January 29, 2007

Andrews active with books, film roles

Three years ago, writer-director Blake Edwards made a memorable entrance onstage at the Academy Awards, racing an electric wheelchair into a wall, Pink Panther-style, during his acceptance of an honorary Oscar.

"Didn't he?" Julie Andrews, Edwards' wife, replied last month when the incident was mentioned. "Didn't he just?"

Don't expect much in the way of slapstick Sunday when Andrews is honored with a lifetime achievement award of her own from the Screen Actors Guild in the group's annual awards show, which will air at 8 p.m. on TBS and TNT.

"No, better leave that one be," the 71-year-old Andrews says, sounding just a bit like "Mary Poppins," the Oscar-winning role in which she made her debut as a screen actor more than four decades ago.

"I just hope I can find some words that adequately express how wonderful it is," she says. "It's been a lovely life, and I'd like to put it together as well as I can."

Not every performer is wild about the idea of receiving a lifetime achievement award when he or she is still out there achieving, but Andrews isn't complaining.

"I'm simply thrilled and so honored," she says. "It came really out of the blue, and I am just knocked out by it."

Andrews, who for most of her career was as famous for her singing as for her acting, lost most of her celebrated five-octave range to throat surgery several years ago, only to see the pace of her career actually pick up.

"The most amazing thing is that since I've not been singing, it seems that I've been busier than ever," she says, with roles that included queens in two "Princess Diaries" movies, "Shrek 2" and the upcoming "Shrek the Third," as well as a very un-Mary Poppins-like nanny in television versions of "Eloise at the Plaza" and "Eloise at Christmastime."

On a more adult note, she was reunited with "Sound of Music" co-star Christopher Plummer in 2001 for a live version of "On Golden Pond" on CBS.

"The Princess Diaries" have brought Andrews fame among a generation that might not have seen her in "Mary Poppins" or "The Sound of Music," and she happily recounts an encounter with a 6-year-old whose mother listed the actress' credits to her with no response until she got to "Diaries," at which point the child said, "Oh, cool."

Actresses of Andrews' age seldom get much in the way of onscreen romance, as her Queen Clarisse did at the end of "Princess Diaries 2: Royal Engagement," which culminated in a surprise wedding to Hector Elizondo's character.

"I got the guy. And listen, better also that I got to wear all that real jewelry and got to wear all those great clothes ... It was great fun, believe me," she says. "Best of all was working with Garry Marshall, who's just a honeybun."

Plus, "I have another day job now," running her own imprint, "The Julie Andrews Collection," at HarperCollins Publishers, along with her daughter, Emma Walton Hamilton.

Andrews, who's been writing children's books for more than 30 years, last year published the 15th she's written with Hamilton, "The Great American Mousical," a story set in a Broadway theater, and even recorded a new song, "The Show Must Go On!" to accompany a Web-based game tied to the book. (Both can be found at www.julieandrewscollection.com, where the song can be downloaded separately for $3.50. A portion of the book and song proceeds goes to Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS.)

"There was a song that was necessary, and of course the first person they came to was me. And I said, 'I don't think I can,' and they said, 'Could you try?' "

She told them, " If you wrote it in the only five notes I have these days and in a very low key, I'll run it up the flagpole," she says, adding that there was also some "technological wizardry" involved.

"I couldn't be more thrilled. So I play the voice of the beaver," named Adelaide, she says, after the character in "Guys and Dolls."

Still, she says, of her singing voice: "It's really non-existent. I just have the four or five bass notes ... I don't have my soprano voice anymore and it's very sad, and I miss it terribly."

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