Birthday: August 9, 1899
Nationality: Australian, British
Died At Age: 96
Sun Sign: Leo
Also Known As: Pamela Lyndon Travers
Born Country: Australia
Born in: Maryborough, Queensland, Australia
Famous as: Writer
Short Story Writers
father: Travers Robert Goff
mother: Margaret Agnes Goff
children: Camillus Hone, Camillus Travers Hone
Died on: April 23, 1996
place of death: London, United Kingdom
Who was P. L. Travers?
Pamela Lyndon Travers was an Australian born British novelist, actress, and journalist. She immigrated to England and spent almost her entire life there. She had great interest in mysticism, mythology, and fantasy. She is best known for her ‘Mary Poppins’ series of children’s book. For a short period of time, she worked for ‘British Ministry of Information.’ Walt Disney had obtained the rights of her first book and adapted it into a hit film. Her contract with ‘Disney’ studio made her rich. However, being a whimsical person, she never gave film rights of her books to ‘Disney.’ During the last few years of her life, she became even more reclusive. In fact, she was alone when she died at the age of 96. For her services to literature, Queen Elizabeth honored her with ‘Officer of the Order of the British Empire’ in 1977.
Childhood & Early Life
Travers was born Helen Lyndon Goff on 9th August 1899, in Maryborough, Queensland, Australia. As a child, she was called Lyndon.
Her mother Margaret Agnes Morehead was the niece of the Premier of Queensland Boyd Dunlop Morehead. Her father Travers Goff was an unsuccessful bank manager and chronic alcoholic, who died when she was just seven years old.
After her father’s death, she immigrated to New South Wales along with her mother and sisters. They lived with their aunt for almost 10 years.
She was boarded at ‘Sydney's Normanhurst Girls School’ during ‘World War I.’
She was a fanciful kid who loved fairy tales and animals. She often called herself a hen. Her writing skills emerged during her teens, when she began publishing poems in Australian periodicals. She also wrote for ‘The Bulletin’ and ‘Triad.’
At a young age, after a secretarial stint, she took up dancing and acting. She took ‘Pamela’ as her stage name and toured Australia and New Zealand. She earned appreciation as a dancer and Shakespearean actress. However, her relatives did not approve of her acting career. Hence, she returned to London to pursue a literary career.
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After returning to England, she began publishing articles and poems in various papers like ‘The Irish Statesman.’ George William Russell, the editor of ‘The Irish Statesman,’ became a lifelong supporter of Travers.
Her friendship with Russell proved to be of strategic importance in her career. Through Russell, she also became friends with the famous poet Yeats. Through Russell, she explored her mythological interests, studying with well-known mystic G.I. Gurdjieff.
In 1934, she published her first book ‘Moscow Excursion.’ In the book, she had penned down her experience while travelling to the USSR.
Travers tasted success as a writer after the publication of her first book ‘Mary Poppins.’
In 1941, her book ‘Aunt Sass’ was published. Through this book, she paid tribute to her aunt Helen who had supported her family and whose personality had served as an inspiration for ‘Mary Poppins.’
During ‘World War II,’ Travers worked for ‘England's Ministry of Information.’ During the war, she lived on a Navajo reservation in Arizona, acquiring an Indian name which she kept a secret till the end.
Travers continued to write adult novels, plays, essays, and lectures on mythology and symbols. She also served as writer-in-residence at colleges, such as ‘Radcliffe’ and ‘Smith.’
The 1964 ‘Disney’ movie ‘Mary Poppins,’ starring Julie Andrews and Dick Van Dyke, made Travers rich. In 2013, a film titled ‘Saving Mr. Banks,’ a dramatized retelling of the working process during the planning of ‘Mary Poppins,’ and Travers' early life and childhood, was released.
In 1971, she published a book named ‘Friend Monkey’ which was inspired by a Hindu mythological character named Hanuman.
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‘About the Sleeping Beauty,’ a book published in 1975, included her fairy tales other than the Poppins.
She had great interest in symbolism and mysticism. In 1976, she became the consulting editor for the New York-based journal 'Parabola,' which covers research in the field of symbolism and mysticism. Some of her essays for that journal were collected and published in 1989 as ‘What the Bee Knows: Reflections on Myth, Symbol, and Story.’
Shortly after the publication of her first book, Travers suffered from a lung ailment. Throughout her illness, she used to entertain two visiting children with stories of a magical nanny. These stories later became the base of ‘Mary Poppins.’ The same year, she published her book based on these stories. The book went on to become a huge success.
She published a sequel titled ‘Mary Poppins Comes Back’ in 1935. This book was followed by ‘Mary Poppins Opens the Door’ (1943), ‘Mary Poppins in the Park’ (1952), and ‘Mary Poppins in Cherry Tree Lane’ (1982). The last book of the series, ‘Mary Poppins and the House Next Door,’ was published in 1988.
‘Poppins’ also appeared in ‘Mary Poppins from A to Z,’ published in 1962. This book was later translated to Latin. A cookery book named ‘Mary Poppins in the Kitchen: A Cookery Book with a Story’ was published in 1975. The illustrations in these books were done by Mary Shepard who was the daughter of the original illustrator of ‘Winnie-the-Pooh.’ Though Travers and Mary did not share cordial relationship, she had done the illustrations of her books.
Walt Disney’s daughter had fallen in love with the ‘Mary Poppins’ series. Hence, he decided to adapt this story into a movie. However, even for the person of Walt Disney’s stature, it took him 20 years to convince Travers to get the screen rights of the first book. Finally, in 1964, the movie ‘Mary Poppins’ was released. Though selling the rights made her wealthy, and despite being actively involved with the creative team of ‘Disney’ during the production, she was infuriated with Disney’s narration of the story. She disliked the story, so much so that she never agreed for film adaption of her other books.
Awards & Achievements
In 1977, she was awarded the ‘Officer of the Order of the British Empire’ for her services to literature.
Personal Life & Legacy
Travers was very prickly and private. She had many fleeting relationships with several men throughout her life. However, she had a long-time roommate named Madge Burnand, who was the daughter of Sir Francis Burnand, a playwright and former editor of ‘Punch.’ Many speculated that their relationship was romantic.
In 1939, two years after she had parted ways with Madge, she adopted one of the twin baby boys of an impoverished family from Ireland. She named him Camillus. She had hidden his true parentage from him until he was 17. The truth was revealed to Camillus when his twin brother Anthony came looking for him. Camillus left Travers forever. He died in London in November 2011.
She lived alone throughout her advanced old age, but her health declined during the mid-1990s. Travers died in London on 23 April 1996, at the age of 96, from epileptic seizure.