I Call On Julie London

 
 
When I walked into Julie London's
bedroom, her eyes were red from weeping. Her favorite dog, a dachshund, had died the day before and in an effort to recover from her grief, she had bought two dachshund puppies—one black, one brown. They were sliding around in her house on fat bellies, while Julie's two daughters—Stacy, seven, and Lisa, five—by her ex-husband, Jack Webb, galloped after the pups, occasionally stopping to smother them with love.

Three of Julie's intimate friends and her fiancé, Bobby Troup, a band leader and song writer, were sprawled on king-size twin beds in her bedroom, commiserating with her on the loss of her pet.

I said "Hello" to the friends; and persuaded Julie to come into the living room for a talk. Bobby Troup helped me sell her on the notion. "It will be better that way," he said. "Fewer interruptions."


I never saw the three mourners again. For all I knew, they were still talking in doleful tones on the king-size twin beds when I left.

















Once in the living room, I looked around at stacks of records and at a small bar. After that I concentrated on Julie London. She lay on a custom-built couch ten feet long, supporting herself on one elbow. Bobby Troup sat beside her. She had removed her shoes in order to be more comfortable, and from time to time he massaged her bare feet.

"First of all," I said, "I'd like to talk to you about your voice."

      I had collected several of her recordings. The people who had written the descriptive prose for the backs of those albums had described her voice as being "intimate," "sleek," "sultry." They had called her singing style "furry." When I bought her first album, Julie is Her Name, the Julie London on the cover was mostly full lower lip, tawny, tumbling hair and a deep, deep décolletage.

The woman who sold it to me watched me look at that photograph and lifted a quizzical eyebrow.

"I'm doing research," I explained. I should have saved my breath. I could almost see her thoughts clicking out. Oh, yeah?

I had done some research on the movies in which Julie London had appeared B.W. (Before Webb). Their names were The Red House, The Fat Man, Tap Roots, Task Force, The Return of the Frontiersman, Crime Against Joe and The Fighting Chance. I'd seen her in none of them. (She had not been a star—mostly bit parts, small roles.) But I had seen her appearance in The Great Man, a movie which had starred José Ferrer. It had been quite an appearance. The critics had all agreed upon that. As a result, movie and TV offers had fallen upon her like rain. She had accepted guest TV shots with Dinah Shore and Steve Allen and a costarring role on Playhouse 90 with Errol Flynn and Ann Sheridan. She had also promised to work in Saddle the Wind, an "adult Western" film for Metro. The scoop from that studio was that the "rushes" from Saddle the Wind more than proved that her smoldering performance in The Great Man had been no flash in her beautiful pan. In fact M-G-M was so taken with her possibilities as a potential star that early in July of this year they announced that on the basis of her work in Saddle the Wind they had signed her for two more pictures, one a year. Universal-International would have liked to have "jotted" her (meaning sign her to a contract) for producers Rowan and Maryin’s first film. Once Upon A Horse, but what with her M-G-M deal and her other involvements, she was too busy to "jot."

"I first became aware of your voice when you sang a song during the Academy Awards TV show this year," I said. "Then I heard it again in The Great Man. The sounds you made did something to me. They had a breathy quality. Every time you breathed, I breathed deeper. How do you describe your voice?" I asked her. "It's not big, is it?"

"You can say that again," she told me. "Someone said I have just a little old thimbleful of a voice, which is another way of saying it's very small. 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 cigarettes. As for what you call 'breathy," I've never learned how to breathe properly. I always run out of breath during a song; then I gasp in the wrong places."



























"Whatever it is you do, it comes through all right," I said.

"I'm glad you think so," she said, "but I have to stay real close lo the mike—almost in it, in fact. And if the mike's that close it accentuates everything, including that breathy quality you're talking about. If I have to, I can belt songs out, but I don't like them that way. That's not the natural me.

It's funny." she said, "but I've noticed that the softer a singer sings the more people have a tendency to quiet down and listen. 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. 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 were missing something."

Bobby Troup looked up from massaging her feet and said. "Julie can shush them that way very successfully."

I told her that I understood that after her marriage to Jack Webb had been dissolved, she had gone through a period of wondering what to do with herself come seven o'clock at night. I said I didn't suppose it was normal for an attractive female to sit home alone and wonder about such matters, especially one who was capable of making a whole nation breathe deeply.

"That just about wraps it up," she said. "I knew I had to do something to become an individual again, for after you've been married for a long time you find you're just somebody's wife. Then all of a sudden you're not married any more and you're neither an individual nor somebody's wife. It wasn't the loneliness. It's just that you want to feel that instead of being somebody's ex, you’re yourself, whoever you are. You need to have an identity, not only to other people but to you yourself, if you know what I mean."

