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Little Girl Lost—Evelyn Rudie

The most wonderful—and probably the most awful—thing that happened to a little girl with a pixie face, turned-up nose and agile mind was when she became the star of a big Playhouse 90 spectacular at the age of seven and was—briefly—an acclaimed child star.

When Evelyn Rudie Bernauer—her name shortened to Evelyn Rudie—became Eloise, she and her parents thought she was going to be another Shirley Temple. Her whole world began to spin in high-tensioned glamour. She could never ever change into a little girl again. She could never ever become a child whose world revolved around Girl Scouts, dolls and simple birthday parties. She was, at the age of nine, to feel she was a has-been, bored with the ordinary things that give other youngsters a charge, unable to build slowly but firmly to a secure, normal future like other children.

Her parents believe that Evelyn may have been born with some magic about her. Her parents are Edith and Emery Bernauer, and Evelyn was born twenty-four years after they were married. At first it was probably a shock to the middle-aged couple to learn they were going to have their first baby. Then they remembered that very often ‘change of life’ babies are supposed to be set apart from other babies. These babies were often more beautiful, more brilliant (even with a touch of genius) than other babies. Special, indeed.

Their little baby arrived and she was everything they’d dreamed of. Evelyn was always very bright, very precocious. She did everything faster and better than other babies. She walked sooner, talked sooner, and raised in the completely adult world of two older and rather intellectual parents, she had a chance to develop this precociousness. Also, she was thoroughly worshiped by her parents. Their lives now revolved around her.

Emery Bernauer’s father, Rudolf (from whom Evelyn got her name), was a big theater owner, had been a writer of stage hits, among them the librettos of The Chocolate Soldier and May Time. Emery Bernauer was a writer, producer and director of musical shows in Europe. An uncle of Evelyn’s is Desmond Leslie, a British novelist. The woman who become Evelyn’s godmother is Fay Wall, once a child actress herself, who had been a movie actress in Germany.

In Hollywood, Emery Bernauer continued to write, but had not been anywhere near the success he was in Germany.

Evelyn’s early years

At a very early age, Evelyn was given dancing lessons, dramatic lessons, singing lessons, attended Shakespeare classes (called the Strolling Players) and ice skating lessons. She performed all the time—an elfin. graceful little child who loved to mimic and act, and whose every move was noticed and doted upon by her parents. Her parents enjoyed having Evelyn show off for everyone. “She was always a ham,” they recall lovingly. When she was four years old, her ice skating club was supposed to put on a show in Pershing Square. downtown Los Angeles, for a convention. When Evelyn showed up, with her parents, it was discovered that not one of the other kids in the club was there. Some had stage fright, some had runny noses, some were not allowed to perform by their parents. But Evelyn was all dressed up in a short, red velvet skirt. white angora sweater, looking like a doll. All the people were waiting for the ice show. This possibility might have frightened any other four-year-old. Not Evelyn. She got out on the ice as the solo performer and performed for one and one half hours. She spun and spiralled and threw kisses to the crowd. She’d come off the ice for a moment, tell her parents cagily, “That man over there is not laughing, Mommy. I’ll make him laugh. I’ve got to get them all to watch me.” And she went out again, blew kisses to the man, had him laughing and applauding and she was happy.

“That showed me,” says her father, “that she sure had that theatrical something.”

Shortly afterwards Emery Bernauer’s brother-in-law, Desmond Leslie, came in from London. Little Evelyn showed off for him and he was entranced. Leslie was invited to the home of Henry Koster, a friend of his who is a big director here, and he asked the Bernauers if he could take Evelyn. They said yes.

When Evelyn was at Koster’s house, knowing he was a director. she put on a show for him. She was adorable and entrancing and all that, and Koster turned to Leslie and said, “This kid has to be in the movies.” He asked Evelyn if shed like to be in pictures, and Evelyn replied, “More than anything else in the world, Mr. Koster. If its all right with my daddy.” It was, of course, perfectly all right with Daddy, and with Mommy, too, who were enraptured with the thought of Evelyn being in pictures.

Through Koster, Evelyn got an audition at 20th Century-Fox, where they were looking for a child to play Leslie Caron as a child in the picture Daddy Long Legs. Her parents brought Evelyn, all dressed up. to Fox. Evelyn went into her performances. She also bears a remarkable resemblance to Leslie Caron, same tiny nose, same pouting lips, same petite figure. They signed Evelyn for the part, then later changed the script so that there was no child in the picture. Evelyn was very put out at not doing the part, but the producer put Evelyn in the picture anyway, as one of the children in it. Evelyn sang a song with Leslie Caron and she floated for days.

