Interview: Malvina Ball (mb)
Medium: Audio and Video tape
Date: Sunday, April 5, 1998
Place: Home of Malvina Ball
Collected by: Brian McGuire (bm)
bm: OK, state your name.
mb: My name is Malvina Ball. I have no middle name.
bm: Where we are.
mb: We are here on the Old Slocum Trail about six miles from Marion. We are north of Marion and this is a farm. The house is about eighty years old and let me see now. We moved here in 19…, my mother had the house first. We purchased it, my husband and I purchased it in 1954.
bm: OK, and the date today?
mb: What was that
bm: The date?
mb: The date?
bm: Yeah, today's date?
mb: Oh today's date, let me see, oh it's April the 5th
bm: OK, do I have permission to record this interview?
mb: You do
bm: Do I have permission to submit this to Marion High School?
bm: Do I have permission to submit this information to the Marion Public Library?
mb: It will be a pleasure.
bm: OK, now let's get started. All right, when you were a girl, where did you live?
- 1 Oral History of Malvina Ball
Oral History of Malvina Ball
mb: Well in several different places. First, we lived in Lansing, Ohio, which is a coal- mining town. That's where my father had his work. My grandfather happened to have been, he also lived there, a coal-mining engineer. So naturally any boys in the family went into the coal mines. Then my father was killed so mother moved here to Indiana in 19…, the last of 1918, and 1919 we were here. In fact, I remember going to the first grade here in the Old Somerset school, so the, I have pictures of the old school. Then, mother decided to remarry someone in Michigan, so we moved to Michigan. Went to school in Michigan.
Then, the man my mother married happened to have been in the circus years ago when he was a young fellow, and he knew about show business. So he, oh, the doctor suggested that my mother build up Gussie's health. She was kind of puny. So he said, "Give her a lot of exercise." So dad says, "I know how to do that," so he told her push-ups, and then we tried hand-balancing, and all that, and before we were, before the year was over, we had a cute little act. The Three Little Sisters. Millie was six. All right, Millie was about six, Gussie was not quite ten yet. There's about four years difference between the three of us.
The PTA got a hold of it, they said, "Let's get the three little girls on the hill and have them give the home talent for the PTA meeting." So they did, they asked us, and the three of us were so tickled. We got a little bitty wicker basket full of candy for performing. We never forgot that. That was our first gift for performing. And so, from then on, and a scout happened to see us work one of the, on of the PTA's where the men were invited to come. So this scout said, "Hey, you want to go on the road?" Dad says, "What do you mean?" He says, "I'll give you fifty dollars a week if you want to come on the road with us. We need somebody else." He was attached to a traveling exhibition show. We said, "OK." So we performed in a little circus tent. We had our miniature little circus. That was fine.
After we left that show, we joined a show-boat. That was fun. We'd go fishing right off the decks. So that was a lot of fun. Then, one time, one winter on the show-boat, we wintered I think it was the Menongahila River. I'll have to look in my book, cause I verified it in my book. And mother had to row us across the river to Corris, Kentucky so we could go to school. She rowed us every morning in that little old skiff-boat, that we called a skiff, and she'd come back at night, in mid-afternoon to pick us up. Well, we were getting our education. That must have been the second, third, and fourth grade counting the three of us.
Joining the circus
So then, we went to a larger circus. Walter L. Main, and we wintered, no pardon me, it was the Galmore Brothers circus, smaller. And we wintered in Louisville, Kentucky, and we practiced, we got permission to practice in the old brewery building. Well, that was okay, it wasn't too cold. And we practiced all winter there, we also went to school in Louisville, Kentucky. Then, we never told anyone in school what we did, or who we were. So when the circus that was wintering there opened up on opening day, we had a parade, and our school friends were on the curb, and they saw us riding the wagons, the floats, they were flabbergasted. So, we waved at them, like that, "Hi! Hi!" and that. They couldn't believe that we were in the circus. Mother had told them, never tell anybody what your line of work is. You know why? Landlords would not rent rooms to show-people. That's what show-people, in those years, in the early '20's, were considered, oh, very low class. My goodness, performing like that.
You know what tickled me in the last few years? When Reagen, a movie star, was elected president. That tickled me to death. That shows you how we progressed upwards in our line of work. Not us, but I mean show-business.
