Monica Bannister

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Pretty as a picture and with a solid career, Monica Bannister gave up both her job and her marriage to become an actress. While the dream is sweet, fresh and admirable, it rarely works in real life – her career never got off the ground.  This may sound a little bit harsh and pessimistic, as there is no denying she left behind a stable existential situation for something fickle that failed – she was not  a success as an actress – but there are more important things in life than the way Tinsel town measures people or the illusion of stability. In the end, one can say, without doubt her life would never had been the same if she did not take the plunge – and her audacity was and still is impressive.

EARLY LIFE:

Monica Joyce Bannister was born to Hary F. Bannister and Josephine Hagen on September 8, 1910 in Saskatchewan, Canada. Both of her parents were born in the US. Her two younger siblings were Winifred and Harold.

The family moved to the States via Washington state in 1923. In 1920, the moved to Russellville, Multnomah, Oregon. In 1930 the family was living in Portland, Oregon. Monica graduated from high school in Portland.

In the early 1930s, Monica acted as a manager in a Washington, DC store. In cca. 1932, she went to a vacation in Hollywood, and due to several lucky coincidences, got a movie contract and stayed to become an actress.

CAREER:

Monica’s career spanned more than 10 years and 20 movies, a much better average than most of the starlets on this site. Note that all of her appearances were uncredited but one.

Her debut was one of the worst comedies ever made, Hypnotized, with two blackface comedians in the lead role. Luckily, she rallied through this fiasco and had her perhaps most coveted role, in Mystery of the Wax Museum. She is eerily beautiful as a wax figure, drawing much attention from the viewer. Monica then appeared in a string of top of the line Warner Bros classics like Jimmy the GentGold Diggers of 1933Nothing SacredThe Flying Deuces   and The Great Ziegfeld. I believe these movies need no more introduction. In between however, she was in Pirate Party on Catalina Isle  and The Girl Friend, B class comedies with the lesser known gents like Ann Sothern and Charles ‘Buddy’ Rogers. Monica was also cast in two happy-go-lucky but brain dead Sonja Henie vechicles, Second Fiddle and Thin Ice

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After 1938, Monica was never cast in prestigious productions again. While she worked for a solid several more years, the quality of the movies decreased. Flowing Gold was actually a decent John Garfield movie and a small box office success, but the plot held the good and the bad in equals measures – while the general theme is interesting and unusual, it sinks into the predictable Hollywood fare quickly and falls into all the well known tropes (love triangle and similar) . Garfield plays the same character he does in all his movies – down on his luck tough guy who can survive it all. Frances Farmer is beautiful but cold and distant.

Moon Over MiamiThe Cowboy and the Blonde (where she had her only credited performance) , That Night in Rio were all upbeat musical fare more common to other studios than to 20th Century Fox, but still could parry their MGM counterparts. Despite this, they were not the studio’s bread and butter, and few had any real luck with them, thus pushing Monica further

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off the star wagon.  The rest of her filmography only accentuates this sad fact: she was in the short drama Accent on Love, which nobody noticed despite it’s rather interesting premise, obscure comedy Marry the Bo$$’$ Daughter and one of the Michael Shaye, detective series, Blue, White and PerfectQuiet Please: Murder had the indomitable George Sanders and a lot of psychology involved, but no financial backing nor marketing and ended her career for then.
Surprisingly, Monica did just one more uncredited appearance for Hollywood, three years later, in 1945, when she was long time gone from any hope of being a working actress, in The Picture of Dorian Gray, making her swan song one of the best movies on her filmography. The hauntingly beautiful Hurd Hatfield lingers in one’s mind just as Monica did years ago in Mystery of the Wax Museum. After this, Monica left Hollywood forever.

PRIVATE LIFE:

Monica was a very pretty dark haired girl with a pleasing figure, and was much photographed by the press. Monica was also quite the clotheshorse and her personal beauty advice made several newspapers. In 1936, Dan Sayre Grossbeck, artist, made a perfect beauty from a composite picture of actresses – Monica was one of them, a great honor for any starlet.

cY9i56e40i6ecagoDhHsGgLJo1_500Monica married her first husband, Eugene Willbanks, in ca. 1930. he was a young attache in Washington, DC. The dynamic of their marriage changed drastically after she went to Hollywood in 1932, sand the lived on the other sides of the continent for the next three years. Clearly, Monica favored being an actress to being an Washington DC matron, and the questions pops up, was the marriage even a good one if that was the case, or was Monica overly ambitious? No answer can be given, but her career does not show her to be a throat-cutting businesswoman, and the scales tip towards the first solution.

It was Monica who asked for a divorce in 1935, which was granted in may 1935. Monica started dating again, and in 1936 her boyfriend was Merrill Nye, the set designer who knew his way with the ladies (having dated Eleanor Powell).

Monica got together with Edie Cherkose, a song writer, born in 1913 in Michigan, in early 1937. One thing led to another, and the two married in July 1937. Their marriage, much like their courtship, was very rocky. They separated in 1938, and then reconciled a short time later, but not before she sued him for a divorce for the first time. The reconciliation lasted only a few months – they separated again and divorced for good in 1940.

Monica totally drops from the Hollywood circuit after this. A interesting bit of news was revealed in 1941, when Cherkose tried to phone his ex wife for a casual date, he found out she was married to a Texan fellow two days before. Thus, in 1941, Monica remarried to an unknown man and presumably moved to Texas. I could not find any information about this union. Whatever happened, the two either divorced or her spouse died prior to 1970.

getimageIn the early 1970s, Monica married Johan Heindrich Van Muster. He was born 25 February 1925 in Jakarta, Indonesia to Dutch parents, he emigrated to the US in 1943 and became a naturalized citizen in 1953. He worked as a machinist for ATI industries. The couple moved to Escondido in 1975.

Her husband died in San Diego in 2001.

Monica Van Muster died on June 17, 2002, in San Diego, California.

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Claudette Thornton

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The leading lady, in private life, to Robert Stack for a time in the early 1950s, Claudette was a good looking girl with no theatrical background, and ended up like most of the girls who came to Hollywood based only on their looks – with a minor career and no recognition.

EARLY LIFE:

Claudette Thornton was born in 1932 in Virginia, to showbiz parents O.W. Thornton and Mary Thornton. Her older sister was Gloria, born in 1931. The family moved a bit during her childhood, to Oklahoma and later to Texas. She attended high school in Houston, Texas.

She was still a schoolgirl when she had her first scandal – in 1948, after being named a Bandera Cowbelle. she kissed one of the judges and was reprimanded by her school principal. C.W. Mills, who told her her act was tasteless, almost like kissing a sailor. The outraged Claudette left school and demanded an apology. This relatively listless event made all the papers in Texas.

Various publicity in her later life claimed she was a member of the Ballet Ruses De Monte Carlo, but I highly doubt that, as she was in Hollywood already in 1949, and in 1948 made the headlines with her high school antics. It is possible she was a member for about 10 months from 1948 to 1949, but I think it was a rouse to make her more interesting. Anyway, Claudette did dabble in ballet and was a bona fide ballet dancer before she went to Hollywood.

CAREER:

Imdb lists Always Leave Them Laughing as her first unconfirmed and uncredited role. Her next feature was A Life of Her Own, a Lana Turner showcase. The movie is a mixed bag – while it showcases the genius Ann Dvorak in one of her last roles, and actually tries to take a non standard approach to a sensitive and ungrateful subject, Lana Turner is not young enough to pass as a 18 years old model (she was 30), and the usually debonair Ray Milland sleepwalks through his role, almost like he’s not even interested in what he’s doing as long as the money doesn’t stop pouring.

3384Next, Claudette was a showgirl in Two Tickets to Broadway , a insipid, lukewarm musical. Repeat in the similarly blank Just for YouBack at the Front, gave her the role of a nurse in a better movie than her two previous ones, and it seemed Claudette might be catapulted to bigger things is only she could get billing. She was extensively touted as a stunning lass who appears in The Redhead from Wyoming, but in a almost cruel twist of fate, the movie she got most publicity for , she was not even credited and had a minor, minor role. While not a low cost western, it still failed to make any grades, critical or financial. By now, Claudette saw the writing on the wall, and moved to New York. She did some stage work (I could not find her on any Broadway credits, although the papers claimed she appeared in several productions), and guest starred in My Little Margie, a charming series with Gale Storm in the lead.