The movie bug

This gave Evelyn the bug. The child was terribly movie-struck! Her parents were also movie-struck. They remember that people on the set said of Evelyn, “She’s a real trouper. The kid is talented; she’s a mimic and a quick study.”

The Bernauers took Evelyn’s acting job seriously. They saw that Evelyn was all wrapped up in acting, and they encouraged her. The mother took Evelyn aside once and told her something like this: “You have talent and you can be in the wonderful world of the theater. Show business is a profession. If your talent is to act, you are blessed with a special magic. It is the greatest thing. Show business can be your life.”

Her mother began to take Evelyn around to the studios. The child had made a hit at 20th, she did show genuine ability as an actress, and she had a terrific love of acting. Never at any time did Evelyn go to a professional school—she always attended the Gardner Street School in Hollywood, a public school: when she was working she’d have a tutor on the set. Then she’d return to the school.

The kids there have known she’s an actress—later, when she became Eloise, she was known as Eloise. Some of the kids there, she said, were jealous of her. They didn’t all like her. She never had a chance to join the Girl Scouts in school. She didn’t join the usual class clubs, she was always too busy with dancing, singing, dramatic lessons, and going to the studios. School work was easy for her, she got good marks, but her mind was always far away from the classrooms, always at the studios.

Getting back to her career: her mother was always taking her around when shed hear of a studio that wanted a child actress. Fay Wall would coach Evelyn. Although she had some girlfriends in school. she felt most at home with her parents. with Fay Wall, with the adults she met at the studios. Once she invited fifty-five children to her house for her eighth birthday party. A lot of kids—most mothers would have objected—but Mrs. Bernauer likes to give in to Evelyn on everything. When the kids were there, Evelyn assembled them all together and put on a show for them. They were her friends but they were her audience. That’s the way she regarded most kids.

Evelyn was asked to appear in Hollywood parades with all their hoopla. More and more she craved the glamour and excitement of Hollywood; school work was simple and unexciting.

Fame approached

Then came her greatest opportunity. Kay Thompson’s famous Eloise was going to go on Playhouse 90. This was two years ago and the biggest acting plum of all for a child. Eloise—the precocious, sophisticated youngster who lived in New York’s elegant Plaza Hotel—had become a big hit in book form and in recordings. She was an unusual type of child; not a pretty Shirley Temple child but, well, Eloise. It was going on TV as a spectacular. A big cast lined up—Ethel Barrymore, Monte Wooley. The search went on for Eloise. Evelyn’s parents submitted Evelyn’s photo. The NBC studios and Kay Thompson auditioned two hundred kids. Evelyn’s father told me, “Evelyn wanted the part very much. She’s a real pro. It meant everything to her. When she’s waiting for a role, she gets nervous. She starts combing her hair, getting jumpy. She has to be working to be happy.”

Kay Thompson saw Evelyn’s picture, said, “Well, this one looks like Eloise.” Kay went to the Bernauers’ home in Hollywood and met Evelyn. The parents played a recording of Evelyn’s on tape for Kay to hear. It was a Shakespeare reading in Evelyn’s childish voice, but it indicated talent. Kay was impressed. Noticing how the parents hovered over the child, Kay wanted to be alone with Evelyn. She asked if she could take her for the day, to get acquainted with her. The Bernauers beamed. Kay and Evelyn went off. When Kay came back she said, “This is a delightful child. We had a wonderful time together.” The Bernauers knew that Evelyn was going to be Eloise.

They were right. Shortly afterwards, the studio called and told them that they wanted to sign Evelyn for the role.

Evelyn was thrilled. She worked with a coach extensively. It was a difficult role for a child to do. Eloise was the whole show; she was in every minute of the story. It was live television—something that makes experienced actors crack. It was ninety minutes. And she was in big-time company—Barrymore, Wooley, etc. And Eloise, by this time, had become such a well-known figure to America, that the child who played her just had to be perfect. Some forty million people: were going to watch it.

Evelyn wasn’t frightened. She began to live the part. Never did a child: love show business and love the experience of getting up and performing as much as she did. And this was a tough job, for Kay Thompson had made many stipulations of her own. At first, Evelyn was supposed to only act out Eloise, with Kay doing the talking for Eloise. This was what Kay wanted, and since this was Kay’s property the studio had to adhere to this. It was very difficult for Evelyn to act Eloise and mouth the lines, while Kay’s voice was dubbed in. It was an ordeal. But she did it. Then, three days before the show was to go on, the director, John Frankenheimer, called Evelyn’s father, late at night, and said, “We’re going to do the whole show with Evelyn speaking the lines, instead of Miss Thompson speaking the lines. This doesn’t give Evelyn much time to learn the lines. Do you think she will do it?”

