Working within The Walt Disney Company has often been equated to feeling like family. That kinship and admiration can extend past just colleagues into the camaraderie of an audience impacted by certain projects. Once someone is involved in a hit-turned-classic element of any Walt Disney Company project, they become somewhat of a Disney legend. But some elite few become actual Disney Legends in title – making them some of the most beloved members of the Disney community. Unfortunately, not all of these magical members get their own happy endings.
A certified Disney Legend is specifically an honorary and prestigious title bestowed upon individuals who have made significant contributions to The Walt Disney Company’s entertainment and creative endeavors. This includes animators like Retta Scott, filmmakers like Jon Favreau, television stars like Peter Jennings, musicians like Alan Menken, Imagineers like Doris Hardoon, and more! Some recognizable Disney Legends include many of the Disney Princess voice actors (like Kristen Bell and Paige O’Hara), the incomparable John Goodman, Robert Downey Jr., Betty White, Angela Lansbury, and Julia Andrews.
Disney Legend Matthew Garber
You’ll recognize this ill-fated Disney Legend, Matthew Garber, best in reference to the aforementioned Andrews. Matthew Garber played the adorable little boy, Michael Banks, in 1964’s sensational Mary Poppins, which iconically starred Andrews as the magical British nanny. Garber also starred in Disney’s The Three Lives of Thomasina (1963) and The Gnome-Mobile (1967), but his performance alongside Karen Dotrice as sister Jane Banks is what he’s most known for as a child actor.
Garber was only about eight years old when Mary Poppins came out, but his “unusual lack of inhibition” made him an instant on-screen success. D23 reports that Garber seamlessly yanked out a loose tooth in the middle of a professional screen test! Disney Casting was hooked. “A Disney press release composed in 1967 painted a portrait of Matthew as a spirited and bright boy, who enjoyed pulling practical jokes on friends, competing in sports, and reading books rich with adventure, mythology, and even poetry.”
D23 quotes grown-up actress Karen Dotrice looking back on him fondly:
He was how he looked—an imp, and I loved being his shadow. I can’t imagine making movies would have been half as much fun without him. He loved being naughty, finding and jumping off of small buildings on the back lot. While I was Victorian proper and wouldn’t let myself get dirty or muddy, Matthew had a great sense of fun and danger. He was a daredevil and could have been a race car driver. And he did live a full life over his 21 years
British Child Actor Meets Sad End
After reuniting on the set of The Gnome-Mobile with Dotrice and Mary Poppins director Robert Stevenson, Garber effectively retired from acting around the age of ten. While fans noticed Dotrice’s cameo in Emily Blunt’s 2018 Mary Poppins Returns, others noticed Garber and Andrews did not. While Julie Andrews chose to forgo a cameo in the reboot, Garber had unfortunately already passed away back in 1977.
According to his younger brother, Fergus Garber, Matthew fell ill after consuming “bad meat” while visiting India and unknowingly contracted hepatitis. By the time Garber was taken back to London for care, the disease was too far gone. Matthew Garber eventually died from “hemorrhagic necrotizing pancreatitis,” which is a ruptured and failing pancreas. He reportedly passed away at the Royal Free Hospital in London in June 1977 and was cremated at the St Marylebone Crematorium.
Karen Dotrice mentioned (on the Mary Poppins 40th Anniversary DVD) her regret the two had not kept in touch before his death.
Luckily, the world remembers his shining star and appreciates his timeless contribution to the Mary Poppins legacy. In recognition of this feat, The Walt Disney Company officially named Garber a Disney Legend in 2004, which his surviving brother Fergus accepted on his behalf. Disney Legends are supposed to have left a lasting legacy, and Matthew Garber’s Michael Banks certainly qualifies.
An annual awards ceremony honors these individuals and celebrates their extraordinary achievements. Recipients are typically recognized for their creativity, innovation, and devotion to preserving and enhancing the Disney legacy, even, as in Garber’s case, posthumously.