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INTERVIEW: Bay Street Co-Founder Emma Walton Hamilton On Collaborating With Mom Julie Andrews, The Importance Of Cultural Centers, And More

Nicole Barylski

Jennifer Edwards, Chris Lemmon, Jack Lemmon, Julie Andrews, and Emma Walton Hamilton. (From left to right.) (Photo: That's Life! United Archives GmbH/Alamy Stock Photos)

Mother and daughter duo and longtime collaborators Julie Andrews and Emma Walton Hamilton will celebrate their latest venture, Home Work: A Memoir of My Hollywood Years, during a special film screening, Q&A and book signing at Bay Street, which Walton Hamilton co-founded, on Sunday, November 10 at 3 p.m. Held in support of Bay Street Theater and Sag Harbor Cinema, the afternoon will include a screening of Blake Edwards's That's Life!, followed by a conversation and Q&A with Andrews and Walton Hamilton, moderated by Sag Harbor Cinema's Artistic Director, Giulia D'Agnolo Vallan.

We caught up with Walton Hamilton to learn more:

What was it like to work with your mother on Home Work: A Memoir of My Hollywood Years?

EWH: This is actually book number 32 of the books that we've co-written together. Most of those have been children's books. But we did collaborate also on her first memoir, which was called Home: A Memoir of My Early Years and so, it's a continuation of that process. Happily, because we've worked together on so many books in the past, we have a kind of shorthand and a lovely creative collaboration, thankfully. This particular book was challenging. It took almost three years to write and because it ventured into a lot of emotional territory, it was an emotional experience at times for us to work on it together. But it was also very moving and very inspiring and I feel enormously privileged and honored to be able to help her bring her story to light in this way.

As this is a follow up to the critically acclaimed Home: A Memoir of My Early Years, could you discuss what Home Work: A Memoir of My Hollywood Years covers?

EWH: The first book covered her childhood and her early days as a young performer in vaudeville, growing up in England during the Blitz in World War II and then touring with her parents who were musical performers, from the age of eight until the age of 18, when she was cast in the musical The Boy Friend on Broadway. At that point, she went to do The Boy Friend and that led to My Fair Lady and Camelot. That book ended with her being invited by Walt Disney, who had come to see Camelot, to come to Hollywood and make Mary Poppins.

This book picks up there, with her arrival in Hollywood to make her first film, which was Mary Poppins and then continues through the next 25 years or so of her time in Hollywood, working on the various films that she's known for, including The Sound of Music and Victor/Victoria, as well as her marriage to her second husband, my stepfather, Blake Edwards, who's the film director with whom she made several films with and the raising of their combined family, my step siblings and I have two adopted sisters as well. It ends with the last film they made together, just prior to her return to New York to do Victor/Victoria on Broadway.

Speaking of your stepfather, the event at Bay Street will screen his film, That's Life!, which you acted alongside your mother in. Would you ever think about joining her on the big screen again?

EWH: Well, I don't act anymore. I was 23 when that film was made, and I pretty soon after that segued into directing and producing and that was when my husband and I, we're two of the three co-founders of Bay Street and ran it for 17 years. But my life now is I'm very much a writer, and a producer, and I'm happy to continue to collaborate with her in that capacity, but definitely not on stage or screen.

What was it like growing up with a mother who was such an iconic figure?

EWH: Well, I didn't really have anything to compare it to. She was just mom to me. Certainly I knew that she was an actress and that was her job. I was fortunate to be able to visit her on set sometimes or to travel with her when she was on location. And I certainly feel very fortunate to meet a lot of interesting people along the way that she worked with, but, she really worked hard to try to provide as "normal" a life for us kids as possible. She got up and made breakfast for us before we went to school and then she went to work and I went to school and then I came home from school and she came home from work and we were kind of just a regular family in that way.

When working together, what is your process?

