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Saving P.L. Travers

February 1, 2014
By Cindy Votruba , Marshall Independent

A few weeks ago, Ross and I went to see the movie "Saving Mr. Banks." While in the lobby after the movie, I was asked by another movie patron if I was going to write about this. Yeah, it does seem like I write a lot about what I do during the weekend or books I'm reading or problems I have with technology. I really don't mind sharing, to tell you the truth. But I know there is a thing called "too much information."

So back to the movie. When Ross had suggested going to it in the first place, I wasn't too keen on seeing it. I had an idea of what it was about, but it wasn't one of my top "must-sees." Heck, it didn't even make the list. But I decided to go after all. And I almost didn't make it in time for the matinee we were going to as I was in line at Shopko for a little while. So I zip downtown, and we get into the theater to catch the tail end of some preview.

I watched "Mary Poppins" many, many years ago, but I'll admit that I didn't know it was a book first (gasp). So I wasn't all too familiar with P.L. Travers. But I enjoy the acting of Emma Thompson. I wasn't too sure what to think of her character, Ms. Travers. She just seemed persnickety, a bit bullheaded and had to have things a certain way. That's probably why it took Walt Disney 20 years to convince Travers to make her beloved story into a movie.

But "Saving Mr. Banks" also looks back into Travers' childhood, where she's Helen Goff, a young girl living in the Australian countryside. Her father calls her "Ginty," and the two of them are basically thick as thieves. But her father, Travers Goff, has a drinking problem and can't really make it as a bank manager. As I watched the movie, I thought the actor playing Mr. Goff looked familiar, but I couldn't put my finger on who he was. When the credits rolled by and it was revealed that it was Colin Farrell, I was surprised. Then I realize that I don't think I've ever really watched a movie with him in it. It was sad to watch P.L. Travers as a young girl watching the father she revered so much, drink himself into a stupor and them to die tragically. I am not sure what kind of effect that had on her life, but I'm sure it was a big one.

Fast forward to the early '60s when Travers is brought to the United States to bring Mary Poppins to life on the big screen. She insists on having all the meetings tape-recorded, she doesn't want any animation, and she wasn't too crazy about the story being a musical. I felt for all who had to work with her. And Thompson did a splendid job of portraying her. Tom Hanks, of course, plays a "nice" Walt Disney (like he does with most of his characters). I'm not sure how all the interactions went between Travers and Disney, but "Mary Poppins" was a boon for both of them.

Well of course the first thing I had to do when I got home from the movie was to look up Travers. I wanted to know more about her life. I come to find out she was an actress, adopted a child, never married and seemed to live a lonely life. I kind of feel sorry for the woman. But now it spurs me to read the "Mary Poppins" books as well as a biography of Travers. There's a couple of biographies out there - "Mary Poppins, She Wrote: The Life of P.L. Travers" by Valerie Lawson and "The Real Life Mary Poppins: The Life and Times of P.L. Travers" by Paul Brody. Actually, the second book is only 74 pages long; probably not something I want to necessarily seek out.

All in all, I'm glad I decided to go to the movie.



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