Sag Harbor luminary Emma Walton Hamilton, co-founder of Bay Street Theater, comes from a royal Hollywood lineage. Her mother, Julie Andrews, is one of the most iconic and celebrated stars in show business and continues her sterling work to this day. Andrews and Walton Hamilton have collaborated on Andrews’ second memoir, Home Work: A Memoir of My Hollywood Years, and will give a special Q&A on the book at an event co-presented by Sag Harbor Cinema and Bay Street Theater on Sunday, November 10. The reading will also include a screening of the film That’s Life! starring Andrews and Walton Hamilton and was directed by Andrews’ second husband, Blake Edwards.
Home Work is a continuation of Andrews’ first memoir, Home, which traced the star’s career from her early days in British vaudeville to Broadway. “Home ends right as she’s about to leave to travel to Los Angeles to star in Mary Poppins,” Walton Hamilton explains. “This new book, picks up there with her arrival in Hollywood to make Mary Poppins and covers nearly three decades, which is her prime time in Hollywood and her eventual return to New York to do Victor/Victoria on Broadway.”
Walton Hamilton worked with Andrews extensively on the project. “My role was to facilitate her telling of the story,” she says. “I started a master timeline. [My mother] was good at keeping date books and appointments, and at a certain point she started keeping a diary. So I was working from those and other archival information, and I was able to piece together a really thorough timeline. I read through her diaries and flagged what I thought we should excerpt. And when we didn’t have diaries, we did hours and hours of interviews together. We recorded those and converted everything into narrative. We watched all the films together and did a lot of walking down memory lane with old photographs, interviews and articles. It’s taken us almost three years to convert it into narrative.”
Reading her mother’s diaries was a fascinating experience for Walton Hamilton, as she gained a new perspective on events and history she witnessed as a child. “When you’re a kid, you think Mom and Dad know everything!” she says. “They’re grownups, they have all the answers. Now, I have two almost-grown children, and I now know you never really feel like a grownup and never really feel like you know what you’re doing. It was very, very interesting to read my mom’s diaries and be reminded of the fact that she was muddling through the best she could at any given time, feeling young, naive, confused, not knowing if she was making the right choices.”
As a child, Walton Hamilton gradually learned that her mother was a star. “Mary Poppins came out when I was about 3, because it took so many years of post-production,” Walton Hamilton says. “So, one of my earliest memories is going into the children’s section of a department store with my nanny at the time and there was a big Mary Poppins lifesize cutout and I said, ‘Oh look, there’s mommy!’ and two people looked at me and said, ‘Isn’t that cute, that little kid thinks her mother is Mary Poppins.’ That was an early registering of, ‘Oh, something’s different here.’ Of course, I went with her to the sets when time permitted. She went out of her way to keep home sacred and normal. She was mom to me. She was up making a good breakfast for me and my siblings.
Walton Hamilton also starred in stepfather Edwards’ That’s Life!, an autobiographical film that starred much of her family in semi-fictionalized roles. Edwards, who had dealt with emotional and depression issues, used the film to help come to terms with the various aspects of his life. “The process was very creative,” Walton Hamilton says. And though she describes her relationship with Edwards as “complicated,” she acknowledges that they both loved each other very much, and she looks back on him fondly. “You could easily have imagined that some of those personalities might have clashed, but in fact it was very mutually supportive and cooperative. In the end, it was a cathartic experience for Blake and my mom, who in the movie got to confront Blake’s own issues in a way she hadn’t been able to do in real life.”
Visit baystreet.org for tickets and more information.