‘Saving Mr. Banks’: How Disney’s ‘Mary Poppins’ Almost Wasn’t

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‘Saving Mr. Banks’: How Disney’s ‘Mary Poppins’ Almost Wasn’t

Mary Poppins, the most award-winning Disney movie of all time was shot 50 years ago ... can you believe it? It starred Julie Andrews, who had never acted in a movie before. Half a century later, she's back for the premiere of Saving Mr. Banks, a film about the making of Mary Poppins. Well, it's really the story of how it almost didn't happen.

Tom Hanks is Walt Disney, the first time he's ever been portrayed on film. Disney was desperate to bring Poppins to the screen. Emma Thompson plays his nagging nemesis P.L. Travers, who wrote the Mary Poppins books and was oh so loath to give her treasured creation up to celluloid.

Saving Mr. Banks was shot right here on the Disney lot, which has barely changed over all those years. The movie was made by the company that still bears Walt's name. And shot here under the noses of Disney brass.

This is a tale of a man who had everything, meeting a woman who Hanks describes as an "old bat."

“[Disney] was confounded by, ‘Why would anybody want to live their life the way she does?’ And why would anybody want to do their chosen life work in a negative, unpleasant fashion?” said Hanks.

She stonewalled Disney for nearly 20 years, before finally coming to L.A. to hash it out with him, the producer and the music men, Robert and Richard Sherman. Richard, played by Jason Schwartzman in this movie, is the only one of them still alive, a sprightly 85. All right, so inadvertently Nightline set up a kind of Poppins love fest. Thompson and Andrews had never really met before. Turns out Dick Sherman and Hanks are nauseatingly fond of each other.

As we see in Saving Mr. Banks, Travers’ father was an alcoholic, her mother attempted suicide. Andrews and Dick Sherman have only now learned her back story.

Andrews' first Travers experience took place the day after she'd given birth, a phone call from the author who had heard of her being cast as Mary Poppins.

“And she said, ‘Well, you're far too pretty, of course,’” recalled Andrews. “’But you've got the nose for it.’”

Somehow, it all worked and Mary Poppins has become a timeless classic.

Said Andrews: “It's one of the ultimate family films that parents can show their kids with great safety.”

Practically perfect in every way. A lot of people love the movie. But Travers never did. Disney didn't want Travers at the premiere, but she came anyway.

And here we are, 50 years later. Andrews can still say supercalifragilisticexpealidocius backwards. And still sing those songs.

Editor's Note: The Walt Disney Co. is the parent company of ABC News.