Julia Roberts represents a return to the glamour of the great Hollywood stars of another era. Fans flock to her movies, and she's a staple cover subject of People magazine and every entertainment show imaginable, but her real life has only been seen in tabloid glimpses until now. James Spada has gone back to Julia's beginnings in Athens, Georgia to unearth fascinating facts about her family and her early dating life. And he's followed her career from movie to movie-both on screen and behind the screen-to show fans what the private face of Julia really is.
As an artist, Julia has changed dramatically from the talented but sheltered girl who found fame first with a role in the independent movie "Mystic Pizza" and became the exuberant star whose "Pretty Woman" delighted audiences everywhere before becoming an Oscar-winning actress capable of taking on the toughest roles. As a person, she's grown from a skittish and gangly girl moving through relationships with co-stars to become an assured woman making her own bold decisions about how to live her life.
Julia will delight fans with its level of detail and fresh information, as well as its thoughtfulness about the life and career of a truly vibrant and complex star.
|Publisher:||St. Martin's Publishing Group|
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About the Author
James Spada is a writer and photographer whose nineteen books have included bestselling biographies of Grace Kelly, Peter Lawford, Bette Davis and Barbra Streisand. Spada has also created pictorial biographies of John and Caroline Kennedy, Ronald Reagan and Jackie Onassis, among others. He lives in Natick, Massachusetts.
James Spada is a writer and photographer whose many books have included bestselling biographies of Grace Kelly, Peter Lawford, Bette Davis and Barbra Streisand. Spada has also created pictorial biographies of John and Caroline Kennedy, Ronald Reagan and Jackie Onassis, among others. He lives in Natick, Massachusetts.
Read an Excerpt
THE ROBERTSES OF ATLANTA
"I come from a real touchy family. A lotta hugging, a lotta kissing, a lotta love."
"Julia is in denial."
"Well, if that don't beat a goose a-gobblin'!" exclaimed Jimmie Glen Roberts on Christmas Day 1933 when she heard the news that her twenty-eight-year-old son, Walter Thomas Roberts and his wife, the former Beatrice Beal, had had their first child, a boy they named Walter Grady. Walter would grow up to be the father of Julia Roberts.
The fifty-five-year-old Jimmie Glen, Née Corbitt, was herself no stranger to childbirth. Between her marriage to the strapping six-foot-tall Florala, Alabama-born farmer John Pendleton (J. P.) Roberts on December 13, 1899, and her second stillbirth in a row in 1923 (when she was forty-five), the feisty four-foot-eleven redheaded Irish-Scottish woman had borne nine children.
Baby Walter, of Irish, Scottish, and Welsh extraction on his father's side and English-Scottish extraction on his mother's, was J.P. and Jimmie Glen's fourteenth grandchild, and they would have seven more. Walter's cousin Glenda Beard recalled that the Robertses were a big but "very close-knit family, and they were a very honorable and Christian kind of family." Another cousin, Gloria Jones, recalled that "by the time my great-grandmother died, there were ninety-six of us [in and around Atlanta]."
All the Robertses, with the exception of Walter's parents and two aunts, lived within walking distance of one another in downtown Atlanta. Walter's father, whom everyone called Tom, lived with his family on Belleview Avenue in the rural West Fulton area of Atlanta. In 1933 America was in the grip of the Great Depression, and while Tom was never unemployed, there wasn't a lot of extra money to go around. "Their home was very small," Gloria recalled. "It had only three rooms. A huge kitchen--I guess what you'd call a keeping room--with a fireplace and a stove. That room was nice, but the living room and the bedroom were just tiny. The children [Walter was joined by a sister, Shirley,in 1942] slept in the kitchen." They did not have a telephone. "If you wanted to talk to somebody, you went to their house."
Tom Roberts loved horses and kept several on his property. After his retirement in the 1960s, he bought land across the street from his house and opened a riding academy that boasted more than a dozen horses. (It was there that his granddaughter Julia learned to ride.)
According to Gloria, Tom, his son, Walter, and his grandson Eric Roberts all look very much alike. "I saw Eric on TV the other night, and it was Walter made over. Julia can do it, too. When she acts like she's mad or upset, she can get that look that her dad and her granddad could get."
