Whatever His Purpose—June Allyson
I don’t think I have ever made an entrance on the stage, or walked ee front of a motion picture camera without the security of having prayed for confidence and command of myself—and having gotten it.
That habit was a great help to me when I first came out to Hollywood and ran into a curious problem. It was all due to my efforts to avoid being known as a “Five-line Actress.” A five-liner, if you haven’t run across the term before, is a girl who can remember just about five lines of dialogue at a time—no more. After she has said them, the filming of the scene must be interrupted, and everybody waits while she tries to commit to memory another bare five lines. I didn’t want ‘to be like that so I went too far the other way!
I learned my scripts so well that when the director ordered changes in the lines, as he generally does at the last moment, I couldn’t change. I had the original words ground into my memory and those were the words I spouted out when my cues came!
It may-seem silly but actually it was serious. It made me feel as though I were dense. The director would explain to everyone in a scene how he was changing the dialogue; everyone except me would quickly absorb the corrections and remember them when it was time to speak. Then, I, Cement Head, would talk and we were back where we started.
It began to look as though I needed more than I had in talent, self-control and, particularly, in elasticity of memory, to make good in Hollywood. There was a lot I could do to help myself, mostly technical things, tricks of acting, to give myself greater freedom from the script and yet not violate it. But the biggest thing I did, and that which gave me the greatest help, was to pray like mad!
The feeling that there is greater-than-mortal help to be had if one asks for it, and particularly if one has lived so as to deserve it, has been in me from earliest memory. I don’t think there is a man or a woman in the world who doesn’t, somewhere within, feel the same.
The first prayers I ever said were not so much prayers as conversations with God. I was hardly out of kindergarten and I was suffering my first tragedy. My grandmother, who had frankly made a pet of me to the disgust of various cousins, died suddenly. I heard it from one of these cousins when I came home after school.
“Now you won’t be so-smart!” she cried, running to meet me. “Grandma’s dead!”
I didn’t fully know what dead meant. It took me two days to find out, two days locked in my room most of the time and carrying on a running talk with God to find out what had happened. At the funeral they let me see Grandma. She didn’t look right and I was convinced she wasn’t happy because God hadn’t taken her to Him. Back I ran to my room to plead with Him about it and it seemed to me that Grandma looked happier and more at peace after that.
I didn’t know it, of course, but I was about to have an opportunity to get really chummy with God. This opportunity fell on me in the form of the limb of a tree which cracked off as I was walking under it. My back was broken, my skull and a leg and an arm were fractured, the rest of my body crisscrossed with scratches and bruises. When my mother came running to the hospital all she could see of me that wasn’t bandaged, plastered or tied up in pulley arrangements was my right eye. This must have looked none too healthy because my mother fainted.
I lay there, eight years old and sort of screened off from the living world for weeks in my cotton, canvas-and plaster of paris cocoon. I kept asking God why He was mad at me. It seemed incomprehensible to me that He would cause half a tree to fall on anyone He liked!
I can recall going over my past and checking for sins I might have committed of such a grievous nature that they required me to be all but shattered in the course of penance. I was puzzled and I had to ask my mother to interpret the ways of God. Where was the divine justice she had told me about? What was His purpose?
“I don’t know,” my mother told me. “It is between you and Him. It is plain that He wants you to bear things.”
It’s funny. I was rather complimented by her answer. And I can still remember that in my own childish way I saw that He was getting at something worthwhile. He was teaching me to think with clarity and depth which had never marked my thinking before, and which was born of my very questioning of Him. In time I realized that whatever His purpose in decreeing that I should be under the tree when it split, He has made it up to me over since!
Really, I know that it is given to few people that their dreams come true as mine have. I know, or rather I have reason to know, what life is really like for most of the millions of people on earth. Most of us wish for something we never attain. I, for no reason that I myself can fathom, did attain what I wanted. Believe me, I am more grateful than. proud, more wondering than smugly sure I deserved it!
Lying in my bed of pain at the hospital I was inspired to become a doctor. I marveled at these fine men who came to me every morning (the doctor and the internes with him) and concentrated all their skill and great knowledge (and handsomeness, I must put in here!) to ease my pain and get me well. No life, it seemed to me, could be finer than one devoted to healing the sick. And with this purpose as my secret, I gloated for weeks and months—a skinny, cracked-up moppet, lying content in her bed of pain because she visualized herself curing the lame and the halt and bringing ease to the sick of heart. I don’t know a better way to suffer than to imagine curing the suffering of others. It not only makes you forget your own pain; it makes you glory in it. And time and again I saw myself as a physician, stethoscope hanging from my neck, patting the hand of a patient as I told him comfortingly, “Yes, yes, I know just how you feel. I, too, have suffered!”
