Mohan is a family physician, film and TV aficionado, a keen bibliophile and an eclectic scribbler.
Travers Robert Goff: Life and Death
Travers Robert Goff was an enterprising Irishman who was born in Deptford, South London. He went to make his fortune in Australia with his wife Margaret. He soon assumed the position of bank manager in the Australian Joint Stock Bank in Queensland. The Goff family lived in a house attached to the bank itself and had their three daughters there.
The eldest of the daughters was named Helen Lyndon Goff and was known to everyone simply as 'Lyndon.' A strong-willed, passionate young thing, she was close to her parents and her two little sisters. Travers Goff liked a drink. It wasn't a habit favored by his employers. That unfortunately didn't stop him from drinking more and more. He paid a heavy penalty when the bank demoted him from manager to bank clerk. This was a time of economic crisis and recession. Banks were foreclosing loans and making their employees redundant. The excesses of the old century gave way to the realities of the new. The Boom days were over.
What he used to do for fun, Travers started to drink out of self-pity and fear of failure. in 1907 Travers, still only in his forties, died from a life unfulfilled from alcoholism, high fever and a broken heart as he feared a further demotion. Travers left his wife and three daughters destitute for at the same time, his wife's inheritance held in Queensland National Bank was also lost as the bank went insolvent.
The centuries may be different, but the background of this story is the all too familiar financial meltdown creating havoc in people's lives, as it has done in recent years.
Sometime after her husband's death, poor Margaret, overcome with grief and depression, ran out of the house one rainy day, threatening to drown herself in the nearby river. The children were petrified with fear. Only Helen, the eldest, wrapped her two little sisters in a quilt and told them a story of a magical flying horse and its adventures. The seeds for a future of telling stories were perhaps sown that ghastly night. The mother did eventually return to her children and the family got by on a wing and a prayer.
Their poverty remained until Helen was old enough to go to work. She started early, working as a secretary in a cashier's office. She soon left this as she had developed quite a talent for singing and dancing. Helen went to seek her fortune in showbiz.
She adopted the stage name of Pamela Lyndon Travers and worked with an Australian Touring company.
Step in Time
Helen, now Pamela Lyndon Travers, was already writing articles for the local magazines while performing in the troupe. She knew if she wanted to take her writing career further she'd need to move somewhere where writing and publishing flourished in that era. At the mere age of 25 (in 1924) she sailed to London to make a living there.
This was a brave step for a young girl in a male-dominated world. She was entrepreneurial, hardworking and fearless. She wanted to get in touch with her Irish roots and on an impulse went to visit the poet WB Yeats, who received this bright young thing with positive notes of encouragement. She also submitted poems to the Irish Statesman which was edited by the poet George Russell (known to the publishing world as AE) who became her mentor.
Pamela formed a close friendship with Madge Barnard, the daughter of one of AE's friends. The pair moved from a London flat to a cottage in Sussex where Pamela continued to write articles and poems. Pamela always wanted to write a book. Her inspiration was JM Barrie, whose Peter Pan was storming the London scene as a play and a book.
It was the winter of 1933, when she was recovering from a bout of pleurisy, that Pamela started writing the book that would introduce to the world the most famous nanny of them all.
PL Travers was very much influenced by JM Barrie's Peter Pan. The link doesn't stop there: Mary Poppins was published by Peter Davies who was JM Barrie's adopted son, and the inspiration for Peter Pan.
The Mary Poppins Books
The Perfect Nanny
Pamela Lyndon Travers shortened her name to PL Travers as it was the vogue those days for female authors. It seems to be the same trend that made publishers change Joanne Kathleen Rowling to JK Rowling - apparently boys don't tend to read books written by a woman. Making the name gender-neutral helps, according to the publishers! Could this still be true in this era?
Her childhood of poverty, the depression era banking collapse, her insecurity about her parents and the desire for a perfect family harmony birthed the nanny who taught life lessons and brought discipline into this disorderly world.
Mary Poppins was born.
The Mary Poppins of the book isn't the jolly, twinkly-eyed creation we have come to enjoy as portrayed by Julie Andrews. She arrives when the wind changes as 'a shape.. a gathering darkness' and sets about wasting no time in demonstrating her magical powers. She is vain, imperious, bossy and suffers no fools. While she sets about to make the parents realize what truly matters in their children and restores their family harmony, her methods aren't always the nicest or the sweetest in the books.
