Six supercalifragilistic secrets of 'Mary Poppins'

It may be a jolly holiday with Mary Poppins, but it wasn't so jolly when Walt Disney tried to persuade author P.L. Travers to let him make a movie about her beloved fictional nanny.

In "Saving Mr. Banks," the new Disney film based on that 1960s struggle, Emma Thompson channels Poppins herself in her portrayal of Travers, her witty and edgy banter mimicking that delivered by Julie Andrews in the original movie.

The film isn't 100 percent factual. The real Travers didn't love the Disney version of her character's story, despite Thompson's teary viewing of it in "Saving Mr. Banks." And Travers almost certainly wasn't as charming as Poppins. Tape recordings of her debating the Disney filmmakers play over the film's closing credits, and the real author sounds like the grouchy grandmother of your nightmares.

But the film's sure to set "Mary Poppins" fans off in search of the real truth. Here are six secrets of the real "Mary Poppins." (Warning: spoilers for "Saving Mr. Banks" ahead.)

Supercaliwhosawhatsit?
B.J. Novak and Jason Schwartzman play Robert and Richard Sherman, the genius "Mary Poppins" songwriters. In one scene, Travers mocks their changing "responsible" to rhyme with "constable," telling them "responstible" is not a word. When they admit they made it up, she orders, "Well, un-make it up!" Richard then subtly hides the sheet music for a song featuring the ultimate made-up word, "Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious."

Truth: That super-sized word did originate with the Disney film, and isn't in Travers' books. Richard Sherman told LAist.com that the brothers were inspired by nonsense words they used to create in their own childhood.

IMAGE: Saving Mr. Banks Walt Disney Pictures
Jason Schwartzman, right, stars as Richard Sherman and B.J. Novak plays Robert Sherman in "Saving Mr. Banks."

No fan of Dick Van Dyke
Who doesn't love Dick Van Dyke? The 88-year-old comic actor is so beloved in America that it's downright shocking in "Saving Mr. Banks" when Travers vetoes his casting. When the Disney folks call him "one of the greats," she laughs, saying he's not in the class with Brits such as Laurence Olivier or Alec Guinness.

Truth: Van Dyke himself has said that Travers hated him (and Brit Julie Andrews, too, he says, though Travers called Andrews a "friend"). And when Travers agreed to a "Mary Poppins" stage musical, she specified that "no Americans" could be involved.

  • Slideshow Photos

    Image: FILE: Dick Van Dyke Honored With SAG Lifetime Achievement Award: A Look Back

    Dick Van Dyke

    From his long-running TV comedy to his starring film roles, the veteran entertainer has done it all.

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    Meet your host, Dick Van Dyke -

    In 1987, Dick Van Dyke hosted the AFI Comedy Special on NBC. The special showcased sketches from recently discovered comedy writers.

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    Newlyweds! -

    At the age of 86, Van Dyke married Arlene Silver, his 40-year-old makeup artist. The two attended the 18th Annual Screen Actors Guild Awards at The Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles on Jan. 29, 2012.

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    Mary Tyler Moore, left, reunites with Van Dyke, her co-star on "The Dick Van Dyke Show," on the New York set of "The Rachel Ray Show" on May 5, 2011.

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    Father and sons -

    Van Dyke poses with his actor sons, from left, Barry, Carey and Shane, upon their arrival at the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences' "Father's Day Salute to TV Dads" in North Hollywood on June 18, 2009.

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    'Night at the Museum' -

    Van Dyke's film career has been a healthy one. Here, he stars with Mickey Rooney and Bill Cobbs in a scene from "Night at the Museum."

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    Save this dance -

    Moore and Van Dyke reprise their roles as Laura and Rob Petrie in this scene from the "Dick Van Dyke Show Revisited." The reunion show aired May 10, 2004.

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    'Mary Poppins' anniversary -

    Van Dyke and his "Mary Poppins" co-star Julie Andrews celebrate the film's 40th Anniversary Edition DVD release party at El Capitan Theater in Los Angeles on Nov. 30, 2004.

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    Look back at 'Becker' -

    Ted Danson and Van Dyke headlined the TV series "Becker," which ran from 1998-2004.

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    Whipped into action -

    Not your average press shot! Moore and Van Dyke go the S&M route in a 1995 photo shot by Annie Leibovitz for Vanity Fair magazine's "TV Hall of Fame" issue.

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    Is there a doctor in the house? -

    Another notch on Van Dyke's TV belt was his stint as Dr. Mark Sloan in the CBS crime drama "Diagnosis Murder." The series, in which a doctor solved crimes in his spare time, aired from 1993 to 2001.

    CBS via Getty Images
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    Hollywood star -

    Van Dyke was presented with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 1993. If you look closely, you can spot a typo: His name is spelled "Vandyke." It was later fixed.

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    'Golden' guy -

    The hit show "Golden Girls" (starring Bea Arthur) played host to Van Dyke in 1989. He did a guest spot in the episode, "Love Under the Big Top" which might explain that clown nose.