But that tickled me. After traveling with a couple of smaller circuses and shows, why we were doing, we were working the fair in Tampa, Florida. My father was working with us, my step-father. He was working with us, holding us for hand-balancings, we had a lot of hand-balancing things, tricks, and who should be watching the free acts on the grandstand, Mr. John Ringling of the Ringling Brothers Barnum and Bailey Show. So after we were through there, why Mr. Ringling came over to my dad and he said, "Would you like to join my circus?" "Well, my goodness yes! We would! Ringling Brothers circus, sure we'd like to join it!" Nicer words, anyway, so we were booked. That was the fall of 1927, so that winter, we moved to Sarasota, Florida where Ringling Circus was wintering.
And we practiced, and we practiced. Mother made some nice new costumes, so what does Mr. John Ringling do? He puts us in the center ring. Of course he had a personnel manager that did the arranging of all the different acts, but we went into the center ring. And he said to my father before, "We don't want you in the act, we want just the three girls. It will be more appealing to the public." So, he said to my father, "You can be a clown, the girls mother can be a wardrobe mistress, prepare the costumes. And the girls will do their act."
So that was pretty nice, and we all three got, all three got wages, salaries. So in Madison Square Garden, where the circus opened, the press was all there, this was not for the public, but for all of the press. And the foreign act that came over from Europe to join the circus, were standing in the back entrance watching. Now, this was during the performance. They were watching, so what do I do? I get on my sister's shoulders, and I am supposed to do a back-flip onto my feet. Well, I landed on my head instead. Twice I got up and I did it over again. We had been taught, when you miss something, get up and do it again, regardless. All right, I did, and the third time, I landed on my feet. Of course, I got a good hand for that, but we finished the act then, and smiled and applauded, and ran to the back door. I went to my mother and I said, "Whew, I lit on my head awful hard mom." Remember now we were very young yet. She said, "Oh, it'll be all right. It'll heal up all right." I actually heard a crack, and I saw stars. You can really see stars when you land on your head. Actually, like fireworks. But mom said, "Well, I'll look at it." And she looked at it. It wasn't cracked open, but, boy, it sounded awful.
Then, we were on the Ringlings for '28, '29, '30, '31, we took '32 year off. We took it off to travel. And we finished up the garden, we opened in the garden again, just for the garden date. I think it's four or five weeks. You know, Madison Square Garden? Then, they already had the rest of the season booked and they said they were sorry, but we spoke too late. Well that's okay with us. We went to Europe. 1935, we got booked in Europe, so we were about six or seven months in Europe. Germany, France, London, the three Norwegian, uh, what do you call them, Scandinavian countries. I can't remember, Norway, Denmark, and Sweden. Did I say that once? Anyway, so they had us back for a repeat before the end of the six months. Some of them we played twice. And we played two or three theaters in Paris.
Now, you see, that's where we got our education. Those different countries are where we got our education. Then we come back to the states and played vaudeville but vaudeville was dying. You know why, TV was coming in. No one had to go to the theater to see vaudeville acts, they've got it on TV There were three or four shows that produced nothing but vaudeville acts on TV So, we decided we better not stay in vaudeville, we'd go on tour, and every other week was closed because the theater was closed, clear out to the West Coast. So we decided we would just travel back in 1937, we went back to Europe. We had a very good agent. He had us booked in Russia, but we couldn't take our money out of Russia. We would have had to have bought cameras or furs to get our value out of Russia. Then, we were booked in Australia, but I think my step-father had a fear of airplanes, because he said, "No, that takes too much time. Three weeks on a boat going over there." He says, "No, we don't want to go there, we'll just work around the States."
Gussie meets her husband
That was in '35, yeah, because in 1936, after our first trip to Europe, we were booked in South America. I almost forgot about that country. That was a nice one. We were nine weeks down there in the casino, the Cabaret casino. And mom and dad with us, we were lucky to have the agents allow, you know, to do that, pay us enough to bring mom and dad with us. But going down to Rio, that's where Gussie met her husband. He was a captain, a commandant, of the Brazilian Merchant Marine. And I'm telling you, we had about fourteen days on that ship going down. They really got acquainted because when he was down there, the captain always came to see us work, and he'd take my sister out and all, but that's okay,
I had my friends too. One of them was an athlete that had been in the 1936 Olympics in Los Angeles. So, he was a big, husky young man. I've got snapshots of him here. And Millie was teamed up with another young man, well, he wasn't so young, he was about thirty. Remember, we're in our twenties now. And he was the cocoa and coffee king of Rio DeJaniero. So we got a lot of candy, cocoa, chocolate candies, and things. But when we left Rio, he got in his airplane with the captain and circled the ship out of the harbor. That was romantic. But my friend had gone somewhere else by that time. I don't know where he was. Then we landed in the states. Millie had to give up the seventy-five orchids that her friend had given her down there on the shipboard to bring to the states. They wouldn't allow her to take them off of the ship. Seventy-five orchids. They were the wild ones that grew down in the Brazilian jungles, you know. That's where they come from. And the captain had been, mother came back to the farm, the captain had given them ten pounds of green coffee, so we had to roast that coffee, right from the jungle. Good thing my mother knew how to roast it in the oven. But after that, then that year, Millie and I of course, Gussie, oh, wait, I'd better go back to '37 spring. Gussie got married, cause he, her husband, followed her from Rio back to, back to Europe. That's where they kept dating, you know. And he said, "We've got to stop this. I can't travel all over Europe just to be with you." So they, in Copenhagen, Denmark, they went to apply for a marriage license, and there is a two weeks ban before you get married, so the captain says, "We can't wait two weeks, they're going back to Germany." So they got an exception. They could get married right there, so they got married in Copenhagen, Denmark.
