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Disney Legend Glynis Johns Passes at age 100

Glynis Johns - Mary Poppins

Disney Legend Glynis Johns has passed away from natural causes on Thursday, January 4, 2024, in Los Angeles, her manager confirmed. She was 100 years old.

Her Early Years

She was born Glynis Margaret Payne Johns to Welsh parents on October 5, 1923, in Pretoria, South Africa.

Johns made her theatrical debut in October 1923 at just three weeks old, carried onto the London stage by her grandmother, Elizabeth Steele-Payne,

She made history when she received a degree to teach dance by age 10, and by 12, she had won 25 gold medals for dance in England.

A year later, at age 13, Johns 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.”

Johns later made her television debut in 1952 with Fletcher Markle’s Emmy Award-winning series “Little Women.”

Her Disney Years

When The Walt Disney Studios began to produce live-action films in England in the early 1950’s, Johns started appearing in their movies.

She starred as the capricious Mary Tudor in 1953’s “The Sword and the Rose,” co-starring Richard Todd.

The same year, she also starred as Helen Mary MacGregor in “Rob Roy, the Highland Rogue” (1953), where she played the spirited wife of the Scottish freedom fighter.

But it was in 1964 that Johns played her most memorable Disney role, that of feminist Winifred Banks, wife of George Banks, mother of Jane and Michael, and member of Emmeline Pankhurst’s “Votes for Women” suffrage movement, in the Academy Award®-winning “Mary Poppins” (1964).

Glynis Johns - Mary Poppins

Did you know that Walt Disney himself personally selected her to play the career-defining role?

When first approached by Walt Disney, Johns thought it was to play the title role of Mary Poppins (played by Dame Julie Andrews), not Mrs. Banks. To ensure she accepted, he explained the mishap over lunch and arranged for the Sherman Brothers to write her a musical number for the film: the song “Sister Suffragette.”

The role earned her the Laurel Award for Best Female Supporting Performance.

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.

She was inducted as a Disney Legend in 1998.

Johns was also featured in archival footage in the documentary “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious: The Making of ‘Mary Poppins” (2004) from Buena Vista Home Entertainment, which you can watch below.

Other Roles

In 1960, Johns won an Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actress for her role as Mrs. Firth in “The Sundowners,” starring Robert Mitchum.

She also received a Tony Award® in 1973 for her stage performance as Desiree Armfeldt in the original cast of Stephen Sondheim’s “A Little Night Music.”

Glynis Johns - A Little Night Music
Glynis Johns in “A Little Night Music” (center)

She made forays into TV, starring in series such as “General Electric Theatre,” which ran a decade from 1953-1962, NBC’s hit “Cheers,” where she guest-starred as Diane Chambers’ mother, Helen Chambers, and CBS’ “Murder, She Wrote,” working again with fellow Disney Legend Angela Lansbury.

In 1963, she even starred in her own self-titled series, “Glynis,” which ran for one season.

Her last film appearance was as the grandmother of Molly Shannon’s Mary Gallagher in the 1999 film “Superstar.”

She is survived by a grandson and three great-grandchildren.

In October 2023, ABC’s Los Angeles affiliate aired a piece spotlighting Johns’ 100th birthday, which you can watch below: