Beverly Washburn was one of Hollywood's most familiar child actors during the 1950s and ‘60s, a consummate performer who excelled at both comedy and drama with equal ease. Renowned for her uncanny ability to cry on cue, she appeared in countless television shows during the medium's Golden Age, and many of the era's best-loved movies, including Walt Disney's Old Yeller, The Greatest Show on Earth, Shane, and Spider Baby, just to name a few.
Beverly made her first movie at age 6, and quickly found her niche. Over the years, her circle of friends included some of the biggest names in movies and television, many of whom she "dated" in the pages of the fan magazines - and in real life. But Beverly's fame went far beyond the silver screen. In the 1960s, for example, she even cut a hit record - "Everybody Loves Saturday Night" - written by the legendary folk artist Pete Seeger.
In this heartfelt and deeply revealing autobiography, Beverly talks from the soul about her astounding career as a child actress, and the difficulties she encountered as she became a teenager and then an adult. She also reflects back on her most famous movies, with many behind-the-scenes anecdotes never before revealed, and discusses her enduring friendships with some of entertainment's most prominent performers, including Jack Benny, Loretta Young, Lou Costello, and George Reeves.
The child movie star, sacrificed and abused by Hollywood, exploited by greedy parents, psychologically battered, self-destructive and unable to adjust when fame, attention and youth begin to receded and bank accounts dry up, is as much a cliche as anything Tinsel Town ever laid bare on the big screen. However, like most cliches it has a foundation in truth, sometimes a lot of it.
Hollywood history is littered with the carcasses of many a child performer who either never made it to adulthood or if they did were woefully unprepared for the challenge of real life. A list of such individuals would be a long one, from early juvenile performers such as Carl "Alfalfa" Switzer and Bobby Driscoll up through modern performers Anissa Jones, River Phoenix and the recently-deceased Corey Haim, screen lore is replete with a sad and wasteful tally of youthful talents who withered much too early on the vine.
There are, of course, notable exceptions to this grim scenario, a prime example being Beverly Washburn, one of the busiest child actors of the 1950s and early '60s who honed a steady and impressive list of credits and, as they say, lived to tell about it.
In Reel Tears (the double-edged title referencing the youthful Beverly's uncanny and industry-wide reputation for being able to shed realistic tears at a directorial drop of the hat) Beverly recounts her early years as a busy child actress in such films as Old Yeller, Shane, The Greatest Show on Earth, The Juggler, The Lone Ranger, The Killer That Stalked New York, Here Comes the Groom and Superman and the Mole Men. She was also busy on the small tube with appearances on Wagon Train, Thriller, Science-Fiction Theatre, Zane Gray Theatre and The New Loretta Young Show, to mention just a few.
During these years she worked with some of the truly memorable figures of the period including Jack Benny (probably her favorite), Lou Costello, Barbara Stanwyck, Dorothy McGuire, Anne Baxter, Loretta Young, Kirk Douglas and Alan Ladd. In the book she provides wonderful tidbits about these performers and her experiences both behind and in front of the camera. She does not, however, attempt to peer over her shoulder at these experiences in an effort to lend an adult or jaded perspective to her recollections. Her objective is to relate as honestly as possible, her youthful and slowly evolving perspective of the showbiz world she found herself a part of. Readers hungry for the dark and remorseless underbelly of movie-making, for rancor and self-pity, need not apply here.
Nonetheless, there is more to Reel Tears than simply tales of a child, later a juvenile performer, working in movies and on television. It is in many ways two books fused into one: the story of a performer and the story of a survivor. Beverly is both.
The second half of the book, and just as compelling as the first, tells how Beverly was eventually forced to adjust to a world where parts were few and adult demands and responsibilities many. It is the chronicle of coping with tragedy, rejection and life's many disappointments and pitfalls without a scintilla of complaint. Mostly it is a refreshing and candid book about dealing with what has to be dealt with and moving on.
Many wouldn't be able to get away with this but Washburn does. There is a wonderful modesty and honesty inherent in her simple telling which comes across on every page and which resonates with great sincerity, conviction and truth.
Reel Tears is very real, very heartfelt and genuine, just like the lady herself.
- Scarlet, the Film Magazine