Well, that left poor Millie and I with a two-act. As I said before, we did everything but the three-high. So we doubled up everything that Gussie did with us, and we worked a little harder, but then we...that's when we came back in spring of uh, I can't quite remember all these dates, but anyway, Millie and I decided to quit show-business. We always said we would quit before we were thirty. Well, Gussie did, she was already twenty-seven and a half, almost twenty-eight. And uh, Millie and I, twenty-five, twenty-six, something like that, we did quit. We quit the show-business. We came out here to the farm and you saw that picture of me plucking geese? Plucking the down. Well, that was, that was how we uh, continued our life, farmers. We loved it, we just loved it. We even white-washed all the cow's...Mother had five cows 'cause she knew how to handle all that kind of stuff from her mother in Ohio. And um, (pause for short break) that's all was in there was his...
bm: ...We'll, start with Hitler. Okay. Could you tell the Hitler story?
mb: All right. On? All right. Well, while we were in Germany in '37, uh, we were working at the Schola Theater. It's like the Palace Theater in New York. It's one of the biggest. And this was in '37, just before Hitler started going into Czechoslovakia and a few other countries. Well, to make this story short, we got a request after our evening performance to keep dressed in our costumes and to get in the car with this German fella' and he would take us to a private theater, quite a little ways out. And when we got to this little theater, in the front row, we went around the back door, and in the front row, we could see about two dozen men in their soldier uniforms. They were Hitler's, uh, what do you call them? The nucleus of his, uh, officers. Hess and Goring and Himmler and all of them. And we come on and did our act and someone came on stage. See, Hitler's in the back. He wasn't down in the front row with the fellas. So, someone came on the stage and handed us a big bouquet of roses, a dozen red roses with these red ribbons, that you uh, saw. Each one of us got it. My sister gave me hers 'cause she was going to Florida and she didn't want to lose it. So she gave it to me. So, that was when we performed for Hitler. And, I'll repeat what I said to you. The reason he chose us, we believe, is because we were young girls, white, athletic, and uh, had good costumes on. Decent costumes on. But uh, he really did appreciate it. We could tell that by the way the men in the front row applauded. And then, we were taken right back to our theater in uh, Berlin, and uh changed into our street clothes, went home to the hotel.
Quitting the circus
bm: Okay, um, after you guys quit the circus, after Gussie got married and you moved back here, what was life like?
mb: What was what?
bm: Life like?
mb: Well, pretty quiet 'cause it wasn't built up, and I remember in the uh, late 30's, that was just after the Great Depression in the big cities. I remember that well. Big businessmen selling apples on the street in New York. So, we drove out here. Millie and I drove out here, and we could see the farms were not up to sp...what they should have been. Now when I look at the farms, I say, why couldn't this have been that way when we came out here? All the front doors were sealed shut to save fuel inside in the winter times. It was early spring when we came back out here. and um, uh, the houses weren't painted. It was sad looking. But we were coming home, as we said. Mother had come ahead of us and bought that little thirty acre farm right down the road from here now. And we just thought that was heaven. We had a little farm to live on. Imagine that, coming from what we did come from, you know, Europe, South America, all of that, and come and settle on a farm and happy as little birds.
bm: Uh, how were you affected by the Great Depression?
mb: Oh, we didn't even know it was on! You know why? We didn't have much work, but we had a nice apartment there. Uh, then we could go to the theater, and for fifteen cents, we could see two feature movies. For fifteen cents, right there in New York. Uh, and we could eat in the sm...in the restaurants. Course, everybody had to put their prices down. Nobody had money. But it did not affect us. We were just happy little larks running around New York. Even though we weren't working at the moment, but hen we did get a job now and then, but uh, no, we uh, we weren't bothered with the Depression. The only thing we were bothered with was the vaudeville dying. But that's it. Um-hmm.