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    Talking heads -

    Carl Reiner, right, guest stars on the short-lived 1976 series "Van Dyke and Company."

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    'The Morning After' -

    Based on the novel, "The Morning After" was a made-for-television movie about a public relations writer with a serious drinking problem. At the same time Van Dyke starred in the 1974 film, he admitted that he, too, was an alcoholic and was seeking treatment.

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    'The New Dick Van Dyke Show' -

    Airing on CBS from 1971-74, "The New Dick Van Dyke Show" -- and Angela Powell and Hope Lange -- was Van Dyke's first series return to television after "The Dick Van Dyke Show" ended.

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    'The Comic' -

    Van Dyke teamed with Carl Reiner, his "Dick Van Dyke Show" writer, for Reiner's film "The Comic" in 1969. Van Dyke played a silent-film comic with an ego problem.

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    Van Dyke stars with Sally Ann Howes, Adrian Hall and Heather Ripley in the successful Disney musical "Chitty Chitty Bang" in 1968.

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    'Divorce American Style' -

    Van Dyke starred with Debbie Reynolds in the 1967 comedy "Divorce American Style," which followed a couple teetering on the edge of divorce, only to find out single life is pretty lonely.

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    'The Carol Burnett Show' -

    In 1977, Van Dyke had an 11-episode run on "The Carol Burnett Show," and is shown here with, from left: Vicki Lawrence, Ken Berry and Carol Burnett.

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    'Lt. Robin Crusoe, U.S.N.' -

    One of Van Dyke's less successful films was "Lt. Robin Crusoe, U.S.N." The comedy about a Navy pilot who becomes a castaway was released in 1966.

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    Grammy winner -

    Van Dyke received a Grammy Award in 1964 along with Julie Andrews for the "Mary Poppins" soundtrack.

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    Emmy duo -

    Van Dyke and Moore pose backstage at the Palladium in Los Angeles with the Emmys for "The Dick Van Dyke Show" at the 16th annual awards show on May 25, 1964. They won the best actor and actress in a series.

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    Music man -

    One of Van Dyke's earliest Broadway roles was as Albert Peterson, the lead in "Bye Bye Birdie." It ran on Broadway from 1960-61.

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    American icon -

    Van Dyke will be recogized for his decades of work on the stage, television and in film at the Screen Actors Guild Awards on Jan. 27, 2013.

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War hero
The man who helped write such memorable songs as "Chim-Chim-Cheree" and "A Spoonful of Sugar" was also a war hero. In "Saving Mr. Banks," Travers asks why Robert Sherman walks with a cane. "Someone shot him," is the answer, to which an unsympathetic Travers replies, "I'm not surprised."

Truth: Sherman had seen dark days and grim sights before helping to create the fantastical songs of "Mary Poppins." As a soldier in World War II, he entered Dachau concentration camp after the Nazis had fled. It was during the last days of the war in Europe that he was shot through the knee, earning a Purple Heart and a permanent limp.

Tears in the theater
In "Saving Mr. Banks," Travers first refuses all of Disney's entreaties, but by the end of the film, has slowly softened and taps her foot during the Sherman brothers' songs, breaking into tears at the film's premiere. It's portrayed in the film that she's crying because she remembers her own childhood with an alcoholic father who died young, and Mr. Banks' redemption at the movie's end reminds her of her loss.

Truth: According to the New Yorker, Travers did cry at the premiere, but it was because she hated what the movie had done to her beloved character. "The picture, she thought, had done a strange kind of violence to her work," wrote Caitlin Flanagan.

IMAGE: Saving Mr. Banks Walt Disney Pictures
Tom Hanks plays Walt Disney to Emma Thompson's P.L. Travers in "Saving Mr. Banks."

A mother does the unthinkable
Perhaps the most horrific scene in "Saving Mr. Banks" comes when Travers is 7 and her mother bids her farewell in the middle of the night and wanders off to drown herself. In the film, a terrified Travers rides off on the family's horse and finally manages to stop her mother, who's almost neck-deep in water. It's a disturbing scene to witness, and could explain why Travers spun such fantastic tales of a magical woman who came to care for children in need.

Truth: This seeming nightmare really did happen to Travers, with some variation. Instead of riding off and stopping her mother, Travers stayed with her two younger siblings and tried to distract them with a story of a magical flying horse. Her mother's suicide attempt was unsuccessful, but Travers, naturally, was forever changed.

Daughters' inspiration
Walt Disney (played by Tom Hanks) repeatedly tells Thompson's Travers that he has to make her book into a movie because of a promise to his daughters, Sharon and Diane, whose photos and sketches hang on his office wall.

Truth: According to an interview Diane Disney Miller gave in 2012 (she died in November), that's true. She lists "Mary Poppins" as among her favorite childhood books, and says that she felt a kinship with the famed nanny. "There is a little Mary Poppins in me, I think," she said.

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