Rowena Cook

Rowena Cook’s career might be considered lackluster by most standards, but she proved to be amazingly resilient performer in the long run. Rowena came to Hollywood via a contest, which is not good-by itself. Let’s be real,  most of the people who come to Hollywood by winning a contest (be it a beauty contest or anything similar) stay in the bottom levels of the pecking order, and Rowena was no exception – but unlike the majority of those people, she really wanted to act, not to become rich and famous. When such a person, with such aspirations, doesn’t hit fame in Hollywood, he find other outlets for his passion – and Rowena sure did! Let’s learn more about her!

EARLY LIFE

Rowena Sturges Cook was born on October 16, 1917, in Staten Island, New York, to Rowena Sturges and her husband, Wilburn Eugene Cook. Her older sister, Cordelia S, was born in 1906 in Mexico. Her father died in 1919 and, as far as I can tell, the family lived on his inheritance. Rowena and the girls moved to Traverse, Michigan in 1920, and moved to Pasadena around the time the recession hit.

After her education in Pasadena (of which I could not find anything), Rowena came to Chicago in the 1930s, working for about a year on a weekly radio show, before moving back to California in pursuit of an acting career.

In order to break into movies, Rowena entered the “Gateway to Hollywood“. It was a showcase for young up and coming actors, sponsored by Jesse Lasky, who conducts’ the search for new film talent via the show. She won, along with Ralph Bowman, Mary Jane Barnes and Lynn McKinley. And then it started!

CAREER

Rowena, as Alice Eden, was signed by RKO and got a decent role in Career, a movie showcasing life in a small Iowa town. And this is one good film – actually, it’s one of the few times that Hollywood realistically portrays the mentioned small town life. This ain’t no Andy Hardy, with his squeaky clean characters, perfect families and pristine streets – this is the real deal – as a reviewer on IMDB wrote:

This is a much grimmer world, where people are forced to face up to real issues, with no easy solutions; where panic and self-interest often take the place of reason and community-consciousness; where young love is often thwarted by ambition (and not just on the part of the career-minded male either); where the town drunk is not just a figure of fun, but contrives to be both boorishly obnoxious yet tragically sympathetic; above all, where venality is uppermost in just about everyone’s mind — except of course in the embittered storekeeper hero (revenge is what he’s after).

No wonder that the great Dalton Trumbo wrote the script – there is a ever present social undercurrent, and a very serious one. Sadly, the movie didn’t do any favors to anyone involved, including Rowena.

This is the story of a young girl who goes to Hollywood and hopes to become the next Sarah Bernhardt. Initially, Rowena was thrilled over winning’ the contest and getting a role and a contract. She’d spent years studying dramatic art, and naturally thought she’d be considered an actress. But she learned that people just thought of her as a contest winner. Her contract expired, and she was on her own. Instead of giving up hope, she decided that this was really her chance to make good. “I literally buried Alice Eden,” she said, the other day. “And started out to be just Rowena Cook.”

Sadly, Rowena Cook amassed only one credit. Kit Carson, an enjoyable but not particularly noteworthy western, with Jon Hall and Lynn Bari in the leads. A special bonus – Dana Andrews is also there!

That was all from Rowena!

PRIVATE LIFE

Rowena always maintained how she prepared for a theatrical career from her earliest days… When she got the Gateway to Hollywood contest, this is what papers wrote about her:

It seems that I will not have to worry about Rowena Cook’s (Alice Eden’s) future during the present year. She has 13 weeks of Alice Eden to do on the radio if she gets out of Des Moines alive. And then a picture and then the business of choosing between two or three contracts which have been slipped in the mail. Marvelously Lucky? You think that this little girl from New York has been marvelously lucky?

The sweet and dumb days have passed from Hollywood forever; a stupid grin and a good pair of gams are not enough at this time. Alice Eden is pretty enough to

Well, if you will start now and work for the next 17 years at plain and fancy dramatics, perhaps you will be lucky, like Miss Cook. She frittered away the precious hours during the first two years of her life and then someone told her that life is real and life ia earnest. “Oh, yes,” she said. “In June, 1939, only 17 years from now, Mr. Wrigley and Mr. Lasky will want me ta do a picture for them. Time’s a wastin’.” So there she Is as you will see her on Saturday.

Rowena’s only surge of publicity came when during that time, right after the win. As Andy Warhol would say, she had her five minutes of fame. Here is atypical article from that brief period:

Miss Eden, 21 and “blue-eyed blonde,” too was happy over her good luck and hoped it might lead to screen fame and fortune. Tuesday afternoon they presented medals at the A. A. U. and Wednesday night they will appear at the Varsity theater for the opening of the first picture In which they played featured – roles “Career.” Thursday morning they leave for Chicago and 13 weeks of radio work, and, in October, back to California.

It seemed like a wonderfully active, almost hectic life filled with interesting activities.. But it just didn’t last. On the other hand, Rowena’s co-star, John Archer (real name Ralph Bowman), enjoyed a long, if not especially successful career in Hollywood, amassed more than 100 credits, and married Marjorie Lord, and was the father of actress Anne Archer.
Rowena had a pretty low-key romantic life. On March 18, 1940, she married John Irving Laird, a fellow actor, in Los Angeles. Laird was born on December 10, 1911, to  Irving E. Laird and Ethel Taylor in Waukegan, Illinois, and came to Los Angeles for movie work as an actor. The marriage lasted eleven months, and they divorced in 1941. Laird remarried at least twice, second time in 1981, and died on August 5, 2003, in Florida.

By 1942, the US had entered WW2, and Rowena asked to be released from her contract so she could move to New York to help the war effort. This is what makes her such an interesting woman – when she saw that Hollywood wasn’t going to make her a top class actress, she opted to develop her skills in other ways and just left. No drama, just begin very efficient! In Nee York, Rowena began working as a trainer for new female Navy recruits at Hunter College in New York, and she did some part-time work as an actress, determined to become a legitimate stage actress.

In the theater circuit (during the run of John Loves Mary) she met director Vaughn Baggerly, whom she married in 1948. Vaughn Herbert Baggerly was born on April 18, 1917 in Davenport, Iowa, to Glenn Baggerly and Martha Crow, the youngest of two boys. The grew up and was educated in Davenport High School and attended the College of Theater Arts, Pasadena and then moved to Coral Gables, Florida, where he worked as a stage director. He was drafted in 1942, serving as a cryptographic officer and in the Special Services Corps. After returning to civilian life, he lived in New York.

The couple settled in Los Angeles, where their daughter Susan Rowena was born on July 31, 1949.  Despite his thriving theater career, Baggerly decided to become a professional Army officer, and was stationed in Tokyo during the Korean War. Rowena and Susan followed him there, and Rowena volunteered with a Red Cross at a local hospital. The couple returned to the US in 1955, and their son Vaughn David was born on July 28, 1955 in San Francisco.

Baggerly retired from the Army in 1964 with the rank of lieutenant colonel, then started to develop a recreation program for the Job Corps, and became head of the Job Corps office in San Francisco in 1965.

In their spare time, Vaughn was a director and Rowena an actress for the Theater of the Fifteen Company in Coral Gables – their love for acting never left them, and it was sure more than a simple fling but a deep passion. Not many actresses profiled on this blog could say that about their craft.

Vaughn retired in 1984 and he and Rowena settled in Laguna Nigel, Orange County.

Vaughn Baggerly died on January 20, 1990 and was buried in Illinois. Rowena moved to Barrington, Illinois, where she lived in a nursing home and was a capable illustrator and children’s stories writer.

Rowena Cook Baggerly died on March 2, 2004, in Barrington, Illinois.

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Joan Thorsen

A very beautiful woman and a successful photo model before she came to Hollywood, Joan Thorsen was given a solid contract not on account to her thespian skills, but rather her looks. Like any other girl in the long line of models turn actresses, she did some minor work and left the industry. let’s learn more about her!

EARLY LIFE

Joan Marie Hoff was born in 1918 in Auburn, Indiana, to John Hoff and Lottie Wolford. She was their second daughter – her older sister, Mary J., was born in 1911. Her father owned an auto repair shop. The family lived with Lottie’s mother, Clara M. Wolford.

Joan grew up in Auburn, where she was a graduate of the Auburn high school. She then attended Northwestern university at Evanston, Illinois, for three years, where she was a member of the Kappa Kappa Gamma sorority.

As an interesting trivia, we can note that the Freshmen class at Northwestern University in 1938 certainly contributed its quota to the entertainment world. Living in the same dormitory were: our Joan, Anne Lee, later a minor Hollywood actress; singer Julie Conway (she was later vocalist with Kay Kyser), and Jennifer Jones. Girls were registered under their real names. All four have adopted different ones for professional use.

She has achieved fame as a model in New York City and her pictures appeared in many popular magazines. This is how she landed in Hollywood in 1942., primarily to make tests for the famous beauty lover, Howard Hughes, and she stayed there, hoping for a career.

CAREER

Joan made her debut in The Heat’s On in a not completely insignificant role – too bad the movie is a really, really insipid and bland Mae West vehicle – unfortunately, what worked in 1932, when Mae was a Hollywood leading light, was not quite what worked in 1943, and the movie did nothing for Joan’s career.

Joan was uncredited in A Guy Named Joe, a touching, high quality, touching WW 2 movie with an interesting duo of actors, Irene Dunne and Spencer Tracy. 

Despite her obscurity, Joan had the honor of being a (albeit minor) part of the wonderful MGM musicals of the 1940s and 1950s – as far as the genre goes, you couldn’t do much better than that! She was in Two Girls and a Sailor Week-End at the WaldorfThe Harvey Girls and The Hoodlum Saint. I’m not a particularly big fan of musicals and rarely watch them, but these movies make for fine viewing – a great Sunday evening viewing!

In 1945, Joan appeared in the slightly more serious Adventure, the first movie Clark Gable made after his return from war. He was paired with Greer Garson, and actress I absolutely adore, but sadly, it’s a polarizing film, parts lackluster parts pure genius. Much deeper than the plot suggests, it does tackle some quite profound psychological issued, especially for soldiers returning from war, but, like most ambitious movies, it gets lost in too many directions and fails to capture its own brand of charm. Gable and Garson are an interesting couple and an unusual pairing, but they didn’t really click like she did with Walter Pidgeon or he did with Claudette Colbert. All in all, worth a viewing, but nothing to write home about.

Joan’s last movie was Undercurrent, one of the woman in peril movies made popular by Gaslight. It’s a good, edge of your seat film, headed by Katherine Hepburn, Robert Taylor and Bob Mitchum. Yep, imagine, Kate and Bob int he same movie!

And that was it from Joan!

PRIVATE LIFE

During her college days at Northwestern University, Joan met and married the boy-next-door, Robert Edward Thorsen, in 1940.

Tragedy struck when Joan gave birth to a daughter on September 13, 1941, but the girl died the same day. Not long after, her husband was drafted. Lonesome and trying to ease the pain, Joan took up acting and due to her beauty, she was noticed by Hollywood. After being tested by Howard Hughes, she was signed to a seven-year Paramount contract in 1942. She was to receive 1350$ a week during the life of the contract (which is quite  a lot and left me quite surprised!).

Despite her new job, Joan tried to keep her marriage in top shape, and often visited her husband, then Ensign Thorsen, who was stationed at Cleveland in 1942 and 1943.

Joan did her part for the war effort, as this article can attest:

Joan Thorsen visited the Army camp near Las Vegas, and while there they showed the picture, “A Guy Named Joe,” in which she has just a bit. When she flashed on the screen, the film stopped, and the soldiers made her get on – the stage for a speech.

in her spare time, Joan took Spanish lessons in a Beverly Hills High school, along with fellow contractees Marc Cramer, Bob Sully and Bonnie Edwards.

However, the strain of being apart got to Joan, and by mid 1943, she started to date eligible Hollywood bachelors, like George Raft and Sherman Fairchild. Raft was even semi serious with her, dating her for a few months. Things didn’t look good for the Thorsen’s marriage, and they tried for a reconciliation in November 1943 while Robert was on a furlough, but it didn’t yell and Joan decided to declare game over.

