“Welcome to the 48th, 49th, and 50th AFI Life Achievement Award” joked Bob Gazzale, AFI President and CEO, who kicked off the last night’s event in honor of Julie Andrews by first giving the other award of the night, the 2022 Franklin J. Schaffner Alumni Medal, to “CODA” director and AFI alum Sian Heder.
It was a direct address of how the event, which had to take two years off due to the pandemic that is still affecting everyone’s schedules, travels, etc., was now back as a somewhat more humble affair (for instance, the last person to present the Franklin J. Schaffner Alumni Medal to someone was Beyoncé). After a three-course meal, the audience was treated to a bit of theater, with the first presenters being the child stars from “The Sound of Music,” Angela Cartwright, Duane Chase, Nicholas Hammond, Kym Karath and Debbie Turner, all grown up and leading a sing-a-long of “Do-Re-Mi.”
Next was the first of what would be multiple video segments played between each presenter, showing Andrews reminiscing on her entire career in entertainment, and providing dry quips like “[Richard] Burton was pretty alcoholic at times, but never, ever seemed to be affected by it,” that were manna for any viewer hoping to catch some tidbits on what Broadway and Hollywood were like back in the day.
Actress Jane Seymour was the next presenter, following “The Sound of Music” reunion, and shared that not only did she go to the same performing arts school as Andrews, she had the same singing coach. “And I’ll never forget, on my report card I was actually compared to Julie — I still remember it. They told me ‘You’re no Julie Andrews,’’ said the actress, getting a big laugh from the crowd. “None of us are.”
While it was fun to also hear the honoree’s “Mary Poppins” co-star Dick Van Dyke, appearing via video message, also poke fun at his inadequacies with the line “Thank you for not criticizing my cockney accent because it was really bad,” the most delightful portion of the Gala Tribute was having Andrews’ “chum” Carol Burnett as a recurring presenter, with a clip of the two icons having a food fight in one of their TV specials causing a laugh riot. “You’re a Great Dame in every sense of the word,” said Burnett to her friend, leading the charge in highlighting the regal aspect of Andrews that was also touched on in presentations from her “Despicable Me” son Steve Carell and “The Princess Diaries” pal Héctor Elizondo.
Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images for TNT
One of the sweetest moments of the night was from Bo Derek, who had her breakout role opposite Andrews in “10,” directed by the latter’s husband Blake Edwards. After pointing out how that film came out 42 years ago, Derek elicited many an “aww” from the audience when she concluded “Blake and Julie made seven films together. And as impressive as that is, it’s nothing compared to their 41 years of marriage. … And for me and for all of us, what they had onscreen and off, was a perfect 10.”
Another surprise of the night was pop star Gwen Stefani coming to the stage to gush over Andrews and tell a story about how she insisted that producer Pharrell Williams keep the sample of “The Lonely Goatherd” from “The Sound of Music” in her 2006 hit “Wind It Up.” For the final musical performance of the night though, Cynthia Erivo performed another famous song from the film, “Edelweiss.” Andrews explained in another video segment that even though it’s not one of Maria’s songs, it’s her favorite of the film, and she treasures co-star Christopher Plummer’s performance of it. In a nice tribute to the late actor, Andrews named him as a key part of why the film worked: “‘The Sound of Music’ would be too saccharine without Plummer.”
The last presentation of the night was actually a series of video messages from Anne Hathaway, Ariana DeBose, Hugh Jackman, Kristin Chenoweth, Kelly Clarkson, Nicola Coughlan, and Lin-Manuel Miranda, with Chenoweth probably being the one who best spoke to why Andrews’ Life Achievement Award was a long time coming. “I was bit by the bug because of you, and I’m not the only one,” said the “Schmigadoon” star. “There are millions of us out there.”
Finally, Burnett brought Andrews to the stage to give her closing speech, where the actress noted how “overwhelmed” she was by the whole affair, but saw it important to call out the “unsung heroes of moviemaking,” honoring everyone from line producers and stand-ins, to every member of the wardrobe department right down to seamstresses and tailors, plus craft services, dialogue coaches, and even those in post-production responsible for color correction and balancing sounds.
“This night reminds me with great clarity how many people are involved with making movies. What a huge collaborative effort it takes to bring film to the screen,” said Andrews. “My husband Blake never liked when people referred to filmmaking as ‘the business’ or an industry. He insisted that film was an art form and should always be called that. And I know that is exactly the way the AFI feels also.”
Photo by Emma McIntyre/Getty Images for TNT
The 48th AFI Life Achievement Award: A Tribute to Julie Andrews will air on TNT on Thursday, June 16, at 10:00 p.m. ET/PT.