The Litle Girl Who Lived in a Shoe
(Joy Wurgaft-Joy Lane-Joy Van Ronkel)
I was born September 19, 1927, at the Loamshire Hospital in Santa Monica, California. My mother, Irene McCauley, had just reached the "ripe old age" of 17 on July 10th of that year. She had met my father the year before while waiting for a bus, with her friend Grace, at the corner of Geary and Market Street.
Daddy had come to San Francisco from Los Angeles, where he lived at that time, and was on a business trip for my grandfather with whom he worked. They were in the fruit business and my father used to travel to San Francisco regularly.
On this particular day, he was walking down the street with his friend, Ralph, and suddenly spotted this very attractive girl, standing on the corner, with her girl friend. He knew he had a party to go to that night and the first thought that entered his mind was "here was a girl he'd like to take to the party."
He bravely walked up to her and politely explained who he was and why he was in town and asked if the two girls would like to accompany them to the party? The answer was "yes" and he and Ralph arranged to pick them up at Irene's house at 7:30 that night. That encounter was the beginning of a beautiful marriage that lasted 37 years and produced me and my younger brother, Bob.
Because my mother had been on the stage, as a child performer with the Helen & Peggy O'Neill Kiddie Revue, and had appeared in theatres all around the San Francisco and Berkeley areas during her young life, I was raised to be a performer, as well. Daddy was 19 when he married my mother. He had a great love for music and had learned to play the ukulele as a young man so after they were married, he would accompany her on the "uke" and sing along in harmony.
They loved singing together and it was only natural that I should grow up, constantly hearing music and laughter around the house and wanting to sing too.
It wasn't long before I knew every one of their songs. Soon I was the lead singer and they were backing me up and I loved every minute of it. At three years old, I was sent to dancing school and soon I was performing in recitals and winning State Fair Competitions and talent shows around Southern California. When I was five, I won first place, from over 200 children, in the Orange County Better Baby's Exposition and it was then my father decided his little girl was ready for "the big time".
One Sunday afternoon, in 1934, my mother combed my curls and dressed me up while Daddy got out my professional photographs. We drove to the famous Hal Roach Studio in Culver City but when we got there the gates were locked and the studio was closed. The only person in sight was a gardener mowing the expansive lawn. Daddy was undaunted. He got out of the car, walked over to the wrought-iron fence and beckoned the man to come over. Being a friendly sort of fellow, he obliged and a conversation ensued which resulted in the gardener taking my photographs inside the studio. We sat in the car and waited. Suddenly, the massive gates began to open and we were motioned to drive inside and proceed to a certain office. When we arrived, a nice man greeted us, spoke to my parents awhile and then asked me to sing. I sang for him and did a little dance routine. When we said goodbye, he told me he'd be seeing me real soon.
On our way home, Daddy told me the man I sang for was Gus Meins, the Director of the Our Gang Comedies, and he wanted me back at the Studio on Monday for a voice test. As a result of this test, I was put under contract to Hal Roach Studios from 1934 to 1936 and cast to sing "I Wanna Go Back To My Little Grass Shack" in the next OUR GANG movie called "Mike Fright."
A few month's later, the studio wanted me to play in their new full-length feature film called "Babes In Toyland" with Hal Roach Studios two biggest stars, LAUREL & HARDY. I was cast as one of the children of Mother Peep, "the old lady who lived in a shoe." This wonderful movie has become a Classic over the years!
My experiences during the filming of Babes in Toyland were so much magic for a six year old. We lived in Fullerton, about 40 miles from Culver City, where Hal Roach Studios were located. Every morning my mother would drive us there and, when we arrived, she would show our PASS at the gate and we would then, be allowed to enter the wonderland of Toyland, a place that every child on this earth would like to be.
My first job was to go to the Makeup room and get prettied up, then off to Wardrobe for my Toyland clothes. We children were allowed to work three hours a day and then we must go to school for three hours each day. But, this was no ordinary school. This school was right on the Toyland set! Each child actor had their little wooden desk and chair and school was conducted by an accredited teacher but, somehow, for me, it was all like a fairy tale, and certainly not reality.
Toyland was a fascinating place. The set was magical even though nothing was very real. The grass that covered the ground was an imitation, the enormous flowers were made of cloth and paper...even the pie man's pies and cookies were not real. I wanted one of his cookies so badly but when he wrote in my autograph book..."Dear Joy, My pies and cookies are all for you but they're not real," I was so disappointed!
During filming, I got to know many people on the set and, also, at the Our Gang Cafe where my mother and I went for lunch every day. Charlie Chase, a handsome leading man in those days, signed my autograph book with this expression, "Skinny legs, funny face, don't forget, Charlie Chase." And to this day, I have never forgotten.
For the big scene where Hardy is being "dunked" in the pool as punishment for stealing one of the three little pigs, who were three tiny men wearing rubber suits, we had a big scare. While the scene was being rehearsed, my mother stood off stage watching the rehearsal. Oliver Hardy's double sat in the chair and was dunked many times while the director set up the shot. Then it was time to do the actual shooting. Hardy got into the chair and the camera began to roll. What none of us knew, including everyone off stage, was that the large thick beam that "dunked" Hardy in the chair was sawed nearly through so it would break when the "final shot" took place. No one was told about this so that our reactions would be spontaneous and un-rehearsed. My mother's were spontaneous, too. She became alarmed for Hardy and ran toward the edge of the pool. Fortunately, just before she reached the spot where she would be seen on film and ruin the shot, a stagehand caught hold of her and held her back! The scene turned out perfectly... otherwise that might have been the end of my acting career...at Hal Roach, anyway.
After "Babes in Toyland" I worked at RKO in the movies, "Kid Carnival" and "Freckles" and then returned to Hal Roach to appear in "Our Gang Follies of 1936". In this Our Gang movie, I sang "The Object of My Affection" with Alfalfa.
After 1936, I lead a fairly normal life, going to school but still singing with teen orchestras and appearing in VARIETY SHOWS on weekends.
In 1947, my "professional" name became Joy Lane when I was discovered by the famous bandleader, Ted Fio Rito, and toured with his orchestra, entertaining at hotels and military bases across the country, completing the tour in 1948 to open the new Imig Manor Hotel in San Diego.
On Washington's Birthday, 1948, we opened the Palm Terrace Room of the Beverly Hills Hotel with a spectacular star-studded opening, which was the beginning of our six-month appearance. Van Johnson and Loretta Young were there and I had a nice photograph taken with them. In 1950, I starred with Ted Fio Rito and Jack Gregson on KTTV Channel 11, from 2pm to 4pm, five days a week and, at night, I appeared with Ted on stage at the famous Ambassador Hotel's Cocoanut Grove.
Joy as little girl and as grown up.
After a year, my own television show, "The Joy Lane Show" followed at KLAC, Channel 13. In 1955, I starred with Olsen & Johnson in "HELLZAPOPPIN OF 1955" and was featured with Bob Hope and Jane Russell in the Lux Radio Theatre production of "Paleface."
For the next 20 years, I had a very successful singing career, being under contract to CORAL RECORDS, singing Radio Commercials and starring in my own nightclub act at top entertainment spots such as: the Frontier in Las Vegas, the Riverside in Reno, the Shamrock in Houston, the 500 Club in Atlantic City and other leading supper clubs across the country.
Today, I live in Southern Orange County where I'm presently writing my autobiography. When I'm invited to Collector's Shows and Conventions across the country, as a celebrity guest, I love to attend these shows because they give me an opportunity to talk to fans who want to know about those past years and who would like an autographed picture.
Behind the Scenes of Babes in Toyland
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