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Saving Mr. Banks: History vs. Hollywood

Starring Tom Hanks, Emma Thompson, Jason Schwartzman, B.J. Novak, Paul Giamatti
based on Walt Disney's struggle to get the screen rights to 'Mary Poppins' from author P.L. Travers

Tom Hanks
Born: July 9, 1956
Concord, California, USA
Walt Disney
Born: December 5, 1901
Birthplace: Chicago, Illinois, USA
Death: December 15, 1966, Los Angeles, California, USA (lung cancer)
Emma Thompson
Born: April 15, 1959
Paddington, London, England, UK
Pamela Lyndon Travers
Born: August 9, 1899
Birthplace: Maryborough, Queensland, Australia
Death: April 23, 1996, London, England, UK (deteriorating health from old age)
Jason Schwartzman
Born: June 26, 1980
Los Angeles, California, USA
Richard Sherman
Born: June 12, 1928
Birthplace: New York City, New York, USA
B.J. Novak
Born: July 31, 1979
Newton, Massachusetts, USA
Robert Sherman
Born: December 19, 1925
Birthplace: Brooklyn, New York, USA
Death: March 6, 2012, London, England, United Kingdom
Colin Farrell
Born: May 31, 1976
Castleknock, Dublin, Ireland
Travers Goff
Ruth Wilson
Born: January 13, 1982
Ashford, Kent, England, UK
Margaret Goff
Rachel Griffiths
Born: December 18, 1968
Melbourne, Victoria, Australia
Helen Morehead (aka Aunt Ellie)
(part of the inspiration for the Mary Poppins character)
Bradley Whitford
Born: October 10, 1959
Madison, Wisconsin, USA
Don DaGradi
Born: 1911
Birthplace: New York City, New York, USA
Death: August 4, 1991, Harbor, Washington, USA
[Mary Poppins was] already beloved for what she was—plain, vain and incorruptible—(and now) transmogrified into a soubrette. ... And how was it that Mary Poppins herself, the image of propriety, came to dance a can-can on the roof-top displaying all her underwear? A child wrote, after seeing the film, ‘I think Mary Poppins behaved in a very indecorous manner.’ Indecorous indeed! -Author P.L. Travers

Questioning the Story:

Who is "Mr. Banks" from the movie's title?

Mr. Banks is the patriarch of the London family that Mary Poppins helps in the book and movie. Author P.L. Travers based the Mr. Banks character in part on her own father, Travers Goff, portrayed by Colin Farrell in the film Saving Mr. Banks.

Did Walt Disney really promise his children he'd turn P.L. Travers book Mary Poppins into a movie?

Walt and daughters
Walt had assured his daughters (pictured above) that their beloved Mary Poppins would unleash her magic on the big screen.
Yes. Our research into the Saving Mr. Banks true story confirmed that Walt Disney indeed promised his daughters (pictured right) that he'd turn their favorite book, Mary Poppins, into a movie. He had no idea that it would take twenty years to do it.

How long did it take Walt Disney and his team to convince author P.L. Travers to let them turn her book into a movie?

After nearly twenty years of courting P.L. Travers via letters and phone calls, she finally gave in to Walt Disney's pleas. Upon her arrival in California, it took two weeks for Walt Disney and his team to convince author Pamela Lyndon Travers to allow them to turn her beloved book Mary Poppins into a movie. Similar to what is seen in Saving Mr. Banks, her 1961 visit proved grueling for Disney and his team. "I find myself getting angry when I relive it," says songwriter Richard Sherman, actor Jason Schwartzman's real life counterpart, "My stomach tightens when I talk about it."

Did Ralph the limo driver (portrayed by Paul Giamatti) actually exist?

Producer Ian Collie revealed that Ralph (Paul Giamatti) is an amalgamation of several of P.L.'s drivers. Actor Paul Giamatti says that the character was included in the film because the screenwriter and the producers wanted someone who P.L. Travers (Emma Thompson) could warm up to.

What made author P.L. Travers change her mind about letting Walt turn her book into a movie?

