My beautiful Irish mother left home in Oklahoma at the age of sixteen to join a dance troop and tour the country about the time that World War Two was beginning. She left her mother and older sister to go with the Sally Rand Dancers. Sally was known for doing a “fan dance” while either nude or appearing to be nude, actually pretty tame stuff for today’s venues. Mom wore fabulous costumes and danced in nightclubs and theaters from the East Coast to the West. Surprisingly, these dancers were all treated somewhat like they were in a convent. Most of the girls were under age and the supervision was pretty fierce according to Mom.
The dancers practiced about six hours a day, and usually did two, sometimes three shows a night. That really didn’t leave a lot of time for shenanigans! In 1944, Mom arrived in Los Angeles and she and another eighteen-year-old dancer went to the nightclub where they would be working to report in, and ask where they were supposed to go. A hotel (in a respectable neighborhood) was quickly found for them. While in Los Angeles, Mom was put under contract to MGM for several musicals. My husband and I have seen her various times on late night TV, dancing in movies like Shine on Harvest Moon and other films of that genre. After a couple of years in Los Angeles, Mom and several of the other dancers accepted an offer to come to San Francisco and perform at a club called Bimbo’s 365.
In San Francisco, my mother met a handsome Mexican cop who would later become my father. Dad was born in San Francisco and had lived in the Mission District all of his life. He was the quarterback of the Mission High School football team and adored by his family, particularly his two older sisters, (and his female friends and fans). Dad attended City College for two years after high school to get an Associate Degree. He joined the Merchant Marine because he was ineligible for the military because of a football injury. After the Merchant Marines, he became a San Francisco cop.
My dad insisted that my mother quit working when they got married. She rapidly produced two children, daughters, and life was good. Well, it was good until my dad started “fooling around” with other women. At this point, my hot tempered mother grabbed up her two baby daughters and took the train to Oklahoma to seek the family she had left behind at sixteen. Actually, in Oklahoma City, in certain circles, she was considered a true “glamor girl.” I imagine it was like a Madonna going to her home town in Michigan (if that’s where she’s from). Eventually, since my dad had promised to reform, we went back home.
Both of my parents were used to being admired and adored. My dad cut quite a dashing figure in his police uniform and women responded. (For some reason, many women respond to a man in a uniform whether he’s dashing or not!) Mom had been in the limelight for a number of years too. She went to parties at Louis B. Meyer’s home in Hollywood. She had stage door Johnnies and was used to applause! The couple’s egos’ were larger than most. So were their fights!
We grew up with screaming tirades, violence, racial slurs, (Dirty Mexican, and Shanty Irish were the mildest) and watched the relationship unravel before our eyes. Dad had an addiction to horse races and betting, as well as to women. Mom had an avid interest in movie magazines, Hollywood gossip, style and astrology. She was a terrible cook, and an even worse housekeeper. They were both absolutely beautiful and magnificently flawed.
There were many moments of terrible black humor; Dad telling Mom that she was nothing but a “H O R E” pause “W.” Mom using needles to stick into Dad’s photo in an attempt to kill him via witchcraft. Not really funny, (well, maybe it was).
I was given two more baby sisters before the inevitable end of the marriage in 1960. I guess a wife and four daughters were a bit much to be outnumbered by. Dad went on to remarry and have two sons with his second wife. He died at the age of forty-nine. Mom never married again. She was greatly admired by all of our friends because of her beauty and she was envied by neighborhood women. She raised her daughters alone and did a pretty good job of it. She went to work after the divorce as a keypunch operator and worked until she was in her mid-seventies. Mom passed when she was almost eighty-one.
We kids never mourned the end of the marriage. We were relieved to see it end. So much passion, so much drama, so much excitement belongs on the stage or the screen, not in your house!