Claudette’s final (un)credit is another secretary, in the Ma and Pa Kettle at Waikiki, one of the last movies in the long running series. It was back to New York after that, and retirement in 1958.

PRIVATE LIFE:

Claudette was a 36-22-34, in 5’6” and weight 119 pounds – as a luscious showgirl, she toured air bases in May 1949 with fellow starlets Betty Jane Howarth, Wanda Smith, Rosalie Calvert and Anne Ross.

Claudette made romantic headlines for the first time when she helped Bob Neal get over his love for Evelyn In October 1949.
That same month, Claudette started dating Robert Stack. Bob was the man all girls wanted to marry – a gentleman from a good family, well bred and read, he was on top of that quite handsome and a bona fide Hollywood star. His former heart was Irene McEvoy, but by December 1949, she as long gone and Claudette had taken her place. By early 1950, it was reported Bob was mighty serious about Claudette.

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In April 150 Bob left for Mexico, and Claudette, feeling lonely, followed him. Yet, some minor tiffing and pouting pushed the of course, and probably more to spite Bob, she started dating John Agar by June 1950. And George Roosevelt. Push and pull, and by August, Bob and Claudette were back together, strong as ever. She visited him again in Mexico in October. Wanda Hendrix was reported as Bob’s rival for the love, but Claudette made sure Bob always came back to her. Wanda herself got another Stack, Jim Stack, Bob’s brother, whom she married in 1954. 1951 bough the ever present question: Are they are or aren’t they gonna? The rumor persisted the two would wed in a heartbeat.

In may 1952 after a lengthy silence, Claudette admitted as much, only adding that their careers have to settle down a little. Yet, there were problems in paradise. The pres caught them having verbal lashing in July 1952. In September, there were persistent rumor Bob would marry her before his departure to Europe – he went to Europe but did not marry her.
In 1952 she also feuded with fellow starlet, Mona Knox. She gained massive publicity as the girl with the perfect figure, much akin to Marie McDoald, known as known as “The Body”. Her photos were in all the prominent newspapers. The relationship continue into 1953, but as time went by, the situation became more and more tense. While they were seen together at all the important functions, the harsh reality behind the movie stars facade never did let the 35 year old Stack propose to his younger girlfriend. Things started to fall apart.

In February 1954, Claudette went to New York to stay with Kitty Kelly. Troubled brewed. In April of that year, Bob gave a very cryptic interview. The interviewer asks him about Claudette at some point. He answers “She is a sweet girl and not like some of these Hollywood belles who go out with a different guy every night an make the rounds of night clubs. But Claudette wants a career. She went to New York recently and do you know she met more important people than I could ever meet in a lifetime, and she has done a number of TV shows there. I like Claudette as well as any girl I know, but I still want to be sure.” My own opinion as that Bob was unsure of Claudette and was trying to find any excuse possible not to web her, including her desire for a career that was never really believable to me. And when a man, manor born and member of the high society of the West coast claims that a middle class Texan girl met important people he can never dream of meeting, things really start to sound weird and fishy. The inevitable happened – they broke up for good not long after.
John Hodiak courted her even before the break was final.

BY November, she rebounded by dating Don Taylor, still only separated from his wife, Phyllis Avery. She claimed the were only friends.
Claudette is covered less int he papers after this. In 1955, she was a steady girlfriend of Arthur Loew Jr., a man who dated a string of famous actresses, among them Debbie Reynolds, Natalie Wood and Eartha Kitt. In 1956, the press was especially nasty and tried to push a story that she married somebody at the same time Stack web Rosemarie Bowe – there are no records of this union, lo let’s assume it was a hoax.
01abf5def2d09cb57b04631f0934a074She also dated Murray Singer and Bing Crosby‘s sidekick, Jimmy Van Heusen. Later she is a twosome with Henry Ginsberg, going on double dates with Jean Smith and Arthur Loew. As a total boom, the next we hear, Claudette is buying rings with Liam O’Brien, an Oscar nominated screenwriter, brother of Edmond O’Brien. They were wed on January 18, 1958 in Los Angeles. There were news of an impending stock visit to the O’Brien household in 1958, but sadly Claudette miscarriaged. This happened again the next year, in march. The O’Briens opted for adoption – their son, Devin Liam, was born on June 13, 1961, and adopted 10 days later. Their second adoptive son, Colin, was born on October 2, 1962.

Claudette falls from the radar from now on, sidetracking her career to become a devoted wife and mother. One wonders why did Stack claims that career was of paramount importance to her back in 1954 – when she gave it all up just a few short years later?

Claudette tirelessly worked to promote many civic causes – among her many activities was that of a hostess for Friends of Fernald School. The school is for students slow in learning.

Claudette and Liam had a solid, wonderful marriage for 40 years – he died in her arms from a heart attack in 1996.

Claudette is probably alive today.

Betty Underwood

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One of the horde of models who descended to Hollywood after 1940s, Betty Underwood achieved bigger fame and success by dating famous men than her Hollywood career, but in the end, still has several roles to showcase.

EARLY LIFE:

Betty Marie Underwood was born in July 1925 to Ray C. Underwood and Gladys Griffith in Madison, Ohio. Her older siblings were Donald and Helen. The family moved to Mansfield, Ohio in the mid 1930s, and Betty grew up and graduated from high school there .

By 1944, Betty was in New York, working as a Powers model. Somehow she got to Hollywood in 1948.

CAREER:

Betty was signed by RKO in 1948. If there is a reason Betty will be known to anyone , it is her stock role in Leon Errol comedies. While time has not been especially kind tot this Australian comedian, he’s still far from forgotten and much of his work has been preserved on DVD and VHS. Errol made two short reels a year at RKO from 1936 all the way up to 1951 when he died.  The short are basically variations of each other, with he same structure and often the same actors. Betty’s role was the second banana, supporting female role. It must not have been demanding, as the films lasted for only 20 minutes, but it did minimal service to her career. The shorts were Backstage FolliesBachelor BluesOil’s Well That Ends WellBashful Romeo and High and Dizzy

In 1949, she was loaned out to Warner Bros for The Girl from Jones Beach, a funny but ultimately forgettable, pedestrian comedy with Ronald Reagan and Virginia Mayo. Her next RKO movie, Strange Bargain , is a highly interesting B movie, a perfect case for gripping, intense films drowned in a sea of films with better names or marketing.

Betty-Underwood-swimsuit-49Betty had a more prominent part in A Dangerous Profession. The movie boasts two Hollywood giants, George Raft and Pat O’Brien, and has a sold and tried classical crime plot the two excelled in. This is a kind of movie that pushed young starlets into bigger and better things, but in Betty’s case, the standard formula failed for two reasons: both Raft ad O’Brien were yesterday’s news by 1949, both on the decline of their careers, and the plot is so generic and formulaic you could mistake it for a  large number of other crime movies of the decade. Plus Betty is the female support (the lead is played by Ella Raines). Her one possible shot to stardom wasted, Betty was pushed to the bottom row for every working actor, low budget westerns. While they paid the bills, only a few managed to get out of the abyss once you fall into it. The movie was Storm Over Wyoming, Betty was again the second lead, and it led nowhere.

Her last movie was a uncredited Gambling House, an unsatisfying Victor Mature film noir in 1950.

PRIVATE LIFE:

Betty knew how to turn heads of gents from both the East and West coast, and did it with style and ease for several years. Her first beau was Phil Amildown in 1947 in New York. Later in the year she started going out with Robert “Bob” Taplinger. The relationship turned serious soon and lasted for more than a year, but they broke up in cca December 1948. In April 1949, she started doing the town with Franchot Tone, and this caused a rift between her and actress Jean Wallace, Franchot’s former wife. They were at odds with each other, and publicity even casted them together in a movie that was never made (The Bail Mond Story).

