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The Dark Side of Mary Poppins and Her Creator, the Abandoned Helen Goff/PL Travers

Ms. Inglish has spent 30 years working in medicine, psychology, STEM instruction, and aerospace education for Active USAF Civil Air Patrol.

Poppins Stories Change In Transition From Books to Film

Helen Lyndon Goff (later, P. L. Travers) was born in 1899, the daughter of an alcoholic, inept, "bamboozling" banker who died when Helen was just seven years old. Not helping this childhood tragedy is that Mr. Travers R. Goff was also Irish - Helen likely endured bigoted taunts about her "drunken Irish roots."

Consensus of literary critics' opinions is that she spent the rest of her 96 years in search of a father figure and the luxury of being left alone.

Amateur psychoanalyses aside, Helen, who became P.L.Travers on stage as an actress, was likely a lonely and melancholy person during at least part of her life. One cannot accurately evaluate an unmet person, but that is my best guess. After all, writer-historian-analysts Patricia Cornwell and ML Trow both studied the possible identities for Jack the Ripper long after the deaths of all involved in the case and although each proposal sounds dead-on accurate, they settle on different suspects.

I do mention Mary Poppins and Jack the Ripper in the same paragraph. The literary character Mary Poppins is not quite as bad as the real Jack, whoever he was. Certainly, that statement is a form of hyperbole, but Mary Poppins in the books was not a nice personality. She was a cactus among women.

Helen's Mary Poppins in a series of eight books for children is not the sugar-sweet governess who makes the medicine go down more easily. She is negative, darkly brooding, and authoritarian. She does strange and mystical things. This Mary Poppins should have been the governess in the Tim Burton film Dark Shadows (2012), or a handmaiden to Corpse Bride (2005).

Consensus of literary critics' opinions is that she spent the rest of her 96 years in search of a father figure and the luxury of being left alone.

I do mention Mary Poppins and Jack the Ripper in the same paragraph. The literary character Mary Poppins is not quite as bad as the real Jack, whoever he was. Certainly, that statement is a form of hyperbole, but Mary Poppins in the books was not a nice personality. She was a cactus among women.

Helen's Mary Poppins in a series of eight books for children is not the sugar-sweet governess who makes the medicine go down more easily. She is negative, darkly brooding, and authoritarian. She does strange and mystical things. This Mary Poppins should have been the governess in the Tim Burton film Dark Shadows (2012), or a handmaiden to Corpse Bride (2005).

Mary Poppins, Full of Shadows

  • Video credit: moviemker on YouTube

    Recut of the Disney classic 'Mary Poppins' was made by Chris Rule, with assistance by Nick Eckert. Music "A Violent Attack" composed by Caine Davidson for 'An American Haunting'; "Stay Awake" written by Richard and Robert Sherman for Disney film.

Julie Andrews as the 1964 Mary Poppins, a little sooty after an outing with chimney sweep Bert. Not afraid to get dirty for a friend.

Julie Andrews as the 1964 Mary Poppins, a little sooty after an outing with chimney sweep Bert. Not afraid to get dirty for a friend.

Why the Name "Poppins"?

Mary Poppins is Mary-who-pops-in when needed and pops out on the wind when no longer needed.

A similar character in childhood novels is Nanny McPhee, who arrived and left as needed, except that she announced her leavings. Nanny also changed gradually from an ugly crone into a beautiful woman as the children in the household improved their behaviors. She lodged near the families she helped, in the houses of adults who were once her charges as children. As adults, they loved having her come to stay.

Both Mary and McPhee "fixed" dysfunctional families, but Mary as a representation of author P.L. Travers, aimed to fix Mr. Banks (Travers's own alcoholic father).

Nanny McPhee depicted at the Norland Scarecrow Festival 2018 in Scotland.

Nanny McPhee depicted at the Norland Scarecrow Festival 2018 in Scotland.

Author Travers vs. Film Maker Disney

Various sources claim that Walt Disney attempted to purchase the film rights to the first one or two Mary Poppins books anytime between 1938 through 1944.The film Saving Mr. Banks (2013) illustrates the animosity that increased between Mickey Mouse's poppa and the spinster Miss Travers. Critics criticize one another about their opinions as to which of the two adults acted more selfishly and childishly. Regardless, Travers was not invited to the premier of the 1964 film and was required to ask Walt Disney for permission to attend, according to legend.

