Marlo Thomas is an award-winning actress, author and activist. She has been honored with four Emmy Awards, the Peabody, a Golden Globe, a Grammy and an induction into the Broadcasting Hall of Fame. In 2010, she released her sixth book -- and only memoir -- Growing Up Laughing: My Story and the Story of Funny, and launched her own web site, MarloThomas.com. She is also well known for her work with St. Jude Children's Research Hospital.
The name Beverly Hills conjures up Rodeo Drive and glamour. But for the kids who grew up there, it was just our neighborhood: We called it "The Village."
"I'm going into The Village," Mom would say. "Anyone want to come?" We'd all rush to join her.
The Village's hotspot was Nate 'n Al's, the New York-style deli where my Dad and his comedian pals met for lunch and laughs. Down the street were J.J. Newberry's --where you could buy items for just a dollar then sit at the soda fountain and have a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and a cherry Coke -- and Livingstone's, a sweet, one-story clothing shop where my Mom and Grandma took me to buy my first bra. It didn't have cups, just triangles, but I was thrilled. In many ways, my childhood memories are no different from kids in other neighborhoods of that era.
Especially on holidays. On Halloween, we'd dress up in our costumes -- many borrowed from the studio wardrobe departments -- and toddle up and down Elm Drive, clutching our little bags with dreams of candy apples in our heads.
Some of our neighbors didn't quite have the Halloween spirit. At Robert Young's house, we were given autographed 8×10 glossy pictures of him and nothing else. Of course we did what any group of candy-deprived American kids would do -- we soaped his windows.
Edward G. Robinson never answered the door. We knew he was home; we could see a TV flickering in a back room. His windows got soaped as well.
Elizabeth Taylor's mom was nice and gave out good cookies. They lived just three doors up from our house on Elm, so we had a good view of Elizabeth as she came out the door, looking beautiful, the day she married Nicky Hilton.
At Christmastime our house was the place where everyone brought their children to look at the elaborate Nativity scene my Dad set up on our front lawn. One year, Aaron Spelling -- who was one of my dad's business partners -- decided that the crèche was just a tad too Christian for the neighborhood. So he organized a parade down the street to our house. At the front, Aaron led a very large -- and very real -- camel that was wearing a horse blanket emblazoned with the Jewish star. All of us erupted in laughter, and Aaron's stunt immediately became a neighborhood legend.
But for all the glamour of Beverly Hills, there was also a shadowy side. Maria Cooper, my classmate at Marymount, was an absolutely beautiful girl--and an angel. Her father, the movie star Gary Cooper, had an affair with the actress Patricia Neal that made it into the press,and eventually led to her parents' scandalous breakup. As Pat Neal wrote in her memoir, she once ran into Maria, and the thirteen -year- old spit at her when she saw her. Beautiful, sweet Maria. What public humiliation and heartbreak can do to the spirit of even the most gracious.
The four Crosby boys (Bing's sons) were also part of our teenage crowd. The youngest, Linny, was our age. He was the sweetest of the brothers. They all went to Loyola, the Catholic boys' school, and were fun to be with. But even as teens, they smoked and drank heavily, and occasionally they'd let it slip that their father knocked them around. That made me especially sad, because they were such sweet and respectful boys.
Years later, I cried as I heard on the radio that Linny had killed himself, brutally, by putting a shotgun in his mouth. Sweet Linny. He was 52.
Some houses had glamour, some had laughs, some had secrets and some had the worst of it. A neighborhood.