"How did you work your way out of that situation?" I asked.

"You just said it,” she told me. "I worked. I started the career bit all over again."

"The way you put it," I said, "it sounds like a breeze. It couldn't have been that easy."

"You're right." she admitted. "After a marriage failure you're sure that you yourself have failed in some way, that you're lacking as a human being, your confidence is shot. You don't think you've got it any more. I was lucky," she said. She looked at Troup, who was still busy kneading her feet. "At that point this man came along and pushed me into doing the things I’ve done. He was working a night club when I met him. I was trying to keep busy, chasing around, listening to music, and a mutual friend introduced us. My first impression of Bobby was that he looked like me."

"Silly, don't you think?" Troup asked.

I tried to enter into the spirit of the conversation. "Anyhow, your hair's different," I told him.

"No." Julie said seriously, "he has a certain turtle look. So do I. We don't have any dip in our noses. The fact that we looked alike intrigued me."





"The way I remember meeting her was this." Troup told me: "I was playing the Celebrity Room and one night she walked in. I was singing a song and she walked by the bandstand and I thought, That’s one of the most strikingly beautiful girls I’ve ever seen. Fortunately I knew Kay Saunders, the girl she was with. Kay is the wife of Herb Saunders. Herb's a trio leader who's working as a casting director for Julie's ex, Jack Webb, although at the time he had a trio at the Bantam Cock. Anyhow, knowing Kay, I thought, / can easily sit down at the table and get introduced. So I was."

I got it in a second or two. By "I was"
he meant introduced to Julie.

"The first thing she said to me was what she's just told you," he went on, "that we look alike, and I said, 'Well, that's silly, because you're pretty and I'm stupid looking.' But she said, 'We do so look alike. Our noses don't go down; there's no indentation.' And I asked her who she was, and she said, 'I'm Julie Webb.'"

"Later on that night," Julie said. "I had a lot of people out to my house, and I asked Bobby to come too. So along about two o'clock after I’d had too many drinks I sang for Bobby.” “Herb Saunders had joined us,” Troup said. “He plays a beautiful piano, and he played and Julie sanf, and she gassed me, she was that good. It’s funny, but a girl who can sing that well usually looks like Rocky Marciano. Few really attractive girls are that attractive. But Julie knocked me out. She was tops in both departments, looks and voice.”

“”I don’t mind if you print the things he’s telling you about me, as long as you don’t make me sound like an egomaniac,” Julie said. “The boy builds me up, so be careful.”






    “Then,” Troup said, “for about a year and a half I tried everything I could to get her to sing when somebody was around to hear it who could do her some good, but when I put a mike in front of her she’d freeze and wouldn’t. She was different from anybody I’d ever known. I don’t know whether you know any typical girl singers or not, but maybe I can explain it to you this way: If you work with a musical group in a club, the way I do, you discover that a guy or girl who likes to sing will go to any club where they think they’ll be called upon. They love to sing so much that they get their knocks that way. The crawl from one pub to another where they know the pianist and they think he’ll call on them, and if he does, the people will listen.”

Harking back to what she’d just told me about singing for Bobby, I asked Julie, “What do they do to your voice? Too many cocktails, I mean.” I said that, to me, one of life’s most painful ordeals is being exposed to people who are sure they can sing like Caruso after a fifth or sixth drink. “Unfortunately, those people are usually the ones who are tone deaf,” I said.

Of course, if you overdo it, you can’t carry a tune and you end with a nothing voice,” Julie told me. “But I don’t think I can sing better when I’ve had too many. I know I can’t. If I’ve had too many cocktails and too many cigarettes, my voice gets thin and presently I run out of sound. But one or two drinks relax me, and nine times out of ten, you can sing better if you’re relaxed. On the other hand, people who don’t need to get relaxed, like me, can sing better it they’re cold sober. I’m willing to admit that. Not that I’m a great toper.”

I told her that she had done a great job pretending to be a female toper in The Great Man. “You did a convincing imitation of a girl singer on the sauce I that one,” I said.

“Thank you,” she said, “ But that was no imitation. That was real.”

"You mean you were really drinking when you played those scenes?" I asked. She nodded. "I've never heard of a drunk scene being played that way," I said. "I've always understood that actors who play drunks nip away at tea or ginger ale, instead of the real stuff, so they know exactly what they're doing."