EWH: In general, our writing process, it's very collaborative. We try to always be in the same place together when we write, it's not always possible. Sometimes if she's traveling, if she's on the West Coast or something like that, we have to work remotely via video conferencing. But we prefer to be face to face, if we can be. It's a very organic process of kind of writing out loud. We brainstorm the story idea and then we dive in and start kind of writing it out loud together. I am the scribe, I'm the one at the computer and I type as we go. We kind of just finish each other's sentences.

With this book in particular, we end with the first memoir, we conducted a lot of interviews between she and I. I had built a huge timeline of the years that we were covering of her life and all the major events along the way and various places she was living and the things she was doing. So, we walked through that timeline and did a lot of interviews. I asked her a lot of questions about all of those and she would tell stories, and then we have those interviews transcribed, so that we could convert them into a rough narrative to begin working with. She also kept, after a certain point in her life, in the mid 60s-Ish, she started keeping journals. So, I read through all her journals, and we pulled a lot from those and used excerpts and transcriptions from her journals as well. Then we also interviewed family members and we looked through correspondences and old photographs and a lot of research on the Internet and, so forth, to kind of put the details in place.

Like I said, it took about three years. We had a wonderful editor named Leslie Wells who lives in East Hampton, actually. She was very helpful in terms of guiding us and telling us where we needed more or less. And we re-watched all the films together again and kind of stopped and started and talked about various things as memories came up. I was able to ask questions.

When you co-founded Bay Street with Sybil Christopher and Stephen Hamilton, did you have any idea that it would evolve into the pillar of the community that it has?

EWH: None at all. I mean, certainly, we hoped it would be successful, but we were flying by the seat of our pants when we started Bay Street. Both Steve and I are just so incredibly thrilled and proud that it's still here almost 30 years later and thriving.

Speaking of, with Bay Street approaching its 30th anniversary, what are your hopes for the future?

EWH: Well, I mostly hope that it continues to be as healthy and as supported and productive and beloved as it is now. It has very much become, thankfully, an anchor, a cultural anchor in Sag Harbor and is a very important part of the cultural fabric of Sag Harbor. Our hope is that as Sag Harbor continues to grow into sort of a more cultural destination, especially now, with the Cinema being revitalized and with Eric Fischl and April Gornik converting the church into an artist's retreat and with the Library having been so beautifully redone and with the Whaling Museum being so well cared for now and, so forth, that really it's all part of making Sag Harbor this wonderful cultural destination, now and in the future.

As the November 10th event will also support the Cinema, could you speak about its importance to the community?

EWH: The Cinema will be a community resource for the cinematic arts and will also have education programs, but specific to cinema. When I was at Bay Street, I ran the educational programming there for many years and the programming for young audiences and I do something similar at Stony Brook Southampton, where I not only teach in the Creative Writing MFA program, but I run the Young Artists and Writers Project there. So, I'm really keenly aware of the importance of cultural centers like Bay Street and like the Cinema will be, as both a community resource and as an educational source for young artists and art appreciators. Not just young filmmakers or young actors or directors, but also audiences, future audiences. The arts are so important in terms of critical thinking skills and in terms of holding up a mirror for us as a community and as a society with which to assess ourselves, where we've been and where we are going. Having cultural centers like the Cinema and like Bay Street in our midst is just such a gift to our community and especially to our young people, because it provides that rich experience of being able to reflect and learn and grow through the arts.

What are you working on next?

EWH: My mother and I are about to start work on a new podcast, celebrating children's literature for American Public Media that'll be announced in the spring. We also have another two children's books under contract that we need to finish. Of course, as I said, I work at Stony Brook Southampton teaching for the Creative Writing MFA and running the Children's Literature certificate program there. So, I'll be teaching and I'm in the middle of cultivating the next group of children's lit fellows for 2020. Admission is open right now. So, we're taking applications right now for that - next year's program.

Bay Street is located at 1 Bay Street in Sag Harbor. For more information, call 631-725-9500 visit www.baystreet.org.

Nicole is the Editor-in-Chief of Hamptons.com where she focuses on lifestyle, nightlife, and mixology. She grew up in the Hamptons and currently resides in Water Mill. www.hamptons.com NicoleBarylski NicoleBarylski

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