Patricia Dane was s statuesque stunner with a fiery, passionate personality to match, and an edgy, dark quality that was never easy to cast in typical Hollywood movies where the heroines are nice and pure girls-next-door. Not surprisingly, her career was short and never achieved the heights her talent warranted.
Thelma Patricia Ann Pippins was born on August 4, 1918/19, in Jacksonville, Florida, to Flossy Montford Pippins and a father whose name I could not find. Her father died almost immediately after her birth and in 1920 she was living with her grandparents, Sam and Rose Monfort, and her mother’s two brothers and two sisters.
Her mother married Mr. Byrnes (or Burns, depending where you find it), who adopted Patricia. She grew up in Florida.
Thelma went to Hollywood for the first time when she was 18, after Howard Hughes noticed her in Jacksonville. He got her a contract and new moniker – Patricia Dane. However, the newly christened Patricia couldn’t find the strength to wake up early enough to get on time for the make up cue, and was promptly sacked. She returned to the East coast, attended the University of Alabama for almost three years, but did not graduate. Then she again moved to Los Angeles to pursue an acting career. She had no prior acting experience, but with her chestnut hair and flashing licorice eyes, she was sure she could make it…
Thelma was a tremendous talent wasted in (mostly) minor roles in (mostly) minor movies. It seems she herself wasn’t on her best behavior while in Hollywood, so the blame cannot be put solely on the doorstep of studio brass – from her earliest days in the movie industry there were signs of her being prone to alcohol and having an “attitude”.
Pat had a curiously short “grooming” period for a girl who had no real acting experience before and only made it to Tinsel Town thanks to her looks. Her only uncredited parts were I’ll Wait for You and Ziegfeld Girl, the latter a full blow extravaganza movie and the the other a small, intimate, touching drama.
Pat was extremely lucky that she caught the chance to be in Life Begins for Andy Hardy . She brought a much needed edgy quality, something all the other saccharine, nice and dandy Andy Hardy actresses lacked. She is very easy to notice and remember in the sea of typical “good girls”.
Johnny Eager was a great movie for Patricia, and a good movie in general. Her tough style perfectly lent itself for the role of Johnny Eager’s gun moll, and even mediocre actors play it above their usual talents in the movie (Lana Turner, never a huge talent, was very good here, and Robert Taylor, handsome but never a top actor, gives one of his best performances).
Rio Rita was an Abbott and Costello vehicle with Kathryn Grayson in the femme lead. As it’s wartime movie, you can guess who the bad guys are. White not totally silly in scope, Abott and Costello bring their usual amount of humor and it makes for a decent movie.
Grand Central Murder finally got Pat the eagerly expected leading role. A gritty, dark and hardcore noir, there is no place for the usual fluff MGM liked to insert in most of it’s pictures. It’s clear that Patricia was perfectly cast as buxom, hard as nails dames that thrived on drama. For this reason, MGM was a wrong studio for her – Pat could have made it much better is she had signed with Warner’s. Van Helfin is a great partner for Pat, with his unusual facial features rubbing of her amazonian beauty.
Somewhere I’ll Find You again pitted Pat against Lana Turner for the romantic interest, this time it wasn’t Robert Taylor but Clark Gable. The film, his last before he went to serve in the US army, marks the decline of his career, something not unexpected after the extremely prolific decade he had in the 1930s. While it’s unfair to call it a bad movie, it’s simply too melodramatic and too big in scope.
It seems that the studio brass did not take notice of Pat as a A class leading lady material, and her career suffered. She was cast as a lead in B class, undistinguished movies. While being a B class movie wasn’t necessarily a handicap, many great movies were B class, MGM invested so little in them that often they had zero plot and barely any scenery!