"I thought. There's nothing worse than somebody pretending to be loaded and not being convincing about it," she said. ''They slur their words too much or they don't slur them enough. I told the director how I felt about it, and he said, 'Why don't you try a couple of slugs and see if you can remember your lines too?' So I did that. Luckily. I'd studied those lines so hard they were imbedded in my brain, and the next morning, when, instead of having orange juice for breakfast, I had gin and orange juice. I could still remember them." She paused, as if remembering something else. "There's nothing worse than gin and orange juice at seven o'clock in the morning," she said.

“I wouldn’t even go for that blend at seven o’clock at night,” I said.

"Then," she went on, "when I'd reached the point where I wanted to be, it was a case of holding it or sobering up und losing it."

“How did you gauge it just right?" I asked. "Did the director have a series of signals meaning 'Put that down!' or "It's O.K. to have one'?"

"I knew how far to go," she said. "Which was fortunate since, as I say, I had to maintain this very delicate balance of not being too loaded and being loaded just enough "

"Let's gel back to that night when you and Bobby met," I said. "They tell me that Bobby brought two record-company executives here to your house to hear you sing. Was it the same night?"

"No, that was months and months later," she said.

"It took me a year and a half to get her to sing for anybody she didn't know," Troup put in.

"Don't forget," I said to Julie, "this is supposed to be an interview with you. My trouble is that you're so much the introvert type I’m having better luck with Bobby Troup here."

"He's very extroverted," she said, "I'm an introvert, too," Troup said defensively.

"When he brought those record-company executives it was utter horror!" Julie exclaimed.

"I had a little band—a seven-piece orchestra," Troup told me, "four saxophones and three rhythms—I'd recorded an album with them and Julie knew all of them. It wasn't as if they were strangers to her."

"What's a 'rhythm'?" I asked.

"A rhythm is a piano, a bass violin or a drum," he said, "it helps supply the rhythm for the others. I thought if I staged a rehearsal here at her house and had an arranger make an arrangement specially for her, it would be one way to get her to sing. So I had an arrangement of a song she liked made in her key and we came here to rehearse. I'd persuaded a couple of executives from a recording company to come with me, but she stayed in her bedroom all the time that we were here."

"I was terrible." Julie admitted.

"Were you that way before you married Jack Webb?" I asked. "Or did it result from your marriage breaking up?"

"I was a little that way to begin with," she said.

"About a year and a half later," Troup said, "we were having dinner in Johnny Walsh's 881 Club, when Julie made the first positive statement I'd ever heard her make. She said, 'If I ever worked a club, this is the one I'd like to work.' Johnny's place is very small, very intimate. It's a cute club, very attractively decorated; one of those dark joints where you can't see anything."

"It’s just beautiful," Julie put in. "With original oil paintings on the wall and everything."

"I've known Johnny a long time," Troup went on, "so I went over to him and I said. 'You're making a mistake if you don't open Julie London in your club.'

"When he asked, 'Who's Julie London?’ I said, 'She was married to Jack Webb. She’s a wonderful singer.”

"'Have her come in sometime and audition,’ he said.

"'She won't,' I said.

"'What do you mean?' he asked.

"Won't audition!' I told him. He said. 'You don't expect me to open my club to someone I've never heard.' He said, 'Why should I?" 'Because she's a good singer and she'd be wonderful in this club,' I said; I guess it’s kind of flattering to me that Johnny had enough confidence in my judgment to open Julie without ever hearing her sing, and she was tremendous.”

"All my friends were there," Julie told me, "and when I saw them I was so scared I walked across the street lo the Encore, where Bobby was working, and I had a couple. But they didn't help, so I went back to the 881 Club. I had butterflies so bad I thought I would die. But I still had to sing.

"When I opened my mouth in the 881 Club," she said, "words came out; how I'll never know. I'd been standing in my dressing room, and Johnny Walsh, the boss, who's a darling guy, said, 'It's about time for us to do a show,' and although I thought I'd drop dead, I went on. Actually I didn't sing very well that first time, but I discovered I had something I didn't know I had; I could ad-lib a little and make fun of myself. The only thing I remember I said is, 'I've got a frog in my throat. You'll have to wait till it hops out.' It doesn't sound like much, but they laughed."

"When did you first catch Julie singing at Walsh's?" I asked Troup. "I sneaked in about a week after she opened," he said.

"I told you not to come in for at least a week." she told him sternly. "If I ever find out that you did, I'll never speak to you again."

I said hastily, "What was the general reaction to Julie's opening?"

"She was there for weeks and weeks, and the place was packed every' night," Troup said. "It had never done that kind of consistent standing-room business before. So about the fourth week I was driving her home and I said, 'What further proof do you need that you are good?' Even then she wouldn't admit it. She said, 'They’re just curiosity seekers. They want to see what Jack Webb's ex-wife can do.'"

