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.
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.
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.
Next, Claudette was a showgirl in Two Tickets to Broadway , a insipid, lukewarm musical. Repeat in the similarly blank Just for You. Back 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.
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.
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.
She 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.