Glynis Johns, who played Mrs Banks in Mary Poppins, dies aged 100

Actress’s manager says death marks end of Hollywood's golden age

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British actress Glynis Johns, one of the stars of Mary Poppins, has died aged 100.

The Tony winner died at an assisted living home in Los Angeles on Thursday.

Johns's manager led tributes to the actress, famed for playing the suffragette-supporting family matriarch Winnifred Banks in Disney's 1964 film.

“Glynis powered her way through life with intelligence, wit and a love for performance, affecting millions of lives,” Mitch Clem said in a statement. “She entered my life early in my career and set a very high bar on how to navigate this industry with grace, class, and truth. Your own truth. Her light shined very brightly for 100 years.”

He added: “She had a wit that could stop you in your tracks powered by a heart that loved deeply and purely. Today is a sombre day for Hollywood. Not only do we mourn the passing of our dear Glynis, but we mourn the end of the golden age of Hollywood.”

Born on October 5, 1923, in Pretoria, South Africa, Johns’s mother Alyce Steele-Wareham was a concert pianist, and her Welsh father Mervyn Johns an acclaimed stage and screen actor in the UK.

The family moved back to Britain when Johns was a baby and she quickly established herself as a dance prodigy, joining the London Ballet School aged five, becoming an instructor at the age of 10 and earning a teaching degree at 11.

She went on to attend South Hampstead High School in London along with British actress Dame Angela Lansbury, and the two would later star together in the acclaimed television miniseries Little Gloria… Happy at Last as well as Murder, She Wrote.

Starring in 58 films, Johns was already an established actress, having first appeared on screen as a teenager in the 1938 drama South Riding, before she was cast in what is arguably her most famous role as Mrs Banks.

She worked continuously throughout the 1940s, '50s and '60s, starring in 1956’s Around the World in 80 Days opposite David Niven and Shirley MacLaine. Her 1948 film Miranda, in which she played a mermaid, had alongside David Tomlinson, who would later play her onscreen husband, George Banks, in Mary Poppins.

During casting for the musical, Johns initially believed she had landed the lead role of Mary Poppins, which had gone to Dame Julie Andrews. To assuage her disappointment, Walt Disney, who had bought the rights to the book by P L Travers, asked his songwriting team to pen Johns a big number in the film, which would become the rallying Sister Suffragette.

After Mary Poppins, Johns appeared in only 10 more films, with roles opposite Richard Burton, Elizabeth Taylor and Peter O’Toole in 1972’s Under Milk Wood, and in the 1995 Sandra Bullock rom-com, While You Were Sleeping.

Her theatrical output was almost as prolific as her filmography, racking up 30 appearances in London and on Broadway between 1931 and 1998, including turns as Peter Pan, Cinderella and Queen Elizabeth I.

Starring in her own sitcom, Glynis, which ran for a brief period on CBS in 1963, she also appeared as Lady Penelope Peasoup in the 1960s Batman television series, and as Shelley Long’s character Diane Chambers’s mother, Helen, in the hit '80s comedy show Cheers.

She was nominated for an Oscar in 1961 for Best Supporting Actress for The Sundowners, a Golden Globe in 1963 for Best Actress for The Chapman and an Olivier Award in 1977 for Actress of the Year for Cause Celebre.

She won a Tony for her role of Desiree Armfeldt in the Stephen Sondheim musical A Little Night Music, in which she performed Send in the Clowns, which Sondheim had written for her.

“I always said that Send in the Clowns was the best gift I was ever given,” she previously told AP.

She married four times, to actor Anthony Forwood, producer Antony Darnborough, Royal Navy officer David Foster and US Air Force captain Elliot Arnold. She had one son with Forwood, Gareth, who died in 2007 aged 62.

Updated: January 05, 2024, 9:54 AM