Virginia Hewitt

Virginia_Hewitt1

Virginia Hewitt was an incredibly beautiful model who never made it in Hollywood. Same old same old? Yes, but she was one of the few lucky ones who got their big break on TV, landing a role in a highly popular series of the 1950s, and later branched into other venues.

EARLY LIFE:

Virginia Hewitt was born on November 28, 1925, in Shreveport, Louisiana to Leland James Hewitt and Ethel Roloson. She was the youngest of three children: her older sister Etheda was born in 1920, her older brother, James, in 1923.

The family moved quite a bit during her childhood, and were living in Ada, Pontotoc, Oklahoma in 1930. They moved to rural Missouri in the mid 1930s, and by 1940, they were living in Louisiana, Pike, Missouri, where Virginia attended high school.

A stunningly beautiful girl with a perfectly sculpted face and an elegant bearing, it was no surprise that she chose to become a model. She started modeling upon graduation, and moved to Kansas City, Missouri . She dabbled as an actress in small theatrical production on the side. It was during  ashow that a talent scout approached Virginia and asked her to try her hand in Tinsel Town. In 1947, she and her sister left for Hollywood.

CAREER:

Although she was uncredited in My Dear Secretary, Virginia actually had a decent role in it, appearing in about three scenes and her character actually had at least a marginal importance in the film. Virginia was so beautiful that my breath stopped when the camera followed the contours her face – so perfectly sculpted, like a Venus statue!

VirginiaHewitt2Anyway, My Dear secretary is a nicely done, funny battle of the sexes comedy with some great acting bits. The star of the movie are not the leads (although they very much charming), but Keenan Wynn, who has all the best one liners and delivers them with a impeccable comic timing. The man is  a genius, to put in succinctly.

It was that role that brought her to the attention of producer Mike Moser, who was about to bring a space adventure to the small screen. Soon, she was signed to appear on Space Patrol, her claim to fame. Virginia played Carol Karlyle, daughter of the Secretary General of the United Planets who, when she wasn’t helping Corey (portrayed by World War II flier Ed Kemmer) battle an assortment of evil-doers in the 30th Century, was trying to lure him into matrimony. It remains by far her most popular role.

The series opened  a few new doors for her, both in movies and TV. She appeared in The Flying Saucer, a low budget, very trashy B class 1950s SF about flying saucers in Alaska. Need I say more? This movie was not meant to be a good one, and of course it’s not even close to being one. This mind numbing feast is not for those who want some quality entertainment. Virginia has a small role at that, so it’s not even worth watching to see her pretty face.

Bowery Battalion, featuring the Bowery brothers, is a much better fare, and a real example of how low budget movies can actually turn good despite the lack of funding. The People Against O’Hara, a solid Spencer Tracy movie, was her last foray into Hollywood.

Virginia got married and quit acting for the time being. She only had a brief foray into episodic roles in the UK in the early 1970s – The GuardiansThirty-Minute Theatre and Adam Smith are mostly forgotten series today. Virginia never acted after that.

PRIVATE LIFE:

Unlike many starlets, Virginia was not a newspaper staple in the late 1940s when she crashed Hollywood, and got no media recognition whatsoever until her Space Patrol days. There is little information about her in the papers and just a few photos.

VirginiaHewitt3As far as her talents go, Virginia was an amateur writer who wrote articles and even got published several times in some papers and magazines. Hertrue dream when she came to the West coast was to become an writer first and actress second.

Virginia was described several times by her co stars as a ladylike, elegant woman who was nice to everybody, but always at a distance, not too friendly, and with a touch of an ice queen about her. Her cool blonde looks complimented that image well.

Virginia started dating her Space Patrol co star, Lyn Osborne, in early 1952. Osborne was often connected to other actresses in the media (to Piper Laurie, Rita Moreno, Barbara Withing, model Christine Marlowe and the list went on) but Virginia was his one true lady love, and he fell like a ton of bricks for her.

Yet, the story did not continue the as one would expect. Instead of getting married to Lyn, Virginia met and was swept of her feet by Ernest Meer, a Viennese born architect working as interior designer for the rich and famous Californians. Virginia soon left Lyn to be with Ernst – Lyn took the blow extra hard. There was some tension on the set due to this – Lyn verbally lashing out on her and Virginia hiding behind a cold exterior to hide her distress. Luckily, they managed more or less a professional front and the filming continued without a hitch after the first few tiffs.

Despite the bitter sweet ending of their relationship, Virginia cared deeply for Lyn for the rest of her days, saving all of his love letters, notes and photos of them together in a special memory box. Eventually they resumed their friendship, and she was devastated upon his early death in 1958 after an unsuLyngunccessful operation.

She and Meer married on December 31, 1953, and she used the artistic talent to help him in business. The two then began to design some of the better-known chandeliers around Los Angeles, including the spectacular one in the Cecil B. DeMille Room at the old Hollywood Brown Derby. They owned the world famous Courant showroom.

Virginia and Meer divorced in the 1970s. Virginia never married again, and lived for a brief time in the UK before returning to Los Angeles.  Meer married Patricia V. Font in 1981, divorced her in 1985, and married Irina K Maleeva in 1985.

Virginia Hewitt Meer died on July 21, 1986, in Los Angeles, California from cancer. Meer died in 1987.

Barbara Barondess

 

Barbara Barondess

Barbara Barondess is one of those people whose life story can easily serve as a movie script. A versatile, vivacious woman who gave up movies for marriage – as most of the girls did – she nonetheless rose again as a prominent interior decorator and acting coach. Quite a feat for someone who was born in 1907!

EARLY LIFE:

Barbara Barondess was born on July 4, 1907, in New York City, to Benjamin Brandes and his wife, the former Stella Sirkis. She came from a wealthy Russian Jewish family which made it’s fortune in lumber trade. The family moved back to Russia after being persuaded by Barbara’s grandfather. They lived in Shitomir, Ukraine, where her younger sister, Rosalie , was born in 1911. Hard times befell on the family in 1914 when the Russian revolution stated – they were both Jews and capitalists. Her father was shot in the throat the same day Barbara was shot in the shoulder. He survived due to an emergency operation, but was unable to speak normally for the rest of his life.

Her sister Lucienn was born on May 16, 1919. Afterwards, the family fled to Poland where Benjamin and Barbara were arrested and imprisoned. Barbara was eventually released and joined her mother and two sisters (who had crossed the border separately). Her father remained in custody for close to a year and a half while the family struggled to prove that Barbara was an American citizen. Her mother argued to authorities that at the time she and her husband were born, the Ukraine was part of Poland and therefore they were Polish citizens. Eventually, the family was allowed to leave for the United States.

They settled in New York where the girls attended school – Barbara went to Erasmus High School.  She started working in a bank at the age of 16. While working by day, Barbara attended night classes at New York University. At the age of 19, she entered a beauty contest and won the title of “Miss Greater New York” which in turn led to a role in the stage play Gay Paree . Barondess went on to appear on Broadway in a handful of parts, including Crime (1927) and, most notably, the ingénue role in Topaze (1929), . The recognition she received from these plays landed her a chance to try her luck in Hollywood in the mid 1920s.

CAREER:

Barbara Barondess 5Barabra appeared in several silent movies, All AboardSummer BachelorsThe Sorrows of SatanThe Reckless Lady , A Kiss for Cinderella but made no splashes in the sea of Hollywood starlets, warranting her no fame nor fortune.

Her career really started in 1932, when she made her sound movie debut in Rasputin and the Empress. Notable mostly for getting the colorful Barrymore family in one movie, it’s still a stodgy, over the top piece of work with a totally distorted history. Her second feature was Luxury Liner, an interesting if flawed account of a passengers aboard a (yep, you guessed it), a luxury liner!

