Every now and again, during the process, there were stray conversations about who might play Barney – the ice-cream seller in the park who was to replace Bert as the leading male character in the film.
One such exchange was quintessentially ‘Hollywood’, by which I mean that it was so typical of Moviedom that it may easily have betokened a genuine cast-iron idea or nothing more than a wild and passing whim...
Anyway, this is what happened...
I'm taken to lunch by a Studio Executive at a ritzy restaurant on Rodeo Drive and, during the meal, I am suddenly confronted with a totally unexpected question:
“So," begins the Exec, "is it essential for Barney to be ‘Caucasian’?”
I look blank…
“I mean, does he have to bewhite?” he translates.
My failure to instantly respond is, of course, not because I don’t know the meaning of the word 'Caucasian', but simply because I can’t imagine why I am being asked…
For one thing, black people in Edwardian London were far and few between and whilst it was just possible, perhaps, to find a black footman serving in some big household,meeting a black ice-cream seller in a London park would have been an extremely unlikely occurrence.
And – apart from anything else – Barney is supposed to pass for Dick Van Dyke's younger brother!
Why do they want to know, I ask.
"Well,” comes the reply, “it just so happens that Michael is very keen to work with the Studio on a project..."
I interrupt: “Michael…?”
"Yes!" responds the Exec, as if dealing with a complete idiot, "Michael JACKSON! Having made Captain Eo for Disneyland, he's now a part of the Disney family..."
I can't help it – I laugh!
Exec is not amused. He becomes emphatic: "Look! He sings! He dances! He'd be PERFECT!"
I stop laughing: he's in earnest!
What's more, he's still enthusing: "Listen! Just think of the marquee-billing: JULIE ANDREWS-- MICHAEL JACKSON -- MARY POPPINS!It’s a BRILLIANT line-up --- AND a hands-down BOX-OFFICE CERT!"
As it turned out, Mary Poppins never did come back - not, at least, on film - but if she had, then it's anyone's guess whether we might also we have seen Captain Eo selling strawberry ices in Cherry Tree Lane…