As explained in the Saving Mr. Banks movie, the royalties from her book were dwindling and her lawyer encouraged her to allow Disney to adapt the book for the screen. She agreed and was given a $100,000 advance, in addition to being guaranteed five percent of the film's royalties, which resulted in her becoming a multi-millionaire. She was also given the chance to personally approve the script.

The real P.L. Travers had never been a fan of Walt Disney. In her review of Disney's first full-length animated feature film, 1937's Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, she wrote, "Oh, he's clever, this Disney! ... The very pith of his secret is the enlargement of the animal world and a corresponding deflation of all human values. There is a profound cynicism at the root of his, as of all, sentimentality." -The Secret Life of Mary Poppins

Did the real P.L. Travers not want animation in the movie version of her book?

animation in the movie
Dick Van Dyke and Julie Andrews in one of several Mary Poppins scenes that incorporated animation.
Yes. In the movie, P.L. Travers (Emma Thompson) wonders aloud as to how Mr. Disney plans to train penguins to dance for the screen version of Mary Poppins. Upon learning that the penguins featured in the live-action film will be incorporated using animation, she sternly objects, "No animation." The real P.L. Travers was indeed against the use of animation in Mary Poppins. Upset that the character of Mary in the movie's script was too pretty and lacked the harsher aspects of her character from the book, she was equally appalled at the animated scenes, which she considered Disney fluff that detracted from the more serious tone of her story.

If Travers had script approval, how did the animation end up in the Mary Poppins film?

Whether it was trickery by Walt Disney or simply a lack of knowledge on Travers's part, the terms of their agreement gave Pamela Lyndon Travers script approval but not film editing rights. Travers had approved the script figuring that she could decide what stayed in the film. "When do we start cutting it?" Travers asked Walt after screening the movie. Disney explained to her that she only had script approval but not film editing rights. Knowing that his version would surely win over audiences, he refused to make the changes Travers wanted. This infuriated the author.

P.L. Travers Midsummer Night's Dream 1920s
Once an aspiring actress, Travers is pictured as Titania in A Midsummer Night's Dream (1920s).
What is P.L. Travers full name?

The Saving Mr. Banks true story reveals that Pamela Lyndon Travers (P. L. Travers) was born Helen Lyndon Goff (known to her family as Lyndon) in Maryborough, Queensland, Australia on August 9, 1899. At the age of seventeen, she was performing on stage in Australia and New Zealand with a Shakespearean touring company. It was around that time that she adopted the stage name Pamela Lyndon Travers. The last name Travers was the first name of her father, Travers Goff, a bank employee who died of influenza when she was a child. The name Pamela was popular at the time and was her own invention.

Using her first and middle initials as a writer was not uncommon at the time in Britain, especially for women who wanted their work to be appreciated from a gender-neutral standpoint. Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling (Joanne Kathleen Rowling), an admirer of Travers, carried on her tradition by doing the same thing. However, it should be noted that Rowling was not given a middle name at birth. The 'K' comes from her grandmother's name 'Kathleen' and was suggested by the publisher out of fear that potential readers would be less receptive to a wizarding story penned by a woman.

Was P.L. Travers's father really an alcoholic bank employee?

Yes. P.L. Travers's father, Travers Robert Goff (portrayed by Colin Farrell in the movie), was a heavy drinker. As noted by biographer Valerie Lawson in her book Mary Poppins, She Wrote (available in the right column), Travers Goff was a bank manager before being demoted to a bank clerk, dying of influenza in his early forties and leaving his family destitute. P.L. Travers was only seven at the time of her father's death. -Telegraph

What happened to P.L. Travers family after her father died?

Young P.L. Travers
A young P.L. Travers (Annie Buckley) in the Saving Mr. Banks movie (left) and in real life (right) circa 1906.
P.L. Travers's mother, born Margaret Morehead (portrayed by Ruth Wilson in the Saving Mr. Banks movie), hailed from an affluent sugar refining dynasty. However, Margaret had lost most of her inheritance when the Queensland National Bank was discovered insolvent. Margaret and her three daughters left their large Queensland, Australia home, where they had servants and a horse-drawn carriage, for a tin-roofed shack where they relied on the charity of various aunts.

