[This transcript is provided as a service of Journal Graphics. The WGBH Educational Foundation is not responsible for any errors or mischaracterizations in this transcript. JES]
Federal law provides severe civil and criminal penalties for the unauthorized reproduction, distribution, or exhibition of copyrighted materials.
FRONTLINE Show #1505
Air Date: November 26, 1996
JUNE CROSS: [voice-over] This is my mother's house in Los Angeles. I'm visiting her under false pretenses.
NORMA STORCH: I didn't know you had one of those cameras.
JUNE CROSS: I just got it. It's a new toy.
NORMA STORCH: A new toy?
JUNE CROSS: [voice-over] She thinks I'm here on vacation, a pause between stories in my work as a FRONTLINE producer. I'm really here to talk her into doing something that may be against her own best interests. I want her to go on national television to tell the world she's my mother.
When I was a child I would stare at my mother's picture and spend hours at the mirror trying to find her likeness in my face. I wanted her to acknowledge that evidence of our kinship, but she saw no likeness. Even as I grew older, she insisted I looked nothing like her.
This is me and my mother. I've lived much of my life in her shadows. I've been her secret child. As far as the world was concerned, I was adopted.
Mom and I have never talked about how race has divided our lives and it won't be easy getting her to tell her story on camera. What she doesn't want to deal with is this. The picture shows my mother, Norma, and my father, Jimmy. I never knew him. They're with my brother, Lary, my mother's son from an earlier relationship.
Lary is now a history professor. He lives in Minneapolis. His house holds some other pieces of my past. I've never been Lary's secret sister. We're so close, he and his wife, Lany, even took me on their honeymoon to Europe. Lary and Lany have three children.
In the hallway there's a photograph here I've always ignored. Now Lary tells me it's our grandmother. Her name was also June, June Steffensen. I never knew Granny.
LANY MAY: Granny was a flapper. Granny was a bookie. Granny was a wild lady. I mean, you know. Your mother didn't get her free spirit from-- from nowhere. I mean--
JUNE CROSS: [voice-over] Lany once interviewed her for a book she wrote about divorce in turn-of-the-century America.
LANY MAY: I described her first-- I described her as a woman who had had six husbands and when I called her to verify, you know--
JUNE CROSS: [unintelligible] six.
LANY MAY: --the description, she said, "Oh, no, no, no, dear. It wasn't six. It was only four." I said, "Hey, wait a minute! I count your"-- [crosstalk] "I counted the names." I said, "I count six." She said, "Only four, dear. Only four husbands. The other two were just friends."
JUNE CROSS: [voice-over] I've been told Granny couldn't get past my black skin. For years that kept me from learning anything about her. I knew her people were Mormons, her father a Danish immigrant.
LARY MAY: This is the Mormon-- the original Mormon relatives. This is my-- this is Granny's father, which would make my great-great- and your great-great grandfather. And that's her, the--
JUNE CROSS: [voice-over] Lary has a picture of my mom as a child in Idaho.
LARY MAY: Let me see. No, it's Granny's father, great-grandfather. What are you going, Lany?
JUNE CROSS: [voice-over] My brother lived as my father's stepson during the four or five years Norma and Jimmy were together.
[interviewing] What kind of father was he?
LARY MAY: Very good, till he got-- his career went down the tubes.
JUNE CROSS: [voice-over] Jimmy Cross was a star back in the '40s and '50s, half of a comedy team called Stump and Stumpy.
LARY MAY: It was kind of love at first sight. Went up to Harlem and the Apollo Theater and saw him perform many times and would be backstage and just loved the whole thing. It was--
JUNE CROSS: What was his act like? Do you remember that?
LARY MAY: It was-- he was the fall guy. It was somewhat like-- if audiences wanted to see it, it was a lot like Jerry Lewis and Dean Martin.
JUNE CROSS: [voice-over] Lary remembers how my mother kept her relationship with my father a secret.
LARY MAY: There was a concentric circle of people that-- that my mother would hang out with. Her most intimate friends would know about it. Her black friends would know about-- about the relationship and-- and you. But there would be people she worked with and socialized with and often wanted status from who didn't know about it.
And also, we were taught-- at least we-- I mean, I was taught as a young person that there were certain people I did not tell this to. So there were people in those days that just-- that if they see this movie now, they'll be very surprised by it.
JUNE CROSS: [voice-over] I'd come to L.A. to hear my mother's side of the story. For the past 35 years she's been married to my stepfather, the actor, Larry Storch.
[on camera] Smile! You're on Candid Camera!
[voice-over] On the morning we've agreed to sit down and talk, jury selection for the O.J. Simpson trial has just begun. Larry feeds the deer, as he does every morning. Mom goes to the store and forgets her wallet. I'm so nervous I've developed a stomach ache.
[on camera] Smile for the camera. Sound test part 2. Sound test part 2. Sounds like it's--
[voice-over] I'm trying to shoot this film myself, as a personal story, but in my nervousness I forgot to turn on the mike. The interview had lasted three hours. I didn't realize there was no sound until I returned home. It had taken me weeks to work up the nerve to ask her to talk. I'd heard things I'd never known before-- the love, the guilt, the pain.
One story struck me. I could just make it out by reading her lips. "And this one time I remember I ran right outside of the hotel where we were living in and I had you in my arms. I was protecting you from the blows. He never hit you, but he hit me. One time he knocked my teeth out. Anyway, I was lying there and there must have been like 15 white people just standing there watching and nobody did anything. I mean, nobody came to my defense. It was as if they figured, 'Well, she deserves it.' "
She predicts the O.J. jury will figure Nicole deserved it, too, and let him off. Times haven't changed that much, she says.
I dreaded having to call Mom to ask her to redo the whole thing. When she called me back, I discovered the racial fall-out from the O.J. trial had had its effect. She tells me she's changed her mind. She's afraid her society friends will drop her if they find out about me. I'm trying to plug in the camera and the mike while I argue with her.
[interviewing] -- I mean, I think O.J.'s guilty and I'm not white. I don't understand what that has to do with it.
NORMA STORCH: [on the phone] As I said, it was just my guardian angel was on my-- on my shoulder and didn't push your button that day when the sound didn't come out. But do bring it down when you come. I want to see it.
JUNE CROSS: [voice-over] She doesn't understand why this interview is so important to me. I tell her our family has been crossing racial boundaries all our lives, that we have something to contribute to the national conversation about race.
NORMA STORCH: [on the phone] I'll just be your silent movie star. Larry just walked in the door.
JUNE CROSS: Oh, okay.
NORMA STORCH: All right.
JUNE CROSS: All righty.
NORMA STORCH: All right.
JUNE CROSS: [voice-over] It's a conversation I think has been stuck in anger for so long that whites and blacks have just stopped listening to what the other is saying.
[on camera] Well, that's it. She doesn't want to do it.
[voice-over] My mother didn't raise me. When I was 4, she sent me to live with a black family in Atlantic City, New Jersey. This is my first time back in 13 years.
[on camera] I want to go see the ocean! Leave me alone!
[voice-over] After that disastrous first interview, my colleagues at FRONTLINE persuaded me to work with a professional crew. That way I'd have sound.
[on camera] It's hard to talk with the camera in my face. Now I know what people feel like on the other side of the camera. Oh, me!
[voice-over] The Atlantic City I grew up in had no casinos. Back then it was still called "the world's playground," but it was best known for the Miss America pageant.
[on camera] We'd all come out to the parade because nobody had enough money to go to see the Miss America pageant in the convention center. So all the black folks would come see the girls in the parade.
And as each one went by, we would say-- we would wonder who had colored or Negro blood, you know? And we would look at-- we'd look-- scrutinize their faces. You know, "She look like she got some." "That one looks like she might be!" You know, and as I said, that was kind of how we-- we dealt with having this kind of white standards of beauty thrown in our faces constantly.
And during the Miss America pageant, we would watch it at home, and Uncle Paul, whenever Miss America won, he would always say, "You're my Miss America," you know?
[voice-over] Uncle Paul would always say I was the prettiest little girl in the world, but a bit flighty. Aunt Peggy called me her "little Juney" long after I'd passed adolescence. They weren't really my aunt and uncle. They were friends of my parents. But their love gave me the strength to withstand the loss of my mother.
Peggy Bush taught 2nd grade for over 35 years at the school where James Usry was principal.
JAMES USRY, June's Elementary School Principal: Mrs. Bush was a-- she was not-- you would not call her stern, you'd just call her firm.
JUNE CROSS: Strict.
JAMES USRY: Strict? Oh, yeah. Oh, yeah. Oh, yeah. Well, all of us were strict then. I mean-- but she was not-- she was not strict to the point of abusing you or--
JUNE CROSS: Well, she had her little ear-twist thing she did.
JAMES USRY: I understand that, but see, nowadays, when you put your hands on the youngsters -- do you understand me? -- you're abusing them.
JUNE CROSS: Right.
JAMES USRY: In those days, it was what we call "love pats."
JUNE CROSS: [voice-over] Peggy's love for Paul was the guiding passion of her life. He worked as a county clerk and moonlighted as a tax driver. For a while they owned a bike rental shop that catered to colored, as they used to say. Then they had a photography shop.
Peggy was childless. Maybe that's why kids were her favorite subject. She took the first pictures of me when I was born.
I've come to the Atlantic City Museum to view an exhibit on black life.
[on camera] Now, who are these folks? Easter Sunday at Jethro. Oh, yes.
[voice-over] My Aunt Sheila has come up from Washington for this exhibit.
SHEILA GREGORY-THOMAS: Oh, it's lovely.
JUNE CROSS: Oh, there's Peggy!
SHEILA GREGORY-THOMAS: Peggy, look. I mean, June-- I love that.
JUNE CROSS: Oh, there they are again!
SHEILA GREGORY-THOMAS: I love that picture of Peggy.
JUNE CROSS: Yeah.
SHEILA GREGORY-THOMAS: I used to have that-- [crosstalk] Well, I don't know. Is it in my family album? Our family album?
JUNE CROSS: [voice-over] My Aunt Sheila isn't really my aunt, but she and her family, the Gregorys, hold a special place in my story. They made me part of their family and became my aunts, uncles and cousins and gave me the sense that anything was possible. Uncle Freddy was the first black pilot on the space shuttle, Cousin Chico the first black page on the Supreme Court. They were all high-achieving black folks.
Aunt Peggy had grown up without a family, too. Maybe that's why she spent so much time over at Sheila's house.
SHEILA GREGORY-THOMAS, June's "Aunt": She was there so much, June, you have no idea. I even resented Peggy sometimes.
JUNE CROSS: Really?
SHEILA GREGORY-THOMAS: You know, I-- yeah. I'd be talking to my mother or just quietly enjoying something. All of a sudden, I'd hear this "Thump, thump, thump, thump!"
