This is, I am sure, one-story among many, of someone moving from the glitzy glamour of what is often called showbiz, and find them selves before a congregation or a group of young people on a Sunday morning. And yes, this has been my story; beginning as a child actress and dancer performing for pay among the studios and stages of Hollywood and elsewhere, and then through a series of strange and even mystifying circumstances finding herself in a far different calling, doing what one is asked to do for little or no pay, but perhaps, for a much more rewarding payment in the end. I hope you will stay with me, for in many ways it is a unique story and needs to be told. There are revelations, surprises, and then some tales that should not shock anyone that is familiar with Show Biz. It is a story of a young woman engaged in all that Hollywood might offer, and then will be engaged in the world of religion from what is a very unique vantage point. Experiences which are in some cases risqué and shocking for it was experienced in a real world without filters, and often far from the influence of Christianity, so be forewarned. It has been, for me, a life certainly worth living, and I pray you will find that it is worth sharing.
BORN TO ENTERTAIN
Long after I was married my mother would inform me that I was conceived one night following a New Years Eve party at the home of friends in Arcadia, California. Here they would stay over after the party and attend the Rose Parade in Pasadena the next morning. Gas rationing during the war made such over night parties common. This meant I was not planned but an unexpected consequence, and the Great War still raged when my mother went into labor in mid September of 1943. Mother’s pediatrician had been called up and was somewhere on a hospital ship in the South Pacific, which meant that I would be delivered at the county hospital. The war required many compromises and accommodations, but this my mother especially disliked. I, this unexpected consequence would be sixteen years younger than my brother and sister. So in many ways I was an only child, it would be just the three us, Mom, Dad, and myself on those frequent camping trips. Dad loved to fish, and we would as well scout the Northwest forest for the prefect large trees for my father’s lucrative Christmas tree business in Beverly Hills. Especially for the Department stores that wanted very large flocked trees. However, this added child after my mother had virtually raised her family initially distressed my mother greatly.
But there would be advantages for a “stage” mother, for my earliest recollections are how much I loved to sing and dance, and would at any pretext entertain my parents and their guests. Apparently my efforts were adequate enough to be encouraged, although that may just have been the tolerance of loving parents. But before I was three I had joined the Meglin Kiddies, a local dancing school that held many recitals for the adoring parents and friends. However, I remember finding the routines and staging boring and childish. I was clearly vocal in my distaste and my mother luckily obtained an interview with Milton Hill, who operated the leading dance school for young people in Hollywood. She probably did so by fudging on the facts, as I said she was a bit of a “stage” mother.
The audition did not go well at first, for he stated forcefully that he did not take any child under five years of age. Thankfully my mother insisted that he at least check out my ability. First dear Milton asked why I didn’t like the Megglin Kiddies, to which I replied, “Their dancing is for kiddies.” Milton then asking me to try to “Do this,” and he did a rather simply combinations of steps. I dutifully and easily copied what he had done. To which Milton then ask me to then, “Do this.” Again I was able to replicate his combinations. This apparently was enough, and he replied, “I guess I am taking in a three year old.
I would thus begin work in what is called “Show-Biz,” at this early age. There would be several wonderful years of dance training and performing before various groups, and, of course, the annual Shrine Auditorium grand talent shows. I was Milton’s little “Show Stealer” as he would put it. I would join him alone on stage as he would introduce his portion of the show, and ask me what I would be doing. I would reply with whatever my song and dance would be called. Then Milton would say something like “I understand you just has a birthday.” To which I would reply, “Yes, I did.” His reply then was, “What did you ask for.” “Oh, a few blocks.” He would then state, “That’s nice some blocks.” Then I would add the punch line, “Yes, some block on Wilshire,” still a very upscale commercial address. It was usually something like that, and it would always get a good laugh from the thousands in attendance.
I did love my years with Milton, but as I matured I would also train in the Ballet, only to discover from my Russian instructor Madam Tamara Lebro, that as I matured it became apparent that I would be anything but a slim svelte ballerina and instead strong and busty. My parts would be as the wicked witch or the evil villainess, rather than the prima ballerina. That was not why I was killing my feet on point. So what could I do but go back and concentrate on Jazz and interpreted dance, where I could, if good enough be the lead.
Of course, growing up in the Hollywood area will mean with any luck there are the possibilities of acting work. My parents enrolled me as a member of the Actors Children Guild, where I began work at the ripe age of five with a small bit on “Champaign for Caesar,” with Ronald Coleman. I was to be lifted by Mr. Coleman to a water fountain to take a drink. However, I was big for my age and I proved to not need to be lifted to the water fountain, so a smaller girl was found. I would only skip to the fountain take a drink and was relegated to the background playing on the swings, which was fine with me, but that should have forewarned me concerning my future in Hollywood. Still in the years to come my mother would dutifully take me to various interviews, and I made enough such roles that when I was no longer considered a child I joined the Screen Actors Guild (SAG).
One note of interest, my father primarily did stunt work in Hollywood, and his Christmas tree business was a Holiday sideline, but in 1944 he worked in the Canterville Ghost, with Robert Young. A young girl impressed him with what my father described as a delightful “accent.” The girl was Margaret O’Brien, and he determined that his infant girl would have the opportunity to speak such perfect English. As soon as it was feasible I found myself studying at the Gibson School, learning to speak “Universal English.” It would be a great help in all that I would do later, even and perhaps especially in the religious world.
At sixteen and seventeen I had two studios, Universal and Fox, offer me six figure contracts to sign with them. However, the studio systems at this point were not what they had been, and when I learned that they would be telling me what to wear, where to be seen, and with whom I turned them down. I was very independent and had absolutely no desire for such a life, but desired the normal life of a school-girl. Then it was Hollywood High School would try to recruit me for their very fine dance and drama department, but with many of the King family attending North Hollywood High near my home, our stage productions gave us no reason to hang our heads. Many of us did go on to make a living in various forms of the entertainment world.
During my teen-aged years I did find some work, with all the ups and downs of anticipation and disappointment. You dress to kill, drag yourself and your portfolio filled with photos of yourself in every conceivable pose; from ingénue to sophisticate from one casting office to another, from one interview to the next in hopes of one more job. You read some ridiculous out-of–context dialogue often with someone pursing the same career, perhaps one of the prima donnas doing their best to upstage you, and worse the one behind the desk allowing the overacting. One in particular was Bob Balau, an over effected pretty boy. One wonders where he is today, for you do not see his name in lights? Then there was always the, “Take your coat off, and turn around I want to see how you move,” or worse, “lift you dress just a bit, dolly, I need to see your legs.”
Despite such disappointment, and often drudgery, when your agent calls with some urgency, “Get down at once to Desilu-Gower and read for a part on ‘My Three Sons.'” Having Italian blood the part called for a young “Gina Lollabrigida.” I would be immediately cast, well move over Gina! You say you haven’t seen my name up in lights either? It is not that I didn’t do a credible job, no one was displeased, but to be honest, like fashion coordinating, all the running around, the efforts here with interviews, and readings had become quite tedious, and then too often the work was infrequent, if at all. Add to that the reality that some of the people you had to work with gave you undertones, and overtures that implied a different pathway to fame and fortune. This was not how I wanted to make a living.