By June the affair had fizzled into nothing, and next in line was the handsome actor, Scott Brady. Brady dated them all, mostly casually. Yet, for a time in late 1949, it seemed the two were serious contenders for higher things, but in December it was kaput once again.

cm5fbuc17ruggu1In 1950, Betty meet her future husband, Lester Deutsch. Uninterested in the man, she spurned his advances and went on to date other, more interesting swains. Yet, the persistent Lester did not waver lightly, and continued his pursuit.  By that time, Betty was over and done with Hollywood and went back to New York, hoping for a career on Broadway. No such luck, but she did score the best known of her beaus, Ronald Reagan. Divorced from Jane Wyman, Reagan was on a dating spree at the time, which lasted until he married Nancy Davis. Betty played Ronald like a fiddle, making him chase her all over the East Coast, from New York to Florida. It lasted until cca. March 1951.

After two years of hot pursuit, Betty finally said yes to Lester and the two started dating in mid 1952. They got engaged in December 1952, called it off in April 1953, but got together days after.

On May 27, 1953, Betty finally married the millionaire aeronautics pioneer, Lester Deutsch.

Their eldest daughter, Victoria, was born on April 29, 1954, their middle daughter, Alexis L, was born on June 20, 1956, and their youngest daughter, Gina E., was born on February 8, 1963. Betty acted as a philanthropist, giving off fund raisers and enjoying the high society on the West Coast.

Betty and Lester divorced sometime after 1980, and Lester started dating Katherine Andrews. Betty continued to be active in civic causes in California, donating both he money and spare time to organizations like KCET .

Betty is still alive in 2013.

Elizabeth Threatt

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One of the most unusual, stunning looking gals who ever graced Hollywood, Elizabeth Threatt’s burst of fame and all to short and insignificant, and all her considerable potential was lost forever after a few short months.

EARLY LIFE:

Elizabeth Coyote (pronounces Coyte and not like the animal) Threatt was born to William Threatt, a Cherokee Indian who worked for the US army, and his wife, Bessie Pearl Furr, on April 12, 1926 in Kershaw, South Carolina. She and her mother moved to Concord, Cabarrus, North Carolina, and lived with her maternal grandparents until cca. 1933, when the family moved to Escambia, Florida. They lived in a small house with a big porch where her father kept exotic plants.

One day in the 1940s, her father left her mother. This proved to be traumatic for the young Elizabeth, for demanded from her mother that they move to Concord, where her maternal grandparents lived – this meant leaving behind friends and school mates, but she did not care. Her mother was reluctant, but Betty insisted and got what she wanted.

Elizabeth attended her junior and senior year at the Concord high school and graduated from there in 1943. Her mother wanted her to go to college, but Betty refused, feeling like it would only deter her from her true goal: to learn more about people. She got a job at an Army air base where she “learned about people fast.”

5242901530_aa35d277aeIn order to continue her exploration of the human spirit, she moved to the ultimate melting pot city, New York. Her mother did not want her to go, so she snuck out and took the first train tot he Big Apple. It was a hard, painful time of her life, separated from her parents for the first time ever and alone in a strange town, but Betty managed. A friend of hers send her photo to Harry Conover, and he suggested she try modeling.

Her beauty warranted her a post at the John Powers agency, and she became one of the most sought after models in the US, earning 900$ per week. Her cousins testified years later how careless she was with all the money, keeping them in drawers and plucking them out as she needed to pay something.

In 1950, she broke her hip in a “sidewalk mishap”, and had to stay at the hospital for almost a year. When she returned to work, she found out she could not stand on her feet for long periods of time, a must for any model. It a very nifty coincidence that just at the time when she was seeking  a second career, noted director Howard Hawks noticed her and insisted she play in his next feature, the western “The Big Sky”.

CAREER:

Elizabeth made only one movie in her whole career. The Big Sky was a Howard Hawks western with a strong cast – Kirk Douglas and Dewey Martin – and, logically, it got tons of press upon it’s release. Her story, half fabricated (they claimed she was a Cherokee Indian), was featured in every newspaper in the country. One thing was true – Betty never acted before that, not even in amateur productions, thus had zero experience in all things related to movies.

31-kirk-douglas-theredlistNow, for someone whose first role was not a trivial one, Betty did rather well. Don’t get me wrong, her role of an Indian princess is by no means a complex, mutilayered role like Lady Macbeth or Blanche Dubois, but it’s definitely more than the standard, bland and decorative leading lady fare all actresses had to endure at one point in their careers. There is obvious chemistry between her and Kirk Douglas, and her unique blend of drop-dead -gorgeous-high-society-belle-looks and earthy, natural and exotic features made her something different, an actress once seen whom you remember for a long time after, too unusual to be drowned in the sea of identical Hollywood blondes and brunettes.

It looked like a bright future was in front of Betty after the film was released and met with critical and public acclaim, with her winning kudos for her performance. Several strokes of bad luck conspired to end those paths of light.

She was signed and then dropped by RKO (in fact, they traded her for Dewey Martin and than nobody would take her). By 1953, she was back in New York modeling. She ended her working life in 1956, when she married her third husband.

PRIVATE LIFE:

Elizabeth married not long after she landed in New York as a model, to a Missouri native Louis Cushed. Their daughter Rona was born in 1947. The union was extremely rocky, and the “sidewalk” mishap she suffered in 1949 was in fact not a mishap, but her husband’s fault – he threw her off a moving car! They divorced in 1950 in Florida. Cushed died in 1997 at the age of 87.

r7mectbnmafoamotHoward Hawks took more than just a professional interest in the pretty model. They dated for several months staring in 1950, but Howard proved to be too much for Elizabeth – not only did he date Jane Wyman at the same time they started the romance  – but he met his future wife, Dee Hartford, on New Years Eve 1951, and broke up with Elizabeth a few weeks later. They still managed to have a civil working relationship.

During that time, Betty lived in Los Angeles, and rented a house next door to Judy Garland. Judy’s daughter, Liza Minnelli, would often play with Betty’s daughter, Rona.

When Elizabeth Threatt met him, Kirk Douglas was already an established actor, building up his reputation and an impressive filmography by 1950. Also his private life was quite a chaotic whirl – he was separated from his wife, Diana Dill, not yet divorced, but goofed around town with pretty starlets frequently. To be perfectly frank, Kirk was a womanizer back then, a guy who was handsome, famous and wealthy and who could have the best of them, and just getting separated, he enjoyed the high life to the hilt. Elizabeth just came at the wrong time for the relationship to work.

They started dating in cca. September 1951. Betty, as a practical joker, even pulled a stunt on Kirk Douglas – namely, his drivers licence had expired and he had not yet renewn it. She found this out, and called a friend to do her  a favor – while Kirk was driving, a somebody who looked like a police officer stopped him and asked for his licence. Kirk almost had  a heart attack, but then the prankster revealed his true colors. Needless to say, he was not amused, but admired her spunk.

1952 started well enough for the couple, as they were seen everywhere hand in hand, and all seemed fine and dandy. The problems began when Kirk went back to California, his permanent home base back then. Betty started dating other people on the sly, like Otto Fenn. They went left and right, not breaking up but still never having a proper relationship, almost for a year after that.

To try and salvage it, he took a role that would bring him back to New York, but Betty was then dating agent Ray Stark and the chances of achieving a permanent, stable relationship were nill. They broke up for good in mid 1953. Betty dated Stewart Crowley, a modeling agency boss in June 1953. A short time later, she was noted as the girl bandleader Gene Williams will marry after his divorce. Gene was a well known singer and band leader, performed with the orchestras of Johnny Long, Les Elgart, Vincent Lopez, Bobby Sherwood, Woody Herman and Claude Thornhill. The two indeed married in 1953 but divorced shorty thereafter in 1954.

Betty Thrett Modeling SwimwearThe next we hear about Betty, in 1956, she is in Guatemala and married to a millionaire french viscount, Antoine Marie Fancois de Contandes. Known as Anthony or Tony to the English speaking gents, De Constandes was born on April 2, 1932 in Paris to a noble family, – his father was  Jean, Vicomte de Contades and his mother, Jacqueline du Bouays de la Bégassièrre. The family emigrated to Brazil in 1945. Tony was a part of the jet set, constantly traveling, and was at one time a commercial and international representative for the famous French firm Coty (fashion & perfumes). How they met and married is still a mystery to me.

Betty’s second child, a son, Jean De Contandes, was born on March 20, 1957 in Guatemala.

Betty and her husband divorced in October 1963 in Florida, and he married Daphne Jean Jefferson a month later, on November 15. They had another son, Yves, in 1964. Betty returned home, to Concord.

