The Life Of Mary Poppins Creator P.L. Travers Is Stranger Than Fiction

Photo: Courtesy of Disney.
For decades, Mary Poppins has enchanted kids and adults alike with her practically perfect ways. But before the Julie Andrews' version of the magical nanny captivated the world in the 1964 Disney film, the Mary Poppins book series described a much different version of the beloved character. The less-attractive, harsher version was written by author P.L. Travers, who had a seriously wild life.
Here's everything you need to know about Travers' real life and how it inspired the world's most beloved nanny.
Travers’ Childhood Was No Fairytale
Despite being known for her distinctly British book series, Travers was born and grew up in Australia, according to The Telegraph. She adored her father, even as he suffered an alcohol addiction that threatened his job. Her father eventually died when she was 7.
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Shortly after, her now-single mother threatened suicide but didn't go through with it, The Telegraph reported. Travers spent much of her childhood trying to be the stable family member for her younger sisters and telling them fantastical stories to take their minds off of things. It was the beginning of a life spent creating magic through words.
She Didn't Just Write For Children
Travers didn't want to be known as a children's author, and she once wrote a New York Times article titled in all caps, "I NEVER WROTE FOR CHILDREN." She actually spent much of her life writing rather more adult pieces.
She once penned a book about mythology, a great interest of hers, called What the Bee Knows: Reflections on Myth, Symbol, and Story. The New Yorker reported that she also wrote poetry and erotic stories.
Before her writing career began in full, she was also a dancer and actress, per the New York Times. It was during that time period that she changed her name from the given Helen Lyndon Goff to Pamela Lyndon Travers, taking her father's first name as her last, per The Telegraph.
There Are Many Rumors About Her Love Life
According to the New York Post, Travers is rumoured to have had relationships with both men and women. She never married.
She Adopted A Child After An Astrologist Advised Her
According to the Sydney Morning Herald, Travers' child was a twin, but Travers only wanted to adopt the one child. As a believer in the mystical, she asked an astrologer which twin to pick and was advised accordingly to pick Camillus.
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The Herald reported that Camillus didn't know he was adopted or a twin for many years. When he learned of his sibling's existence, it damaged his relationship with his adopted mother. He struggled with alcoholism like Travers' own father and eventually died in 2011, according to the Irish Examiner.
Parts Of Mary Poppins Were Based On Her Own Life
A storyteller from a young age, it's no wonder that aspects of her own life filtered into her writing. Like Mr. Banks, Travers' own father was a banker, according to The Telegraph. But her dad didn't find the same career success that Banks did. In this way, she gave her father a re-imagined better life in her books.
As for Mary Poppins, it's been reported that the abrasive, but ultimately beloved nanny character is based on Travers' Aunt Helen. The Chicago Tribune reported that her aunt stepped in to take care of Travers' family after her father's death. Like Mary Poppins, Travers' aunt even had a parrot-head umbrella, a carpet bag, and was known to say "spit spot," per the Daily Telegraph.
Travers Didn't Like Disney's Version Of Her Story
According to the New Yorker, it took Walt Disney 15 years to buy the rights to Mary Poppins, and his trouble with Travers didn't end there. She had script approval and argued about nearly every aspect of the movie, from the changes in Mary Poppins' temperament, to the songs, to the use of animation.
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This difficult working relationship is likely what led Disney to not initially invite Travers to the premiere until she reportedly embarrassed an executive into giving her an invitation, per the New Yorker.
She was famously disappointed in the film, with the New York Times reporting that her most glowing review was "the movie is very glamorous if you take it on its own. But it has very little to do with the books."
Variety reported that she once said she would have liked the movie better if it had been made by a British studio rather than Walt Disney, with his penchant for fantastical animation and picture-perfect happy endings.
The Sequel Has Her Estate's Approval
Despite Travers' fraught relationship with Disney, her estate reportedly gave approval for Mary Poppins Returns, according to The Hollywood Reporter. The film picks up two decades after the first movie. It chronicles Jane and Michael's life as adults, with Michael’s children in need of some Mary Poppins magic.
It's Based On Her Other Books & The Timeline Matches Perfectly
ScreenRant reported that the movie takes place 25 years after the first and pulls from events in Travers' seven other Mary Poppins books. It also takes place in the 1930s, which is when the books were originally written.
As for what Travers would have thought of another musical, whimsical film based on her novels, we can only guess.
Mary Poppins Returns is out in UK cinemas on December 21
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