In the Mary Poppins books, although the children's father, Mr Banks, is not an alcoholic and the mother wasn't an outright depressive, it is not hard to spot that the templates for the story were laid in that stormy night when she was a mere 8-year-old left to fend for her sisters.
There is no denying the power of Mary Poppins. In the early 20th century, as old values were being eroded and new ones arrived, people clamored for some old-fashioned discipline laced with the magical message of love and family unity: a spoonful of sugar does make the medicine go down.
PL Travers went on to pen eight Mary Poppins novels during her long life (she lived until 96 years of age). She always said she didn't set out to plan the novels but often had to write them 'when she was summoned' by the magical nanny. This could explain the long periods between the books.
The Mary Poppins Books
Mary Poppins comes Back
Mary Poppins Opens the Door
Mary Poppins in the Park
Mary Poppins from A-Z
Mary Poppins in the Kitchen
Mary Poppins in Cherry Tree Lane
Mary Poppins and the House Next Door
PL Travers suffered no fools, like Mary Poppins. She was fiercely independent and did not always reveal her biographical facts to interviewers. She didn't follow tradition. She never married, and despite rumours of a lesbian relationship, continued to live with her companion Madge in that Sussex cottage for the rest of her life.
She adopted an orphaned boy and brought him up as her son. Sadly the story of her adopted son, Camillus, is not filled with tales of good parenting. Travers sent him to a boarding school while she concentrated on her career.
She also had a tendency to re-imagine her past, giving different versions of her upbringing (she once said she was a happy child who grew up on a plantation to loving parents). In this area, she was as elusive and as mysterious as the magical nanny. Just like her creator, there is something edgy about the nanny, despite her sweetness, maybe this is why children and adults love her so much.
Travers had the courage and determination to take her talent where it will thrive. She came from humble beginnings to establish herself as an author in London and achieve success and untold riches that could've been laughed off as a pipe dream in her difficult formative years.
She was a true original. Like it often happens when two originals clash, sparks will fly.
This is what happened when Travers met Disney.
A Man has Dreams
During World War II, PL Travers moved to Manhattan and was residing there when she was first contacted by Disney about the rights to her book. Walt Disney wanted to make a feature film based on the books. Travers was fiercely protective of her property and felt Disney would ruin her stories. She refused his advances for well over 14 years.
Walt was a persistent man who knew a good story. He also had a personal crusade as he had promised his two daughters who loved the books that he would make that film. He bombarded Pamela for 14 years with letters full of flattery. He made transcontinental visits and plied her with constant attention. The persistence paid off when she eventually relented and sold the rights to her first two books. She was given an astronomical sum of £100,000 dollars ( £2 million in today's value) as well as 5% of the film's profits.
PL Travers also had a clause that she would have some creative say in the script.
Disney would regret the day he agreed to that clause.
The story goes that Pamela Travers approached Walt Disney himself after the premiere, demanding him to re-edit the film and remove the animation sequences.
To which, Disney apparently replied, 'That ship has sailed Pamela!'
Little did Walt know what he was letting himself in for. Depending on whose version you hear, PL Travers was a constant thorn in the production's side. She demanded rigid script control, refused any alterations to the theme and wanted to retain the darker shades of the original story. Walt Disney was also a man who knew exactly what he wanted. He wanted a mass-market appeal, animated song sequences and a pretty, all singing, all dancing Mary Poppins.
Travers hated the fact that the family seemed prosperous, while in the books they are relatively poor. She loathed that Mrs Banks was turned into a suffragette thus justifying the need for a nanny. Disney felt US audiences may not buy the concept of a nanny if the mother was still at home.
The songwriters, the Sherman brothers, were constantly summoned by Travers during her visits where she disapproved of every version of the songs which later became worldwide hits. She hated the animated sequence where Mary Poppins and Bert take the children to a magical place through the pictures on the sidewalk and wanted it edited out.
She didn't want Julie Andrews as she said she was 'too pretty to be Mary Poppins.' In later interviews she claimed Julie Andrews was perfectly cast but was just 'badly directed.'
The feud became so intolerable that the Walt Disney executives tried to stop her from attending the 1964 premiere.