JUNE CROSS: Disturbing your peace and quiet.
SHEILA GREGORY-THOMAS: All the time. I grew to be very fond of her, of course, and grew to think of her as a comrade. She was so funny.
JUNE CROSS: [voice-over] I have known Regina Richardson since before we both knew how to talk. Aunt Peggy was Regina's godmother.
REGINA RICHARDSON, Childhood Friend: She was very ahead of her time, as a female and as a black woman, as an educator, as-- you know, we had a strict upbringing, but I was always encouraged to do and to pursue anything that I could conceive. You know, that was her message, that, "Little girl, you can do anything you want to do."
JUNE CROSS: [voice-over] Peggy gave me the same message, singing me spirituals and telling me stories that made bedtime my favorite time of day. I really liked The Ugly Duckling. [singing] It doesn't matter if you're born in duck pen, born in a duck pen, born in a duck pen / It doesn't matter if you're born in a duck pen if you're really a swan.
Colored folks had their own beach when I lived in Atlantic City. It was part of segregation, but it was good segregation. We had our own stores and schools, our own nice neighborhoods.
Peggy and Paul owned this house at 407 Indiana Avenue. My mom and dad had rented their basement apartment when he played Atlantic City. Peggy would be heartsick if she could see the way it looks now.
Here's a picture of me and my mother the day she brought me to live here. I don't remember that day, but I remember the moment I realized my mother had given me to someone else. It began with a plate of string beans cooked differently than I was used to. I refused to eat them.
Finally, Paul sent me up to my room. In retaliation, I threw all my toys down the stairs. I was in the midst of this tantrum when my mother telephoned. "Saved," I thought, but Mom just told me to do what Peggy said. I don't remember very much of my life over the next five years.
[interviewing] So do you remember when I first showed up at Indiana--
JAMES USRY: The first day.
JUNE CROSS: Oh, Lord. I'm going to be embarrassed.
JAMES USRY: The first day. I don't want you to be embarrassed. First day. No, no, no.
JUNE CROSS: First day, huh?
JAMES USRY: No, no, no. No but you came up-- but Mrs. Bush-- Mrs. Bush was so proud of you. Mrs. Bush came in and introduced you around and said, "This is my daughter." And from that day on, you were Mrs. Bush's daughter.
JUNE CROSS: [voice-over] It was as if I had two mothers. Every school vacation the express bus would carry me to the one in New York and, after a couple of days, carry me back to the one in Atlantic City.
I told myself this was a normal life, but watching the highway I imagined myself a rich and independent woman who traveled at will. I remember how the highway became a movie screen where I watched my fantasy life go by. Going through the tunnel now, my stomach fills with the smell of diesel and a feeling of nausea.
When I was 7 Mom married Larry Storch. Two years later they moved to Hollywood and I began an annual pilgrimage between Aunt Peggy's staid world of rules and decorum and my mother's "anything goes" kind of lifestyle.
REGINA RICHARDSON: And I remember kind of being jealous that Norma was your mother and she was white because that was more exotic and so I thought that, in a way, was neater.
JUNE CROSS: That in a way was what?
REGINA RICHARDSON: That in a way was neater.
JUNE CROSS: Oh, neater. Yeah.
REGINA RICHARDSON: Neater to have a white mom. And I remember thinking at one point how lucky you were that you had-- you could have two lives because in the summer you'd go and you'd visit Norma and you'd be in that kind of world and then you'd come in the winter and live with us. I remember that every time before you went away to see Norma, you'd get the perm in your hair.
JUNE CROSS: Really? Yes, you'd get a perm in your hair -- it was kind of a big deal -- so it'd be more manageable.
JUNE CROSS: [voice-over] Black women have a complicated relationship with their hair, sort of like the one I have with my mother. When I was a child, she kept it cut short. I had an Afro long before they were popular. But when I started school, I coveted the black tresses of a Chinese classmate.
My goal as a 1st-grader in Atlantic City was a ponytail. It grew until I reached my sophomore year in high school. That summer, visiting my mother, I wouldn't get in the pool because it would muss my shoulder-length hair. She looked at me and asked, "Why do blacks try so hard to imitate white people?"
That fall I cut it all off and got an Afro, but even in the midst of my "blacker than thou" phase, I left Aunt Peggy and went to California in the summer.
I'm staking out a celebrity shoot at a Hollywood studio. Staking out personalities goes with the territory of being a T.V. producer, but today I'm here as a producer and as a daughter.
[interviewing] How're you doing?
LARRY STORCH, June's Stepfather: Hi, baby.
JUNE CROSS: I'm good. How are you?
LARRY STORCH: Okay.
JUNE CROSS: Good.
LARRY STORCH: Who'd you come with?
JUNE CROSS: The P.R. lady at Vanity Fair asked me why we were-- why was I doing this and I said Larry Storch was my dad and she asked me, "Well, then, is Norma your mother?" And I said, "Well, I'm adopted," because I didn't really feel like explaining it. But you know, this-- whenever I say that, there's, like, a little egg-shaped hole that opens up somewhere and a part of me just kind of disappears in there.
[voice-over] Vanity Fair is gathering the last of the T.V. cowboys together, Corporal Agarn and Captain Parmenter reunited after 20 years.
LARRY STORCH: How are you? How are you? But Jeez, I'm glad to see you!
KEN BERRY: Good to see you.
LARRY STORCH: You look great.
KEN BERRY: Thank you.
LARRY STORCH: You know my-- this is my daughter, June.
JUNE CROSS: Yes!
KEN BERRY: Hi, June. How are you?
LARRY STORCH: Ken Berry.
KEN BERRY: It's been a long time.
JUNE CROSS: Yeah, it's been a while. [crosstalk] Yeah. How've you been?
KEN BERRY: Just fine.
JUNE CROSS: Good.
KEN BERRY: Great to see you.
JUNE CROSS: Good.
LARRY STORCH: You all know Captain Parmenter?
KEN BERRY: Yes.
LARRY STORCH: We won the West!
KEN BERRY: That's right!
LARRY STORCH: I wanted to be on the big screen. I thought F Troop was going to hold me back, you know?
["F Troop"] Oh, you want to study Spanish with me?
KEN BERRY: No, sir. I want the captain's permission to go out and capture my cousin, El Diablo, the dirty rat!
LARRY STORCH: That's the highlight of my life, F Troop. Isn't that funny? You fight against something, kicking and screaming, and it turns out the best thing that ever happened to you.
JUNE CROSS: [voice-over] Off camera, I asked Larry what Mom's thinking about our project these days. He told me to keep on her. He thinks she'll come around.
LARRY STORCH: Well, I think it opens up everything. I mean, we are-- this is the close of the 20th century, isn't it? We've been to the moon. And this actually, the interracial thing, is-- if this were 50 years ago, I'd say, "Yes! Oh, my God!" You know. But now things are moving so fast. What does-- what does it mean?
JUNE CROSS: [voice-over] I know firsthand how Hollywood imitates life. During F Troop's second season, the studio took pictures of the stars and their families. The publicity department wanted to know who was the little Negro girl. Mom feared the truth would come out, that Southern stations would refuse to run the show, Larry's career ruined, all because of me.
They came up with a cover story that I'd belonged to neighbors across the hall in New York, an abusive situation, and so they adopted me. Everybody took part in this lie, even Aunt Peggy, and I just went along with it. I was 12.
I want to talk about all this with my mother. I feel the years of hurt and rejection have become a barrier between us, but I can't push her.
My mother's best friend, Jan, recently divorced, has a coming-out party in Beverly Hills. Norma, Larry and I all go. It's a gathering of script writers and show biz folks. I've known Jan and her family since I was in college. Jan said her brother had once given her the inside scoop on me.
JANICE MORGAN, Family Friend: My brother knew everything. Or at least he thought he did. He says, you know, "She really is Larry's daughter." I said, "Larry's daughter?" He said, "Yes, it's Larry and Pearl Bailey's daughter." "What?"
JUNE CROSS: [voice-over] For a while, Mom keeps her distance. She says later someone was there, someone she'd rather didn't know about me.
LARRY STORCH: Norma was worried about some of her old conservative friends, I suppose. The mixing of the races-- I think that's what concerned her-- how people who are in their, 80s and 90s and, as I say, ultra-ultra-conservative people-- what would they think?
JUNE CROSS: [voice-over] With most of Jan's friends, we don't have to worry about people will think. It's that Palm Springs crowd Mom's worried about. "I just don't want to do it," she tells me. But I don't want to be kept secret anymore because my race is inconvenient.
I'd always wondered how a white woman like my mother ended up with a black man. I'd always wondered what happened in their relationship and why I never got to know him. It was Jimmy Cross, they say, who fell down one night and bent Dizzy Gillespie's horn, but it was another trumpet player, my brother, Lary, said, who'd been Jimmy's idol.
LARY MAY: Jimmy, you know, who had been a kid growing up in the '30s, he had two great heroes. He had Louis Armstrong. The other god was Joe Louis.
JUNE CROSS: [voice-over] Lary told me that Jimmy had done a movie back in 1943 with Ronald Reagan. Here's my father's big number. [clip from "This Is the Army"]
HAROLD CROMER: In my opinion, he was probably the funniest, cleverest comedian that ever lived. He could think on his feet.
JUNE CROSS: [voice-over] Harold Cromer played Stumpy to Jimmy's Stump.
HAROLD CROMER: He was funny. His face was rubbery. His movements were like-- and he could ad lib on the stage right away. He could think of everything. He was great. Jimmy was great.
JUNE CROSS: So tell me your favorite Stump stories.
LEROY MEYERS: Oh, there's a million of them!
JUNE CROSS: Leroy Meyers and Buster Brown, members of the Copasetics tap dancers, knew my father for over 50 years.
LEROY MEYERS: One day he hit the numbers, you know? "Come on, Leroy," he says, "come downtown with me." Say I, "I don't have no money with me." "I want to give you something." So we jumped in the cab. He said, "The Empire Hotel." "Leave the meter running. I'll be right down." I'm still waiting! I was so mad.
JUNE CROSS: So he was just irresponsible, huh?
BUSTER BROWN: He never grew up, really.
JUNE CROSS: He never did?
BUSTER BROWN: He was always a kid.
JUNE CROSS: [voice-over] Lois Basden became Jimmy's common-law wife after he and my mother broke up.
[interviewing] If he was so great and so well-loved and so charismatic, what-- what happened? Why didn't he ever make it? Why does-- why does Sammy Davis, Jr., become "Sammy" and--
LOIS BASDEN, June's Stepmother: And-- and say--
JUNE CROSS: --Jimmy becomes a--
LOIS BASDEN: And-- and say that James Cross should have been the one to have made it. Sammy said that. Because Jimmy had a personal problem. He was indeed an alcoholic. Hurt nobody but himself and, of course, those who loved him.
