The actress from the 30s introduces herself, friends, & talks about her situation
“Hey, cutie pie. How’s about dining and dancing with me tomorrow night?” some man said to me. I was hurrying along 36th Street, a few blocks from where I lived.
“Get lost. I already dance 16 hours a day, and I ain’t looking for any more.” I marched down the street. That was my chorus girl act. I really don’t use the word ‘ain’t’ in real life. Any other time, I wouldn’t mind the man’s sort of compliment, but not in 1933. I needed one with money. And they were never the ones that tailed the girls. Isn’t that tragic? I think it is.
Tragedy. I hate that word. I still hear it everyday. It’s everywhere - the papers, the radio, the pictures. Living in a big city you got used to a lot of things you didn’t want to. You adapted anyway. You did it to survive. That sounds rough, but that’s how it was. A single girl in the city. A chorus girl. (I always preferred dancer; it has less of a tawdry ring to it).
That was New York City, the Big Apple. The home of Broadway - that’s where I worked. Some thought it to be glamorous and I guess rightly so. People said we sure made it look that way. Behind those dazzling smiles of ours, though, hid the difficulty of everyday life. I mean, working with 40 other girls? That turned out to be the hardest part of my day.
We were all very different - most people called us chorus girls and thought nothing of it. All we knew how to do in life was dance. Not to say that that wasn’t true for some, because some of the girls I worked with didn’t know what two and two equaled. They figured they could get everything they needed through a man. And some of them did just that.
We fought at times. What girl doesn’t? Put 40 girls in a room and I guarantee you an argument will arise. Miraculously, most of us got through it with no battle scars. While our job was not as attractive as it was made out to be, it was not as catty as it seemed either. We chatted about the daily gossip. And men. And dancing. And men. And the pictures. And men. More gossip and various other things of course. We got along I’d say 60 percent of the time. Forty percent of the time it was like mixing oil and water. No chance they can compromise and share. Shake things up and they combine a little bit. Hours later, they’re at opposite sides of the bottle. And that’s how life got along at the theater.
I shared a small room with these two girls, Audrey and Lily. Those aren’t their real names of course. I think Audrey was Ruth and Lily was Betty. It’s confusing, but they changed their names when they came to the theater. Made them sound sexier I guess. They tried to get me to change mine, but I didn’t want to. That was the fashion then (and it still is), but I wasn’t into it. I always liked Deborah. It’s quite a delicate name. The girls used to call me Debby. Dancing Debby. It sounded like a gangster’s moll. Had a tough ring to it, but you had to be tough in the theater.
Audrey possessed sunflower colored tresses, while Lily had locks that I swear resembled creamy milk chocolate. My hair produces a red glow in the sunlight. Kinda a cross between a fire engine and a juicy Florida orange. Those were all our natural colors. Audrey used to joke about our hair colors and how they were so perfect for each of us. In the stereotypical way of course.
Audrey. The cool slick blonde. She fit that Jean Harlow image to a T. You know those jokes about the blonde bombshells that don’t have any brains? Boy, that hair color suited Audrey perfectly. Although she wasn’t really the bombshell type – her shade leaned toward dirty blonde, not platinum, she still fit the bill. Even she noticed that one. As I said, the whole hair color/personality deal came from Audrey. I still say that that observation was the smartest thing ever to come from her mouth. Nevertheless, Audrey was always fun to be around. She grew up in the city too. Audrey never completed grade school – she had to work to help support her family during the late 1920s. I cracked jokes at her expense all time. Most of the time she didn’t realize what in the world was going on. She understood about half of what I said.
Brunettes maintain a steady image. The conservative ‘Oh, the senator will be joining us for tea on Saturday afternoon’ type. Lily reminded me of that Maureen O’Sullivan, the one who played Jane in Tarzan, the Ape Man, minus the British accent. Sometimes she hinted at those old-fashioned values instilled by her Victorian mother that she still carried with her. I met her mother once, and I can tell you I never want that honor again. Lily grew up in a stately home in Massachusetts. Her parents despised her profession, and that was basically the end of their association. And all of her inheritance. She never minded the abrupt dump from riches to rags. Personally, I thought that she was crazy. Then again, I was a poor working girl living in New York City in the early 1930s. Oh that’s right, what young woman in New York wasn’t in that situation? But, even with their differences, Audrey and Lily became best friends when they began to share a room. And then I walked into their lives.
My crimson curls have always set me apart from everyone else. Until Audrey informed me of my color situation as I like to call it. Since red and hot apparently go together, so does the temper attribute according to Audrey (“You didn’t know that?”). Damn, I was typecast. I’ve held onto my temper and never let it go. That’s the Irish in me. And who did I remind myself of? No one. (How can you tell who has red hair in black and white anyway?) That was fine with me. I didn’t want to be like anyone else anyway. I was born in New York City and I used to think I’d die there. I was wrong. My father died when I was young, and I lived with my mother until she died. And then I went off on my own at 18. Not much to it. Lovely story.