Sadly Barbara’s next two features, Soldiers of the Storm and When Strangers Marry are very hard to get and moslty considered lost today, so we have no idea what kind of movies they are. Barbara had a credited role in Hold Your Man, a Clark Gable/Jean Harlow movie. This one is an unusual one – what starts as a typical rom com with Gable as a con man and Jean as a gun moll turns into a touching drama about life choices and change. Harlow is superb in the movie, as a woman who undergoes a major transformation, never an easy feast for any actor playing such roles. The Devil’s Mate, her next movie, is considered lost.

Barbara Barondess3Queen Christina is such a tour de force movie that it needs no introduction for anyone at least marginally interested in classic movies. Barbra continued appearing in credited roles, but small ones and in small movies. Eight Girls in a Boat, made just months before the code went into effect, dealt with teenage pregnancy and had a charming female lead in Dorothy Wilson, a WAMPAS Baby Star. Unknown Blonde is a movie about a con man who almost frames his own daughter (unknowingly, of course). The movie is worth watching if nothing than for Edward Arnold, a fine actor, in the lead role. Change of Heart was a level up for Barbara, as a gentle slice of life drama about young people starting their professional lives in New York. It’s interesting see and contrast it with the way New York functions today in movies and series. The movie also features the perennial movie couple, Janet Gaynor and Charles Farrell.  Beggar’s Holiday is a lost movie about a woman falling in love with an embezzler.

The Fountain has an impressive cast (Brian Aherne, Paul Lukas, Ann Harding) but not much else going for it – as an adaptation of a stage piece, it’s stilted, formulaic and often too slow. A must for Ann Harding fans (I love the actress, she was such a kind but strong personality) but hardy recommended for anyone else. The Pursuit of Happiness is a happy-go-lucky, charming movie with Charles Lederer in the lead.

Barbara downgraded to uncredited roles after that. The Merry Widow is a Lubitsch classic, but not worth a notch for her career. Life Begins at Forty is a mild movie, a perfect showcase for the comedic talents of Will Rogers. People Will Talk is another comedy, this time with Charles Ruggles/Mary Boland comedy duo, dealing with martial squabbles in a lighthearted way.  Diamond Jim is a very good biographical film – no wonder, when you have Edward Arnold and Jean Arthur in the leads and Preston Sturges as the director! A Tale of Two Cities, from 1935, still remains the best adaptation of Dicken’s classic novel, in large part thanks to Ronald Colman impeccably playing the dual  main roles.

BarbaraBarondess2Barbara managed to revive her career enough to get credited roles again. Easy Money gave her a meaty roles of a bride trying to set her wayward husband straight. The film is is a crime movie with an unusually intricate plot dealing with insurance fraud, not something Hollywood covers every day. Sadly, it remains one of many well made but obscure movies from the 1930s. Lady Be Careful, her next feature, is another movie completely forgotten today. The Plot Thickens is a delightful detective movie with the Inspector Piper/Hildegarde Withers sleuthing team.  James Gleason plays the Inspector, and is matched every step of the way by the indomitable Zasu Pitts playing Miss Withers. There is plenty of 1930s dry humor and wit in this one!

Make a Wish is a type of a movie Deanna Durbin excelled in – with a juvenile lead whose mischievous nature pushed him/her into various adventures and misadventures, mostly concerning their matchmaking skills. Instead of Deanna we have child star Bobby Breen, and the objects of his matchmaking are his widowed mother, playing by soprano Marion Claire (her only film role) and Basil Rathbone (known today as the ultimate Sherlock Holmes)Fit for a King is a good enough comedy with Joe E. Brown and Paul Kelly as the funny guy/straight guy pair.

Barbara left her pursuit of movie stardom afterwards, and made only one feature, Emergency Squad, a solid, fast paced action film from 1940. Barbara turned to other revues and managed quite a career outside the limelight.

 PRIVATE LIFE:

Barbara was a society butterfly who mingled with the elite of both the East and the West coasts. She knew everybody in Hollywood in the 1920 and 1930s, and afterwards was a doyenne of New York society in the 1940s and 1950s. She later switched to Palm Beach, Florida, in the 1960s and 1970s. Any way you put it, her social life was HIGHLY impressive.

Barbara Barondess6Barbara was featured to some degree in the papers, but generally not to much. She gave a beauty hint in 1933:

Upon finishing work I very carefully remove all screen make up with cold cream, soap and water. Afterwards I run in just a little cold cream because I like the highlights this gives to one’s face. I use only lipstick for street.

Unlike many starry eyed girls who land in Hollywood and expect miracles to happen, Barbara was a hard bitten realist. Years after her experiences as a minor actress, she said:

“In those golden years of Hollywood, women were treated like disposable Kleenex. My experience started at MGM in 1933. I made two dozen pictures in five years and my hair color changed in each one. We had nothing to say about our appearance. I had to lose weight, although I was a size 8. The strain of the working conditions was almost beyond endurance. I don’t know how we survived making Eight Girls in a Boat (1934) for Paramount. We had to jump into a cold lake 20 times for a take.”

Barbara’s first husband was theatrical producer Irving Jacobs whom she wed in 1929 in New York while working as an model/Broadway actress. The marriage fell apart by the time she came to Hollywood in 1932.

Barbara met Douglas MacLean shortly after she came to Hollywood. He was separated from his second wife, actress Lorraine Eddy. Before Eddy he was married to the east coast socialite Faith Cole. Soon they were a constant duet, and in February 1938, they eloped to Tijuana, Mexico and got married. They lived in Beverly Hills, in a hotel. Barbara was a good friend of many famous actors, like Gary Cooper, Clark Gable and Douglas Montgomery.

Barbara and Douglas wanted a baby badly, but at first she was unable to conceive, and when she did get pregnant in 1943, she suffered a miscarriage. Sadly, in the end, no children were born out of the marriage.

Barbara enrolled at UCLA, studying art and design. By 1940 she started an secondary career as an interior decorator, designing homes for celebrities like Garbo, Norma Shearer, Gail Patrick, Errol Flynn, Gary Cooper, Jane Wyman, and Ronald Reagan. She was so successful that she expanded her business to the East Coast, opening a branch in New York in the mid-40s. Barondess later branched out into fashion, designing and manufacturing clothing, and later added cosmetics to her growing empire.

Barbara BarondessBarbara’s soaring career as a n interior decorator and fashion designer ruined her marriage to MacLean in cca 1947. They divorced in 1948, after ten years of marriage. Her next beau was Roger Dann, a French singer. He gave her a diamond ring, but it did not last long.

Barbara re-meet Phillip Reed, whim whom she went to school on the East coast, and the two started dating in July 1948.  They broke up in early 1949. That year she also dated a fabolously wealthy Spanish, Alfred De Vega.

Barbara also dabble din real estate. She owner the apartment where Joe DiMaggio and Marilyn Monroe spent some of the happiest days of their brief marriage.

In 1952, Barbara married Nathaniel Rouvell. The marriage made front papers news and it was not surprising that their separation a few months later spread like forest fire.  They divorced in 1953. At the divorce proceeding she claimed that Nathaniel criticized her constantly but never constructively and was never satisfied with anything she did.

Barbara married her fourth husband, a wealthy Pal Beach man, ladies’ apparel executive Leonard Knaster, in 1955. He divorced his previous wife in 1952. They divided their time between Palm Beach and New York. As many wealthy dames, Barbara was looted from a chunky part of her jewelry collection in 1957. The marriage did not last – they divorced in 1974. Barbara never married again.

