I really appreciate how everyone worked on this so hard and loved all of the e-mails I received from so many of you describing how Timmy/Shimmy made you look at Old Hollywood in a new light or how it made you look at it for the very first time. Old Hollywood has the best stories, and some of the best characters. I do have one more big blind from that brunch with JJ and also have some old Hollywood stories I can turn into blinds that are much easier to solve.
People say that Timmy/Shimmy couldn’t happen today, but I think it could happen even more easily today. There would be more rumors of course and the internet and people like all of you would make it very difficult, but advances in technology are such that it would be much easier to pull off.
Back in the day when this happened, the press backed off and didn’t report everything they knew. JJ told me that only about ten people know the whole story. I didn’t ask him to name them, but the number doesn’t seem that far off. Could it be more? Sure. I don’t know, and don’t know how anyone can count because 95% of the people who would know are dead.
When this event happened, there was no television. There was only radio and film shorts which were shown only before other films. Stars were not routinely followed and privacy was the norm. Unless a star was a big star or had huge publicity behind them, chances are you would never recognize the person standing next to you in line as an A list actress.
Ultimately this is a story about luck, a parent’s love for their child, fame and compassion.
What made this whole thing possible though was the work of one man who loved his daughter very much and wanted her to succeed. He wanted to give her everything. He especially wanted to give here everything he could because she had been really sick, and although doing better now, he was very afraid of a relapse. His daughter was always getting sick throughout her life and was constantly breaking bones in her legs and feet. She had at least one known trip to a mental institution following a nervous breakdown and therefore he always did his best to take care of his beloved daughter.
One night, this father went to see a show that a friend of his owned and the friend wanted to sell a piece of the show. The father went, not expecting much but was entranced by what he saw in the performance of a very young actress and decided he had to meet this wonderful woman. When the father went backstage to introduce himself, he discovered that the enchanting actress was actually a man. He further learned that this man had the uncanny knack of being able to mimic almost anyone within a few minutes of meeting them. An idea began to form in our father’s mind, but at that point it was just an idea.
A few weeks went by and our father’s daughter was complaining she wasn’t feeling well and would have to drop out of a film on which she was supposed to begin shooting. His daughter had to drop out of several films because of illness, but wondered if something could be done about it.
The father tracked down our mimic/actor aka Timmy and talked to the actor about possibly becoming an actress rather than the actor he was. It’s not known what was said by the father or if he revealed his whole plan at that time, but what our actor did was start doing shows as a woman with the help of the father. The father knew every theatre owner in the country and got them to take on this new talent and that of course the father would owe the owner a favor in the future.
The father wanted Timmy to play a variety of different women and not just concentrate on one look or style, but wanted Timmy to try and get an idea of the many different characters and personalities a woman would be asked to portray. Timmy would be one name one week and then another name the next.
In early 1934, our father got Timmy a screen test as a woman. He wanted to see if what he saw in Timmy live translated onto the screen. Timmy was amazing as a woman and had Timmy mimic several different women including Shimmy. He was amazing. They even looked a great deal alike when they were dressed similarly. The only problem our father could see, was the nose. Something had to be done about the nose.
From that point forward, Timmy became a woman when in public. He put Timmy in a house that one of his mistresses lived in and JJ’s future wife. Often Timmy would spend time with Shimmy, usually as a man but sometimes as a woman, especially when he visited her on set. Timmy who could mimic someone after five minutes of knowing them was like Shimmy’s twin after spending hour and hours conversing and spending two or three days at a time at her home.
The first real test came in a film called The Gay Divorcee which starred Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. In what could be explained as a joke if it went awry, Timmy made his first appearance as Shimmy. Timmy did one scene which was a group scene, but it’s unknown if it made it into the film. After spending time with Shimmy, Timmy knew that Shimmy was sick. She would have good days and bad, and also for some reason was always breaking bones which everyone knew and expected from her. Breaking a nose wasn’t a big deal at all. It would just be intentional.
