My Daughter Judy
from Modern Screen, November 1941
by Ethel Gilmore
We take pleasure in introducing to you Judy Garland's mother, Mrs. William P. Gilmore. We took greater pleasure in meeting her. She's small, gay, gracious and combines the best features of good humor and good sense. Asked to talk as an expert on mother-daughter problems, with particular reference to Judy, she demurred only at the word expert. "Sounds so formidable for a parent," she murmured. "Makes me think of blueprints."
So we'll mention her qualifications informally. She's brought up three girls -- Virginia, called Jimmy, the mother of a three-year-old -- Sue who expects to marry when Uncle Sam gets through with her young man -- and Judy who's just become Mrs. David Daniel Rose.
Since she's in the public eye, we asked Mrs. Gilmore to concentrate on Judy. What's true of her relationship with her youngest, however, is true of her relationship with all the girls. Judy's being a movie star has injected perhaps a minor complication or two, but nothing of any consequence. It hasn't affected Mrs. Gilmore's views, which were established long before "The Wizard of Oz," nor her application of them. She considers Judy an average daughter, herself an average mother. We believe that her manner of dealing with them will interest the mothers and daughters who read Modern Screen.
"I started," she says, "with the single idea that I'd enjoy having confidence rather than fear from my children. That's still my only yardstick. As youngsters, I never spanked them. I don't believe in it. If they misbehaved, I'd sit them in a corner, face to the wall. Didn't even make them stand. Standing gets pretty tiresome for babies. There they'd sit till I told them to come out, and that did it. To tell the truth, I don' think it was the corner so much as the fact they realized they'd hurt me. They're pretty nice kids.
"Once they grew too old for corners, I'd just go quiet on them. They can't stand that. 'If you'd only rave at them,' their father said to me once. 'When you just shut up and don't talk, it's horrible.' I suppose it is. But that's my way when I'm hurt, and since I'm a natural talker, it's rather noticeable. I don't mean sulking, mind you. If there's anything worse than ranting, to my mind, it's a sullen face. But the girls get the idea. Pretty soon I hear, 'What's the matter, mother?' I tell them, after which it's over and done with. No grudges, no throwing it up to them weeks later. That incident's buried.
"In most cases, I think a flat 'no' is unwise. Automatically it stirs rebellion in a girl of spirit, starts her thinking, 'Wait a minute now - ' I've always talked things over with the girls. We may not always agree, but I'm always ready to discuss it. If they're wrong, they admit it, and I'm just as likely to be wrong. Motherhood doesn't necessarily wrap you in wisdom. As a matter of fact, I find myself being pretty careful how I air my views to Judy. She's inclined to lay too much weight on them, which isn't good either. It may be because she was so terribly close to her father, and when he died I had to try to take his place with her as well as my own. She carries our pictures in a double frame wherever she goes. Every few days I've got to clean it up, where it's smeared with lipstick from kisses.
"That's the kind of trust you don't break faith with. Judy knows she can come to me with anything. If she's unhappy, she knows I'll try to fix it. If she's made a mistake, she knows I'll understand it can't be anything so dreadful if Judy did it. So I hope I'm not smug in feeling that I haven't hit too wide of my original mark. Dave, for one, will vouch that my girls aren't afraid of me. 'I can't get over the way they talk to you,' he said once. For instance? Well, if I say, 'Now, listen, girls, you do so and so,' they'll come back with, 'Okay, mother, why don't you do it too?' That's fine with me. I like the comradely sound of it. I never did care for the notion of a little autocrat 'round the house. "And yet, in fairness to us all, I ought to point out that when I do put my foot down, that's it. There's no argument and no pouting. Something happened here a few years ago - if you don't mind my dragging another daughter in for a moment -"
"Sue's very pretty, Sue's a professional dancer, and Sue tends, according to her mother, to be a little lazy. Offered a job as assistant dance director on a Metro picture, she sniffed at it. "Why bother?" said Sue. "I'm going to be married soon."
Mrs. Gilmore's theory is that every girl should be trained to earn her own living. "Some day you may have to take care of yourself and a child. Even of your husband, Sue, who knows? These things happen. If you were going to marry a millionaire, I'd still think you had no right to turn down a job." Having said her say, she waited for a day or two. Sue made no move. "Very well," said her mother, "then no allowance, Sue. Obviously you don't need money very badly, if it's not worth making an effort for."
"Mother, you wouldn't be so mean!"
"From my point of view, it's not meanness, it's common sense."
Sue sighed, took the job, loved it and is now busy trying to find herself another.
Judy was fifteen when she started using lipstick. That was all right with Mrs. Gilmore, who considers make-up a matter of taste and judgment. She thinks that girls of fifteen or sixteen, whose lips are pale, look more attractive with lip rouge - providing they choose the right color and don't smear it on. Judy worried about it more than her mother in those days. At her own plea, she'd been transferred to the school attended by her best friend. The principal was anti-lipstick, so Judy would retire every so often to wipe hers off on her petticoat.