In the meantime, her daughter Rona moved to California and married twice, first time to David M Kennedy (in 1971), the second time to Timothy J Nichols (in 1976) .

Her son Jean grew up in Concord. Jean served in the Marines in Florida for a time, but died at age 20 in 1977 as a result of a car accident. He is buried in Concord in Betty’s family plot.

Betty continued to live in Concord, and became quite religious in her later years.

Elizabeth DeContandes died on November 22, 1993, in Concord, South Carolina.  Her end was a sad one – she died in a Carrabus nursing home, alone. With an unlucky coincidence, her former husband, Antoine De Contandes, also died as a deeply unhappy man in 1990.

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Inez Gorman

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Opera stars sometimes made it in Hollywood. Kathryn Grayson. Rise Stevens. But, they sometimes did not. Inez Gorman is the poster child for an opera star that had it all – the looks, the voice, and the acting chops, but never did get anywhere.

EARLY LIFE:

Lillian Inez Gorman was born on October 31, 1912, in Boston, Massachusetts, to Prof. Frank C. Gorman and Adelaide Florence Tenfry. Her younger siblings were Jeannette, John and Harry.

Inez came from an family deeply in the academics – her father was a supervisor for several music school. Being a musical appasionato, he rubbed it off all his children, but Inez was specially affected. She sang from he time she could talk -but, paradoxically, this fine art did not make Inez a feminine, girly girl. In fact, she was a notorious toyboy, beating her brother at sports with comparative ease, climbing trees and doing all the standard non-girly things one can think of. The family moved to Bessemer, Michigan, in about 1922.

While living in Bessemer, Inez racked up an impressive list of events she enlightened with her singing voice, starting in 1925, and did some amateur theatrics at her school.  Inez’s first real public performance came in 1930, when she sang in a chorus of 400 people for a huge Chicago crowd. She was also Miss Bessemer in county fairs. It was pretty obvious Inez was the belle of Bessemer, the most accomplished, beautiful girl in a small town, the symbol of hope, somebody who could do things outside the confinements of Michigan and even attain nation wide fame. Yet, often these girls grow up, and the momentum they had simply passes like water down the drain.

With Inez it was the opposite. As time went by, she blossomed into a pretty looking lady, and it was obvious she had the chops to go into showbiz. Despite winning two beauty contest in Boston, she opted for the family trade and went into the education field by studying at the Curtis Institute in Philadelphia, where both of her parents graduated.

It was during her college years that she was offered to joint he Ziegfeld Follies, but the steely NO from Mr. and Mrs. Gorman put an end to that. Inez graduated in 1934 and went to New York to further her budding career. She did bit work here and there, often being a piano accompanist. Landing a stint at the Metropolitan Opera, and earned some reputation by playing in Wagner’s only comic opera, Meistersinger, in 1936, her official opera debut. Her reviews were good, and Inez was going for bigger and better things.

In April 1936, an executive read a blurb about the newby singer, liked what he saw, wired his eastern representative and went to New York to meet and appraise his new investment. Inez made the grade, and was signed by 20th Century Fox.

CAREER:

One word come to mind when we take a look at Inez’s career: weird. She was signed by 20th Century Fox in 1936, and it as no normal contract – her salary was much higher than a normal newcomers, all due to the fact that she was a notable opera singer. In an almost cruel twist of fate, Inez never appeared in front of the camera for the duration of her contract, forever wasting a chance to see her in her prime years in a movie, to hear her voice when she was young and vital.

In a city that thrived of youth and rejects anything timely (especially women), Inez surprisingly she made her second coming when she was almost 40 years old, in 1950, signed by MGM. Yes, her roles were all minuscule and uncredited, but she is there, and actually visible in most of them.

Her whole career, thus can be summed up by the kind of movies MGM made in the 1950s: happy-go-lucky, lightweight, simple and pleasant. But that is it. No meaty dramatic parts, no real life situations, no truly climactic moments… But as escapist fare, it flies high!

Inez’s first movie was her only truly serious one, No Questions Asked, a late film noir. Since it’s not their usual fare, no big names appear, nor did the film become any sort of hit or got noticed in any way. What a pity, as it tackles a mature, delicate matter, but manages to miss it’s target in the in the end. Nice to see the lush Arlene Dahl in color tough…

!CCzo)LwBGk~$(KGrHqV,!lMEz+4(R+8CBNMb9ykYGQ~~_35Then it was back to lighter fare. Strictly Dishonorable, a showcase for Enzio Pinza, boasts no profound story line nor complex, multilayered characters, but as a musical extravaganza it makes the grade.

Love Is Better Than Ever is an early showcase for Liz Taylor, another light-as-a-feather escapist film. Liz is at the peak of her beauty here (a phase that was all too brief, lasting only until her late 20s – by the time she met Richard Burton, she was slowly decaying and never regained her original beauty – while it is true that Liz aged the same as anybody else, take a look at some of the other actresses who kept their top looks well into their 40s – Claudette Colbert, Jean Arthur, Olivia DeHavilland), and is very good as the girl who will do anything to get her man. Larry Parks, the man she wants to badly, is only adequate as a misogynistic, sarcastic character, but Liz is a woman of an industrial rubber band strength and just bounces back after anything he throws at her, ready for the kill.

Singin’ in the Rain is a classic that needs no further introductions. Dream Wife is one of Cary Grant’s lesser comedies, but I can think of much worse ways to spend an hour and a half. And Deborah Kerr, who can do no wrong in my eyes, is the leading lady. Give a Girl a Break, her last movie, is a unfairly unknown musical with a great cast – Grower and Marge Champion, Bob Fosse, Debbie Reynolds. Her MGM contract expired and past her prime, Inez gave up the movies and settled into a normal married life.

PRIVATE LIFE:

Inez married her first husband, James Stagliano, in 1935 in St. Louis, Missouri. By the next year she was out in Hollywood, and it disintegrated quickly.

Inez started dating Ernest Ralph Orsatti in 1937. Ernest Orsatti was a former baseball player, member of the St. Louis Cardinals, who worked in Hollywood as a producer in tandem with his better known brother, Vic Orsatti.

Things started to get serious when he took her to see his brother’s marriage to June Lang, and progressed upwards from there.
Now, Vic Orsatti, there is a womanizer in the league of Greg Bautzer and Howard Hughes, with a list of conquests so impressive it’s sometimes hard to believe he did it all. A slick figure with ties to the underworld, Vic was a natural publicity magnet, clever and seductive like a snake charmer. Ernest was more low key, less involved with the whole hedonist side of Hollywood, and by all means a better husband material. Already wed once to Martha Von Utsey, he had two children.
Inez and Ernest wed on September 24, 1938. She was 25, he was 36. Inez gave up her film career not long after to fully devote herself to marriage.Her first son, Ernest Frank was born on February 13, 1940. Her second son, Frank, was born on February 26, 1942.
In 1944, they were involved in a hit and run case, but pulled it through with minimum damage. Inez continued her career in about 1947, in light opera and summer stock.
She and Ernest divorced in 1952. Typical for Hollywood, she charged mental cruelty, and got 100$ a month alimony plus the custody of their two sons.
In 1953, Inez married Raymond Earl Pierson. Pierson was born on March 1, 1919, in North Dakota, making him 7 years younger than Inez. Much like Orsatti he was wed once before, to Jeanne Louise Lewis in 1949, and divorced her in 1951. After a brief resurgence in the Hollywood circuit, she retired in about 1954.
Inez’s son Ernie Orsatti became a stuntman of some reputee, and peaked at his craft in the mid 1970, as he did the famous glass fall stunt in The Poseidon Adventure. He married Lynda Farrell in 1974.
 
Inez Pierson died on December 6, 1986 in Los Angeles. Her widower died in 2001. Her younger son Frank died in 2004.

Helene Reynolds

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Born with the proverbial silver spoon in her mouth, WASP-y Helene Reynolds had an almost demonic desire to act, going against her family and her whole social caste to do so. After quite a rocky road she ended in Hollywood, a beautiful young starlet on the way to stardom. Sadly the stardom part never came and another talented woman was wasted on a short, minor career. Despite this, she still boasts several worthwhile movies in her filmography, in addition to her work on the stage.