Walter's mother, Beatrice, Gloria felt, was not a particularly warm woman, "but she was sweet as she could be if you came to her house. She'd bake chocolate, she'd cook, whatever, but she didn't come to your house. She never bothered anybody. She was just a very quiet homebody. She was good with her children. They worshiped her."
Tom Roberts supported his family by working at the same job for forty-six years--first as a truck driver and then as a supervisor for the Driveway Company, Inc., a paving concern. "He supervised construction crews that did custom cement work on some of the biggest and finest homes in Atlanta," Gloria recalled. "They did driveways that looked like they were made of pine straw, but they were cement."
Glenda Beard remembered Tom Roberts as "a very hard worker. Kind of a macho-type person. He had rigid opinions about what a man should be." Gloria agreed: "I never saw Uncle Tom in anything but work shirt and jeans. He was very conservative. He believed that you went to work, you stayed with the same company, you didn't complain. And if you didn't do that, something was wrong with you."
As far as Tom Roberts was concerned, there was something wrong with his son, Walter. As the boy grew up, it became clear that he was nothing like his father; rather, he displayed the sensitivity and artistic temperament of the creative soul. Tom Roberts didn't think there was any future in that sort of thing for a young man.
"Walter had a brilliant mind and a delightful personality," Glenda recalled. "He was different--that was kind of the family name for him. Walter liked everything. He liked art, he liked music, he liked clothes. There wasn't enough that he could get into. Like most brilliant people, Walter got bored easily. I think that's why he was always into something different."
Another relative, Lucille Roberts, felt that Walter was effeminate, andrecalled that he "played with dolls as a boy and was a little bit of a 'sissy boy.'" But Glenda disagreed: "I don't think he had a feminine quality. [When he got older] he did dress differently. He liked to wear black turtlenecks. Maybe a little bit tighter clothes, a European cut on his jackets, that kind of thing. Kind of artsy."
It was clear to his family by the time he was a teenager that "artsy" described Walter Roberts exactly. "He was the first person I ever saw wear an ascot!" Gloria said. At West Fulton High School, "he was a real avant-garde type," who loved writing and theater. "I remember going to family reunions, and we'd have to act out little plays that Walter made up. He wouldn't write anything down, he'd just tell you what he wanted you to do. He was always the star, always the main character. Walter could sing and play the piano. His daddy did let him take piano lessons."
By the time Walter and Gloria were teenagers in the late 1940s, the Robertses had been settled in Atlanta for four generations. "We had uncles on the police force and a cousin in the fire department," Gloria said. "We couldn't go anywhere that someone wasn't calling my parents and saying, 'I saw so-and-so at so-and-so.'" Unlike most of their relatives, the Tom Robertses were not a particularly religious family. "I don't remember them ever going to church except a couple of times when we were at our grandparents' and we'd go with them," Gloria said.
By the time he was eighteen, Walter Roberts had grown to five foot ten. He cut an arresting figure, and not just because of his ascots and European-cut clothes. His wavy jet-black hair crowned a chiseled, high-cheekboned face set with blazing dark eyes. (Roberts family lore has it that somewhere in the past, a Cherokee entered their gene pool.) Although he hadn't been particularly athletic as a boy, his frame was lean and solid. "The girls loved Walter," Gloria recalled. "Every girl I knew in my high school who didn't have a steady boyfriend wanted to go out with him. And I got them dates with him."
In December 1951, just before his eighteenth birthday, Walter was graduated from West Fulton High School. He found himself at a crossroads. Tom wanted him to join the paving business, or at least get a similar good, steady job that would help him support a family and live the kind of rock-solid life his parents had enjoyed for twenty years. Walter longed to go to college; his mind roiled with the prospect of immersion in everything from theater to psychology to English. His father would have none of it.
"Tom thought Walter was too intellectual!" Gloria recounted incredulously. "He didn't want him to go to college, and he definitely didn'twant him to get involved in theater. That was just not what a man did." Tom refused to pay any of the costs of sending Walter to college, and father and son frequently battled over the issue. Since both had hot tempers, the fights often turned nasty. "They crossed swords often," said Gloria. "Tom could cuss like hell, and he didn't mind doing it."
