It’s hard to imagine that lilting “Mary Poppins” standards like “Chim Chim Cher-ee,” “A Spoonful of Sugar” and “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious” would have seen the light of day had the Sherman Brothers not soldiered through their difficulties with the antimusical Travers. Disney essentially sequestered the brothers and a staff writer, Don DaGradi, with Travers in a rehearsal space with a piano and told them to win her over.
“She didn’t care about our feelings, how she chopped us apart,” Mr. Sherman said with a shudder. Travers wasn’t just sharp-tongued, he added; she also misunderstood the meaning of original score. Often after they’d finish singing her a song, she would scoff at their labors and then suggest replacements like vaudeville classics. “She said, ‘I rather fancy ‘Ta-ra-ra Boom-de-ay,’ ” said Mr. Sherman, still able to summon up his exasperation with the author. “What?”
In his recollection, Disney loathed negativity. “He’d kill you if you said you didn’t like something,” Mr. Sherman said, explaining how dissenters were dealt with in group punch-up sessions with various departments. “He’d say, ‘If you can’t think of something to improve it, then keep your mouth shut.’ ”
So how did Disney deal with the unremitting invective leveled at them? “He’d say to us: ‘Keep going. Don’t let her get to you.’ He didn’t sit in the room with us listening to the insults, but he knew what they were.”
The Shermans were desperate to get “Mary Poppins” made: They had already invested roughly two and a half years in writing songs and teasing out a narrative arc from Travers’s vignette-driven creation. They also recognized that the project could make them into name-brand songwriters. In the late 1940s, their father, Al Sherman, a well-known Tin Pan Alley composer, urged his young sons to follow in his footsteps. His advice boiled down to a handful of rules. “He told us: ‘Keep it simple, singable and sincere. But most of all it has to be original.’ ”
We link to this because of the comments on Disney’s management style. Always thought of him as a Sunday TV host, but of course he built an empire in his spare time. (Gotta not obsess on watching the greatest train wreck in American history.)