Who Is Mary Poppins?

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Laura Michelle Kelly/Ashley Brown (London/Broadway Mary). Julie Andrews (Film Mary) Mary Shepard Original Illistration (Book Mary)
Mary Poppins is a slightly stern but loving nanny who uses magic and self-control to take care of the Bank's children. She is usually identifiable by her sensible hat and parrot umbrella which she brings with her wherever she goes on outings. She is loving and kind towards the children, but can be firm when needed. She is, "practically perfect in every way".

Mary Poppins: By the Book!

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Mary Poppins in P.L. Travers' books is strict and no-nonsense, asserting her unusual brand of discipline over the four (later five) Banks children in her charge. Mary is very vain and is always admiring herself in the mirror and other reflections. She constantly scolds the children for their "bad" behaviour, especially when they point out the magical things she does, for she constantly denies she is anything but a prim and proper lady. Mary only shows her gentler side around her friends, among them the Matchman (Bert), Mrs. Corry and Nellie-Rubina.

Mary has many relatives, each with their own supernatural or otherwise eccentric nature, at least one of whom appears in each book. She appears to be well-known to every sort of magical entity (sorcerers, talking animals, etc.) that appear in the books, some of whom love her dearly and others of whom are quite terrified of her. Some characters, most notably an impudent jackdaw seen in the first two books, call her "The Great Exception," meaning, among other things, she is the only human being who has retained the magical secrets infants possess (such as the power to communicate with animals) until they grow up and forget about them. Some of her adventures occur in London, others in strange realms which later writers might identify as magical dimensions. In literary terms, she might be described as a character who exists in every conceivable fantasy genre (gothic, mythic, urban, etc.) at once: There are many strange people and phenomena in the world, but only Mary Poppins is familiar with them all.

Mary Poppins: Movie Star!

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"Practically perfect in every way". She comes down from the clouds in response to the Banks children's advertisement for a Nanny. She is not only firm in her use of authority, but kind and gentle as well (a major departure from the original books, in which the character was strict and pompous).

Mary Poppins in the Disney film, as portrayed by Julie Andrews, is also stern but at the same time more gentle, cheerful, and nurturing of the two Banks children of whom she is in charge. Mary also has a friendship with Bert (Dick Van Dyke), a jack-of-all-trades who is quite at home with Mary's brand of magic. She also is less vain and selfish, and far more sympathetic towards the two children than the nanny in the original stories.

Mary Poppins Hits the Stage!

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In both the West End and Broadway versions of the stage musical, the Mary Poppins character is more deliberately mysterious than in the movie version. She is stricter with the children (who are also naughtier than their book and movie counterparts) but she only wants them to become the best they can be. Mary in the stage version is also more aware of Bert's feelings towards her, but remains non-committal towards his affections.