Julie London in TV Guide - 1972

 
 

Julie London was hired for her lines – but not the ones in the script

By Arnold Hano

June  17, 1972

In his executive suite, Bob        Cinader, produce
r of the new Universal-NBC series Emergency!, is saying, “Julie London may end up the best thing in the show. She’s empathetic as hell. Know what I mean? All she’s got to do is loosen up some.”

Down on the set, Julie London is trying to loosen up. For one thing, they’ve got her dressed up in nurse’s antiseptic white, buttoned high and reaching nearly to her knees. But never mind the nurse’s uniform – Julie London could loosen up in a whale-boned corset – it’s the lines they’ve fed her.

She plays Nurse Dixie McCall, at a Los Angeles hospital, receiving emergency victims the Fire Department has just rescued. That’s the format – Fire Department paramedics out in the field, doctors and nurses back in the hospital, all conspiring to save a cat who not only got stuck in a tree, but suffered a heart attack in the process. The action is swift, the dialog very secondary. Julie’s lines sound like this: “Her name’s Jane Slayton. She’s from Chicago.” Or: “His name’s Peter Ballard. Lives out in Woodland Hills.” Or: “He had hypoglycemia. Insulin shock. You didn’t know?”

You’d swear Jack Webb wrote the words. Well, Webb didn’t write ‘em, but he is executive producer of Emergency!, and the clipped dialog wraps a telltale Webb around the show. Of the first 20 lines of the opening hour-long episode, aired Jan. 22, no sentence was longer than five words. With sentences that short, never mind the loosening up, ma’am. Just give us the facts.

But we are not here to count words, when we can count Julie London’s charms. If Emergency! doesn’t make it big, it’s still good to see her back. And the rest of her. NBC threw a preview party for out-of-town editors. Julie London whirled-in, appropriately late, and threw back her coat to reveal a dress cut practically to her navel. The whole room went “Aah!” Julie London may be 45 as of last Sept. 26, but she still looks – oh, 40-24-37, or thereabouts.

This sex-object bit will anger the more radical women’s libbers. Julie doesn’t mind. “Women should be women,” she says. “Who wants them to be asexual? Not your old buddy.” She reaches over to pat the shoulder of her husband Bobby Troup, also a regular in Emergency! “Not my old buddy!”

Julie London is a man’s woman. She likes it that way. She has five children living at home, which keeps her busy enough, but you still ask whether she finds time for community service, PTA and the like.

“I’m the world’s worst,” she says. “I dislike women in large groups.” Pause. “And as individuals.”

She does other things that will annoy other women. She must constantly eat just to maintain her weight. Her favorite breakfast is a bowl of chili, a plate of spaghetti and generous slices of raw onion. Lunch at Universal’s commissary may be a bowl of soup, a hot roast-beef sandwich covered with gravy on white bread, an order of mashed potatoes, a garlic pickle, a glass of milk and a cola. She has other nourishment at work. When she finishes her final line of the day, a prop man rushes her a gin and tonic. She rushes it down. “It gets me from the stage half-way to my dressing room,” she says. She very carefully avoids drinking while on the job, though she may look longingly at an interviewer’s beer at lunch. But she doesn’t mind a belt or two when day is done.

It’s a new life for Julie London, her first TV series. She made her last motion picture in 1959. Her last dramatic TV job was a Big Valley episode in 1968. She stopped cutting records when the Liberty label was discontinued a couple of years ago. She still sings in supper clubs, but not as often because she doesn’t like spending too many weeks away from her kids (three by this marriage and two by her first, aged 9 to 22).

The new life began in October 1971, when she got back home to Encino, following a singing engagement in Las Vegas. The phone rang.

“How would you like to do a TV series?” Jack Webb asked.

“Hell yes.” Julie said.

“You and Bobby come down. I want him in it too.”

So they Trouped down and Webb explained the idea, and they were in business, which may sound perfectly ordinary, except that Jack Webb is Julie London’s ex-husband and the father of those first two children.

And how does this working ménage à trios function?

“I’m friendly with Jack,” Julie says. “It’s just a business relationship. It’s not embarrassing at all. The divorce happened 19 years ago. That part of my life is all behind. Bobby is very friendly with Jack. I’d never worked with Jack before, but Bobby has done several Dragnets and Adam-12s.”

So. Very civilized. Or is it? Jack Webb directed the two-hour pilot, which made its debut as a World Premier film the week before the regular Emergency! episodes went on. Julie had a terrible time. She fluffed lines all over the place and says an observer, became ”very uptight. She’d blow a line, and then she’d berate herself ad let loose some pretty strong language.” One day she fluffed particularly badly, blistered the set with four-letter words, but finally settled down.

So the presence of ex-husband Webb may be more unsettling than she admits.

