Karen Dotrice

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Karen Dotrice
Mary Poppins11.jpg
Karen Dotrice (left) with Matthew Garber in Mary Poppins
Born (1955-11-09) 9 November 1955 (age 58)
Guernsey, Channel Islands
Years active 1964–1984, 2004
Spouse(s) Alex Hyde-White (1986-1992)
Edwin "Ned" Nalle (1994-present)
Children Garrick
Parents Roy Dotrice
Kay Dotrice (née Katherine Newman)

Karen Dotrice (/dəˈtrs/ duh-TREESE; born 9 November 1955) is a British former child actress, known primarily for her role as Jane Banks in Walt Disney's feature film adaptation of the Mary Poppins book series. Dotrice was born in Guernsey (one of the Channel Islands) to two accomplished stage actors. Her career began on stage, and expanded into film and television roles, most notably starring as a young girl whose beloved cat magically reappears in Disney's The Three Lives of Thomasina and with Thomasina co-star Matthew Garber as one of two children pining for their parents' attentions in Poppins. She appeared in five television programmes between 1972 and 1978, when she made her only feature film as an adult. Her life as an actress concluded with a short run as Desdemona in the 1981 pre-Broadway production of Othello.

In 1984, Dotrice retired from show business to focus on motherhood—she has three children from two marriages—though she has consented to the occasional interview and has provided commentary for various Disney projects. She was named a Disney Legend in 2004.


Early life[edit]

Born into a theatre family, Dotrice is the daughter of Roy and Kay Dotrice, two Shakespearean actors who met and married while performing in repertory theatre productions in England.[1] She was born in the Channel Islands (where her father was also born). She has two sisters, Michele and Yvette, both of whom are actresses. Her godfather was actor Charles Laughton, who was married to Elsa Lanchester, one of the co-stars of Mary Poppins.

Dotrice was a toddler when her father joined the Shakespeare Memorial Theatre (later the Royal Shakespeare Company) in 1957. By age four, she was ready to perform, making her début in an RSC production of The Caucasian Chalk Circle by Bertolt Brecht. There, a Disney scout saw Dotrice and brought her to Burbank, California, United States, to meet Walt Disney.[2]


At age eight, Dotrice was hired in 1964 to appear in The Three Lives of Thomasina as a girl whose relationship with her father is mended by the magical reappearance of her cat. While Dotrice was in California, her father stayed in England—where he was portraying King Lear—and Walt Disney personally took care of her family, often hosting them in his Palm Springs home. Dotrice took quickly to Disney as a father figure, calling him "Uncle Walt". She said the admiration was mutual: "I think he really liked English kids. He was tickled pink by the accent and the etiquette. And when I was being very English and polite, he would look proudly at this little charge who had such good manners."

Film historian Leonard Maltin said Dotrice "won over everyone" with her performance in The Three Lives of Thomasina,[2] and she was signed to play Jane Banks (along with once and future co-star Matthew Garber as her brother, Michael Banks) in Mary Poppins. Disney's part-live-action, part-animation musical adaptation of the Poppins children's books by P. L. Travers starred David Tomlinson as a workaholic father and Glynis Johns as a suffragette mother who are too busy to spend any time with their children. Instead, they hire a nanny (Julie Andrews) who takes Jane and Michael on magical adventures designed to teach them—and their parents—about the importance of family. Poppins was Disney's biggest commercial success at the time[3] and won five Academy Awards, making its stars world-famous. Dotrice and Garber were praised for their natural screen presence; critic Bosley Crowther wrote, "the kids ... are just as they should be,"[4] while author Brian Sibley said, "these charming, delightful young people provided a wonderful centre for the film."[5]

Dotrice and Garber paired up a third time in The Gnome-Mobile (1967) as the grandchildren of a rich lumber mogul who stumble across a gnome forest and help to stop the gnomes from dying off. Starring Walter Brennan in a dual role, The Gnome-Mobile failed to perform on a par with Poppins at the box office,[6] and Dotrice did not make another film appearance as a child.

After The Gnome-Mobile, "the kids" no longer kept in contact with each other. In an interview for the 40th Anniversary Edition DVD release of Mary Poppins, Dotrice recalled how she learned of Garber's 1977 death:

"I remember his mum, Margot, calling […] to let us know that Matthew had died. That was— so unexpected. ... I wished I had picked up the phone over the years, I wished I had treated him more like a brother; but he's indelibly printed in all of our minds, he's eternal ... an amazing little soul."

Dotrice later appeared as Alex Mackenzie in The Thirty Nine Steps (1978) with Robert Powell and John Mills. The third film based on the John Buchan novel, this was her only feature film as an adult. According to Allmovie, Dotrice played "an imperiled heroine [who] was an invention of the Hitchcock version; the Buchan story is essentially 'boys only'."[7]


Dotrice appeared as Désirée Clary in the Thames Television serial Napoleon and Love. The nine-hour, dramatised account of Napoleon I of France starred Ian Holm and Tim Curry.

In 1975, she played housemaid Lily Hawkins in six episodes of Upstairs, Downstairs during its fifth and final season. The series—a narrative of the upper class Bellamy family and their servants in Edwardian England, early in the 20th century—was one of the most popular programmes produced by London Weekend Television for ITV. It also proved popular when shown in the United States on Masterpiece Theatre, and was "beloved throughout much of the world."[8]

Dotrice took on the role of Maria Beadnell in the serial Dickens of London (1976), starring her father as Charles Dickens. In 1977, she appeared with Ann-Margret in Joseph Andrews, a German telefilm based on the Henry Fielding novel Joseph Andrews.