EARLY LIFE:

Helene Reynolds was born as Helene Kenyon Fortescue on July 4, 1914, in Brussels, Belgium, to Granville Roland Fortescue and Grace Fortescue. Her older sister, Thalia Fortescue, was born on February 14,1911.

Helene’s parents finances were not as brilliant as they wished, but they were careful not to show it to the general public. Her father did not have much family money, just his paycheck as a US military man and her mother would only get into some money after the death of her parents.

ol6m5n1x25wp5m1oHelene was brought up in Europe, attended a convent school in Belgium and then was transferred to Cathedral School for Girls in Washington. She was bit by the acting bug around that time, playing her first lead role on stage in the school production of Barbara Frietchie. Her passion for playing less-than-pretty characters earned her a reputation for modesty among her peers, and her father even wrote a small play for her 12th birthday, where she played a witch.

Helene made her society  debut in 1934. Finally of the right age, she decided to try her luck in the acting profession. She refused to do all the standard things debutantes do (attend soirees, travel to Europe for a prolonged sojourn, look for a suitable husband), and attended American Academy of the Dramatic Arts in New York. She worked extensively in summer stock, but had no luck with Broadway, her desired destination.

Her way to Hollywood opened totally unexpectedly in 1938, while she was waiting for her divorce decree in Reno, Nevada. To shorten the obligatory 4 week waiting period, she appeared in a amateur stage production of The Women. A RKO scout, looking for an actress to play Fleur-De-Lys in the new production of Hunchback of Notre Dame, saw her performance and knew Helene was the girl he wanted. Half an hour after the curtain went down, she was signed and on the way to Tinsel Town.

CAREER:

Helene’s aristocratic lineage dictated her early Hollywood roles under the name of Helen Whitney. She was cats in the best adaptation of the Victor Hugo story The Hunchback of Notre Dame (with the ever impressive Charles Laughton and the beautiful Maureen O’Hara), as the high society darling Fleur-deL-ys. As the member of France’s high class, she was a well groomed, elegant and gracious, but spiteful and petty, a direct contrast to Esmeralda, a good natured but low class lass. Helene’s blonde, delicate beauty also worked very well against Maureen’s more robust, passionate, red-haired look.

Making a decent  impression with her movie debut, Helene as pushed right away to be a leading lady in the Simon Templar movie, The Saint’s Double Trouble. Despite all her beauty and elegance, she is no match for the bon vivant supreme, George Sanders, who simply glides like a swan over the whole movie, nor doe she have the ropes to fully utilize her thin role. Her inexperience did her in for this one. With an absurd, over the top plot, this is one of the lesser Simon Templar movies  and it did not catapult her to stardom as one might have expected.

Her inbred high class manner was easily (under)used in typical socialite roles in The Philadelphia Story, which is at least a very good movie and again in a sub par Millionaire Playboy, a vapid, airheaded comedy with Joe Penner , an actor who never made it in Hollywood.

The most fruitful part of Helene’s career began in 1941. While never the lead, she was a supporting actress for top productions and actors. Her type was the “other woman”, a staple in comedies and serious dramas alike, giving her a broad repertoire of possibilities. Helen was always polished, elegant and reeked of style, but never did manage to get the man since she lacked that vital element – warmth. She was and remained a untouchable siren, a distant star in the sky, dazzlingly visible but forever out of reach, much like society girls appeared to the normal, middle class viewers.

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She started well enough in the pleasant Confirm or Deny, a small, not well remembered
movie that hides more than one can see at first sight, tackling the issues of war and politics very subtly. She was pretty good in a shady role in Blue, White and Perfect, a formulaic detective story. Next, she was supposed to be one of the leads, Velma, in the movie Roxie Hart (made on the basis of the stage musical Chicago) but on the transition from stage to celluloid, her role lost so much screen time and relevance to the movie in general it ended up little more than a cameo.
Next Helene was in, The Man Who Wouldn’t Die. another detective potboiler with the same detective as in Blue, White and Perfect, Michael Shaye. Moontide  is more about the interaction between its stars, the superb Ida Lupino and the legendary French actor, Jean Gabin, than the plot or indeed any narrative, so all the supports, including Helene and screen greats Claude Rains and Thomas Mitchell, suffered in comparison. She had a small part in the kaleidoscopic Tales of Manhattan, and was again the other woman for Don Ameche and Joan Bennett in Girl Trouble, this time a more lightweight but still well made comedy.
Helene had one of her juiciest roles in The Meanest Man in the World , a Jack Benny showcase, where she plays the wife who torments Benny, and then her husband, madly jealous, tries to make Benny’s life hell. Her next movie, Dixie Dugan , was so Z class there is nothing written about it.
Helene’s most famous film is probably Heaven Can Wait, where she is one of the many girls Don Ameche romances during his time on Earth. She is a very effective in her role, putting forth all of her breeding and style to create an alluring, pretty rival for Gene Tierney, who plays Ameche’s wife. Afterwards, Helene had an uncredited role in Wintertime, typical Sonja Henie fluff.
Helene’s last movie before going into stage was Bermuda Mystery, a B detective movie that patterns itself after the Thin Man. While Helene’s has a prominent role, nobody was set on fire with either her or the movie.

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In May 1945, Helene left Hollywood to appear ont he stage, her long time passion ignited once again. The play was “Bee in her bonnet”. The cast boasted the theater legend, Dorothy Gish, and Helene toured briefly with the play. Luck struck once again, and she was finally, after years of trying, on the Broadway stage, in  “Too Hot For Maneuvers” with Dick Arlen. but the show failed to make the grade and closed after only 5 performances. While in New York, she did her first TV movie, the forgotten The Front Page.
Helene then toured with Canada Lee in Native Son around the East Coast.
Correctly sensing that her days in Hollywood are numbered, Helen opted to stay on the stage. As any working theater actor, she turned to summer stock. She appeared in All my Sons, Deep are the roots, Dream Girl, Glass Menagerie and Angel Street.
She ended her TV days in an episode of The Chevrolet Tele-Theatre.
 In 1951, she appeared in Noel Coward’s The Present Laughter in Montreal. This is one of her last theater performances.
Little by little, Helene switched from acting to another art form – painting. By 1957, she was having her own solo exhibitions in New York, working in an unusual mosaic-like technique. She also owned a gallery in Manhattan and dabbled in selling artworks.
In 1984, Helene wrote her first play, about her mother’s life. It was never produced.

PRIVATE LIFE:

Helene was a lively woman with a acute sense of mischief, who liked to have fun.

Helene’s sister, Thalia Massie, was embroiled into a big scandal in Hawaii, where she lived for a long period of time. A short description from Wikipedia.

In September 1931, Thalia Massie was found by a passing driver, Eustace Bellinger, wandering along Ala Moana Road in Honolulu at about 1 am on a Sunday morning. She had been beaten and had suffered a broken jaw after being abducted while leaving a party at the nearby Ala Wai Inn. When questioned by Bellinger and his passenger George Clark, Jr., she stated that a group of 5 or 6 Hawaiian boys had assaulted her. Later at the hospital she claimed to police that she had been raped as well as assaulted, although the evidence did not entirely support the rape claim.[1]

Subsequently, five young men, Horace Ida, Henry Chang, Joseph Kahahawai, Benny Ahakuelo, and David Takai, two of Hawaiian ancestry, two of Japanese ancestry, and one of half Chinese/Hawaiian ancestry, who were initially arrested for assaulting a Hawaiian woman, Agnes Peeples, earlier that same night were later also charged with the rape of Massie. Joseph Kahahawai, a boxer, admitted to the earlier assault on Peeples, whom he had slugged and knocked over during a road rage incident at King and Liliha Streets, but all defendants denied having been involved in the assault on Mrs. Massie. The men were represented by two of the foremost criminal lawyers in the islands, William Heen and William B. Pittman, and the mixed race jury deadlocked along racial lines. The five defendants were released on bail to await retrial at a later date.

Thalia’s mother, Grace Fortescue, was deeply disturbed by the release of the defendants and many U.S. Navy personnel at Pearl Harbor were outraged. A short time later, Joseph Kahahawai was abducted when leaving the courthouse after a probation hearing and was found, shot dead, in the back seat of Grace Fortescue’s car. Defended by attorney Clarence Darrow of the Scopes Monkey Trial fame, Fortescue, Thalia’s husband Thomas Massie, and two Navy sailors were eventually tried and convicted of manslaughter in the death of Kahahawai. Originally sentenced to 10 years, their sentence was commuted to one hour in the executive chambers of Governor Lawrence Judd of the Territory of Hawaii.