JUNE CROSS: [voice-over] I met my father when he was 63 and dying of cancer.
LOIS BASDEN: He was not the father that he wanted to be and that hurt him very deeply, the same way that when he was out of work, he was not the man, the husband, that he wanted to be for me. And I'm sure it was the same way with your mother.
JUNE CROSS: I mean, I essentially grew up without a father. And even if he couldn't supply the money, he could have just been there.
LOIS BASDEN: Been there--
JUNE CROSS: Why--
LOIS BASDEN: --with the love and the caring. Because, you see, that he always provided. That he always gave.
JUNE CROSS: But not to me.
LOIS BASDEN: But not to you.
JUNE CROSS: [voice-over] One day when I was 27, I went to visit my father in the room he rented on St. Nicholas Avenue off 125th Street. I wanted to know why he'd left us and where the hell he'd been all my life.
He told me some of his happiest days had been those spent with my mother, that she had left him and done the right thing, too, and that he'd always figured visiting me would cause more harm than good. I didn't understand right then what he was trying to say and a week later he died.
It has taken nine months of negotiations, pleading and a full-court press by me and my brother, but my mom has finally agreed to sit down and talk again.
I can think of few things more intimidating than interviewing my mother. She reads me so well and I know so little about her..
NORMA STORCH: Where am I discovered, Mr. DeMille?
JUNE CROSS: Where-- where are you discovered?
NORMA STORCH: Yeah.
JUNE CROSS: This is--
NORMA STORCH: That was Gloria Swanson's line from Sunset Boulevard.
JUNE CROSS: [voice-over] We discover my mother on an Indian reservation in Fort Hall, Idaho. She's 5. It's 1926. She's play-acting, living in a fantasy world.
JUNE CROSS: I was the only white child on that reservation and all my friends were the Indians and the hoboes from the railroad and stuff like that.
JUNE CROSS: You didn't play with the white kids, you played with the Indian kids?
NORMA STORCH: Yeah.
JUNE CROSS: Why?
NORMA STORCH: Well, they were there. I didn't like the white children. Isn't that odd that you ask me that question? I remember I used to beat up on one kid. Used to get him in the sandbox and sock him in the nose, you know?
JUNE CROSS: [voice-over] My mother's mother worked as a hairdresser in the next town over. She left Mom for her parents to raise, the same way Mom left me with Peggy and Paul.
NORMA STORCH: I was like a child that was alone and then on those Saturday nights with Mother or when she came to visit, it was just fabulous. I worshipped my mother, absolutely worshipped her. Every day, when I would go to school, I used to cry because I was sure she wasn't going to be there when I came home, you know?
JUNE CROSS: Well, there must have been a time when you came home and she wasn't, because she left_
NORMA STORCH: Yes, that's right. Well, that's what I always remember. That's why those tears were there, because she did leave me a lot, you know, while Grandpa and Grandma took care of me.
JUNE CROSS: [voice-over] Peter Louis Steffensen, worked as a foreman for the Union Pacific railroad. And as a child, Mom says, she always felt different.
NORMA STORCH: My cousins were so beautiful. It was just like living with Lana Turner and Alice Faye. I mean, they were just gorgeous. So I was the ugly duckling in the family. They always said, "Well, thank God she's got brains because she certainly doesn't have looks."
JUNE CROSS: [voice-over] When she was 9, my mother got on the railroad her grandfather had helped build and rode right out of the Fort Hall Indian reservation to join her mother in Long Beach, California. She thought she'd live happily ever after with her mother and her new stepfather, Eric, a chef.
NORMA STORCH: Where Mother and I had been so poor before, where we'd been eating onion sandwiches and beans and stuff like that, all at once, you know, when she started going with Eric and later married him, we had good food to eat, which was a big thing in 1932, let me tell you.
JUNE CROSS: [voice-over] Norma's stepfather, Eric, was a German who'd supported Hitler. It was he who began teaching my mother the realities of race and class in America.
NORMA STORCH: There were no black people at all in Long Beach and there was only one that I ever saw and he had a little shoeshine store which was right outside one of the bars in Long Beach. And I always would say hello to him, you know, when I was, like, going to meet Mother or Eric in the bar or something.
And then once I was walking with Eric and I said hello to him and he said, "Don't ever speak to him again." And I just couldn't do that. So anyway, when Eric was with me, I used to say, "Oh, my shoe's untied," you know, and he would walk on to the bar and I would stop and-- you know, and I'd tie my shoe and then I'd duck past real fast and say, "Hi," you know, and that was how I would say hello. I would never want to hurt his feelings or anything by not speaking. And I couldn't understand Eric, to begin with, why he wouldn't let me speak to that man.
JUNE CROSS: How did Eric explain it to you?
NORMA STORCH: He said, "Niggers and Jews are not to be spoken to. They're lower-class and not for you to speak to." I've never understood that. I mean, it wasn't my decision to be white. I mean, I would be just plopped down here and here I am.
JUNE CROSS: [voice-over] On the other side of the country, James Arthur Cross was plopped down poor and black on the streets of North Philadelphia. He learned show business dancing for spare change in bars and on street corners.
LEROY MEYERS, The Copasetics: : Everybody around Philly knew how to do some kind of tap because that's all they did in Philly on-- till the wee hours of the morning, get out on the corner and dance till 4:00, 5:00 o'clock in the morning, you know? You'd dance or sing [unintelligible] You know, that was the recreation in Philadelphia at that time.
JUNE CROSS: [voice-over] In 1931, 12-year-old Jimmy Cross had perfected a Louis Armstrong imitation that made him popular on the Colored Kids Amateur Hour.
LEROY MEYERS: First time I saw Stump was when he was on stage, stopping the show.
BUSTER BROWN: Yeah, we came up from Baltimore and then couldn't get a ticket anywhere.
LEROY MEYERS: That's right.
JUNE CROSS: Really? It was that popular a show? It used to broadcast down in Baltimore?
BUSTER BROWN: No. No. But we knew about that Kiddie Show.
LEROY MEYERS: You know, the theater was packed every Sunday. In fact, I was-- that was my hustle, selling-- selling the passes!
JUNE CROSS: [voice-over] It was The Kiddie Hour's producer who turned Jimmy Cross and his buddy, Eddie Hartman, into Stump and Stumpy. They were just 15 when he took them to Europe. A year later they opened at New York's Cotton Club.
LEROY MEYERS: You could work forever in Philly, but you never was anybody until you made it in New York, you know.
JUNE CROSS: [voice-over] Back in California, Mom graduated high school. That summer she became infatuated with a surfer named Jack May and left home.
[interviewing] So you left? You went to Jack's and you never came back. How long did that last?
NORMA STORCH: Oh, six weeks. You know, I got pregnant--
JUNE CROSS: Long enough for you to get pregnant.
NORMA STORCH: --pregnant right away and then I came home again.
JUNE CROSS: [voice-over] My half-brother, Lary, began his life on the eve of World War II. When he was 4, my mother put him in boarding school and moved to L.A. to pursue an acting career.
[interviewing] So how does one go about trying to be an actress in those days? Did you, like, hang out at the drug store?
NORMA STORCH: Schwab's drug store.
JUNE CROSS: Schwab's, right. Did you use to go there?
NORMA STORCH: I went there a lot, but again, I didn't have the equipment, you know, to be a star in those days. I was in dramatic school and, again, I was sort of like the star of the dramatic school. I mean, when I was acting-- they used to have all these classes and they used to send their classes always to watch me-- you know, stuff like that. So I was my own little star. I was very-- I was going to be an actress, not a movie star.
JUNE CROSS: [voice-over] Granny never supported those dreams and my brother paid the price.
LARY MAY: The way, you know, I see it now is that she had desires to be an actress and a career and couldn't put the two together and had no man, at least, there to support her.
JUNE CROSS: [voice-over] Lary spent much of his life in and out of foster homes while my mother struggled with her career.
NORMA STORCH: I wanted to go to New York and I did call New York at the School of Social Research and I said, "Well, what if I don't have the talent and you don't give me the scholarship?" He said, "I'm sure you'll have the talent," but I didn't believe him. That was one of the turning points in my life because I would have had a different life altogether, I think, if I'd gone to New York then.
JUNE CROSS: [voice-over] Mother's life would turn on her relationship with Larry Storch. He'd grown up in New York City.
LARRY STORCH: I was always able to-- to do dialects. Various people came into our house. Some time they'd be Cockney. And I would glam onto it. It absolutely enthralled me. And then, in the next minute, some Spanish people would be there outside the house. They was looking for something. We had a Frenchman who was a morel. He was the director of the Opera Paris and he was a chain smoker. He was a real something from out of Fellini, eh?
And these guys absolutely enthralled me. Okay. Then dissolve. Now I'm in-- I was in a couple of-- I was in high school and at the Paramount Theater Benny Goodman was appearing and there was an act on the bill with him called The Radio Rose. They were three impersonators, three guys who did impersonations. They were about 10 years older than I was.
And one of them dropped out with a sore throat, so they said to me, "Can you fill in for him?" I said, "It'll mean getting out of high school." They said, "Listen, kid, this is the Paramount Theater, Benny Goodman, Peggy Lee." You know, "You want to get stuck there with the adverbs and the verbs and the adverbs and the adjectives or you want to get your feet wet?"
JUNE CROSS: [voice-over] During the late '30s Larry Storch and Jimmy Cross began their show biz careers, but Larry played New York's white theaters while Jimmy played the black ones. Their paths crossed on 125th Street in Harlem. Stump and Stumpy used to ply the Apollo Theater there. Sometimes Jimmy would get together after the show with Larry Storch and trade jokes.
LARRY STORCH: If you were wise, if you were smart and you could glam onto a Jimmy Cross, who was laying down, you picked it up. I did.
JUNE CROSS: Was-- was part of that that a lot of white audiences weren't seeing the black acts because of the fact--
LARRY STORCH: No, they never went uptown. They went uptown, but not to the Apollo. They went up to the Baby Grand or the Cotton Club, Savoy -- you know places like that.
JUNE CROSS: So the white show biz acts could go to the Apollo, check out the best of it--
LARRY STORCH: Check them out, sure. Yeah.
JUNE CROSS: --and then bring it back and kind of comfortably know that--
LARRY STORCH: Yeah, comfortably ooze it into your act.
JUNE CROSS: Right. Right.
LARRY STORCH: If you could.
JUNE CROSS: Yeah.
LARRY STORCH: If you could.
JUNE CROSS: [voice-over] Among the regulars at the Apollo was Jerry Lewis.
