By Brad Dison
Barbara Morris and Ted Wells wed on December 26, 1932. Ted was a talented carpenter and worked from one job site to another. During the Great Depression, new construction ground to a halt and Ted struggled to find work. In 1932, he became a school teacher. Barbara brought in extra money to the family by giving piano lessons and playing for local crowds.
In early 1935, Barbara told Ted that she was pregnant, and on October 1, 1935, Julia Elizabeth Wells was born. Two years later, they had a son they named Johnny. Soon thereafter, the marriage fell apart. In 1940, Barbara, still legally married to Ted Wells, began a relationship with another man, also named Ted. Johnny lived with Ted Wells and Julia lived with Barbara and “Uncle Ted.” In November, 1943, Julia’s parents divorced and Barbara immediately married the other Ted. Following the ceremony, Barbara instructed Julia that, rather than calling her stepfather “Uncle Ted,” she was to call him “Pop” which Julia despised.
Barbara was a talented piano player and Pop was a Vaudeville performer. Soon after they met, Barbara and Pop joined forces and performed in Vaudeville shows together. Barbara took every opportunity to display her talent when she held or attended parties. Sometimes, Julia attended parties with her mother, and, on many occasions, Barbara convinced Julia to sing for the guests. The guests enjoyed the impromptu performances, but Julia was always reluctant because she felt her mother was using her to get attention.
One night in the Autumn of 1950, Barbara and Julia were driving to yet another party. As they neared the home, Barbara turned to Julia and said, “I want you to do me a favor. If I ask you to sing, will you do it?” This was out of character for Barbara. She usually asked Julia in front of the guests knowing she would be unable to refuse. Julia reluctantly agreed to sing. During the party, Barbara played piano and Julia sang a single song. The guests were delighted. After their performance, guests complimented Barbara and Julia. One man seemed genuinely interested in Julia. She recognized the man immediately. He had been a visitor in their home on several occasions when Julia was much younger than her current fifteen years of age. As the party progressed, Barbara had one stiff drink after another. The man Julia recognized from so long ago sat down on the couch beside her. Within minutes of their meeting, Julia “felt an electricity between [them] that [she] couldn’t explain.” Rather than making small talk, the man asked her specific questions about school, about singing, about her life in general.
By the time the party was over, Barbara was too intoxicated to drive. Julia, not yet old enough to operate a vehicle legally, had no choice but to drive herself and her mother home. Barbara reassured Julia in slurred speech that she would show her the way home. As they drove through the thick fog, Barbara asked Julia if she knew why they attended the party, and why she asked Julia to sing. Julia replied that she did not and kept her focus on the road. Barbara asked Julia what she thought about the man who sat beside her on the couch. “He…seemed pleasant,” Julia replied. With hesitation and tears in her eyes, Barbara explained why she had taken Julia to the party and had her sing. “That man is your father.”
Barbara explained that she had wanted to tell Julia this secret for fourteen years. Tears fell from Barbara’s eyes. Although confused, somewhat angry, and in shock, Julia remained calm and focused on the road. Barbara explained that there had been an “overwhelming attraction that she couldn’t deny,” and she had a one-night stand with him. Julia drove the car into the driveway and turned off the engine. She and her mother sat in awkward silence, neither knowing what to say. Julia was stunned by her mother’s revelation, and Barbara seemed embarrassed. Without another word, Barbara hurried from the car to sleep off her intoxication.
Barbara avoided any discussion about the topic with Julia for several days. Finally, Julia brought up the subject. Julia asked her mother how she could be sure that the man at the party was her father. Barbara replied, “because Daddy and I weren’t being romantic in those days.” Julia and her mother never spoke about the subject again.
Nearly forty years later, long after Barbara had died, Julia spoke to her Aunt Joan about the man she had met at the party. She asked if what her mother had told her so many years ago was true. Aunt Joan reluctantly told her that it was. The man at the party was, in fact, her biological father. During their conversation, Julia asked Aunt Joan a question she had wanted to ask her mother, but never did. She wanted to know if the man she knew as “dad” knew. Aunt Joan simply replied, “Yes. He Did.” Julia was almost as stunned as the night she learned who her real father was. Aunt Joan explained that “Dad” was so in love with Barbara that he overlooked the affair and the fact that Julia was not his. He had raised Julia as his own. Julia did not reveal the name of her biological father.
Back in the early 1950s, Julia joined Barbara’s and Pop’s act. For a while, she only performed a song or two. Pop wanted the spotlight for himself. Pretty soon, her talents outshone those of Barbara and Pop. Julia got offers to perform without Barbara and Pop, whose careers had stalled completely. Julia’s career, however, soared. She performed with orchestras, in Broadway and West End productions, on various television shows, and in movies. It had been Julia’s stepfather who insisted that Julia legally change her name to one more fitting his last name, which is the name you know her by. You may recognize some of Julia’s many movies such as “Victor Victoria,” “The Princess Diaries,” “The Sound of Music,” and “Mary Poppins.” You know Julia Elizabeth Wells by her adopted name… Julie Andrews.
Andrews, Julie. Home: A Memoir of My Early Years. New York, New York: Hyperion, 2008.