Did P.L. Travers's mother really contemplate suicide after Travers's father's death?

Yes. Following the death of P.L. Travers's father from influenza when she was seven, her mother, stricken with grief, informed her that she was going to drown herself in a nearby lake, telling her daughter to look after her two younger sisters, Moya and Biddy. Margaret Goff's suicide attempt was unsuccessful and she returned home, but the event left a permanent scar on young P.L. (then known as Lyndon).

Was Mary Poppins really based on P.L. Travers's great aunt?

Aunt Ellie
Mary Poppins (left), as seen on the book's original cover, was partially inspired by Travers's Great Aunt Ellie.
Yes. Mary Poppins herself was at least partially inspired by Helen Morehead, a maid and great aunt who had come to stay with P.L. Travers and her two sisters after her mother's suicide attempt. Referred to as Aunt Ellie, she was a reliable relative who brought order and discipline to the household. Much like Mary Poppins in the books, she was also formidable, bossy and stern. In addition, she carried with her a parrot umbrella. -The Secret Life of Mary Poppins

Did P.L. Travers base Mr. and Mrs. Banks from the Mary Poppins story on her own parents?

Pamela Lyndon Travers always claimed that her difficult upbringing had little influence on the story. "I don't know that it's based on my personal life," said Travers in 1977. "I think Mr. Banks is a little bit like my father, and Mrs. Banks in her most flustered is perhaps a little bit like my mother; but really, I don't think it's based on my childhood." -The Secret Life of Mary Poppins

Travers was well-known for being extremely secretive about both her life and her inspirations for her book Mary Poppins, often re-imagining her past as something that it never was. Travers once wrote, "If you are looking for autobiographical facts. Mary Poppins is the story of my life." As more was learned about her past, it became clear that her statement was far from the truth.

Was P.L. Travers really as difficult as the movie implies?

Yes. As author Valerie Lawson indicates in her book Mary Poppins, She Wrote, the real P.L. Travers fruitlessly tried to protect her creation from being corrupted by the influences of Walt Disney and pop culture. Lawson explains that the Mary Poppins character in Travers's books "was tart and sharp, rude, plain and vain." She demonstrates characteristics that are more similar to P.L. Travers than to Julie Andrews.

During our investigation into the Saving Mr. Banks true story, we discovered that some of the things that Travers objected to with regard to the Mary Poppins movie included the animated horse and pig; the song "Let's Go Fly a Kite"; the notion that Mary Poppins would have a romance with a mere chimneysweep; turning Mrs. Banks into a suffragette; naming Mrs. Banks Cynthia instead of Winifred (Travers won that battle); the grandness of the Banks house; certain American words and phrases; and the casting of Dick Van Dyke and Julie Andrews (she felt Andrews was too pretty compared to the plain, short and thin lady in the book).

Was "Let's Go Fly a Kite" the song that won over Poppins author P.L. Travers?

No. In the Saving Mr. Banks movie, P.L. Travers (Emma Thompson) begins tapping her toes when she first hears "Let's Go Fly a Kite." However, according to Poppins songwriter Richard M. Sherman (portrayed by Jason Schwartzman in the film), "Feed the Birds" was actually the song that broke her.

Did actor Jason Schwartzman really perform the songs in the movie?

Yes. Actor Jason Schwartzman, who portrays songwriter Richard Sherman in the Saving Mr. Banks movie, is really singing songs like "Feed the Birds" in the film and he is actually the one playing the piano too. "Jason and I did a lot of talking," the real Richard Sherman says. "He listened and watched me play. He's a musician himself, a drummer, but he plays the piano a little - more in a jazz style."

Sherman Brothers
Robert (B.J. Novack) and Richard Sherman (Jason Schwartzman) composing in the movie (left). The real Sherman Brothers, Robert (standing) and Richard (sitting), working on a song together at Disney (right).

Why does Robert Sherman (B.J. Novak) walk with a limp in the movie?