Apparently, she managed to sneak into the premiere and watched the film in floods of tears. The story goes that she then approached Walt himself after the premiere, demanding him to re-edit the film and remove the animation sequences.
To which, Disney had allegedly replied, 'That ship has sailed Pamela!'
There is no denying, however, that the film's subsequent success brought Pamela so much fame and fortune. Despite this, she resolutely refused to work with Disney ever again and declined the production of a sequel!
When Cameron Mackintosh approached her for the stage musical, she sought assurances that some of the elements of the book would be retained and that he wouldn't let 'them' (Disney) spoil the story again!
It is clear, however, the continuing global success of Mary Poppins was very much due to the popular film.
In a strange twist of fate, the story of the feud between Walt Disney and PL Travers and the making of Mary Poppins is now produced by Disney Pictures as a film.
The film, called Saving Mr Banks, centers around Travers's journey to California to negotiate selling the film rights, her turmoils and her reminiscences about her father while there. The movie, written by Kelly Marcel (it remained one of the best unproduced screenplays in Hollywood 'Blacklist' for a while) and directed by John Lee Hancock (The Blind Side), stars Tom Hanks as Walt Disney and Emma Thompson as PL Travers.
It was released in 2013 (around the 50th anniversary of the film Mary Poppins).
Thank you for reading this article . Please do leave some comments and feedback below. And do vote as appropriate!
If you like what you read share it with friends and family on Facebook/ Twitter/ Pinterest/ Google+ or similar.
Appreciate your time and interest, dear reader.
Do come again.
© Mohan Kumar 2012
rroberts12 on September 01, 2014:
Just watched " Saving Mr. Banks " It was riveting and very emotional. Tom Hanks and Emma Thompson did a fantastic job. Mary Poppins now takes on a whole new meaning. Thank you for the real story!
Audrey Howitt from California on May 28, 2014:
Very cool hub !!!
Lynn on December 29, 2013:
I feel the movie is too kind to PL Travers. After seeing the movie and reading about her she definitely had many unresolved issues. Not portraying the fact that she adopted a child let alone only one twin really lost credibility with me. She was one messed up women. Good movie just wish they would have portrayed her for who she really was. In the scene at the premier you get the feeling she was crying about her past childhood, when in fact she was angry and wanted the amination removed from the movie.
B.A O. on December 23, 2013:
I saw the movie yesterday and wanted to learn more about the author. The movie, Saving Mr. Banks, portrays P.L. Travers as kind of a straight laced and proper English woman and that couldn't be further from the truth from what I've read on-line. Entertaining movie for sure but now the character of this woman is spoiled for me. Especially when I learn she adopted only one of a set a twins.
Mohan Kumar (author) from UK on December 03, 2013:
You are right - spellchecker gremlins maybe. I've corrected it thanks for the editorial input.
Fiona on December 01, 2013:
I think you mean the poet Yeats, not Keats!
Kathryn from Windsor, Connecticut on March 10, 2013:
Maria, I just checked out IMDb, and the release date is December 20, 2013 in USA, UK, and Australia.
Maria Cecilia from Philippines on March 09, 2013:
Is it coming soon.. I am also waiting for it.
Kathryn from Windsor, Connecticut on March 09, 2013:
That was very interesting. After hearing this story, I am interested in seeing the upcoming movie about PL Travers. Thank you for sharing this with us!
Daisy Mariposa from Orange County (Southern California) on February 19, 2013:
I've returned to read your article a second time. I'm sharing it with my followers, tweeting it, and posting the link on Google+.
Maria Cecilia from Philippines on January 07, 2013:
With Tom Hanks to play Walt Disney, this will be a very interesting movie.... I went to Disneyland, Hongkong last month, and I can't help but recall Walt Disney and Pamela L. Traverse.
Dolores Monet from East Coast, United States on January 07, 2013:
Although familiar with the film, I never knew the backstory of Mary Poppins and her creator, PL Travers. What a marvelous tale about such an interesting character. Travers is an inspiration - her rise out of poverty and family disruption, how she had the gumption to fight it out with the powerful Disney. I imagine the film about her will be fascinating. Voted up and awesome!
Ishwaryaa Dhandapani from Chennai, India on December 19, 2012:
An absolutely well-researched & wonderfully written hub! It is interesting to learn about its author, her long time feud with Disney and overall success. I would like to see the film starring Tom Hanks & Emma Thompson. An entertaining hub! Way to go!
