“Loretta Young was my TV mom” Beverly Washburn shares the love

Bev LLY as Christine Massey

Loretta Young was known as the Hollywood Madonna, not just for her piety, but for her motherly persona, so she’s a perfect subject for a Mother’s Day post. And, lucky me, through Loretta’s loving and lovely daughter-in-law, Linda Lewis, I “met” Beverly Washburn. Beverly, a popular and busy child actress in the 1950s-60s, played one of Loretta’s daughters in Loretta’s 2nd television series. Beverly was kind enough to let me quiz her about what it was like having Loretta Young as a “mom.”

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Beverly played “Vickie,” a middle child in a family of 7 in The New Loretta Young Show. Vickie is the kid I can identify with—bookish, gawky, sensitive and emotional, tenderhearted and tender-skinned about her plainness and her lack of popularity with boys. I asked Beverly to share some of her thoughts about portraying an “ugly duckling,” what it was like having Loretta play her mother, and what she learned about motherhood and life from her glamorous on-screen mom. Beverly’s delightfully honest answers not only pull back the curtain on the fascinating world of early TV, they also reveal her own sweet soul and reaffirm my admiration for Loretta on- and off-screen. Here we go!

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Kay: You’ve had the opportunity to play hundreds of characters in your long, successful career, but surely one of the most beloved by classic TV fans is “Vickie” in the 2nd of Loretta Young’s televised series, also known as Christine’s Children or The NEW Loretta Young Show. Your very convincing, touching portrayal of the “brainy” daughter who considered herself the family misfit no doubt struck chords with many such young girls. I came to the series late in the day, only discovering it when I was a grandmother, but the complete sincerity and believability of your character is timeless for me, a former ugly duckling-smarty-pants. She’s my favorite of the children, hands-down, so I’m thrilled to be able to get some deeper insights into that wonderful character.

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Beverly: First of all, thank you so much for your kind words in regards to my portrayal of Vickie, the “brainy” one! I loved playing that character and was so happy when I was cast in that role.  Not that I was ever particularly pretty, but for that role, they really downplayed my looks. I was blonde at the time, but the make-up and hair dept. would always put a kind of drab, mousey-brown hair rinse on me, pulled my hair back, did very little make-up and chose wardrobe for me that was very plain.

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I was the “studious” one who didn’t really care much for boys although my 2 sisters, Binkie and Judy (who were wonderfully played by Carol Sydes and Sandy Descher) were supposed to be the boy-crazy ones. We were all playing a very close-knit family, but somehow, I was supposed to feel like I didn’t quite belong and sometimes felt left out. I’m sure it was a role that many girls could identify with—being the outcast can be a very lonely feeling.

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Kay: How were you selected for the role of Vickie?
Beverly:
Actually, the way I got the role was a dream come true for me. Typically, I would get a call from my agent to go on an audition to read for the role. I would then go to the studio where it was going to be filmed and then be given the “sides” (a scene taken from the show) and then you do the scene, usually with the producer, writer, director and casting director, and occasionally the star of the show. There were typically many other hopefuls in the waiting room, all hoping for the same role, which was always nerve-wracking.

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Speaking of mothers, more often than not, I was blessed to be selected, however my mother always instilled in me (so as not to get a big head) that if I was selected, it didn’t mean that I was “better” than anyone else, but just that I was fortunate to have been selected and that she was proud of me for doing a good job. By the same token , if I didn’t get the part, she would tell me that it wasn’t because I wasn’t good enough, but merely, I didn’t happen to be what they were looking for at the time and that it was simply somebody else’s turn and that I would probably “get the next one”!

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I had worked with Loretta Young a few times in her weekly anthology show called first “Letter to Loretta” then “The Loretta Young Show.”

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I did episodes called ”Big Little Lie,”

vlcsnap-2015-04-27-18h30m21s200“Katy,” ” “Take Care of My Child,” and “The Girl Scout Story.”

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Having done those episodes, I developed a wonderful rapport with her and truly loved her.