Spanish hot dogs in Peru, Indiana
bm: After you moved here, what did you do, like for a living?
mb: Well, I can't say...I can't put that plain. Mother had the farm. Of course, the three of us owned part of the farm. It was our three farms you know, uh, farms for the three of us. Uh, Mother raised grain, sold chickens, she sold eggs. We thought that was a lark. That was great. Well heck, I was married in six months. I met my husband here after we quit show-business. Met him in Peru. And the first fella I ever wanted to even get...go steady with, I wanted to marry him. That's what...how we clicked. He was a, his father had...was running the little hot-dog stand in Peru. Now there's a character. I have a clipping from the Peru paper where they said that George was a man...one in a million. He would not go to the trustee, like we call the welfare now. He would not go the welfare, and he tried several things to make a living. He tried uh, making pies, and that didn't sell too good. He tried the laundry business. That was in Wabash. Tried to run a laundry, home laundry mind you. No automats then. And then he went back to Peru, and he decided he was going to make a sauce to put on hot-dogs that the people would love. And he did. He did! I wish I had some to show. He called it the Spanish Sauce. He kept making it until he got it so that you couldn't resist it, and you kept eating and eating it. Now, that's what he was after. The theater...the restaurants in Peru tired to get him off of the street af...around midnight, after the theaters let out. They said, "He's taking all our business away from us!" Here he's on the street with a couple of buckets. One with hot-dogs in it, the other with sauce in it. And he'd make it right out there on the street. Can you imagine what the health authorities would do now? Anyway, uh, but they didn't get him off of the street. People wouldn't allow that. So then, he graduated to a cart that he pulled with a couple of buckets on it. He even sold home-brew the first year. He made his own home-brew during Prohibition. Course, I think that was...stopped in '32 or '33. Then the repeal came in, repeal of uh...and they made a pretty decent beer after that. So he stopped that, but he knew who to sell his home-brew to. He had pop in one side, home-brew in the other side. But that went good, and then he had hot tamales. He made nice, fat hot tamales, about four inches and about, oh, a good inch and a half around. Corn-meal, stuffed with that chopped pork and stuff, you know. Loved chili powder. And that's where the home-brew went, with that, you know. Anyway, uh, they loved him in Peru, and the editor of the paper put in, in the editorial section, a wonderful write-up of him. How he made his own way without depending on anybody else.
Now, I think that's what influenced my husband to make his own way in this world. After...during the Depression and afterwards. With a write-up like that, it would inspire anybody. So anyway, after thirteen...my step-father...my uh, father-in-law died. And uh, the place he was working out of later had been sold because the lady died that owned it. That's in Peru. So, um, after um, let me see. I've gotta get this straight. Uh, oh, after we were...his father died and I'd married Earnest already. After six months. Uh, it was mutual, let me tell you. Why, um, Earnest came to Wabash. And he found a place. He always wanted to reopen the hot-dog stand, so he found a place in Wabash that had been a Dairy Queen before. It was empty, okay. And you know, year by year, our business kept picking up. Course, I helped out, he was working in it, the uh, three children old enough, they were working in it. The two little boys, Ernie and Tommy, they live right here, why uh, they were too young, but they were no trouble with us. They were no trouble at all. Just nice quiet little kids. Then, the customers kept saying, "You've gotta get a place where we can come in and sit down." So then we moved just up on Wabash Street. Miami's down here and Wabash is up here.
