Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Rest in Peace Baby June

Young people today have a whole load of handsome vampires to swoon over, drop dead gorgeous "mean girls" to emulate and "achy breaky" daughters to hold up as role models. Special effects are common in today's movies as well as realistic storylines -- well, except for the vampires. Girls of the 50's and 60's were different -- oh, we had our role models and our "crushes" (Russ Tamblyn comes to mind) but our cinematic satisfaction came in the form of the musical.

Movies during that era (could I possibly have referred to my life as an ERA -- ouch!) were gorgeous, costume clad, bigger-than-life romances with fantastic scenery and happy endings. Every ingenue could sing and tap dance her way through life's challenges and end up winning the guy and keeping her reputation in tact in the process.

I don't know too many girls who didn't want to "wash that man right outta their hair" or who didn't want to be one of those seven brides for one of those seven brothers (again, Russ Tamblyn comes to mind). The beauty of the Asian culture was depicted in "Flower Drum Song" -- who didn't just melt watching Nancy Kwan dance and who didn't just love the innocence of Miyoshi Umeki. It didn't matter if you were the "good girl" or the showgirl, everybody fell for the bad boy in "Guys and Dolls". I don't know one girl my age that didn't yearn to hang out on the fire escape and watch those tight-jeaned chorus boys dance their way through the West Side of New York telling their teenage angst Story. Did I mention Russ Tamblyn?

I am sure that every girl my age secretly pictured herself dropping that shoulder strap and pulling off that glove in "Gypsy" even though, being the demure, innocent things that we were ( we WERE!) we wouldn't admit it. What a life that movie depicted -- hard times, children working to support parents, sibling rivalry, the urge to "get away" and the determination to be somebody -- that is timeless and universal it would seem.

So, the world has lost one of those glamorous performers in the person of June Havoc. She was born Ellen Hovick sometime around 1912 (she didn't really know herself since her stage mom had lied about her age so much-- seems she had multiple birth certificates) in Vancouver, Canada. When her parents divorced her mother took her girls on the road living the vaudeville life in an effort to support themselves and be in the limelight, something their mother, Rose Hovick, always wanted for herself -- talk about living vicariously through your kids.

June was the talented sister with Louise taking a backseat. Louise only came to her mother's notice when Baby June, as she was promoted, ran away to be married at age 13 .. or 14 ... or 15...whatever. In order for the "show" to continue, Louise had to take over. By that time, Louise was no longer a child but a young woman -- she couldn't carry on the "Baby June" persona so she had to move on to the next thing which was burlesque which involved baring a little skin. After the initial shock and humiliation of this new act, Louise, now known as Gypsy Rose Lee, continued in this line of work the rest of her life. It is well documented in the movie "Gypsy". If you haven't seen it, which I can't imagine anybody on the planet not having seen it, rent it, get some popcorn and Kleenex and enjoy.

That, however, wasn't the end of Baby June. She married the boy she ran off with but the marriage didn't last. She moved to Hollywood in the late 40's and pursued an acting career that she would work in until as recently as 2003. She was also a writer. She passed away March 28, 2010 of natural causes at the age of 97.