Thanks for SHARING. Awesome & Interesting. Voted up & shared both on HubPages & Facebook
Shauna L Bowling from Central Florida on November 11, 2012:
Doc, I grew up with Mary Poppins, in fact I play the video for children who have never seen it, much as I buy "Candyland" as a birthday gift for toddlers; Mary Poppins is a household name.
I had no idea of the history, however. Very interesting. I look forward to the upcoming movie, although I fear it will ruin my visions and childhood memories of one of the best movies of all time.
Thank you! (I think!!) :-)
Mary Craig from New York on November 06, 2012:
Well now you've gone and done it! Educated a whole new wave of folks about Mary Poppins. I know from other Disney films (like Snow White) that Disney altered things to make them more appealing to American audiences but of course had no idea what the author was really like.
Everything about Mary is 'Super' and your hub so factual, interesting and fun to read. Your writing style makes everything interesting!
Voted up, useful, awesome, interesting, shared and pinned.
P.S. Congrats lollipop!
Nithya Venkat from Dubai on November 03, 2012:
Mary Poppins is one of my all time favorites. What a loss for Travers refusing to work further with Walt Disney. Never knew all this, an interesting read. Great work.Voted up and shared.
Michelle Liew from Singapore on November 02, 2012:
Mary Poppins has always been my favorite nanny, Doc. One of the first songs I learned as a member of the children's choir was "Feed the Birds." And I always loved "Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious." A real tongue twister. A talented lady PL Travis was too.Thanks for sharing!
Mohan Kumar (author) from UK on November 02, 2012:
@drbj: I'm glad I finally found a story that you didn't know about as I am always fascinated by your encyclopaedic knowledge base. Thanks for your visit.
@Dianna: I knew there would be many Mary Poppins fans who probably didn't know about the books and their background. I'm glad this was interesting. thank you.
@Christy: origin stories sometimes are more interesting than the story itself. I was truly pleased to learn about the author and her background and share it here. thank you!
@Liz-reviews: thank you so much. I'm glad you dropped by and enjoyed this article.
@Dahlia- flower: I'm really pleased you enjoyed this tale of the author. The film should be fascinating to watch.
@suzette: I had read few of the original books after finding them in my many treasure hunting days to old book shops. I didn't know much about the author until recently and the story truly interested me and I'm glad it does others too.
@Pamela: behind many creative souls there is always some dark tragedy or a shadow hanging over that seems to fuel their creativity. Thank you for your visit and comments.
Mohan Kumar (author) from UK on November 02, 2012:
@Leslie: thank you for complimenting the writing style. Sometimes the true, unembellished stories are the easier ones to tell. Mary Poppins is a popular character for many and the true story behind her creation held me fascinated.
@Ruby: she disliked Disney's version of her film but must have had a grudging admiration to his ability to transform her tale into an even more popular enduring classic.
@coffeeginmyrice: Yes. I knew about the books before and learnt the background of the author recently and thought it was an interestign tale to share. thank you!
@Richard: thank you very much. The film story and the cast make it worth waiting for.
@Maria: you are very kind. Thanks for appreciating my research and the resultant tale. It is nice to know one's words and story telling reach such a discerning audience in such a way. I especially love my speciality in cool. You're a darling!
Mohan Kumar (author) from UK on November 02, 2012:
@Sharkeye11 : thank you. I know books and films are essentially different media. Although disney has bene accused of sugar coating many stories for mass consumption one cannot deny that the resultant popularity it brings to the author and the characters is enormous. As an author the pang of losing so much material and tone must be painful!
@MHatter: thank you- I'm glad I was abel to share something new.
@Martie: you are so right. Fakes may be more affordable, more mass market and more accessible than originals. The balance is a hard one- do we go for a true vision that may not always be shared by many or do we sacrifice and stay faithful to the original but may not always be appreciated by many. The true genius would be to take the original vision and make it marketable too without losing the themes.
@Paula- Thank you so much. I ma glad I could 'teach' something new about a well known classic. I'm even more glad that the resultant tale is an intriguing , enjoyable and a true story that shows what a strong, resilient and courageous woman Travers was.
@Poshcoffeeco - thank you. I too am looking forward to the film.
