Hard times, an odd nanny, and Shrek

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      LOS ANGELES–It just makes sense that in her seventies, Mary Poppins would be publishing books for children. The irony is that Julie Andrews, who won an Oscar in her film debut as the iconic nanny, spent several years trying to shake the wholesome image she acquired through that movie and The Sound of Music. Now her name is linked with the Dumpy the Dump Truck children's books she cowrote with her daughter Emma Hamilton. The books are published through the Julie Andrews Collection and bear titles like Dumpy the Dump Truck, Dumpy at School, and Dumpy Saves Christmas.

      She is also proud of the image projected by 2004's Shrek 2 and the upcoming Shrek the Third, in which she again voices the ogre's mother-in-law, Queen Lillian. In a Los Angeles hotel room, she says movies show that you don't have to be conservative to be moral. "I think it's great that even though these movies are hip and modern and stand all the old traditions on their ear, they are stories in the old tradition. This film [Shrek the Third, which opens May 18] is still a wonderful tale to tell, with good moral values and decency."

      Andrews had a successful career before movies came calling in 1964. She started out at the age of 12 in her family's vaudeville act and moved on to become an American stage star through the Broadway plays My Fair Lady and Camelot. When it came time to write her biography, which she expects to be on shelves in the spring of next year, she says she felt that although most people know her from the movies, her early years in theatre deserved a book of their own.

      "You have to question why you do a biography, apart from the fact that the publishers ask you to do it and give you a lot of money," she says. "I looked at Moss Hart's biography [Act One] and I loved it because he gave us a bit of theatre history. So I am going to write about my early years in vaudeville, which not many people know about. I am going from my childhood through to arriving in Hollywood to do Mary Poppins. I am filled with mixed emotions about my life, and I am trying to be very honest about it, and I am not stinting on the hard work and the tough times."

      One of the toughest times in her recent life came in the 1990s, when she was told that a botched throat operation would end her singing career. However, it didn't end her film career. In addition to her voice-overs in the Shrek movies, she has starred in The Princess Diaries and its sequel. She says that being told she couldn't sing was tough to take but she has no complaints.

      "I am filled with gratitude that I can still do what I love to do. I feel lucky that I was asked to do Shrek and that I got asked to do Sound of Music and all those films because there is a lot of talent out there. I don't take anything for granted."