Over the next two years, whenever Shimmy was sick, instead of having to call in sick or not even being able to do a film, Timmy would step in. It really wasn’t that hard. People were used to Shimmy being ill and looking unusual. Remember Shimmy was never a very healthy woman in the very best of circumstances, very rarely a lead, and Timmy was so good that each would seamlessly slip in and out as needed.
In 1935 Metropolitan was made and Timmy met the man he would call his friend and lover for a few years as well as confidant. Cesar Romero played opposite Timmy/Shimmy and perhaps saw something in his own personality because he quietly confronted Shimmy. If he had confronted Timmy, Timmy may very well have let it all out of the bag. Shimmy on the other hand explained how she needed help sometimes with work and everything in her life. Her appeal must have worked, because Timmy and Cesar became very close when introduced. I don’t know if Cesar and Timmy went out as two men or as a man and a woman.
In 1936, My Man Godfrey was filmed and for much of that film and the next three done, the majority of the work was done by Shimmy, although Timmy did contribute to each.
In 1937 Shimmy looked at all the commitments she had lined up and knew she couldn’t do it without Timmy. Timmy agreed to help as much as possible but wanted to see if he could make it as a man in film because he was allegedly a little jealous at the attention Shimmy received for My Man Godfrey. While filming In Old Chicago, Shimmy got very sick again very suddenly and at that point the filming was too far along to stop. It’s at this point that more people became aware of Shimmy/Timmy although as I said it’s possible they had been letting people in on the secret prior to this. The director and producer both became aware of the situation and became very accommodating to letting Timmy take every shot that wasn’t a close-up, but in the end even gave him several of those as well. Both Timmy and Shimmy are in the film.
Over the course of the year the acting Timmy did was in direct correlation to how Shimmy was feeling.
When it came to Academy Awards time, Shimmy was nominated and decided to bring Timmy with her. Timmy at that time had moved out of the house he had been living in and had a place of his own although he did share it with a male lover. In those days, the Academy Awards were broadcast on radio and the winners were known in advance. In one instance, the LA Times even published the names of the winners before the broadcast. That year though, the Academy Awards were delayed by a week due to flooding like LA had never seen before and during that time Shimmy broke her ankle and was also very ill. She decided she wasn’t going to attend, and Timmy decided that he wasn’t going also as he hadn’t really wanted to go. His body was breaking out in hives because of the stress of award season and Shimmy’s insistence that he accompany her everywhere and as a man and her delight in thinking of it as one big game while he was afraid people would find out about him, the fact he was gay and ruin him. There was no way he was going to the Academy Awards alone.
At this point, this all becomes pure speculation. Timmy did have a ticket to the Awards and it is believed that his male lover at the time really was start struck and wanted to go. He knew the story and knew for sure that Shimmy and Timmy wouldn’t be there. He went to the awards ceremony and when the winner was announced knew that no one would be there to pick it up, decided to pick it up himself. You would like to think he gave it to Timmy or Shimmy, but as far as we know he didn’t, if in fact it was him who picked it up. There was no award found in Timmy’s possessions when he died. There are two versions of what the Academy did after. One is that Shimmy never got her award and the other is that the Academy gave her another two weeks later.
Timmy’s hives wouldn’t go away and although he spent a great deal of time with Shimmy as she got more and more ill, he never acted again as Shimmy, and in fact all of his roles in later years he wore a tremendous amount of makeup as his hives would sometimes return.
When Shimmy went back to New York in a valiant effort to get medical treatment for her cancer, Timmy said goodbye to someone who was a part of him in more ways than one. Shimmy died a few weeks later, and Timmy went on with his life and as far as I know never mentioned it to anyone again.
There is a rumor that Shimmy's father tried to recreate this scenario again in 1949 when he cast his daughter Barbara opposite his wife in one play and one play only. No one is really sure if it was his daughter although she did win a Theatre World Award for her performance. William Brady, the father that made all this possible died just ten days after the play opened.