Judy Garland & Deanna Durbin: How kids grow up in Hollywood
Despite all the glamor, Judy Garland and Deanna Durbin live home lives similar to millions of other growing girls
by Alice L Tildesley – Oakland Tribune (California) February 26, 1939
Hollywood — Can successful children grow up normally in Hollywood? The popular idea of an adolescent movie actress seems to be an artificial, spoiled, unchildlike but babyish person not at all a pleasant addition to any group.
“But with all the flattery and attention they get, how could they keep their heads? Older people go to Hollywood, too,” is a frequent comment.
“Very silly,” said Judy Garland, overhearing something like this. “Any kid can grow up normally in Hollywood if she wants to. And any kid with a grain of sense can look around and see what happens to people with swelled heads.
“I’ve got a lot of spies working for me. They’ve all promised me that if ever they see me getting high-hat, they’ll drop something on me.
“Temperament is just kid tantrums. I’ve seen picture kids having tantrums, and that’s bad enough, but all they need to straighten them out is a good spanking. When older people have temperaments, fits — and, believe me, they have them much more often than kids do — it’s disgusting!
“All anyone needs to avoid temperament is to learn to control herself, and that lesson should come before she’s 10.
“I think a Hollywood kid in pictures should watch herself. If she takes care not to rush things, to wear short skirts as long as other kids wear them; not go formal and elaborate until she’s old enough; enjoy each age as it comes, she’ll get along.”
Judy sat in the crowded commissary at MGM eating a baked potato filled with creamed chicken and ham, her brown eyes surprisingly dark under the red of her hair.
“I don’t know what all the excitement over pictures is about,” she went on, settling her blue gingham dress carefully. “The stage is so much more fun! Pictures are harder — you make more money — but you lose a lot of laughs.
“After all, I’m not crazy about money. Mother started by giving me an allowance of $5 a week when I began to make pictures. But at the end of a week, I’d probably have $4.35 of it left and nothing to do with it. I’m not tight, but I just don’t have the time to spend any money, and there’s nothing special I want.
“I’ve been on the stage since I was 2, you see. Ten years on the stage against three in pictures — and give me the stage. I mean for real fun.
“When I was 2 my father, who owned a theatre in Grand Rapids, carried me out on the stage to sing ‘Jingle Bells.’ I sang and sang again. I wouldn’t stop singing until they dragged me off. I must have been having a good time.
“But we always had fun on the stage, didn’t we, Sue?” She appealed to her elder sister, who was lunching on green salad.
“You have fun in pictures, too, Judy,” Sue reminded her with a smile.
“I’ve been pouring water on the old witch in ‘Wizard of Oz’ all morning,” scoffed Judy. “It might have been fun once. But it gets tiresome…
“But did we have a wonderful time when mother and my two sisters and I went on a tour! We were always broke, but it was marvelous! Didn’t know where the rent was coming from, what we’d manage to eat next day, but we were happy.”
“We were all very young then,” Sue observed gently. “You were only 10. No doubt mother wasn’t so happy and didn’t find it so amusing.”
Judy brushed that aside. Her eyes shone with remembered joy. “When we opened at the Chicago World’s Fair we played a whole week and then the show folded. Some men who look like gangsters threatened us. ‘You say one word about not being paid, and we’ll take you for a ride,’ they told us.
“We started out on tour, leaving my father here in California, and we’d said we wouldn’t cash a check, we’d make our own way. So after that week we didn’t have a cent. We were to have a tryout with Georgie Jessel, and it was important that we make good, so mother looked over our four evening gowns and decided they had to be washed. There was no money for cleaning, so she washed them in the bathtub and tried to iron them. After nearly three hours — am I exaggerating? — she had one sleeve done! They were all tiny ruffles, simply awful to iron.
“Sue tried to get breakfast, but all she could find was two eggs. ‘Scramble them, they’ll go farther,’ said mother. Then Sue found a half a loaf of bread and we all rejoiced for a minute — until we discovered it was moldy.
ALSO SEE: How Judy Garland’s career began
“By that time, what with starvation and tears over the ironing, mother decided to cash a check so we could eat. I never tasted such a meal in my life! It’s things like that that make the stage exciting.
“At the tryout, they didn’t like our evening gowns and said we must have sports dresses instead, so we bought four new dresses. A few weeks later while we were on tour we stopped at a small town for a meal and left our suitcases in the car. Somebody stole them — dresses and all! But fun, we had a picnic, all the time!”
“The viewpoint changes with years, Judy,” observed her sister. “I doubt if I’d feel as I did then if I had to repeat the performance.”
