|P. L. Travers|
|Born||Helen Lyndon Goff
9 August 1899
Maryborough, Queensland, Australia
|Died||23 April 1996
London, England, United Kingdom
|Resting place||St Mary the Virgin's Church, Twickenham, England, United Kingdom|
|Occupation||Writer, actress, journalist|
|Notable works||Mary Poppins book series|
|Children||Camillus Travers Hone|
Pamela Lyndon Travers, OBE (born Helen Lyndon Goff; 9 August 1899 – 23 April 1996), was an Australian born novelist, actress and journalist. She was known for her fictional children's book series featuring the magical English nanny, Mary Poppins.
Upon emigrating to England in 1924, Goff began to write under the pen name P. L. Travers. In 1933, she began writing the book series featuring Poppins. During World War II, while working for the British Ministry of Information, Travers traveled to New York. It was at this time when Travers was contacted by Roy Disney about selling Disney Studios the rights for a film adaptation of the first book in the series: Mary Poppins. After years of contact between Disney Studios and Travers, Walt Disney obtained the rights and the film Mary Poppins premiered in 1964. In 2004, a musical theater adaptation of the film was originally produced in London, later premiering on Broadway in 2006.
Helen Lyndon Goff (known within her family as Lyndon) was born 9 August 1899 in Maryborough, Queensland, Australia to father Travers Robert and mother Margaret Agnes (née Morehead). Her father was of Irish descent and born in Deptford, South London, England; her mother was Australian and the niece of Boyd Dunlop Morehead, Premier of Queensland from 1888 to 1890. A chronic alcoholic, Travers Goff was unsuccessful in his career as a bank manager, eventually being demoted to the position of bank clerk. Living in a large home with servants in Maryborough until Goff was five years old, the family relocated to Allora in 1905. Two years later, Travers Goff died at home of tuberculosis at the age of 43.
Following her father's death, Goff, along with her mother and sisters, moved to Bowral, New South Wales in 1907, living there until 1917. She boarded at Normanhurst Girls School in Ashfield, a suburb of Sydney, during World War I.
Lyndon Goff began publishing her poems while still a teenager and wrote for The Bulletin and Triad. It was during this time period that she was also gaining a reputation as an actress and adopted the stage name "Pamela Lyndon Travers". She toured Australia and New Zealand with Allan Wilkie's Shakespearean Company before leaving for England in 1924. There she dedicated herself to writing under the pen name P. L. Travers. In 1931, she moved out of a rented flat in London that she shared with her friend Madge Burnand, and the two set up home together in a thatched Sussex cottage. It was here, in the winter of 1933, that she began to write Mary Poppins.
Travers greatly admired and emulated J. M. Barrie, the author of the 1911 novel Peter and Wendy, which bears many structural resemblances to the Mary Poppins series. Indeed, Travers' first publisher was Peter Llewelyn Davies, Barrie's adopted son and widely regarded as the model for Peter Pan.
While in Ireland in 1925, Travers met the poet George William Russell (who wrote under the name "Æ") who, as editor of The Irish Statesman, accepted some of her poems for publication. Through Russell, Travers met W. B. Yeats, Oliver St. John Gogarty, and other Irish poets who fostered her interest in and knowledge of world mythology. She had studied the Gurdjieff System under Jane Heap and in March 1936, with the help of Jessie Orage (widow of Alfred Richard Orage), she met the mystic George Gurdjieff, who would have a great effect on her, as well as on several other literary figures.
At the invitation of her friend, US Commissioner of Indian Affairs John Collier, Travers spent two summers living among the Navajo, Hopi and Pueblo peoples studying their mythology and folklore. After the war, she became Writer-in-Residence at Radcliffe College and Smith College. She returned to England, making only one brief visit to Sydney in 1960 while on her way to Japan to study Zen mysticism.
Travers' literary output other than Mary Poppins and its sequels included other novels, poetry collections and works of non-fiction.
Published in London in 1934, Mary Poppins was Travers' first literary success. Sequels followed (the last in 1988).
While appearing as a guest on BBC Radio 4's radio programme Desert Island Discs in May 1977, Travers revealed that the name "M. Poppins" originated from childhood stories that she contrived for her sisters, and that she was still in possession of a book from that age with this name inscribed within. Travers' great aunt, Helen Morehead, who lived in Woollahra, Sydney, and used to say, 'Spit spot, into bed' is a likely inspiration for the character.
The Disney musical adaptation was released in 1964. Primarily based on the first novel in what expanded into a series of eight books, it also lifted elements from the sequel Mary Poppins Comes Back. Although Travers was an adviser to the production, she disapproved of the dilution of the harsher aspects of Mary Poppins' character, felt ambivalent about the music, and so hated the use of animation that she ruled out any further adaptations of the later Mary Poppins novels. At the film's star-studded première (to which she was not invited, but had to ask Walt Disney for permission to attend), she reportedly approached Disney and told him that the animated sequence had to go. Disney responded by walking away, saying as he did, "Pamela, the ship has sailed." Enraged at what she considered shabby treatment at Disney's hands, Travers would never again agree to another Poppins/Disney adaptation, though Disney made several attempts to persuade her to change her mind.