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Fast forward to years later when the “New Loretta Young Show” (re-named “Christine’s Children” for DVD release) was about to go into production.

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Much to my surprise and delight, Loretta Young actually called me at home and said she was doing a series, and she wanted me to play the role of Vickie, who was the homely, studious one! I was thrilled beyond belief and so grateful. So, for this role I didn’t have to audition at all, as Loretta Young chose me herself, something that I will never forget and always be truly grateful for.

vlcsnap-2015-04-27-19h03m31s131Kay: How was Vickie’s character developed? Did you have any chance to work with the costumer to bring her to life (this from a former costumer!)?
Beverly
: I really don’t know how Vickie’s character was developed, but I’m sure glad it was! There were seven of us children and each of us just had a little different kind of personality, and mine just happened to be the “studious” one, which was really fun to play.

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Kay: How did you feel about being cast in the sometimes thankless part of the family “brain”?
Beverly: I’ve always been of the belief that everyone has a job to do, so whatever that job would be, I was always careful not to interfere with whatever they wanted for me. They were hired to do their job, so I just always felt that I would just “go with the flow.” When they asked me if I liked something or if it was comfortable, of course I would speak up, but I was never the kind of person that would tell them how to do their job and I loved and trusted each of them and their judgment.

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Kay: It’s well known that Loretta loved being a movie and television star and that fashion was a big part of that. What did you learn from her about style or showbiz?

bev tv ly 2Beverly: When we first all arrived at the Studio for our first day of rehearsal, we had a meeting with Mrs. Lewis (the name that we always called her, as that was her preference over being called Loretta) and she explained to each of us what our character was about and also how she would like for us to dress. We all went to the wardrobe, make-up and hair departments, along with Mrs. Lewis. As a rule, you’re just sent there by yourself, but Mrs. Lewis was so involved in everything and so hands-on, that she walked over to the departments with us.

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Before every episode, the wardrobe people would have to show Mrs. Lewis what they had chosen for us to wear and get her approval. Of course she would oversee everything and she always had the final say as to what each of us was wearing, and how our hair and make-up looked.

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She was the most “hands on” person I ever worked with. She loved this show and wanted to make sure everyone looked and did their best.

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Unfortunately, we were on opposite ”Ben Casey” which was a huge hit in the ratings and so our time slot was not the best, and the ratings weren’t what they had hoped for.

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Even if there was a scene that she was not in, she would be right there overseeing us. It was wonderful and so sweet, as most stars would just go into their dressing room to relax, but she would always be right there, and always giving us love, direction if needed, and always encouragement and compliments.

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Every day after filming there would be a compilation of what was filmed that day, called the “rushes” (known today as “dailies”). Typically only the producer, director, star and editor are allowed to see them. However, Loretta Young always insisted we kids watch them every day after filming as she said we could learn from them, thus seeing what we did well or not so well, and she always felt that was important. It’s very rare when anyone other than those I mentioned are ever allowed in the screening room, so we all thought of that as a real treat!

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Kay: You and Loretta seemed to have such incredible mother-daughter chemistry—it was easy to believe your relationship went beyond co-stars. Tell us a bit about what it was like to work with Loretta and what you learned from that relationship.
Beverly:
Thank you for your kind words about how we had an incredible “mother – daughter chemistry.” I too, felt that from the start. From the very beginning, even before the “New Loretta Young Show, I always felt a certain “bond” between us.

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To think that we stayed in touch up until the time she passed away is something that I will forever treasure in my heart. Working with her was truly a dream come true. She was so down to earth and so loving and giving, and it wasn’t just me that she loved. She loved and treated all of us who played her children with such kindness.

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There were several times during the course of the show, that she would invite us to dinner to her lovely home.

vlcsnap-2015-04-29-19h10m37s165I must confess one very sad thing for me though. After the series ended, we lost touch for a while. She had been married to the wonderful Tom Lewis when we were filming the series, and at that time we always referred to her as Mrs .Lewis. Years later, she married Jean Louis, and then we called her Mrs. Louis (pronounced Louey).

