Julie’s become a cherished friend, but I must admit I felt a bit intimidated, when we met over lunch at the Russian Tea Room, for the first time. I say we met for lunch, but show-business people keep their own schedules. “Even though its 1 p.m., it’s breakfast time for me,” Julie pointed out. “After so many years of working till the early, early hours and then sleeping until the afternoon, rising late has become a habit.”
Looking every bit the gently aging siren, Julie informed the waitress that she needed black coffee, right away.
“Are you serving breakfast?” she asked.
“No,” the waitress replied, “but we have a very nice vichyssoise—cold soup.”
“My dear,” Julie replied, delighted with the opening, “I like my men and my soup hot!”
I believe Mae West delivered a version of that line, but Julie’s performance was uniquely her own—sweet yet haughty, accompanied by a coy flutter of eyelashes for maximum dramatic effect. The waitress paused, and then gave a good hearty laugh, as if she couldn’t believe the innuendo came out of the grande dame seated before her. She also knew she’d have a good story to tell later.
It only took a little encouragement from me to persuade Julie to share how her showbiz journey began. “I was born in 1924 and my baptism name is Julia Mary. For some reason, I fell in love with a popular song of the time, ‘Mary Lou.’ One day, my mother went to a PTA meeting at my grammar school, and the teacher told her that Mary Lou was a very good student, helped the smaller children, and was just a well behaved little girl. At this point, my mother stopped her, said she was sorry, but the teacher must have mixed her up with another mother—her daughter was Julia. The teacher informed her that, from day one, I had told them my name was Mary Lou and the school had only ever known me by that name. My wonderful mother replied, ‘Well, if she wants to be Mary Lou, let’s let her be Mary Lou!’ Mother knew I loved show business and that she wouldn’t be able to keep me off the stage. Somewhere along the line, I went back to being Julia—or Julie actually.
“I attended college in Omaha in 1942, and I remember the tuition was only $64.00—a big difference from today! I dropped-out before graduation because I received an offer to hit the stage. What happened was that my favorite aunt, Aunt Nori, bet me, she actually dared me to answer an ad to replace a sick performer in this tour that was going through our town. The tour had been put together by a big producer from Hollywood, so it was getting a lot of attention. I found out he was also looking for actresses to train and take back with the show to California.
“When I called the number listed in the ad, the girl who answered told me that Mr. Carroll had already started his return trip. But I asked if there was anyone else I could speak with and she was kind enough to connect me to the manager, Joe. By the time his gruff voice finally came on the phone, I don’t know where I found the courage to ask him if they were still looking for replacements, but I did. Of course, he asked me, ‘What do you do?’ To which I replied, ‘What do you want me to do?’What a leading line. I was so young and naive that I could have gotten myself in trouble, but he was very professional and told me they were looking for singers and dancers. So he told me to come down so he could take a look at me.
“All he asked me to do was a simple tap-step and then he sent me upstairs to Minnie the wardrobe mistress. Minnie picked out an outfit for me and had to put five layers of falsies in the bra. When I went back downstairs, Joe said, ‘Well, you don’t have much on top and you’re a little hippy, but you’ll do.’ I started the next day at $50 dollars a week, which was an awful lot of money in those days–the Depression was still going on. That was my start and I loved it. Show business was what I was made for!”
In her day, Julie has had a Sultan follow her around the world vying for her favors. She told me, “He always bought me huge magnums of champagne at the best night clubs and wanted me to marry him—even though he already had a few other wives.” She was dubbed the Queen of Cabaret more years ago than she wants me to mention, and still attends as many cabaret shows as she can to encourage and support emerging new talent.