Remembering Disney Legend Glynis Johns

Disney Legend Glynis Johns passed away from natural causes on Thursday, January 4, in Los Angeles, her manager confirmed. She was 100 years old.

Perhaps best known to Disney fans as feminist Winifred Banks in the Academy Award®-winning Mary Poppins (1964), Johns became everyone’s favorite sister suffragette. Walt Disney himself personally selected her to play the career-defining role, having been drawn, like many a moviegoer, by her sparkling screen persona. His choice of casting was spot on, as film critic Leonard Maltin pointed out in his book The Disney Films: “She lights up the screen the minute she appears [in Mary Poppins],” he wrote. “She makes every minute count, and her amusing suffragette song is most enjoyable.”

Inducted as a Disney Legend in 1998, Johns was born to Welsh parents on October 5, 1923, in Pretoria, South Africa. She made history when she received a degree to teach dance by age 10. By 12, she won 25 gold medals for dance in England and, by 13, appeared in her first film, South Riding (1938). Her first adult role came in Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger’s 49th Parallel (1941), released in America as The Invaders and starring Laurence Olivier, Leslie Howard, and Raymond Massey. By 19, she became the youngest actress to play the lead role in the theatrical production of Peter Pan.

She became associated with The Walt Disney Studios in the early 1950s, when it began to produce live-action films in England.

She starred as the capricious Mary Tudor in 1953’s The Sword and the Rose, co-starring Richard Todd. As Helen Mary MacGregor in Rob Roy, the Highland Rogue (1953), she played the spirited wife of a Scottish freedom fighter. A decade later, in 1964, she returned to Disney to star in Mary Poppins. The hit musical amassed 13 Academy Award® nominations and garnered five Oscars®.

Johns also starred in such television shows as General Electric Theatre and The Cavanaughs, as well as her own series, Glynis. She appeared in other series including Batman, Cheers, and Murder She Wrote, starring another Disney Legend, the late Angela Lansbury.

In 1960, Johns won an Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actress for her role as Mrs. Firth in The Sundowners, starring Robert Mitchum. Later, she received a Tony Award® in 1973 for her stunning stage performance as Desiree Armfeldt in the original cast of Stephen Sondheim’s A Little Night Music. About Johns, Sondheim once said that her rendition of “Send in the Clowns” remained his favorite.

In all, she performed in more than two dozen theatrical productions and more than 50 feature films, including Oscar Wilde’s An Ideal Husband (1947) starring Paulette Goddard and Dear Brigitte (1965) starring James Stewart. She also appeared in a children’s TV anthology version of The Secret Garden alongside Derek Jacobi, for ABC.

In 1994, Johns returned to The Walt Disney Studios to co-star in the Touchstone comedy The Ref. The next year she appeared in Hollywood Pictures’ smash hit While You Were Sleeping, starring Sandra Bullock. Johns was also featured in archival footage in the documentary Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious: The Making of ‘Mary Poppins’ (2004) from Buena Vista Home Entertainment and the HBO documentary Six by Sondheim (2013).