Emily was born the first of five children. She was a beautiful baby who loved "motion...light...color and music and textures". Her mother, who was only nineteen, raised her "with all the fierce rigidity of first motherhood", nursing her on a schedule like the experts recommended.
Emily's father left before she was a year old, and her mother was forced to leave her with a neighbor, and then with relatives, so she could work. When Emily was two, she was enrolled in nursery school, which she hated. After a couple of years, Emily was again sent away to live with relatives, and when she returned home, she had "a new daddy...to learn to love".
When Emily was five, she caught the measles right at the time her sister Susan was born. Emily did not get well, and was sent to a convalescent home in the country for eight months. She came home a somber child, had difficulties at school, and did not make friends easily, possibly because the family moved so much.
By the time she entered high school, Emily had four younger siblings, including her sister Susan, who was everything Emily was not. Saddled with responsibilities at home and struggling at school, Emily became withdrawn and self-conscious about her looks.
In high school, almost by accident, Emily discovered she had a gift for comedy and acting. Her talent gave her confidence, and although she still had difficulties, she blossomed, and her mother knew, "She (would) find her way".