JERRY LEWIS: The black community, they loved the clown. They knew of what I took from their culture, which was their comic sense of timing, their ability for self-deprecating humor, which is everything I used, their rhythm in comic timing. I mean, I learned from some pretty good people.
JUNE CROSS: [voice-over] Lewis says he watched those black comic acts the way a biologist examines slides.
I've come to the New York Library for the Performing Arts to find some other traces of my father's career. When World War II came, Jimmy joined the Special Services and did his bit for Uncle Sam along with a lot of other black and white entertainers.
NEWSREEL NARRATOR: Lady Louis Mountbatten receives the royal family on arrival for the stage presentation of Irving Berlin's all-American musical, This Is the Army.
JUNE CROSS: [voice-over] Jimmy and the other black soldiers couldn't share the stage with whites and women weren't allowed near the front at all, so white soldiers dressed in drag and wore blackface during the "Dixie" number.
In 1943 Jimmy did the movie version, but his number was edited out for Southern theaters.
LARY MAY: You can see something like "This Is the Army" that he's got a big featured role in -- and, I might point out, not credited on the screen to this day -- in which there still are residues of the old minstrel stereotype, but nonetheless is the coming out of this black pride. And it's a big scene with Joe Louis.
[clip from This is the Army]
LARY MAY: And here was a man, I mean, who was right at the tail end of, you know, kind of breaking the "Sambo" stereotypes in films.
JUNE CROSS: [voice-over] Blacks and whites had no trouble hanging out together offstage. As I looked through the cast pictures of the world tour, I couldn't help but notice the similarity between Corporal James Cross's face and mine. I was struck by his look of cockiness, a look that said he had such great expectations for himself.
But tragedy was closing in. When Jimmy got out of the Army, he found his partner, Eddie, had become heroin-addicted.
HAROLD CROMER: [singing] There's no telling what can happen / We can start your fingers snapping / Even start your tootsies tapping / We got swing--
JUNE CROSS: [voice-over] Harold Cromer replaced Eddie in 1948.
HAROLD CROMER: And Jimmy was doing all kinds of crazy movements [unintelligible] doing and I'm still singing. And then when I opened my mouth, he put his hand over my mouth and said-- it was a great number. I mean, Jimmy did-- put everything into that one number.
MAURICE HINES, Actor/Dancer: Stump and Stumpy were stars of that period. They were stars in that circuit.
JUNE CROSS: [voice-over] Maurice Hines was just beginning his career when he worked with Stump and Stumpy.
MAURICE HINES: They would dance and then they would sing and then they would do little sketches and they would do characters. It was a little like Saturday Night Live. I mean, they were really ahead of their time and they never got the credit for that, you know?
LARRY STORCH: You know, your daddy was the royalty in show business. It's true he didn't look like Muhammad Ali, but he was royalty nevertheless. And he was funny and he was shameless. He would pull a hat over his ears and he would put two cigarettes up his nose and he would do a seal. Well, the audience, you know, we were helpless. And a lot of white entertainers don't think-- Jerry Lewis is one guy who used to come in and watch Jimmy Cross.
JUNE CROSS: [voice-over] Jerry Lewis would have seen Stump and Stumpy in Atlantic City's black nightclubs. They played there the summer after the war. Martin and Lewis were breaking in their act on the other side of town.
JERRY LEWIS: Their show went on at 4:00 A.M. We were finished with our 2:30 show around 3:45 and we'd dash over. They were wonderful comic dancers and they had a wonderful sense of humor in their bodies and that's all I remember. But that's all you need to remember.
BUSTER BROWN, The Copasetics: And I always thought this was the funniest guy on earth. He was funny, just naturally funny. He was so funny that Jerry Lewis thought he was funny enough to make a million dollars off of him.
JERRY LEWIS: It's hard to say. It's hard to say I know that I did that because he did that or she did that. I think that it's too infinite. You see, when a performer's influenced by greatness, you don't know that you are because comics are thieves. They thieve. They steal from only greatness, but they place it in a place back here that they don't even know they've taken an idea or a speck of a notion and develop it.
JUNE CROSS: [voice-over] During my last visit with my father, I had asked him about that Jerry Lewis story. He gave me a sly smile. "Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery," he said, an echo of what he told an interviewer in 1978.
INTERVIEWER: What did people do when their steps were stolen?
JIMMY CROSS: Oh, nothing. No.
INTERVIEWER: It was common.
JIMMY CROSS: Nothing. And you enjoyed it, you know. And the whole beginning of me, James Cross-- I loved Charles Chaplin, Joe Penner. I had a very, very good liking for Milton Berle. And then I love me because I conglomerated all of them and dropped them into a chocolate drop and made them me.
JUNE CROSS: [voice-over] Meanwhile, Larry Storch was doing the nightclub circuit.
LARRY STORCH: There is a rumor that we French drink wine. Well, this may be, this may not be. But the new drink of France is going to be milk. Milk is very good for you. You all know that, no? So we drink a toast to milk.
JUNE CROSS: [voice-over] In the fall of 1946 he appeared in San Francisco and met Norma Booth.
NORMA STORCH: And Larry came out and, as I said, it was love at first sight. I went with him that night. We went out to dinner. Mom and Dad went home and we went out with a bunch of other show business people and then we went home together. And then I lived with Larry for a month and then I didn't see him for three years. But I was hooked. I mean, that was it.
JUNE CROSS: It wasn't love at first sight for you, Larry?
LARRY STORCH: Oh, yeah.
NORMA STORCH: No, it wasn't.
LARRY STORCH: Nah, it wasn't. No.
NORMA STORCH: No. I was nice and a lot of fun, you know, but Larry didn't fall in love with me for 15 years. He never said "I love you." And the day he said, "I love you," to me, which we were in Boston, I said, "Okay, then let's get married." And that's how it happened.
JUNE CROSS: It took him 15 years, huh?
NORMA STORCH: Yeah.
JUNE CROSS: [voice-over] Larry's family couldn't get behind the idea of a black stepdaughter, either. He was disinherited. But I'm getting ahead of the story.
My father told me that when he first came to New York he became good friends with Billie Holiday. That made his stock go up with me. He said she'd call him "Stump Daddy."
HAROLD CROMER: We performed just before Billie Holiday was to make her entrance and that was a very exciting period at that time at the Strand Theater. So Billie Holiday was very popular and Tallulah Bankhead would come by backstage to see her and John Derrick, who was doing Knock on Any Door. A lot of people-- Frank Sinatra-- they'd all come backstage to say hello to Billie Holiday. But the most-- more frequently visited by Tallulah Bankhead because she was really-- she was really infatuated with Billie. And she knew Stump so they-- they had a lot of fun.
JUNE CROSS: Tallulah was infatuated with Billie?
HAROLD CROMER: Well, of course she was infatuated with Billie and Jimmy was there, too-- my partner. What else is new? Stump, yeah.
JUNE CROSS: Okay!
HAROLD CROMER: And they would hang on-- I mean, they would do, like-- it was a bacchanalian-type thing, a tryst, a trio, whatever you want to call it-- m╗nage a trois--
JUNE CROSS: Are you telling me that my dad got it on with Tallulah Bankhead and Billie Holiday?
HAROLD CROMER: Why not? Sure. Backstage.
JUNE CROSS: [voice-over] "Backstage shenanigans" were the reason show biz folks were looked down on back in those days. Jimmy had grown up in these dressing rooms. He was a swinger. That's Carmen MacRae kissing my father. He was a man who totally ignored the conventions of segregated society.
[interviewing] He like to date white women, huh?
HAROLD CROMER: Yeah. Oh, he was a real Othello. Stump was an Othello.
JUNE CROSS: [voice-over] In 1952, my mother came to New York to visit Larry Storch. She wanted to stay, but he didn't want her staying with him.
NORMA STORCH: Then I didn't see Larry for, like, maybe four or five years. You know, he was traveling all around the country. And finally, Larry and I got together in 1960, I think.
JUNE CROSS: Now, wait, wait, wait, wait, wait. You've skipped over some vital years here.
NORMA STORCH: Well, yeah.
JUNE CROSS: [voice-over] Mom was more hurt by the breakup with Larry in New York than she wants to admit. She's called it the most painful chapter of her life.
[interviewing] You just-- you just, like, skipped over my birth altogether.
NORMA STORCH: Yes.
JUNE CROSS: So how did you get to-- how did you meet Jimmy, then, out of this?
NORMA STORCH: Jimmy was appearing at the Paramount with Duke Ellington, I think, and I went backstage and introduced myself and I said, "I'm," you know, "a friend of Larry Storch's." So that's how we got together. Your father was a brilliant, brilliant man. I mean, one of the most brilliant comedians ever. He had the most fantastic gift for being anybody. He would just assume different characters and he--
JUNE CROSS: [voice-over] I was astonished to hear Mom talk like this. I'd never heard her say a good word about Jimmy.
NORMA STORCH: You would relate off that character. He was constantly flipping, sort of like Robin Williams, only not quite, but-- you know, because he wasn't frenetic in any way. He'd just be somebody else for a while and then you would be somebody else. And he was so endearing and he was-- everybody loved him so much and respected him so much.
JUNE CROSS: What do you remember about the period he spent with my mother, with Norma?
HAROLD CROMER: Well, that's when we were doing very well. We were making a lot of money then.
JUNE CROSS: What was a lot of money in those days?
HAROLD CROMER: A lot of money-- $35,400, $4,000-- $4,000, guaranteed $55,000 for the 11 weeks.
NORMA STORCH: When I met Jimmy, yes, he was, again, security. At least he was working a lot in those days and, as I said, very amusing. I wasn't in love with Jimmy, but he was a lot of fun to be with. And it was nice. You know, it was very nice in the beginning. Not a big love affair or anything like that.
JUNE CROSS: [voice-over] My mother has one picture that survived her life with Stump and Stumpy. She sent it to Granny after tearing my father and his partner, Harold, out of the shot.
I wrote a marvelous letter. I'm very good at letters, you know. I wrote her a wonderful letter, told her this marvelous man I had met and what a genius in the theater he was and how everybody respected him and admired him and that we were living together and how perfect he was for me and how good he was to me, which Jimmy was, in the beginning. I mean, he used to wait on me all the time and do everything for me. And then-- and I said, "And all my love, Norma." And then I said, "Oh, P.S. Jimmy is a Negro." And I never heard from her for, like, three or four months after that.
JUNE CROSS: Did you ever, like, look in the mirror and ask yourself, "What the hell am I doing?"
NORMA STORCH: No.
JUNE CROSS: Why not?
NORMA STORCH: I'd always wanted to travel around and be a part of society, never, you know, traveling, and being on the outside looking in. In a way, those years that I spent with Jimmy were years that I was in a foreign country, I mean, and I was in it.