So we uh, built. We bought the lot right on Wabash, and we built our own uh...I designed it and Earnest suggested a few little things to it. But we made it a little too small. In less than two years, they said, "Why didn't you make it bigger?" So okay, we added an addition to it. So you see, my point is how we kept growing little bit by...because his father had perfected this sauce so well that people wanted it. And he also made breaded tenderloins. The first around the whole area, where he pounded 'em tender and then breaded 'em up good and then put it, a huge tenderloin about like that in a, in a bun. You had to eat the tenderloin all the way before you could get to the bun. They loved that. Uh-huh. People copied that later. They copied it, uh-huh. But uh, nope. Then, we got so that...well, we were doing all we wanted to. We couldn't visit with our kids, they felt like they were intruding when it come to the drive-in. Ernie was on the first shift from five to five to four. I was from four to midnight. That ...including cleaning time too. So, uh, and my kids, I'm trying to get at is, the kids all helped. The boys big enou...when they got big enough, they helped in the basement kitchen. We had to have a kitchen to prepare everything. And upstairs was the grill, French-fry baskets, and the dressing table, and the ice cream and the Cokes and all that. Well, I must say, we were busy. Every hour, every lunch hour, full as we could be, but what I'm trying to say is that work...my kids worked and people said, "No wonder they're going to do good, they don't pay their children." You know what I told them? I said, "My background is Italian and French. We did not... my mother, my grandmother never paid their children to help out in the house." I said, "They get everything they want, they get a board and room, they get all their, whatever...little fun things they want." I said, "But they do help us out all the time." And uh, that kind of shut 'em up a little. We ...why do you pay your kids? That's only been around the last few...well you know, maybe fifty years. Not even fifty years, maybe forty years where you have to pay your kids to help out in the family. Unh-uhn. My uh, my Italian father would have dropped over if he'd of known that. (laughs)
No, but anyway, getting back to my husband, he had that will to work, and he wanted to go back into business, and we did. We had people coming from Peru, see we started it up in Wabash. Earnest had people coming from Peru, uh, Logansport, Anderson, because by then it was the crowd, the younger people who's father and mother had gone to his father's place in Peru. So it kept growing like that. So one boy went home to his dad and he says, "Dad, have you ever heard of uh, George's Spanish Hot-dogs?" And he says, "My goodness yes, in Peru. We used to go there all the time." He says, "Okay then, I'll go to this one. It's in Wabash." And they came to see if it was George's Spanish Hot-dogs. That's how my husband made the sign, George's Spanish Hot-dogs. And it worked out beautifully. But after nineteen years, he passed away. My husband passed away. I tried it one year on my own, it was just more than I could handle. You need two people. One for the day shift and one for the evening shift. To watch business, to watch the help, to make sure everybody was on their toes. We had rules. We had rules. Kids could not go home with anybody else. Either their father or mother, or they could walk home. You know, no dates. No dates allowed. And um, if they had to go out with somebody else, note from home please. Oh, we were strict. To this day, I get a thank-you card every once in a while saying, "Mrs. Ball, I want to thank you for teaching me so much." Well, it's a normal thing you teach your kids. How to behave, what to do, what not to do. So, I'm kind of proud of the way we handled the drive-in business. Of course, we had drive...we had car-hops. My two daughters were car-hops for a couple of years. But uh, I don't know what else I can say. Our kids went to school and uh, they learned the value of money. They, none of them was ever out of a job. Cause they found, uh, found work.
bm: When you were in Europe touring, and you were schooling in many places, um, how much of an education did you get?
mb: The education we got, I went to the fifth grade. Clear to the fifth grade, then we started traveling constantly. My oldest sister was beginning to enter seventh grade, that was up in Muskeegone for a while. Up in Muskeegone. Millie got to the four, she was just entering the fourth grade. So, but you've got to remember traveling with your father and mother, you're under uh, uh, supervision. They weren't, I mean they weren't mean. They couldn't be mean to us, we were making the living. (laugh) No abuse going on. No abuse at all, but um, we, you see...we started traveling as I said, when I got to the fifth grade. (pause) No. I, I'm a little confused on that point.
But, the education we got was worth a college education by traveling. You learned how to change money from all these different countries, the German mark then was forty cents then, ours was a dollar you know. One dollar, (stutter) a dollar over there would be two and a half marks. We had to do all that stuff. In France, it was francs, which was very cheap. I don't know how many uh, uh, uh, cent...I get my Mexican money mixed up with my French. Their pennies to one franc, like in Mexico, we went to Mexico, the centavo and the um, oh, I've forgotten what the monies were, but we had to change all that minute little stuff into dollars to know what we were doing when we were buying anything. So that was our math, I mean real math. And uh, we learned languages.
