The Comeback of Julie London


HOLLYWOOD---When Julie London appears over NBC-TV Sunday, March 15 (10 p.m., EST), America will see one of the most admired young women in show business.

The reason sultry-voiced, golden-haired Julie is so highly regarded is that most of her confreres know her story, and to them it is a triumph of the spirit. Here is a girl who picked herself off the mat at the count of nine and went on to become a bigger star than the man who, figuratively, knocked her out.

Six years ago Julie London was a 25-year-old housewife married to Jack Webb, the driving ambitious TV star and producer of Dragnet. The couple had two adorable children, Lisa and Stacy, lived in a $200,000 Hollywood mansion with five servants, enjoyed every luxury they could want.

It hadn’t been that way from the beginning. When Julie first came to Hollywood from San Bernardino she worked as a $10-a-week elevator operator in a department store. Jack Webb was an unemployed radio actor. Sue Carol, Alan Ladd’s wife, first spotted Julie in the elevator and got her acting jobs at Universal and Warner Brothers. Julie was doing fine as an actress when Jack returned from World War II service in the Army and asked her to marry him.

Julie said “Sure” and chucked her career. For two years she and Webb lived from hand to mouth. Then Julie became pregnant. Jack, in an effort to pay for his wife’s confinement, began toying with the idea for Dragnet. It had been suggested to him by Sgt. Marty Wynn, a detective from robbery squad.

Dragnet went on the air over NBC on June 3, 1949. And it became an instantaneous smash. Within two years Webb was the hottest personality on TV. His income mushroomed to a million and more a year. Dynamo Jack spent 16, 18 and as many as 20 hours a day, desperately and frantically writing, acting, producing and supervising Dragnet. He was a man possessed.

“It got so bad,” Julie remembers, “that he had no time for anything but the show. We couldn’t even sit down and have a meal together. The program became his whole life.”

One morning six years ago, Webb edged into his car, waved to his wife, called out, “See you tonight,” and took off for the studio. Julie London never saw her husband that night or the night after.

Subsequently it turned out that Webb had other interests and was willing to pay a handsome sum for his marital freedom. Julie received $18,000-a-year alimony, a $100,000 trust fund for herself, a $50,000 trust fund for the children. A lot of money, to be sure. But what does a castoff wife do with the money? Can it buy the back marriage and happiness she once knew?

She Tried to Run Away

On the verge of a nervous breakdown, Julie decided to flee the country. “I thought I could run away from my memories, run away from myself,” she says. “I took 3-year-old Stacy and Lisa, who was 7 months, and caught a tourist flight to Paris. For three months we wandered around Europe, the three of us, lonely and unhappy.

“One day I was sitting in a park in Paris and suddenly became desperate for a good old-fashioned American peanut-butter sandwich. I realized then that I had sentenced myself and my children to an exile of wandering and homesickness. “How long can you go on like this?” I asked myself. “How long can you prevent yourself from facing the facts? You can’t run away from yourself, Julie. You’ve got to conquer the heartache and the pain and face life.”

“We caught the next boat and sailed home. Back in Hollywood I faced the major problem that faces all divorcees---readjustment. I could live one of two lives. Either I could become the ex-Mrs. Jack Webb, or resume my career and make something of Julie London.”

In this decision Julie had the help of Bobby Troup, a musician friend who convinced her that she had a soft, husky, appealing voice and should make a try as a singer. For a year the diminutive actress kept saying, “You’re only kidding. My voice is too small. I can’t project.” Troup said, “Sure, your voice is small, but it’s intimate and tuneful, and I know it’ll go over.” Despite Julie’s objections, Troup booked her into Johnny Walsh’s 881 Club in Hollywood. She had laryngitis opening night, but it just added to her appeal.

Liberty Records then asked her to record Cry Me a River, which sold more than 800,000 copies. In a few weeks and album, Julie Is Her Name, became one of the nation’s best-selling platters.

Offers came in for guest TV appearances. Overnight Julie London became one of the hottest songstresses in the business.

In Hollywood the movie studios sat up and took notice. Jose Ferrer, producing The Great Man, signed Julie to play the drunken castoff mistress in his film. She was so good in this that three movie offers quickly followed. The result: Julie has starred in nine films in the last 30 months, is wanted by every studio in Hollywood.

Moreover, her albums are selling better than ever, and she’s been signed for a regular TV program of her own, The Julie London Show. At 31, she has become a full-fledged star.

“All I’ve done,” she says modestly, “is to prove that no woman’s life ends with divorce, that a divorcee can lead a useful and busy life. I’ve found out that self-pity and resentment are worthless luxuries that no one can afford. The best way to find happiness for yourself is to give happiness to others. That’s all I’m trying to do.”


The Modesto Bee

Sunday - March 15, 1959

By Arno Johansen

Caption: Before their divorce, Jack Webb and Julie London were a familiar couple in Hollywood night spots. His obsession with the Dragnet TV show broke up their marriage.

Caption: Glamorized Julie, seen here in a recent movie role, now knows greater success than ever before.