Showgirl Lucille Huntington still a Hoot
you’re a baby boomer, surely you remember the Toni twins beaming
their bewitching smiles from boxes of Toni Home Permanent. But
Lucille Huntington, who was a Toni twin with her identical sister,
Lois, confesses that, although the perms were gentle and never
fried their hair, afterwards, she and Lois would have their hair
professionally coifed for the advertisements. “We were only 16 and
they had us looking like grown-ups.”
Certainly the media haven’t forgotten the twins. “We were on the
front page of USA Today five years ago, where they said the very
best advertising were the Toni twins ads. We still see cutouts of
us in drug stores. It’s funny seeing yourself like that.”
Growing up in Chicago, in a family of eight children, who’d lost
their father, wasn’t easy. “We witnessed Chicago mob activities
and saw bodies stuffed in trash cans. My mother heard the bullets
spray from the Valentines Day Massacre.”
But the duo relentlessly pursued a Hollywood career, sending money
home to Mama. Under contract with Twentieth Century Fox, they
danced and sang their way across the country. “Life magazine did a
big four-page spread on us and we became the toast of New York
Certainly no has-been, Huntington organized follies for the
Monterey Symphony for eight years. She also gathered a group of
mature women, called them The Satin Dolls, and they kicked up
their legs at various fundraisers on the Peninsula for years. Not
to mention, 25 years ago, she rounded up performers and started
the Sonora Train Ride which became so popular that politicians and
VIPs were begging to be on the list.
For the interview, the pert blonde wore a leopard shirt and showed
off stacks of magazines – Life, Parade and Readers Digest - in
which she and Lois were featured. Her Pebble Beach home was filled
with collectibles from around the world, including choo choo
What is your fascination with trains?
A: My father was a union organizer, organizing trains. He called
the first-sit down strike. I always just liked trains.
Q: How did you get into acting?
A: When Dad died, I had to quit high school to work, just before
graduating. A troupe was going through town, from Canada Follies
Gay Paree, that would pay us an unheard-of $17 a week. We had put
our own tap dance routines together. We’d watch the shows put on
for factory workers. We’d sneak up into the rafters and watch the
teacher and we’d go home and practice. We had no formal training.
Q: What was your childhood like?
A: During the Depression, I’d go to school with no food for lunch.
We lived by the railroad track in a big house, and kids said we
were born in barns, since our name was Barnes. I was on the poor
side of town, but the school was on the silk-stocking side. In 9th
grade, my teacher told me to share a locker with Gretchen, a
doctor’s daughter, and she refused to share. It was so
Q: Your work in New York?
A: We knew a rabbi who told us to go to Lou Walters’ nightclub and
audition. We checked into the cheapest motel in town, on 49th
street near Broadway. They said to come over to audition in
rehearsal clothes. We couldn’t afford them, so they gave us $10 to
go get some. We were 16 and you could tell we were country hicks.
We got a job in George White’s Gay White Way – that’s when gay
meant happy. Lou was a really nice man and Barbara (Walters) was
just a little girl running around. Big shots from Manhattan would
come to see us . . . . By the way, my granddaughter is going to be
on TV with Barbara. Anyway, then we went to the Copacabana. Don
Ameche would come every time to see us. He was a real nice man. We
had dinner with him.
Q: So where did you go from there?
A: We appeared in the Cole Porter production, “Something for the
Boys,” dedicated to World War II, and Ethel Merman was the star.
We sang it and stood out in front. Porter loved us. He was the
nicest guy I ever met. When our birthday came, he sent an
individual telegram to my sister and to me.
Q: You actually turned down “Oklahoma!”?
A: Yes. It ran 12 years, the longest running musical on Broadway.
But we didn’t do it because we weren’t sure they’d get the money
to put the show on, and we had to send money home to Mom. We
Q: How did you meet your late husband, Henry Huntington II?
A: We met at a barbecue. Here was this guy with baggy pants, and
the way he was talking was so intelligent that I thought he was a
starving poet. He asked me what I always wanted to do. I said play
the piano. The next morning, two men in white uniforms delivered a
piano and he walked in behind them and started to play. He was
actually a concert musician. I had army cots for sofas and paper
drapes, and here he was a multi-millionaire . . . The headline in
the L.A. Times was, “Pasadena Scion Cohabiting with Showgirl.”
Q: Were you always a show-off?
A: No. Because I was treated so terribly growing up. I used to
pick up coal off the tracks that fell off coal cars. That’s how we
kept warm in winter.
Q: Talk about your Lux soap ads.
A: They called us and said it was hard to find twins that can
sing, dance and talk. They said we’d get Lux the rest of our
lives, and after 20 years, I had so much in my garage I asked them
to stop giving it.
Q: You called yourselves “double trouble.” Ever trick anyone?
A: (hoots) I rented a house in Newport Beach and invited five
couples, including my sister and her husband. We were swimming,
and Lois went up to my room to change. She was stark naked and my
husband walked in and she was yelling and trying to cover herself
up. He thought it was me and said, “What the hell got into you?” I
never heard him swear in my life until then.
Q: Are you and Lois close?
A: Very close. But we’re completely different personalities. I was
always manager of the duo. I always kind of took care of us. She’s
Q: What are the pros and cons of being an identical twin?
A: We learned to get our own lives. I felt like a whole person,
not a half. And I have to admit, being twins in show business drew
a lot of attention to us. They wanted us to do a Doublemint ad but
Lois wasn’t available.
Q: Your wish for the world?
A: That we’d all learn to get along together. We entertained the
troops during WWII, and before they left, they were all happy.
Then they came back in wheelchairs with limbs missing and were so
much more serious . . . I received hundreds of letters from
soldiers who would propose to me.
Q: In what ways are you kicking up your heels at aging?
A: Taking trips. I just came back from a Crystal Cruise on the
known Lucille through the social scene for several years before I
interviewed her in her Pebble Beach home. More than once, I’d seen
her dance on stage at fund-raisers. I marveled at her and her
spunky, over-the-hill dance troupe, The Satin Dolls. I vaguely
remember Lucille in a pink, bunny-style outfit (no ears), kicking
up her fish net covered long legs; a far cry from the prim
expression that beamed back from the Toni Home Permanent box of my
I knew it would be a hoot to interview her. When I’d called her
home to arrange it, her answering machine had this hilarious
message with a tooting train. So I was prepared for the jovial
story of her life.
Well, you’ve read it by now and have learned, as I did, what a
strong and perseverant woman Lucille Huntington is. A girl who
experienced the humiliation of poverty, she set her sights on a
star and became one.
I knew she had to be one of the stars in my book, but I had done
the interview years ago, and had no idea where she was or what she
was up to. At 84, I assumed she’d be retired.
Like so many of the inspirational people in my book, she is still
active in the community and volunteering for a non-profit for the
arts. In her characteristically light-hearted manner, she said her
“older” sister - “by three minutes” - was also doing well, and
they are both virtually unwrinkled.
I took that to mean their skin and their souls.