We learned how to speak German in Germany. I lived there for nine months I believe. My sister and I, after my daughter, uh, my grand, pardon me. After my sister was married, they stayed in Germany. He had his office from the steam-ship line out of Hamburg, so Millie and I, in '38, after we quit the show-business, the spring of '38, we took a trip back to Germany. Gussie was coming back to have her little child by that time. She was coming back to have it. She wanted him to be an American citizen. Somebody's come back with your truck. Anyway, she wanted her children to be American citizens. So, she came back. Millie and I went over there. So we stayed there about oh maybe, eight or nine months buying groceries, finding our way through town, through all this, we learned German. Paris, if you didn't speak French, to heck with you. Because the French were very snooty or sn...I don't know what you might call it. Uh, they wouldn't pay attention to you if you didn't speak French. My mother could speak French. So she told them, she spoke French. She ordered anything we wanted. And um, Scandinavian, we couldn't get onto that at all. That was a hard language. So we didn't try, but they spoke a little English. See German, they didn't teach Latin, or they didn't teach Latin in Germany, or I don't know whether they taught American or not. But, we learned. We were educated. We learned how to travel. We learned people. That's what we learned was people. How to judge people, how to treat them, how to accept them. That's why I love that. Hey, and on the surface, we had French, Italian, German, Hungarians, Turkish, Egyptian, that was the Egyptian acrobatic team, um, and uh, Chinese, no they were Japanese, they were Japanese. We had all races. It was wonderful. I know I'm speaking too enthusiastically, but I really thought it was a wonderful life, for children. And we quit at the age of thirty, of twenty-seven. Got out of it at twenty-seven. So, I'm satisfied now to be settled right here, in Indiana, in my own farm house.
Fun on the road
bm: Okay, we're gonna hold for a minute (?) (pause) Okay now, what did you guys do to occupy your time, besides...
mb: Well, I tell you, we couldn't uh, do too much, like all you city folks did, but we did go sightseeing. Oh, did we sight-see. We went all over, all the big museums and things like that. And besides that, uh, we had our vaudeville friends come to visit us, and we'd play, we'd play cards. What's that game, penny ante or something like that. Uh, here in Indiana it's cribbage or peanut, no there's another game here in Indiana. I don't know. I never played cards very much. I just never was interested in it. But uh, we'd have little card...and we'd always have lunch. No matter who's house we went to we'd have cheese and bread and fruit and that's an old time custom. And we always had that, and uh, then we'd take long walks, because we had to get out of the theater. And if we did four shows a day, you didn't do much of that. Because four shows a day, you know, that's very hard. So, but we did occupy our time to a good advantage, by sightseeing, especially in Europe. Seeing all those old buildings, Tower of London, London Bridge, Germany we saw the uh, the uh, the war memorial...the, that big arch they have over the main street. I can't say it now, it's in German. Paris, we went the Arch de Triumph, the soldiers of the first World War, we saw that thing. We went to Napoleon's tomb, uh, I mean all those kind of things, the art galleries. We just really had a full college education. Dispite visiting and going around.
bm: So were you guys celebrities?
mb: We didn't think so. On the surface, we weren't featured. We weren't, we were just good. We had a good, clean, pleasing act that managers could put in anyplace. Hey, if you played the Savoy Hotel in London, that is the, I hate to use the word swanky, but it was the highest class hotel in London, where the Prince would go, where the barons would go, uh, where um, uhm, um, many people would go. And worked that uh, three times, so you know it was the appearance and the act in what girls did. What we did in that act, and it was presented with a smile, and I think that's why we were booked so many times in repeats. Germany had us back two or three times. Uh, the Hotel Savoy, every time we went over there, we went back to the Hotel Savoy. That's where I learned to like watercress sandwiches. Little bitty sandwiches, take a slice of bread, cut off all the crust, and put um, butter, you butter it, then you put partially chopped watercress on it, pretty thick, and another piece of bread, and that was your little finger sandwich, it'd be served with tea mid-afternoon, and their little crumpet, and a little (stutter) petite fours things like that. Little bitty cakes you know. Oh we loved that. We had a room for ourselves in that hotel, uh, to the three girls, Mom and Dad had their own room. Just because we were working there.
The uh floor where we were working was um, I can't remember the footage, but it was pretty decent. It was a dance floor. And it raised level with the tables, then, we would go on and perform. We had to watch out that we didn't fall off the ends, because there was only about that much room on the ends of the twenty-two foot mat. So, but that was fun. But you see, we wouldn't have been booked in there if we hadn't looked uh, nicely costumed, and presented something the girls weren't doing at that time. There wasn't too much Olympic stuff I don't believe at that time. Do you remember any Olympics in the twenties and thirties? Course not, so what we were doing was unusual for girls. And besides, the act was a pretty act. By that I mean, costumes, acts, girls, like that. So, I'm not trying to brag, I'm just enjoying every bit of it.
bm: Did you guys ever meet any really famous people?
