Growing up in Los Angeles during the Depression made one deeply aware of the movie industry, and the great “real” movie stars. Their faces were on movie magazines, newspapers, and movies were an affordable entertainment on a Saturday or Sunday afternoon. Everyone wanted to grow up to be a movie star. It was the era of Shirley Temple of the dancing feet, ringlets and dimples. Shirley and I shared the same birthday month, and though we did not share the dimples or the ringlets, my grandmother saw no reason why I could not be taught to sing and dance. There were no beauty pageants as such, but Baby Parades were pretty common, where proud mammas dressed their little darlings in tiny costumes and entered them in local parades. It certainly helped if the child showed some talent. Alas, I merely marched in my beauty pageant attire, so I was promptly enrolled in dancing class. Surprising everyone but myself, I showed absolutely no gift nor lightness of foot. Though a tiny child, my dancing was akin to the proverbial bull in the china shop. My mother mastered the curly hair by coaxing my straight hair into a semblance of ringlets with strips of rag, and a curling iron. Visually, I was a cute kid with no talent. My idol in the class was Nancy Joy, whose mother surely epitomized the well-known stage mother. Nancy Joy was pretty, fairly talented, and her mother was certain she would become at least as famous as Shirley Temple. She also had attitude, considered a necessary attribute for fame and fortune. I, on the oher hand, much preferred climbing our fig tree or the neighbors’, or re-enacting the latest Flash Gordon movie. So for a few years, reality reached my mother and grandmother, and I followed my own path of childhood sloth.
Around the age of eleven, I showed some promise of possessing a fair singing voice. Besides the movies, radio was our entertainment. It was the day of comedy, with Jack Benny, Fibber McGee and Molly, Joe Penner, and now and then, a female vocalist. I spent my pennies on sheets of lyrics of the popluar songs of the day, and learned them all. Singers such as Deanna Durbin and Kathryn Grayson were featured in the movies. I sang my heart out in the bath, because the acoustics are amplified by the tile and the bathwater. (I just made that up, but it sounds reasonable.) Being a determined woman, my grandmother somehow convinced Deanna Durbin’s singing coach to listen to me. An interview was arranged and I had a permanent and new clothes, and off we went to allow the great man to hear my voice. I sang “My Sweet Little Alice Blue Gown” for him, and he reacted favorably, assuring my grandmother that my voice was at least as good as Deanna’s before she came to him for coaching. Engaging him as a teacher was out of the question because of the money involved, but we hastened to another teacher who was cheaper and closer to home.
My lessons continued throughout my Junior High and High School years, and I participated in all the school operettas, and fundraisers, etc. One school had a dance band which played for all the dances, and I was the “girl singer”. Thus I never really learned to dance. No surprise there considering my early experience. One always must grow up, so I married and had a family, and my so-called singing career was over. Many years later, I attended a high school reunion where my old singing teacher was being honored. He was very theatrical, wearing a hairpiece and some makeup to assure himself that he was still viable as a younger man. I rushed up to him introducing myself and sure that he had been curious as to where my talent had led me. Instead, with an arched eyebrow, and looking down his nose from the podium with what I interpreted as a slight sneer, he said “I don’t believe I remember you. Your voice must not have impressed me.” Hugely deflated, and horrified that he had had the nerve to insult me in such a public and unkind manner, I fairly shouted “My Grandmother would not like to here that!” He laughed aloud, stepped down from his perch, and said “You have a good sense of humor!”
So as things turned out, I can neither sing nor dance, I have very unpeasant hair,—–But I do have a sense of humor, and I suppose in the scheme of things, that is more important.
Long Beach Baby Parade 1932