Finally Tom relented, but he still refused to help his son out financially. Secret funding from Beatrice and a scholarship allowed Walter, in March 1952, to enroll at Emory University's Emory College of Arts and Sciences. The Methodist school, founded in 1836 and racially segregated until 1963, was situated on more than one hundred acres in Druid Hills, a suburb fifteen minutes from Atlanta. Walter lived in one of the makeshift plywood-and-tar-paper barracks that had been built to temporarily accommodate the influx of GI Bill students after World War II, when the school's enrollment nearly tripled in three years.
Walter proved to be something of a Renaissance man in college. Despite his overarching interest in the arts, his major area of study was psychology, and he joined the Omega Psi Phi fraternity. He also studied drama and joined the Emory Players and the Atlanta Theater Guild. He appeared in a number of plays, including Desire Under the Elms, Life with Father, and Ah, Wilderness! He joined the nearby Agnes Scott College's BlackFriars theater troupe, the oldest in Atlanta. (Emory's almost all-male student body supplied men for the all-women Scott College's productions.)
Walter met most of the girls he dated through the BlackFriars. On a number of occasions he went out for a night on the town with his cousin Gloria and his college roommate. "Walter loved girlie shows!" Gloria recalled. "He and his roommate--who was more fun than a barrel of monkeys and looked like Buddy Hackett--would egg the girls on and get the biggest kick out of it. They'd clap their hands and yell 'Go!' and things like that. I thought it was awful. They laughed at me and thought I was so naive."
Walter left Emory after eleven months. Gloria felt he did so because of poor grades. "He was just having too much fun and not concentrating on his studies. It was his first time away from home, and he was sowing his wild oats."
On March 12, 1953, Walter joined the air force, mainly to take advantage of the GI Bill. He still wanted an education, despite his apparent lack of attention to his studies at Emory. After ten weeks of basic training at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, Texas, Walter was transferred to Keesler AFB in the hot and humid Gulf Coast city ofBiloxi, Mississippi. He served in the medical corps, first as a student, then as a helper, and finally as a medical administration specialist.
Walter Roberts chafed at military life; he was not a man who enjoyed being told what to do, and he had already developed a well-honed sense of intellectual superiority. Still, he won a Good Conduct Medal and a National Defense Service Medal. Mainly he stuck it out for the sake of his education, and there were compensations. He won a short-story-writing contest the base held, and he decided to audition for a part in the Keesler production of the George S. Kaufman and Moss Hart play George Washington Slept Here. He not only won the role, he also won the heart--and the hand in marriage--of the play's vivacious blond ingenue, Betty Lou Bredemus.
By 1954, Betty Lou had spent most of her twenty years longing to be a performer. Born in Minneapolis on Monday, August 13, 1934, she was the second child of thirty-year-old Wendell John Bredemus--a native of Minneapolis and a former football star and coach at the University of Minnesota--and the former Elizabeth Ellen Billingsley, thirty-six, born in Indianapolis. A brother, John, had been born in May 1927. Her paternal grandmother was born Eleanor Johnson in Sweden on April 30, 1882, and emigrated to the United States in 1900. She settled in Minneapolis, married a butcher, John Bredemus, in 1903, and a year later gave birth to Betty Lou's father, Wendell John.
In the midst of the Great Depression, Wendell Bredemus's career as a salesman forced him to relocate his family twelve times in search of work. Betty Lou attended ninth grade at Austin High School in Austin, Minnesota, a "one-horse town" a hundred miles south of Minneapolis whose main claim to fame, the Hormel meat company, brought it the nickname "SPAMtown." In 1950 Betty Lou transferred to another school in Excelsior, fifteen miles southwest of Minneapolis, for tenth and eleventh grade. She returned to Austin High for her senior year and graduation.
One of her classmates, Barbara Gaddis, remembered Betty Lou Bredemus as a pretty, blue-eyed, blond-haired girl, "a little on the short side and a little on the chunky side. She was attractive, with beautiful eyes. Her eyes and her smile are so much like Julia's."