With the aid of a metal and leather back brace I finally left the hospital. Since I was now a person with an important mission in life I expected to be greeted with respect by my old playmates. It didn’t work out that way. They were a little awed by anyone’s having been kept so long in a hospital. At the same time there was that funny brace I was wearing—certainly something to laugh at. And they did.
I resented their jeers and I came to resent my brace as well, I suppose. At any rate, it was a challenge to me and as soon as I could, I stopped wearing it. Not only that but I tried to teach myself dancing to prove to myself and to the kids that I was far from being a cripple. I still had dreams of a medical career but I realized my mother didn’t have the funds to finance medical training, and I made a slight switch in plans. Instead of treating people I would entertain them. I would go into show business. Before I really decided on my future I had two oddly unrelated ambitions for which I constantly solicited divine cooperation:
1. I would be a great doctor.
2. Some day I would dance with Fred Astaire in a movie.
I never even made a start toward medicine but, you know, I almost did dance with Astaire! We were talking one day at the studio and he said, “We must make a picture together.” I thought he was kidding. Not long afterward I was told that he wanted me to play opposite him in The Royal Wedding. It was one of the biggest thrills I ever had and I was just on the point of cheering when I suddenly became sick at my stomach. The timing for this role which I wanted so much was very bad; I was on the way to motherhood at the moment and this was the first hint that I was not going to have a serene pregnancy.
When this dismaying fact became pretty well established and it was clear that working was out of the question, Judy Garland was named to replace me. By the time the picture was started Jane Powell had it. I had Richard Powell, Jr. God knew what He was about. I really needed my son. He was a blessing to me, an education, and the tie to the future which every woman needs.
Because of the curiously personal relationship I had. with God as a child, it seems natural to me that my children speak of Him as someone close to the family. For instance, after we had entertained at dinner for a series of evenings little Pamela casually asked when we were having God over to dinner.
The only answer I could think of was that God is always with us.
If Pam prays and doesn’t think her prayers are being answered she talks of it as people will talk about a telephone call that didn’t go through. “I don’t think God is home today,” she will say. “I’ll have to try again tomorrow.”
Sometimes I, too, have to try again, and there are times when I have been filled with misgivings as to whether or not I have been keeping in tune with Him. I am afraid I have had renegade moments. When my husband Richard was seriously ill more than a year ago, and seemed to be getting worse after his operations, I suddenly became terribly afraid. There was a period in which the doctors said nothing could be done and time must decide whether he would recover. I was seized with the feeling that unless treatment was continued he would die.
I remember this crisis as the one time in my life when I withdrew into myself so deeply that I cut even spiritual ties; I know that in my anxiety I became resentful of what had happened and there was a’ morning when I told myself there could be no God. We all seem to have an instinct to blame someone or something for personal tragedy. Looking backward, I realize I was blaming myself for not being a better wife—just as I blame myself for not being a better mother whenever one of my children is ill.
Just the same it was prayer to which I finally turned. I am convinced Dick’s recovery was due to this and to my urge to get a new doctor and follow his instructions completely. The situation reminded me of a picture I made with Margaret O’Brien called Music For Millions.
I was telling a writer how the story stayed in my mind. He said that when the greatest novel is finally written it will consist of a prayer recorded as it comes straight from the heart. I am inclined to agree with him. In my scripts I sometimes run across bits of such prayers and they always give the picture its most glorious moments.
This then, is my form of worship—prayer. And it may take place at any time in my life and at any place I happen to be. If I do not get His response I am resigned to the fact. that I am not going about it right—principally because I am not right with Him. Pamela has asked me about this, too.
“How do I know when I’m doing the right thing?” she’ll ask.
Here I try to associate her conscience with God, the conscience being the pointer in God’s hand, so to speak, showing her what is right and what is wrong. Like all children, Pamela is well aware that when mischief is afoot there is an inner prompting which wants to be heard, but which won’t be heard unless one keeps listening for it.
To follow your conscience, even to the extent of going back and rectifying a wrong you have made, may seem irksome, but it has its compensations. You appreciate it during those moments in your life when you are alone and perhaps assaying your worth in terms of human values. It’s funny how much satisfaction there is if you can honestly conclude that you are a pretty nice person. If ever you are close to God, and if ever He loves you . . . that is the moment!
—BY JUNE ALLYSON
June Allyson can now be seen in Universal’s The Glenn Miller Story.
It is a quote. MODERN SCREEN MAGAZINE MARCH 1954