In 1984 she founded a non profit organization to help theatrical professionals move on in their chosen areas. She produced several off Broadways plays. Among the alumni of the school is the notable actor Morgan Freeman.

Barbara Barondess died on May 31, 2000 in New York.

 

Jean Chatburn

JeanChatburn1

Entering movies as a Barbara Stanwyck double, Jean Chatburn actually made her way into the credited tier and even had a chance to become a full pledged working actress, but sadly left movies before she could make a memorable career for herself.

EARLY LIFE:

Geneveive Jennie May Kellar was born on September 11, 1914, in Hanover, Michigan, USA to Daniel H Kellar and Leora Marion M Kellar. Her father came from Indiana to Michigan and married her mother, a Michigan native.

Her younger sister Gladys Pearl Kellar was born in 1916 ad her younger brother Robert Franklin Kellar in 1920.

In 1920, the family lived in Hanover. Genevieve attended elementary and high schools in the city and showed an early interest in a showbiz career.

I have no idea exactly how she ended up in Hollywood, but by 1934 she was appearing in movies regularly.

CAREER:

As all girls who had any singing ability, one would expect Jean to be pushed into musicals for most of her brief career. Wrong! She actually had a varied career spannign several genres, somewhat of a rarity for somebody who was basically a starlet.

Her first movie, Paradise Valley, made in 1934, is a lost one today and nothing can be said about it’s quality or indeed any plot.

JEanChatburn5Come On, Marines! her second feature, could have been a very good if not solid jungle combat movie, but ends up a lukewarm mess with no real redeeming features (a lot of money and authenticity went into its making, but for no avail). Thirty Day Princess, while no big master piece, is Jean’s first solid movie. A fluffly comedy starring Sylvia Sidney and Cary Grant, it’s  a perfect Sunday afternoon watching and highly enjoyable if you’re not looking for a serious, philosophical drama. Jean had a short foray into serious drama with Society Doctor, a mediocre movie with Chester Morris on the downside of his career and Robert Taylor on the upside (although it’s clear as day that Morris is a seasoned actor and Taylor a mere amateur trying to learn his craft… Sadly I never found Taylor to be a good actor until the 1950s, when he finally matured into something, but even then he was lacking compared to the true greats of cinema… Ah well, a handsome face could get you far if you had the right breaks!). A predecessor of the Ben Casey franchise with a dedicated but gruff doctor as the lead, the movie has it’s moments of glory but also had several highly absurd ones (Morris’s character operating on himself with the help of a mirror! Come on!!).

JEanChatburn4Drifting through the genre, Jean finally hit her stride in a musical, Memories and Melodies. Yes, the movie is forgotten today but it gave her  chance to sing on screen. The quality of her movies went up from then on. Naughty Marietta is a classic today, one of Jeanette MacDonald/Nelson Eddy’s best efforts, a charming movie worth watching several times.

No More Ladies is the suave, elegant drawing room comedy Hollywood made dime a dozen in the 1930s. It’s brisk, funny but not really noteworthy as far as the genre goes. Joan Crawford played the role she does in most of her movies, as do Robert Montgomery (before his greatest roles in film noir and drama, he was a typical charmer) and Edna May Oliver (mostly played the same type, but what an actress, simply hilarious!). The Great Ziegfeld is a movie that needs no introduction, a absolute classic that holds up more than well today. Jean even has a delightful scene with the ever suave William Powell playing Ziegfeld. Then, typically, there was a decline in movie quality.

New Shoes is a mildly disturbing (or better said weird) short with Jean’s shoes having the leading role (as I said, weird).

JeanChatburn2The Devil on Horseback could have been an entertaining movie with a silly but endearing plot – sadly in ended up an undefined, weird movie with some pretty bad acting and lots of stereotypes. On the plus side, Jean played the best character in the movie – the female lead’s (Lili Damita, Errol Flynn’s first wife) secretary and one of the very few female characters with lesbian overtones in movies of that time in general (yes, the movie does have a few surprises)! However, with this dud, Jean entered the prestigious area of supporting characters. She would never be uncredited again, something many other actresses never managed to achieve in career that lasted longer than Jeans!

Some Time Soon another musical short, lost today, gave Jean a leading role. She then played the main female support role in Bad Guy, an interesting movie about a convict who gets out of jail but returns to crime. It’s a morality story, very much grey, and shows both the good and the bad sides of the main character, played well by Bruce Cabot. Willowy and beautiful Virginia Grey serves as his love interest.

Jean’s last movie is a good one. Dramatic School, while not really a classic today and not a top movie in terms of plot not character development, features so many good actresses it’s a must see for anyone who likes the golden age of Hollywood. Paulette Goddard, Louise Rainer, Lana Turner, Ann Rutherford… and the list goes on! Of course Jean, a little known actress then, gets drowned by the sheer number of bigger stars, but her role was prominent enough that maybe someone could have noticed her.

Like many other actress of the day Jean gave up her career, which was slowly but securely on the rise, for marriage and children.

PRIVATE LIFE:

Jean married Richard Metz, a future professional golfer from Kansas, in 1929 when she was just 15 years old. Metz was born in 1908, making him only 21 for the marriage. The marriage was quickly annulled, but that was not the end of the Jean/Dick story.

JeanChatburnVictorOrsattiJean was quite active in the publicity stakes in Hollywood. While her career was nothing to talk about, she was featured in papers on every opportunity she (or her publicist) could muster. We learned from the various articles that she was an active horse woman, maintained her slim frame by bowling, that she enjoyed sun bathing, was a passionate motorcyclist and was quite a clothes horse. Jean seemed like a well rounded, interesting woman a bit ahead of her time. She also entereted beauty peagants pretty late, when she was in the early 20s and working as an actress, but was quite successful at it, winning several titles.

JeanChatburn6Jean married Frank Orsatti, brother of the better known agent Victor Orsatti in 1936, not yet 22 years old. Frank was born in 1893, making his almost 20 years older than Jean, worked as a press agent like Victor, and had one writing credit to his name. The couple bought a breeding farm outside of Los Angeles and were heavily involved with thoroughbreds. Their horses frequently won races at the famous Santa Anita racetrack cca 1937. At their peak, they had four champions. Frank and Jean were very good friends with his brother and his then wife, the stunning beauty June Lang, and they often went out to town as a foursome. Frank seemed like a nice and attentive husband to Jean, but fate would have it otherwise. Jean meet her former husband, Dick Metz, by chance, in 1939 and it changed their lives.

Jean divorced Orsatti in November 1939 in Reno, Nevada, and married, two days later, her first husband, Dick Metz. This time it was for keeps. She left Hollywood not long after to live in Chicago with her golfer husband. They had three children, two sons Craig and James and a daughter, Joan.

JeanChatburn3After Dick retired from golfing in the 1950s, the two went into the cattle ranching business in his native Kansas. Their was a happy marriage until declining health compelled Metz to commit suicide in the parking lot of an Arkansas City, KS funeral home on May 4, 1993. She never remarried.

Genevieve Metz died on July 18, 2007 from cancer.

 

 

 

Scarlett Knight

Scarlett Knight

Scarlett Knight is one strange flower. I stumbled upon her name quite  a few times in the early 1940s papers – touted as a promising starlet on her way to stardom, she fizzled like many of them, but it is the inspiring story of her post-Hollywood life that makes her an interesting subject for a short biography.

EARLY LIFE:

Frances Knight Archibald was born in Louisville, Kentucky, in about 1918, to William David Archibald and his wife, . It was a prestigious, rich family – her father was once Kentucky state banking commissioner.

Frances grew up in Kentucky and from any early age developed a special passion for horse riding – she was famous among her hometown for being able to guess a horse’s age by looking at his teeth and for her recopies for mint Jelups and Tom and Jerrys .