In late 1943, Joan moved temporarily to the Last frontier in Las Vegas, in order to win a divorce from her husband. It was there that she learned she was pregnant, but hardly changed her mind – the divorce was still on. There she met writer John Gunther, who was also there trying to divorce his spouse, and the two got romantically involved. After her divorce came trough, she had started to show, it was time to go back to the safest place – her family home in Auburn.

Joan arrived in Auburn in May to spend the summer months with her parents, John and Lottie. Her baby was expected in August and she hoped to return to her motion picture work the last part of September. After a tranquil summer, that she spend in part corresponding with Gunther, her daughter, Pamela Christina, weighing seven pounds and twelve ounces was born on August 9, 1944. Joan still expected to return to Hollywood with her daughter in the near future to resume her work in motion pictures. First she went to New York in September 1944, and spent some time with Gunther. She returned to LA afterwards, and Gunther gave  a magnificent farewell party for her.

Joan’s mother followed her to LA to take care of Pamela. She tried to resume her career, and still dated Gunther, just long distance. She was also feted by Fefe Ferry, the famous impresario, who was also her manager. Another swain was famous humorist Robert “Bob” Benchley. Joan used to take her mother as a chaperone on her dates with Benchley, to the delight of gossip columnists 🙂 Allegedly, when Joan, after being invited to dine by Robert, asked if he would mind her mother accompanying them. “Mind?” he said. “I should say not. I am flattered!”

However, Gunther was the number one man in her life. In January 1945, her former husband came to see their daughter for the first time, but no reconciliation happened. She and Gunther dated for the better part of 1945- Then, in November 1945, Joan met a man who swept her of her feet and suddenly, Gunther was out. That man was Vincent Fotre, the former beau of Ann Miller. Things progressed pretty quickly, and the wed in December 1945.

Here is an article about Joan’s second marriage:

The marriage of Mrs. Joan Thorsen, daughter of Mr. and Mrs. John Hoff of 123 North Indiana avenue, Auburn, and Vincent Fotre of Beverly Hills, Calif., a millionaire shoe manufacturer, is being revealed. The wedding, kept secret, was solemnized on Dec. 21, 1945. The bride is a former well-known Auburn girl.  For the past four years she has been a starlet under contract to the Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer movie studios in Hollywood. She has appeared in a number of pictures. Mrs. Thorsen and Mr. Fotre were married near Las Vegas, Nev. The former was in a group of movie starlets who went to Las Vegas to pose in a series of six pictures for Liberty magazine which were used in connection with an article “From Sun to Snow in 60 Minutes.” Mrs. Thorsen was in one individual picture in a ski outfit and appeared with two other actresses in ski clothes, ski jackets and sweaters. Mr. Fotre flew from California for the wedding ceremony. On March 22 of this year she represented the MGM studio in a style show, “East Meets West,” at the Ambassador hotel in Beverly Hills, sponsored by the Theta Sigma Phi sorority. She modeled a Grecian gold green evening gown styled by Irene, the studio’s famous designer. Pictures- were taken of the style show in technicolor and will be shown throughout the country. The former Mrs. Thorsen and her daughter, Pamela, are now residing in the home of her husband in Beverly Hills. Mr. Fotre is the father of two children by a previous marriage. They are planning to erect a new home in Beverly Hills as soon as building restrictions are lifted.

Vincent Valentine Fotre was born on February 14, 1901, in Chicago, Illinois, to Jacob and Catherine Fotre. He was married once before, to Kathryn Guinnee. They had a son, Vincent G, born on May 10, 1924, and a duaghter, Patricia Anne, born on May 11, 1927. They divorced in the 1930s, and Fotre dated a few of the Hollywood starlets prior to the marriage.

Their son Terry Vincent was born on May 17, 1948. Their daughter Janet Christina was born on April 18, 1954. They lived in California and were socially active, but sadly divorced in the late 1950s.
Fotre remarried to starlet M’Liss McClure in 1966, and they divorced in 1970. Fotre died on December 20, 1975. 
Joan married James S. Kemper on December 29, 1960, in the Bel Air Country club. It was a third marriage for both of them.
James Kemper was born on April 14, 1914, in, to James S. Kemper and Mildred Hooper. His father was at one time the US Ambassador to Brazil. Kemper was a studied at Yale and worked as a lawyer all around the States before taking over his father’s company. He joined the Kemper organization in 1960. He was named chairman and chief executive officer in 1969 and remained in that position until his retirement in 1979. During Mr. Kemper’s tenure, the Kemper organization expanded in both the insurance and financial services marketplaces.
Kemper was nationally known for his work in the field of alcoholism. As a former alcoholic who went clean, he had plenty of experience and a lot of good will to help others. President Carter appointed him to the National Commission on Alcoholism and Other Related Problems. President Reagan named him to the Presidential Commission on Drunk Driving, and he was chairman of the board of trustees of its successor committee, the National Commission Against Drunk Driving. He served as a member of the Department of Health, Education and Welfare’s Interagency Committee on Federal Activities for Alcohol and Alcoholism. He was also a director of the National Council on Alcoholism.

Kemper was the father of five children:  James, Linda, Stephen, Judith and Robert. The Kempers lived in Golf, Illinois, and at a vacation home in Pauma Valley, California. They were both passionate about golf and very much active in civic affairs.

Kemper died on July 2, 2002. Joan continued to live in Illinois after his death, but I could not find any information as to what happened to her afterwards.

As always, I hope she had a good life!

 

Rosalee Calvert

Rosalee Calvert was a perfect California mannequin int he 1950s and 1960s, tall, lean and aristocratic looking – like man yo fher peers, she tried for a movie career. She was more successful than most, but still not enough to fully devote herself to acting. She remained a high sought after model for decades and seemed to have lived a happy life in California. Let’s learn more about her!

EARLY LIFE

Rosalie Coughenour was born in December 13, 1926 in Dearborn, Michigan, to Lowell and Rosa Coughenor. She was the youngest of three children – her older siblings were William, born in 1921, and Mary, born in 1925. The family moved to Los Angeles in 1937.

I could not find any information on Rosalee’s education, nor her childhood – what I know is that she was modeling by mid 1940s, and by 1948 she was featured as a new, promising model in the papers. It was only natural that Hollywood snagged her before long, and in 1949, she made her movie debut.

CAREER

Rosalee started her career in Little Women, the all time favorite classic, a decent adaptation of the beloved Louisa May Alcott novel. No Katherine Hepburn here, who needs her when you have June Allyson (insert irony here!)! Anyway, a good enough start for sure.

Next, Rosalee played a model in the so-so drama thriller, East Side, West Side. While the movie has a really good cast (James Mason, Barbara Stanwyck, Ava Gardner) and some , it’s overall a lackluster film – not nearly interesting enough, and too transparent to be truly thrilling. After a brief hiatus of a year, she appeared in The Lemon Drop Kid, a Bob Hope Christmas classic.

Then came an uncredited role in Here Comes the Groom, a typical Bing Crosby vehicle – lots of singing, thin plot and a pretty co-star (this time Jane Wyman). Roselee than appeared in a two more musicals that, while not top-tier classic, have a nostalgic, good sheen today – Two Tickets to Broadway and Lovely to Look At.

The last movie Rosalee made before a several year hiatus was the Mickey Rooney movie Sound Off . Sadly, Rooney was way past his prime here (and only 32 years old), and it shows. His character, a brash entertainer who gets drafted, is an unlikable egomaniac, and the public just never connects to him. For a musical, this is a major, major minus.

When Rosalee returned to moviemaking until 1959, when, as a total anthesis to happy-go-lucky musicals, she appeared in a lurid, even untasteful, shocking drama, the semi trashy The Louisiana Hussy While the story isn’t the worst ever and the production actually had more than 5 bucks for props, the acting is absolutely appealing! The only reason o watch the movie is to enjoy all the “badness”.

Roselee was off the screen until 1962, when she appeared in another wholesome, cute movie – If a Man Answers, a Sandra Dee/Bobby Darrin pairing. While I like Sandra Dee – she was a doll – and her movies often carry a sarcastic bite, it’s too naive most of the time.

In 1966, Rosalee appeared in Made in Paris – I have a true fondness for this movie, despite it being a total guilty pleasure. It has a ridiculous, over the top story and seriously pedestrian direction, but the actors and the character make it an enjoyable experience plus, I love movies with great fashion, and this one is a full clock of stunning gowns! And Ann Margret, with her kitten with a whip sexuality, so outdated today,y is incredibly charming! And Louis Jourdan, swoon, too bad he always played the same character, but he’s parfait in the tole!

Rosalee made her last movie appearance that year, in The Oscar, a camp deluxe 1960s film, in league with Valley of the Dolls. However, I have a soft spot for Stephen Boyd, who played the lead, and thus give it a carte blanche although it’s a worse movie than the mentioned Dolls.

That’s it from Rosalee!

PRIVATE LIFE

Rosalee gave a beauty hint to the readers:

Eyes will look larger and more wide awake with a white or light beige eye shadow.

Little is known about Rosalee’s early Hollywood life. She was an active Hollywood model from 1948 onward, but was low profile in the romantic department. In October 1951 Rosalee married Peter Coe in Ensenada, Mexico.

Peter Coe was born Petar Knego in Dubrovnik, then Austo Hungary (that fell apart literary the day he was born), today Croatia (making him by fellow countryman!). Trained at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts in England and came to the US, starting his Hollywood career in 1943. He played ethnic roles in a string of movies.

The couple had three sons: Armand Brian, born on June 9, 1952 in Los Angeles, Vincent L., born on May 7, 1957, and Peter C., born on September 7, 1960. The couple owned a ranch and lived the quiet family life when Peter and Rosalee were not working.

Rosalee’s acting career was finished by 1960s, but her modeling career lasted much longer and was more successful. Rosalee was tight with designed Jimmy Galanos:

West Coast designer Jimmy Galanos, whose small beginnings I remember, brought at least 150 new designs to town for his show at the Ambassador. Prolific Jimmy also fathered 50 hats and produced 40 pairs of special shoes by David Evins for his clothes. Before a packed ballroom, he paraded new versions of the jeweled, Persian-printed evening chiffon so many smart women are wearing this winter. His lates have jeweled. Paisley tops and white organdie skirts as full as a ballet dancers. If the price tags stagger you the winter Paisley cost just under $1000 remember that art comes high. Jimmy’s embroi of hair, who helped model the collection, is Rosalie Calvert, an outdoorsy California girl, who leads a normal, ranch house type existence with a husband and two little boys.

Being a model + having a stable family life – this is a great combo, and a one not that many women can achieve, so kudos to Rosalee!

In the 2010s, the octogenarian Rosalee gave an interview for the Palm Springs (you can see the whole interview on this link) , alongside Barbara Sinatra and a few others, about their lives in old Hollywood:

Rosalee Calvert of Palm Desert remembers a harder life. Breadwinner for her sons, an actor husband, and a housekeeper, she worked nonstop during her double-decade modeling career. A favorite of fashion photographer John Engstead, she says, “He saw me through three pregnancies. He’d call me up and say, ‘What’ve you got left, Rosie? Hands, feet, legs?’”

Though she made her name in Los Angeles in couture by Jean Louis and James Galanos (“She was stunning,” Galanos says), Calvert was an instant hit in New York. One of her first assignments was a Vogue post-deadline reshoot by renowned photographer Louise Dahl-Wolfe. It showed a patrician blonde in a leopard coat. Before long, her agent, the formidable Eileen Ford, could be heard fielding phone calls linking the newbie with two of the leading mannequins of the midcentury. “Well, I could give you Dovima, [Jean] Patchett, or Calvert.” Client: “Calvert?” Ford: “Page 52, current Vogue.” And then she’d hang up. “She loved to hang up on people,” Calvert recalls, chuckling.

“The most interesting and fun fashion shows ever were for [studio designer] Edith Head,” Calvert says. She modeled costumes for Carole Lombard, Lucille Ball, and Greta Garbo. “Lombard was sooo small,” she says, breathing inward and then adding, “John Engstead shot me in some of Marlene Dietrich’s costumes.” A close encounter with the icon herself followed.