She still uses only lipstick - no rouge, no mascara, no eyebrow pencil. Mrs. Gilmore thanks fortune that she likes herself better natural and keeps her hands off. It's Judy who does the interfering. "I don't like the way mother does her mouth," she said to her studio make-up man one day. "Will you fix it for her, Bill?"
"Now wait a minute, Judy. On a person as old as I am - "
This is the one point at which Judy always cuts her mother off. "Let Bill do it, mother," she said firmly. Bill did it under Judy's supervision, and Mrs. Gilmore had to hand it to them for a nice job.
"But Bill uses a brush, and I use my finger. I'll never be able to do it this way."
"Bill," said Judy, "is nice. Bill will make you a form. Then all you have to do is go round inside it."
Far from brushing off Judy's advice, Mrs. Gilmore seeks it, especially with regard to clothes. "I'm not terribly clothes-conscious, and I hate shopping. What I wear doesn't make a great deal of difference to me, but I'm Judy's mother, and I know it's important to her that I look nice. Anyway, I think the modern girl has more style sense than her mother. By and large, our tastes coincide, which does simplify things. We both like plain clothes on me - no bows, no ruffles. We agree that my most becoming dress is a certain black crêpe with accordion pleated sleeves. Where we chiefly disagree is on color. Judy keeps fussing at me to wear bright colors, which I don't care for because I'm too short. I daren't say too old, or she's on my neck. 'What's the matter with you, mother? You're not an old lady.' Just the same, I avoid the kind of thing that starts people wondering, 'What's she trying to do, look as young as Judy?'"
By the same token, she likes mother-daughter clothes on young mothers only. "When Jimmy, who's twenty-three, rigs up herself and the baby in twin dresses, they both look adorable. On Judy and me, it would be absurd.
At sixteen, Judy pined to be twenty-five and wear slinky dresses. What she wore was the schoolgirl's uniform - pleated skirts and bright sweaters bought by her mother. Occasionally, to satisfy what she looked on as a normal yearning, Mrs. Gilmore would pick up a slightly more sophisticated number and give Judy the thrill of wearing it where no one would see her. "By no one," she laughed, "I mean close friends. That way, Judy would get it out of her system and no harm done."
"When she was eighteen, I decided she ought to start shopping for herself. She went overboard a little at first, let the salespeople talk her into buying exactly what she wanted - which was generally something about ten years too old for her. Well, we kidded her out of that. I must say she's a reasonable child and never did more than sigh when the stuff went back. As a matter of fact, the loveliest dress she ever owned was one she found herself before she was eighteen."
Judy had been invited to join the Hollywood immortals whose hand- and foot-prints adorn the forecourt of Grauman's Chinese. Her mother, leaving for a week-end, had told her to look around for a new dress. Up to then her top figure had been thirty-five or forty dollars. On Sunday Judy phoned. "Mother, did I find the most beautiful dress! All white net and silver, and a huge silver bow in the back. Only one thing. It's pretty expensive -"
"Just what do you call pretty expensive?"
"Well, it's over seventy-five -- "
"How much over?"
"It's a hundred and twenty-five."
Since this was an occasion, and since Mrs. Gilmore fell equally hard for the dress, she bought it. And thought ruefully a few nights later of the designer's warning. "This is a dress to stand up in, Judy. Don't sit in it."
And there was my child, not sitting but kneeling on a dusty block of cement in a hundred and twenty-five dollars worth of silver and net.
Their sharpest cleavage came over a dinner frock that Judy ordered for a trip to New York last spring. "It can't be," her mother moaned as Judy held it up - long, black and severe, with long tight sleeves and a slinky bustle.
"Why, mother, it's beautiful -- "
"For Theda Bara in the old days, maybe. Not for you. You can't wear it, Judy. And from now on, you take Sue or me shopping with you."
Speechless with woe, Judy packed and left the dress out. Mrs. Gilmore's heart failed her. "Well, you might as well put the thing in. Maybe it'll look different on. The point being," she added, "that it did. She looked stunning in it - a little older than she should, but stunning just the same. After which I decided to mind my own business."
Judy's no longer in a hurry to grow older. Since her marriage, in fact, she's had a complete change of heart. Distressed over the separation of two young friends, she asked her mother why she thought it had happened.
"Partly it may have been having the baby too soon. They weren't ready for it. A baby does separate young people in the superficial sense, Judy. They can't do the same things together, and that's maybe how it started. There's nothing more wonderful than having a child, but I hope you and Dave will wait a few years. By that time, you'll be sure you belong together, and until you're sure, it's not fair to the baby."
Earnestly Judy agreed. "Anyway," she mused, "I want to be the baby myself for a while."
In Hollywood, the term "movie mother" carries certain implications, all disagreeable. Mrs. Gilmore is the mother of a movie star, not a movie mother. She figures that expert directors and wardrobe women know their business better than she does and leaves Judy, the movie star, to them. Her concern is with Judy, her daughter. She brings her lunch to the dressing room so that, instead of waiting in the crowded commissary, Judy can lie down and rest for half an hour. She takes care of her clothes. Judy has no personal maid. The kind of snobbery which puts on a front for the world is absent from the make-up of both mother and daughter. Carrying a dress from the wardrobe department to the set, Mrs. Gilmore bumped into one of the hairdressers. "That's bad," said the girl.