The reality is that Disney was running a business and Tom Hanks portrays him as trying to figure out in 1964 who and what Mary Poppins is to Miss Travers.

I am not sure that Walt actually had time to do that figuring. However, comments by Hanks in character indicate that Mary Poppins was an entity whose purpose it was to instruct George Banks in the proper ways and attitudes of child rearing; and, George Banks is a proxy for Travers's father, the alcoholic Mr. Goff, who drank too much and abandoned her through his inconstancy and death.

Ms. Poppins may have been an amalgam of personality traits of several people, or she may have been based entirely on a relative who cared for the children after Goff's death. The magical and mystical aspects of the character - talking umbrellas and psychokinesis - are often elements that fill the mind of a lonely, abused or abandoned child, if the child has an imagination.

Who is Mary Poppins?

Who is Mary Poppins?

Consensus does seem to be that Poppins helped Helen and her siblings, through Helen's storytelling, survive a difficult childhood time. Emma Thompson portrays Miss Travers well, even looking as pinched in expression: and at this point, I recall that Emma Thompson portrayed the ugly magical nanny that becomes beautiful as children learn good habits in the film Nanny McPhee (2005, rated PG), tagline: Behave or Beware. In the Poppins books, Mary unfortunately does not become more likable.

In the 1964 G-rated Poppins film, Mary is almost always lovely, perky, and song-filled. A more accurate telling of the story would rate at least a PG, becoming what critics call a "hard PG", approaching PG-13.

Saving Mr. Banks is a PG-13 film, providing room for more of the less attractive truth behind Mary Poppins, her creator, and the first film production.

Short Interviews and Scenes with Emma Thompson and Tom Hanks

Poppins Psychological Insights Exposed in 2007

the-dark-side-of-mary-poppins-and-her-creator-the-abandoned-helen-travers

Is P.L.Travers Mary Poppins?

The biography of P.L. Travers was written in 2005, about a decade after Helen died at age 96. It is based on her private papers that she left behind and did not destroy (see the reference box to the right).

One characteristic behavior or attitude of many people affected by the actions of alcoholics is the desire to "make or help them act right." This allows some folks to feel special because they also feel that they can control the alcoholic and his alcoholism - but who wants to control terminal cancer rather that to eliminate it? Alcoholism is as bad a curse.

Making the alcoholic "act right" often places the other person in a nasty authoritarian role or takes up all of a friendlier person's time.

So, is Helen really Mary Poppins, making things right in her books, because she could not do so in her life?

Does Mary Poppins of the 1964 film really save Mr. Banks (Mr. Goff).

These are complex issues.

Helen was angry when she saw the 1964 film, especially with the animated penguins (NO cartoons!). Thus, she refused to sell stage rights for a theatrical production to anyone except UK professionals (absslutely NO Americans!).

Cameron Mackintosh purchased the rights and produced a new musical adaptation of Mary Poppins beginning in 2004. A version in American in 2012 and 2013 has been very good as well as successful.

The stage adaptation shows clearly that George Banks, a banker, was tormented in his childhood by a cruel and nasty nanny. Perhaps in Saving Mr. Banks, we'll find out who that nanny was.

Looking for Mary Poppins

Sources

© 2013 Patty Inglish MS

Comments

Patty Inglish MS (author) from USA and Asgardia, the First Space Nation on November 24, 2013:

I was fortunate enough to attend a press screening of this film about Mary Poppins and Helen Goff: "Saving Mr.Banks." It will break your heart and then mend it. Few realize what eperiences P.L. Travers and Walt Disney shared in their childhoods in different countries.

Patty Inglish MS (author) from USA and Asgardia, the First Space Nation on October 28, 2013:

I am anxious to see the Hanks/Thompson version as well. I agree it would be fortunate to find something written by Travers or Disney that would help solve the mystery.

drbj and sherry from south Florida on October 27, 2013:

The Disney version was my favorite, Patty, so I am looking forward to viewing the Hanks/Thompson version of Travers and Poppins. Thanks for your enticing synopsis.