“Marlene Dietrich was a good friend and client of Jean Louis.” She volunteered to help behind the scenes at a fashion show. Looking at Calvert, she said, “I’ll be your dresser, darling.” Calvert was nervous. She’d heard rumors, and worried that the diva wouldn’t know how to handle the frantic quick changes. But, Calvert notes, “She was excellent. She had everything unzipped and ready for me.” And Calvert walked away with the ultimate compliment: “You are so beautiful,” Dietrich said. “You look just like me.”

Interesting story, but when I dig a little, I noticed that Peter Coe was  a working actor for most of the 1950s and 1960s, so I still hope he did bring some money to the family table. They divorced in the late 1960s.

For most of the 1970s, Rosalee was dating Richard Gully. Now, one has to wonder, who is Richard Gully? When I first started to delve deeper into the world of old Hollywood, there were names that constantly popped up, but nobody could tel me exactly why were they mentioned in the papers (usually for dating starlets). They were not actors, producers, directors of anything remotely connected to technical aspects of movie making. Some of them, like Greg Bauzter, were lawyers, some were rich boys who came to Hollywood to squire pretty girls, some were con artists (Johnny Stompanato) and so on.

Richard Gully was one of those names. The bets I could find is that he was an aristocratic Englishman, born on June 8, 1907, in the UK, and was aide-de-camp for Jack Warner. Gully’s specialty was that he knew everybody there was to know in Tinsel town and had a very active social life. The gossip columnists all loved him, as he put forth a great deal of gossip fodder by dating eligible Hollywood bachelorettes.

Here is a funny little article about Gully and Rosalie:

Richard, first earl of Gully, with Rosalie Calvert and a gorgeous actress from Munich Birgit Bergen. Birgit kept eating grapes but first washing them in champagne. A touch of class.

Their relationship ended sometime prior to 1980. Gully died on October 4, 2000 in Los Angeles.

In the 1980s, Rosalee lived in Westwood, California, and was a grandmother several times over.

As far as I know, Rosalee is still alive today and living in Palm Desert, California. As always; i hope she had a happy life and is enjoying herself right now!

Carmen Clifford

Carmen Clifford was a trained pianist and dancer of some reputee when she entered the Hollywood arena in 1942 – but for unknown reasons, she never made it past the uncredited roster. Later she became a songwriter and had an extensive TV career, so let’s hear more about her.

EARLY LIFE

Carmen Mary Scanzo was born on September 19, 1921, in Pittsfield, Massachusetts, to Patrick Scanzo and Inez Bascherie, both of Italian descent. Her mother was a hairdresser. She lived with her mother and grandfather for a time, so I wonder just what the exact state of her parents marriage was? Separated or divorced or maybe her dad was away traveling a great deal of time?

Anyway, Carmen was a musical prodigy, and took lessons in pianoforte playing from an early age. She also helped her mother in a beauty salon as a hairdresser and manicurist.

Pretty soon, Carmen took up dancing and excelled in it. She completed a three-year course at the prestigious local Roma Serra Studio. Carmen also studied tap dancing with Ray Hart. Carmen’s first dancing show was held at the home of her aunt. Mrs. Leon William, under the direction of Roma Serra. It was clear to all that Carmen was a girl with loads of talent going places in the near future.

In 1937, when she was just 16 years old, Carmen had been chosen as one of 15 girls to appear in a ballet ensemble at the International Casino, New York, to be staged by Chester Hale. She moved to New York and studied under Hale for some time afterwards. After living in New York for about five years, she moved to Los Angeles in 1942 to try her hand at movies. She managed to get work with a studio and started as a chorus girl.

While in Hollywood, Carmen became Miss Cheescake of 1944, but had little luck in the business arena. Carmen became the protegé of another Massachusetts girl – Eleanor Powell, who hailed from Springfield. Carmen was in the dancing chorus of one of Eleanor’s pictures, and the star became interested in Carmen, who was soon taken u n d e r the Powell wing, and is learning the best In dance tricks. And here we go!

CAREER

Sadly, we are pretty thin here. Carmen obviously danced as anameless chorus girl in movies from 1942 onwards, but imdb mentions The Blue Dahlia as her first movie – qhauza, you could do much worse for a firts movie, that’s for sure! Then we skip to 1949, and Carmen was in Always Leave Them Laughing, a mdiocre Milton berle Virginia Mayo pairing. Moving oN! 

Then came Call Me Mister, one of the lesser Betty Grable movies, with Dan Dailey playing her love interest. The story, a “lets stage a show,” is slim at best, and the only good thing the movie had to it are Betty and Dan – but even they can’t make this a classic! Carmen appeared in a bit better fare with Royal Wedding. While not a massive classical musical, it’s a pleasant, funny and at times funnily romantic fare with Fred Astaire and Jane Powell at their top form, plus Peter Lawford, seductive as always!

By 1951, Carmen was delegated to B class musicals, like The Strip, with Mickey Rooney (past his prime and playing a drummer who gets mixed up in some nasty company) and the light-on-her-feet Sally Forrest. The same year Carmen appeared in a non musical movie, the thriller The Man with a Cloak. This movie is one of many hidden gems that nobody ever heard of, but that have lots to offer. While not a top-tier movie, it’s well written, with great casting (Barbara Stanwyck and Joseph Cotten), good music and solidly directed. There is nothing much that detracts from its good qualities, but it just didn’t make it as a classic and remained buried and forgotten.

Carmen’s last movie appearance was There’s No Business Like Show Business. She went into TV but I could not find any credits. That’s it!

PRIVATE LIFE

While living in New York, prior to 1942, Carmen married a certain Robert C. Clifford, whose name she took as her nom de guerre. Unfortunately, I have no information about the man, except that they divorce prior to 1945.

Carmen’s second husband was Jack Passin, and they married on December 13, 1945, in Tijuana, Mexico. It was Jack’s third marriage. Since they married on December 13 and Carmen was superstitious, they did a retake assisted by Judge Griffith in Beverly Hills. Jack Passin was born on April 30, 1912, in Chicago, Illinois, to Morris J. Passin and Saide Hansberg. Little is known about him – he moved to Los Angeles in the 1930s for work in the movie industry, and he was an assistant director. He married Hazel Lee on April 19, 1942, and they divorced in cca 1944.

Their son Steve Michael was born on March 12, 1946. They lived in Los Angeles, both worked in movies, and often hosted Carmen’s mother, Inez. Sadly, the marriage did not work out, and they divorced after 1950. Jack later married Virginia Boyle in 1959. He died on October 29, 1983.

Carmen had a solid musical education, and in addition to her movie career, had a minor career as a lyricist. She collaborated with Nat King Cole in the 1950s, as this article can attest:

A former Pittsfield resident, Mrs. Carmen Scanzo Clifford, has collaborated with Nat (King) Cole to write a new song, “Calypso Blues,” which will be on sale here in a few days. Mrs. Clifford composed the lyrics, and Cole, the music. About a year ago. Mrs. Clifford wrote the lyrics for “Nina Nana.” with Cole.

As Carmen’s movie career hit the skids very early, it was clear she needed an alternative option. In a bid to stay an active actress despite her lack of success, Carmen switched to TV but sadly we have none of her TV credits on IMDB. Could be she used a different name, but no information is given. She explained her choice to work on TV to an interviewer:

CARMEN CLIFFORD … worked on Bob Hope specs screens she reported. During a telecast some shows are cut as much as 15 or 20 minutes. Some telecasts aren’t cut at all before going on the air. It all happens while the viewers are at home watching. In addition to working in TV Miss Clifford has worked in all the studios. However, she points out that studio work Is not booming like TV. “TV is more lucrative at the moment. The studios are feeling the recession. In addition, many of the musical specs are moving from New York to Hollywood where they can get top names. Naturally, this calls for more work,” she says. While discussing the current television topics, Miss Clifford says: … on Pay-TV: “Everyone I’ve talked to in Hollywood is in favor of Pay-TV In the event such an innovation is launched, TV would have real money for the big spectaculars. With Pay-TV viewers would see high grade, top entertainment. I just wonder how much longer the viewing audience will put up with westerns and quiz shows.” … on Videotape: “The swing to video is on in Hollywood. By the end of this month and the early part of Sept., I’m sure TV will be taping more and more shows.” … on new shows: “I’m presently working as assistant director to Nick Castle on a Japanese musical which will be presented at the Frontier Hotel, Las Vegas at Christmas. . . . Frank Sinatra is planning six specs for the coming season. . , . Dean Martin’s six shows will be launched throughout the next year.” Look for her. . You’ll be seeing a lot of her.

Carmen talked about the nature of TV work to the local press in Pittsfield in the 1950s:

Next time you tune in one of the musical spectaculars from Hollywood, Calif., take a closer look at the choreography. If you don’t see Carmen Clifford in one of the dances, it will be pretty safe to assume that she helped with the art of planning them. She may have done the dance-in. This means that she learned a dance, for say Dinah Shore, and taught her the steps. Miss Clifford has worked on such shows as: Bob Hope specs, “The Jerry Lewis Show,” “The Gale Storm Show,” “The Dinah Shore Show,” “Red Skelton,” and “The Frank Sinatra Show.” She danced in the “Playhouse 90” Emmy award winner, “The Helen Morgan Story.” “Ordinarily, (we work from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m., seven to ten days to polish dances on larger shows. There are times, however, when we are required to work late at night. Most of the smaller telecasts require three or four days work,” Miss Clifford explains. In preparing for presentation of “The Helen Morgan Story,” the actors rehearsed three weeks and dancers ten days. This “Playhouse 90” production, like most of its dramas, was very well-organized.

Sometime in the mid 1950s, Carmen married her third husband, Alexander Goudovitch. Goudovitch was born on May 30, 1923 in Paris, France of Russian ancestry, the son of Countess Anastasia and Count Basil Goudovitch of Monte Carlo and Nice. He graduated from the Pare Imperial at Monte Carlo. Afterwards he danced at the Ballet Russes, and during WW2 came to the US where he settled in Hollywood and worked as a dancer in movies.

On January 25, 1945 he married, Sharon Randall, glamorous musical comedy singer. The marriage did not last very long – they divorced in 1950, and Sharon singer testified her husband stayed away from home at nights and when she asked him where he had been he struck her. When he married Carmen, he was an assistant director to the director of the George Gobel Show.

Their marriage lasted for a few years in the 1950s, and they divorced as the decade was coming to a close. Alexander married Ida Mercier in 1962. He died on October 17, 1984.

Carmen married her fourth and last husband: Robert Rapport, on February 2, 1963, in San Francisco. Robert was born on February 9, 1901in Patterson, New Jersey, making him a bit older than Carmen. He moved to California in the 1920s, got married to Florence Rapport, who worked in the movie industry as a secretary. Robert later managed a theater.

The Rapports marriage was a happy one. After living in California for some time, they moved to Pennsylvania to enjoy their retirement.

Carmen Rapport died on February 15, 1981, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.  

Robert Rapport died on November 22, 1996 in Bucks County, Pennsylvania.

PS: Some good news! This blog has been selected by Feedspot as one of the Top 30 Classic Movie Blogs on the web!! Thank you!! Check out all of these great blogs on the list!

Jayne Shadduck

Jayne Shadduck truly is an inspiring woman. Okay, maybe her Hollywood career is as thin as air and she never really tried to be a serious, accomplished actress, but she managed to more than make up for this slight by being a pioneer aviatrix and successful businesswoman (and this long after leaving Tinsel town behind). Let’s learn more about her!

EARLY LIFE

Jayne Dunham Francis Shadduck was born on July 1, 1915, in Walla, Walla, Washington, to Joe F. Shadduck and Francis Shadduck. She was their only child. Her father was a general director of an automobile sales salon, and the family was relatively well of.  

By 1930, the family had moved to Portland, Oregon, where Jayne attended high school. Jayne caught the dancing bug early, and was in the chorus before she graduated from high school. She moved to California and started her Hollywood career in 1932, only 17 years old.

She was one of the few girls who signed a contract with RKO. All the girls were chosen from a chorus recently developed In Hollywood by Busby Berkeley. There were eighty members of the chorus, who, in turn, were chosen from among more than 5,000 applicants. And Jayne was of!