I mean, I remember I just laughed all the time when I was with Jimmy. He was so funny and I found living in the black world and with the black experience, they just looked at things entirely different than white people did. I mean, they were just so devil-may-care and they had such a cavalier attitude about everything.
JUNE CROSS: You seem to feel that blacks have a more happy-go-lucky attitude--
NORMA STORCH: Oh, I do think that.
JUNE CROSS: --towards life.
NORMA STORCH: There's such happiness and such warmth and such love within the black world. You don't get that a lot in the white-- with white people. White people tend to judge each other more, I think, than blacks do. Blacks will almost accept you right away for what you are, what you lay on the table. "These are my cards. This is me," and they'll accept you. White people can be-- you know, you have to prove yourself. They're a little more suspicious and--
JUNE CROSS: You mean you all are like that with each other, too?
NORMA STORCH: Oh, yeah. Yeah. [crosstalk]
JUNE CROSS: I thought it was just something -- I thought it was just us.
NORMA STORCH: No. No. That's the way it is.
JUNE CROSS: [voice-over] When he was in 6th grade, my brother came to live with Norma and Jimmy in New York.
LARY MAY: To be dropped into one-- black man, dropped into show business and then dropped into Harlem-- I mean, for a 12- and 13-year-old, that was like you had gone to Mars. The first time I went to New York I was calling Jimmy "boy," you know? It was, like, just these were the-- I suppose that's-- you know, that's the kind of world that my grandmother grew up in.
But within a week or so-- you know, I had had no father and Jimmy suddenly was my father in a kind of very idealistic way. I mean, I really admired him and, you know, you'd go up to Harlem and there would be Stump and Stumpy right on the Hollywood, you know, thing.
JUNE CROSS: [voice-over] But outside of show biz, Jimmy and Norma faced a different reality.
LARY MAY: We lived in a hotel in downtown and the hotel would accept interracial couples. And then we went to look for apartments in fringe neighborhoods of Harlem and then it-- once it came out, you know, "Well, there's a-- this is an interracial couple and there's a black man"-- I can still remember this Italian guy -- he just sounded like he just got off the boat -- saying, "Well, we-- we just can't accept them here," and then, of course, doing that whole schizophrenia that is part of American life, "But my best friends are black," you know, "but I can't let them in my apartment." So it was, like-- and off we'd go. And here were whites encountering that. I mean, blacks encounter that all their lives.
JUNE CROSS: [voice-over] The time between gigs grew longer for Stump and Stumpy, but Atlantic City provided steady work in the summer. Jimmy, Norma and Lary spent three seasons there.
LARY MAY: He would go down the street in Atlantic City and people would just-- you know, "Here's Stump." If I would go alone, they'd say, "Here comes Little Stump." It was "Little Stump." You know, there were "Big Stump" and "Little Stump" and then there was "Little Little Stump."
HAROLD CROMER: Lary, when he was, like, here and then he was in Atlantic City, he was always with the colored-- colored kids. And Lary, of course, is white. I have to say that so you know there is a difference. Lary is white, white, white, white, period. But he was, like, almost raised with all the colored people so he knew-- he didn't know--
JUNE CROSS: He didn't know how to act white.
HAROLD CROMER: He-- that's right. He didn't know. He didn't know anything else.
LARY MAY: When we lived in Atlantic City, not only did we live amongst blacks, but that was the first time I had come in contact with that much poverty. I mean, there were poor, poor people all around us.
JUNE CROSS: There were also middle class people--
LARY MAY: Yes, black--
JUNE CROSS: --that you--
LARY MAY: That's what was different about--
JUNE CROSS: The black version--
LARY MAY: --a black community in the '50s than a white community. If you were middle class, you lived away from the poor. If you were black and you were middle class, you lived right next to the poor and there was-- it's like your fate was tied together.
JUNE CROSS: [voice-over] That picture I'd always had of Norma and Jimmy and Lary, it turns out, had been taken in Peggy and Paul's back yard the summer before I was born.
NORMA STORCH: I know she thought I was poor white trash in the beginning because I was white with a black man.
JUNE CROSS: You had told me, at one point, that she had said to you at a certain point in time, she came to-- she started saying, "You're different than all the other white trash that"--
NORMA STORCH: Yes.
JUNE CROSS: --"is around here."
NORMA STORCH: Yes, that was the ultimate compliment she finally gave me when she said, "You're different than all the other white trash that's been here."
JUNE CROSS: How does that feel when people would say "white trash"? I mean, what--
NORMA STORCH: Well--
JUNE CROSS: It feels like--
NORMA STORCH: --I took it the way she meant it-- you know, I mean, the words, the juxtaposition. She meant it as a compliment and that's the way I took it. Her words were not exactly right, but we all make those mistakes.
JUNE CROSS: [voice-over] Norma trusted Peggy so much that she even left my brother, Lary, in Atlantic City when Jimmy was between gigs.
LARY MAY: Peggy was genteel, far more refined than my grandmother, you know. In fact, what my grandmother admired in white culture, women like that, was what Peggy was.
I would have the greatest conversations with her. She, in her own way, I think, was a kind of, what, repressed intellectual? You know, I mean, she had all those photography interests and the garden. I used to get out there and help her with the garden.
JUNE CROSS: [voice-over] My mom and Peggy seemed alike in one regard. They were both headstrong women who'd sublimated their own career desires for the sake of their husbands.
NORMA STORCH: I used to spend more and more time with Peggy and we used to discuss everything. She was also a dreamer. She wanted to travel all over the world and do things. And we discussed all of those things. We-- and I liked her a lot. She was childless, had always wanted a child, and I always thought, "Oh, what a wonderful mother she would make," you know, being a teacher and the wonderful life that the two of them had together.
JUNE CROSS: [voice-over] The relationship with my father deteriorated. Then, during the summer of 1953, Mom discovered she was pregnant.
[interviewing] Given all the pressures that you were under, when you found out you were pregnant with me, why didn't you just abort me or get rid of me or--
NORMA STORCH: I thought about that, but I didn't have the money to do it. You're just here because I didn't have any money!
JUNE CROSS: Just think. You wouldn't have to be doing this interview.
NORMA STORCH: Yeah.
JUNE CROSS: Your friends would be safe!
NORMA STORCH: Oh!
JUNE CROSS: [voice-over] But the dilemma my birth presented wouldn't manifest itself for several years.
[interviewing] Do you remember when you first saw me?
NORMA STORCH: Yes. Of course, I do. When they brought you in to me, I was in bed and I took your foot out and put your foot in my hand, which was about as big as my finger. You were so darling. Your father came in singing [singing] June in January-- and he said, "We'll name her June." And said, "No, I don't want to name her June because that's my mother's name." And he said, "No, no. It's June," and it was.
JUNE CROSS: Now, when I was born, I was not the shade I am now.
NORMA STORCH: No, you were white, so, I mean, I was very happy. You were the same color as I am, just a shade darker, perhaps, like an olive, you know, instead of a redhead, which I was. And Peggy said to me-- I said, "Isn't it wonderful, Peggy?" You know, I mean, "She's light. She'll be able to pass." She said, "They get darker as they get older, honey" you know.
JUNE CROSS: [voice-over] Mom got a job as a hat-check girl to help support me, but she could never make herself shed her whiteness and live in the black world.
NORMA STORCH: I was living these three lives, I guess, is what it was.
JUNE CROSS: What would be the three, then?
NORMA STORCH: Well, the one was with relatives, the one was with Jimmy and the one was with my work. In other words, my friends didn't know anything, either.
JUNE CROSS: Okay.
NORMA STORCH: People that I worked with knew nothing about you. I never went to their houses. They never came to mine. With Jimmy, we would only go among the black people. And then with my relatives, whom, of course, I didn't live with, Mother just would never mention you and whenever I would talk with them or would be with them, everything was as it was, except there was no you and had never been a Jimmy. She never met Jimmy, you know, so--
JUNE CROSS: Now, Jimmy's mother wasn't much better, from all--
NORMA STORCH: No, no. Jimmy's mother didn't speak to me, either-- the same thing-- just the same thing in reverse. She hated the fact that he was with me. She thought he was going so far beneath himself to go with a white woman.
And she came into a room where I was once and she didn't even look at me. She just walked right to the bedroom and shut the door with Jimmy and they had their visit a couple of hours and she went right out, swept right by me. I didn't exist, either.
So that was two worlds that didn't accept. The black world, Jimmy's black world, couldn't accept me. My mother couldn't accept him, you know?
LARY MAY: If we could have a scale of 1 to 10 and we could say racism was, you know, at 10 and where it was more intense, in the white world or in Harlem-- Harlem was around 1 or 2.
JUNE CROSS: What happened in the white community?
LARY MAY: Well, the white community, you know, you just-- racism was just all around you.
NORMA STORCH: I got to the point I never wanted to go out with Jimmy at all, unless it was, you know, to some-- we'd go up to Harlem or something like that, because going, like, downtown or, you know, any place if we weren't with a show biz crowd was just too embarrassing. I mean, it was awful.
JUNE CROSS: [voice-over] To make things worse, Stump and Stumpy were caught at the moment of a sea change in show business.
[interviewing] Now, television was coming into the business.
LARRY STORCH: Television was--
JUNE CROSS: How was television changing the business?
LARRY STORCH: You were becoming famous in 20 minutes. Milton Berle just turned the whole world upside down. Crowds would gather in the streets just to look at Texaco night. Tuesday night belonged to Milton Berle. And so the clubs dwindled. The attendance at theaters dwindled. Finally, we all set our caps toward television.
JUNE CROSS: [voice-over] By the mid-'50s television had catapulted Martin and Lewis into the Beatles of comedy, while Stump and Stumpy's career went into decline. There were just so few opportunities for blacks on T.V.
HAROLD CROMER: Then they started using Martin and Lewis in the films. I mean, that's what happened. And they stopped Jimmy and I and a lot of other colored acts from continuing to perform, other than tap dancing. It was almost-- the handwriting was on the wall. And it was a long period, a long drought for entertainers.
So if you're talking about Stump and Stumpy, we were stumped. We were stumped. No plays, no movies, no nothing, just catching shows here and there. So that's the way it went, June.
NORMA STORCH: I mean, it was very sad to see him go to pieces and I felt guilty over that, too. I felt that I really took so much out of him, you know, that the love that he had invested in me, you know, I threw at his feet and absolutely didn't want it. It had no value to me whatsoever and that was-- that made him so unhappy.
LARY MAY: Plus, by that time, too, he had no money and he was kind of indirectly stealing money. He would go down to the hotel lobby and ask for an advance on the-- he'll pay his bill at the end of the-- so he'd walk off with 300 bucks and blow it drinking or smoking grass. Fortunately, as far as I know, he never got into any hard drugs. But he certainly smoked grass.
