If you’re a fan of Disney’s classic movie, Mary Poppins, you might enjoy watching Saving Mr. Banks, which was just released to video recently, although Travers’ character was so grating that Alan found the movie tedious and impossible to watch. I assumed the whole conflict was fabricated to make Emma Thompson suffer as the protagonist, but after digging into the background, I discovered that the movie is a pretty accurate retelling of Travers’ life story and the 20-year conflict between Walt Disney and the author over rights to turn her book into a movie. In fact, Disney actually gave Saving Mr. Banks one of their typical happy endings, which sadly was not true of the real experience.“Pamela Lyndon Travers” was born in 1899 as “Helen Lyndon Goff” in Australia to Travers Goff and Margaret Agnes. Margaret’s mother had come from a very influential family and her brother, Boyd Morehead, was the premier of Queensland at the time of Helen’s birth. Unfortunately, Helen’s father (although very charismatic and close to Helen) really was an alcoholic who get demoted from bank manager to bank clerk. And, he also died tragically when Helen was only 7, although it was from influenza, not liver failure (as you would assume from the movie). Helen’s mother, totally traumatized by her husband’s death (probably his miserable life too) and consequent plunge into deep poverty with three small girls to rear alone, did attempt suicide, but did not die. In an effort to save the family, their formidable maiden great aunt, Helen Morehead, came to live with their family and helped restore order and stability through very strict discipline. She was the true inspiration for Mary Poppins (who was much harsher in the books than in the movie), and she really did say, “Spit spot into bed.”Helen survived her traumatic childhood, although it sounds like she never overcame the scars of abandonment and the severity of a rather graceless, loveless upbringing. She became an actress and eventually held a position as writer in residence at Radcliffe College. After 20 years of unpleasant cajoling and attempted persuasions by Walt Disney (who had indeed made a promise to his daughters to make their favorite story into a movie), Travers acquiesced, selling the movie rights to Disney for a $100,000 advance plus 5% of the royalties, which eventually made her a multi-millionaire. The unremitting tension in Saving Mr. Banks was real. Travers was totally opposed to what she considered the unbearable trivialization of Mary Poppin’s personality and cried tears of anger (not tenderhearted emotion) at the premiere, stating, “As chalk is to cheese, so is the film to the book” (The Secret Life of Mary Poppins). She tried to demand that the animation be removed but discovered to her dismay that she had been given script approval but not film-editing rights. (Beware, all would-be novelists; however: please note that Disney’s decisions did produce a world-famous movie and tons of money).As one interesting side note, I read that Robert Sherman walked with a limp because he was shot while charging a hill during World War II. (He also won a purple heart for helping liberate the prisoners at Dachau Concentration Camp.) (http://www.historyvshollywood.com/reelfaces/saving-mr-banks.php…which is a great source of information about the true stories behind movies) Travers’ caustic comment to Sherman gives you an accurate feel for her critical, negative nature. Although she lived well into her nineties, she died without ever marrying, with an unfulfilling attempt at adoption, and with this heartbreaking comment in the news: she “died loving no one and with no one loving her” (The New York Times. 5 January 2014).
In reality, Saving Mr. Banks was about imagineering a happy ending to the tragic tales of Travers Goff, P.L. Travers, Mr. Banks, and all failed lives. In the movie, Walt Disney says, “Imagination restores disorder and inspires hope again and again.” I am a firm believer in the role of imagination. Yesterday I listened to one of my sons’ GodTalks, and in an interview with Allister McGrath, McGrath commented that “reason and imagination” were key to C.S. Lewis’ brilliant defenses of orthodox Christian faith (http://aqueductproject.org/alister-mcgrath-c-s-lewis-a-life/).
Imagination is a good thing, and it may help us envision how to create a better future, but I personally don’t think imagination is truly the key to restoring disorder and inspiring hope.
However, tomorrow I’m going to post on a book that was just released by Zondervan yesterday, and I believe this book does give us the key. It’s a great read, and if you want a free copy, just be the first one to ask for it after I publish my blog tomorrow! Hope to see you then…
“He [Jesus] is always able to save those who come to God through him, since he always lives to intercede for them” (Hebrews 7:25, HSCB).