The Story Behind 'A Spoonful of Sugar'

Songwriters often admit that their inspiration comes from small, everyday moments. Here’s the sweet story of the famous Mary Poppins song.

Posted in , May 27, 2021

L to R: Matthew Garber, Karen Dotrice, Julie Andrews; credit Walt Disney Pictures/Photofest

Robert Sherman was desperate. He and his brother, Richard, had been hired to create the songs for Walt Disney’s upcoming 1964 film Mary Poppins, a musical version of the children’s books by P. L. Travers. Disney himself wanted Julie Andrews to play the part of the magical English nanny.

The actress asked to hear the movie’s songs. When the brothers played their tunes, she loved them all…except for their favorite, the one that Robert and Richard had been certain would be a hit. Walt Disney demanded a replacement for it, pronto. The brothers, however, had run out of ideas.

Disheartened, Robert headed home. He asked his family how their day was and learned that his young son, Jeffrey, had received his polio vaccination at school. “Did it hurt?” he asked his son, who was notorious for wreaking havoc whenever anyone tried to give him an injection. No, Jeffrey said, there was no shot this time. Just a drop of liquid on a sugar cube that he swallowed.

A light bulb went off in Robert’s head, and he rushed to call his brother. The next day, Richard put a melody to Robert’s lyrics: “A spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down.” And so out of a medical miracle, the film’s iconic song was born—in a most delightful way.

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