JUNE CROSS: Which then she had to pay for.
LARY MAY: Yeah. So that-- you throw in no job, dependent on the woman, white, black, no home-- you know, fireworks are bound to occur.
JUNE CROSS: Do you remember Jimmy beating Mom?
LARY MAY: Oh, yeah. You don't forget those things. When you-- when you're as a child and you see that kind of violence unleashed and not knowing how to stop it-- and it was pretty vicious stuff.
JUNE CROSS: What was he doing? Was he using fists or slapping her or what?
LARY MAY: He was using fists. And then she would try to stop him by grabbing his testicles, which I think was probably the single smartest thing. And fortunately, he would stop, after a point. You know, wouldn't go to the point where he'd get in total control and beat her unconscious or anything.
JUNE CROSS: The beating that started that-- where you end up downstairs in the thing-- do you remember what that started over?
NORMA STORCH: Yes. I called him a "nigger." I said, "I want out. I'm leaving," and he socked me on the jaw and knocked me down and then he was-- the door to the bathroom, with the bedroom on the bathroom, and he was kicking at me and screaming at me and, you know, kicking my ribs and hitting me and stuff.
And you were in your crib and I said, "You're just a nigger and I hate you! I want out!" And with that, oh, he really let me have it and that's when, you know, I ran to the door because I really thought he was going to kill me. I mean, he just went insane. It's the first time I'd ever used those words with anybody, I think. But I was driven so much with hate for him that I wanted out.
And I grabbed you out of the crib and I ran downstairs. And then he hit me on the back and I stumbled down. I fell, you know, and I had you in my arms and that's when I was leaning over and he was just screaming and yelling at me there. And I was yelling and crying and that's when all the guys from the bar were standing there, watching.
JUNE CROSS: Were they black and white or--
NORMA STORCH: No, all white.
JUNE CROSS: And what does it-- what did that say to you?
NORMA STORCH: I think they just felt I had it coming, in some way, whatever it was, you know? It just--
JUNE CROSS: That you deserved it.
NORMA STORCH: Yeah, that I'd been doing something wrong, since it was wrong for me to be there, to begin with.
LARY MAY: Hell, I'd play basketball 12 hours a day if it took-- you know, to get out of there. You know, and so there would be- you'd put space between it. And then, you know, I don't whether-- I'm sure you-- I don't know whether you know about this, but basically, the way we got away is that we snuck away.
NORMA STORCH: We went to the movies. I excused myself in the middle of the movie. It was Marilyn Monroe in How to Marry a Millionaire, I remember. And I went downstairs to the ladies room. I mean, I left the theater and I went downstairs to the ladies room and then I just went out of the theater and I never came back.
And I had you-- a month ahead of time I had found an apartment. I had paid the rent on it, had everything ready. And then the baby-sitter that was with you, when we were in the movies had taken all of my clothes over to the other apartment, so I just disappeared out of his life.
And then, of course, when I didn't come back, I knew he would go to this one bar to get drunk in, which is where he always went. So I called him there about two or three hours later and I just said, "Jimmy, I've left and you'll never see me again."
LARY MAY: And he was devastated. You see, part of the violence was also trying to keep it together, strange as it sounds, was trying to keep that thing going.
JUNE CROSS: [voice-over] We settled into an apartment on West 67th Street, a block from Central Park. This was long before that neighborhood got so ritzy. When I was 4, my grandmother came to visit, the only time we ever met.
NORMA STORCH: She never was loving toward you. She just couldn't cross that barrier. She said, "Well, she's a nice little thing, once you get to know her," was the most she said. But she never embraced you or--
JUNE CROSS: That's funny because I remember that differently.
NORMA STORCH: How do you remember it?
JUNE CROSS: I remember her saying, "She's a cute little monkey, once you get used to looking at her."
NORMA STORCH: Oh, well. She used to say to me, you know, "Negroes are okay, but you never should sit down and have dinner with them."
LARY MAY: I would like to think that a lot of it had to do with more consciousness of shame than in herself. I mean, there were so many pressures about what is respectability. And this was the ultimate in irrespectability or degradation and she just didn't have the strength to deal with it.
And I was caught in the middle of these situations because I simultaneously loved her and I was-- loved Peggy and I loved you and I loved Jimmy. And here it was, like, in the middle of this-- this racial inheritance.
You know, and if you say, well, you want an explanation for it, it's tough. You know, they're passed on. You know, we-- historians have analysis that American nationalism is built on race. I think that's true.
JUNE CROSS: What do you mean by that, that American nationalism is built on race?
LARY MAY: That, essentially, you know, African-Americans or blacks were imported into the country as slaves and they're not allowed to vote. White men are Americans because they're not black. Well, if freedom is-- is white and that's democratic and that takes discipline and work, well, then, blacks must be the opposite of that-- lazy, hedonistic.
You know, those things are-- and those things have powerful social consequences all the time. And, you know, unfortunately, it comes right down to personal life.
JUNE CROSS: Yeah, it does. So it does.
[voice-over] Our neighbors circulated a petition to evict us. They claimed the sight of me and my mother violated their moral standards.
NORMA STORCH: There just seemed to be no place for the two of us within life that was segregated there. I mean, in other words, I didn't think you should be brought up in an all-white household because I felt you were going to be unhappy. I felt-- and I, with a couple of other boyfriends that I was with, was having such problems with you, that they couldn't take you. I mean, I just thought, "She's got to have a life somewhere where she can blossom," you know, "where I won't get in her way and she won't get in my way."
JUNE CROSS: [voice-over] The place Mom thought of was Peggy and Paul's house in Atlantic City. Their home had been a refuge for her during the bad times with Jimmy. As a child, I would stare at the picture of the day I went to live with Peggy and wonder why I had no memory of it, not even the clothes I wore. Peggy refused to talk about it. "You'll come apart at the seams," she warned. For her sake, I'd never even asked my mom the details till now.
NORMA STORCH: I phoned Peggy one day and discussed all of this with her and asked her if she would consider taking you. And Peggy said, "Let me talk it over with Paul," which she did. And she called me back in a couple of hours and she said, "Yes, we will."
I took you to Atlantic City then, you not knowing, of course, that-- you just thought it was going to be another, you know, like, week or two in Atlantic City, which you had been going through.
JUNE CROSS: [voice-over] And so began my life between my two mothers, one who wrote me letters every day, the other who raised me. My mother says that at first she came down on the bus to visit me all the time. I guess we each left a part of ourselves on that highway.
[interviewing] How would she be right before I came and then right after I left?
LARRY STORCH: Well, she was-- before you came, it was, "Oh, J.B. is"-- "J.B."-- you know how you got that-- "June Bug." And oh, yeah, we were frittering around the-- no more frittering around. We got everything ready for you. We went to parks and the theater and the circus, whatever it was.
And then the letdown, you know, after you had to go back to New Jersey-- the tears. "Oh, she's back in New Jersey, Atlantic City, with Aunt Peggy." And there was always that-- the arm of encouragement around Mama, you know?
JUNE CROSS: Did she used to cry, really?
LARRY STORCH: Oh, yeah. Tears.
NORMA STORCH: Oh, I know. I'm very close to tears now, even thinking about it, because when you went back, it was really heart-wrenching, you know, to lose you again.
JUNE CROSS: Really?
NORMA STORCH: Oh, it's funny to just sit here reliving our life and all those days and things, you know? It was very hard giving you up. You can't imagine what a mother would go through. Enormously difficult. But it was something that I always felt was for your own good.
JUNE CROSS: And yours.
NORMA STORCH: Well, and in those days, too, we had to say that you were adopted because-- and yes, since I was handling Larry's career in Hollywood and I wanted people to have respect for me and I didn't think they would have, you know, if they knew what my previous life had been.
JUNE CROSS: [voice-over] No sooner had we gone through that than back in Atlantic City Uncle Paul, a four-pack-a-day smoker, climbed the stairs, sat down to catch his breath one day and died. I had just turned 13. In his obituary there was no mention of me. "Just an oversight," they said, but it made me feel I had no family to call mine.
When I was a teenager, a chasm seemed to open between me and Aunt Peggy and my visits to Mom grew longer. It was the late '60s. Hollywood was a different world. Peggy feared for me-- hanging out and partying late. She needn't have worried. I was too grounded to be seduced by the Hollywood high life. I'd already absorbed Peggy's no-nonsense attitudes.
Like my mother, I'd learned to live two lives and only spoke of my dual existence with Aunt Peggy. No one, not even the Gregorys, knew my full story, not even the Gregorys, until that day I sat down with Aunt Sheila and, in a long conversation, explained it all.
SHEILA GREGORY-THOMAS: I guess I have found myself wondering sometimes how I might have reacted had I been in your shoes to this mother. How could you not feel fury and anger toward her about the position that she put you in? She-- she turned you over to somebody else.
JUNE CROSS: I think, on a mother-- that's a mother-daughter issue, though. That has nothing to do with race.
SHEILA GREGORY-THOMAS: Well, in this case, it has something to do with race because that was why it happened.
JUNE CROSS: Yeah, but my brother also got--
SHEILA GREGORY-THOMAS: And you knew that.
JUNE CROSS: --turned over and he was white and--
SHEILA GREGORY-THOMAS: But he was-- she could say, "This is my son" and did say "This is my son." She could not-- she didn't feel she could and she did not with you.
JUNE CROSS: I think what I felt-- I did feel a sense of abandonment, but as-- on a mother-daughter level, not on a black-white level.
SHEILA GREGORY-THOMAS: How about when you realized, perhaps, maybe this was-- at least when you were in high school, that your mother wasn't able to acknowledge your existence as her daughter?
JUNE CROSS: Well, but she did. I mean, she acknowledged me when she could.
SHEILA GREGORY-THOMAS: But when she didn't?
JUNE CROSS: When she didn't, I wasn't with her most of the time because, like, she would arrange for me to be out there--
SHEILA GREGORY-THOMAS: June!
JUNE CROSS: --like, in the summer--
SHEILA GREGORY-THOMAS: It sounds like--
JUNE CROSS: --for a month at a time.
SHEILA GREGORY-THOMAS: --you're skirting.
JUNE CROSS: I am skirting! I don't have a-- I don't have a-- really. I was with her when it was convenient for me to be with her. And when I wasn't-- when it wasn't convenient, I wasn't there.
SHEILA GREGORY-THOMAS: You never felt any anger toward your mother? Or maybe it came out in other ways.
JUNE CROSS: It came out when I was an adult, I think. [crosstalk] Because I think I repressed a lot of stuff, as a child. And when I became an adult and started-- like, in the last-- maybe the last 10 or 15 years, as I've begun to process this stuff.
SHEILA GREGORY-THOMAS: You have--
JUNE CROSS: Yeah?