CAREER

Sadly, Jayne appeared in uncredited minor, minor roles in only three movies. Two of those were top of the shelf 1930s musicals – 42nd Street and Gold Diggers of 1933. Forget the story, enjoy the visuals and the dancing!

Jayne’s third movie was The Little Giant, a delightful, sharp and witty comedy with Edward G. Robinson playing a former bootlegger going straight. And fun ensures! Plus for featuring Mary Astor and Helen Vinson, both very capable, yummy actresses.

And that’s it from Jayne!

PRIVATE LIFE

Jayne gave a beauty hint to the readers in 1933:

Cologne is a boon for a variety of uses, such as scenting the bath, toning up tired pores and perfuming lingerie and handkerchiefs. When I am fatigued, I soak a pad of cotton with the refreshing liquid and press it to my temples, relaxing at the same time for a half hour, or as long as I can spare. It is most refreshing.

Jayne had a slight mishap during her early career, in 1932:

Jayne Shadduck, screen actress of “Forty-second Street” and “Gold Diggers of 1933,” was painfully injured yesterday while working in a tank scene in a new musical picture. “Footlight Parade,” on a Warner Brothers sound stage. She suffered a contusion of the nose when she struck the arm of another girl during rehearsal

In 1933, Jayne dated first Lyle Talbot and then left him for Mike Francovitch, Joe E. Brown’s adopted son and star footballer at the U. C.L. A. That didn’t last either – Mike married Binnie Barnes in 1940.

Next on the line was the much-married director, Eddie Sutherland (one of his wives was Louise Brooks), who just left Grace Bradley to date her. It didn’t last either.

Interesting to note that Jayne and Katherine Hepburn got their contract on the very same day at the same judge! Here is a short article about it:

Pair Choose Day of Jinx to Get Approval of Judge for Picture Work When Adalyn Doyle, “good luck girl” for Katharine Hepburn, and blonde Jayne Shadduck. raised their right hands in .Superior Judge Mc-Comb’s court yesterday and swore to tell the truth concerning their contracts to appear in motion-picture productions of the Twentieth Century Pictures, Inc., they crossed their fingers. “Oh, we told the truth, all right,” they chorused, “but, after all, It Is Friday the 13th and we aren’t taking unnecessary chances.” The contracts cover a period of years with gradual increases in salary until, in the event all the options are exercised, both will receive weekly salaries in four figures and without any decimals strewn therein. Both contracts were approved.

In late 1933, Jayne met playwright Jack Kirkland. Soon, she was telling the papers that the marriage to Jack was more desirable than a career in the movies. Here is a laughable and pretty silly article about Hollywood starlets and matrimony from that time:

Six of the Goldwyn girls who adorned Eddie Cantor’s “Kid From Spain,” “Roman Scandals” and other recent hits have called off their vow against matrimony. Jayne Shadduck, Vivian Bannon Keefer, Dolores Casey, Jane Hamilton, Barbara Pepper and Bonny agreed none would wed until all had progressed to be something more than show girls. Most of them had recent bits in Radio’s “Strictly Dynamite.” Miss Shadduck holds a studio contract and now she’s engaged to marry Jack Kirk-land and the other five girls declare it open season for orange blossoms.

This truly is a bit of make-believe – most starlets with no acting experience and no real wish to become the next Sarah Bernhardt didn’t’ come to Hollywood to establish a career – they wanted to have fun  and get married! Let’s not kid ourselves, most of the starlets I profiled here go squarely into this category. If they really wanted to act, they would have gone to a drama school and did theater before landing into movies. There will always be exceptions, but Jayne wasn’t one of them. She was aiming to wed and that was that.

Jayne was preparing a get-out for Hollywood, and get-in for matrimony. She married Jack on march 23, 1934, and left immediately for a honeymoon in Spain.

Like most hasty marriage,s this one ended in a fiasco. They got into an intense tiff and decided to divorce while on their honeymoon. However, when they returned to Los Angeles, the situation changed from day-to-day – one weekend they went from tavern to tavern , dancing and drinking together, the other they were separated and awaiting a divorce.

After an up and down period of about half a year, they finally did divorce in February 1935. Jayne testified that Kirkland often absented himself from home for days without an explanation, and that he was abusive in his language to her. The final decree was to come in February 1936.

However, even after they divorced, Jack and Jayne couldn’t keep their hands of off each other. They still went out regularly and maintained a very flirty and sexy front. The reporters predicted that their divorce would not last for long and that they would remarry. But, well, life operates in strange ways, and this is an interesting story.

During the throes of their post divorce passion, Jayne left for Honolulu for a short break. Kirkland, like a love-struck youth that he was, drove her to the ship and almost forgot to come off before the gang-plank was lifted. he was expecting Jayne to return in a few weeks so they can continue their liaison and probably get married once again. BUT!

A romance that started under a tropical moon in Hawaii in May 1935, and it wasn’t Jack. Jayne and Henry J. Topping, Jr., New York banker and wealthy heir, fell hard for each other, and announced, literary two weeks later, that they will be married next February. I can only imagine how Jack felt, but he didn’t waste any time in finding new swains – he married three more times (to Julie Laird, Halia Stoddard and Nancy Hoadley), sired several children, among them the famous ballerina Gelsey Kirkland, and died on February 22, 1969.

Jayne went to Reno to speed up the nuptials. The press joked that she had to pay extra fare to Reno because Bob Topping’s diamond ring is so big. In Reno, Jayne won a final divorce from Jack Kirkland, on. charges of cruelty and was boarded a night plane for New York to meet Topping. Like in a fairy tale dream, Topping was right on job to greet Jayne when she arrived by air from Reno. Oh, so sweet!

The happy couple wed in August 6, 1935. Bob and Jayne were the town before sailing on that South American honeymoon. After their return from the honeymoon (no honeymoon divorce this time!), they continued living the high life in New York City, a solid part of the local jet set.

One of the first female pilots in the United States, Jayne flew a six-passenger plane from Detroit to New York in 1937, for which she was featured in Life magazine.

However, in August 1937, Bob and Jayne parted! They went to Hawaii together. He returned from Honolulu solo and flew right on to New York. Jayne followed on the next boat and is flew east to woo him back. For the next few months, there was scant information about the couple, but then in October the bomb fell: Topping said he had told his wife,  to “get a divorce.”, but he refused to confirm or deny rumors of a $500,000 settlement. The soap opera continued, with ups and downs, much like her first marriage. Will they or wont’ they?

First, they were being sued by the Wall St. lawyer who once smoothed out their differences. Okay, so they had outside help in the marriage, but it seems that it didn’t work quite as expected. In May 1938, this happened:

The secretly filed divorce action of Henry J. Topping Jr. of Greenwich, big-game hunter and heir to a tin plate fortune, was revealed today when his pretty actress wife, Jayne Shadduck -Topping, petitioned the Superior Court that the action be thrown out. Miss Shadduck, accuses her husband of bad sportsmanship by violating the hard and fast rules of divorce procedure. Topping’s application to sever his marriage is based on grounds of intolerable cruelty and was written into the record last April 25. Apparently the decision to go ahead with the proceedings was delayed, since the original papers were dated April 16. He Charges Cruelty. Topping claims that a year and four days after their marriage, Aug. 6, 1935, in the elopers’ paradise of Armonk, N. Y., his actress wife started to show signs of cruelty. Her acts of cruelty, he states, continued until April 16 of this year.

In reality, Topping wanted to divorce Jayne so he could marry socialite Gloria Mimi Baker, and finally it cost him a pretty cool $500,000. Jayne put the price tag on the marriage and said: pay and get divorce or no pay no divorce. And she got her money. Such was Toppings passion for Gloria. Topping married  three more times after Gloria (to Lana Turner, Arline Judge and Mona Topping) and died on April 21, 1968.

Anyway, Jayne decided, wisely, to stay away from romance and enter the business arena: She said: “I have no romance whatever in my life now. And I’m not interested in romance. I’m interested now in the ice cream business.” In December 1938, she arrived in Hawaii, accompanied by A. Rost, who will be her partner in a Honolulu ice cream business.

Soon, Jayne was a staple in Hawaii and even started to sponsor various sports teams:

Jayne Shadduck Topping Signs Contract To Sponsor Gridders Jayne Shadduck Topping yesterday definitely decided to sponsor a football team composed of ex-college stars next fall, signing a contract to finance the team which will play in the Hawaii Football association, local senior circuit. The aggregation will be known as the Hawaiian Polar Bears. Bob Patrick will be associated with her as advisor, while Francis Brickner will be the business manager. John Masterson, director of the annual East-West Shrine football game, is the Mainland representative with headquarters in San Francisco. He will assist Mrs. Topping and Brickner in contacting and selecting the players. The team wm be selected by July 15

In January 1940, Jayne married her third and last husband, Richard Durant. She settled into a highly satisfactory family life in Hawaii afterwards. Richard Church Durant was born on April 25, 1906, in Great Barrington, Massachusetts to Mr. and Mrs. Clark Durant. He was a sportsman graduate of Yale and Harvard, and became a surgeon who helped found Kaiser Hospital in Hawaii.

The Durant’s daughter, Louise, was born on March 20, 1941. Their son Clark was born in August 1942. Their last child and son Payson was born on March 19, 1951.

Jayne was later embroidered a scandal concerning the divorce of James Roosevelt from his wife – it was the same scandal that touched fellow actress Andrea Leeds:

Denials that they are among the women named in letters from James Roosevelt to his wife were made yesterday by these two former actresses. Andrea Leeds (left), now the wife of Robert S. Howard, a millionaire resident of Palm Springs, Calif., said she “never had a date with the man.” She agreed with Mrs. Richard Durant (right), the former Jayne Shadduck, that the names listed could have referred .to any women so named. ” Her name was one of nine listed in a letter which Mrs. Roosevelt filed with her suit for separate maintenance. Roosevelt’s attorney is expected to file an answer today

Mrs. Durant said she had cabled Roosevelt demanding an Immediate public retraction of “the false, libelous statement” linking her name and his. Mrs. Durant declared today that it does not “exonerate him from the responsibility of smearing innocent person.” She said in a statement “a lot of damage has been done to a lot of innocent people. I cannot condone Mr, Roosevelt ever signing any document containing such damaging lies … in order to extricate himself from his personal problems … no matter what the circumstance.” Mrs. Howard said she felt compelled to make a public statement.

This one is open for debate, but I somehow believe, in this case, where there is smoke there is fire. Why would anyone put a random society woman living for years in Hawaii (by then) on such a list? While there can be some vindictive bastards who would do such things, I somehow think it’s not the case here. If the affair did happen, it happened around 1945, 5 years after Jayne married Richard.

Anyway, Jayne had a rich and varied life in Hawaii. She was vice president of the Hawaii Hotel Association in the early 1950s. She raced canoes with the Kahana-moku brothers and Doris Duke. She was also an ardent angler and landed many big tuna and marlin during fishing trips off Kona and Oahu. She was a member of the Friends of Iolani Palace. Durant was an avid traveler and had seen much of the world with her husband.

The Durants had lived in the penthouse of the Palms Condominium since it was built more in the early 1960s to replace the Palms Hotel. The Na-hua Avenue hotel, which Durant owned and managed, was often the vacation spot for Hollywood celebrities before and after World War ll. All in all, Jayne made quite a life for herself in Hawaii and it seems she led a truly happy existence there.

Richard Durant died in September 1973. Jayne stayed at the island and continued with her civic and professional work.

Jayne Durant died from cancer on May 29, 1993, in Honolulu.  Her last trip was to Kenya in November 1992, after she learned she had cancer. When she died, her grandchildren told these touching lines in her obituary:

Jayne Shadduck Durant, actress, pilot, hotel owner, deep-sea angler, world traveler, lived a life that was larger than life. After she learned last fall that she was terminally ill, she invited granddaughter Sonja Freebairn on a safari to Kenya, then they stopped in London to see some of the new stage shows. “Her life was more packed than anyone’s,” Freebairn said. “She was so much fun to talk to. In all those years, we never had the same conversation twice.” “She was a glamour girl,” said grandson Robert Freebairn.

