Was Mary Poppins a Lesbian?
Last night we rented Saving Mr. Banks on demand, without really knowing much about it, or how it would be focused. It turned out to be much better than I’d anticipated, but only on the surface. Like all films of this nature there was the usual Hollywood spin and late last night I wound up researching the author of the Mary Poppins series, PL Travers. And I was amazed at what I discovered that hadn’t been mentioned in the film about Travers and Walt Disney.
In the film, PL Travers is portrayed as a quirky negative woman who takes on many of the most stereotypical traits they often give to eccentric authors…or woman and gay men in a place of power. I’m sure a lot of that was true to a certain extent, but they didn’t portray other characters that way. The basic premise of the film revolves around Walt Disney’s 20 year quest to secure the rights from PL Travers so he could turn Mary Poppins into a film. Travers refused to do this for years because she thought Disney would ruin her story with everything from cartoon characters to an unrealistic portrayal of Mary Poppins. Travers actually travels to LA at one point to meet with Disney to make sure she has complete creative control over the film and she’s portrayed as a lonely, bitter woman with so much baggage from the past she can’t even focus clearly at times. Walt Disney, on the other hand, is portrayed as the all-American nice guy. That great all around Tom Hanks kind of guy who is just trying to secure the rights to make the film because millions of kids will enjoy it for years to come. There’s no mention that Disney was a shrewd businessman who would do anything to make money, or that he was allegedly anti-Semitic. Last January Meryl Streep actually spoke about Disney’s treatment of woman and his anti-Semitism.
Those who read about Meryl Streep’s explosive speech ahead of the National Board of Review last week, during which she blasted Walt Disney as a “gender bigot” and a racist member of an anti-Semitic lobby group, might have been wondering what the Disney family thought of her claims.
You can read more about that at the link above. I just wanted to point it out because it was so hugely ignored in the film. But then a lot of things were ignored in the film, especially parts about Travers’s private life. She never married, and PL Travers wasn’t even her real name. And yet she insisted everyone refer to her as “Mrs. Travers.” After doing a few simple searches, I found one particularly excellent article titled, Saving Mr. Disney: a Lesbian Perspective, by Carolyn Gage, a lesbian playwright. In the piece Gage goes into detail about how Saving Mr. Banks angered her the same way she’s been angered in the past with the lack of reality, blatant insults, and the tendency to cover up (or change) everything in order to create something that’s so heteronormative it’s nothing like it really should be.
Because I am a lesbian writer whose beloved lesbian protagonist was hideously mangled by the machinery of patriarchal theatre, and I was angry about that. Really, really angry. Still am, because the pain of that experience never goes away. And I believe that PL Travers was a lesbian writer whose beloved lesbian protagonist was hideously mangled by the machinery of patriarchal Hollywood, and that she was angry about that. Really, really angry. And now the world is invited to come and mock this thoroughly unpleasant woman.
I come to celebrate her.
Was PL Travers a lesbian? Duh.
Gage goes on to talk more about Travers as a lesbian, and with some excellent examples that include photos. It’s not the first place I’ve read about this. If you do more searches you’ll see that everything Gage claims can be backed up by others. Yet no mention of this in the film, Saving Mr. Banks, as if it’s a crime to mention it. But they went into a great deal of fabrication about the life and past of PL Travers anyway. In fact, throughout the entire film, without knowing any of this about Travers, I kept picturing her as a lonely old widow with no family. And that was far from the case. It’s really absurd when you think about it. To make a film and leave viewers wondering this way. I felt duped. I’m also sure that most people who’ve seen the film will continue to think of Travers like this because they won’t question it the same way I did.
I can state as a gay writer I’ve experienced this hidden hate before, and not always from editors or publishers. I’ve experienced it from critics. I’ve been angry, too, but I’ve never backed down to them. And I’m still going to write a parody of Singing in the Rain eventually,titled, Banging in the Rainbow…a gay parody of the old sickening sweet film. I’m doing this because I’ve had that heteronormative Walt Disney crap shoved down my throat all my life, just like many others I know, and I want to balance that my own way…with gay characters as I know them, from my own experience as a gay man, with tropes that have been used time and again.
But I digress. The point of this post is to show that PL Travers was a highly complicated woman and most likely a lesbian who didn’t like the way Disney treated her. In the film he seems to be treating her nicely, but after reading more about her I can imagine the condescension. And when she created Mary Poppins there’s a strong chance she created a lesbian character. But that’s never going to be mentioned anywhere but here and in a few other articles by gays or lesbians. And I just found it interesting that Saving Mr. Banks left out so much about the woman and author, PL Travers. And in their quest to spin things around and portray her as a cartoon hating miserable old bitch, they reinforced all the old stereotypes we’ve been trying to lose, not to mention glorifying Walt Disney.
After Disney got the rights from Travers he didn’t even invite her to the premiere of the film. He ignored her completely and she found a way to get their on her own. In the film they show Travers crying at one point during the premiere, and they make it look as if she’s loving every minute of the Mary Poppins film adaptation, or she’s having an emotional moment. But others have said she was really crying that night because she couldn’t stand what Disney had done to her story. The one thing she stipulated was that she wanted no animation in the film, and Disney went against her wishes and added that scene with Dick van Dyke and the cartoon penguins. I never knew about that, and frankly, it’s the one scene in the film I have always despised. I don’t think there’s anything more that irritates me than that kind of animation, and I would have been as livid as Travers.
Travers never allowed Disney the rights to any of her other books after that, even though he tried.
Here’s a link to a documentary about Travers, where it also mentions she wrote erotica, too. I’ll bet not many knew THAT about her.
Here’s a link to a clip where Dick van Dyke talks about how Travers hated the fact he was in the film. It’s a TMZ clip, and I often hear a lot of negatives about TMZ. But this is the first HONEST clip about Travers that also mentions a few truths about Walt Disney and anti-Semitism. One more reason why I love Harvey Levin.
And as I said earlier, if you just do a simple search for PL Travers you’ll find a lot of information, including photos, that portray her in a more realistic way than the film, Saving Mr. Banks. Everything I’ve mentioned here can be backed up. In fact, you could spend an evening viewing information about her on youtube.
Was Mary Poppins a lesbian? I don’t think we’ll ever know that for certain. But I do think there’s a strong possibility she might have been. And I dare anyone to comment that there would be something wrong with this if it were true.