In the movie, Pamela Travers (Emma Thompson) makes a snide remark after learning that Robert Sherman (B.J. Novak) had been shot in the leg. "It's hardly surprising," she says. According to the real Robert Sherman's obituary, his limp was the result of being shot in the knee while charging a hill during World War II, for which he was awarded a Purple Heart. At only nineteen years of age, he had also taken part in the liberation of the Dachau concentration camp.

Did Travers really dislike the songs used in the film?

Yes. "She hated everything," says songwriter Richard Sherman. Like in the movie, the real P.L. Travers insisted that they not make up words, including having the chimney sweep Bert (portrayed by Dick Van Dyke in the 1964 Mary Poppins film) rhyming "responstable" with "constable."

What other Disney songs were the Sherman Brothers responsible for?

In addition to all of the Mary Poppins songs, including "A Spoonful of Sugar," "Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious" and the Oscar-winning "Chim Chim Cher-ee," songwriting brothers Robert and Richard Sherman also wrote "Trust in Me" from The Jungle Book; "The Age of Not Believing" from Bedknobs & Broomsticks; "Winnie the Pooh"; and the most well-known of them all, "It's a Small World," the Disneyland theme song. "I've been in India, I've been in Brussels, all over the world, people know that song," says the real Richard Sherman. "I think (people) want to either kiss us or kill us for having written "It's a Small World."

Was P.L. Travers really not invited to the Mary Poppins premiere?

Mary Poppins Premiere
P.L. Travers (right) with Walt Disney and Julie Andrews, who Travers believed was too pretty to be Mary Poppins.
Yes. Although she did show up and attend (crying in anger and frustration by the end), P.L. Travers was never formally invited to the 1964 Mary Poppins premiere. After repeatedly contacting the studio during the production to voice her objections and to attack the movie's director and producers, Disney decided it was best that she wasn't at the premiere.

Did Travers continue insisting that the animated sequences be cut, even at the film's premiere?

Yes. After seeing the film on the night of the premiere, a distraught Travers went up to Walt Disney and demanded that the animation be cut from the film. "Pamela, that ship has sailed," Disney replied before walking away. Pamela Travers's feud with Walt Disney would continue up to and beyond her death, prohibiting Disney from adapting any more of her books and vigorously protecting the stage rights to Mary Poppins (she would eventually turn the rights over to British theater producer Cameron Mackintosh in 1993).

Did the real P.L. Travers weep at the Mary Poppins movie premiere?

Yes. Travers's disapproval and anger over the inclusion of partially animated scenes in the film caused her to weep by the end of the 1964 Hollywood movie premiere of Mary Poppins ( In a letter to her lawyer, Travers described her horror over what she had seen at the premiere, "As chalk is to cheese, so is the film to the book. Tears ran down my cheeks because it was all so distorted. I was so shocked I felt that I would never write---let alone smile---again!" (The Secret Life of Mary Poppins)

In a rare 1977 interview, P.L. Travers commented on the legacy of the film, "I've seen it once or twice, and I've learned to live with it. It's glamorous and it's a good film on its own level, but I don't think it is very like my books." -The Secret Life of Mary Poppins

I heard that P.L. Travers ruined the lives of two boys. Is that true?

Though it was not shown in the film, author P.L. Travers did not weave similar magical tales when it came to her personal life. In 1940, she became aware of a destitute family that she knew in Ireland who were looking for someone to adopt their infant identical twins. The children had been born to an irresponsible father and an inept mother, and were in the care of their grandparents who were having trouble coping with the responsibility of raising four children. They arranged for a family friend from London, Pamela Lyndon Travers, to adopt both of the infant twins, at least that was their understanding. Travers was approaching her 40th birthday and had given up hope on finding a lasting relationship that might produce biological children. She was attracted to the literary lineage of the twins.