Northwest Rangers was such a movie, with a plot seen zillion of times before, a western about the rift only a woman can cause between two men. While Patricia was adequate as the alluring songstress that easily turns heads, the movie was generally a flop. Her first leading effort tanked, and in an extremely competitive industry like Hollywood, it’s often enough to slip once to never get back on in the game. This happened to Patricia – she never played the female lead again, but was given some decent supporting roles. I Dood It was a bit better as one of Skelton’s worthwhile comedies. Joe Palooka in Fighting Mad was just one of the tons of Joe Palooka movies, relevant today only to the rabid fans of the character of the actor Joe Kirkwood Jr. Are You with It? was her last Hollywood movie for a while, a pleasant low budget musical with a carnival background.
There is an interesting piece of trivia on her IMDB page:
Signed to MGM in 1941. Admired by fellow actors after she brusquely told off an MGM studio executive. Changed name to Pat after this incident but only starred in minor roles and bit parts after 1945.
Could this have been the reason for her career decline? If it’s true, how sad… And what a waste!
Pat acted only sporadically after this. She made her TV debut in Fireside Theatre, but did not try to get into the thriving TV industry. Next year she appeared in an uncredited role in Road to Bali. Her last movie was also the last of it’s leading star, Humphrey Bogart, The Harder They Fall.
Patrica was a looker that that you could not help but notice. She even told somebody that every time she meets new men, they always try to seduce her on the spot. A bit over the top for sure, but the fact is she was a stunner is impossible to deny. However via that statement we find out a bit what kind of a personality she was…
Anyway, she was well dated even by Hollywood standards, often by men who were idols of millions of teenage girls.
She was courted, as most other starlets were, by Rudee Vallee as soon as she landed on California soil, hotly followed by a brief dalliance with Mickey Rooney, her costar in Andy Hardy. Mickey did not last, but Rudee seemed to favor her, and, while dating a storm with tons of other girls, still found time to go on an occasional rendezvous with her (all the way until October 1940). They had a tense moment not long after the final break up when, both with new dates, were seated table-to-table in a nightclub. Harry Ritz filled the void Rudee left, and in late 1940 she briefly dated Robert Stack, a dashing, socialite young actor.
Pat’s first steady, real beau came late in 1940 – Cedric Gibbons. Now, all of the man Pat dated up to then were young, carefree, not ready for commitment and doing it for fun with no serious intentions. Gibbons was the antithesis to all that fickleness – 20 years older than Pat, with a failed marriage under his belt (to the stunning Mexican beauty, Dolores Del Rio), professionally a well respected set designer and ultimately a hugely influential name in Hollywood, one could not just imagine him with a new starlet under his arm every weekend. High born, he was a man of taste and sophistication, and the fact that Pat, not the most subtle and genteel of ladies, managed to snag him speaks of her own brand of unique charm. Already by June 1941 rumors were leaking the two would wed at soon as he and Dolores officially divorced.
Now, it’s hard to say what exactly happened between them that led to the final demise of the relationship some one year later. The chronology is also sketchy: They were firmly together until early 1942, broke up, got together again and then finally broke up in late summer 1942. There were some long standing rumor in Hollywood that Gibbons was a homosexual, and Pat herself was not the easiest woman to get along with.
Gibbons may have been the one who got away, but when one is young, pretty and in Hollywood, there is no shortage of eligible men. Anatole Litvak, a famous director playboy, courted her. But he was just an entree for the main dish – Tommy Dorsey, one of the best known band leaders of the 1940s. As Peter J. Levinson writes in his book about Dorsey, the two were seemingly made for each other :
Dane had an exhibitionist’s streak that appealed to Tommy’s own in-your-face personality. Neither of them cared what other people tough of them. They reveled in being a part of the glamour that big band stardom represented and in addition what being signed to MGM represented to the world. At least Dorsey had a showpiece he had always wanted in a wife.
All of this was a very shallow illusion, but back then, they were madly in love. Pat married Tommy Dorsey on April 9, 1943. It was a start of an intense, passionate marriage that was doomed to fail from the very beginning. Dorsey was a complex man – a genius musician, but somebody who lived on the edge and had no self control. He drank, ate and spent money like there was no tomorrow.
