also won an Oscar.
Even though her life was full of adventure and success, she definitely suffered. She told an interviewer that "Mary Poppins is the story of my life...Sorrow lies like a heartbeat behind everything I have written." She and Disney fought so bitterly that she wasn't even invited to the Mary Poppins premier. She begged for an invitation, but spent her time at the 1964 screening crying with her gloved hands clenched into fists (12: Hard Times).
All in all, Travers wrote 21 books, and died in 1996 (she was 96) from an epileptic seizure.
Looking forward to your comments...