"You had it bad," I told her.

"I know," Julie told me. "I had terrible complexes."

"How did you ever land a part in The Great Man if you had a chronic case of the 'I can't do its'?" I asked.

"I wondered, after Joe Ferrer asked me, why I hadn’t told him I didn't think I could play the girl singer in that picture," she said. "The day before the shooting started, Bobby and I were at a dinner party, and people I'd known for years talked to me and I couldn't even answer them. I was in such a daze. All I could think was, I'm not ready."

"I hear you're always having nightmares," I said, "and that in them your teeth fall out or you haven't any clothes on."

"That first one is the most recurring," she said. "I'm someplace and the caps begin to fall from my uppers. Usually I'm ready to work or somebody's coming in when I feel them begin to fall. The other dream, about how I haven’t got any clothes on, is all of a sudden I’m stark naked in a roomful of people. The door opens and people file in, and there I am.”

“You wouldn’t be human,” I said, if accomplishing something on your own instead of as Mrs. Jack Webb hadn’t given you a feeling of satisfaction.”

“Oh, sure,” she said. “It may sound kind of petty to you, but it does. I mean it’s wonderful; I’m introduced as myself and all.”

“I think it’s time wew were getting around to your girlhood,” I said. Where were you born and when?”

"I still don’t mind telling the truth about my age," she said. "I was born in 1926 in Santa Rosa, California. My father and mother were in vaudeville, singing. They met that way. Then, for three years, they did a radio show m San Bernardino. After that they went into photography, and the depression came and for a while there wasn't anything. But I didn't suffer. They didn't have enough to eat, but they made sure I did.

"When I was about fifteen I got a job running an elevator in a store. I quit school to do it. I wasn't adapting any too well to school anyhow. My grades were terrible, but that wasn't the whole reason. I usually don't even discuss it, because I want to set a good example to my children and I don't want them thinking that it's O.K. for them to quit at fifteen. One of the reasons I didn't adapt was that I was too mature for my age. Even my sense of humor was more adult than that of the other kids. They thought I was a real idiot because I didn't talk their language, and I thought they were childish, so we didn't mix too well. Mother knew that I wasn't gaining a thing out of it, so it was all right with her if I dropped out. She's the greatest. Both of my parents are wonderful.

"To get the job in the store, I lied about my age. I told them I was nineteen. I worked there for four years. If I got a job in movies—which I did from time to lime—the store gave me a leave of absence. Sue Carol—she's Alan Ladd's wife—was then an agent, and she came into the store one day, and when she saw me she said, 'I'd like to sign you.' She fixed it so I could go to a studio and make two hundred to two-fifty a week; then I'd go back to my elevator and make nineteen bucks a week.

"I met Jack before I went lo work," she told me. "While I was only fifteen, Jack was twenty-one or twenty-two. We went steady; then Jack went into the Army, and after that I didn't see him for a year. When he came back, we dated some more. Finally he went to San Francisco for a radio-announcer job, and I went up there on a visit and then we became engaged."

"Had he become a big success at that point?" I asked.

"You might say he was still struggling," she said. "Then he had a local show called Pat Novak For Hire, all about a private eye. He quit that and came back to L. A. and we were married, and after that he free-lanced as a radio actor."

"How long had you been married when he hit TV oil?" I asked.

She considered. "Our oldest daughter. Stacy, is seven," she said. "Jack started to go big when Stacy was two or three. When I first got pregnant, we were broke, and Jack tried to think of a show he could do for a fast thirteen weeks that would pay for the baby. He came up with Dragnet."

"Did that dum-de-dum-dum Dragnet music ever haunt you?" I asked. “It haunted the rest of the country.”

"Sure." she said. "Sometimes people made that noise when they saw us coming." She added mirthlessly, "They made it right after our divorce too. Very funny! Big sense of humor."

I asked if she and Jack had begun to live better when the money began to roll in. "We were living in Hollywood, in a modest house," she said. "The payments came to a hundred and fifty dollars a month. From there we moved into a two-hundred-thousand-dollar home, with five servants."

"Quite a jump," I said. "Was there another jump after that?"

"The next jump was into the divorce court," she said. "One morning Jack went to work, and he never came back. He said, "Good-by," and I said, 'Good-by; see you tonight," and he said, 'Fine,' and he kissed me, and I waited two days; then I called him at the studio and I said, 'I just wanted lo find out if you're coming home to dinner,' and he said, 'I don't know,' and I said, "When you find out, let me know."

"At least it was different,” she said. "There were no preliminaries, no big scenes. When a marriage breaks up, there are usually months of scenes and saying nasty things you don't mean. When I realized he wasn't coming home, I took off for Paris with the children and I established a home there for a while. Then I came back and lived in Palm Springs. It was during that time that we were divorced."