The grandchildren were learning new things about her this weete as they found magazine and newspaper clippings about Durant’s full life. “She wasn’t a bragger,” said Sonja Freebairn. “She was so low-key about her accomplishments. ;. “She wouldn’t let us do a videotape of her stories. But she knew very much, she never forgot anything,” Robert Freebairn said. One clipping they found was about her piloting a small aircraft, breaking a flight record between Detroit and New; York in 1937. “

She was cremated and her ashes were scattered at sea.

Marjorie Zier

Marjorie Zier’s life can truly be a cautionary tale for other women – she drank too much and married too many times to wrong men. However, painting her as a mere weak female is a gross oversimplification. Like most things in life, her story is told in shades of gray with no clear resolution. Marjorie is extremely ambivalent – as much as she was responsible for her actions and often behaved foolishly, she was also as much a victim of a ruthless, chauvinistic society that had no interest in helping her. Let’s hear more about her!

EARLY LIFE

Marjorie June (or May Marjorie) Zier was born in Hennepin, Minnesota, on February 3, 1909, to Harrison Zier and June Jeremy. She was their only child. Her father was a successful car salesman. Little is known of Marjorie’s childhood – she grew up in Minnesota, and the family moved to Los Angeles by 1920. Marjorie took dancing and acting lessons and decided to become a show biz professional – by 1923 she was dancing in various revenues, and then became a Mack Sennett Bathing Beauty. This propelled her into movies in 1927 when she was just 18 years old.

CAREER

Won’t write too much here, I usually don’t cover silent pictures since I’m far from being knowledgeable on the topic, and most of Marjorie’s filmography are the silents. Truth to be told, I really didn’t chose to profile Marjorie for her career, so I’ll focus on the private life more.

Marjorie’s biggest silent role was in Phantom of the Range, a Tom Tyler western. In 1930, she made a few sound Mack Sennett comedy shorts, – Average HusbandDon’t Bite Your DentistRacket Cheers and Rough Idea of Love. And then she gave up Hollywood!

PRIVATE LIFE

Marjorie married Danny Dowling in about 1925, when she was just 16 years old. She sure started young! Danny was born on November 16, 1906 in O’Neill, Nebraska. He was living in Los Angeles by the early 1920s, working as a singer and dance,r mostly for the cafe circuit. It was a firts marriage for both.

This hasty marriage was a semi disaster, as you can see from this article.

When Danny Dowling. cafe ‘entertainer, was separated from his wife. Miss Marjorie Zier, by an annulment action, he refused to take the decree as final. He pursued the girl to whom he had been married, trying to persuade her of his affectior- He didn’t get his wife back, and although he did make an Impression on her, it was not a good one. Tn the words of a late popular eon? “The only impression he made upon her was a dark blue Impression round her eye.” ‘ The most recent meeting between Danny and hie former wife occurred outside the Montmarte Cafe. Danny asked it he might take Miss Zier to her home. She refused tc ride

according to Miss Zier”a story, a struggle followed and de lady’s eye was punched. She called officers, who arrested Danny on a charge of battery. Municipal Judge Richardson gave htm a suspended sentence on that charge. But officer state they found a bottle of gin m Danny’s car, and now Danny must stand trial on a charge of possession of liquor. , The case was set before Municipal Judge Edmonds, but will be transferred today to Judge Stafford’s court for trial

They separated and divorced in 1926. Danny was an interesting fellow, but this wasn’t the first not the last time he did such a dramatic scene – in 1934, he made headlines for months because he kidnapped his former girlfriend, Marjorie Crawford, former wife of director William Wellman (whats with Danny and the Marjories?). Marjorie sued him, they were in court and he was almost sentenced, but then, wait for it, THEY MARRIED! After beign at each other throats for a month and even gettign to court, the wed! As you can imagine, that marriage didnt’ last long! Danny opened a nightclub in Los Angeles and remarried to Harriet Kelley in 1943. He died on July 23, 1993 in Monterey, California.

It seems Marjorie was not a woman who could be alone, or indeed not married. She was already on the prowl, and Marjorie married her second husband, Hugh Parker Pickering, on August 17, 1929. Little is known about him, except that he was a Chicago socialite, and was born on April 22, 1905, in Louisiana, to W J Pickering and Grace Parker Williams. The marriage did not last long – They divorced in 1931. Pickering later was married to madcap heriness Mary Elizabeth Fahrney from 1932 until 1933. Pickering died in 1979.

Marjorie married J. Richard Van Conover in Dallas, Texas, Dec. 17, 1934. Conover was born on 1905, to William B Conover, a prosperous rice mill manager, and his wife Cora Conover, the middle child after older brother William and before younger sister Elizabeth. Conover was a aviator and oil man with business interests in Lake Charles, Louisiana, where his family lived.

The Conovers were surprisingly married for five full years, but it seems those years were anything but milk and honey. In 1939, Marjorie sued Conover for divorce, claiming he was a drunk who regularly beat her. Conover didn’t spare any nasty details about his ex-wife-to.be – he said on one occasion she split his scalp with “an iron object,” and that the only lapse in her drinking was a three-month period in Los Angeles in 1936 when she “took the cure.” Trouble started immediately after their marriage in December, 1934, when she struck up an acquaintance with another pilot shortly after their honeymoon. He said she developed a habit of going out with him, getting drunk and behaving in public in such a riotous manner as to cause him serious embarrassment.

Now this is sad. This is just simply sad. Marjorie was a alcoholic as early as 1934 (and quite probably even earlier!) and by 1939, five years later, the situation had not changed one iota. She was still a raging alcoholic who behaved inappropriately when she s drunk. While there is no doubt that she was first and foremost responsible for her actions, it’s clear that she was out of her depth and that she needed help badly. Were there any real tries to help Marjorie? Did Conover truly try to dry his wife and just gave up when she didn’t take it, or was Conover a perhaps a slightly lesser drunkard who didn’t give a whiff about Marjorie? Who knows. The point is, Marjorie was not getting any help, and her husband was such that he rather aired her dirty laundry to the public than helped her. It was realistic to expect a steep decline after these unhappy occurrences, and in a way, it was more than clear this would be a crash-and-burn type of a situation.

It’s easy to judge Marjorie here – while it is without a doubt that by her own free will she drank too much and got involved with the wrong men, it takes a boarder look at the context to understand just that a woman, born in 1909, who slipped into this unseemly world, had no platform that would help her. Nothing. Almost nothing. It was shameful, ostracized and frowned upon, being a female drunk, but did anybody help women in these situation? Did anybody do anything? And Marjorie was even part of the higher class for a time, and at least she had money and wasn’t hungry nor lacking in resources. Imagine how the women from the lower classed had it? On another note, I may be wrong and there were several interventions for Marjorie, but I would venture to say no before I say yes.

Anyway, Marjorie asked $250 a week plus $5,500 in counsel fees. In the end, they got to an agreement and were divorced after much acrimony. Conover remarried not long after, but sadly died on March 25, 1945.

Marjorie had a chance to make her life different – she had some money in the bank, she had shed an annoying mate, and perhaps had the fighting chance to go to a sanatorium and get herself dry . But what did she do? She continued marrying rich men who had major alcohol problems, thus exacerbating her own problem. Talk about damaging yourself on all spheres – from the physical one (alcoholism) to the emotional one (marrying highly unsuitable men).

Marjorie married Michael Cudahy in January 7, 1941, in Mexico. Cudahy was a scion of a prosperous Chicago meat packing family – he was born on November 24, 1908, in Missouri to Jack Cudahy and Edna Cowin, the youngest child and only son after thee daughters. His father killed himself in 1921, suffering from en extremely nervous condition and insomnia. Michael grew up to be a typical 1920s and 1930s playboy who went to Hollywood frequently to rip through new assortments of young actresses. He married actress Muriel Evans in 1928 when she was just 18 years old. They divorced in 1930. He enjoyed a lengthy affair with Joan Crawford, but she was her own woman and ditched him the moment she figured out she can’t cure a raging alcoholic with mommy issues. Like many of the playboy set, Cudahy drank too much and was a victim of a overbearing mother who kept him on a short leash. In 1927, he tried to marry Marie Astaire, an actress he met literary 24 hours ago, and his mother had him arrested in order to stop the nuptials (better be in jail for a day than marry the wrong girl, I guess). Cudahy and his second wife, Jacklyn Roth, dancer, were divorced in 1937.

The marriage was a disaster literary lasted for six months. Mike went into the army on May 20, 1941 Marjorie got a divorce on grounds of cruelty, saying “He was very cruel. I was very ill and he struck me and called me vile names”. So very precise and exact! While there isn’t much more information, it seems that Cudahy was happy to get rid of her. He called the marriage “a gin marriage” and quite probably too easily agreed to a hefty settlement. Cudahy didn’t remarry, and died from a liver related disease (read: effects of alcoholism) in 1947.

Marjorie married a Mr. Page sometime in 1942, and that marriage also didn’t stick – they divorced by 1945. Professionally, Marjorie was dried up financially and had to work again, so she became an early in flight hostess for TWA. There was nothing I could find about the mysterious fifth husband. Then, Marjorie started to date Stanley Wassil, a man who would change her life forever.

Wassil was born on April 13, 1919 in Harwood, Pennsylvania, to Polish born Catherine Wassil – his father died before he was born. Wassil lived in his hometown, prior to WW2, during which he served in the Army. Upon discharge he relocated to New York City and from there moved to Los Angeles, California, where he met Marjorie. They hooked up in about 1946, and were soon living together. Wassil worked as a semi successful real estate broker. Here is a short newspaper article about what happened betwene them in the end:

A jilted suitor was in Hollywood jail on suspicion of murder today for the beating death of Marjorie Page, a former Mack Sennett bathing beauty. Mrs. Page, 41. once married briefly to the late Michael Cuadhy of the meat packing family, died in the General Hospital yesterday, 15 hours after police found her on the floor of her apartment with a gaping wound in the back of her head. Stanley Wassil, 32 year-old real estate man who said he broke up v.ith her a month ago after living with her for six years, was hooked following the death. Detectives said he confessed: “1 pushed her in the face and her head slammed against the wall,” Wassil 1 broke down when told of Mrs. Page’s death. He sobbed: “Oh. God. my God! ! didn’t intend to kill her. If I had known this would happen i never would have tried to get her to come back to me.” Later he explained that the fatal quarrel followed a discussion . “about a reconciliation, about G money, her drinking and other men.” Wassil said that since their separation Mrs. Page had refused to give him an accounting of their joint funds.

Here is some more information about what exactly happened that fatal night:

Yells Described in Killing of Ex-Actress Neighbor of Former Mack Sennett Beauty Heard Her Testifies She Say ‘Don’t Hit Me’ Thuds and muffled screams preceded the fatal beating of Mrs. Marjorie Zears Page, 43, one-time Mack Sennett bathing beauty, last March 9, a blonde nightclub entertainer tes 1 V tified yesterday at a preliminary hearing into the former movie actress death. The witness was Mrs. Jo Ann of Director Puffy Michaels, 24, occupant of an upstairs apartment at 1912 N Canyon Drive. She quoted Stanley Wassil, 32, real estate man with whom Mrs. Page had resided for some time, as yelling: “Aw, you’re not hurt; get up!” “Don’t Hit Me Again” She said she heard Mrs. Page plead at one time during the fatal row, “Don’t hit me again!” Sgt. James Barrack testified he had answered a disturbance call to the house on Saturday night and had heard “a sort of snorting kind of panting” and had been told by Wassil that Mrs. Page was an alcoholic and had “passed out.” The woman died the following day.

On with the story – Wassil was arrested and tried for involuntary killing of Marjorie. In the end, he got six year probation and one year of jail. WHAT???

Okay, fact number one: Marjorie was a full blown alcoholic by this time, no doubt about it. fact number two: Wassil literary killed her. Yet, he got only 1 years in prison. Why?? Is it because she was an alcoholic and a woman? Before we start making our own judgement, let’s look at the facts once again, with more depth.