Camillus Hone and P.L. Travers
Trying to choose between two identical twins, P.L. Travers selected her adopted son Camillus based on advice from her astrologer. She refused to take them both.
The twins were the grandchildren of Joseph Hone, an Irish writer and the biographer of poet W.B. Yeats, Travers's idol whom she knew personally. Upon her arrival in Ireland, Travers chose to adopt only Camillus Hone, but not his twin brother Anthony, subsequently splitting up the pair. She based which one to choose on the advice of her astrologer, who had advised her to select the first-born boy. While Camillus Hone (pictured at right with Travers in the 1940s) was whisk off to a life of wealth and privilege in London, his brother Anthony was left to be cared for by neglectful relatives. "Pamela Travers saw herself as Mary Poppins and thought she could play Poppins with poor little Camillus," says the boys' oldest brother, Joseph Hone. "I don't think Travers was fit to bring up children." Appalled by her new son crying at night, at one point Travers considered sending the infant to a babies home in Tunbridge Wells. She eventually got along better with the child, but still shipped him off to boarding school while she continued to focus on her career.

The twins reunited at age seventeen when Tony showed up unannounced on P.L. Travers's doorstep to meet his brother Camillus. Travers had previously told Camillus that he was her own and that his father had died of an accident in the colonies where he was a wealthy sugar magnate. The two brothers had little in common other than a fondness for alcohol and would only see each other occasionally in the years that followed. Camillus eventually developed a drinking problem and spent six months in prison after being arrested for driving drunk without a license. His twin brother Anthony would also develop an alcohol problem, which would cost him his family and his career in public relations. Prior to Anthony's death, his ex-wife Frances would tend to his basic needs as she listened to him "moaning" about his brother's good fortune.

Ironically, Camillus's widow, also named Frances, says that he had been left "disappointed and sad" after being made aware that he had been plucked from his natural family. "He would have liked to belong to them because they were artistic and interesting, and as he grew up he didn't have any brothers, sisters or aunts and uncles, or a Daddy — only her."

Did P.L. Travers stipulate in her will that Mary Poppins not be touched by Disney again?

P.L. Travers, who lived to be 96, is pictured in the years prior to her death in 1996.
For the most part, yes. According to the Saving Mr. Banks true story, in her last will and testament Pamela Lyndon Travers stipulated that if a stage musical was to be made, that no one from the original film production was to be involved. This included the Sherman Brothers, the songwriting team behind the Poppins classics. She also stipulated that only English-born writers could be used, no Americans.

I heard that Travers's publisher was the son of Peter Pan author J.M. Barrie?

This is true. P.L. Travers's connection to Peter Pan author J.M. Barrie wasn't only reflected in the similarities between Mary Poppins and Barrie's high-flying Pan. Travers's publisher was Peter Davies, the adopted son of J.M. Barrie and the inspiration for Peter Pan (Davies later committed suicide partially as the result of his lifelong association with the Pan character).

P.L. Travers Audio & the Saving Mr. Banks Movie Trailer

After learning about the Saving Mr. Banks true story above, enjoy the related videos below, including the movie trailer and excerpts from P.L. Travers's Disney meetings.

 P.L. Travers Audio from the Mary Poppins Meetings at Disney

P.L. Travers reads through the Mary Poppins script with screenwriter Don DaGradi and brothers Robert and Richard Sherman, the duo behind the film's music. The infamous meetings took place at the Disney Studios in L.A. in 1961. Travers seems somewhat cordial during these particular excerpts from her recordings, but her rigidness can still be detected in the tone of her voice.

 P.L. Travers Recorded Discussing "Feed the Birds"

This P.L. Travers recording features the author discussing the Mary Poppins song "Feed the Birds" with Richard and Robert Sherman in 1961. During the discussion, Richard Sherman plays the song and Travers sings along. Unlike the Saving Mr. Banks movie, the true story reveals that "Feed the Birds" was actually the song that won her over.

 Saving Mr. Banks Trailer

Watch the Saving Mr. Banks movie trailer for the film that tells the story of Walt Disney's struggle to please author P.L. Travers as his company works to adapt her novel Mary Poppins for the big screen. Tom Hanks portrays Walt Disney while actress Emma Thompson fills the role of P.L. Travers.

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