Best known to Disney fans as feminist Winifred Banks in the Academy Award®-winning Mary Poppins, actress Glynis Johns is everyone’s favorite sister suffragette. Like many a moviegoer, Walt Disney loved her sparkling screen persona and personally asked Glynis to play the lively and witty role. His choice of casting was right 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.”
Born to Welsh parents on October 5, 1923, in Pretoria, South Africa, Glynis 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. Her first adult role came in Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger’s 49th Parallel, 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, 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®.
Glynis also starred in such television shows as General Electric Theatre, The Cavanaughs, as well as her own series, Glynis. Other programs included Batman, Cheers, and Murder She Wrote, starring Angela Lansbury.
In 1960, Glynis won an Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actress for her role as Mrs. Firth in The Sundowners, starring Robert Mitchum. She received a Tony Award® in 1973 for her stunning stage performance as Desiree Armfeldt in Stephen Sondheim’s A Little Night Music. In all, she has performed in more than two dozen theatrical productions and more than 50 feature films, including Oscar Wilde’s An Ideal Husband starring Paulette Goddard, Dear Brigette with James Stewart, and The Secret Garden co-starring Derek Jacobi.
In 1994, Glynis returned to The Walt Disney Studios to co-star in the Touchstone comedy The Ref with Kevin Spacey. The next year she appeared in Hollywood Pictures’ smash hit While You Were Sleeping, starring Sandra Bullock.