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We then somehow got back in touch and by this time she had moved to Palm Springs. We spoke on the phone regularly and I told her my husband had been diagnosed with cancer. She invited my husband and me to visit her in Palm Springs, and said we could stay in her guest house.

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It was such a kind, loving, generous and sweet offer, and what makes me sad, is that we never took her up on her offer.  I look back now and realize how blessed we were to have been invited. After all, how many people can say they were invited to stay at Loretta Young’s house! It certainly wasn’t because we didn’t want to go, but sometimes, life just gets in the way, and we tend to put things off. It was one of those things where we kept thinking we would do it “next week”. Sadly, we didn’t realize at the time that we should never put things off, as we aren’t promised tomorrow. It was a sad lesson learned, because shortly after that she passed away, and I’ve never really gotten over that, and have had a hard time forgiving myself. Just to know that I could have seen her one more time, makes me cry at the thought of it.

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During the course of the several weeks that we spoke before she got too ill to talk and then passed away, there were three times I went to pick up my mail and found little gifts and notes. One time she sent me a beautiful green scarf with a note, saying she had been out shopping and saw it and thought of me, so she sent it. Another time there was a tiny book on angels with a little note saying she was praying for my husband’s recovery, and the third time there was a little crystal dove. Needless to say, I still have all those wonderful gifts, which I will treasure for as long as I live. I smile as I think of how blessed I was to have had her in my life, but then I can’t help but shed some tears as I look back and think about how I didn’t go and see her. I truly believe it’s a lesson learned for all of us to never put things off.

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Kay: Did you ever work with Loretta’s real life daughter, Judy? If so, what was the dynamic between mother and daughter?
Beverly:
No, I never had the good fortune of meeting or working with Loretta’s real life daughter, Judy. At the time I was on the show, I never really knew Loretta’s older son Christopher, but I am so happy to say he tracked me down a few years ago as he was putting together a DVD of the show and asked me to be a part of it, which I was so thrilled and honored to do. I’m so happy that he and his lovely wife Linda are now in my life. They are truly two of the nicest people I’ve ever met. It makes me feel like I still have such a lovely connection to Loretta and I am grateful for their dear friendship.

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Kay: Loretta’s faith-based shows always had a moral—what were some of the things you learned from her about life?
Beverly:
It’s hard to pinpoint all that I learned from her, but one thing in particular I’ll never forget is that she told me there is a difference between  “taking” and “receiving.” She said many people like to think of themselves as “givers” and yet it’s hard for those people to receive anything if someone is trying to give back to them. So many people will say “oh you shouldn’t have” or “it’s too expensive” or “I can’t accept this,” etc.  She said when you do that, you’re actually taking away someone’s pleasure, because if somebody loves you, and are thinking about you, and there is no ulterior motive, but just simply because they are thinking of you, how much nicer it would be for you to say, “Thank you, I love this, you made me so happy, I will treasure this forever.”  That would make them so much happier than saying no.

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Giving something to someone—whether it’s a material thing or just something from the heart or even a helping hand— can bring much joy to someone and therefore should not be taken away from the giver. She pointed out that of course there are, sadly, people who just constantly “take”, but not “receive” in a loving, sweet way. When I think of her, the word “gratitude” always comes to mind, and that lesson that I learned from her, is a way I try to live my life.

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Vickie in the Big City—The Makeover episode

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Since my business and pleasure is doing makeovers, I’d love to concentrate on a specific episode that explores how the internal and external are affected by a change in appearance. In this episode, Vickie goes off to a debate/speech contest in Philadelphia. The family is seen mocking/teasing her before she goes, and she’s encouraged and defended by Christine’s love interest, Mr. Belzer (aka Mr. B).