She unsettles easily. She’s always had stage fright. “Before I sing at a club, I feel so awful, I think, ‘I’m going to get out of this business. Nothing is worth it.” Now she has transferred the fear to film. “I’m terrified of the camera. I don’t like to watch the dailies. When an old movie of mine appears on TV, I crawl under a chair and hide.”

She is very unshow-biz. “I have no drive,” she says. “I have no compulsions.” Which is odd, considering that she’s an only child of show-biz parents. Her mother was a radio singer and piano player; her father had a radio show in San Bernadino. If you ask her to describe her personality, she’ll suggest, “Conservative.” Then she turns to her husband. “How would you describe my personality?”

“Introverted,” Bobby Troup says instantly.

She frowns. “I like my word better. It sounds less neurotic.”

So how did she get into show business? Easy. She developed hives.

When Julie Peck (her real name) was 14, the family moved from San Bernadino to Los Angeles, one step ahead of the truant officer. Julie hadn’t liked school, particularly junior high. It got so bad she broke out in hives. “A doctor decided I was allergic – to school. I stopped going.”

She lied about her age to land a $19-a-week job as an elevator operator in a Los Angeles department store. Agent Sue Carol Ladd – wife of the late actor – spotted her and asked her to drop in.

“I wasn’t going to, but the store was filled with actors, working there between jobs. They said, ‘Go on, See her’.”

She went down, and soon found herself with a new name, appearing in such perishable films as “Jungle Woman.” In between, she ran the elevator, until she made a small splash as a heavy in a 1947 movie, “The Red House,” with Edward G. Robinson.

Also in 1947 she married an obscure radio actor and writer, Jack Webb. They’d met when Julie was 15. When Webb hit it big with his Dragnet TV series in 1950, she retired to be a housewife and mother. There may have been other reasons she retired. What has been called “a failure of self-confidence” set in.

Other failure followed. The marriage went pfft in 1953. The next year Julie met Bobby Troup, composer, jazz musician, singer, actor, painter. Troup heard her sing at a private party and urged her to try the clubs. She demurred. Too frightened.

Then, one night, at Johnny Walsh’s chic 881 club in Los Angeles, Julie said, “If I ever thought of working a club, I’d want to work here.” Troup excused himself a few minutes later, and spoke to the manager of the club. He returned and said, “You open in three weeks.”

How did Julie feel? “I prayed I’d break a leg.”

She opened for two weeks and stayed 10. At the end of the engagement she cut her first record, an album called “Julie is Her Name,” featuring the song “Cry Me a River.” The album took off, eventually topping a million copies. She cut more records, worked more clubs, appeared on TV variety shows, made more films. She and Troup were married in 1959 and built the house they live in, in Encino.

For all her show-biz activity, she remains a homebody. For instance she used to knit socks for her husband. Now she has graduated to sweaters. They don’t go out dancing because – Julie London can’t dance. A hot night out is a bowling date. She has broken 200 a couple of times: he is even better. Both Julie and Bobby paint, but there is no comparison, and she knows it. Is she envious of his many skills? “Envious, no. Proud, yes.”

These days there’s little time to bowl or paint. They’re up at 5 A.M. and often don’t get back home until 8 P.M.

But she enjoys what she’s doing. “I like the show,” she says “It can be a big commercial hit. The problem is the competition. We can make it, if anybody bothers to watch us.” The competition happens to be All In the Family.

And her role? Those clipped sentences, that absence of emotional involvement? “My natural style is to play down. In a hospital, it helps. Doctors and nurses are never supposed to get upset.”

Upset no. Alive, yes. She hopes they let her get involved romantically. “The pilot intimates a certain relationship between me and the doctor Bob Fuller plays.” Robert Fuller is the male star of the show, head doctor of the emergency hospital. Thus far the closest contact they’ve had is when Julie passes Fuller a loaded syringe. It does not help much that Fuller is nearly 10 years younger than Julie, and looks like a boy. Julie London does not look like a girl. She looks like a woman.

A very earthy woman, for all her conservative personality. She sits in a chair at the edge of the set when she isn’t working, and she tugs at her nurse’s stockings. “Damn” she says, pointing to a couple of runs. “I’m a real slob.”

Earthy, but still conservative. She’s put off by the current movie scene. “I’m not crazy about sexual activities so explicitly shown. Sex is a terribly personal thing. It shouldn’t be exploited.”

One hopes her own sexuality won’t be unduly exploited in Emergency!. After the two-hour pilot, Los Angeles Times TV critic Cecil Smith took issues with those who felt the film’s value was  “the opportunity to watch Julie London breathe.” Then a few paragraphs later, Smith wrote “…the way she fills out a uniform, those young firemen must be gung ho for her.”

Producer Bob Cinader puts it in perspective. “Julie’s chief value is not just her talent. Because the situations are so grim, she’s on hand to provide instant warmth, the basic femininity.”

Whatever you call it, she’s back. And that’s good.

 

        “She’s on Hand to Provide the Basic Femininity”