Back when most actresses were petite and barely reached the shoulders of the leading man, Helen O’Hara was the archetype of a wild and untamed amazon, being over 6 feet tall but still possessing a lean, compact figure. Sadly, all that is out of the norm gets squashed quickly in Hollywood (kudos to the people who were different and managed to maintain both that difference and their careers to the end), and there was no place for a girl of her caliber in the Hollywood hierarchy, leading her to an early career demise.
Helen Mae Clive O’Hara was born on November 8, 1922 in Los Angeles, California. Her father was the famous illustrator Henry Clive, who was born in Australia, acted as a magician and at the time worked for the movie industry. Her mother, Helen Cunningham, was the former Ziegfeld follies dancer and actress. Her parents divorced prior to 1930s, and she grew up in Los Angeles, in an artistic environment due to her parents. She attended high school there, and was serious about dancing since she was a girl.
Helene went to the East Coast in about 1940 to become a chorus girl. She became quite successful at it too, having stints at the Earl Carroll showroom and at the Florentine gardens. She ended up an movie actress after dance director Leroy Printz spotted her in a restaurant while she was visiting Warner Brothers lot in Hollywood and arranged a specialty role for her in a musical. She won a contract with MGM along with six other tall girls in March 1943.
Helen’s bout of uncredited features is quite predictable and repetitive. If an actress appears in movies in minor roles and thus has no huge impact on the industry in general, at least it would be better if she were to appear in a diverse palette of features cutting though several genres and acting with different brand of actors. That is what I consider to be an impressive extras careers (Bess Flowers, for instance, had a great career for an minor support actress, she acted in all kinds of movies with a huge number of stars). Helen, sadly, did not have one.
Helen started out fine is you like musicals, by appearing in Bathing Beauty , Two Girls and a Sailor, Thank Your Lucky Stars , Thousands Cheer. She was typecast early in this genre because of her height, as she could only get by as a chorus girl or a dancer.
Helen could have passed the rest of her career playing showgirls in musicals. Then, luckily for her, the direction of the movies she appeared in took a sharp turn. She appeared in two serious, if offbeat dramas, Nob Hill (for which she was lended to 20th century Fox) and The Picture of Dorian Gray. Just as she was to gradate to some more diverse movies, she was again huddled into musicals, and by the end of her career, she made The Jolson Story, Night and Day , Slightly Scandalous, and Ziegfeld Follies.
Helen’s height was the constant publicity gimmick used in promoting her. Standing about 6 foot 5, Helen was truly an Amazon, and this was always the focal point of whatever article she appeared in, or the fact that her father is the famous illustrator Henry Clive. Her name was over connected to several other Amazon actresses, like Dorothy Ford, Bunny Walters, and so on. There are literary dozens of articles with Helen posing next to a measuring pole to prove she was that tall. She was been called the highest woman under contract in Hollywood at one time in 1943.
Helen’s first serious beau was the dancer Paul Pierce, when they were both in the Earl Carroll show, in 1941. The relationship probably ended when she went to Hollywood. She had a short fling with Jimmy Stewart while he was on an army furlong.
In September 1943, she was engaged to Maurice Hill, then an army private and former Broadway dancer. He flew in from New York, proposed to her, and she accepted. For undisclosed reasons, the wedding never took place.
In 1945, Helen went to the opening of Copacabana in Rio de Janero, Brazil, and stayed there for several months, having a very good time.
Helen’s first husband was Willis Goldbeck, screenwriter and former journalist whose claims to fame was the Dr. Kildare series of movies for MGM. He also dabbled as a director and sometime producer. Willis’ former flame was the stunning but ultimately tragic Garbo wannabe, Gwili Andre, whom he dated for years in 1930s.
Her own father married another starlet, Burnu Acquanetta, in 1951. It was his sixth and last marriage. He died in 1960 at age 79.
Helen retired from he movies after the wedding, and was active in the civic culture around Los Angeles, giving speeches and lectures. She and Goldbeck divorced in July 1955, with Helen getting 12,000$ dollars in settlement and their car.
Helen’s second husband was Henry Thompson, whom she married secretly on April 14, 1956. I could not find any records of the union nor who Thompson was. Their children were Christopher Clive Thompson born January 15, 1957 and Diana Hayner Thompson born October 16, 1961. Helen and Henry divorced in the early 1970’s.
Helen married Frank L. Patty, born in 1907, on March 17, 1975, in Los Angeles. Patty was born on February 1, 1908 in South Carolina, but has been a Los Angeles resident from the 1930s. He was married before to Joy Patty, who died in November 1973. The couple lived in Santa Monica.
Frank Patty died on November 1, 1994. Helen remained in Santa Monica and didn’t remarry.
Helen O’Hara Patty died on October 26, 1999, days prior to her 77th birthday, in Santa Monica.