From Nightclubs to Nursing

With Julie - 1973

 
 
It was a long and largely liquid lunch
at the San Fernando Valley's Tail O’ The Cock. The star of NBC's Emergency! had been recalling the good old, bad old days, sometimes in unprintable terms-but always in a smoky voice that has been there.


Julie has made the uneasy transition from night to day worker, from singer in saloons, to a third-year head nurse. "I got a letter from some dame who criticized my demeanor on the show," she recalled. "She said it wasn't proper for me to wear a padded bra. I’ve never worn a padded bra in my life. I visited some hospitals when we started Emergency! Some of the gals are wearing shag haircuts and earrings. Things have changed."


Things have changed for the tawny blonde, now 47, whose measurements compare most favorably to those of any aspiring paramedic at UCLA's Emergency Room. Her vital statistics, 40-24-37, are enough to fell any male in Admitting. Jack Webb, Miss London's ex-husband, just happens to be Emergency's executive producer. And musician Bobby Troup, her current husband, just happens, to be her costar on the series. ''I've worked all my life," says Julie, adding, "I wouldn't miss it all if I quit." In fact, she quit in 1947 when she married Webb; he was then a radio actor (Pat Novak for Hire). By the time they divorced, Webb was on Dragnet, and a millionaire. Julie had two daughters and one of Hollywood's historically high financial settlements to show for eight years of marriage.


Miss London, nee Julie Peck, was born in Santa Rosa, California. At 14 she moved with her parents, a vaudeville song-and-dance team, to Los Angeles. One year later; Julie quit school: "It was always tight financially." At 17, she became a singer with Matty Malneck's orchestra: that lasted a fast 12 months. After which, she says-shades of Dotty Lamour---she was running an elevator at a Hollywood department store when agent Sue Carol (Mrs. Alan Ladd) discovered her. Not for long. Miss London soon returned to the elevator. But someone again discovered her. She became a salesgirl in the sweater department.


Julie moonlighted in bit parts in "B" movies like "Jungle Woman" (1944) and achieved a small renown with the late Edward G. Robinson in "Red House." From there, she was featured mostly in forgettable films that ran the gamut from "Fat Man" to "Man of the West." It was jazz composer Troup who booked Julie into a Hollywood nightclub for a three-week engagement. It lasted three months. Then came the million seller "Cry Me a River," a rash of club appearances and 32 albums ("We spent more time on the covers than the music"). On New Year's Eve, 1959, she and Troup were married. They have a daughter, Kelly, 10, who has acted and has done commercials, plus twin boys, now 9.


The late 60s brought the phasing-out of nightclubs and, simultaneously, Miss London's new career. In 1970, Julie got a call from Webb while she was playing the lounge in Las Vegas' Tropicana Hotel. "No one would ever have thought of me as a nurse," she says of her part as Dixie McCall. "It was reverse casting. Jack has a genius for things like that."


But Webb had a backup, in case. His and Julie's daughter Stacy, 23, is in nursing school. "She can coach her mother," he said. Their other daughter, Lisa, 20, is a production assistant on Webb's Adam-12. And Julie's ex-husband is still admiring. "People forget." he insists, "what a helluvan actress Julie is."


Haber: Do you think you'll play clubs again?


London: I don't want to play them now. But you never say never. I haven't been to Vegas since we started Emergency! The thought of the airport, the plane and the cab turns me off. After all those years on the road, Bobby and I want to stay put.


In a club, there are three important factors: the room, the band and you. How many times do all three come together? In Vegas, the gambling used to subsidize the shows. Now everything has to pay for itself. They asked me to play the Westside Room at the Century Plaza here last year. I figured out it would cost me to take that job. Clubs as we knew them are dead. Now they pay an act a huge bundle to fill a huge place and call it a concert.


Q: Do you miss being on the road?


London: Hell, no. You know how l handled it all those years? I threw up a lot. I'd finish working at 1 a.m. and then I couldn't sleep. And I'm always a wreck at openings. Then I settle down. I do know how to handle audiences. When they get noisy, I sing soft. But you know what I miss? The clothes. I had gorgeous gowns when I was on the road. The other day I had to go buy a dress because I didn't even own one. I'm always in jeans or those damn nurses' uniforms.


Q: Did you get a lot of hecklers when you played clubs?


London: It's worse for a comic than a singer. I smacked a guy once, though. That was in Ohio. I was singing a song Bobby wrote called "Daddy," I always picked out one guy in the audience who was with his wife and wasn't loaded to sing to. That night I couldn't find anyone sober, so I picked a clean-cut looking guy. He reached up and tweaked me. I hit him. Then I turned around and just walked---right to the parking lot. It was closing night. I never went back in the place.


Q: Which of today's singers do you like?


London: I think Roberta Flack is sensational. The only music I don't really like is country and western. Except when Ray Charles does it. I think Barbra Streisand's great. I love her when she sings softly. Talk, about control; I never had the kind of discipline for voice training. But I think it's great to be identified with one song, like I was with "Cry Me a River:' Fifteen years later, Streisand did it and sang the hell out of it.


Q: How did it feel to reach singing stardom in the 50s?


London: I was really stupid about it. I thought, "Oh, that's nice." My first song, "River," was No. 1 for four months, but I didn't know the business then; I didn't know what it meant.


Q: You played a Marilyn Monroe-type in TV's Eleventh Hour. Do you think your life has gone the way Monroe's did?


London: You mean losing control? I don't think that happens when you have children; they always come first. If you've got no obligations, and nothing to get up for in the morning, well…I'm not saying children are the answer, though. It isn't true that if a psychotic has children it will straighten him out.


Q: How do you feel about two of your daughters being in show business?


London: It really doesn't matter how I feel. They'll do what they damn well please anyhow. My 10-year-old daughter Kelly was on an Emergency! She'd read my script and found a part for someone her age. She asked me to call and see if she could play it. I said, "No way. You want it badly enough, you call." She did, and got the part. She was on the road with me when she was 2 weeks old. I thought: "I'll be damned if I'll let her stay home; later, she'll wonder who the hell I am."

I love it when we're on hiatus. From February to June, I just cook and do crazy things like that. I even try to help the kids with that new math. But forget it. Bobby's a Phi Beta Kappa, but he can't do their homework. They use phrases in the textbooks that I never heard of.

Q: Have you adjusted to the early hours of TV shooting?


London: I only work three or four days a week. It's the warmest, loosest, show. And I've learned a hell of a lot. I'll bet you don't know what the two most common emergency room problems are. First is cardiac arrest, by far. Then overdoses.


Q: Is it true you like to gamble?


London: Yeah. I love blackjack. I got ripped off once, though. And not in Nevada. It was an illegal operation, so I don't want to talk about it. From then on, I've been very cool. I set a limit for myself every night. In three or four weeks in Vegas I'll usually break even. One night I helped a guy parlay 60 bucks into 10 grand. I'd be a hell of a craps shooter if I knew how to play.

 

By JOYCE HABER

Los Angeles Times

November 11, 1973;