Frances attended the University of Minnesota where she caught the acting bug and joined a stock company. She traveled through 33 states with the said company and played a variety of different roles.

In 1940, Scarlett told herself that Hollywood is the next step in her career, and in two weeks she went from a stock company actress to a actress under studio contract. How did she do it? The enchanting southern belle, despite being labeled as a Myrna Loy look alike, did not give up and with a rarely seen determination managed to get signed by RKO.

CAREER:

We fall quite short here. While Frances definitely was in Hollywood for a time, from 1940 to about 1943, and she was in the papers, I could not find any IMDB account for her and thus I have no information about the movies she appeared in. While there were plenty of actresses on the studio’s payroll who never saw the camera lens, and Scarlett could actually be one of them, I sincerely hope this is not the case and just that by some accident she does not have her page. If you trust the papers, she appeared in several movies in 1940 for sure. Anyway, wherever she appeared in movies or not, it did nothing to catapult her to stardom and she left Hollywood by 1942.

PRIVATE LIFE:

When girls enter Hollywood they often fall into two basic categories: beauties who have little to o acting experience and use their looks as a starting point, or veteran theater actresses who have the experience and skill. it’s still a gamble and it’s very much unknown who will succeed or who will fail (While the second category has a bigger chance of success, there are truly no rules. Many world famous actresses started as chorus girls who used their looks to propel themselves to stardom – Joan Crawford, Jane Wyman, Norma Shearer. Many other top actresses were theater practitioners who just translated their thespian skills onto film – Katherine Hepburn, Bette Davis, Ruth Chatterton).

By all accounts Scarlett, while not a Lynn Fontanne of her generation (in other words, a world known Broadway diva who did Shakespeare like it’s nobody’s business)  she was a seasoned stock company player when she entered Hollywood, an experience that could have very well lent itself to her path to stardom. Yet, it did not, and Scarlett remains uncredited today.

Yet she did sink her teeth into the Hollywood lifestyle and lived like many starlets of the time, gathering publicity for her exploits. She was a clotheshorse and posed for fashion columns. In early 1941, Scarlett injured her Achilles tendon and was bedridden .- as a result, she had to skip a few roles.

By 1942, Scarlett had seen the writing on the wall – there was no success to be had in Hollywood for her. True movie recognition constantly evaded her. Next we hear anything of her, it’s 1945 and a newspaper article emerged in the papers that explained what happened to Scarlett in the interim ( forgot to take the name of the columnist, but it’s clear that he helped Scarlett a great deal):

A few years ago during a visit to Hollywood I was privileged to meet and to be of some assistance to a beautiful young Louisville Ky girl with the startling nom de theater of Scarlett Knight. She had talent ability ambition and great beauty but she was getting no where fast in filmdom  so with the aid of Abe Shore, manager of Max Factor Cosmetic Co and Harold Rodenbaugh former Tribune reporter who had be come photography editor of the Louisville Courier Journal I started a publicity campaign for the young lady. Her picture appeared in Life magazine and Harold went to town with n full page article complete with photographs in the magazine section of the Courier Journal.

Theatrical agents began to take notice and when I next heard from her she was playing one of the principal feminine roles in the stage play Good Night Ladies which had a two year run at the Blackstone theater in Chicago. She dropped the Scarlett and was known as Francos Knight. Every Christmas she wouldd send me a card of appreciation and I could tell that success hadn’t gone to her head.

Then I received an mail letter from Italy where she was with a M S O troupe entertaining our fighting men. Then a long silence and I wondered what happened to my young friend. Then the other day there came in my mail the following Mr and Mrs William David Archibald announce the marriage of their daughter Frances Knight to John Bayne Breckenridge, Lt Col Army of the United States, on Sunday, the twelfth of August 1945, in  St Johns church, Broad Creek , Maryland. And so one chapter of the story ends and a more interesting one begins. May it and all the succeeding chapters be filled with joy and happiness.

Thus, Frances married John Bayne Breckenridge in 1945 and gave up her acting career for marriage. Her transition from a starlet whose career went nowhere to a respected theater actress who met the love of her life while on a truly noble mission is very encouraging and shows how we can all reinvent ourselves anytime in life.

The Knight-Breckenridge union resulted in two children, a daughter, Frances K., born on September 12, 1946, and a son, John B., born on May 5, 1949. Both of the children were born in Ketucky, so I imagine she and her husband lived there long term.

I have no idea what happened to Scarlett afterwards, but I do hope she lived a happy life.

Ellen Hall

EllenHall

Ellen Hall, unlike most of the girls featured here, has her own Wikipedia site! This is highly indicative of the fact that she had some minor success in the film industry despite being completely obscure today.

EARLY LIFE:

Ellen Jeane Johnson was born on April 18, 1923, in Los Angeles, California, to Ella Hall and Emory Johnson. Her older brother Richard was born on January 27, 1919. her younger sister, Diana Marie, was born in October 27, 1929.

She came from an acting family – both her parents and maternal grandmother, May Hall, were thespians. Yet, the only one who ever made true waves was her mother, Ella, a well known actress in the 1920s. Born in New York, she came to Hollywood in the early days of silent films. Her father was originally from San Francisco but left the city for Los Angeles pretty early, in 1913, to have his luck in the burgeoning film industry.

Her mother retired from movies in 1933, and her parents divorced sometime in the 1930s. With her pedigree, it was not wonder that she started acting at a very tender age of seven. She made her movie debut in 1930, and started doing theater work very early, in about 1935. She migrated to New York in 1937 and had several theater roles on and off Broadway.

In 1940, Ellen was living with her mother, brother sister and grandmother in Los Angeles and attending high school. Ella worked as a saleswoman to support the family. Her film career started in full that year, and some success awaited her.

CAREER:

Ellen made her debut in an absolute classic, All Quiet on the Western Front, when she was just a 7 year old child. this is nothing unusual for offspring of thespians families, but what is unusual is that her mother decided upon a path of education for her instead of a child actress career.

Ellen was already a seasoned theater player when she hit movies again, this time in 1941 at the age of 18. The movie was The Chocolate Soldier, a charming Nelson Eddy/Rise Stevens operetta.

In 1943 Ellen finally came into her own. She was never to become a star, not an A class actress, but worked steadily in B class movies for more than 6 years from than on and achieved enough success to play leads.

Her first lead was in Outlaws of Stampede Pass, a more than decent Johnny Mack Brown western. She continued the trend by appearing in the very next Mack western. Both times the played the female lead and the romantic interest, but they were not the same characters. Seems like Mack Brown was a James Bond before the first Bond movie was even made!

Ellen Hall2Ellen made a foray into A class movies in Up in Arms, playing the Goldwyn girl, but it was back to B-s right after with Voodoo Man, a decent enough Monogram horror with a superb horror cast (Bela Lugosi, George Zucco, Lionel Barrymore). Ellen play the role of Lugosi’s wife, a woman dead for 22 years who he is trying to revive with the help of  a voodoo priest. In a nutshell, she’s the reason everything happens in the movie, a pivotal point. Quite flattering, considering that other cuties like Louise Currie and Wanda McKay.

It was back to westerns after that. LumberjackRange Law Call of the Rockies and Brand of the Devil are the four movies that constitute the pinnacle of Ellen’s career. Always playing female leads in solid B class western series, and acting opposite some western heavyweights (Johnny Mack Brown again, William Boyd as Hopalong Cassidy, a character rarely surpassed in terms of popularity in the genre, and Smiley Burnette). While this was never the way to the A class, Ellen seemed content to being a working actress.