“Oh, well, I like excitement,” returned Judy. “But I’m not foolish. We’re opening a flower shop on Wilshire Boulevard next week, so we’ll have a real investment and something stable in case this picture business doesn’t last. We’ll have lights like an opening and I’ll give away gardenias to all the ladies. Mother will take care of it.
“No, mother never comes to the studio. She delivers me in the morning and collects me at night, but she’s never inside, unless it’s to transact business. If I’m old enough to work, I’m old enough to take care of myself. She’s just a visitor today. She hasn’t seen me work before.”
Judy is convinced that she isn’t a glamour girl and never will be one.
“Imagine what they suffer,” she pointed out, “always dieting, always wasting time in beauty shops, always buying clothes! Fooey! I don’t have time to shop; I’m glad to have mother pick out my clothes for me; I need the time to play.
“My ideal is Gertrude Lawrence and Bette Davis. I’d like to turn out to be a combination of the two. I’m always grateful when people want my autograph. I don’t think it’s any trouble to give it to them. But really they don’t bother you in Hollywood. They’re used to picture people. It’s on the road they mob you.
“I like to travel. Whenever I’m between pictures or on vacation, we go somewhere. But I want to go to London and to Scotland. I’d like, more than anything, to take a bicycle and tour England, stopping at little old English inns. There’s one good thing about being a kid: You grow up and change so people don’t recognize you. So maybe I’ll be able to take a tour without a soul finding it out!”
The problem of keeping normal in Hollywood doesn’t seem so uncomplicated to Deanna Durbin, 16-year-old star of Universal Pictures.
Poised as a veteran, prettier than ever, she arrived for her interview clad in rosy tweed.
“I believe it’s a matter of luck if you keep your perspective on yourself when you are a sudden success,” she said, thoughtfully. “I’ve been lucky so far, but I may get my head turned yet. Who knows?
“Just now it seems clear to me that what happened to me in pictures could happen to anybody. It may be over as suddenly as it began, and then I’d be back at school with the other girls. And how silly I’d feel if I had gone high-hat over it!
“I couldn’t even go back to my own classes, because I’ve lost a year and a half since I went into pictures. You see, I have so much to do outside of school that I can’t keep up with girls who do nothing else. I have a voice lesson every day, and I’ve done a lot of radio work as well as my screenplays.
“When I’m not making pictures, I have to learn and record songs. If I were an older and more experienced singer, I could have worked up a repertoire, so that I could say, ‘We’ll sing this and that here and this group there,’ and I’d know the music. As it is, I must learn each one new.
“I want to learn German, French and Italian, so that I can sing with ease in any language. Now, when I sing a German song, I must learn each word, what it means, and what the whole song means first.
“I like pictures. I have fun making them. All of us have fun, although we work hard. I don’t miss going to parties because I’m usually so tired I’m glad enough to go to bed when I’m working. And I do go out a little. I gave a party myself, planned the menu, arranged the decorations, chose the flowers and my dress. We danced. Kids this age like dancing better than anything else.”
The waitress appeared at that moment with a plateful of pennies.
“Mr Pasternak sent these to you, Miss Durbin. He says he missed giving you one the last nine days and the other is for tomorrow, when he’ll probably forget again,” she said.
“Thank you.” Deanna counted the ten pennies and put them in her purse. “My name is ‘Penny’ in the picture,” she explained, “so I get a penny a day from my producer. But I never have time to spend it.”
The waitress was back again. This time she had a menu which she said some one wanted Deanna to autograph.
“Just say, ‘To Bobby,'” she directed.
Deanna did so, and watched the return of the menu. It went to her director, Henry Koster, nicknamed “Bobby” by the crew.
“They always do that,” she observed. “They kid me. But I take it straight.”
The producer and director, with the two writers on the picture, were calling back and forth from their adjacent table. Now they were talking about a penny in cement.
“They’re organizing an expedition to dig up the penny at the Chinese Theatre,” explained Deanna. “When they took my footprints for the theatre, somebody said: ‘Oh, we should have a penny to put in the cement with her footprints!’ Because my name is Penny in the picture, you know. And some elderly lady brought one up and they used it. I tried to find her afterward, thinking I’d like to know more about her — she was so sweet to us. But she had gone home.
“Oh, Mr Pasternak!” turning to the producer. “Have you seen the rushes?”
He nodded, gravely.
“How were they?”
“The shadows in the water were very good. Very good indeed. And the apple looked quite wonderful.”
“How was I?”
“Oh, you? You were there, too, I believe. But that apple was remarkable –”
“I shined it myself. I thought I did a remarkable job on it.”
“Is that so? Why don’t you go into the apple business?”
Apparently, kids do grow up quite normally in Hollywood.