Helene married Julian Louis Reynolds, a tobacco and steel heir of the famous Reynolds family,  on July 15, 1936, in Washington, DC. Their son, Ronald, was born early in 1937.

They separated in February 1937, and divorced in 1938. Reynolds alleged she slept with a plethora of prominent men, among them Charles McArthur, husband of Helen Hayes. He was awarded custody of their son. Helene counter sued, and then she was awarded custody along with 333$ dollars per month in alimony and child support. This battle for child custody continued for some time later, even after she went to Hollywood, and she boy had to be shuffled back and forth between his parents.

c0msnoh160krcrm6Helene’s beaus were always either high class, high Hollywood or high money. In 1941, after her divorce, Helene dated Charley Wrightsman, the wealthy society, but she was always second best for him, as he also dated Alice Faye. She was very serious about Victor Payne Jennings, but it did not yell. Her next was Carl Leamme Jr., son of the famous movie mogul. After Leamme in mid 1942 came Ivan Goff, the noted screenwriter. They dated for several months, until August 1942. She quickly switched to Harrison Evans the same month, but then got back with Goff in about October. By November wedding bells were on the horizon for the couple, but they broke up before the year was over.

That same year Helene changed her name back to Helene Fortescue, but used the old moniker for her acting career. She was asked to present her birth certificate for the name change, but could not find it since she was born in Belgium during WW1. One wonders how that ended…

In 1943, she was seen with Orson Welles. In july the news was out that Helen has been dropped out of the Blue Book, the social register, due to her Hollywood career.

In 1944, she dated Alex Steinert and Nino Martini simultaneously, and was escorted, casually, by Victor Mature around town.

Helene took up sewing after landing in Hollywood, and became quite proficient at it in a short time span. It came in handy during the war, when she donated many of her work for the war relief agencies. She even made a retouch of her wardrobe when she took an old 350$ dress and transformed her into two new garment pieces, or make a new sports dress for only 35 cents.

Helene retired from acting to dwell in Palm Beach, where she lived with her mother, Grace. She was a regular at society functions around town and was in the local papers monthly. She was a gracious hostess and gave off cocktail parties and intimate dinners, most often in the honor of her mother. In 1959, she romanced her former husband’s employee, L. de Gogodzna.

In the 1960s, Helen was a good friend of fellow Palm Beacher, Anne Spalding, and was a role model for her son, the future matinee idol, George Hamilton. When Hamilton lost his car, it was Helen who loaned him her pink Thunderbird convertible. As she was often away traveling, he could use it whenever she was not in town.

A great tragedy befell on Helene when her only child, son Roland, died in a freak accident involving a plane propeller in October 1966. Unfortunately, this was not all. In 1963, her sister was found dead by an overdose of barbiturates.

Helen lived in Palm Beach until the late 1980s, when she moved to Atlantis, Florida.

Helene Reynolds died on March 28, 1990, in Atlantis, Florida.

Virginia Pine

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The elegant society lady made little impact on Hollywood on her own, but was a large influence on one of Tinsel Town’s biggest stars of the 1930s and 1940s, George Raft. Without a doubt, Raft would not be George Raft we all known today without her, and as a result, his immense influence on several great directors would never have been the same.

EARLY LIFE:

Virginia Pine was born as Virginia Marie Peine in Chicago, Illinois, on August 11, 1912 to Adolph Peine and his wife, Mabel Rees, married in 1903. She had an older brother, Jack Peine. Her family was solidly upper middle class, and Virginia grew up in an affluent, secure environment, mingling with the Chicago high society. She was educated in private schools.

Virginia came out as a debutante in 1929, when she was 17 years old.

CAREER:

Virginia got to Hollywood in late 1933 and right away was signed by Fox. However, during filming, she refused to appear in a scantly clad costume and lost the contract. Her only appearance is in the early and sadly forgotten Spencer Tracy film, Bottoms Up. The movie has much to recommend itself, not just Tracy as a likable hero-villain, but a strong supporting cast including John Boles and some seriously snappy dialogue.

george_raft_and_virginia_pine_pictureVirginia was signed by Warner Brothers in March 1934. Her stint with the studio lasted for a year and produced four appearances in movies. Her first try was Doctor Monica, a Kay Francis vehicle. And rarely has Hollywood made a movie about a shockingly relevant subject in a such a melodramatic, soap-operish way. Everything that happens in the movie was possible in reality back then and is even now, but of course we have simplistic characters that are morally either superior and mentally strong (Kay Francis), whinny and irresponsible (Jean Muir),  or caddish, slightly negative (Warren William) . All perfectly plausible people in real life, but much too straightforward. Yet, the cast is excellent and did their job well. Virginia played Monica’a friends and is briefly on the screen.

Virginia than had roles in two completely forgotten comedies, a small one in Fugitive Lady and the lead in Hot Off the Press. No info is given about the movies, and we can assume they have been forgotten for a reason. Her only other credit from this time is The Whole Town’s Talking, a top notch Jean Arthur/Edward G. Robinson comedy.

From then on, Virginia only acted sporadically, appearing in one of the best movies of Hollywood’s golden year, 1939, The Women. It would take another five years for her to make her last movie, Boogie-Woogie Dream in 1944. The charming short showcases Lena Horne at her best.

Virginia went to the Broadway stage to continue her acting days. She was featured in Heart of a City and Lady in the Dark before marrying in 1942 and leaving it all behind.

PRIVATE LIFE:

Virginia married for the first time when she was about 17, to William I. Watbel, an athlete, and divorced him in February 1931. Her second husband was the wealthy department store heir, Edward John Lehmann, 10 years her senior, whom she wed in late in 1931 in Boone, Illinois. Her daughter Joan Lehmann was born in 1933 in Chicago. They separated soon after the birth.

geovirgNow, the stories of how Raft and Virginia met differ. One source claims that he visited Chicago and met Virginia. She fell madly in love with him, left her husband and followed him to Hollywood. The version that sounds more accurate is that Virginia was a friend of Jock Whitney, a notorious millionaire playboy, who introduced George to her. Beautiful, fair skinned and blonde, Virginia was the Botticelli Venus for Raft – and her cool, sophisticated manner and was a direct contrast to his own frugal upbringing and the more crude, less polished women he usually dated. Virginia fiddled with Raft on their first date, driving the well heeled womanizer to dust. Later she claimed she did or the fun and to humble him – in other words, Virginia was a woman who knew what she wanted, knew how to play and play well she did. George fell fast and hard.

Virginia and George dated for the next seven years, from 1933 up until 1939/1940. It was his most meaningful, sincere and earnest relationship. She completely changed his image from a badly over-dressed hoodlum from Hell’s Kitchen to a slick, alluring gentleman who always had that whiff of danger within him. The Pygmalion scheme (in reverse to the usual older man/younger girl scenario as she was both younger and a woman) included dressing him, teaching him the social graces, proper way to eat and drink, how to talk, what to talk about and so on. It really rubbed off him, and George became the man today known – one of the best Warner Bros stars in the 1930s, standing hip to hip with James Cagney and Humphrey Bogart.

George built a palatial house in Coldwater Canyon where Virginia and her daughter Joan lived. They went for holidays on Catalina island, attended the horse shows at Santa Anita racetrack, and were an all around acknowledged Hollywood couple. George himself was a perfume connoisseur and bough Virginia a big number of rare and expensive perfumes from abroad she would cleverly use to further enchant him. He was also a terrific father figure to her daughter, Joan, who was just a baby when the two started dating. In many ways, George WAS Joan’s father, as she spent her formative years (from ages of 1 to 7) with him and trusted him completely. In return, George adored the girl and enjoyed taking her to the park and doing other paternal activities.

As with most real life stories that sound like fairy tales, there is a catch, and not a small one. George was still technically a married man. His wife, Grace Mulrooney, lived in New York, as they had been separated for a long time, but she was a Catholic and refused to give him an divorce. She was paid handsomely by getting 10% of everything George made in Hollywood. As most women living in the 1930s, Virginia opted for marriage and wanted to wed George after it was clear they were suited to each other, but this was one thing George could not give her. Soon, all the money, fame and social status became meaningless in the shadow of living as an unwed couple. Yet, George could not or did not want to get an divorce, no matter how much Virginia pushed him.