SHEILA GREGORY-THOMAS: --I think, my own humble opinion--
JUNE CROSS: Right.
SHEILA GREGORY-THOMAS: --a particular venom directed toward white people.
JUNE CROSS: Oh, really?
SHEILA GREGORY-THOMAS: A very particular venom and vitriol.
JUNE CROSS: I don't think it's transferred anger from my mother.
SHEILA GREGORY-THOMAS: Okay. Well, this is what I was wondering.
JUNE CROSS: I think I have more of an understanding of how white people think--
SHEILA GREGORY-THOMAS: Okay.
JUNE CROSS: --from having been exposed to my mother.
SHEILA GREGORY-THOMAS: And?
JUNE CROSS: And the anger that I feel--
SHEILA GREGORY-THOMAS: How do white people think? What is it--
JUNE CROSS: Or don't think, is really more the issue.
SHEILA GREGORY-THOMAS: All right.
JUNE CROSS: Because what they see-- when they see a certain color, they get stopped and they can't get beyond the color.
SHEILA GREGORY-THOMAS: Okay.
JUNE CROSS: And then they start making generalizations about people based on the color. I've been closer to it because I've seen her and I've experienced-- when I was with her, I was treated as though I were-- I was, like, an honorary white in that society, so I got to see white folks up close and personal and it kind of demystified them.
And I don't think I'd be the human being that I am. I don't think I'd be a producer at FRONTLINE if I'd grown up with my mother. I don't think I would have had the opportunities. I wouldn't have had the exposure. I wouldn't have had the nurturance. I wouldn't have had the self-esteem.
SHEILA GREGORY-THOMAS: Well, I agree with you on a lot of that, yeah.
JUNE CROSS: I think I'd be a confused mess if I had grown up with my mother, you know? And I'm not-- And I say that knowing that she would have tried to do the best she could, had she been able to figure out a way to do it and not suffer the economic consequences of it. But I think the truth of it is that she loved me enough to give me away.
[voice-over] Until that moment with Aunt Sheila, I had never realized how grateful I was that Aunt Peggy had brought me up. When she died in 1981, we were barely talking. I always felt guilty because I was never able to return the full force of her love and I couldn't become that perfect wife and mother she wanted me to be.
[on camera] Every time I come here, I feel like I'm dragging around this 50-pound sack of unresolved stuff and, I mean, there's a lot of memories in that house. Peggy and I never resolved any of the stuff that we had going on.
[voice-over] Ironically, it was Peggy, who didn't want me to think about race, who first awakened my political consciousness. I was 10. Atlantic City was hosting the 1964 Democratic convention. She took me down to see a car Civil Rights workers used in Mississippi. The Klan had torched it. She showed me the bell from a burned-out church and told me the story of four little girls my age who'd been blown up just for having brown skin. It shocked me to realize race was a national issue. I thought it was just a secret me and my mother shared.
A year later I watched Watts explode on my mother's T.V. in Los Angeles. Mom asked me why Negroes were so angry. I said, "Because white people never accept us. They don't want us around."
NORMA STORCH: And you said something to me, like, "Well, they" something-- "they." And I said to myself, "Has it come to this, that I am they or, you know, it's us against them," you know, meaning that you're on the other side of the fence and I'm on one side of the fence? And I asked you once, "When did you ever see yourself as black? When did that first realization come?" Because you were with me until you were almost 5 and brought up in an entirely white world, had no restrictions on you whatsoever. We were living in a beautiful apartment. We had plenty of money.
JUNE CROSS: Well, let's see. I don't know. There's a number of-- there's a number of memories that get mushed together. Well, the memorable time that this is kind of frozen in my memory is one time when we were taking a bubble bath--
[voice-over] Once, when I was about 7 or 8, I was visiting my mother and we were taking a bubble bath. She looked at me and said that if I had not grown darker as I grew older, I could have stayed with her. That moment is frozen in time-- my mother's bamboo-colored skin, my toffee-colored hand, her straight hair, my tight curls, the white bubbles falling in my eyes.
NORMA STORCH: Well, I knew you would be hurt going into a white person's society with-- I mean, you can't go in, you know, and mix when you're not-- when you're different.
JUNE CROSS: Yeah. I guess Peggy-- Peggy had to teach me about those-- about that box.
NORMA STORCH: Yes. I know.
JUNE CROSS: Because that wasn't something you could teach me. I'm glad you couldn't teach me. But Peggy was the one that did teach me about the box.
NORMA STORCH: That sounds so sorry, June.
JUNE CROSS: What?
NORMA STORCH: That you had to-- that you learned about--
JUNE CROSS: What, learned that there was a box?
NORMA STORCH: Yeah.
JUNE CROSS: Oh, but every black person lives inside that box. It's a-- it's a state of being. You know, I mean, that's what--
NORMA STORCH: I know.
JUNE CROSS: That's probably what I had to learn.
NORMA STORCH: There may be a lot of other people that are walking around that have--
JUNE CROSS: There are a bunch.
NORMA STORCH: --secrets like us. I was in analysis during the years that Larry was in F Troop and I said to my analyst once, "Am I any different than anybody else?" And he said, "No. There's a lot of stories out there. Yours is not unusual."
JUNE CROSS: How would you describe your relationship with your mother?
JUNE CROSS: I loved her too much and she didn't want that love. She didn't-- she couldn't accept that, in a way. And she wanted me to be like my cousins and I wasn't. I mean, everything she wanted me to be, I wasn't, so--
JUNE CROSS: [voice-over] The pain between mother and daughter -- unspoken, unresolved -- passes from generation to generation. If I'm to come to terms with what happened to me, I need to come to terms with my grandmother. I need to come to Idaho.
Fort Hall is halfway between Pocatello and Blackfoot. The house my mom grew up in was gone, but I still got a flavor of the place. I know the relatives who live here are Mormons and that Mormons believe black skin is a mark of original sin. Until 1973, we weren't allowed to set foot in a Mormon temple.
My brother, Lary, has called ahead for me to my mother's cousin, Fay Bailey.
[on camera] Some calls are harder than others.
FAY BAILEY, June's Cousin: [on the phone] Hello?
JUNE CROSS: Good-- Hello, Ms. Bailey?
FAY BAILEY: Yes?
JUNE CROSS: Hi. This is June Cross. I'm Lary May's half-sister.
FAY BAILEY: Oh, yes!
JUNE CROSS: How are you?
FAY BAILEY: I haven't recovered from the shock.
JUNE CROSS: Oh. I know, it must be a-- I apologize for it being such short notice.
FAY BAILEY: Well, you got to come and tell me all about you.
JUNE CROSS: Well, okay. All right. Well, ditto. Ditto.
FAY BAILEY: We'll share life histories.
JUNE CROSS: We can share our life histories, right.
[voice-over] Fay's in the hospital, but she said to come on over wit the cameras. I was so nervous, I hid behind a camera myself.
[on camera] Hello. Nice to meet you.
FAY BAILEY: [unintelligible] I don't want a handshake. No way! No way, June! John?
JUNE CROSS: This is John and that's Clint.
FAY BAILEY: Clint. Happy to meet you.
JUNE CROSS: Well, nice to meet you. I'm sorry we have to meet you in a hospital bed.
FAY BAILEY: Oh, isn't this asinine?
JUNE CROSS: [voice-over] I liked Fay Bailey immediately.
FAY BAILEY: To be truthful, that was a surprise, you know, when you come completely out of the woodwork. I'd never heard of you before.
JUNE CROSS: Right. Right.
FAY BAILEY: From Larry or Norma.
JUNE CROSS: Yeah.
FAY BAILEY: Never intimated. That's why I thought maybe he was pixilated when he called me, but I knew better. I didn't he was that type.
JUNE CROSS: Right.
FAY BAILEY: You know?
JUNE CROSS: Right.
FAY BAILEY: And he was dead serious.
JUNE CROSS: Yeah. Right.
FAY BAILEY: So I thought, "Fay, shape up. Meet your relatives, here."
JUNE CROSS: Yeah.
I wasn't sure how I was going to be received up here because I never met a-- I never met my Granny, June, because she was opposed to the-- to my mother having had me, you know? So I just thought that it was the whole family that was like that-- you know, that it was just everybody was anti-black, so I never bothered to try to--
FAY BAILEY: Well, no. I don't know. Really, I don't know, because I-- and I don't know why Aunt-- you know, I just don't know why-- I guess-- I don't think Aunt June had any room to talk about anything.
JUNE CROSS: Why not?
FAY BAILEY: So see? I don't know.
JUNE CROSS: Why would Aunt June not have any room to talk?
FAY BAILEY: Well, her life wasn't sublime and, you know, exactly straight.
JUNE CROSS: Why?
FAY BAILEY: Because there-- back in those times, you didn't do that. Norma must have just slipped right off the end of the earth, see? Gosh, she had to have, you know?
JUNE CROSS: What was she like as a girl?
FAY BAILEY: She was fun. I always liked Norma. I'm glad I didn't have to go through what she did, you know, because her mother, she never knew probably where her mother was half the time. I'd love to have you come back because I'd like to know you. You're part of my tribe.
JUNE CROSS: Do you have any questions for me?
FAY BAILEY: Yeah. What was you-- he said-- did you go to Harvard? Was it Harvard?
JUNE CROSS: Uh-huh.
FAY BAILEY: Graduate?
JUNE CROSS: Yeah, in 1975.
FAY BAILEY: You plutocrat!
JUNE CROSS: [voice-over] Fay and I spent two hours together. By the time I left, it felt like we were old friends. I felt my soul should feel some affinity for this land where my mother grew up. Instead, I feel like I just landed on Mars.
Fay had told me I had dozens of relatives around Blackfoot.
[on camera] I didn't quite know where I was going, so it took me about a half hour before I could--
[voice-over] Her son, Lee, and I are second cousins. In keeping with his Mormon faith, Lee's done a family genealogy.
[on camera] So this is my great--
LEE BAILEY: That's your great-grandparents.
JUNE CROSS: Grandparents.
LEE BAILEY: There is a history in here of--
JUNE CROSS: Oh, wow.
LEE BAILEY: --Myles Standish because we're 14-generation direct descendant of Myles Standish.
JUNE CROSS: Oh, no kidding.
LEE BAILEY: Yeah. You belong to the Mayflower Society, whether you knew it or not.
JUNE CROSS: [voice-over] But I don't want to be descended from Myles Standish or anyone else who would have looked down on me. That includes my grandmother.
[interviewing] Yeah, I had always had a thing against all Mormons. I'm ashamed to admit this, but it was true, mostly just because of her, because of her attitude, because I knew what her attitude was, you know, towards me.
LEE BAILEY: No, I think she was quite anti.
JUNE CROSS: Yeah.