Despite her two-year absence from Austin, Betty quickly resumed her place and took part in school and social activities. She joined the chorus and the school's drama group, Dirk & Bobble, appearing in theirproductions You Can't Take It with You by Kaufman and Hart and A Murder Has Been Arranged by Emlyn Williams. Betty Lou also wrote for the school newspaper, The Sentinel, reporting on the club activities of her classmates. Barbara was the paper's editor and recalled that Betty was "very reliable. She was a quiet person, but she could be a bit dramatic. I guess that was the theatrical part of her."
Betty Lou was graduated from Austin High in the spring of 1952. That summer she joined a stock company in northern Minnesota and appeared in a number of plays, including A Date with Judy, The Hasty Heart, and Deep Are the Roots. In September she returned to Austin and went to junior college, majoring in dramatic arts, her sights set firmly on a professional career as an actress. But later that year, her father became ill and could no longer work. "The money for college sort of disappeared," Betty recalled. Her father passed away three years later.
Her brother, John, seven years older, had served as a navy pilot and got his college education with the help of the GI Bill. It was he who suggested that Betty do the same. She chose the air force, signed up for two years, and arrived at Lackland AFB in San Antonio, Texas, for her basic training on August 27, 1953. In less than three months, she was transferred to Chanute Air Force Base in Rantoul, Illinois. (She and Walter Roberts missed serving together at Lackland by about a month.) On April 1, 1954, she received her final assignment, to Keesler AFB, where her background in theater brought her to special services, a division of personnel that oversaw entertainment for the servicemen, produced everything from variety shows to sports events, and ran the Service Club and the library, where Betty worked.
Betty earned a National Defense Service Medal during her hitch, but she never considered making the military a career. What she enjoyed most were the base's theatrical productions, most of which she tried out for. "This was a great experience, and I enjoyed every minute of it," she recalled. "I probably learned the most about acting when I worked with Rance Howard."
In March 1955 she auditioned for a part in Keesler's production of George Washington Slept Here. Howard, the show's director, had met Betty a year before at Chanute's Service Club, and he was delighted to learn that she had also been transferred. In her first year at Keesler, she and Howard worked together on such plays as Command Decision, The Voice of the Turtle, and My Three Angels.
"She was an attractive, sweet young WAF," Rance Howard recalled. "Very pleasant, a nice young woman. She seemed very lively and outgoing,always upbeat, with a big smile." In the Keesler production of Command Decision, Betty was cast in a role originally written for a man in the all-male World War II army air force drama. In George Washington Slept Here, she played Rina Leslie, half of a young dating couple in the play.
To play her boyfriend, Howard chose Walter Roberts, whom he had not met before. "He was handsome and clean-cut, very personable and very talented. He gave a terrific reading, a cold reading. He had enthusiasm and obviously was experienced, so I cast him. I really enjoyed working with him." Howard found Betty just as enthusiastic. "I called a rehearsal once for early Sunday morning, and Walter and Betty were the first to arrive. That was pretty impressive."
They may have gotten up together, because shortly into rehearsals, Howard had noticed they were a twosome in real life, not just onstage. "They made a very attractive couple," he recalled. By the time Betty finished basic training, she had a lovely buxom figure. It was one of the first things Walter Roberts noticed about her.
As they rehearsed their roles, their mutual passion for theater became evident. But while Betty's dream was to be an actress, Walter wanted to be a writer. He had won that writing contest at Keesler, and, he told Betty, he was working on several plays. Although Rance Howard found him a good actor, Walter was dismissive of the breed. "Actors are mindless," he reportedly told Betty, which couldn't have pleased her. What undoubtedly did please her was to look at Walter Roberts's handsome face, to stare into his hypnotic dark eyes, and hear him wax eloquent about the joys of the artistic life in his basso-profundo voice.
For over a year, Walter (whom Betty Lou called Rob), Betty Lou, Rance, and his wife of seven years, Jean, also an actor, worked in plays together at USO facilities around the Southeast. "We toured with a couple of shows," Howard recalled. "I know we went to Pensacola, Florida, and did Voice of the Turtle, which was only a three-character play and thus easy to move around--there wasn't much scenery. Jean and Betty and I were in that."
