There were detractors who maintained that she was
a thirty-year-old midget with a shaved head and a wig . . .
(The Child Stars)
They laughed at me when I was a kid and later, too, in every half-assed
town, after the last applause, when I hung around the cigar stores
along the empty streets. “How’s the weather down there, Shorty?”
they’d say, and other witty things, till Darryl F. Zanuck saw me
at Gloomer’s Weehawken Vaudeville & Burlesque, and got his terrific idea.
He put me in that curly wig and a dress with popcorn sleeves
and petticoats. The talent and pizzazz I had already and, being a midget,
my voice was naturally high. I worked a few trips and stiff-leggedness
into the dancing. An old shoemaker made my special maryjanes
with tiny taps and bows, wrapped in pink tissue with tender care.
Neither at my mother’s breast, nor between Lily Birnbaum’s knees
when a lad, did I ever imagine glory in tap shoes and hair ribbons
and little cotton bloomers edged with ruffles. Craftily we kept
to a limited range—an orphan’s search for a warm bosom to lean against,
a song, a dance, a little tear sliding down to a winning smile.
True, there were problems. My special yen was for six-foot-tall blondes,
but how would that look in Modern Screen? Cigars were naturally verboten
till I locked myself in at night. You ever wonder why she grew up
so awkward, and never had a hit? That wasn’t me—I couldn’t grow—
it was someone from Central Casting, sworn to secrecy and promised a career.
And so I retired, a respected figure around Palm Springs, with many
bizarre reputed histories. To some I was a former Mafioso, having shot
upward through the guts, to others I rigged the undersides of roulette wheels.
But through my heyday and waning days as well, not a soul has ever figured me out
as the half-pint bundle of sunbeams who made the Depression bright.