You are familiar with the Disney classic, Mary Poppins. In the days ahead, with an upcoming Disney film on the subject,  you will be hearing and reading many stories about the creation of the film and the relationship between Disney and the author of the books, P.L. Travers. Travers, it seems wanted an all English cast for the film, Walt had some different casting ideas in mind. His vision for how the film should look was not always the same as author of the book series.

The ability to take a book and convert it into a story on film was a gift that Walt had that others could only hope for. One role that Walt understood was essential to the film was the role of the Bird Woman. Casting that role became a priority. The reason was simple, Walt felt that this part was the very heart & soul of “Mary Poppins.” This was a casting decision that he had to get right…just right.

Walt reached out to Academy Award-winner Jane Darwell. Best known for her heartbreaking performance as Ma Joad in John Ford’s film version of John Steinbeck’s “The Grapes of Wrath, Disney knew that Darwell would be the perfect choice to portray the Bird Woman in “Mary Poppins.” The ability to take a fairly small role, bring out the best in it, and make sure it was memorable was something that Walt felt or knew Jane would do.

The only problem was that — due to some pretty severe heart problems — Darwell had basically retired from show business just as work was getting underway on “Mary Poppins.” Ah, but Walt Disney was Walt Disney and he was very tough man to ignore or forget. Disney personally put in a call to Darwell to try and persuade her to take the part. He promised her that she could do the role in a single day of shooting and that it was going to be worth the effort. He also promised her, that as a legendary Hollywood star, the Studio would be honored to provide a limo that would escort Jane from her home to the set and back.

It worked, again…after all, this was Walt Disney asking. She was flattered by the offer and the fuss Walt was making, Jane said “Yes.”

The Disney production team then stepped up to make elderly frail woman comfortable. Even going so far as to cut a hole in the steps of  that faux set of Saint Paul’s Cathedral which the Studio used for this film so that they could hide a pillow for this 83 year-old performer to sit upon. The role was memorable, the song was Walt’s favorite, “Feed the Birds” and the heart and soul of the film was forever secured.

It wasn’t easy to bring the classic story to the screen and create a classic movie. There were battles, disagreements, negotiations, and struggles. But the end result is a memorable piece of motion picture history.

In life, there are so many moments that we face when an obstacle comes along and it would be easy to quit. Many people do….perhaps they quit just one minute before they find the answer or solution they were seeking…and yet they never know it, they quit to soon. Most things worth having, achieving and discovering are not easy…they take work, they take creativity, and they take an attitude that enables you to stick with it…perhaps just a little bit longer than everyone else. As you chase dreams, don’t give up, you may be one heartbeat away from exactly what you were looking for!


Notes for this article about Mary Poppins came from an article that was originally shared by Jim Hill Media. According to Hill, this story and others about Mary Poppins was shared with him by Disney historian, Jim Korkis.


If you would like to read additional information about the unique relationship between two great storytellers…Walt Disney and P.L. Travers and why that relationship is important, click the link below