Only a matter of months after they met, Walter and Betty Lou decided to get married. At the home of another librarian on the base, the Reverend Victor Augsburger of Biloxi's First Presbyterian Church united the not yet twenty-one-year-old Betty Lou Bredemus and the twenty-one-year-old Walter Grady Roberts as husband and wife on July 1, 1955. Looking at their wedding picture years later, their daughter Julia exclaimed, "They look like babies! My dad, he's so skinny, my momjust looks so beautiful, but they both look terrified!" Rance and Jean Howard didn't attend the wedding because he had taken advantage of a lengthy leave to appear in the film Frontier Woman, along with Jean and their eighteen-month-old son, Ron.1
Less than a month after the wedding, Betty received her discharge from the air force. She continued to live on base with Walter, who still had two years to serve. Six weeks after the marriage, the couple learned that Betty was pregnant. On April 18, 1956, she gave birth to a small but healthy boy she and Walter named Eric Anthony.
On January 21, 1957, Walter's active military service came to an end. He received his discharge papers, collected his mustering-out pay, packed up his car, and headed with his wife and son to Louisiana. It was time for him to again pursue his dream of a college education and a career as a writer. He chose New Orleans's Tulane University, one of the South's preeminent schools. With credit for his year at Emory, he entered Tulane's College of Arts and Sciences as a sophomore for the spring term of 1957, with English literature and psychology as his major areas of concentration. The Roberts family lived on campus, in the Stadium Place apartments/dormitories. Rob attended classes for four straight terms--spring, summer, fall of 1957, and spring of 1958--then took a summer off and returned for the fall 1958 and spring 1959 terms.
To help support the family, Betty worked as an office clerk for an insurance company, then as a salesclerk in a chess and game shop in the French Quarter. In the spring of 1958, she began taking evening courses at Tulane's University College as a "special student," concentrating on English literature. Walter studied writing at Tulane, wrote short stories and poetry, and in 1959 created a Saturday-morning television series for children, Creole Capers, that aired on New Orleans's WDSU-TV.
The Robertses' life in New Orleans ended abruptly when Rob angrilywithdrew from Tulane within two terms of earning a degree. "He had a great deal of animosity toward the professors," Betty recalled, "and was convinced there was nothing more they could teach him." His temper and his sense of superiority had gotten the better of him.
Pining for Georgia, Walter relocated his family in Decatur, an Atlanta suburb, where they moved into a small apartment complex on Scott Boulevard in 1960. Over the next five years, while Betty worked in the publicity department of Emory, Walter held a series of jobs that he invariably left after disputes with his bosses. He sold milk for the Atlanta Dairies Co-op, did publicity for Atlanta's Academy Theater, and built scenery for the Harrington Scenic and Lighting Studio.
"Walter Roberts was one of the most charming people I've ever met," Frank Wittow, the Academy Theater's director, told journalist Aileen Joyce. "He was very dynamic, very verbally adept, and, since he had some background in theater, he seemed well suited for the position." Wittow, however, came to feel that his new employee "had other interests" and did not devote enough time to his duties. Walter angered Wittow by staging an ill-advised publicity stunt involving a stolen painting and left the theater after less than a year. "He was very bright, and he was king, as far as his family was concerned," Wittow said. "But he was somewhat manipulative, and I felt he had some emotional problems."
Walter's stint at Harrington didn't last much longer. Charles Walker, who later became the studio's owner, recalled that "he was kind of like a butterfly. He seemed to want to dig in, but then he'd fly away ... . He was all right unless you crossed him. He was a bit pompous, and I remember he got on Mr. Harrington's nerves."
Walter's cousin Gloria Jones recalled that he also worked as a maître d' and as a waiter in the early 1960s, but he never kept any job for very long. "Walter could be a jackass. He had a very hot temper, and if he didn't like you, he let you know it. He got along much better with children than he did with adults."
JULIA: HER LIFE. Copyright © 2004 by James Spada. All rights reserved.