The father said, “You ask Evelyn. She is a real performer. If you ask her to do it, she will. It will be an even greater challenge to her.”

Praise for everyone

Next morning, Frankenheimer asked Evelyn if she was willing to take on the job of learning all the lines in three days. Evelyn said, “Why, sure.” She was thrilled with it. She got up and spoke all the lines in the whole play. People watching her were dumbfounded. Ethel Barrymore: said, “If I hadn’t seen it with my own eyes, I wouldn’t have believed it. This child is the greatest find.”

Another big shot on the set watching said, “Now, we’ve just seen another little Mozart. I’ve never seen an actor do what this child did.”

Evelyn was a hit as Eloise. She was raved about, written about, interviewed cuddled, chin-chucked, adored. There were Eloise dolls, Eloise make-up kits, Eloise dresses. (Incidentally, none of this money went to Evelyn—but to Kay. But Evelyn was so closely identified with Eloise, that she revelled in the fact that her name was becoming a household word.) All sorts on wonderful, beautiful, fairy-tale things were happening to Evelyn Rudie. She was a real, honest-to-goodness child star of first magnitude. It was like the days of Shirley Temple.

Fan clubs sprang up in her name. Proudly she signed her name to thousands and thousands of cards and letters to her fans When she walked down the streets— “particularly in New York,” she recalls with glistening eyes—she was recognized. Fans—adults as well as kids—surrounded her, swarmed around her; yelled after her. It might have been inconvenient to be stared at, called at and mobbed, but Evelyn absolutely gloried in it. So did her parents. This was what they had dreamed of. She received an Emmy nomination. She was being referred to as the “most important child star since Shirley Temple.”

She was sent to New York on four occasions in connection with Eloise. She stayed at the Plaza Hotel—the swank hotel where the fictional Eloise resided—and all without charge. The Plaza was very delighted to have her. Delighted—they absolutely kow-towed to her! As she says, “Once they gave me their Presidential Suite, the second time the Royal Suite, and once they even gave me the Bridal Suite. It was wonderful. They treated me like royalty.”

Evelyn also remembers that she and her mother used to eat in the Plaza Hotel dining room, and everyone would come to her table—and how once there were so many people crowding around her that she couldn’t even eat her lamb chop. “I just didn’t eat at all that day because of the people crowding around. But I loved it. I wasn’t one bit angry with them. I’d do without food any day to have fans recognize me,” she said.

Child star

After Eloise, Evelyn was still going around with the giddy sensation of being a child star. She appeared as guest on The Dinah Shore Show, The George Gobel Show, The Red Skelton Show, on Alfred Hitchcock Presents, on Omnibus. She worked hard, but as she said then, “I want to breathe the air of the studios.” She’d come to life when she set foot inside the studio. She worked hard—but where most people lose weight when working hard, Eloise would eat twice as much when. she worked. The child was absolutely exhilarated when working. She had to stay out of regular school, but never for one minute did she miss the normal activities of the kids in school. She was a child star. Everyone felt it was exactly what had been foreordained for her.

She had a co-starring role at 20th in a picture called The Gift of Love. Her costars were Lauren Bacall and Robert Stack. But, although she did a good job, the picture laid an egg.

While Evelyn and her parents felt that she might be going along on this big surge of Eloise popularity and be another Shirley Temple, what had actually happened was that Evelyn’s advent into pictures happened at a different time in Hollywood’s history than Shirley Temple’s had. When Shirley was a child star, it was the thing then for studios to sign up large numbers of actors to long-time contracts. When Evelyn made her big splash, studios were reluctant to offer long contracts, “Ten years ago,” Mrs. Bernauer explained sadly, “the studios would have given a child like Evelyn a contract. Today, they don’t.” So, where Shirley Temple had a long-term contract and a studio that was anxious to put her in one picture after another, and where Shirley had the rights and royalties to all the Shirley Temple products, the case was different with Evelyn. She didn’t have a long-term contract—she had to get one role after another by herself. She didn’t get any money from the sale of the Eloise products, because she was, actually, Evelyn Rudie and not Eloise, and Miss Kay Thompson was getting the money.