Pat wasted no time in truly becoming a big band leader’s wife. Singer Peter Marshall remembered her flashing her breasts from the wing of Hollywood Paladium while Tommy was performing. He was thrilled she was so free in flaunting them. She even flashed her glorious breasts at a young Mel Torme at Tommy’s urging. He was also very much impressed by her skills in the boudoir and not ashamed to talk about it in the public.
Dorsey made the headlines when he struck Jon Hall, accusing him of making advances towards his wife. Again, I have no proof and this is just my own personal opinion, but it seemed that Pat actually liked the attention of other guys and if not downright flirting with Hall, she at least behaved coquettish. Pair such a woman with a jealous, anger prone man and you have a very explosive combo. It is also worth noting that Tommy’s brother Jimmy knew Pat from before and disliked her immensely, even once showing a cake into her face.
The marriage failed for good in 1946. There were some short term reconciliations and much slap slap kiss kiss, but nothing could salvage an union between two fundamentally mismatched people. In 1947 Pat was already dating other man, like Arnold Kunody, the insurance charmer. The gossip mill linked her to screenwriter Casey Robinson, and caused him a serious rift with his wife, stunning ballerina Tamara Toumanova.
Pat and Tommy divorced in 1947 in Reno, Nevada. Typical for people who did not have a civil, peaceful break up but rather a dramatic, volcanic termination, they could not stay away from each other even after all the legal necessities were ironed out. Press interpreted it as a possible reconciliation and re-marriage, but both were mature enough to see that would lead them nowhere.
It is without a doubt that Pat had a few extremely tempestuous years as Dorsey’s wife. It was a glamorous life, with famous musicians as their friends, loving fans and all that jazz, but ultimately it was destructive for both. Pat’s drinking got out of control, and Dorsey deteriorated physically.
Pat dated Winthrop Rockefeller, who was then involved with his future wife, Bobo. Carl Larson, a wealthy Canadian manufacturer, could have been the very thing Pat needed to slow down a bit. A serious businessman, he liked her so much that they were engaged after just several months of dating in September 1948.
Instead of sticking with the normal guy who would give her some much needed stability, Pat hooked up with Robert Walker, the brilliant but notoriously problematic actor, former husband of Jennifer Jones. On October 22, 1948, they were arrested for drunk driving in Hollywood after giving the cops a chase. They fled on foot when officers halted Walker’s car which had been weaving down a street. The negative publicity cost her the engagement ring she got from Larson. This caused Pat to reconsider her and Robert’s relationship, and end it abruptly.
Pat continued her search for the right guy in 1949. Horace Schmidlapp, former husband of Carole Landis, was the first on her list, followed closely by Bob Lowry, former husband of Jean Parker.
In 1950, Pat started a rewarding and successful relationship with Bill Morrow, comedy writer for Bing Crosby. It seems that Bill helped her regain some foothold, give up drink and try to resume her career. It was great while it lasted, but they broke up amicably in late 1954.
In 1955 Pat dated Andy McIntrye, ex of Marilyn Maxwell. Next came John Hodiak. In 1957 she was seen with Marshall Shellhardt, producer Dave Siegel and band leader Pete Rugulo. Pat returned to her old flame, Bob Lowery, in 1958. There were very close to the altar for several months, but it never came that far.
No longer a working actress by then, not married to anyone of any fame, Pat was quickly forgotten by the papers in the 1960s. After her mother died, Pat returned to Florida. She got a job in the local library and later the courthouse. Witnesses often saw her at the local store, drinking MD 20/20 out of a coffee cup and chain smoking filter less Pall Malls. Hollywood was a distant memory by then.
Patricia Dane died on June 5, 1995 in Blountstown, Florida, USA. Her ashes were scattered at Jacksonville Beach, Florida.