Mohan Kumar (author) from UK on November 02, 2012:
@Bill : I too came upon bits of her life and was fascinated enough to feel her story has to be shared- Thank you!
@Maria Cecilia: thanks for dropping in and reading this - childhood stories always being such a nice wave of nostalgia. Hope you find that music box again...
@Janine- I'm glad I was able to bring some new insight into a popular story. Glad you enjoyed it- Thank you for sharing.
@Daisy- I'm pleased the research paid off in its execution. Sometimes one learns so much it is hard not to repeat it all and be boring. Hopefully I was able to keep the reader's interest in this tale.
@lovedoctor- Thank you. One of the reasons I picked this tale to tell is because of how popular Mary Poppins still is.
Pamela Dapples from Arizona. on October 30, 2012:
It's sure sad about Helen's father being overtaken by the demon alcoholism. And then her mom having such a difficult life after that -- I do hope Ms. Pamela helped her old mom out after she became successful. She was a brave young lady to strike out on her own like that and be so determined.
I enjoyed this so much -- and your photos are great, too. Voting up and awesome.
Suzette Walker from Taos, NM on October 29, 2012:
What an enchanting, charming hub, Docmo. You have given us an entertaining, interesting and informative article. I didn't know the background of the author or the making of the Disney movie. I loved the movie with Julie Andrews and as a child I had a Mary Poppins doll I played with. I agree with Travers, though, about the animated parts of the movie - I never cared for those even as a child. I also didn't realized Travers wrote so many Mary Poppins books. I will have to read some, although I never read the original, just saw the movie. Thank you for writing an article that brings back such great childhood memories.
Dahlia Flower from Canada on October 29, 2012:
This is so good! I love it. And what a character the author, Helen Lyndon Goff, is. Prideful, stubborn....but very talented. Maybe the movie will help me like her better. Great hub!
Voting up, useful (because I've learned of a new good moving coming out one day) and awesome. Sharing.
Eunice Elizabeth from Vancouver, BC on October 29, 2012:
1st things 1st Congrats on the much coveted lollipop award!! You are very deserving of this prestigious award that has been created by your peers. So sorry it has taken so long to send the Congrats!
Your writing in this Hub is so intriguing, I never knew the background to the author and all that ensued. I had no idea that there was a series of books. Fabulous tell of the story behind this beloved "Mary Poppins" and the creator.
Well done, I look forward to your Hubs.
Christy Birmingham from British Columbia, Canada on October 29, 2012:
What an interesting outline of the origins of the story Mary Poppins. I should have guessed it was written by a woman! I did not know there is an entire series of books about here. I am interested now in the upcoming movie. Voting up and sharing as well.
Dianna Mendez on October 28, 2012:
I found this so fascinating. I am a big Mary Poppins fan, but have to admit I didn't know there were eight books. I will have to look these up and catch up my reading. A very well done article and voted way up!
drbj and sherry from south Florida on October 28, 2012:
I have always loved the story of Mary Poppins and the Disney film is one of my favorites, Mohan, but I never knew all these interesting details about the remarkable author, PL Travers.
Imagine standing up to Walt Disney for her principles despite his fame and powerful image. She was definitely a woman far, far ahead of her time. Thank you, my friend, for breathing such vitality and life into the story of her upbringing and early travails. This is a gem and deserves the Up!
Maria Jordan from Jeffersonville PA on October 28, 2012:
This was like an archeological dig, finding out one piece of information after another about my childhood icon, Mary Poppins.
I understand so much better of Travers' possessiveness as I read about her upbringing. This was work that started deep in her childhood imagination...I will now greatly look forward to the 50th anniversary show.
Mohan, I never know what subject to expect but I know it will be written with the same depth, breadth and creativity that we all love from you.
You are a general practitioner of writing with a specialty in cool.
Voted UP and all over. Hugs, Maria
Rich from Kentucky on October 28, 2012:
Mohan, A tremendously interesting read, my friend! Was completely unaware of the turmoil involved with making of the movie or the prior history of the books. I enjoyed the film as a child, and still do to this day. Can't wait to see the Tom H. & Emma T. story. Great Job!