After such a nice strike, Ellen was set aback to the uncredited tier in more prestigious movies, often a scanerio that happened to western heroines and B movie stars (kings in their tier, and paupers in the tier up). Here Come the Waves is a mediocre Bing Crosby Betty Hutton musical. Definitely not  a movie for those with any artistic or intellectual aspirations, it’s a piece of fluff that works due to the leads and their unique brand of charisma. Having Wonderful Crime, a Thin Man wannabe movie trying to mix sophisticated comedy with crime, falls short on several accounts, but it raised from total mediocrity by the role of the ever charming Carole Landis. 

Ellen+’s last big movie was Wonder Man, with Danny Kaye, where she was one of the Goldwyn Girls. Cinderella Jones, a below average romantic comedy did nothing for nobody, including the leads, Joan Leslie and Robert Alda.

EllenHall3It was back to westerns and credited parts again. Thunder Town, one of the Bob Steele western movies, is unfortunately not among his best. While a very capable actor with an unique hard stare, Steele looks a bit worn out in the film and even the cameraman tried to “skip” any close ups. The next was Lawless Code, a western so deeply forgotten today it’s not even rated on IMDB, and the plot looks like one hot mess.

Ellen evaded westerns for a short time with Bowery Battalion, a Bowery boys movie, and one of their more valiant efforts. While the low budget constrains to leave their mark, the gags are good enough to make it a enjoyable experience. Ellen then had a few appearances in the well kn own western series The Cisco Kid, with Duncan Renaldo and Leo Carrillo.

her very last movie effort came in 1952 with The Congregation, a completely lost movie.

PRIVATE LIFE:

Ellen mostly made the paper due to her acting skill and not really any publicity stunts. Her large acting family was always mentioned whenever she made the news, her mother being the most prominent star of the yesteryear.

Ellen married Lee Langer on December 3, 1944, in Los Angeles, California, just as WW2 was ending (Lee attained the rank of captain). Langer was born on Ferbuary 3, 1919 in Illinois to Alex Langer and his wife, Sophia Rice.

The couple lived first in Los Angeles, and them moved to San Diego. As  far as I can tell, they had no children and Ellen enjoyed a quiet retirement.

Langer died on February 24, 1995. Ellen moved to Washington state after his death.

Ellen Jeane Langer died on March 24, 1999, in Bellevue, Washington.   

 

Maxine Cantway

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The beautiful blonde, trained in dance, crashes Hollywood. She gets some publicity, dances in several good musicals, and hopes to achieve stardom. A familiar story by now? Oh yes, and most of them did not move from the uncredited tier. Meet Maxine Cantway, a beautiful blonde with that very fate.

EARLY LIFE:

Florence Maxine Kantz was born on 1912 in Missouri, to John Kantz and Florence Conklin. The family moved to Los Angeles  not long after her birth. They settled in Pomona, and lived with Florence’s parents, Francis and Maria Conklin.

Maxine was a beautiful, vivacious child, and her mother enrolled her into dance classes at the age of 4. One of her earliest dance teachers was Lina Basquette, then yet to become a famous actress/dancer (and one of the most wedded women in Hollywood with seven husbands and about nine marriages all in all).

With a passion for the stage, Maxine was a youngster barely out of her early teens when she started to perform on the stage. She attended both dancing and dramatic school to help her in her endeavor, in addition to graduating from high school.

In 1929, she got her due and got into the spotlight. In 1930, she and 11 other hopefuls were signed to a movie contract.

CAREER:

Maxine started her career in comedy short that were made by the dozen in the late 1920s and early 1930s. Jimmy’s New YachtIn Conference (Short) 1The Dog DoctorThe Bride’s MistakeA Poor Fish gave Maxine at least a chance to get in front of the camera (but sadly little else). Due to the rapid decline in popuarlity of short comedy reels, neither of these movies are known today and none has a IMDB review (and you know how obscure that makes it).

600full-maxine-cantway (1)Yet, Maxine started as did many dancers in those days – comedy reels were bread and butter to them.

Maxine then had a large boost in the quality of her movies. She remained uncredited, but all else went up! She had a string os superb 1930s gems – The Kid from Spain, one of the best Eddie Cantor musicals, 42nd Street perhaps oen fot he best Busby Berkeley musical ever made, with an unbeatable Warren Baxter in the lead, 

The Little Giant is a not well known but still a very good Edward G. Robinson movie that gave him a chance to truly shine as a racketeer trying to turn gentleman in one his rare comedic roles. Mary Astor and Helen Vinson are first class support for Eddie.

The last movie in Maxine’s golden line is Gold Diggers of 1933. Along with the already mentioned 42nd Street and Footlight Parade, this is the best 1930s have to offer in terms of musicals. Long before MGM made their lavish, vivid but squeaky clean musicals in the 1950s, the genre was dominated by these movies – they were sharp, unforgiving, funny, laden with innuendo, featuring massive dance numbers, top notch actors and music. Dick Powell and Ruby Keeler are the tyapical handsome leading pair, but the supporting actors are what makes this such a winner – the superb Precode cad, Warren William, Joan Blondell (need I say more about this fabulous actress?),  Aline McMahon, Guy Kibee, Ginger Rogers!

600full-maxine-cantway (2)It’s easy to fall after achieving great heights, and the rest of Maxine’s filmography is dismal at best. While neither was truly a bad movie, it was way below her usual fare. Redheads on Parade, for instance, a sub par musical. Yet, it would be unfair to label Pride of the Marines as a worthless movie. While not well known today (or indeed when it came out), it’s still a touching movie about rearing children in a unusual enviroment. Charles Bickford proves himself to be one of the best character actors in Hollywood, playing the tough-but-tender hero who “inherits” a small boy and has to raise him in a military camp. Thurston Hall as the major of the camp also gives a very good role.

Maxine’s last movie, Two in a Crowd, a not-above-average comedy. While far from being a bad movie and featuring some fine actors, it still does not manage to outgrow the uninspired direction by Alfred E. Green.

Maxine disappeared from Hollywood and the paper after 1936.

PRIVATE LIFE:

First, I have to say that IMDB lists the DOB and DOD for Georgia Maxine Cantwell, who they claim is Maxine Cantway. While I’m not 100% sure, I am more than 80% sure that that is not our Maxine. Maxine had been living in Los Angeles for quite some time by 1929, was about 19 years old – this does not match the information about Georgia Maxine Cantwell, who was still living in Cairo, West Virginia in 1930.

600full-maxine-cantway (3)Maxine came into the spotlight in 1929, when she was named the ultimate model for all chorus girls of that time. She was a perfect 109 pounds in weight, 5 foot 3 inches in height, with brown hair and blue eyes. She claimed that she had never dieted but that her slender body is the result of strenuous exercise and making several movies at the same time.

Maxine declared herself to be a shoe lover, was passionate when buying them, and owned more than 35 pairs. She lived with hr parents and did not own a car.

When one is the most beautiful chorine in the world, one if qualified to give beauty advice! Thus Maxine said for a syndicated newspaper column:

Any artificial means of adding sparkle to the eyes is bound to last only a short time, and may be actually injurious. Furthermore, no woman under 75 should require it.
Enthusiasm, health, physical and mental, are he real beautifiers that brings sparkle to the eyes. Cultivate these and you will not need to spend money on special eye treatment.

I have to say I completely agree with her, not just for the sparkly eyes but in general for all things related to beauty. The only true way to look good on the exterior is to feel good in the interior.

600full-maxine-cantway (4)As for her love life, the information is pretty slim. She dated Lou Friedberg, and broke his heart when she became serious with Charles Grayson, a young writer. The affair lasted for several months before the called it quits. Charles went on to date several famous women including Irene Hervey,  CaroleStoneGreta NissenJune Knight, Nancy Carroll, Audrey Totter and Joan Crawford.

