By MARK KENNEDY (AP Entertainment Writer)
NEW YORK (AP) — Glynis Johns, a Tony Award-winning star of stage and screen who played the mother opposite Julie Andrews in the classic film “Mary Poppins” and introduced the world to the future bittersweet standard “Send in the Clowns.” » by Stephen Sondheim, has died. She was 100 years old.
Mitch Clem, her manager, said she died Thursday at an assisted living facility in Los Angeles of natural causes. “Today is a sad day for Hollywood,” Clem said. “She’s the last of the last of old Hollywood.”
Johns was known to be a perfectionist in her profession – precise, analytical and opinionated. The roles she assumed had to be multifaceted. Anything less was giving less than everything.
“As far as I'm concerned, I'm not interested in playing this role on just one level,” she told the Associated Press in 1990. “The interest in first-class acting is to make it a reality. Be real. And I have to make sense of it in my mind to be real.
Johns' greatest triumph was playing Desiree Armfeldt in “A Little Night Music,” for which she won a Tony in 1973. Sondheim wrote the show's hit song “Send in the Clowns” to adapt it to her distinctive raspy voice, but she lost the role in the 1977 film version to Elizabeth Taylor.
“I've written other songs for myself, but nothing like this,” Johns told the AP in 1990. “It's the greatest gift I've ever received in the theater.”
Others who followed Johns in singing Sondheim's most popular song include Frank Sinatra, Judy Collins, Barbra Streisand, Sarah Vaughan and Olivia Newton-John. He also appeared in the second season of “Yellowjackets” in 2023, sung by Elijah Wood.
At the time of its conception, “A Little Night Music” was in rehearsal with some of the book and score unfinished, including a solo song for Johns. Director Hal Prince suggested he and co-star Len Cariou improvise a scene or two to give writer Hugh Wheeler some ideas.
“Hal said, 'Why don't you just say what you feel,'” she recalled to the AP. “When Len and I did that, Hal called Steve Sondheim and said, 'I think you better get in a cab and drive around here and watch what they're doing because you're going to get an idea of what they're doing.” Glynis's solo.
Johns was the fourth generation of an English theatrical family. His father, Mervyn Johns, had a long career as an actor and his mother was a pianist. She was born in Pretoria, South Africa because her parents were touring the area at the time of her birth.
Johns was a dancer at 12 and an actor at 14 in London's West End. Her breakthrough role was as the lovelorn siren in the hit 1948 comedy “Miranda.”
“I was a good athlete, my muscles were strong from dancing, so my dick was fine; I swam like a porpoise,” she told Newsday in 1998. In 1960's “The Sundowners,” starring Deborah Kerr and Robert Mitchum, she was nominated for an Academy Award for best actress in a supporting actor. (She lost to Shirley Jones in “Elmer Gantry.”)
Other highlights included playing the mother in “Mary Poppins,” the film that introduced Julie Andrews and where she sang the catchy song “Sister Suffragette.” She also starred in the 1989 Broadway revival of “The Circle,” W. Somerset Maugham's romantic comedy about love, marriage and fidelity, alongside Rex Harrison and Stewart Granger.
“I have retired several times. My personal life preceded my work. Theater is simply part of my life. This probably appeals to my highest sense of intelligence, so I have to come back to it to realize that I have the talent. I’m not as good at doing anything else,” she told the AP.
To prepare for “A Coffin in Egypt,” Horton Foote's 1998 play about a grande dame recalling her life on and off a ranch on the Texas prairie, she asked the Texas-born Foote to record a short tape of himself reading a few lines and used it as a trainer.
In a 1991 Los Angeles revival of “A Little Night Music,” she played Madame Armfeldt, Désirée's mother, the role she had originated. In 1963, she starred in her own television sitcom “Glynis.”
Johns has lived all over the world and had four husbands. The first was the father of her only child, the late Gareth Forwood, an actor who died in 2007.
Mark Kennedy is at http://twitter.com/KennedyTwits