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Vickie returns in triumph, nearly unrecognizable in a newly glamorous persona made possible by her contest winnings. With her sophisticated, a la mode up-do, sheer nylons, French heels, a slimming sheath, and bedazzled eyeglasses, Vickie stuns the family into acknowledging that she is no longer a “square.”

vlcsnap-2015-04-27-19h12m40s249Kay: First, let’s talk about the before-and-after. How far from your own character was Vickie?
Beverly:
 I don’t know how far I really was from the role of Vickie, other than that even though I was good in school and was fortunate enough to get good grades, I wouldn’t have considered myself a “bookworm” although I do like to read.  Physically, I didn’t wear glasses, nor dress like that or wear my hair like that, but other than that, (oh yeah, I DID like boys in real life!) my personality was very similar I believe, since even though I love laughter more than just about anything, my personality I guess would be considered more on the quiet side as opposed to being loud, aggressive or boisterous.

vlcsnap-2015-04-27-19h16m10s47Kay: When Vickie has her makeover, did you feel any different? How did the director explain this to you?  Did the other cast members treat you differently post-“makeover” off-set?
Beverly:
Doing the makeover was actually fun and of course, Mrs. Lewis was completely involved in the selection of the rhinestone glasses, the sheath dress and the make-up.

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After playing the role of Vickie with the very plain make-up, hair and dressing code, it was quite amusing to be in the scenes with the new make-over.

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All of the cast members had fun with it too, as it was such a stretch to see Vickie suddenly looking this way.

vlcsnap-2015-04-27-19h14m38s149(The cast watching in stunned silence as Vickie sways her way upstairs.)

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Sweet Dirk and Dack (the Rambo twins, who played her boisterous brothers) probably had the most fun with it as they were big teases to begin with.

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Kay: She also returns with a made-up boyfriend…
Beverly: Yes, the “made up” new boyfriend so she could feel accepted and fit in. The wonderful thing about that show was that Loretta Young always made sure there was some sort of a message in each episode, even sometimes if it was just a subtle one. In this episode, Mrs. Lewis finds out that I’ve been lying about my boyfriend.

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In a scene in which I am crying and saying I just want somebody to love me for who I am and not what I look like and just want to be accepted, she explains to me that somebody is out there thinking the same thing and wanting to love me for just who I am.

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Rather than her scolding me, she understands my pain and tells me I don’t have to tell my sisters and brothers that I was lying, but rather I learn from this and it will be our secret and explains to me the consequences of how lying gets us into even more trouble. It was a very touching scene and I loved playing her daughter. She was such a loving, caring person and I felt as though she was truly my second Mom.

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Kay: Teenage girls are particularly fond of experimenting with looks and personal expressions…but this episode seems to indicate that Vickie’s own “normal” look was more in keeping with her personality. Did you have any hopes that what you were doing would speak to your peers about embracing their own style and not trying to transform into a more glamorous, more sophisticated self?
Beverly:
In the end of that episode, I go back to being my “old” self and realize that looks are not what matters, but rather what is in your heart and the kind of person you are is what truly matters.

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Kay: Several of my clients have shared with me that they feel makeovers have a specific power to allow one to rethink their identity. Have you ever felt like Vickie did—that you needed a physical change to depict an inner change?
Beverly: 
Yes, as a typical woman, I always think I’m too short, too fat, that my hair is too thin, my skin isn’t perfect and so on. After my husband died in 2005, I pretty much “let myself go” so to speak, and with all the stress during his illness, my hair turned totally gray and I got into a deep depression and didn’t really care what I looked like. After a while, I realized my husband wouldn’t have wanted that for me and would want me to move forward and take care of myself. I DID make a change. I went from gray hair to red hair! I’m still the same person, but I realize that life is short and we need to live each day to the fullest as we are not promised tomorrow.  There is certainly nothing wrong with gray hair and there are many woman who have that and are beautiful, but my point is, if there is anything a woman wants to do that simply makes them feel better about themselves, then I say “Why not?”

