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Original caricature by Jeff York of Julie Andrews in THE SOUND OF MUSIC. (copyright 2019)

The AFI Life Achievement Award is a career award that has often courted controversy. The trustees of the American Film Institute notoriously gave the award to Tom Hanks in 2002, when he was merely 45. The award has never gone to a screenwriter unless he was also a director. And perhaps most notoriously, they’ve only honored one artist who wasn’t an actor or director, and that was composer John Williams in 2016. This year, there’s little argument to be had in debating the merits of their choice as the 48th recipient – actress Julie Andrews. She is wholly worthy if not a slightly surprising choice this late in the game.

Some, including yours truly, thought that perhaps the AFI had overlooked Andrews. After all, the trustees have ignored many worthy artists over the decades – Charlie Chaplin, Groucho Marx, Edith Head, Ernest Lehman, William Holden, Robert Redford, and Michael Caine, just to name seven – and with the latest recipients being younger ones like George Clooney and Denzel Washington, it appeared that they may have forgotten about the 83-year-old Andrews. Fortunately, that was not the case. Indeed, Andrews lives up to the ideals of the AFI award better than most, and it was wise for the trustees to backtrack and honor someone whose career started onscreen back in the 1940s.

The two tenets that are supposed to determine the American Film Institute’s Life Achievement Award choices are fundamentally advancing the art of film and big screen achievements that have stood the test of time. Andrews has done both demonstrably. Many of her films, like MARY POPPINS, THE SOUND OF MUSIC, THE AMERICANIZATION OF EMILY, 10, and VICTOR/VICTORIA are esteemed and beloved classics. Andrews is one of those rarest of rare talents who have become iconic. This is in part due to her talent, persona, and ability to pull off comedy, drama, romance, thrillers, and musicals. She’s also quite simply, one helluva actress.

Andrews is also a one-of-a-kind-star, one whom there is simply no other like. Name one actress in the history of film who has such a unique combination of intelligence, grace, bearing, wholesomeness, sexiness, a four-octave range, and a sense of continual joie de vivre to her approach in life. You cannot. The fact that she’s British only ensures all the more that she is a singular sensation.

She has won all kinds of major awards during her career, including an Academy Award, a BAFTA, five Golden Globes, three Grammys, two Emmys, the Screen Actors Guild Lifetime Achievement Award, and the Kennedy Center Honors Award. In addition to her big-screen work, she was a major music hall performer as a child, the original Eliza Doolittle in MY FAIR LADY and Queen Guinevere in CAMELOT on the Broadway stage, as well as the original CINDERELLA for Rodgers and Hammerstein on television in 1957. (That musical special was seen live by over 100 million viewers.)

Of course, Andrews holds a special place in audiences’ hearts because she was very likely the first movie star that millions upon millions of children fell in love with due to her endearing and enduring performances as MARY POPPINS and Maria von Trapp in THE SOUND OF MUSIC. Singing dozens of classic songs like “Spoonful of Sugar” and “Do-Re-Mi,” who from age eight to 80 didn’t fall in love with her? I know I did. And that love hasn’t wavered in over five decades.

I’ve taken issue before with the AFI trustees for their choices and snubs, but this selection I wholeheartedly endorse. Julie Andrews deserves this incredible honor and I can hardly wait to see her receive it next April. Bravo!

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