Had you walked into Julie Andrews’ home in Sag Harbor in the last two years or so, you might have guessed something was up.
Piles of old photos, private diaries and assorted memorabilia held sway in the living room, office, basement and elsewhere as she and her daughter Emma Walton Hamilton sat at the dining room table co-writing “Home Work: A Memoir of My Hollywood Years” (Hachette, $30). The book, which came out last month, is already a bestseller and the two will sign copies at Bay Street Theater on Sunday. The sold-out event, a benefit for Bay Street and Sag Harbor Cinema, will also include a screening of "That's Life!," Andrews' 1986 film directed by her late husband Blake Edwards.
Andrews, 84, whose luminescent voice and legendary career have made her an icon for generations, first began writing with her daughter when Hamilton was 5, they explained recently by phone.
“My mom thought we should write a story together and have Dad illustrate it,” says Hamilton, 56, of their first project. Andrews had separated from her first husband, set and costume designer Tony Walton, but hoped the exercise would “commemorate our family relationship,” Hamilton recalls.
That fierce dedication to family permeates “Home Work,” which tracks Andrews' juggling of movies, marriage and motherhood. We learn how she arose predawn to breastfeed before “Mary Poppins” rehearsals, then whisked her baby to Salzburg, Austria, where she wound up mothering all those von Trapp children filming “The Sound of Music.” Imagine her shock when an assistant director casually mentioned, “The little one can’t swim,” just before they shot a scene of her and the kids falling out of a rowboat. (Andrews mad-dashed for little Gretl after they all went in the water.)
This marks the 32nd book for the mother-daughter duo, following a slew of children’s tales.
“We now have a rhythm, routine and shorthand,” says Hamilton, who co-founded Sag Harbor’s Bay Street Theater and heads Stony Brook University’s children’s literature and young artists programs.
"We laugh a lot when writing,” says Andrews. “It’s hilarious.”
At times, it was also painful, as they relived memories of Andrews’ marriage to Edwards, who helmed the beloved “Pink Panther” films, plus hits starring Andrews like “10” and “Victor/Victoria.” Edwards died in 2010, after years of struggling with addiction and depression.
The book ends in the late ‘80s, before Andrews settled in Sag Harbor, near Hamilton, where she now enjoys gardening and the seasonal cascade of daffodils, bluebells, crocuses and, in true Brit fashion, roses. Few things satisfy like giving her rose bushes a good pruning, Andrews says. She’s particularly fond of “a wonnnnderful rose that grows well near the sea, called a Sally Holmes,” which she frequently gives as gifts.
“They bloom in my garden until Thanksgiving,” her daughter confirms.
After living in London, Los Angeles, and Gstaad, Switzerland, Sag Harbor has proved a satisfying refuge for Andrews, with its change of seasons and countryside reminiscent of England.
"I’d missed that, living in California,” Andrews said. “After so many years of travel, it’s a lovely place to come back to.”