"You must have had a very good lawyer," I said. "The whole country was impressed by the settlement Webb made upon you."

"Those news Stories were exaggerated." she said. "They said I got a half million dollars. What I got was a hundred thousand dollars, and eighteen thousand a year alimony, and my car—and I got some money out of the house we owned, and there were the trust funds. The children will share a trust fund of fifty thousand dollars when they reach maturity. I have a trust fund of another hundred thousand."

"Let's talk about the song. Cry Me a River," I said. "We haven't mentioned it yet and it was a milestone in your life. How did you happen to make that recording? Did Bobby have anything to do with it?"

She said, "While I was working at Johnny Walsh's club, Bobby went to the head of Liberty Records—they were releasing an album of his—and he said, 'Why don't you do an album of Julie singing?' They said. "O.K., we'd like to.' Cry Me a River was in that album. To date it has sold eight hundred thousand copies, and it's still climbing. It's even big in England.

"I haven't told you this about me," she said, "but just before I was eighteen the authorities found out that I had quit school, so, because I was too young, I had to go to some kind of school. So I went to the Hollywood Professional School, and there I met this boy, Arthur Hamilton, who has a great gift. Arthur wrote Cry Me a River. We were the same age, but even at seventeen he was writing wonderful songs. Later, when Jack was looking for somebody to put under contract when he was thinking of doing a television series called Pete Kelly's Blues, I said, 'How about Arthur Hamilton?' So Arthur came out to the house, and when Jack heard his material he flipped.

"Later, Arthur and Jack decided they'd done enough for each other, and they called it a day. In the meantime, Arthur had written Cry Me a River for Ella Fitzgerald to sing in Pele Kelly's Blues, only they hadn't used it. One night when Arthur was over to see us, he played it. I've never had such a feeling about a song, so I asked if I could have it to record. I recorded it for Liberty. At first it was just in the album, but on the pre-release, when the disk jockeys got hold of it, they started playing Cry Me a River exclusively, so Liberty put it out as a single platter too."

"We've talked about you and movies and you and singing," I said. "What about you and television?"

"My ultimate aim is to have a half-hour color-film television musical of my own." she said. "I'd sing and I'd have guest stars with me, and maybe some comedy. Bobby and I have talked it over. We’re doing a film like that right now for somebody else in a sense it will be our pilot with their money. We have expensive sets and music and special material. As our guests we're having Edgar Bergen and Charlie McCarthy and George Sanders and The Four Freshmen. George and I do a comedy number together, dueting one of Bobby's tunes. We're Just a Couple of Average Joes, which, of course, we're not. I'm up to my teeth with jewelry and George, who usually dresses the way a conservative Englishman dresses, wears a diamond stickpin, although I think it makes him shudder."

"I don't want to pry," I said, "but a gossip column this morning said that you two might be married soon. Have you any such plans?'"

"Ask Julie," Troup said.

"Ask Bobby," Julie told me.

None of us said anything for a moment. Then Troup and I both looked al Julie.

"We were really kind of hoping for August. Then again it might be late July," she said. "But I've got a movie to make for Metro and commitments and things, I just don't know."

"Did you see that item in Earl Wilson's column yesterday?" Bobby Troup asked. "It said, 'Jack Webb is romancing his ex-wife again.'"

"We sent him a wire." Julie told me. "In it we said. 'Dear Earl: No."'

I felt like saying to Troup, "Well, you got her into night-club singing and you got her to record songs. It will be interesting to see whether you can swing this too, maybe even before this account of my visit with Julie hits the newsstands." I didn't say it. It was none of my business. I was just working there. THE END

 

August 17, 1957

BY PETE MARTIN

A Post editor probes the private life of the sultry-voiced singer, and reveals

her struggle to fame on her own, after her divorce from "Dragnet" Jack Webb.

Julie London: “I can belt songs out, but I don’t like them that way.”

Julie (center) with band leader and song writer Bobby Troup at Hollywood’s Brown Derby. Says Troup: “It took me a year and a half to get her to sing for anybody she didn’t know.”

Getting into the spirit of things:  Julie warms up for a television appearance with Troup (left), Peter Potter (center), singer and actress Anna Maria Alberghetti, and actor Robert Clary.

“I still don’t mind telling the truth about my age,” says Julie, here sunning by her pool. “I was born in 1926 in Santa Rosa, California. My mother and father were in vaudville, singing. They met that way.”

Julie, costumed for the film, Saddle the Wind, poses for a wardrobe test shot with actor John Cassavetes,