LEE BAILEY: I'm sure glad you contacted us. Let's keep in touch now.
JUNE CROSS: Okay. Yeah. Please.
[voice-over] In 1978 the head of the Mormon church had a revelation that it was okay for blacks to become full-fledged members. Granny died six weeks later. I'd like to be able to say I buried my bitterness against her out here in the sagebrush, but I can't yet.
I wanted to come home to New York. I wanted to see the Harlem my father knew. I was looking through some home movies taken on 125th Street the summer of 1954. Checking out the crowds, there's a young Sammy Davis, Sidney Poitier, the Apollo chorus line hamming it up for the camera.
Then I saw this. That was Jimmy Cross and that has to be me. As I watched, it seemed I remembered his presence in my life and my toddler's anger at my mother for taking us away from him, an anger which now I'm able to forgive.
In 1975 my father appeared in his last taped performance.
JIMMY CROSS: [singing] --all the time, Won't somebody come to me, my sweet baby of mine, I aint got nobody, I ain't got nobody, Nobody, Nobody cares, Nobody cares--
JUNE CROSS: [voice-over] I've come to respect my father's artistry and to understand the toll that being born one generation too early exacted from him.
EMCEE: Oh, ladies and gentlemen, Stump Cross!
JUNE CROSS: [voice-over] My father left me a surprise, a half-sister.
[interviewing] Did you know I existed?
LYNDA GRAVATT, June's Half-Sister: Did not know you existed when I was a child. I did not find out you existed until I went to see Bubbling Brown Sugar.
JUNE CROSS: [voice-over] Lynda Gravatt is an actress and drama teacher.
LYNDA GRAVATT: Walked into the theater and on the marquee it says, "Appearing for Avon Long, James 'Stump' Cross." So after the show, I waited for him at the stage door and he came out. We talked and he said to me, "You have a sister." That's when he told me that my mother had died about two years prior to that and that she had grieved over the fact that she had given me up and she never did get over it and I guess it caused her to become an alcoholic and live some kind of-- kind of miserable existence. She never had any more children. And he said, "You have a sister." And I said, "Really?" And it never went any further than that. He just said, "Oh, yeah. You have a sister and her name is June."
But it's very interesting because Sammy Davis was at Howard and I was the stage manager and I said to him, "You know, Stump is my father," and he said, "Oh, really? Oh, I'm a Godfather of yours." And I said, "Oh, really?" And he said, "Yeah. Your mother's married to Larry Storch." And if I had approached it at that point, I would have found you years before.
JUNE CROSS: I never knew that Sammy Davis was a Godfather of mine, so you just told me something I didn't know.
LYNDA GRAVATT: That's what he just-- that's what he said.
JUNE CROSS: [voice-over] When I took my home movie camera and visited Lynda in New Jersey, there on her mantel was a group of pictures whose story paralleled my own. Her mother was also a white woman who'd left her to be raised by a black family where the mother was a teacher and the husband a postal worker.
[interviewing] What about your mom?
LYNDA GRAVATT: I did see her. I must have been 8 or 9 years old and I was on St. Nicholas Avenue and this woman walked up to me and said, "Do you know who I am?" And I said, "Yes." And she said, "I want you to be a good girl" and I said, "Okay." And she walked away and I never saw her again. And the great joy of having you now is that there's somebody I belong to. I mean, I really belong to--
JUNE CROSS: I'm here!
LYNDA GRAVATT: --this person! This is my sister! She looks like me. I like her. She likes me. You know, my kids have somebody they belong to. We belong--
JUNE CROSS: [voice-over] Lynda and I have developed an easy relationship born out of our similar backgrounds. Meeting her left me one last task, visiting our father's old neighborhood in Philly.
NEIGHBOR: I can't give you a whole lot of information about Miss Rose.
JUNE CROSS: [voice-over] I'd hoped to find some trace of my grandmother, Rose, but all I found was the house she'd lived in. Rose Cross died in 1968. I did meet neighbors who remembered her.
DELORES: She-- she imitated. She was a number writer. [?] Because that was her thing. I'm just going to tell the truth. She was--
JUNE CROSS: Right.
DELORES: Illegal numbers, okay?
JUNE CROSS: Uh-huh.
DELORES: And she talked a lot of S-H-I-T. She was [unintelligible] Miss Rose, your grandmother and [unintelligible] that's what they used to do, too, sell liquor and rent rooms, okay? I'm telling you what God loves the truth, okay?
JUNE CROSS: Right. All right. [crosstalk]
DELORES: Well, that's what they did.
JUNE CROSS: Right.
DELORES: They was fast women and in the life. In the life, okay?
JUNE CROSS: Uh-huh.
[voice-over] It occurs to me that both of my grandmothers were fast women, but they never met because one was white, the other black, that that fact kept both of them from ever meeting their granddaughter. Jimmy's mother was the one who'd ignored my mother when they were both in the same room.
The man who stays here knew her, but he refused to let me in. He thought I'd come to claim the house.
[on camera] You know, there's something ironic in this. My white relatives-- my white relatives welcome me in their houses [unintelligible] My black relatives don't want to see me.
[voice-over] It had taken me months to even find these streets my father called home.
2nd NEIGHBOR: Yeah, I remember Stump.
JUNE CROSS: [voice-over] He said he'd been afraid to even dream about ever leaving. The last trace of the Cross family is my father's grand-niece, Pam. As I embraced her, I embraced who I might have been had Jimmy never left.
Pam never heard of Jimmy Cross.
[interviewing] Your mother's mother was my father's sister.
JUNE CROSS: So there you go.
PAM: Right. Cool. So I live over there.
JUNE CROSS: [voice-over] I had hoped to end this film with a big family reunion scene, but I've reached a divide I can't easily cross. It's a divide of class that may be wider than the gulf between blacks and whites.
TELEVISION NEWS ANCHOR: Millions of black Americans appear to be elated and whites, yes, deflated.
JUNE CROSS: When I call my mom after the O.J. verdict, it's not the jury's decision, but the fate of the Simpson kids that concerns us.
[on the phone] Yeah, she especially, the little girl, looks like-- she just looks like a carbon copy of her mother and she's only 6. Yeah. Sad.
LANY MAY: Now, here's my question.
NORMA STORCH: What?
LANY MAY: Do you think he did it?
NORMA STORCH: No.
LANY MAY: I knew it! I knew that in this family we were going to divide the racial categories of this nation! I knew it!
JUNE CROSS: [voice-over] At Thanksgiving me, my mom, Lary and my brother's family are together in Minneapolis, a family reunion unlike any I've ever known before. My partner, Waldron, is with us, too.
This is my mother's first time ever in this house.
NORMA STORCH: It's an interesting thing to know that, you know, this is a relative. You look at this, think, "This is part of my flesh," you know, all that stuff. I feel that same way about you. I look at you and say you would not be there were it not for I.
SARAH MAY: Yeah. That's true.
JUNE CROSS: [voice-over] As mealtime nears, everyone has a task. I'm finishing the turkey and dressing. Mom's making gravy. Sarah's doing veggies. Lary makes the salad. Lany's finishing desserts. We're a family that's become adept at creating order from chaos.
LARY MAY: A toast to those who cooked the meal. [crosstalk] And a toast the Storches who paid for the meal. [crosstalk]
JUNE CROSS: [voice-over] Larry can't help entertaining us.
LARRY STORCH: In the '40s, a lot of the places were striptease joints, so they needed someone, basically, to stand between the striptease dancers and say, "Here she is, Irma, Goddess of the bodice."
LANY MAY: 'Bye, Norma. It was so wonderful having you here! We really loved having you here. [crosstalk]
JUNE CROSS: [voice-over] This farewell is much easier than the ones we made when I was a child.
She's my mother. I'm her daughter. I'm black, she's white. We've just started our conversation.
NORMA STORCH: I had enormous trepidation with doing this. It's like coming out. My reluctance comes out of fear and I should overcome that fear and I hope I've made a giant step forward.
JUNE CROSS: [voice-over] We both have.
NORMA STORCH: You used to come and hug me and kiss me all the time. Other mothers used to say, "Does she do that all the time?" and I said, "Yes."
JUNE CROSS: No, you just have me trained.
[voice-over] And however the world judges her and me, the challenge for every one of us is to keep that conversation going.
ANNOUNCER: For more on "Secret Daughter," check out, check out FRONTLINE online at www.pbs.org for a collection of audiotapes on this family saga. Visit our discussion board. Find out about searching family genealogy, other famous families with mixed racial lines. And there's much more at FRONTLINE online at www.pbs.org.
Next time on FRONTLINE--
ATF OFFICER: This stand-off is over.
ANNOUNCER: --the award-winning investigation of what really happened in Waco--
DAVID KORESH: I'd like to start off, first of all, with my oldest son. His name is Cyrus.
ANNOUNCER: --the film critics have called "revealing," "frightening," and "a story that demands our attention." Don't miss "Waco: The Inside Story" on FRONTLINE.
We welcome your comments about tonight's program Let us know what you think about tonight's program by fax [(617) 254-0243], by e-mail [FRONTLINE@pbs.org] or by the U.S. mail [Dear FRONTLINE, 125 Western Ave., Boston, MA 02134].
PRODUCED AND REPORTED BY
Heart Punch Studio
ORIGINAL MUSIC COMPOSED BY
MUSIC PRODUCTION SUPERVISOR
Shoshone-Bannock Tribal Museum
Atlantic City Historical Musuem
Museum of Television and Radio
Church of Jesus Christ Latter Saints
Abraham Comedy Archive
A.R.I.Q. Footage, Inc.
Mark Cantor of Celluloid Improvisations
MPI Media Group
Warner Brothers Domestic Television
Vicki Gold Levi Collection
Image Bank Film
Turner Entertainment Co.
Grinberg Film Libraries
John E. Allen, Inc.
Charles L. Blockson's Afro-American Collection
Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture
Denver Center for the Performing Arts Billy Rose Theatre Collection
Lincoln Center for Performing Arts
Milton J. Hinton Photographic Collection
Nevada State Museum and Historicial Society
Museum of the City of New York
Theatre Collection of the Free Library of Philadelphia
POST PRODUCTION SUPERVISOR
POST PRODUCTION PRODUCER
The Caption Center
Lee Ann Donner
SPECIAL PROJECTS ASSISTANT
SENIOR STAFF ASSOCIATE
Anne del Castillo
Valerie E. Opara
DIRECTOR OF ADMINISTRATION
SENIOR EXECUTIVE PRODUCER
WGBH EDUCATIONAL FOUNDATION
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED
discussions | blurred racial lines | oral history | june's family tree | bi-racial portraits | how to search family trees | readings | reactions
web site copyright 1995-2014
WGBH educational foundation