3y7n0xecb2ewx0cyThen, the inevitable happened – Virginia started to date other guys. This was a huge blow to Rafts ego, and he was so jealous he sometimes stalked Virginia and her escort-of-the-hour to the nightspots. One especially nasty example of this was when Virginia dated Joseph Schneck, the powerful and wealthy movie mogul. Raft followed them to Schneck’s house, rang the bell and when no one opened the door,broke it down, entered, saw Virginia and Schneck on the couch, just glared at them, turned and left.

From there the relationship went downhill mighty fast. Virginia started avoiding Raft, and when they were together, they fought constantly. Soon he decided to end the misery, giving her 15 000$, which she used to move to New York in 1940. He moved to her Coldwater Canyon house with his best friend, Mack Grey. Raft himself admitted that the end of their affair was a great blow to him, and how Virginia was the love of his life. In his biography, Raft constantly blames his wife for not giving him a divorce, but several other sources claim he was too cheap to divorce Grace since he knew she would take too much money. Whatever the truth, the fact remains, Raft and Virginia did not end up married and it was a huge burden for the rest of their lives.

Virginia married war correspondent, Quentin Reynolds, on March 26, 1942 in a civil ceremony. She became a Catholic to be able to have a church wedding. They enjoyed a hefty social life in New York and could often be found in the newspaper social column. According to Wikipedia, in 1953 a scandal with Reynolds in the middle happened:

In 1953, Reynolds was the victim of a major literary hoax when he published The Man Who Wouldn’t Talk, the supposedly true story of a Canadian war hero, George Dupre, who claimed to have been captured and tortured by German soldiers. When the hoax was exposed, Bennett Cerf, of Random House, Reynolds’s publisher, reclassified the book as fictio

She and Reynolds divorced in 1960, and the next year Virginia married Byron Foy, a wealthy New Yorker and vice-president of Chrysler whose late wife Thelma Foy was, for ages, on the international best dressed lists. Foy died in 1970.

In 1972, Virginia married the widower of Constance Bennett, Colonel John Theron Coulter. They settled in New York.

Virginia Coulter died on March 17, 1984 in New York.

Juanita Stark

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This early Hollywood sexpot was the type that paved the way for Marilyn Monroe just a short time later, but did not achieve even a fragment of Marilyn’s popularity and ended a complete unknown.

EARLY LIFE:

Juanita Stark was born on June 10, 1921, in Cleveland, Ohio, to Henry Stark, a former noted vaudeville actor, and his wife Wanda Miller, who was Russian born. Her younger sister June was born on June 16, 1925.

The family moved to Amherst, Ohio, and then to Los Angeles after 1930. Henry Stark’s health declined rapidly while in California, and by the time Juanita graduated from high school, she was the main breadwinner of the family by being an waitress in downtown Los Angeles. In 1941, she lost her job amid the start of the war, and was living off 10$ a week unemployment check when a Warner Bros scout noticed and signed her. She was given minor roles right off the bat.

CAREER:

Juanita was a Warner Bros contractee her whole career. Her filmography spans a wide variety of movies, from A class to Z class productions, from comedies to serious dramas.

!BV,T,nwCGk~$(KGrHgoOKi0EjlLmUvDqBKSV6F2cew~~_35After staring off in prestigious movies, Dive Bomber and Affectionately Yours  Juanita was stuck in B movies, The Body DisappearsBlues in the NightThose Good Old Days. Her next features were A movies again, and she had clawed her way her to the top of the uncredited roster, but sadly stayed there instead of going upwards.

There we have a meek John Garfield spy drama, Dangerously They Live , which could have been a a much better with a more able director (for instance, Hitchcock), The Male Animal with the always-relevant message lost in the muddled decision of seeing itself as both a comedy and a serious drama (a very ambitious plan that often backfires), the so-so musical/comedy Always in My Heart. Perhaps the most famous movie Juanita appeared in was Yankee Doodle Dandy, the superb musical with the superb James Cagney. She had a slight decline in movie quality after that: You Can’t Escape Forever, a B movie with the wooden George Brent, and the better The Hard Way, a hard hitting drama about ambition, greed and life choices featuring the unsung queen of Warner Bros, Ida Lupino, and her last worthwhile film for the studio (another great talent wasted!).

She had her first and only leading role in a short western, Oklahoma Outlaws, but as with most movies of this type, she was a mere decoration and the movie flied past the radar. Her career continued in further B movies: Crime by Night and Murder on the Waterfront. While the later movie actually had some moments of good film-making  on the whole it did not make the grade. Like everyone else in Warner Bros, she appeared in Thank Your Lucky Stars for the war relief.

Juanita’s last movie is an interesting if flawed one, One More Tomorrow. As the remake of a top notch precode movie, The Animal Kingdom, it has much to show, but without the biting wit and humor of the original, cut mercilessly by the Production Code.

Juanita retired to become a housewife after 1946.

PRIVATE LIFE:

At the height of her fame, she was a blonde, five feet four and a half inches tall, and weighted 107 pounds. She suffered from stage fright, which possibly limited her career:

SAD little incident took place at the “Meet John Doe” premiere. Juanita Stark, recently signed Cinderella girl, was to make speech at the microphone and be introduced to the crowd as a future star. She bought a new dress, her first evening dress. Her hair was elaborately coiffed. All day long she practiced her speech. Came the important moment. She was grabbed by a Warner publicity man, marched to the mike. She was jut about to speak when Dorothy Lamuor arrived. “Just a minute” they told Juanita. She stepped back while Dotty told the crowd how glad she was to be there ect ect. Then Gary Cooper arrived. Then another celebrity. After 20 minutes of shifting from one foot to the other, the Cinderella girl slipped unnoticed into the theater.

Juanita was promoted heavily in the press as a luscious, sexy doll with come hither, sleepy eyes and a knockout figure. She was pictured in provocative pose while doing mundane things – sunbathing, playing tennis, talking to fellow starlets and so on. She was also a regular at fashion spreads, showing off her carriage in a whole palette of modern clothes. Great things were predicted for her in terms of a career.

r2586She was allegedly offered a role in the hilarious comedy, Arsenic and the old lace, early in her career, but broke her foot just prior to the start of the filming. While she is listed in the credits, in reality she is nowhere to be found in the movie. It took her some time to recover, and this time perhaps dampened the impulse she had as the newest Hollywood Cinderella.

In the mid 1942, Juanita joined the Hollywood caravan, made out of highly distinguished industry names that toured the US to sell war bonds (Alexis Smith, Dennis Morgan, Errol Flynn and many others). She was very active in this caravan. As the papers took great notice of what they did, she was constantly photographer talking to patients, making trips to hospitals and so on.

Juanita suffered a great tragedy during WW2. She was dating the son of comedian Joe E. Brown, Don Brown, in 1941. He was drafted to the army, and could not contract her directly any more. He asked if he might call when he got another leave and she said yes. A few days later she received a call from another officer, who explained that his pal had suddenly been shipped overseas and had given him her telephone number. He asked for a date. She wasn’t too enthusiastic about it, but finally agreed. His name was John Le Blanc, and they became engaged. Shorty after, Lt. LeBlanc was sent to Guadalcanal and was in the thick of things for three months. On the day he was given his leave to return home, he wrote Juanita the good news. An hour later he was killed – crushed by a US tank that wet out of control during routine maneuvers. As a double tragedy, Don Brown also died in 1942.

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This is the official story and it’s possible the dates and names are wrong, but the fact is that Juanita lost her beloved to war. To add to her distress, her long time sick father, Henry Stark, died of a paralytic stroke just months after her fiancee, in May 1943.

Despite all the pain, Juanita moved quickly and my June 1943, she was already engaged to wed an another soldier, Vyrnwy Enos Jones, born in 1917. They wed later that year and she left Hollywood to move to his ranch in Kern County.

Her son, Dennis Morien Jones, was born on February 13, 1944 in Kern County, California. He became a noted surfer and even had a brief Hollywood career during the surfer movies craze in 1965.

Vyrnwy Jones died on May 27, 1983. Juanita remarried in in the 1990s.

