Mary Poppins Songwriters Are Focus of Film, "The Boys," in Limited Release May 22
By Kenneth Jones
The story of the siblings who wrote some of Hollywood's most memorable songs is told in "The Boys: The Sherman Brothers' Story," the new feature film documentary from Disney, the studio that was Richard M. and Robert B. Sherman's artistic home for many years.
The picture gets a limited release May 22 in New York City, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Palm Desert, CA. Known for their melodic upbeat songs ("Chitty, Chitty Bang Bang," "Let's Go Fly a Kite"), the brothers were personally estranged over many years, the new film reveals. Their sons are the filmmakers.
The brothers are currently represented on Broadway by the Disney-Cameron Mackintosh stage version of Mary Poppins, which borrows Sherman songs written for the classic 1964 movie. "Chim Chim Cher-ee," "A Spoonful of Sugar," "Feed the Birds" and "Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious" are among their songs in the film and stage show.
The Academy Award-winning writers penned songs for Broadway's Over Here! and the Broadway-aimed Busker Alley, plus such movie musicals as "Chitty Chitty Bang Bang," "Bedknobs and Broomsticks," "The Jungle Book" and more.
According to production notes, "The Boys" is "an intimate journey through the lives of Robert B. Sherman and Richard M. Sherman, the astoundingly prolific, Academy Award-winning songwriting team that defined family musical entertainment for five decades. The feature-length documentary, conceived, produced and directed by two of the songwriters' sons, takes audiences behind the scenes of the Hollywood magic factory and offers a rare glimpse of a unique creative process at work. It also explores a deep and longstanding rift that has kept the brothers personally estranged throughout much of their unparalleled professional partnership. …Brothers Bob Sherman and Dick Sherman celebrated family values and happy endings for generations of moviegoers. Outside the public eye, however, the boys' personal relationship with each other was less than harmonious."
The filmmakers "explore the brothers' peripatetic childhoods, marriages, early careers and close personal and professional relationship with pioneering filmmaker and studio chief Walt Disney to create a unique portrait of these two extremely gifted but very different artists."
"The Boys" is produced and directed by Gregory V. Sherman and Jeffrey C. Sherman — cousins, and the sons of the songwriters.
"The Boys" includes all-new interviews with Julie Andrews, Roy E. Disney, Samuel Goldwyn, Jr., John Landis, Angela Lansbury, John Lasseter, Kenny Loggins, Alan Menken, Hayley Mills, Randy Newman, Robert Osborne, Debbie Reynolds, Stephen Schwartz, Ben Stiller, Dick Van Dyke and John Williams, as well as a rare archival interview with Annette Funicello.
The brothers' collaboration encompasses 50 motion pictures and resulted in a catalog of more than a thousand songs for television, records, theme parks and stage. (The Sherman songbook includes "It's a Small World After All" from the popular Disneyland attraction.)
They also penned songs for the films "The Aristocats," "The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh," "The Parent Trap," "Charlotte’s Web," "Tom Sawyer" and "Snoopy Come Home." They also wrote the hit song "You're Sixteen," which twice hit Billboard's Top 10; first in 1960 with Johnny Burnette, then in 1974 with Ringo Starr, when it went all the way to No. 1.
Among their honors are two Academy Awards (plus seven additional Oscar nominations), the BMI Lifetime Achievement Award, a Grammy and five Golden Globe nominations. They are members of the Songwriters Hall of Fame and have a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. In a 2008 ceremony at the White House, the Sherman Brothers were awarded the National Medal of Arts, the highest honor the United States government bestows on artists.
Richard M. Sherman currently resides in Beverly Hills "where he continues performing his music and writing new songs." Robert B. Sherman lives in London, "where in addition to his ongoing collaboration with his brother, he has completed an autobiography and continues his life commitment to painting."
Filmmakers Gregory V. Sherman and Jeffrey C. Sherman, the producers and directors of "The Boys," grew up within blocks of each other in Beverly Hills, but the cousins never knew each other.
"There was a 'keep out' sign posted over that part of our lives," stated Gregg, an Emmy Award-winning producer and feature film writer who is the son of Richard M. Sherman. "My family would see his family at a Sherman Brothers event, but we would never be seated at the same table or near them in the theatre. We would acknowledge that they existed, but we had no relationship with them."
Jeff, a writer, producer, director and composer for film and television and son of Robert B. Sherman, stated, "It's uncomfortable to go to a premiere and smile for the camera, and then walk to separate sides of the theatre. I got dribs and drabs of the story as time went on, but we were all told 'they have their life, we have our life and they shouldn't cross.' As adults, Gregg and I decided to break that tradition."
The two finally connected in 2002 at the London premiere of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, the stage adaptation of one of their fathers' most successful films.
Gregg stated, "We both thought we could do a wonderful tribute to our fathers if we worked together."
The cousins decided to pitch a scripted film biography about their fathers. They couldn't sell it.
With a new stage adaptation of Mary Poppins coming to Broadway, the cousins decided to record their fathers' first meeting in several years. "That was the point at which we started thinking about doing a documentary," Jeff stated. "We thought it would be interesting to film them coming from their hotel rooms to the theatre and see what happened. At the premiere, we also interviewed our fathers and some of the people from Disney who were there."
Eventually, they showed a short promo reel for the documentary to Roy E. Disney and Tom Schumacher, president of Disney Theatrical Productions. "We knew we wanted to make this at Disney, because it is so much a part of their legacy," stated Jeff. "Roy and Tom urged Dick Cook, chairman of Walt Disney Studios, to take a look at it. After he saw it, Dick turned to Gregg and me and just said, 'Let's do this.'"
"The Boys: The Sherman Brothers' Story" uses original interviews, archival footage and personal photographs to create full portrait of the songwriters' lives. "There have been a lot of documentaries about creative people," said Gregg. "In this case, we get to peek into the creative process. We have the footage of them working together."
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