She wrote Mary Poppins and hated the movie version. Now she’s the central character in a big new Disney movie starring Tom Hanks as Walt Disney.
Patricia Lyndon Travers was an oddball, according to all the biographical sources. She’s famous because she wrote Mary Poppins, and she’s in the news recently because of the new movie, Saving Mr. Banks.
The movie is focused on the making of the movie, which took nearly two decades of negotiations and didn’t come out until Patricia Travers was 60 years old. By then, she just plain needed the money, sounds like. She may have hated what became of Mary Poppins, but that didn’t stop her from cashing the checks and writing four more novels about the character.
Most of the press about the movie has been about how Tom Hanks — widely known as the least threatening actor on the planet — is being allowed to play Walt Disney by the company that so closely protects the image of Walt Disney.
I’ve not seen the movie, and I sincerely hope it’s an entertaining gem.
In the meantime, I encourage you to read up on the strange tale of Patricia Travers, the author of the eight Mary Poppins books. Because the story behind Saving Mr. Banks is probably more interesting than the movie about it. (Mr. Banks is the father in the original Mary Poppins book.)
Pamela Travers was a real character.
She spent her early years in Queensland, Australia, in the first decade of the 20th century. That’s no picnic. Most biographies of Travers say that her dad was a big-shot banker who got demoted, then died when she was 7 years old — the implication being that she had a troubled childhood that colored the rest of her career.
You don’t have to be a historical genius to get that every childhood in Australia in those days was troubled. 1900? Australia? Duh!
But Pamela Travers re-invented herself in England, or, more precisely, Ireland. That is, she made her way to England in 1924, making money by sending back travel articles to Australian publications, and once she was in England, she sought out old Irish poets. They helped her in her writing career.
They also introduced her to mysticism. She became a follower of the Armenian/Russian mystic George Gurdjieff, and when she was in America for a few years, she communed with native tribes in the southwest — on some sort of spiritual level.
In England, she lived with a woman for ten years while flirting with old men. She never married. When she was in her 40s, she wanted to adopt the 17 year-old child of her housekeepers, but they said no. So she went to Ireland and, upon the advice of an astrologer, adopted a baby boy while refusing to adopt his twin.
Travers then told her son his father had died in “the tropics,” and he didn’t know he was an adopted twin until he met his brother as an adult. It sounds like a sad story. It doesn’t sound as though she was really into being a mom. She outlived her son.
When the movie version of Mary Poppins made its debut, P.L. Travers wasn’t even invited. She went anyway, but the accounts of her few exchanges with Walt Disney don’t sound good, and by the end of her life, P.L. Travers still sounded awfully bitter about the whole deal.
But she made a lot of money off the movie, and she wrote four more Mary Poppins books after it came out.
The new movie Saving Mr. Banks isn’t a biography of P.L. Travers. It’s about the short time period where she struggled with Walt Disney over the movie. But her life story is pretty darn interesting — even when you don’t know what to believe because of the way she tells it.
Start with the Who2 biography of P.L. Travers, and follow the links there.