In the considerable canon of nanny fiction, there are four themes:
1. Nanny is wise
2. Nanny is magical
3. Nanny is British
4. Nanny is destined to fall in love with the single father she works for.
‘People have had different ideas about nannies,” says Annie Davis, the head of Annie’s Nannies and president of the Association of Premier Nanny Agencies. She notes that real-life nannies have been much maligned, while fictional nannies have been painted as saints. “They’re not saints — no one is,” says Davis. “Everyone has something that’s a little wrong with them. You can have someone who’s absolutely perfect with the children who doesn’t pick up after themselves. It depends where your priorities are.”
And while nannies may have inspired some of our most classic tales, in reality they’re just “nice people who are doing a much-needed job,” says Davis.
We asked Davis to weigh in on the professionalism of some of these iconic nannies — and not all of them would have made it on her roster.
From the 1964 movie musical “Mary Poppins,” played by Julie Andrews: “I always thought Mary Poppins was probably not a nanny that someone would want to hire,” Davis says. “The flying, the things she got the children involved with — and then she gave them some [unknown] medicine. She took them on outings and didn’t tell the parents, that sort of thing. In real life, she would not be someone you’d hire, but I’ve always liked her.”
From the 1993 TV series “The Nanny,” played by Fran Drescher: “Her squeaky high voice would have driven me crazy,” Davis says. “And the way she’d dress? I wouldn’t have cared for that either. Most people wouldn’t want to have someone like that in their home.”
From the 2005 movie “Nanny McPhee,” played by Emma Thompson: “I saw this movie by myself because it happened to be on HBO,” Davis says. “She was a very, very scary nanny in the beginning. I don’t think anyone would have hired her.”
From the 1966 TV series “Family Affair,” played by Sebastian Cabot: “People love the male nannies,” Davis says. “We place mannies all the time. They’re just terrific, especially in a home with lots of boys. I remember my children watching these shows, and they very much enjoyed Mr. French. Very authoritative.”
From the 1970 TV series “Nanny and the Professor,” played by Juliet Mills: “I think she had some magical powers,” Davis says. “I can’t remember if the professor fell in love with the nanny. I do know that Robin Williams married his nanny. She shouldn’t be the nanny if she’s falling in love with the married employer. It’s not an ethical thing to do. But I suppose if a single father hires a nanny and they fall in love, maybe that’s a good thing.”
From the 1965 movie musical “The Sound of Music,” played by Julie Andrews: “I think she was a great nanny,” Davis says. “She was very good for the children because they seemed like they were running roughshod, at least when the Captain wasn’t around. She brought normalcy to their lives and music, and shaped them up as a unit. I would hire her.”
From the 1993 movie “Mrs. Doubtfire,” played by Robin Williams: “Totally farfetched,” Davis says. “Not someone we’d hire. A man in drag? No, I don’t think so. I think you would know.”
From the 2002 book The Nanny Diaries, as played by Scarlett Johansson in the upcoming film version due Aug. 24: “I think the book was pretty true to form,” Davis says. “We’ve known nannies like this young woman, and unfortunately some of the families in the book rang true, also. I think you’ll see that nannies are people who love to be with children — why else would you want to raise someone else’s children? They love to be with them, they love playing, and for the most part they’re very, very dedicated to the family.”