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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