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Looking back, I believe Loretta would have said to me (when I was going through my “who cares” mode) that I *should* care, as first of all, my husband would have wanted that for me, and although in life, we are all given times of sadness, that it’s important not to dwell on the sadness in life, but rather the things that are the blessings we have in life.

vlcsnap-2015-04-29-19h06m20s146I think she would have said we are put on this Earth with one life to live and that we have choices. We can either live it in constant sadness and sorrow, or we can live it in gratitude, and although sometimes we are given much to bear in life, God never gives us more than we can handle and even though we can be sad, that if we choose to be happy, it makes our life so much easier to live.

vlcsnap-2015-04-28-19h05m12s91Kay: What, for you, was the deepest message of that episode? If you could have stepped thru the frame and spoken to any girls who shared Vickie’s disquiet/frustration with their current look, what would you have said?
Beverly:
I think in real life, a makeover can be a wonderful thing, as some people might have a low self-esteem or not be happy with their looks. If getting a new hairdo, or being shown how to apply make-up in a more flattering way, or being shown how to dress in a more flattering way gives a person more confidence, and makes them feel good about themselves, then I say go for it! On the other side, I have always felt that true beauty comes from within, and if you have a heart that is not kind, it doesn’t matter what kind of make-over a person has, they will never be beautiful, as I think inner beauty is what’s most important.

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Kay: Loretta’s mothering roles seem entirely natural to her—what characteristics of “Christine” did Loretta herself share?
Beverly: Over the years, Loretta played many “Mother” roles. Of course she was truly one of the greatest actresses that ever lived, so she could play ANY role she was given, but the role of “Mother” was just the perfect role for her as it just came so naturally to her.

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She truly loved the role of “Mother” both on and off screen. She was in her glory playing Christine, the mother of seven children.

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She had a wonderful rapport with all seven of us, both while we were filming and just as much so when the cameras weren’t rolling.

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She exuded warmth, kindness, love and understanding, and in each episode, she would feature one of us, all the while cheering us on, encouraging us and complimenting us.

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She made each and every one of us feel special and loved. She truly was the “perfect Mom” both in real life as well as reel life. How I wish on this Mother’s Day, I could pick up the phone and let her know how very much she has meant in my life, and how very much she is, and always will be, loved.

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Many, many thanks to the charming and generous Beverly Washburn, who took a tremendous amount of time out of a crazy schedule to share her experiences with us. She has had an utterly fascinating life, and her autobiography, Reel Tears, The Beverly Washburn Story, is SO worth reading! Pick up a copy from Amazon! And while you’re there, be sure to order yourself a set of the Loretta Young Show DVDs, including the Christine’s Children boxed set….you’ll love it!

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PS–The (mama) elephant in the room

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Anytime Loretta Young is mentioned (and she’s mentioned a lot by me, as she’s my forever muse), some eager reader feels compelled to besmirch her name with dark reminders of Judy Lewis, Loretta’s “love child” with Clark Gable. Usually the word “hypocrite” is bandied about and the writer brays a bit about what a “terrible” thing Loretta did by not revealing Judy’s parentage to her at a younger age. The whole story’s been hashed over by pundits, most of whom have never bothered to research the events surrounding this story. They also never note that Judy herself came to a place of deep peace and love with her mother and ultimately understood Loretta’s reasons for this secrecy and denial. Unfamiliar with the saga? Well, briefly, during the making of Call of the Wild, Clark Gable and Loretta had what is probably safest termed as “an encounter” that resulted in a pregnancy.

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Loretta’s devout Catholic faith wouldn’t permit her to “skip this pregnancy” as her studio urged and she had her child, and supported her in a Catholic foundling home. When she felt it was safe, Loretta adopted her own daughter and raised her with her two sons by husband Tom Lewis. BTW, the hard-to-accept, painful reality behind this incident is right now being scripted for an upcoming biopic about Loretta, so I don’t want to spill any more beans, but suffice to say that the truth will finally be revealed and Loretta’s rationale and behavior will become very, very clear. Stay tuned for that one, readers. It’ll be a blockbuster!

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Happy Mother’s Day, everyone!

If you’d like to learn more about Loretta’s life and work, click on my Loretta Young category and dive in! I’ve written about her many times–and she inspires me still, virtually every day. I so often say “Well, what would Loretta Young do about this?” The answer I find in my heart is always the kindest, wisest, most loving, and savvy one!