Born Julia Elizabeth Wells in Walton-on-Thames, England, Julie Andrews grew up performing in vaudeville as a child, after her parents discovered her "freakish" four-octave singing voice. In 1948, at age 12, she performed at the Royal Command Variety Performance, the youngest person ever to do so.
She made her Broadway debut in The Boy Friend, but became a national sensation as Eliza Doolittle in the Broadway smash My Fair Lady. In early 1957, she took a week off from the show to star in Rodgers and Hammerstein's TV production of Cinderella, which became the most-watched television broadcast in history. While performing her third Broadway lead — Queen Guenivere in Camelot — she was approached by Walt Disney, who asked her to star in the upcoming live-action adaptation of Mary Poppins. She agreed, and two years later won Best Actress in a Leading Role at the 1964 Academy Awards - beating out Audrey Hepburn, who was not even nominated, for her role as... Eliza Doolittle in the film of My Fair Lady. The next year she had an even bigger smash hit — she starred in the film of The Sound of Music.
Sick of her sweet reputation, she took much more daring roles in the 1970s and '80s. She returned to Broadway in yet another smash, Victor Victoria, reprising her role from the film as a woman pretending to be a man pretending to be a woman.
Her career tapered off in the '90s — partly due to a botched vocal surgery that cost her her four-octave range — but she returned full-force as Queen Clarisse in The Princess Diaries in her first Disney film in 40 years. She went on to provide the voice of Queen Lillian in the Shrek franchise and star as Lily in Tooth Fairy.
Today she is well known as a writer, actress, director (of the Broadway revival of The Boy Friend) and spokeswoman. Her singing voice is slowly coming back, although she will probably never regain those four octaves — her first public singing performance after the surgery was in The Princess Diaries sequel. Hardened crewmen cried.
She was married to the late director Blake Edwards and counts comedienne Carol Burnett, The Sound of Music co-star Christopher Plummer and three-time co-star James Garner among her closest friends.
Andrews' other famous films include S.O.B., Thoroughly Modern Millie, The Americanization Of Emily (her personal favorite role), and Torn Curtain (directed by Alfred Hitchcock). She's also the voice of Gru's mother in the Despicable Me films.
She's also written several children's books under the name Julie Andrews Edwards, the most famous of which are The Last of the Really Great Whangdoodles and Mandy. Interestingly, most of the marketing for them doesn't mention the author's work as an actress. They're quite charming.
She also swears like a sailor given the opportunity.