Juanita Stark  died in cca. 2002.

Her sister June died on August 7, 1997.

Nancy Worth

NancyWorth

A missed opportunity put Nancy Worth, a real stunner, into the “obscure actresses no one has ever heard of” category.

EARLY LIFE:

Nancy Lee Worth was born on August 15, 1920, in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Her mother was Leah M. Worth. Her older sister, born in 1919, was named Dorothy Worth.

She grew up in Milwaukee and attended Wauwatosa High school, and later Riverside High School where she graduated in 1938. During her Riverside years, she was active in the drama department, and in 1939 played Shakespearean roles in Milwaukee’s Mid Summer Festival. Desiring an acting career for herself, she packed her bags and along with her mother and sister moved to Los Angeles. Luck served her well, and she was signed as an extra just days after landing in California.

CAREER:

Nancy’s career lasted from 1941 to 1943, and she made only 5 movies, most in uncredited roles. Obviously, this is not a model filmography for any actress. Signed by Columbia, Nancy’s first movie was a lurid, dark and over-dramatic teen flick, Under Age, featuring Nan Grey.

Her second was an equally uninspired drama The Man Who Returned to Life , with a plot that is beyond-belief for most people.

Luckily, Nancy moved to more happy-go-lucky fields with Here We Go Again , a lightweight but funny Fibber McGee comedy. She then appeared in Thank Your Lucky Stars, a war effort movie with a large assemble cast. Her last feature was the contemporary western Raiders of Sunset Pass. She was even billed in this one, but the Z class flick did no service to anyone involved.

With no sun in sight, Nancy gave up her career.

PRIVATE LIFE:

In 1940, Nancy lived with her mother and sister in Afton Palce, Los Angeles. Her occupation was listed as a model, her mother was a secretary and her sister a nurse.

She was renown in Hollywood for her flawless complexion, and was offered to appear in The Moon and the Sixpence because of it, but at the last moment she was struck with measles and had to forgo the converted role. Her career could have been different if it belted out…

Nancy was very active during the war. She was a part of the 10 Lucky Stars that got their contact options extended, and traveled around the US in a a caravan to sell war bonds. They donated their stocking to the war relief and so on. She spoke to the papers how she is used to scarcity and shuns luxury to be able to help the GI-s fighting in Europe and the Pacific. In 944, along with felow starlets Margot Guilford, Dorothy Fay, Jane Flynn, Eloise Hardt and Martha Shaw, she appeared in army shows in Hawaii.

Not much is known about her love life. She dated Milton Golden, a well known lawyer, in 1943. Nancy married Warren D. Brownwood on January 5, 1973. They divorced in June 1976. Brownwood died in 1984.

There is no death report for Nancy, and she could be alive today, at age 94. Best wishes to her if she is.

Barbara Brewster

Babs

Barbara Brewster is interesting as an actress since she was only half the deal – always paired with her sister, Gloria, they were hailed as the most beautiful twins in Hollywood. While this was a good gimmick to get the into the spotlight, they had to either separate at some point if any of them wanted a serious dramatic career (how many serious movies can you name with twin sisters in the leads?) or make a funny duo ala Laurel and Hardy if they wanted to become comedy stars – they did neither and ended up a small footnote in Hollywood history.

EARLY LIFE:

Barbara was born as Naomi Jane Stevenson on February 19, 1918, in Tucson, Arizona, to Charles E. Stevenson and Ruth A. Hanan, a little bit older than her twin sister, Ruth Stevenson. The girls had an older brother, Edward.

Her parents divorced when she was young and she and Ruth went to live with their mother and help her run a small hotel in Encinitas, California. They attended Oceanside High School.

The twins were initially noticed at the San Diego County Fair by a Fox talent agent and signed to the studio. They were groomed as models and billed the “Most Beautiful Twins in America.”

CAREER:

Barbara really had an undistinguished, minor career. She and Gloria had a good star in Ditto, a Buster Keaton short, playing the female leads, but that quickly melted to nothing and she remained a third fiddle for the rest of her career.

3437093_detailBarbara was cast in several movies of the supremely untalented Sonja Henie (Happy Landing  and My Lucky Star) and more talented Shirley Temple (Little Miss Broadway) – which means she was in low calorie, fluffy musicals. Due to being half of twins, she and was often paired with the studio’s leading comedic teams – Ritz brothers (the poor man’s Marx brothers in Life Begins in College) and Walter Winchell and Ben Bernie (Love and Hisses and Wake Up and Live). Her three other movies were a Loretta Young vehicle, a sophisticated upper society comedy-drama, Wife, Doctor and Nurse, an funny and interesting satire on the political world, Hold That Co-ed , and the B class half-musical, Thanks for Everything.

Barbara’s two last features were some of her better ones. She had the lead in a short comedy farce, Twincupletsalong with her sister Gloria and future brother-in-laws Clarence and Claude Stroud (if only one set of twins is confusing, imagine then two!). Anyway, her sister fell in love with Clarence Stroud during filming, married him in 1941 and cut her career short. They appeared in only one more movie as twins, in The Flame of New Orleans . a decent vehicle for Marlene Dietrich, but not her top effort.

Barbara switched the coasts, moving to New York to try and become a Broadway actress. She had some degree of success in the medium, acting High Kickers in 1941/1942. This was also Gloria’s last work. Later she acted opposite Sophie Tucker and In 1945, Barbara went on to star with Montgomery Clift in “Foxhole in the Parlor” on the New York stage.

She retired in from all forms of show biz in 1946.

PRIVATE LIFE:

In an almost uncanny coincidence, she dated the other half of the Stroud twins, Claude Stroud, but it did not culminate in marriage as it did for Clarence and Gloria. It was perhaps more publicity than the real deal, but a funny tidbit of history.

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Barbara was then connected to Alex D’Arcy and Buddy Moreno, the singer with Griff William‘s orchestra. Then, in 1939, she hit the jackpot by getting serious with Rudy Vallee, then a big music star. Vallee was  well known womanizer and dated girls by the dozen – Barbara bit back by seeing Jack Warner Jr. The two broke up not long after, and she hooked up with Dr. Lee Spiegel, a respected Hollywood medico. They dated for about a year. In late 1940 Barbara started dating Blake Garner, another connoisseur of pretty actresses, Lupe Velez‘s former heartbeat.

Finished with Hollywood at that stage in her life, Barbara departed for New York and there met and hastily married Alfred Bloomingdale, a good looking heir of Bloomingdale’s department store fortune, in November 1941. She ended up in hospital in Jacksonville, Florida, in the early 1942, suffering a miscarriage.

Al and Barbara divorced in August 1943. Al went on to date Choo-Choo Johnson, and in the end married Betty Newling in 1946. Barbara then dated another richman, Huntington Hartford for several months.

Barbara entertained the GIs during the war, and it was when she met her next husband, a non professional Bob Demond. He managed a radio station in the pacific. He is the interesting story of how they met, taken from her obituary

“In 1946, she married radio and television announcer Bob LeMond, whom she met in New Caledonia on a World War II USO tour.

Bob LeMond, a special services officer in charge of Armed Forces Radio, said he had enthusiastically awaited her arrival. Her picture on a promotional brochure, which included photos of five other women who were on the tour, caught his eye. “I’ll take her,” he said, pointing to the future Mrs. LeMond’s picture on the bottom right-hand corner of the brochure.

Her ship came in a few days later, and the pair’s eyes locked as she walked down the gangplank. “She said, ‘Haven’t we met before?’ ” Bob LeMond recalled. “I said, ‘That’s my line.’ We shook hands, and we’ve been holding hands ever since.””

They married after the war was over, on Juy 27, 1946. She retired completely after this. Their first son, Robert West, was born on February 8, 1948. The second son Stephen was born on June 12, 1952, and third son Barry on October 23, 1953.

LeMondBarbaraBob worked extensively on the radio, serving a the announcer for CBS Radio’s “My Favorite Husband” (1948-1951) and  CBS-West Radio’s “Romance of the Ranchos” (1941-1942).

He retired in 1971, and they went on to live in Bonsall, California. All this time she remained close to her twin sister, Gloria and her family. The saw each other almost daily until Gloria’s death in 1996.

Barbara Brewster died on June 21, 2005, in Bonsall. LeMond died in 2008.