Julie London

1926 - 2000

 
 
    Posing for the cover of her 1961 album Whatever Julie Wants, singer Julie London fit right in among the $750,000 worth of furs, jewelry, and cash that illustrate what a girl like her supposedly needs. She was just one more luxury item. It's the way she was marketed, and the way she sounded, on songs like her classic "Cry Me a River." Yet, even though she lived the life of a celebrity chanteuse, what Julie London seemed to really want was an invisibility money can't buy.

    She was born Julie Peck to vaudevillian parents in Santa Rosa in 1926. The family moved to Los Angeles in 1941, where she did a little modeling, then took small parts in B movies with names like The Girl and the Gorilla. She met a grimly ambitious actor named Jack Webb one night in a jazz joint, and the two were married in 1947.

    Broke, Webb dreamed up a tough-guy radio show to raise some dough for the daughter he was about to have. A radio hit became a TV standard, and the father came home less and less. After news of the divorce, strangers would see London on the street and taunt her with Dragnet's dum-de-dum-dum theme. That might have been the last the world ever heard of her. But then, in the mid '50s, London walked into L.A.'s Celebrity Room and heard lounge singer Bobby Troup croon. Impulsively, she invited him over to a party. A few

drinks past midnight and Troup was asking her to sing.

    "It's funny," he said of the woman he married in 1959, "a girl who can sing that well usually looks like Rocky Marciano." But she could sing well, in a breathy and intimate manner, and was, as Bob Hope once said, "a London in better shape than Paris."

    It took Troup a year and a half of cajoling to get her to sing before strangers. They were dining at Johnny Walsh's 881 Club, "one of those dark joints where you can't see anything," Troup explained. A spot like that, she said, she could handle. Troup set it up.

    London was a stop-time success. "Someone said I have just a little old thimbleful of a voice, which is another way of saying it's very small," London once said. "I'm a girl who needs amplification. You can put that down as my style. Somebody else said I have a well-smoked voice. By that maybe he meant I smoke too many."

    Movie roles and gold records followed, most famously "Cry Me a River," written by a high school friend. It has been covered by Joan Baez, Archie Shepp, and Sam Cooke, but nobody ever matched her own wade into the cold, lonely waters. Hers was a guileless carnality unique in an era when the word camp was waiting to be coined. And later, during the fin de siecle lounge revival, hers was the rare voice worth reviving.

    When the lounges were closing during the Nixon administration, Jack Webb yet again entered her life, offering London and Troup roles on Emergency, a TV series he was producing. As nurse Dixie McCall, London administered to the needs of another generation of fans. She still sang on occasion, her last recording featured on the 1981 Sharkey's Machine soundtrack.

    London, who lived in Encino, died October 18 of complications from a stroke. "When people were noisy in a saloon-type club--and I've worked a number of such traps--I used to try to outyell them," she recalled. "I learned, through experience, that only made them noisier. I found that if I sang even more softly than usual, they stopped yakking because, even if they were loaded, they realized that they were missing something." Stone sober, we're struck by what we're missing right now.

 

London in Los Angeles, June 1963

Los Angeles Magazine

By: RJ Smith

January 2001, Vol. 46, Issue 1