The last we hear anything of Maxine, she was back to minor theater productions after her film career ended.

If Maxine is indeed Florence Maxine Kantz, then she died in 1996 in Riverside, and was never married.

 

Diana Mumby

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With over 30 movies to her (un)credit, Diana Mumby, a pretty and talented chorus girl, worked regularly in Hollywood for almost 10 years, a had much better track records than many of her contemporaries.

EARLY LIFE:

Diana Sootheran Mumby was born on July 1, 1922, in Detroit, Michigan, to Gerald Mumby and Gladys Wright. Her father was an English RAF officer, and her mother a born and bred New Yorker. Her parents divorced not long after her birth, and she was shuffled between her father who lived in England and her mother, who moved to Los Angeles.

In 1930, Diana and her mother (who attended college but did not graduate and worked as a nurse) lived in Los Angeles with a lodger. Gladys remarried to Mr. Johnson sometime in the 1930s,but they were living apart by 1939. Diana attended high school in Los Angeles and graduated in 1940, still living with her mother at the time.

She started her career as a chorus girl not long after graduation. She became an Earl Carroll girl and dancer for several years before getting into movies.

CAREER:

Diana  spent most of her career in musicals, not surprising considering she was originally a dancer, and was never ever credited, despite being a Hollywood fixture for at least 8 years.

Since she has a rather big filmography, consisting of 33 movies, and can be easily divided into three stages.

Diana originally made her movie debut in a 1940 movie, A Night at Earl Carroll’s, where she played one of the chorines, but that  did not warrant a movie career and after that she did not act for four years, working as a dancer in the interim.

Diana Mumby2-YankShe truly started to act in 1944, and until 1946 she appeared exclusively in musicals. We have Up in Arms (AGAIN!), where she was a Goldwyn girl, the slight but charming Two Girls and a SailorIt’s a Pleasure a typical Sonja Henie movie (no brains, but skating), Earl Carroll Vanities, one of those musicals with a hugely implausible story that are just simply fun to watch, the exotic and breezy A Thousand and One Nights (that type of a movie was a huge hit with the audiences that did not have easy access to all the information and photos about the faraway lands that we have today), the foul mouthed George White’s Scandals, the so obscure we don’t know what to say about it An Angel Comes to Brooklyn, the silly and slightly amusing Cinderella Jones, a Danny Kaye classic The Kid from Brooklyn, a three-girls-seeking-husbands movie, Three Little Girls in Blue, and a witty and sharp but ultimately forgotten musical The Thrill of Brazil.

What to say about this string of movies? While not bad at all, it is clear that she missed all the big, famous musical and settled somewhere in the musical mid tier, but at least she worked regularly and paid her bills.

Thus starts the second part of Diana’s career, where she got out of the musical cave and steered more towards straight drama and comedy movies. She kicked it high by appearing in The Razor’s Edge, one of Tyrone Power’s best movies, and generally one of the best movies of that year. More than a film about social problems, it’s a story of a man’s search for meaning, something much deeper than his social standing and his material wealth.

158875037_1945-diana-mumby-named-prettiest-girl-in-the-world-pressOut California Way is a low budget western, . Winter Wonderland  A Song Is Born was a short veer back into the musical arena, but it was back to drama and crime movies in Alias Nick Beal, the Faust story with a modern twist and a superb cast with Ray Milland and Audrey Totter. Air Hostess was a typical light fare with three female leads trying to navigate their complicated professional/love lives, Beauty on Parade a obscure drama about unfulfilled that is a good illustration of the husband/wife relationships back in the day.

Let’s Dance is a Fred Astaire musical, and that fact alone elevates it to a very high level of movie making. Let’s be realistic, any movie with Fred in it is worth more than some better movies with lesser names today.  The movie is far from a work of art, but fits the bill of an entertaining, fluffy film very well. Fred and Betty Hutton were a very interesting pair: he was technically flawless and very graceful, but she had the pizzazz and the magnetic pull that pried all eyes to her. Fred really has to work hard to keep the attention off of Betty, a refreshing change to his usual dominance on the dance floor.

Diana Mumby1Diana continued the line with Bowery Battalion, the good enough entry of Bowery boys comedy series, The Lemon Drop Kid  one of Bob Hope’s better 1950s comedies, and the prototype fo the serious, theatrical, glossy 1950s dramas (featuring Susan Hayward, who next to Lana Turner was the queen of such roles) I Can Get It for You Wholesale.

G.I. Jane  was an unusual but highly diverting musical, just one of the many forgotten gems in the Hollywood low budget vaults. The Model and the Marriage Broker is an unjustly overlooked George Cukor movie. It has much to offer and an interesting choice of thespians – with Thelma Ritter being the absolute queen of the cast! The Las Vegas Story is a formulaic crime movie of the 1950s, using the ever lasting love triangle to get together Jane Russell, Victor Mature and Vincent Price.

A Fool and His Honey is a comedic short of no great merit, Something to Live For, a George Stevens drama, is a somber, dark movie showing complex people in complex relationships – but it’s very predictable and has too many holes in the plot. Up next: when you have a movie called Aaron Slick from Punkin Crick, I think everybody can guess what kind of a movie it is. While not the worst movie ever made, it’s still a muddling mess.

whiteSound Off is a pedestrian Mickey Rooney musical, and We’re Not Married! boasts such an impressive cast that even the mediocre quality of the movie can’t hamper it down. I mean, Ginger Rogers, Marilyn Monroe and Mitzi Gaynor all int he same movie, priceless!

Diana took a hiatus after this, and returned in 1955 with Son of Sinbad, just one of the many “adventure on the high seas” that overcrowded the 1950s. Coincidentally, her last movie was also the last movie of Humphrey Bogart, The Harder They Fall, a superb study of the behind the scenes of the boxing world in the 1940s.

PRIVATE LIFE:

Diana was a seasoned chorus girl who hit the papers before she hit the movies, appearing in the Florentine gardens and in various musical revues as early as 1941.

In 1944, MGM contract player Lorraine Miller sued a distributor for using her photo and labeling it as Diana’s photo and circulating it amogn the GI-s. How did this happen I have no idea, as Diana herself was a very attractive woman who surely did not need a stand in for any pin up poses she did (as a testament to her pin up prowess, she was in the Yank Cover Weekly).

Diana Mumby3
In 1945 she was voted the Prettiest girl in the world and by her fellow pin up girl/chorines, no less! Truly, Diana had the perfect look for the 1940s/1950s pin up girl – a pleasing, round face and a lean, elegant figure.

In late 1945 Diana married Richard Allord, who was married to Marie McDonald for a brief time in 1940. The marriage proved to be equally brief, ending in 1946. She wasted no time in looking for a beau, and came very close to getting married to millionaire Eddie Torres in November 1946.

Diana married James Carlos Hernandez on September 30, 1951. Born in New York in 1920 to Frank Hernandez and Edna Considine, he attended college while living in Westchester, New York, and served his country in WW2. Their son, James Carlos Hernandez, was born on September 4, 1954.

Diana and James divorced in September 1968. Hernandez died in 1998.

Diana Mumby died on may 19, 1974 in Westlake, California.

Florence Lundeen

Florence Lundeen

The stunning blonde amazon was a short lived Hollywood extra, following suit of many other Goldwyn girls.

EARLY LIFE:

May Florence Lundin was born on February 9, 1922, in Los Angeles, California, to Carl Ludin and his wife, Selma Lenden. Both of her parents were born in Sweden. Her older sister, Gerda, was born in California in 1918.