Fact Number one: Wassil was abusive towards Marjorie – it’s hardly realistic to expect this was the first time he struck her. She was a victim of an abusive relationship, like many women today. It’s easy to blame her for not walking away – but isn’t is more logical to blame the perpetrator for inflicting abuse on the victim in the first place? At any length, this is a complex question that will barely be answered on this blog, so on with the facts. The point is, this probably was not an isolated incident – Wassil harmed Marjorie before, and never once did he stop to think that maybe this wasn’t normal behavior for a man, that he should stop. From this angle, Wassil is guilty as heck.

Fact number two: Marjorie was an spendthrift alcoholic who probably tired to seduce other men when she was intoxicated, and this drove Wassil crazy. While this is far from fine behavior on Marjorie’s part, THIS IS NOT, in any way or form, a reason to strike her or inflict any other kind of physical punishment upon her. There is no reason to strike somebody, ever, unless it’s a life or death situation (and here, let’s be frank, it was not – I can hardly imagine Marjorie going after Wassil’s jugular to terminate him or something similar). If you don’t like the way the other person treats you, then just quit. Say goodbye and never turn back. I know it’s easier said than done and not all situations are a clear black and white, but still, wouldn’t it have been better it Wassil left Marjorie and never contacted her again? Who knows how her life would have looked afterwards, and for that fact, his? Maybe Marjorie would have died not long after from effects of prolonged alcohol abuse but then again, maybe not. We’ll never know. And Wassil did not have to the executor’s blade, the one straw that broke the camel’s back. Too bad Wassil didn’t have the strength to simply leave her be. If you do’t like it, just leave! Wassil looks guilty here as well.

Fact number three: Wassil obviously struck Marjorie in the heat of the moment, with no intent to kill. Real bad and unacceptable, but still no murder. But the real deal breaker here is that he LEFT after he literary shoved her into the wall. HE LEFT!!!! The coward left!!! Now this is where the line was crossed into oblivion, on the point of no return. Yes, he stuck her, he deserves to be punished for this criminal act, but it’s much less damaging to strike somebody than to kill him/her. But if he only stayed and helped her, Marjorie would have probably survived (or maybe not, impossible to say now, but let’s go with the assumption that she would have been treated earlier and her changes of not dying would be dramatically increased). It’s almost too easy to imagine how Wassil did this to Marjorie countless of times before – and left her on the floor crying, probably quite a bit drunk. This method worked, until it didn’t. Strike number three against Wassil. So tragic.

Verdict: Any way you look at it, Wassil is guilty. He was not only abusive towards Marjorie in general, and instead of trying to help her, he only deepened their shared problem and in the end, crossed the line big time. Wassil is no victim of a imagined nymphomaniac-drunk Marjorie who drove him to the brink of madness with her lascivious behavior – quite the opposite, he was a weakling who instead of ditching a woman who, despite her obvious allure, was a cauldron of problems, he stayed and only aggravated everything by being a highly counter-productive bully (as bullies always are).

After leaving jail, Wassil continued living his life normally after these dramatic experiences. He remarried to Jessie Gedid, and ran a launderette in his hometown.

Stanley Wassil died on February 21, 2002 in Youngstown, Ohio.

Valmere Barman

Valmere Barman was a California beach blonde who came to Hollywood because she was a looker. Her career, predictably, failed, but her later life was very interesting and to some degree cosmopolitan – she lived in the far east and was a very active woman! Let’s learn more about her!

EARLY LIFE

Valmere Barman was born on December 14, 1922, in Los Angeles, California to Wademar Jacob Barman and Edith Gay Barman. Her older sister, Edith N., was born on May 5, 1918. Her father was a refrigerator engineer.

Valmere’s childhood was pretty uneventful – she grew up in Los Angeles and developed an interest in the performing arts from her teen years. She was the assistant for the Mystical 13 Magician Association when she was 15 and her nickname was “Dolly”. She attended John Marshall High School and after graduation, opted to continue her education and go to college.

I could not find which college Valmere attended, but she was seen by a talent scout who bought her to the attention to Paramount studios – they signed her in 1942 and there she went!

CAREER

Valmere started her career in the low-budget Gene Autry western, Call of the Canyon.Who boy, can’t thing to anything more to say about these movies. Austry isn’t even half bad, so Valmere can even consider herself semi-lucky to star in his western. Happily, she did a bit better for herself in her next feature – Lady of Burlesque. A murder mystery set in a seedy, underworld burlesque house. Despite mixed reviews, this is a solid, entertaining movie with lots to offer, especially if you like burlesque, of course! Babs Stanwaxck is her usual great acting self, and there are plenty of underrated female talent here – Iris Adrian, Gloria Dickson, Stephanie Batchelor… A unique combination of Miss Marple and Gypsy Rose Lee, it’s a definite recommendation!

Like most of Paramount contract players, Valmere appeared in Duffy’s Tavern, a cavalcade of various dancing, singing and vaudeville segments with some very nifty names to feature (Bign Crosby, Betty Hutton, Paulette Goddard, Alan Ladd and so on). Then, Valmere played a schoolgirl in Our Hearts Were Growing Up, a sequel of the better known Our hearts were young and gay. Continuing the adventures of Cornelia Otis Skinner and Emily Kimbrough, it’s a charming but lukewarm romantic comedy, base entirely on the fact that pre 1920s girls were as a naive as smuck in terms of men and sexuality. While people from the 1940s could understand this and actually laugh at it, today it’s a bit sad and even a bit shocking to watch it. But still, Diana Lynn and Gail Russell and are easy on  the eyes and good enough actresses to pull it out. As a bonus we have Brian Donlevy playing a bootlegger who romances the girls. Whauza!

Valmere then appeared in Blue Skies, a well known, classic Bing Crosby/Fred Astaire musical, written by Irving Berlin. Valmere than graces one of Cecil B. DeMille’s epic movie, Unconquered. It’s a story of early America, about the struggle between the colonists and the Indians. Gary Cooper and Paulette Goddard star, and they make a fine couple, looking exquisite together. While the movie is lavish, stupendous and mesmerizing in its sheer scope, it has all the failings of such a production – namely, it’s not accurate historically , the plot is far-fetched and the characterization could be better –  but who cares when it’s so much fun!

In the interim Valmere made a few short movies – Boogie WoogieThe Little Witch, where she played prominent roles. Fittingly, she finished her career with one such a short, Gypsy Holiday.

And that was it from Valmere!

PRIVATE LIFE

One of Valmere Barman’s treasured possessions was a letter from Mrs. Harry Houdini. Since she worked closely with magicians from the time she was a teen, it’s safe to assume Valmere liked the whole hocus pocus industry. Valmere also performed on stage as well on screen, dancing and singing as a member of the Bob Hope Stateside USO tours during World War II.

When Valmere landed in Hollywood, she wasn’t a happy-go-lucky unattached girl looking for swains – she was in a committed relationship with her John Marshall High School sweetheart, Charles Eugene Dickey.

After a long engagement, Valmere and Charles, then a recently discharged marine sergeant, were married by Rev. W. Don Brown on November 6, 1945 at Trinity Episcopal Church. They were attended by seven bridesmaids and seven ushers.

Dickey was born on January 10, 1922 in Illinois, to Charles R. and Marie Heaton Dickey. He had a younger brother, Howard. The family love to Los Angeles, where Charles Sr. worked as a retail paint salesman. Charles grew up in Los Angeles, and after graduating from high school was drafted on February 12, 1942.

I always wonder what happens to couple that date for ages get married and then divorce in a span of one year (or something similar). Relationship fatigue? Anyway, the point of this story is that Valmere and Charles’ marriage didn’t work and they were divorced by 1948. Dickey stayed in California, remarried in the 1950s and died on June 3, 1982.

Valmere was out of the public eye by then, so little was written when she married her second husband, Frank Kasala, on September 1, 1949, in Los Angeles.

Kasala was born on May 5, 1922, to Frank Kasala Sr., whose parents were from Czechoslovakia, and Kathryn Bureker, daughter of German immigrants. His younger sister Barbara Leone was born on August 1, 1924. The elder Frank worked as a clerk. Freshly graduated from high school, Kasala was drafted into the army in 1942 or 1943.

He was a scenario writer before he entered the service and has continued in his profession as much as possible while in the service. Kasala won 3 battle stars for his work in the European theater. During the war, Kasala married Eleanor Canoy (born on July 10, 1923) on June 30, 1944 in her hometown of Marion, Oregon. Eleanor was a Majorette in the American Legion Band. Their daughter Gail Lynne Kasala was born in 1945. Tragically, the girl died just a few months after birth. The Kasala’s marriage never recovered after this, and they divorced in 1946.

Terri remarried twice (second time to to John Yeager) and lived the rest of her life in Oregon – she and her husband die don the same day in 2005.

The Kasalas lived in Los Angeles, Valmere retired from movies and ready for motherhood. Their daughter Valmere Lynn was born on March 4, 1951. Their second daughter, Cathy Gay, was born on May 14, 1953. Their third daughter, Diane L., was born on March 30, 1956. After her daughters grew a bit, Valmere worked as the Dietitian at the Pilgrim School in Los Angeles from 1961 to 1963.

In 1964, the family moved to Japan for work reasons.  The family lived in Japan from 1964 to 1968 and Hong Kong from 1968 to 1975.  In Japan Valmere taught as an elementary teacher at the International School of the Sacred Heart and was a swim team coach for the Yokohama Yacht Club from 1965 to 1968. In Hong Kong she taught as an elementary school teacher and also conducted the school choir at the Hong Kong International School in Repulse Bay. While overseas she loved to race day sailboats and sail for leisure with her family.

They returned to the US in 1975. Now, what exactly happened in the East and then in the US I cannot know, but my own take (so could be purely fiction), based on the information I have found – Frank and Valmere grew apart, their marriage slowly deteriorated, Frank fell in love with a Japanese woman, divorced Valmere and married the lady. The facts: Joe and Valmere divorced in November 1977.

Kasala remarried to Shinako Kasala, they had a son, Craig, and lived in California, where they were both passionate golfers. Shinako sadly died in 2007. Kasala died in 2017.

Valmere returned to California after her divorce. On September 13, 1980, she married Robert C Barnhart.

Robert was born in Johnstown, Pennsylvania in 1920 to Robert C. Barnhart Sr. and Edna Adams Barnhart, Bob went to Valley Forge Military Academy on a trombone scholarship prior to attending the US Naval Academy. Immediately after graduation in 1944, Bob reported to the USS Astoria as a gunnery officer and saw action at Iwo Jima and Okinawa.

After WWII, Bob served int he Navy and won a bronze star during the Vietnam war. Bob completed his 30 year career in the Navy as Chief of Staff in Philadelphia. After his retirement from the Navy, Bob settled in Lake Forest, California, where he worked for General Dynamics, Pomona for 10 years before completely retiring.

Bob married Paula Jeen Gay of Long Beach on March 24, 1945, and they had four children, Bobby, Randy, Annette Colver and Gary. Paula died in 1979.

Bob’s passion was fishing, and he and Dolly would often summer at the family fishing cabin in Pennsylvania. They also volunteered at Saddleback Hospital when not traveling.

Valmere Barman Barnhardt died on February 2, 2012 in Lake Forest, California. Her widower Bob died on December 15, 2012.

Myrla Bratton

Girls that came to Hollywood in the 1930s could be neatly boxed into a few categories (trained actresses, chorus girls, models, debutantes and so on…). Myrla came from the “beautiful but not trained” background. Most of these girls never amount to much in terms of a career and sadly this goes for Myrla too. But, here is the catch – instead of marrying and settling into sweet domesticity, she decided to stick out on her own as a theater actress. After her acting days were over, she worked as a secretary. Kudos to Myrla and all the women that did more than well for themselves! Let’s learn more about her!

EARLY LIFE

Myrla Cook Bratton was born on February 12, 1910 in Cave Spings, Alabama, to William Bratton and Tennie Bell Bratton. She was the oldest of four children – her siblings were Harvey William Bratton, born on March 2, 1912 , Myra Ethel Bratton, born in 1914 and James Leon Bratton born on August 11, 1920. Her father was a farmer.

