Julie Andrews will never know what a champion she had in my mother. To Mom, Miss Andrews was the epitome of the girl who could do everything. In fact, that’s what she would say. “The girl can do everything.”
When the onscreen role of Eliza Doolittle went to Audrey Hepburn instead of Julie Andrews, my mother would not be consoled. “Julie Andrews made that role famous onstage. She is Eliza Doolittle.”
She boycotted the movie altogether, and pretended to ignore my treachery when I sneaked off to the movies with a group of my friends and somewhat guiltily savored the tweedy charms of Rex Harrison. I found him to be far more interesting than Audrey Hepburn, and I certainly never gave Julie Andrews a thought as I sat in the dark eating popcorn and watched her usurper.
A few days later, my mother cornered me in the kitchen as I heated a can of soup on the stove after my cello lesson. “So how was it?” she asked.
“My cello lesson? Okay I guess.”
“No. The movie. You did see it, didn’t you?”
“I did. It was okay.”
“And Audrey Hepburn?”
I considered my answer carefully. “She has a skinny neck,” I replied.
My mother nodded her head, seemingly satisfied. “She doesn’t do her own singing, you know. Not like Julie Andrews. She does everything herself. You can’t sing with a skinny neck.”
“I guess that explains giraffes,” I said not quietly enough.
Mom looked at me and said with elaborate patience, “Someday you’ll understand what it’s like to get passed by for something you deserve. It’s all been too easy for you so far,” she said.
“Not all of it,” I replied.
She looked again in the vicinity of my head, and said, “Oh by the way, you have a hair appointment next week.”
“For what?” I asked.
“Your camp cut. Mr. Mel worked you in after mine.”
Few things in life held more distaste for me than the puce and lavender realms of Mr. Mel. But once having safely exited his cherub encrusted door, I knew that camp was not far behind. And I loved camp.
But often I arrived at the opening bonfire looking more marine issue than Girl Scout green. Unfortunately, Mr. Mel and Mom shared a love of musicals, and for several years their favorite had been The Sound of Music. And in keeping with their shared passion, they kept my hair cut short. “You look just like Julie Andrews,” my mother would sigh every time Mr. Mel’s scissors completed their mission.
The summer Rex Reed made Audrey Hepburn into a lady instead of Julie Andrews like he should have, I was waiting to enter seventh grade. My anticipation of the citronella days of camp was tainted only slightly by my awareness that a social event of immense proportions was scheduled for September. My friend David Guthartz was having his bar mitzvah, to be followed by a dinner dance at a nice hotel. Catered, of course.
On the day that I climbed into Mr. Mel’s purple chair, my neck wrapped in a towel and my body encased in a lavender frock coat with snaps, I heard the needle drop on the record on the turntable on Mr. Mel’s desk. “The hills are alive,” Julie warbled.
Snip, snip, snip, went Mr. Mel’s blades, and he and my mother sang in unison. I felt a slight breeze across my face as he danced the blades over my bangs. And soon, although Mother Superior assured me I would never walk alone, I was left in solitude before the mirror as my mother went to pay the bill for our haircuts.
My ears glistened before me like waterlilies in the sun. My eyes behind my glasses were as round as the record spinning relentlessly behind me. “…when the dog bites, when the bee stings…” Julie stated emphatically.
I said nothing, and trailed my mother as she went in search of her Oldsmobile in the parking lot. She got into the car, and I slid into the passenger seat.
“Well, how do you like it?” she said, without looking at me.
“I hate it,” I said.
“Nonsense. You look just like Julie A…” She interrupted herself, finally taking in my personal scenery.
“Goodness,” she said.
“He’s outdone himself,” I told her. “I look ridiculous.”
Mom pulled herself together and said, “Mr. Mel thinks you have a nicely shaped head,” she assured me.
I left for camp two days later, and wore a sailor hat most of the time. I was secretly relieved that camp always contained girls who were hopelessly unattractive, so a Mr. Mel haircut wasn’t the end of the world.
However, immediately upon my return from the wilds of
I had to go to a dinner dance in a fancy dress, and take my Mr. Mel haircut with me. My mother said nothing, but did make an appointment for me at the dress shop to try on something in light blue. When she told my dad, he put down his coffee cup and said, “The poor kid looks like she’s had brain surgery. What are you going to do about that?”
I stared at him. It was a relief somehow to finally have somebody admit that I had been defiled. I was grateful for his words, however lacking in tact.
My mother said, “I was thinking about trying a little perm around the edges to sort of fluff things up. And maybe a big bow.”
My father said, “It might cure a poodle. But not this kid. Leave her to her misery, Betty.”
Later in the week, I got back my photos from the final bonfire at camp. I selected one shot of me sitting by a girl with long, golden braids. I put it under the glass on top of my father’s dresser.
Later, he thanked me. “You’re welcome,” I said. “Dad?”
“Did Julie Andrews ever play Heidi?” I asked.
He thought for a moment and replied, “Not to my knowledge. But Audrey Hepburn did play a nun.”