"Yes, isn't it awful how hard I work?"
"I'm not kidding, Mrs. Gilmore. It doesn't look good for you to be doing that. Judy should have her own maid --"
"Now wait a minute --" (Mrs. Gilmore's phrase when she finds herself in opposition) "I've been carrying Judy's dresses since she was a baby, and I hope to do it a great many years more."
By temperament and training, Judy shares her mother's level-headedness. One problem Mrs. Gilmore has not been obliged to face is any tendency on her daughter's part to go Hollywood. Far from being cocky, Judy harbors a healthy inferiority complex. "Not good, but loud" is her commentary on her own singing. As for acting - "If there are two people I wouldn't give two cents to see, they're (a glamour girl who we'll keep nameless) and Judy Garland. I get so tired," she wails, "of watching myself going bright and sparkly all over the place." This is no act put on to extract praise. So humble is Judy about her talents that, despite her success, she refused until recently to sing for Dave. "He knows so much more about music than I do."
On the all-important subject of dating, Mrs. Gilmore's views are definite without being dogmatic. "I never forced the chaperone business. Either you trust your daughter or you don't. If you do, watching is an insult. If you don't, watching does no good. When Judy was fourteen or fifteen and traveled with her gang, I'd go along on beach picnics as a matter of course, if only to take care of the food. At home I tried not to intrude on them. I'd come in, say hello and make myself scarce unless I was specially invited to join them or they joined me - as they frequently did.
"Judy's always been thoughtful of me. When she began dating, I always knew where she was going and how late she'd be. It wasn't a question of keeping tabs on her but, after all, accidents do happen, and mothers are a notoriously nervous tribe. If she and her friends decided to eat after the theater, she'd phone me. In fact, they sometimes overdid it. I'll never forget one night when she went to a show with Jackie Cooper. As a rule, I go to bed late, but I hadn't been feeling well that day and was sound asleep by eleven. The phone woke me up. 'Hello, mom. This is Jack. Judy and I just got out of the show, and we're going to a drive-in. We'll be home very soon.' I drifted back to sleep. The phone woke me again. 'Hello, mom. This is Jack. The drive-in was crowded, and they just took our order, we'll be home in half an hour.' Well, you can guess the rest. When that dratted phone rang for the third time, I knew what was coming. 'Hello, mom. This is Jack. We met some kids, but don't worry, we're leaving right now.' I wanted to tell him my splitting head was all that worried me at the moment, and maybe he'd better call the whole thing off. Naturally, I didn't have the heart to say anything of the kind."
Judy doesn't drink. Give her enough orange juice and milk, and you can keep the rest. To Mrs. Gilmore, the principle involved in drinking is one of good taste. "As the girls reached eighteen, I allowed them a glass of sherry or a mild cocktail with guests, if they wanted it. Judy didn't. As for anything more than that, well - we've all seen people who drink too much. We'd talked about it at home, and we're all agreed that, while men are bad enough, there are few more disgusting sights in the world than a woman who's had too much to drink. It's just a bad habit that none of us wants to be associated with - like not cleaning your fingernails.
"I'm inclined to be old-fashioned about certain things. I think this business of being modern can be carried too far. Even after she was engaged to him, Judy wasn't allowed to go to Dave's house alone. One day she asked me to drive her over there to dinner --"
On the way over, Mrs. Gilmore said: "I won't make an issue of it this once, Jude. But you've got to explain to Dave that it mustn't happen again --"
"It sounds as if you didn't trust me, mother."
"You know I do. But one has to live according to certain conventions. Engaged or not, nice girls don't go to men's houses. It wasn't done when I was your age, and it's still not done, as far as I'm concerned."
It was Dave's mother who greeted a red-eyed Judy in the living room. "Why didn't you tell me your mother was going to be here?" she reproached Dave. "Then mom wouldn't have scolded me for nothing."
He proved singularly unsympathetic. "She was perfectly right to scold you, and you should have known there'd be somebody here. Now go and phone her."
From the first Mrs. Gilmore liked Dave. "I'd always hoped Judy would choose an older man. She's more mature than her years, and I had the feeling she might not hit it off with a boy of her own age. As for Dave - from the day he came to me and said, 'You can be sure of one thing. If you ever feel that I'm hurting Judy or her career, I'll go away and get lost.' - from that day I hoped he and Judy would marry.
"They'd planned it for September, you know, hoping they'd both have time off for a honeymoon then. When they found they wouldn't, there seemed no reason for waiting. I'd just arrived home from a week-end in Las Vegas when they told me they wanted to be married that night. So Mr. Gilmore and I flew back with them, saw them married and returned as happy as we'd left them.
"You'll understand how I feel about Dave when I tell you that if anything happens to this marriage, I believe it will be Judy's fault. He's so kind and gentle, he worships her so, and what's more, he understands her. She's younger and impulsive - too young to have the same kind of understanding. But I hope - I believe - he has enough for both."
She looked away for a moment. "What it amounts to is this. Her happiness comes first with him as it does with me. And what mother," she smiled, "could ask more of the man her girl marries?"