Myrla and Harvey were taken to live with their maternal grandparents, James and Nancy Danley in Florence, Alabama, in the late 1910s. Myra Ethel remained with her parents, as did James Leon. I can assume money was scarce so the Danleys took care of the two elder children, but it’s only a guess. Myrla grew up around horses and was an accomplished rider from early childhood.

Sadly, William Bratton died in the mid 1920s, living Tennie a widow. The family bunked together once again, and by 1930, Harvey was the keeper of the family, working as a potter.

After graduating from high school, due to hard time and little money, Myrla went to work too. As a typical starstruck teen who dreamed of acting, she got the perfect job as an usherette at the Tivoli Theater in Montogery, AlabamaFrank Dudley, manager of the Tivoli, would later recall her early ambition to “let a break in the movies.” This was in 1930 – by 1933, Myrla was in Hollywood, making movies (to learn more about her path to “stardom”, go to the Private life section).

CAREER

Myrla made her debut in Roman Scandals, a movie that is a literal golden mine if you are looking for shapely Goldwyn girls. The girls aside, it’s a very funny movie, with a good cast and some great dancing numbers – exactly what a quality 1930s musical should be – definitely one of Eddie Cantor’s best work.

A similar snappy, happy musical was Moulin Rouge, where Myrla was again a chorus girl. Same for Wild Gold, a completely forgotten pot boiler where Mryla plays one of the Golden girls (chorines by any other name).

Myrla then tried her luck in the low-budget western arena. She did one full length movie, The Way of the West, where she played the female lead (in most cases, that equally a decorative pretty girl who get kidnapped and screams a lot) and two shorts The Lone Rider and West of the Law. The Way of the wets is allegedly a truly abysmal movie, with a bad script, horrible acting and laughable action sequences. Myrla made one more western, Timber Terrors, where she was billed below the horse (figures, the horse has more acting time than her). Okay, being billed below the horse in a western is not actually that bad – but here, Myrla was billed below the dog. Yes, the dog! obviously this is a western where the dog is more important than the leading lady, so figures!

In the end, Westerns didn’t pay, so Myrla decided to return to dancing. As she was auburn haired, she found her way to the already legendary Redheads on Parade. If you like lavish, huge 1930s musicals, this is for you. Nothing too nifty, but good enough to watch.

Myrla tried her hand at the then popular college musical – the name of the movie is Collegiate (how imaginative), and it’s actually not that bad – the plot is very much predictable (A Broadway playboy inherits an almost bankrupt girls’ school and tries to save it by a big show) and the leading man, Joe Penner, is rightfully completely forgotten today (very annoying, one wonders how anyone in the 1930s found him funny – but hey, they obviously did). However, the day is saved by the ever funny Ned Sparks and the ethereal Frances Langford. Also watch out for an early role of Betty Grable!

Myrla’s last movie was Anything Goes, an adaptation of a Cole Porter musical with Bing Crosby and Ethel Merman. Yep, this is one of the few movies La Merman appeared in, and this is perhaps the strongest reason to see it. Of course, that isn’t saying much – the movie suffers from the censoritis syndrome. We all know how witty and punny Cole was, and the censors hated such a witty and punny men and tried to put them to size any time they could. Yet, there a some good stuff to be enjoyed int he movie, and it’s from the bottom of the barrel.

And that’s it from Myrla!

PRIVATE LIFE

In 1929, 19 years old Myrla married R.J. Renfroe in Montgomery, Alabama. Renfroe was born in Atlanta, Georgia, but I couldn’t find anything else about him (how old he was, what was his profession – all a mystery!). On June 17, 1931, Myrla gave birth to a baby boy – unfortunately, the boy died the next day. The Renfroe’s marriage didn’t’ survive this unhappy occurrence – they divorced the next year, and knowing full well how life is short and fickle, Myrla decided to “just do it” – she quit her usherette job and went to Hollywood. Kudos to her brave decision!

By the 1940s, Myrla was out of movies and on the stage In New York City, studying under John Hutchinson and made appearances in the then nascent television industry (but under a different alias I could not find, so no TV credits are known for her). All considering, Myrla did really well for herself, and managed to pave her way into real acting, something not many actresses managed to do.

Myrla married for the second time to a James V. Moriarty on August 30, 1958 in Reno, Nevada. I couldn’t find any concrete information on this particular James, sorry. Unfortunately they divorced sometime in the 1960s.

After her acting career was over, Myrla lived in San Francisco for a time where she worked as a secretary. She later lived in Dallas, Texas, and several years later moved to Billings, Montana. Since she lived alone and was seemingly not in contact with her family, she was transferred to Valley Health Care Center when she became too feeble to take care of herself.
Myrla Cook Bratton died from natural causes on November 16, 1987, in Billings, Montana.

Bonita Barker

Bonita Barker was firmly cast in a Hollywood stereotype – a pretty girl from a good family who wanted to dance since she was a toddler, and slowly her “talents” morph into a wish to become a movie star. Heard that story before? Oh yes, and most of them ended dismally – with the girls in question out of Hollywood before they did anything of worth. Same can be said of Bonita – after three short years and some dancing roles, she retired, married and led a quiet life of domesticity. Let’s hear her story!

EARLY LIFE

Bonita Beryl Barker was born on July 21, 1916, in Rocky, Oklahoma, to Omar Barker and Mable Morris. She was their only child. Her father worked as an automobile salesman, her mother was a housewife.

The family moved to Hobat, Oklahoma, in about 1918, where Bonita attended elementary school, before moving to Ventura, California in the mid 1920s. Her father ditched his auto business and went into the sand/gravel business, again as a salesman. He became quite successful and was an esteemed member of the Ventura society, making Bonita a type of young, up-and-coming socialite.

Bonita caught the dancing bug as a pre teen girl, and always by 1926, when she was barely 10 years old, she was dancing in various local events where the genteel people of Ventura would gather. She was the best pupil at the Meglin Dance Stadio and perhaps one of the few that went into dancing professionally. She became a dancing fixture in town and was well-known for her skills.

Pretty soon, by the early 1930s, she  was appearing in the famous Hollywood Bowl in ballets and in more than a score of amateur and little theater programs all around the US.

In 1933, barely graduated from high school, she was noted by agents and brought to Hollywood.

CAREER

Bonita made her debut in the semi-idiotic musical, It’s Great to Be Alive. Whoa boy what a way to start your Hollywood career! She fared a bit better in her next show, Arizona to Broadway, a very polarizing movie that gets many things right but ultimately goes wrong. Whats starts as a promising story about con-artists trying to con other con-artists melts into a cheap, no-brainer stupidity. Too bad! But still, things got better, and they got even with Dancing Lady. i know this movie is not top of the class, best musical ever made, but I for one love it. Joan Crawford looking her best, playing an independent, strong-willed dancing lady, Franchot Tone as a wealthy suitor plus Clark Gable as a rough around the edges choreographer – whats not to like? And a special bonus – Fred Astaire in one of his earliest movie role! Whauza!

Like tons of other chorines, Bonita appeared in Stand Up and Cheer!, which is less a movie with a normal narrative and more of a pastiche – depends if you like these sort of things – I prefer my movies with more story and characterizations, sho skip! And then Bonita went the usual downhill route – she started to appear in low-budget westerns. I know I may be too critical towards this, but most actresses that went this way ended up nowhere (there are exceptions of course, but Bonita ain’t one of them). The movie was Outlaw’s Highway and there is nothing substantial to be said about it.

Bonita made her first and only college musical (a genre popular back then) in 1934, called College Rhythm. It’s quiet a good example of the genre, with a solid cast and some decent music. The stories are more or less all the same – young people goofing around in college (and nobody ever studies!), but it’s the energy and the charm that count, and this movie has them enough.

After so many happy-go-lucky musicals, Bonita appeared in a bit more serious fare – Rumba – it’s not a cry your eyes out drama, but it’s more than fluff. Leads are played by George Raft and Carole Lombard (who were involved in real life – love there small trivia trinkets!). Unfortunately, it’s a pale version of the superior Bolero (with the same acting team) and with a somehow similar story (Raft is a dancer who comes from the wrong side of the tracks, Carole is a ritzy society girl). Raft can dance, that much is obvious, and Carole is a very capable actress and stunningly beautiful, but the movie lacks bite. One of the reasons is probably the newly minted production code that forced producers and directors to water down most stuff – and the white-hot chemistry between George and Carole was definitely one of them.

The Big Broadcast of 1936  is another of the pastiche musicals – IMHO, skip. There are tons of talented performers here, but that ain’t enough for a truly good viewing experience. Bonita’s last movie, made in 1936 was Anything Goes, an adaptation of a Cole Porter musical with Bing Crosby and Ethel Merman. Yep, this is one of the few movies La Merman appeared in, and this is perhaps the strongest reason to see it. Of course, that isn’t saying much – the movie suffers from the “censoritis” syndrome. We all know how witty and punny Cole was, and the censors hated such a witty and punny men and tried to put them to size any time they could. Yet, there a some good stuff to be enjoyed int he movie, and it’s from the bottom of the barrel.

And that was it from Bonita!

PRIVATE LIFE

When Bonita came to Hollywood, she expressed a particular lack of enthusiasm as far as men are concerned to the papers. This of course was all tell and no-show – girls sometime did this to gather publicity (“she doesn’t want to get married, gasp!!” effect).

Bonita’s first Hollywood beau was Sammy Finn, who was toting her around the Club Colony for months but it didn’t get to the altar.

Like most young, unestablished starlets, Bonita appeared in the fashion and coiffure columns with some frequency. here is an example:

A coiffure like Bonita Barker’s would be becoming to you. The hair is parted on the right side, combed off the brow with a curl coming down over the left temple to the eyebrow, a wave below this and curled ends over the ears.

Bonita also wrote about her eating habits. Due to being in the chorus, she had to work long hours and did strenuous dance routines, and dieting too much just didn’t cut it out for her. As they said about chorines:

A dainty little sandwich and a soda may be good for the thinning office girl at noon, but not enough for the girls who want to keep their curves to stay in the chorus, these days. These screen dancers must eat, to regain the weight they lose daily in their work, and eat they do, even if it’s a soda between meals.

It seems that Bonita was a serious antiques collector. Her prized possession was pipe with a twenty-six-inch stem which once belonged to Emperor Frederick III, father of Kaiser Wilhelm. Famous director Lewis Stone used to smoke from it when Bonita loaned it to Paramount.

In the late 1930s, Bonita got engaged to Oren William Haglund , and actor and former husband of Warner bros actress Priscilla Lane . Oren and Priscilla were married for one day sharp – imagine what an awkward marriage that was. A wedding date between Oren and Bonita was set, but never reached. Yup, they never married. Who knows what happened between them, although Hollywood is notoriously cheap in this department – engagement were made and broken almost daily, like something extremely mundane.

Bonita traveled extensively after her Hollywood career. She visited Puerto Rico, Hawaii, and Europe several times. In fact, she was in Italy when WW2 started – she returned to the US from Genoa just a few days after September 1st. In 1940, she visited Cuba.

Bonita married Bennett Albert Robinson on October 7, 1941 in Los Angeles. Bennett was born on February 12, 1906, in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, to Louis Robinson and Rose Waxler. He studied to become a chiropractor and moved to Los Angeles for work. It was the first marriage for both.
Bennett was drafted into the US army on August 20, 1942, but after serving for a few years came back happily home (sometime before 1945).
Bonita gave up marriage to devote her life to her husband and family. The couple had one child together (couldn’t find the name, sadly). They lived in California where Bennett worked as a chiropractor.
Bennett Robinson died on July 10, 1982, in Los Angeles, California.
Bonita Barker died on May 11, 2006 in California.

Amelita Ward

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Amelita Ward is a vintage classic. A girl too beautiful for her own good, possessing a healthy dose of silliness and probably no small ego, she crashed Hollywood as a unique combination of good looks and a mean Texan accent. For a time it seemed that a bright future was in front of the lady. True, she did her share of slacking, appearing in a string of B movies and  was working steadily for a few years, not a small feat in cut-throat town like Tinsel town, where they can crush you down easily as an egg. However, it was Amelita’s fiery, passionate personality that was her professional undoing – after marrying a man who was ultimately totally unsuitable for her, she retired and never made another movie again. Let’s learn more about this flaming vixen.