mb: Oh my yes! We played Hollywood. We played Los Angeles. And the funny thing is, uh, the uh, stars would come out to the circus lot and walk all around the back yard, we called it the back yard, between the dressing rooms and the big-top. And they'd look at us. Here's the circus people looking at them. It was funny. They were gauking at us, and we were just trying to see all we could about them. Yes, I have snapshots of some of them. And um, we played in vaudeville with a band whose band leader was uh, uh, I don't know where, but anyway, he knew this woman who always came to the theaters where he was playing. Mrs. Whitey. She could have been this man's wife for all I know. But he was so much younger. She was mother of uh, Douglas Fairbanks Junior. Papa was an older fella. And this was a, this woman said, "Now when you get out to Hollywood," she said, "I want you to look up my son, Doug." Douglas. We knew who she meant. Douglas Fairbanks Junior. You know him. Have you ever heard of him?
mb: Well anyway, so she gave us a letter to show him when we got there. So when, we went out, oh, you should see how we dressed to go out to see him. (gasp) Dress way down to here, and they were all new dresses, we had to look to good to go out to see somebody in Hollywood, you know. One was, one way gray, Millie was dressed in gray, with velvet sleeves, mutton sleeves. Mine was all black and a cock-eyed little hat over here. Way on the side. Oh I tell you, we were just fit to kill. Anyway, we went out there to his studio, and he was so nice, so courteous and everything. And we went out to lunch with him. He took us to the Commissary to have lunch. And while we were there, we watched two other actors shooting a scene. I think one was Cagney. James Cagney. I forget who the other one was. And um, the funny thing is, happened, once says uh, "Can I take five minutes?" He says, "What, on company time?" He says, "Wait." He had to go to the restroom, he said, "Wait." The director said that. But anyway, yes, we saw several of them. Some that are gone. Jack Mulhul Junior, uh, he had his son there. Uh, uh, Dorothy Lamour, you know. Oh yeah, we saw a lot of them. They came out to the lot to see us, if you don't think that's something. Uh-huh. And of course uh Bob Hope, we played in vaudeville with him. Phil Harris, did you ever hear of him, Phil Harris, he was down to earth. Then there was one called Phil Silvers. Comedian. And we were in the theater, and he said, "You know the girlfriend just come to see you. Would she help me out in this act? I've got to have a girl to do this one part. It's very, very simple." I said, "Yeah, I'll ask her." She says, "Yeah, I'll do it." She was a blonde. He said, "All you gotta say is this word." So he told her the word. Supercilious. Supercilious. So he took her to the dressing room and he tried to teach her to say that one word on his cue. He come back later, he says, "She won't do. I've never seen anybody so dumb." He said, "She can't say that word, supercilious. She's too dumb for me." She was a blonde. You're a blonde, no. But that was funny. He, I saw in the paper where he had done, now who else was on the different things? Oh yeah, we...Madame Schubenheik, the famous singer from Germany. Madame Schubenheik. And um, I can't remember them all, but yes, it was fun meeting them.
bm: Weren't you invited to some coronation?
mb: (gasp) See, those little things I forget. It was in May of the first year we were there. May that was in '35 I think. Either had to be '35 or '37. Yes, so our English friend, tall, young English man, and he loved show-people. He got acquainted with Dad and Mom, then he got acquainted with us three. And so we were there, and he, and I said, "Oh my, if we could just see the coronation." So he got us three tickets, I forget what they were. I've got the, the uh, papers and everything in there about it, in my other album. For seats on the bleachers in front of Westminster Abbey where the procession was going to come down through and then disembark and go into the Westminster Abbey for the ceremony. All right, so we got the three tickets. The three girls. Then we got a letter, "Will you be taking tea?" We have to know how many's gonna be having tea while they're waiting for the procession. I don't...five pounds or something like that for tea, maybe not that much. And uh, then we had to sell the tickets. We were booked in Germany and couldn't go see the coronation. Oh, that was heartbreaking. Because, we had seen Princess Elizabeth, Princess Margaret when they were little bitty girls. Oh let 'em in, it's right here, oh excuse me. Want to turn it off for a minute? And Millie my youngest sister's got this medal from um, this same English friend, he had, he was the black sheep of a very high family there, like uh, like uh, Earls. Something like that, you know. So, he was the black sheep of the family, and he got acquainted with us. So he got three medals for us, saying Prince Edward, no, Edward, King of England. He hadn't ever been crowned. He abdicated, remember, you know, he abdicated to marry Wally Simpson out of Baltimore, Maryland. But these medals are really something to have. So Millie's got hers, and my other sister's got hers, mine got mislaid some way or other.
