Dame Julie Andrews was snubbed of My Fair Lady role – ‘They wanted a name!’

Dame Julie Andrews, who celebrates her 87th birthday on October 1st, took the entertainment industry by storm when she was just a teenager and has enjoyed a highly-lauded career ever since. However, despite originating the lead role of My Fair Lady on Broadway the actress was swiftly replaced by Audrey Hepburn for the film as producers thought she wasn’t famous enough.

Dame Julie was just 19 when she started on her second Broadway production, My Fair Lady, in 1956. 

The actress was the first to breathe life into the Cockney flower girl Eliza Doolittle and the performance was universally celebrated, earning Dame Julie international recognition as a stage powerhouse. 

My Fair Lady went on to become one of the biggest hits in Broadway history and its success even extended across the ocean where Dame Julie reprised her role in London. 

Speaking to the Hollywood Reporter in 2015, Dame Julie described My Fair Lady as the show that taught her all she knows about acting and singing, describing her years in the role as an “endurance test”. 

The hit show was then transferred to the screen, cementing its undeniable presence in pop culture, but the actress was denied the opportunity to reprise her role. 

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Producer and former president of Warner Brothers, Jack L. Warner, reportedly wanted a well-known name for his film, casting one of the most famous actresses of the era, Audrey Hepburn instead. 

The show’s lyricist, who had worked with Dame Julie throughout the stage run, was the one to tell her she would not be appearing in the film, saying: “I so wanted you to do it, Julie, but they wanted a name.”

The Sound of Music actress was devastated, but not surprised. At the time, stage actors would often lose out to Hollywood heavyweights when their shows went to film. 

However, she told the outlet that the biggest disappointment of being overlooked for the film meant she has nothing to show for her efforts: “I would love to have put something from My Fair Lady down definitively. In those days they didn’t archive things.”

Hepburn’s fame, however, did not make up for her lacking vocal skills, and her singing was mostly dubbed by ghost singer Marni Nixon, once again passing over Dame Julie for this opportunity. 

This may have been a saving grace for the film’s crew though, as the actress told Variety she would have “spat in someone’s eye” if they had asked her to record the songs. 

Admittedly, Dame Julie was at the very start of her career still, and naysayers at the time had no idea she would eventually be dubbed the First Lady of Musical Theatre through her seven-decade-long career. 

At the time, the celebrated actress was also playing Queen Guinevere in the Broadway show Camelot, and although her performance garnered a Tony nomination she would again be denied the film role, with Vanessa Redgrave taking the Camelot crown.

While it appeared the film industry was deliberately snubbing the actress at every turn, one cinematic heavyweight was taking notice. 

Walt Disney himself watched Camelot one evening and was reportedly so entranced by Dame Julie’s performance that he immediately knew he wanted her to lead his upcoming project Mary Poppins. 

The film producer offered Dame Julie the role but while her loss on My Fair Lady meant she was available, the actress was also pregnant at the time. 

Determined to have the leading lady, Disney paused production on Mary Poppins until mid-1963 when Dame Julie’s first daughter, Emma, was six months old. 

Mary Poppins was released in 1965, the same year the My Fair Lady film. The timing ironically saw her going head to head with the colleagues she almost co-starred with. 

Rex Harrison was part of My Fair Lady from the start, alongside Dame Julie. He appeared in both the Broadway and London versions of the stage production and managed to retain his role in the film for which he ultimately won the Oscar for Best Actor. 

The Best Actress category was filled with the “names” Dame Julie had been dismissed in favour of, with the likes of Sophie Loren, Debbie Reynolds and Anne Bancroft nominated alongside the cinematic newcomer. 

In a very rare occurrence, Dame Julie won the Oscar in 1965 for her film debut Mary Poppins and became a household name thanks to the incredible success of the movie musical. 

Dame Julie also received a Golden Globe for her Mary Poppins performance, and in her speech jokingly recalled who had snubbed her in My Fair Lady: “Finally, my thanks to a man who made a wonderful movie and who made all this possible in the first place, Mr. Jack Warner.” 

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