So fervent was Travers' dislike of the Disney adaptation and of the way she felt she had been treated during the production, that when producer Cameron Mackintosh approached her about the stage musical when she was into her 90s, she acquiesced on the condition that only English-born writers and no one from the film production were to be directly involved with creating the stage musical. This specifically excluded the Sherman Brothers from writing additional songs for the production. However, original songs and other aspects from the 1964 film were allowed to be incorporated into the production. Contrary to popular belief these points were not stipulated in her last will and testament. A section in her will (section 5-c) directs the trustees to follow her wishes regarding exploitation of her literary estate, but these wishes have not been made public.
The 2013 movie Saving Mr. Banks is a dramatised story about both the working process during the planning of Mary Poppins and also that of Travers' early life, drawing parallels with Mary Poppins and that of the author's childhood. The movie stars Emma Thompson as P.L. Travers and Tom Hanks as Walt Disney.
Though Travers had numerous fleeting relationships with men throughout her life, she lived for more than a decade with Madge Burnand, daughter of Sir Francis Burnand, a playwright and the former editor of Punch. They shared a London flat from 1927 to 1934, then moved to a thatched cottage in Sussex, where Travers published the first of the Mary Poppins books. Their friendship, in the words of one biographer, was "intense," but also equally ambiguous.
At the age of 40, two years after moving out on her own, Travers adopted a baby boy from Ireland whom she named Camillus Travers Hone. He was the grandchild of Joseph Hone, W. B. Yeats' first biographer, who was raising his seven grandchildren with his wife. Camillus was unaware of his true parentage or the existence of any siblings until the age of 17, when Anthony Hone, his brother, came to London and knocked on the door of Travers' house. He had been drinking and demanded to see his brother. Travers refused to allow it and threatened to call the police. Anthony left, but soon after, Camillus, following an argument with Travers, went looking for his brother and found him in a pub on Kings Road.
Travers was made an Officer of the Order of the British Empire in 1977. She lived into advanced old age, but her health was declining toward the end of her life. Travers died in London on 23 April 1996 at the age of 96. According to her grandchildren, Travers "died loving no one and with no one loving her."
Her son Camillus died in London in November 2011.
- Mary Poppins, London: Gerald Howe, 1934
- Mary Poppins Comes Back, London: L. Dickson & Thompson Ltd., 1935
- I Go By Sea, I Go By Land, London: Peter Davies, 1941
- Aunt Sass, New York: Reynal & Hitchcock, 1941
- Ah Wong, New York: Reynal & Hitchcock, 1943
- Mary Poppins Opens the Door, London: Peter Davies, 1943
- Johnny Delaney, New York: Reynal & Hitchcock, 1944
- Mary Poppins in the Park, London: Peter Davies, 1952
- Gingerbread Shop, 1952
- Mr. Wigg's Birthday Party, 1952
- The Magic Compass, 1953
- Mary Poppins From A to Z, London: Collins, 1963
- The Fox at the Manger, London: Collins, 1963
- Friend Monkey, London: Collins, 1972
- Mary Poppins in the Kitchen, New York & London: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1975
- Two Pairs of Shoes, New York: Viking Press, 1980
- Mary Poppins in Cherry Tree Lane, London: Collins, 1982
- Mary Poppins and the House Next Door, London: Collins. 1988.
- Stories from Mary Poppins, 1952
- Moscow Excursion, New York: Reynal & Hitchcock, 1934
- George Ivanovitch Gurdjieff, 1973
- About the Sleeping Beauty, London: Collins, 1975
- What the Bee Knows: Reflections on Myth, Symbol and Story, 1989
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- Last will and testament
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- Dooling Draper, Ellen; Koralek, Jenny, eds. (1999). A Lively Oracle: a Centennial Celebration of P. L. Travers, Creator of Mary Poppins. New York: Larson Publications.
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- ——— (2005). Mary Poppins She Wrote. Aurum Press. ISBN 1-84513-126-6.
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- P. L. Travers at Find a Grave
- Travers, PL (1970–71), "Gurdjieff", Man, Myth and Magic: Encyclopedia of the Supernatural, London: Purnell, 12 vol., reprinted on the International Gurdjieff Review.
- Anemaat, Louise (ed.), Guide to the papers of P. L. Travers in the Mitchell Library (PDF), State Library of New South Wales.
- Flanagan, Caitlin (12 December 2005), "Becoming Mary Poppins: P. L. Travers, Walt Disney, and the making of a myth", The New Yorker.
- Lawson, Valerie (February 2006), "Secret Life of a Letter to the Editor", Columbia Journalism Review[dead link]
- Bostridge, Mark, "Hail Mary", The independent (London).