June Cross: The friends that I have, when I tell them this story, the thing they always ask me is how do you leave your own child? This is the question I'm asking on their behalf, not mine. How did you come to that, arrive at that decision?
Norma Storch: Well, as I said, it was the most difficult thing I've ever done, but I believed it was for your best interest. It was better for you than it was for me. I was left with misery and unhappiness. You went on to a life that you blossomed, that you couldn't have done with me, I don't think. I think you would have been a very bitter and unhappy woman being brought up in an all-white household, especially in those days. It isn't like today. Today, I mean, people think it's so easy and they don't know, you're stared at on the street, remarks are thrown at you and you're just ostracized so much. Or you were in those days. You couldn't cross those lines. The only place those lines were ever crossed that I know of is in show business. And it wasn't done And politically a lot of girls and guys within politics, where they truly didn't believe in it. But you just couldn't and live in a white society.
JC: But you also continued a pattern. You mentioned this our last interview, that your mother had left you with her grandparents, and you had left Lary.
NS: Oh, yeah, I never thought about that. Hey.
JC: There's an out.
NS: No, it wasn't. Possibly it was something that I was used to. Not used to, but at least it wasn't out of left field to me.
trying to live up to her mother's expectations. That, and the feeling that she'd lost her own childhood caring for her mom, hindered her own ability to be a mom.
I could never push myself. I had no confidence in myself. I was very ballsy where Larry was concerned, where if I could ever have used that for myself, it would have worked, I think. I could never go out on an audition. I would freeze. I didn't know what to do. I never made opportunities for myself. Nobody comes and taps you on the shoulder and said, "I'm going to make a star out of you." You know, you have to do a lot of work yourself. You have to have either do-it-yourself and be very pushy, or have someone do it for you.
In Larry's case, Larry's not pushy, but I am as far as he's concerned, because I believe in him. I never believed in myself at all. I mean, I had been trained from childhood that I had no talent, no nothing, so why bother. Ahm, and yet it was something I always wanted. But I just could never, never push myself ever. No self-confidence. And I'm sure with any group of people now, I suppose with a group of people, I could stand out because I have a look. I am me. But in those days I just faded into the background.
JC: How would you describe your relationship with your mother?
NS: In the early days I worshipped her. She was the most beautiful child of her family, and the most beautiful girl. And oh, she could dance and sing and she used to imitate Charlie Chaplin. I mean, she was the life of every party. And I used to look at her with absolute awe, and all of her nieces and her sisters were beautiful. And I was the ugly duckling of the family. I felt so isolated and away from her in every way. And I wanted to be with her all the time and, as I said, she just used to disappear a lot.
I don't think she ever really wanted me. I think that I was there, and it was a duty that one did when you had a child you didn't abandon them completely. And she did the best she could. But I got in her way a lot. In every way. She was very flirtatious. She was married seven times and she was never able to get, you know, have any really loving relationship with any man that I know of. There were always a lot of fights.
Now during the early days, I mean, that's the way it was. And then when I started - when I fell in love with Larry, she thought I was an absolute idiot. She said you'll - he'll never marry you, you're just wasting your life. Everything that you're doing - you wanted to be an actress. That didn't work out. You know you're never going to make anything of yourself if you don't get him out of your mind and do something else besides wanting to be an actress. You're never going to make it.
And then when I married Larry, she was very proud that I had finally done it and Larry and I owned a house. We were the first members of her family that had ever owned a house, and I had more money than any of them did. And I think in the later - in the latter part of her life, she was very proud of me. But it took her a long time, and of course in my formative years, I never - I mean I knew she was not proud of me. She never was.
The first time she saw me on stage, when I was in dramatic school, when everybody in dramatic school, all the classes, you know, the teacher had said "Go watch Norma Booth. You must watch this girl on stage." And when mother came to see those shows, she said, "You're nothing on stage. You're just yourself." She said, "You know, it's silly for you to even try to be an actress. You can't act."
JC: Did you used to spend a lot of time taking care of her at one time?
NS: Oh, yeah, but I mean from the time I was - I used to sell cupcakes on the street and give her the pennies. Mother worked when I was in the sixth grade and on up, she worked as a beauty operator making like sixteen dollars a week, and I always felt, you know, that I should be the boy of the family, take care of her. So I used to do everything to help her.
I brought her up. I mean, she didn't - she couldn't cook, she couldn't do anything, you know, I mean. And I would make my pennies on the street and give her, you know, nickels and dimes and quarters that I made, and then when I was going through high school, the same thing. You know, I worked. And then when I came to New York I used to send her home even like ten dollars a week when I was here, because it was so important to her.
She was a gambler. She was a 50-cent gambler. And she - we used to bet the milk money when I was growing up.
JC: Did you ask Larry Storch about what you should do? [about going on tv]
NS: Yeah, and Larry - we discussed this a year or so ago when you started on this thing. Larry said, "You do what you want." There was never, Larry never swayed me anyway. Because I was looking, always, when I discussed it with Larry, for some little hint that maybe he would or maybe he wouldn't like me to come out with it. There was never anything. Was all, "You do what you want." And some days I would say, "No, I'm not going to do it. I can't do it. How dare she ask me to do this, you know, when my whole life has been hidden one way and lived one way, and she wants me now to tell everybody? I won't, I won't." Larry would say, "Well, then, don't."
And then, like you wrote me this most poignant letter once, and you said "How can you take other people's side over me, your own flesh and blood?" Which you were referring to a certain group of people that I said I had this - I didn't want them to know about my life. And then I said to Larry, "Oh, I can't do this. I'm going to have guild - always have guilt if I don't do this for her." And Larry would say, "Well then, do it."
And [your brother] Lary May, I fluctuated, I would call him and I'd say, "Well, I am going to do it." And then like another two months, "I'm not going to do it. I've just made up mind, I don't want to do it." And Lary finally said, "Well, why - why did you tell her you were going to do it?" And I said, "Because she wants it so much." And I always felt that it was so vitally important to you, you know, this part of your life, to have your background acknowledged, so here we are.
JC: Tell me about Peggy. How did you settle upon Peggy as the place to leave me?
NS: Well, when I was pregnant with you, we rented her house when I was with Jimmy, and she was a wonderful, wonderful woman.
We rented from her that summer, well, three or four months that Jimmy was appearing in Atlantic City, and she was a wonderful woman. She was so intelligent, articulate, and she was a teacher. She had an aura about her of responsibility and authority, and she wanted children so badly and they'd never been able to have any. So when I had you, she came up to New York to visit you and she took the first pictures of you that were ever taken, and as time went on throughout that first year, I of course wanted to get away from Jimmy and I kept - a lot of times I would go down to Atlantic City and take you and spend time with Peggy when things were very bad with him. You know, just a few days. And she loved you so much. She -you know, absolutely adored you. And over the years, until you were about four, I visited her many times, and then finally, when the time came when I felt that you had to have more life within the black community than the white, because I knew -I mean didn't know where my life was going. I had no idea.
I phoned Peggy one day, and discussed all of this with her and asked her if she would consider taking you, you know. And I said I'll always be there, but she needs to have some background in the blackness within her. She needs to be brought up in a black neighborhood. And with -among black people, where she isn't, you know, ostracized, as she would be in an all-white neighborhood, which you had been from time to time, you know, where we lived.
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." So, we -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, and I took you down, and then that - which was the most difficult thing I've ever done in my life, to give you to her, you know.
And I came home, and I was sick. I got shingles. I mean, I cried every night when I went to bed for months and months and months.