Dora Weithers from The Caribbean on October 23, 2013:

Very interesting! What would be still more interesting is to have their actual voices helping us figure out themselves and their actions. Thank you for sharing this information.

Patty Inglish MS (author) from USA and Asgardia, the First Space Nation on October 23, 2013:

@Alexander Mark - As soon as I saw the first trailer for "Saving Mr. Banks" with Emma Thompson as P. L. Travers, a gong chimed in my brain and I had to find out why. I do so hope the new film has good information!

Alexander Silvius from Portland, Oregon on October 23, 2013:

This hub is simply amazing. I have never heard or read anything about Mary Poppins or her creator, but I did see the preview a few weeks ago for the Tom Hanks version and I got the feeling it would present an alternate, sugar-coated, what-could-have-been version of events like the movie, "IQ" about Einstein and his fictional niece and her romantic life, and it seems more likely now that I perceived that correctly. Honestly, I have always found the whole Mary Poppins thing to be weird - I thought that was because I didn't grow up with it as many have, but now I can see there is a basis for that feeling! Still, this is all very interesting and a bit sad, an eye opener.

Patty Inglish MS (author) from USA and Asgardia, the First Space Nation on October 22, 2013:

Maren Morgan M-T - That's a quite good description!

rcorcutt - I hope you like them; they are only G, but they give me a lift and some entertainment.

Smireles - Thanks for your kind words! It all seems quite controversial in the press, too. Maybe critics tried too hard to dig into Travers's life without one-on-one contact -- The biography has some pretty dicey information about possible romantic partners and her involvement with mysticism. I feel bad for Helen, and for all kids brought up in homes with alcoholism and other addictions.

Sandra Mireles from Texas on October 22, 2013:

Wow! Thanks for taking the time to tell us about the books and the author. I have never even thought about this. Great research. Great writing. Great Hub! I did enjoy the fairytale quality of the Mary Poppins movie.

rcorcutt on October 22, 2013:

I will check them out. Thanks.

Maren Elizabeth Morgan from Pennsylvania on October 22, 2013:

I read Mary Poppins long ago. She had little sympathy for foolishness and had great difficulty showing affection.

Patty Inglish MS (author) from USA and Asgardia, the First Space Nation on October 22, 2013:

I like the Nanny McPhee films better than the 1964 Mary Poppins, but the stage musical of Poppins is pretty good, with new musical numbers.

Mary Poppins may be popular this yar for costumes, given all the press!

Mary Craig from New York on October 22, 2013:

I certainly want to see "Saving Mr. Banks". Having seen Mary Poppins and Nanny McPhee I think it would be very interesting as is this hub. We never really get the true story behind a lot of movies. (I dressed as Mary Poppins two years ago.)

Voted up, useful, and interesting.

rcorcutt on October 22, 2013:

I never saw the Nanny McPhee films. Because you are watching them again I take it they are worth watching?

Patty Inglish MS (author) from USA and Asgardia, the First Space Nation on October 22, 2013:

I also am eager to see "Saving Mr. Banks" and wondering what surprising information it may contain. Now I also want to see the Nanny McPhee films (2) again.

Thanks for the new messages!

NiaLee from BIG APPLE on October 22, 2013:

It is very interesting to have that information about Mary Poppins. I love the Disney version and it is almost a tradition in my original and my nuclear family... Nany Mc Phee seemed to be another version of the same character to me and you confirmed it. I never did that much research about the subject taking to face value and as a very pleasing and entertaining even enchanting moment the Disney movie because we all need some magic in our lives, some hope, so music... THANK YOU now I need to see Mr Banks!!!

rcorcutt on October 22, 2013:

I am very interested to see a movie based on a hypothetical Mary Poppins written seriously.

Patty Inglish MS (author) from USA and Asgardia, the First Space Nation on October 22, 2013:

Fascinating, isn't it? I wonder how many peope with dress like Mary Poppins this halloween?

Anita Saran from Bangalore, India on October 22, 2013:

How eye-opening! Thanks for this.

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