CHAUTAUQUA - Thousands of year-round and temporary area residents jammed the giant Chautauqua Amphitheater, Friday morning, to hear a morning lecture by Oscar winner Julie Andrews, and her daughter, Emma Walton Hamilton.
If audience members expected her to fly onto the stage, clutching a large umbrella, or to be wearing casual clothing made from her bedroom curtains as she does in two of her most famous roles - Mary Poppins and Maria von Trapp - they were slightly disappointed. But the frequent and lengthy ovations from the audience demonstrated that for the most part, the Broadway and film star still holds their hearts.
The presentation was part of the themed lecture week, titled ''Roger Rosenblatt and Friends, on the Literary Arts.'' Mother and daughter sat side-by-side in the middle of the Amphitheater stage, while Rosenblatt directed questions to them about their more than 20 books, written for very young readers. Their books include the ''Dumpy the Dump Truck'' series of books, and the ''Very Fairy Princess'' series.
At top, Emma Walton Hamilton, left, and Dame Julie Andrews, right, answer questions from the audience Friday morning at the Chautauqua Amphitheater. At left, an image from Dumpy the Dump Truck, written by Julie Andrews Edwards and Emma Walton Hamilton.
Photo by Greg Funka | The Chautauquan Daily
The women had no more than walked onto the stage when the audience rose for the first standing ovation of the day. Soon, they were discussing their 15 year-long collaboration as authors. ''I was in talks with a publisher for my memoirs, which were eventually titled 'Home,'" Ms. Andrews said. ''They asked me if I would be interested in writing anything more. I said I had written some children's books, and if they were interested, I could get them into shape and possibly do more.
''My grandson, Emma's son Sam, was very young then, so I phoned her and asked her what subjects would especially interest him,'' she continued.
''I told my mother Sam was crazy about trucks. I had taken every children's book having anything to do with trucks out of our local library, several times, and most of them were non-fiction books. That started the Dumpy series,'' Ms. Hamilton added. At this point, she introduced her husband and her two children, Sam and Hope, who were seated in the audience.
''That tall hunk was the little boy who loved trucks,'' Ms. Andrews said with obvious pride. Sam is now 16. Ms. Hamilton's father is scenic artist Tony Walton, who was divorced from Ms. Andrews in 1967. The actress and singer has four other children by her second marriage to filmmaker Blake Edwards, who died in 2010.
Ms. Hamilton said that her first co-writing with her mother took place when her parents were being divorced, and she had to travel back and forth from Walton's home in California and her mother's home in New York. The two wrote a story together, and her father drew the pictures and had the book printed and bound. She said it helped her to maintain her feeling that the family was still a unit.
Rosenblatt commented that the women's writing always seems to have a theme in which good is rewarded, at least one character is heroic, and optimism is encouraged. He said that the modern trend in literature is to suggest that emphasizing ''good'' behavior is considered facile and artificial.
The women both assured him that they have a creed which says anything they write will be supportive of art, of noble behavior, and of the importance of doing what's right.
Rosenblatt asked if there was a correlation between singing well and writing well. Ms. Andrews replied that even if a story was a bit flimsy, it could still be very interesting to a child if the characters were strong. Likewise, she said, she has never been able to sing a song without a strong, logical statement by the singer.
She suggested that she had once been asked to sing the song ''Feelings,'' which was a hit in 1974, but she couldn't do it, and had to ask for something else. She then sang a few bars of the song with its famous ''whoa, whoa, whoa'' chorus, to the audience's great amusement.
Later, during the question and answer period which follows a Chautauqua lecture, someone from the audience claimed to be the creator of the song ''Feelings,'' whereupon Ms. Andrews crossed her forearms across her face.
Ms. Hamilton added that she was a student of Rosenblatt's, who is on the faculty of the State University of New York at Stony Brook. She said, ''He always said that the difference between a word and the right word is the same as the difference between a lightning bug and a bolt of lightning.''
The women emphasized their belief that reading to children is important. They said that being read to is a warm and loving experience, and many people think they should stop doing it when their children begin to learn to read for themselves. Instead, what this does is change reading from that happy experience to a subject which must be done, and often dissuades children from doing it. They support reading to children until at least eighth grade, if the child will allow it.
Ms. Andrews said that their family had a reader's theater version of Charles Dickens' ''A Christmas Carol,'' and every year they divide up the parts and they all read it together. The pair also demonstrated a reading aloud of a short story ''The King's Breakfast,'' by A.A. Milne.
She said that she had recently referred to that story while appearing as a guest on the Stephen Colbert television show. Colbert, she said, ordered the cameras shut off, while he told her it was his favorite work of any kind of literature, and the two recited it together, before the interview was resumed.
During the question period, Ms. Hamilton was asked how it affected her, being the daughter of Mary Poppins. She said she is often asked the question, and the stock reply was that it was almost impossible to have the slightest mess in her bedroom. ''In fact, most of the time, movies and concerts and plays just seemed like Mummy's job,'' she said.
She did recall an incident when her nanny took her shopping in a department store, and there was a life-sized cardboard cutout of her mother, dressed as Mary Poppins. ''I said, 'Look! It's Mummy!' And then, I heard a woman say, 'Isn't that cute. That little girl thinks Mary Poppins is her mother.' ''