And since she had no contract, there was no particular studio who felt they just had to get a story property for this bright, precocious little moppet. And TV was suddenly going Western. And a pilot that Evelyn had made hadn’t sold. And for nine months, Evelyn didn’t do any work.

No longer were stacks of fan mail pouring in at the frame house on Hollywood Boulevard where they lived. No longer were fantastic invitations coming to her—invitations that no other child, no other child but a child star,would dream of receiving. Like the time, two years ago, when she had been invited to the White House and had met Mamie Eisenhower. Evelyn had made a Savings Bond short film and was invited on a tour of Washington, and had been invited inside the White House. She had walked right into the White House (other kids her age read about the White House, but she was actually inside it), and she had met Mamie Eisenhower. Mrs. Eisenhower had been so warm and friendly. She had told her that she and her grandchildren had enjoyed Evelyn in Eloise on TV.

She became listless at home. “I want to act again,” she told her parents. Her parents were helpless. They begged Evelyn’s agent to find her a job. The agent told them that Evelyn had a certain salary level that she had to stick to, and they couldn’t help it if there just were no calls at this time for a child actress of Evelyn’s fame and salary stature. Evelyn missed the thrills of acting and the excitement. She was nine years old, and the ordinary things a nine year old has in her life bored her. How could she be thrilled at doing a school play as “Cinderella” with the English teacher in charge, when she had done a picture with Alfred Hitchcock in charge. She tried to be excited about school and ordinary normal living, but she couldn’t. She just couldn’t. How does a child star suddenly turn into a little girl again? Evelyn Rudie found that she couldn’t.

No wonder she was restless and unhappy. All she talked about at home was the fact that she wanted to act again. She recalled those glorious, golden days when she was a real, honest-to-goodness child star and had met Mamie Eisenhower in person. “Maybe Mrs. Eisenhower can help me get a job in pictures or television again?” said Evelyn. (This is the account Evelyn and her parents give). “Yes, yes, darling,” said Mummy and Daddy, to reassure her. Because life was pretty dull, comparatively speaking, Evelyn and her parents began to live in a world of make-believe. “We’ll travel all over Europe—well go to the White House—they’ll all acclaim you again,” said Mrs. Bernauer to her sad little daughter.

The Bernauers say they were only making-believe. Evelyn says she took them seriously when they said “Yes, darling, you may go to the White House.”

Mr. Bernauer became very ill with pneumonia and was taken to the hospital. He wasn’t around to reassure Evelyn any more. Even her mother, whose whole life and attention was wrapped around Evelyn, now had to spend some of her time with the father. Evelyn loved her father and was frightened when he became ill. She was also desolate because of lack of the assurance from her parents. At least it was something when they’d all sit together on the couch in the living room and talk about Evelyn’s great gift and how she had been the greatest child star since Shirley Temple, and how, if it weren’t for Hollywood’s changing pattern, she would still be the biggest child star, and how sure they were that if she were given another part she would come back as a child sitar. “This time not only as a comedienne in Eloise, but as a great dramatic actress capable of playing tragedy,” Mr. Bernauer had said very earnestly many times.

When Mr. Bernauer came home from the hospital, he was very weak. They still talked about going to the White House, but Mr. Bernauer was too weak to make any kind of trip.

Evelyn was afraid they might change their minds. She was getting more and more restless. Evelyn told me, “I felt I had my parents’ permission to go to the White House. We had talked about it many times. Maybe they were pretending, but I was sure they meant it. If I asked their permission again, they might not give it to me. One night I decided I must get to the White House to see Mrs. Eisenhower. I was sure that the First Lady of the land could get me a job.”

The rest is newspaper fact. Eloise set her alarm for 6:00 am., picked up the ticket, got on the plane, her parents notified the police, etc., etc.

Was it on the level or a hoax?

The Bernauers say it was not a publicity stunt. “People forget that Evelyn is not an ordinary child. An ordinary child would not get on a plane and go to the White House to try to see Mrs. Mamie Eisenhower. It never occurred to her that what she was doing in trying to get to see Mamie Eisenhower again, was unusual.”

Did Evelyn get a spanking for running off? “No,” said the Bernauers. “We felt that it was our fault in encouraging her to think that we approved of her going. We had gone along with her thoughts on this, never dreaming that she might do it herself.”

Evelyn said she had written a note to her parents when she ran off, but had forgotten to leave it.

Evelyn is back in school again. She is also up for a Warner’s TV show, and for other things. She still wants, more than anything else, to be what she once was: a child star. She wants fame and the excitement of the camera. She will never be an ordinary nine-year-old girl.