Florence grew up in Los Angeles. Her parents separated sometime during the the 1930s. In 1940, Florence lived with her mother, sister and brother-in-law (Keith Garrick) and nephew in Los Angeles and worked as a model.

She trained as a stenographer at J C Fremont high school and was dancing as a junior hostess at Hollywood Canteen when discovered by MGM’s Ida Koverman (Koverman was Louis B. Meyer’s secretary and an very influential woman). She signed a contract with M G M and the following day was loaned out for Up in Arms.

CAREER:

Florence had a very, very minor career. She appeared in only four movies, all uncredited.

She made her movie debut long before she was noticed by Ida Koverman, in 1941, by appearing in Hitchhike to Hell, an exploitation movie. Needless to say, it’s a low quality work of dubious reputee, and it is even possible that Florence appeared in more of these movies to cash in some loot.

Her first proper movie was Broadway Rhythm, where she played a autograph seeker. A imdb reviewer wrote nicely of the movie: 

A pleasing enough entertainment, working primarily as a pageant of various MGM specialty acts – impressionists, contortionists, nightclub acts, tap-dancers, as well as the standard musical theatrical numbers. The film isn’t a musical in the traditional sense, as all the musical numbers are in the contest of an actual performance (some done toward the camera). It’s much more in the tradition of a 1960s-70s variety TV show.

FlorenceLundeen2In other words, it’s a typical bread and butter musical with the “it was always there but you never saw it” theme. For a newcomer like Florence this was not the worst way to start a career.

Being a tall and shapely Teutonic maiden, Florence was cast a one of the Goldwyn girls in Up in Arms. Again, I am not writing any more about this movie. Obviously a huge number of nice looking girls appeared in it, and Florence was just one of the masses.

Florence’s last appearance was in Meet the People.A modest film with no big production values, it’s far from a very good movie but it fits the bill of a mid tier musical. Lucille Ball and Dick Powell and typically good in the leads, plus is featrues some other MGM musical stock actors and actresses like Virginia O’Brien, Bert Lahr and June Allyson.

After this, Florence got divorced and probably left Hollywood.

PRIVATE LIFE:

Florence hit the papers before she even made a proper movie debut. Due to her “Scandinavian blond” good looks, she was a sought after girl about town as early as 1940. She dated noted songwriter Garwood Van, but hit the jackpot when she was noticed by Franchot Tone. She happily let the two men vie for her affections. Franchot won out, but he was a all around charmer, dating Peggy Moran at the same time. Franchot, ever the perfect gentleman, used to wine and dine Florence at the Beachcomber’s, a famous sea food restaurant in Los Angeles. Predictably, it did not last long.

Florence married actor Robert Conway in 1941. He was born on June 12, 1908 in Chicago, Illinois as Robert Anderson.

Florence gave birth to twin daughters, Jeannette Kathryn Andersen and Judith Anne Andersen on April 27, 1942. Sadly, her marriage to Andersen was a very troubled one, and they separated in September 1943. She went back home to her mother Selma, and never returned. They divorced in 1944.

I have no idea what happened to Florence afterwards. IMDB lists her death on January 23, 1961, but I could not find any Florence, born on February 9, 1922, who died on that day. There is a whole list of women named Florence born on February 9, 1922 who died at  a later date, ranging from 1980s until 2000s, and our Florence could be any of these women.

What I do know is that Florence’s sister, Gerda Garrick, died on 2000.

 

 

 

 

Inna Gest

InnaGest2

Inna Gest tried to live the Hollywood dream – a Russian immigrant making it big as an actress. Of course, she never made to to top brass, but did much better than many girls in similar positions, playing leads and working steadily for a few years.

EARLY LIFE:

Inna Gest was born on February 11, 1921, in Odessa, Ukraine, to Arseny Gest and Maria Kaminina. The family moved a round quite a lot during her earliest years, and lived in Czechoslovakia and Poland for a brief time.

In 1925, her parents immigrated to the US, and settled in California. Her brother Vladimir (called Walter) was born in 1928. Her father died sometine in the 1930s, and her mother got  job as a neck tie operator. Inna graduated from Hollywood high school in 1939 and decided upon a showbiz career. A major factor in that decision was her uncle, Morris Gest, a well known theater producer who gave Inna her first push by introducing her to all the important people. Along with Margaret Roach, daughter of Hal Roach, she was signed to a movie contract the same year.

CAREER:

To be perfectly honest, when I started exploring the career of Inna Gest I fully expected to find her to be like most of the Goldwyn girls  – a glamour gal with a very slim, almost nonexistent movie output. I was proven wrong and ended up pleasantly surprised after discovering she was in fact a western leading lady and that she really worked from 1940-1944, making several appearances in a year.

Inna started her career in 1939 with Babes in Arms . Her next one was one of thebest (and the first) Harry Aldich movies, What a LifeFast and Furious is a mediocre murder mystery, only heightened by the genial pairing of Franchot Tone and Ann Southern as husband/wife sleuth team.

51777255030ae_149919nInna got noticed by the studio brass and her career went up. She had her first credited role, and a female lead one at that, in the not-that-bad low budget western, The Golden Trail, playing opposite Tex Ritter. She continued the trend, playing leading ladies in man’s movie (where the female lead is mostly decorative and not as important to the plot as the male lead’s machinations). Her next movie was Boys of the City, where she played second fiddle to the East Side Kids. She reached the pinnacle of her career in Gun Code, again as the female lead. A well paced western with a good balance of characters, story and action, it is certainly one of Tim McCoy’s best movies.

Road Show was a silly comedy of little merit, Hard Guy is probably one of Inna’s better known credited movies, for no other reason than that it’s her only gangster movie (very popular at the time) and features Jack LaRue. It’s not even a good movie to start with – it’s premise is extremely ridiculous (as one user masterfully wrote on imdb):

His specialty was getting the women in his employ to marry rich men and then get quickie annulments or divorces–splitting the money with him. This was a big problem with the film, as there is no reason for any woman to split the money with LaRue–it just made no sense. Nor did it really make sense for them to give up on their ‘sugar baby’ so quickly. When one of the women develops a conscience, LaRue kills her and makes it look like her new husband did it! So it’s up to a bunch of idiots to somehow unravel the mystery.

So very funny… Yes, they made movies like this before :-P

Just when things could have turned out nicely for Inna, she gave up movies for the time being to become a wife. Sadly, her change to become a solid actress was gone by the time she returned to the movie arena in 1943, when her husband was off fighting in WW2.

In 1943 she made You Can’t Beat the Law, a run of the mill low budget thriller, two well made war movies, Hangmen Also Die! and The North Star. Both can still be seen on television today.

She had one lead role, in Six Gun Gospel, a totally forgotten Johnny Mack Brown western. Sadly, Inna was never to have a lead after this, but totally slipped into uncredited territory.  

Up in Arms was Inna’s chance to finally appear as a Goldwyn girl. I mentioned this film so many times on this blog that I’m so fed up with it and am not going to mention it again. Show Business is a wacky, vulgar pastiche of vaudeville shorts and RKO musicals footage with some very racy jokes. Ladies of Washington is an interesting movie about the housing shortage in Washington during WW2 and how people deal with it, but sadly not widely known today.

InnaGestInna’s only movie in 1945 was Bring on the Girls, a sparking, vivacious comedy with Eddie Bracken and Veronica Lake. Veronica’s career was already on the downhill, and except Blue Dahlia, would never regain her early 1940s fame. Such a shame for this uniquely talented femme fatale…

After the filming was over, Inna decided to devote more time to her infant daughter and husband and gave up Hollywood for the time being.

