Today’s Generous Soul goes out to Jinny Barrish. (Remember? The Indiegogo Campaign? So we can publish our book? You can be a generous soul, too! CLICK HERE.)
Laura Tompkins was born Geraldine “Jinny” Barrish in 1915 in El Paso, Texas. Her father was a railroader, her mother raised goats in the back yard and gave milk to all the little kids who passed by on their way to school.
Jinny was a cute little kid with huge green eyes and a wicked smile. And she loved to dance. So in 1932 Jinny packed her suitcase and boarded a train headed for Hollywood. She’d never been west of the Rio Grande and she didn’t know a salad fork from a pitchfork, but right from the get-go, Jinny landed on her feet.
“Darling, are you traveling alone?” asked an elderly woman swathed in fur as the train rattled its way across the Arizona desert. Her son, a gangly fellow with a long chin, sat next to them reading the newspaper.
Jinny nodded shyly and offered the woman and her son some goat’s milk.
“I’m going to Hollywood,” Jinny squeaked. “I like to dance.”
“Fritzy! Did you hear that? I think you should help this young lady. Show her around.” Then to Jinny she said proudly, “Fritzy is going to Hollywood to film a movie. The Gay Divorcé. I’m sure he can find a part for you doing something, won’t you, Fritzy?”
And that’s how Jinny Barrish, fresh from Texas, met Fred Astaire.
“You’ll need a new name, of course,” he told her as he helped her off the train. “How about...Laura? Laura Tompkins. You look like a Laura.”
Laura Tompkins spent the 1930’s as a chorus girl in several MGM movies. Don’t look for her in IMDB, however. She was fired from every picture. She just couldn’t stay line. In fact, the only reason she kept getting hired was Fred Astaire’s promise to his mother.
A failure on the silver screen, Laura was Hollywood hit at the parties. Mary Pickford never threw a party without Laura on the guest list. Laura would sit on pianos and belt out “Home on the Range.”
Other notable things about my friend Jinny Barrish:
She and Lauren Bacall used to do doughnuts in the parking lot at MGM in Bogey’s red convertible.
Revlon named a shade of red after her. “Poppy’s Red,” after Laura’s nickname.
Laura never made a batch of cookies that were not burned. Pierre claimed it was so that the fire department would come to the house. Laura threw great parties for the firemen.
She invented the little black dress and then told an up-and-coming Audrey Hepburn, “Wear this. It’ll look good on you. Take my cigarette holder. Hey—anybody got a tiara?”
She had a white Pomeranian named Ingeborg who went everywhere with her. Pierre, Laura’s manservant, would walk seven paces behind them and pick up Ingeborg’s poop. Later Pierre invented the “poop-and-scooper” for dog walkers, made by Remco. You can see infomercials for it on late-night T.V. Pierre’s children have made a fortune through their father’s patent and with the proceeds have set up a charity for celebrity dogs previously owned by Pamela Anderson.
And last but not least, Laura is a generous soul.
Thank you, Laura—I mean—Jinny!