In 1978, Dotrice made her final screen appearance, playing Jenny in the BBC2 Play of the Week, She Fell Among Thieves. Starring Malcolm McDowell and Eileen Atkins, Thieves made its U.S. début on 5 February 1980—the first film screened as part of the PBS Mystery! series.[9]

Later life[edit]

In 1981, Dotrice took the role of Desdemona in the Warner Theatre production of Othello opposite James Earl Jones and Christopher Plummer. Reviewers were less than kind; calling her "the only serious let-down" in the cast, David Richards of The Washington Post wrote, "Dotrice is not Desdemona. She is a Desdemona doll, reciting her lines in a thin, reedy voice and moving through the tragedy with a rare somnolence." Dianne Wiest took the role in the 1982 Broadway production and received similar reviews.[10]

Dotrice virtually disappeared from public life following her retirement. She was married to English actor Alex Hyde-White from 1986 to 1992; they have a son, Garrick. In 1994, Dotrice married then-Universal Studios executive Edwin "Ned" Nalle and later gave birth to two children, Isabella and Griffin.

She provided spoken-word adaptations of Disney's The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast and Pocahontas; in 2001, she lent her voice to a sing-along release of Mary Poppins and was interviewed for the ABC television special, Walt: The Man Behind the Myth; she was, however, done with acting. "I'll never go back," she told Hello! magazine in 1995, "because you don't have to put on any make-up."[11]

Dotrice was coaxed back into the spotlight twice in 2004: she was named a Disney Legend at a ceremony in Burbank (at which Matthew Garber was honoured posthumously),[12] and she was interviewed and provided audio commentary for the 40th Anniversary Edition Mary Poppins DVD release. Dotrice also provided audio commentary for the Acorn Media DVD release of Upstairs, Downstairs Series 5, discussing Episode 7 ("Disillusion"), the final episode in which she appears.

Almost a half-century after Poppins, and just in time for its 50th anniversary Blu-Ray re-release and the theatrical release of Saving Mr. Banks, Dotrice, who had since moved to Brentwood, California, told the Los Angeles Times that it wasn't until seeing Banks that she truly understood why Walt Disney was the father figure she remembered. "I didn't know P. L. Travers' history" with Disney and his many years spent trying to convince Travers to let him tell the Poppins story on film. "She was 8 when her father died, and Walt Disney was put out to work by his father when he was 8. I was 8 when I did the film. I think P. L. Travers was trying to fix families [with the Poppins books, and Disney] wanted to heal people through his movies. Here I am 50 years later looking at this—I was crying when I was watching the film."

That experience stood in stark contrast to her memories of working on Poppins. "The joy that you see on the screen is the joy we felt."[13]

Despite having retired from acting, Dotrice's official Web site announced in 2014 that "for the first time in 50 years" she will be making public appearances at various events. The list includes memorabilia shows, signings, corporate events and productions of Oliver![14][15]


List of acting performances in film and television
Year Title Role Notes
1964 The Three Lives of Thomasina Mary McDhui Film
1964 Mary Poppins Jane Banks Film
1967 The Gnome-Mobile Elizabeth Film
1972 Napoleon and Love Désirée Clary Television programme
1975 Upstairs, Downstairs Lily Hawkins Programme
1976 Dickens of London Maria Beadnell Programme
1977 Joseph Andrews Pamela Programme
1978 She Fell Among Thieves Jenny Programme
1978 The Thirty Nine Steps Alex Mackenzie Film

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Roy Dotrice: Biography". roydotrice.com. Retrieved 23 January 2006. 
  2. ^ a b "Disney Legends: Karen Dotrice". legends.disney.go.com. Retrieved 31 December 2004. 
  3. ^ "The Numbers: Mary Poppins Box Office Data". the-numbers.com. Archived from the original on 30 November 2005. Retrieved 15 January 2006. 
  4. ^ Scott, A. O. (25 September 1964). "Mary Poppins Review". The New York Times. Retrieved 23 January 2006. 
  5. ^ Stevenson, Robert (2004). Walt Disney's Mary Poppins 40th Anniversary Edition (DVD re-release). USA: Walt Disney Pictures. 
  6. ^ "Box Office Report: The Gnome-Mobile (1967)". boxofficereport.com. Retrieved 23 January 2006. 
  7. ^ Scott, A. O. "Allmovie: The Thirty Nine Steps (1978)". The New York Times. Retrieved 23 January 2006. 
  8. ^ "Museum of Broadcast Communications: Upstairs, Downstairs (1975)". museum.tv. Retrieved 23 January 2006. 
  9. ^ "About MYSTERY!". pbs.org. Retrieved 23 January 2006. 
  10. ^ "Othello (Broadway 1982)". christopher-plummer.com. Retrieved 23 January 2006. 
  11. ^ Russell, Sue (1995). "Karen Dotrice and Husband Ned Nalle Announce they're Expecting their Second Child". Hello! Magazine (pg. 66). 
  12. ^ "The Walt Disney Company Names 2004 Disney Legends". mickeynews.com. Archived from the original on 23 September 2004. Retrieved 17 September 2004. 
  13. ^ King, Susan (9 December 2013). "Karen Dotrice looks back fondly at 'Mary Poppins'". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 3 January 2014. 
  14. ^ "Karen Dotrice: Booking Agent to the Iconic Child Star". karendotrice.com. Retrieved 10 March 2014. 
  15. ^ "Karen Dotrice: Appearances & News". karendotrice.com. Retrieved 10 March 2014. 

External links[edit]