Inna made two more uncredited appearances, one in 1947 in Northwest Outpost, one of Nelson Eddy‘s last movies (and nothing to write home about, Nelsonw as never a good actor and he sue did not become any better with his last features), and No Minor Vices, an interesting comedy that received mixed notices, but boasts a fine cast (Dana Andrews, Lili Palmer, Louis Jourdan).

That was all from Inna.

PRIVATE LIFE:

Inna started her career as a typical starlet with strong familial connections, but grew into a working B class actress and was rarely featured in the papers. Except a brief flash of interest that followed her around when she entered the Hollywood scene in 1939, she got some minor publicity in 1944, when she was doing war relief work. She posed with Malinki, a cat found floating in a bucket by a Naval officer during the battle for Guadalcanal.

InnaGest3Ina married Clarence H. Peterson in the early 1940s. Their daughter Victoria Inna Peterson was born on November 6, 1944. They divorced in cca. 1947/48.

Inna married Alex Grobenko in San Francisco in the late 1940s. He was born on November 6, 1895 in Russia, moved to the US and became a naturalized citizen in 1932. They divorced a few years later. Grobenko remained in California and died there at the ripe old age of 93 on January 31, 1989.

Inna married her third and last husband, Alexander Istomin. Istomin was born on June 12, 1923, making him the only husband who was younger than Inna. Like Grobenko, he was born in Russia and became a naturalized US citizen (just in 1953 not 1932).

Inna Gest Istomin died on December 31, 1964, from hepatitis B, aged only 43.

Inna’s widower, Istomin, married Irina Thompson in 1968. On a sad note, Inna’s only child, daughter Victoria, died in 1969 in Eldridge, California, aged only 24.

 

Virginia Cruzon

VirginiaCruzon

Another Goldwyn girl that never broke from the uncredited tier. Nothing new here, but Virginia Cruzon was so much more – she was a true and blue working gal who supported not only herself but her mother and seamlessly switched to a career in the oil industry after her Hollywood years were over.

EARLY LIFE:

Virginia Monroe was born on May 25, 1921, in San Francisco, California to Albert Harold Monroe and Mabel Maude Babb.

She had four older brothers and sisters: a unnamed sister, who was born in 1908 and died a few months later in 1909, Phyllis Morine, born in 1909, Muriel Nadine, born in cca. 1913, Harold Richard Monroe, born in 1916.

Her parents divorced not long after her birth. In 1930, she was living in the house of Garfield Stanley Kirkpatrick, with her mother acting as his housekeeper.

Virginia attended high school in Los Angeles, but completed only the first two grades before dropping out to try her hand at the showbiz career. She worked as a usher at the Grauman’s Chinese Theater and graduates to a chorus girl not long after. She worked for five, six years before becoming a Goldwyn Girl (she was also an Earl Carroll girl for a brief time), and then got into movies.

FILMOGRAPHY:

Virginia had two breaks into movies before she finally settled into it (but she never did get any credits). Her first experience was in George White’s 1935 Scandals. For ambitious chorus girls who wanted to taste the movie life, George White’s movies were paradise. A man well known for his taste in women, and, much like Busby Berkeley, George White made lavish musicals featuring a large number of dancers. Also like Berkeley, his movies had a paper thin plot, the lead was normally a Mary Sue and characters one dimensional. The above mentioned movie is no different, it’s pure escapist fare you watch once and forget soon after. The charismatic lead, Alice Faye, lends the movie a warm flavor but it’s not a top achievement.

VirginiaCruzon2Fast forward to 1941, and to Virginia’s second movie, Ziegfeld Girl. Co directed by Busby, top notch production values and with several huge stars in the cast, what could go wrong? Nothing did go wrong, but it’s most definitely not a legendary movie well known to the masses like Gone with the wind. And then again a hiatus from the industry.  

Virginia made the cusp of her filmography in 1944/45.  Up in Arms was her last Goldwyn girl appearance. As mentioned several times of this site, it’s a fluffy, happy go lucky movie, perfect for a Sunday afternoon viewing, with very charming leads (Danny Kaye and Dinah Shore).

Having Wonderful Crime was one of Carole Landis’s last worthwhile movies. She would die three years after the movie was released, in 1948, but the rest of her filmography is dismal to say at least. While this movie is no big work of art, it’s still a decent screwball comedy. Some gags are repetitive and hardly funny, but Carole Landis is superb in her role, and George O’Brien is as good as usual in his stock role. The story of course, expects a total suspension of belief on the side of the viewer, but that is to be expected from a WW2 comedy.

A Thousand and One Nights is the movie that gave the people what they wanted – exotic escapism. it’s full of colors, fancy costumes and endearing musical numbers. Characters come and go, there is no structure of indeed a decent plot, but who cares? it’s not that kind of a movie to start with. Conrel Wilde and Evelyn Keyes make a handsome couple.

Virginia had more of the same by appearing in George White’s Scandals. Nothing more needs to be added. A typical George White movie with Virginia in the chorus.

Shadowed was a run of the mill Columbia crime quickie. One Sunday Afternoon isd a movie that tries to chew more than it can swallow – why?  Because it’s a remake of “Strawberry blonde“, a superb movie with James Cagney, Rita Hayworth and Olivia de Havilland. Need I mention that surpassing one of these thespians is hard work, but surpassing all three is down right impossible. Cagney owns the rough but lovable Irishman stereotype and nobody, but nobody could put him in shade. Dennis Morgan, the lead in One Sunday Afternoon, was always a passable actor bu tno big talent (he was a great singer, but actor? Meh). Janis Paige and Dorothy Malone, while very good actresses in their own right, do not peg down the roles sufficiently. The end result is a pale remake, completely overshadowed by it’s older brother.

Emergency Wedding was a bright spot on Virginia’s filmography. It’s a low key, funny, gentle movie about male-female relationships  and the meaning of work in one’s life. The cast is made out of highly reliable actors and actresses that never achieved huge fame – Larry Parks, Barbara Hale, Willard Parker, Una Merkel and so on. Great comedic moments, good romantic tension, a clear message,  it’s a movie that shows what was so right with Hollywood in the 1950s.

Virginia retired from movies after this.

PRIVATE LIFE:

Virginia came into the media spotlight after Ziegfeld Girl. The movie had some extensive publicity, with the Ziegfeld girls from the movie wearing the newest fashions and doing tours all over the US. A brilliant press agent send Virginia and Myrna Dell to New York for the festivities to promote the movie, and claimed both never set foot outside Los Angeles county. Since Virginia was born in San Francisco, it’s clear what a fad that was.

The press was also inventive in her life story: she was depicted as a poor girl working in a factory who was pushed out of that mundane life by a talent scout who started pulling string to have. Not quite true – in 1940, her official occupation was being a photo model, not a factory worker!

VirginiaCruzon3Virginia continued to appear in variety and revue shows even after her movie career started, and supported her mother all the while. She appeared as a in Ken Murray’s Blackouts several years in a row, proving her mantle as a comedienne.

Virginia’s first known beau was producer Robert “Bob” Sherwood. Nina Orla was also vying for his attention, but Virginia won hands down.

Virginia married Rex W. Whaley, a movie splicer, on May 29, 1944 . Whaley was born in Oklahoma in 1918 and since the 1930s lived in Los Angeles where he raised his three younger sisters with the help of an aunt.

Virginia gave up movies not long after for started working for the Chevron Oil Company. She and Rex resided in Glendale in 1955. They divorced in 1956.

Virginia married Stephen H. Sanders on April 26, 1957. Their daughter Virginia Jocelyn Sanders was born on June 3, 1958. They divorced in February 1968.

Virginia retired from Chevron Oil Company in 1988, and moved to Lamarie, Wyoming to enjoy her golden years.

Virginia Sanders died on August 21, 2010, in Lamarie, Wyoming.