I don't know why, but anyway, yeah, a lot of those things that happened to us, I wish I wouldn't forget them. Maybe I better mark them down, huh? Well, maybe they're in my book, I don't know. They might be in there. Wouldn't sur...as my daughter says, "Mom, all you put in your book was all the highlights, you forgot a lot." She says, "All you got to hear is the highlights of the uh, different things." I didn't mean to.
bm: You should write another book.
mb: Uh, write the same book, what do they call it, uh, revised. Un-huh.
bm: Put all the other stuff in there.
mb: Yeah, I should really because it was so interesting. I think I put Hitler in there, and I think I put Hollywood. I hope I did. If not, I better go back and do my homework.
bm: Besides Hitler, did you do any other command performances?
mb: Nope! Oh, oh, we didn't have to, they came to the theater. Like, uh, there was a big box at the uh, London, London, the uh, oh, there's a big theater in London, I can't think of the name. The main theater in London. It's my age, I can't remember. There are boxes on both sides there, they had royalty in them. So, then we'd have, I think it's four Presidents come to the, come to the circus. Mrs. Eleanor Roosevelt came to the circus. So, yeah, we had a lot of...we showed off to a lot of people. (stutter) Big, uh big names, you know. Mm-hmm.
bm: And I know you...I asked you this before, but I'd like to get it on camera. How were you affected by the Women's Liberation Movements?
mb: The Women's Liberation?
bm: Mm-hmm. And, and the uh, changing roles for women?
mb: I think it's great! Women were held down too much, my goodness. Uh, there was one saying and I won't repeat it, but what they used to say about women, they ought to stay home. You've heard it. Un-huh. And um, yeah, I think it's about...why not, we're equal in s...we're equal in uh, uh, uh, ability to do a lot of things. I think it's coming out fast now, what we can do, yes. I think we could.
bm: Were you affected by, say the Suffrage Movements?
mb: Suffrage? No! The only thing we were affected, when we were little and traveling, Child Labor Law. Children could not work, Child Labor Law. The Blue Law, where you could not work on Sundays. Could not work, Boston, they told us after uh, we'd worked Friday, Saturday, and they said, Sunday, you've got to put tights on. You cannot work bare-legged on Sunday. We said okay. So we took a deeper shade of powder, and powdered our legs about. That went, that passed by. It didn't look like nudity. But w, we told him it was dangerous. We're not used to working with tights on our legs. There's a difference when you're working like that. But uh, no, that's the only thing I can remember, the Blue Laws and the Child Labor Law. Mm-hmm. That's all I remember about that. And, of course, time went by so fast that, on the circuses and these other shows, these fairs, well first thing you know that was already out. That was already gone, those laws. So no, we weren't affected by them.
bm: Okay, you guys have any questions?
mb: Only thing I have to say is uh, it was hard work. Traveling outdoors on the circus, washing up in cold water, buckets, we always got clean, naturally. And uh, we enjoyed traveling. I stay, I say that's why I like to sleep late in the morning now, 'cause vaudeville didn't start till one o'clock, you know. And we got home, after we got through at night in vaudeville, we would go out and eat pretty big meal. Then we never got to sleep before twelve or one. I can't sleep here before twelve or one o'clock. Even after sixty years, I have to keep my hours that I had then to really get sleepy. And uh, I like traveling. I miss traveling. But I love my security at home. But every once in a while I have to take a trip. So I do. And my sisters, they're, they're like that. Gussie goes to South America. She's has a daughter now living in South America. And Millie's son travels as I said, all over the world now with his business. Uh, telephone. He manages the eight-hundred number. That's in his jurisdiction. Got uh, six hundred men or more taking care of the phone lines, you know, men and women. But uh, no, I wouldn't uh, I wouldn't give up that past for anything. It was very beneficial to us after we retired. We made use of everything we learned. And my grandkids don't believe it. Now, they do, and my granddaughter said they went to college you know, they tell everybody about their grandma. I said, "Be careful what you tell them." She, uh, she called me last night from Dallas, one of them. And she's working for a big restaurant chain, training all the employees, and the uh, boss said to her, this is been a couple of months ago, he said to her, "Where did you get all that knowledge about uh, behaving in business and training and all?" He says, she laughed. She said, "I'm the fourth generation in handling people." See, my father-in-law was in the restaurant business, we were in show-business, and all that. We understand people. So, that, that's helped her a lot, and she gets a kick out of saving anything about the circus. She wants to have, she's got our costumes, she's got write-ups, she's got pictures. And she said, that's the first place the kids go in college, when she was in college. They want to see the circus room. (?) There's a benefit to my grandkids, they've got something to talk about, 'cause I don't talk much. (laughs)
bm: Well, thank you very much.
mb: Well, I don't know, I hope that's a good finish. (pause)