Home / News / ‘Mary Poppins’ star Glynis Johns, the first to sing Sondheim’s ‘Send in the Clowns’, dies at 100

‘Mary Poppins’ star Glynis Johns, the first to sing Sondheim’s ‘Send in the Clowns’, dies at 100

NEW YORK – Glynis Johns is the Tony Award-winning star of stage and screen who played the mother opposite Julie Andrews in the classic movie “Mary Poppins” and introduced the world to Stephen’s bittersweet standard “Send in the Clowns.” Sondheim is dead. He was 100 years old.

He died of natural causes Thursday at an assisted living home in Los Angeles, his manager Mitch Clem said. “This is a sad day for Hollywood,” Clem said. “He’s the last of the last of old Hollywood.”

Johns was known to be a perfectionist about his craft; precise, analytical and single-minded. The roles he took had to be versatile. Less gave less of everything.

“As far as I’m concerned, I’m not interested in playing the role on one level,” he told The Associated Press in 1990. The whole point of top-notch acting is to make it real. To be real. And I have to make sense of it in my own mind for it to be real.”

Johns’ greatest triumph was playing Desiree Armfeldt in 1973’s “A Little Night Music,” for which she won a Tony Award. Sondheim wrote the show’s hit song “Send in the Clowns” to suit his distinctive husky voice, but lost the role. 1977 film version of Elizabeth Taylor.

“Other songs have been written for me, but none like this,” Johns told the AP in 1990. “This is the greatest gift I’ve been given in theatre.”

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, voiced by Elijah Wood.

When “A Little Night Music” was being conceived, part of the book was rehearsed and the scores, including a solo song for Johns, were left unfinished. Director Hal Prince suggested that he and lead actor Len Cariou improvise a scene or two to give book 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 it, Hal called Steve Sondheim and said, ‘I think you’d better get in a cab and come down here and watch what they do, because you’ll get the idea, too. Glynis’ solo.”

The Johns were the fourth generation of the British theater family. His father, Mervyn Johns, had a long career as a character actor and his mother was a pianist. He was born in Pretoria, South Africa, because his family was visiting the area on tour at the time of his birth.

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Johns was a dancer at the age of 12 and an actor at 14 in London’s West End. Her breakthrough role was as the amorous mermaid in the 1948 hit comedy “Miranda.”

“I was pretty athletic, my muscles were strong from dancing, so I had a pretty good tail; “I was swimming like a dolphin,” he told Newsday in 1998. In the 1960s, she was nominated for a best supporting actress Oscar for “The Sundowners,” opposite Deborah Kerr and Robert Mitchum. (She lost to Shirley Jones in “Elmer Gantry”)

Other highlights include her portrayal of the mother in “Mary Poppins,” which introduced Julie Andrews and sang her stirring song “Sister Suffragette.” He also starred opposite Rex Harrison and Stewart Granger in the 1989 Broadway revival of “The Circle,” W. Somerset Maugham’s romantic comedy about love, marriage and fidelity.

“I have retired many times. My personal life came before my work. Theater is just a part of my life. It probably taps into my highest sense of intelligence, so I have to go back to it to realize I have this ability. “I’m not that good at anything else,” he told the AP.

To prepare for “A Coffin in Egypt,” Horton Foote’s 1998 play about a great woman who chronicles her life on and off a farm in the Texas prairies, she asked the Texas-born Foote to record a short tape of herself reading some lines and used it as her coach. .

In the 1991 Los Angeles revival of “A Little Night Music,” she played Madame Armfeldt, the mother of her own creation, Desiree. In 1963 she starred in her own TV comedy “Glynis”.

Johns lived all over the world and had four husbands. The first of these was the father of the only child of actor Gareth Forwood, who died in 2007.

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