Thursday, January 11, 2018

Beverly Washburn's Reel Tears

Beverly Washburn’s memoir, Reel Tears - The Beverly Washburn Story chronicles the career and private life of an actress remembered primarily for her children’s roles and her amazing ability to cry on cue real or “reel” tears in scenes that were moving and natural.

We discussed Beverly’s appearances here in Old Yeller (1957), Shane (1953), Here Comes the Groom (1951), and the television show The New Loretta Young Show (1962-63) – which particularly showed her deft ability in both comedy and drama as a teenager. Beverly relates many anecdotes about her childhood career (which fortunately was a pleasant experience for her and which she remembers fondly) as well as the many stars with whom she worked. Jack Benny was particularly kind and was like an uncle to her.

There are two aspects to her story that I find especially interesting – first, that the roles seemed to dry up for her in her twenties. Though this is often the case for child actors – that there is a difficult transition to adult roles – it’s hard to accept how someone as talented, well-connected, and photogenic as Beverly Washburn should fall into this too-common problem. I think if I had to bet my money on anybody making a seamless transition to adult roles, it would be this exceptionally talented young woman.

The second aspect to her story that intrigues me is how in later life, after many years of being out of business, with both her and her husband supporting themselves with a string of retail and fast food jobs when employment opportunities in their own fields went scarce, Beverly returned to acting as an extra on television.

To be an extra is to occupy the lowest tier in the acting profession. It is one not always appreciated by fans (except, of course, for classic film fans – we notice everything) or even, it seems, by the industry. Her agent, who was not happy about her deciding to go for work as an extra, told her to use her married name so that she wouldn’t be recognized. As she notes, “It’s an honest job and necessary to filmmaking, but few extras ever rise above that. It’s almost the stigma: once an extra, always an extra. And extras aren’t always treated with a lot of respect.”

Ms. Washburn, now in her 70s, still occasionally works, but has come to enjoy appearing at autograph shows, where she interacts with fans and meets old friends and colleagues – including Tony Dow, with whom she appeared as a guest on Leave It to Beaver, Paul Petersen of The Donna Reed Show, and many former child stars of 1950s and 1960s television.

The memoir, published by BearManor Media, is gentle, upbeat despite a career and life that did not always run smooth, and the “Take Two” re-issue includes quite a lot of photos, including lobby card images and even scans of her contracts and filming call sheets – the kind of ephemera particularly appealing to classic film buffs. (Which, interestingly, came from her old missing scrapbook that was recovered by a friend off eBay!)

I would have liked to have seen more detailed anecdotes about particular films and television shows in her early career, but she was only a child, and for most of us, our childhood memories are a blur of us standing center stage in a world we barely comprehend. Ms. Washburn takes a warm, friendly, unassuming command of center stage as a child; it is her adult career which left her drifting with much less control. Still, a journey that led her from being the darling fodder of teen movie magazines to doggedly continuing her craft as an extra shows a love for the profession, a rare sense of humility, and perseverance that is admirable.


Caftan Woman said...

It was interesting to get this update on talented Beverly Washburn. So unforgettable in movies and television.

Your description of childhood and how it is recalled made me smile for its truth.

Jacqueline T. Lynch said...

Her book leaves one with both the regret that her adult career did not reach the promise of her splendid childhood career, and with admiration for her kindly outlook on her field, the people she encountered, and life in general, despite periods of misfortune. Her technique in acting seems only that she was empathetic and imaginative, and liked what she was doing. It sounds so pleasantly uncomplicated.

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