Marites Mabugat-Simbajon from Toronto, Ontario on October 27, 2012:
Brings back memories of my childhood and watching Mary Poppins in the movies and yes, that was Julie Andrews. My ma would give me and my brother 2 rounds of the movie. We don't leave the theater until we are ready and full of the story and songs.
This is an awesome work you've done Docmo. I never knew. I never knew. I never knew Mary Poppins like this one here. No need to research, everything is here and is very entertaining! Would love to share this.
Ruby Jean Richert from Southern Illinois on October 27, 2012:
You made ' The Making Of Mary Poppins ' so interesting. I knew nothing about her dislike for Disney. I loved the movie. Thank you..Will share on Google..
Karen Silverman on October 27, 2012:
I had no idea, Doc - and i love learning new stuffs! Mary Poppins is - of course - a favorite - of myself and mychildren - and probably their children one day if they ever decide to give me a damned grandchild! Oops...sorry...got off track..lol!
Thanks for this info on such an incredible woman with such courage, determination, and confidence - and WAY back then too! Hard to even imagine, really..
btw..your writing style is soooo smooth - i'm absorbed almost immediately..
voting up, sharing out..
HUB, HUB, kiss, Doc...
Steve Mitchell from Cambridgeshire on October 27, 2012:
Docmo, very interesting account of the life of PLT. I look forward to the new film.
Suzie from Carson City on October 27, 2012:
Docmo....All these years that I thought I knew Mary Poppins! This is a wonderful story of factual background on this fascinating author. I like her style and commend her tenacity. How many women, that many years ago, would have had the moxy to go head to head with the great Walt Disney!?
Thank you, Docmo for this welcomed education. Writers like you and the great stories you bring your readers are just 2 of the many fantastic aspects to residing in HubVille! I appreciate this spoonful of literary history!.......UP+++
Martie Coetser from South Africa on October 27, 2012:
Always interesting to know the origin of ideas and to see them realizing in reality as entities on their own, growing into what nobody had foreseen.
In Travers' shoes I, too, would hated seeing my original work changed by 'smart asses' to what they considered to be popular and profitable.
But then, whatever we utter, verbally or in writing, no longer belong to us. Any Dick Tom and Harry can take it and make or break it.
Let's just say there are two versions of Mary Poppins - The original and the fake....
Is it not true that fakes are more affordable than originals?
Docmo, you are an original. Excellent hub, voted up :)
Martin Kloess from San Francisco on October 26, 2012:
Wow talk about ignorant (me I mean). I didn't know any of this! Thank you for fixing me up.
Jayme Kinsey from Oklahoma on October 26, 2012:
What a fascinating story! I read and enjoyed every word. I've read a few of the books, and of course seen the film, but I had no idea what an interesting and spirited person P.L. Travers was. I wonder if today's authors feel just as much animosity towards production companies and directors that change their stories?
I think especially of the Harry Potter series. I understand things have to be omitted due to the time limit, but why cut so much out and then pad the film back out with completely different details?
Regardless, Mary Poppins will forever be emblazoned in our minds as portrayed by Julie Andrews. Even with the scenes so unloved by Travers.
Voting up and more!
lovedoctor926 on October 26, 2012:
Great hub! I've always loved Mary Poppins. This is one of my favorite movies. I have it on DVD as well. Voted up awesome!
Daisy Mariposa from Orange County (Southern California) on October 26, 2012:
Thanks for all the research you put into writing this fascinating account of the Pamela Lyndon Travers story. Taking the time to include backstories...stories behind the stories...is important to me. Not enough people do it, even though it adds so much to the overall picture.
You've produced another brilliant article. Well done!
Janine Huldie from New York, New York on October 26, 2012:
Docmo, I really didn't know the backstory this movie and thank you for educating me on this. I loved this movie and even though some controversy seemed to be behind the scenes, I still am happy to hear the true story here. Have of course voted and shared all over!!
Maria Cecilia from Philippines on October 26, 2012:
I love Mary poppins, it's a reminder of my happy childhood, in fact when I was in highschool, I haven't forgotten it and I even bought a music box with the music Chim chim cherrie, but only through this that I learned about the books. I mean eight books... I wonder if those were still available?
Bill Holland from Olympia, WA on October 26, 2012:
What a fascinating story, Doc! I had no idea she had written eight books on that character, and the feud between she and Disney is a great side-line story. Thanks for the education; really found this one interesting.