EARLY LIFE

Amelita Culli Ward was born on July 17, 1923, in Magnolia, West Virginia, to Claudius Hatifled Ward and Pauline Pownall. Her parents were both college educated and worked as radio entertainers and singers.

Later studio claimed that Amelita was half Indian, half Irish, from Washington, was born in Texas. I don’t know about the half Indian/half Irish part, but Amelita was not born in Texas for sure. Ah, publicity stunts!

The family moved to Forth Worth, Texas, before 1930, for work reasons (her father was a production manager for NBC). They were well off, and employed a maid, Leona Phillips. Amelita grew up in Forth Worth and learned how to ride horses – anyway, she became a proficient horsewoman while still in her teens. The family returned to Fairfax, West Virginia, in the late 1930s, but Amelita returned to Texas frequently and kept up with all of her Forth Worth friends.

Sometime sin the early 1940s, Amelita went to Los Angeles and did a screen test for MGM. She didn’t pass and left her acting dreams flounder for a while. However, fate had other plans for her. She moved to Seattle, Washington, and did some radio work as a singer. In 1942, something happened, and here is a short excerpt from a newspaper article:

Producers Pine and Thomas had been questing for a new feminine star for their production which is being made on location in Texas, When Pine learned about the young lady. He heard she had made a test once for M.G.M. and wired Thomas in Hollywood to take a look. Result wan that Thomas was impressed and communicated enthusiastically with his partner. And so the new career was born. The sponsors of Miss Ward assert she’ll be going places. Paramount, the organization through which they release, is Interested.

And Amelita was off!

CAREER

Amelita started her career on a high note, with a female leading role in Aerial Gunner. Unfortunately, the movie is a mid tier war film, nothing really special. there are fighting scenes, there is a love triangle, you get the picture. This was followed by Clancy Street Boys, an East Side Kids movie. This is the first time Amelita worked with her future husband, Leo Gorcey. The movie is typical of the series – light, funny, with a decent cast.

Amelita Ward in The Falcon in Danger (1943)Amelita finally made a more worthwhile movie – The Sky’s the Limit. While not one of Fred Astaire’s best, like most of his vehicles it’s worth watching and overall it’s an okay movie. Fred plays a Flying Tiger pilot and Joan Leslie, a very likeable actress, playing his leading lady. Amelita then made an appearance in another movie series, this time The Falcon, with The Falcon in Danger. She has a meatier role here than in her previous movies – she is Falcon’s fiancee! As a genius reviewer wrote on imdb, her role in the movie is as it goes:

Plenty of colour is added to the film by the Falcon’s current ‘fiancee’, played by Amelita Ward with an authentic (rather than phoney) Texas accent as a loud and blundering Southern belle who constantly wants to ride her horse but rides the Falcon instead, relentlessly, until at the end he gets rid of her by sending her a false telegram in which her old boy friend asks her to marry him instead

So funny! And notice how he mentions the authentic Texas accent – seems this was Alemita’s selling point in Hollywood. One wonders how much good it did for her.

Then we have Let’s Face It, a funny and breezy Bob Hope/Betty Hutton vehicle. Originally a very risqué comedy with plenty of sexual subtext, (the plot says it all:  if jealous wives pretending to have their own love nest to get revenge on their philandering husbands. Involved in their schemes are soldier Bob Hope and fat farm proprietor Betty Hutton, creating marital discord and getting hope in hot water with the army.). Sadly, it was watered down to a benign and not especially smart comedy, but Bob Hope makes it work.

AmelitaWard4Amelita appeared in a thin plotted war propaganda movie, Gangway for Tomorrow. Unfortunately, most of these movies ages badly, and outside of WW2 context, have no real artistic merit. Amelita played her second role in the Falcon series in The Falcon and the Co-eds.  She plays one of the 40 girls at an all girls school, but not a mere stand in but rather a girl who actually does something with the plot! This is vintage Falcon – Tom Conway was as charming as his brother, George Sanders, and played Falcon with an astounding ease and fluidity – if nothing else, he should be the reason to watch the movies.

Then came Seven Days Ashore, one hot mess of a movie – the movie officially stars Art Carney and and Wally Brown is supposed to be a straight comedy with the duo in the leads, but in the end more screen time is given to Elaine Sheperd and Gordon Oliver, who play a straight romance movie. Then we have Marcy McGuire, the songstress, who plays like it’s a straight musical. Too much of everything but not in a good way. Forgettable movie in the end…

Amelita continued appearing in B class movies – Gildersleeve’s Ghost was a nice comedy, with the veteran radio entertainer playing the legendary Gildersleeve character. Rough, Tough and Ready is a completely forgotten Victor MacLagen drama. The Jungle Captive is an interesting movie! While it’s campy trash out-and-out, it does hold some rather ubiquitous qualities. The basic plot revolves around Mr. Stendall, played by Otto Kruger, a mad scientist who is trying to revive the dead ape woman, Paula Dupree, from the previous two Universal movies Captive Wild Woman and Jungle Woman. Paula is played by Vicky Lane, more famous for marrying Tom Neal and Pete Cnadoli than for any of her acting achievements.

More low-budget movies – Swingin’ on a Rainbow, a C class musical about a perky Midwestern girl trying to make it big in The Big Apple – seen the plot a thousands of times, but the movie is surprisingly funny and not a bottom of the barrel effort at all. Come Out Fighting is another Mugs McGinnis movies with Leo Grocey in the lead, but no other info is given. Who’s Guilty? is an interesting experiment in movies – it is a murder mystery, and beginning with the second chapter each suspect is trotted out after the credits while the narrator points out incriminating things about him/her. As the reviewer shrewdly notes in the review, it really does look like a movie version of the famous Clue board game, more so than the actually Clue movie that was made in the 1990s. Amelita plays the heroines, and it’s funny that despite all the perilous situations she finds herself in (she almost gets rn over by a car, etc. etc.), she plays looks picture perfect and her hair is weather resistant! Sweet! 

In 1946, Amelita appeared in The Best Years of Our Lives, for sure the best movie on her filmography, just in a small role. Amelita next played a model When a Girl’s Beautiful, a zany but sadly forgotten comedy. Amelita than appeared in the Bowery boys movie Smugglers’ Cove. And then Amelita hit the low-budget westerns rim with Rim of the Canyon. You all know what I think about those movies, but hey, they were bread and butter for many, so what is there to complain? Amelita’s last movie is one of her best – Slattery’s Hurricane, an underrated, minor gem. The main problem – censors. The original draft, written by Herman Wouk, was quite racy for the time, dealing with themes like adultery and drug addiction, but squeaky white Hollywood couldn’t touch that stuff, so most of it was cut out – leading to a lukewarm script at best. Richard Windmark gives a towering performance and sadly both Veronica Lake and Linda Darnell and underused.

That was it from Amelita!

PRIVATE LIFE

It was said for Amelita that she “looked like Hedy Lamarr and talked like Gene Autry”, which is a pretty cool combo as far as pairing Hollywood personalities go.

For a time in 1942, Amelita was in a pretty serious relationship with  Bert Gordon. Gordon appeared throughout the early 40’s in films and on radio as his character “The Mad Russian.” They broke up cca 1943. Here is an excerpt of an article about Amelita during this period:

William Clemens thought to spare Amelita Ward by having her howl offstage just as if being spanked. But Amelita said no. She’s one of 40 lovelies (count ’em, 40) in RKO Radio’s thriller about murder in a girls’ school, “The Falcon and the Coeds.” She said if the Falcon spanked her the moment he caught her rifling a desk in the principal’s office, it would be much more convincing. Do it right out in public, she urged, and she could yowl more convincingly. It would be humiliating, but one must make sacrifices for Art. So that’s the way the scene was played with Tom (The Falcon) Conway laying it on, and Amelita yelling. Director Clemens praised her devotion to Art. But he has things to learn about women. The other 39 lovelies among whom rivalry for the limelight is intense, looked on, biting their nails. Afterwards, Amelita smiled sweetly but the 39 groaned: , “Scene-stealer.” “Ah,” said Amelita. “Try to top that.”

AmelitaWard3Sometime after starring in a Bowery boys movie, Amelita got involved with Leo Gorcey, one of the Bowery boys. Leo was born on June 3, 1917, in New York, to Bernard Gorcey and Josephine Condon, both vaudevillian actors. Bernard started working in theater and film. he pushed and Leo and his brother, David to try out for a small part in the play Dead End. Having just lost his job as a plumber’s apprentice, Leo agreed and thus his acting career started. In 1937, Samuel Goldwyn made the popular play into a movie of the same name and Leo went to Hollywood. Soon he became a household name.

Leo, when he met Amelita, was married to his second wife, Evalene Bankston. He was divorced from Kay Maris, with whom he had a son.

Amelita and Leo’s illicit affair seems to have gone for some time before got a whiff of it. There was a major scandal when Leo fired three shots at detectives that barged into his house without his consent while he was with Amelita (she allegedly jumped out of the window just in time) – his wife hired them to find any proof of infidelity. The whole thing ended up in court and Leo won against the detective agency, getting 35000 $ in the process (the money went straight to his by then ex-wife as a part of the divorce settlement).

The same day that the divorce came through, Leo married Amelita  in Ensenada, Mexico. They remarried in the US a year later. They moved to a 8 acre ranch 30 miles outside Hollywood. Their son Leo Jr. was born on September 1, 1949. Their daughter Jan Lee was born on June 30, 1951.

Unfortunately, the Gorceys marriage was highly dysfunctional and not particularly happy. They fought constantly, and at some point Amelita started to “wander around”. In a cruel stroke of fate, Leo’s dad died in 1955, causing his son to sink into a deep depression and start drinking and popping too many pills. It definitely didn’t help with the already shattered marriage.

AmelitaWard2By late 1955, Leo has had enough. In February, 1956, when he asked for his third divorce, he told the judge Amelita was “rather fickle” and with tears streaming down his cheeks he accused her of misconduct with “her doctor, her dentist, a couple of other gents and a handsome cowboy.” Leo won custody of their two children, Leo, 6, and Jan, 4, but it was reported that he gave Amelita a hefty settlement with a lump sum of $50,000, 750$ a month for child support (although she didn’t have custody), and the farm.

Leo remarried twice, to Brandy Gorcey and Mary Gannon. After years of hard-drinking, he died on  June 2, 1969, just a day before his 52nd birthday.

After their divorce, Amelita moved to Reno, Nevada and there married Sid McClosy on August 10, 1965. The details were sketchy and it seems nobody was sure were they married for real or not.

Sid is an interesting character himself. Sid was born on September 20, 1927 in Greeley, Colorado, to Sidney Allen McSloy Sr. and Bessie Crawford. He grew up in Missoula, Montana. While I have no way to know 100% if this is correct, but a guy with the same name, Sidney Allen Jr., and the same residence in Missoula, Montana (so I guess it is him), was sentenced for 50 years of hard labor in a Montana state penitentiary, for, I quote, “an infamous crime against nature”. I was like, what is that? Is this some period short-code they used for less than pleasant crimes? It seems this was a “code” for, I quote Wikipedia:  identifying forms of sexual behavior not considered natural or decent and are legally punishable offenses. Whoa, who knows what really happened there. He appealed and got out of jail early, and married a girl named Mable. They divorced in 1957. He moves around and worked, like Amelita’s parents, as a radio entertainer.

Sometime in the mid 1980s, they separated and she moved back to West Virginia, seemingly to take care of her widowed mother. Her mother was quite wealthy, and Amelita had power of attorney over her estate and finances. Amelita started spending her mother’s money lavishly, even buying a Pink Cadillac for their mailman. There were several concerned friends who tired to talk some sense into Amelita. Unfortunately, Amelita contracted breast cancer and lost the power of attorney. Her son took over the care of Amelita’s mother.

Amelita Ward McSlosly died on April 26, 1987, in Durante, California or Alexandria, Virginia.

Her widower Sidney Allen McSloy moved to Newport, Virginia and lived with his companion, Thelma Bernice Jackson. He died there on September 15, 2002.