Patti McCarty was for a short period of time Hollywood’s favorite Cinderella, the girl who rose from very humble beginning to become a potential star. And she remained just that – a potential star that never amounted to much. Despite this, her story is a valuable example of a woman that lived independently her whole life and always took care of herself, never asking nor waiting for a man (or indeed anybody else) to do it for her.
Patricia “Patti” McCarty was born on February 11, 1921, in Healdsburg, California. I could not find the names of her parents or what they did for a living. Healdsburg is such a diminutive city hat only a few can locate it on the map, making Patti a small town gal.
In 1930 she was living as an inmate in Healdsburg, (inmates are people who live in either a hospital or a jail, but I have no idea what a 8 year old girl like Patti was doing in such places).
Patti went to high school in Covina, California, and studied typing and shorthand. She enrolled into Los Angeles City Colledge, but had to quit in her sophomore year due to lack of funds and went to work as a typist.
In late 1939, Patti and her boyfriend, both with a crush on the Hollywood lifestyle, went to Ciros despite the high price of drinks (75 cents a drink, quite a sum in those times) in hopes of meeting some prominent actors/actresses. The gamble paid off, and one night they met Dorothy Lamour, a huge star back then. Dorothy liked Patti right away and offered her a job as her personal secretary. It started as a part time job for a few weeks, but grew into a full time job as Patti proved to be more than capable of coping with the demands of the position.
And it was not an easy job by any means. In later years, Patti used to say how more than 100 letters came in monthly with all kinds of nutty demands – numerous men trying to marry Dorothy, asking for a lock of her hair and so on. Patti answered every and each fan mail, always typing something different and always being considerate but firm in her refusal to grant the trivial wishes.
Patti’s good looks plus her efficiency as a secretary quickly put her in the spotlight. She mingled with the Hollywood elite and as Dorothy’s personal friend, went out with her often. Dorothy actively tried to push for her to become an actress. Nothing concreete happened until she met Glenn Ford, a handsome young Columbia star. They started dating, and puff, the press gave her much more coverage than usual. This, of course, led to a movie contract in 1941.
In a great twist of fate, Patti’s first foray into movies was The Star Maker, exactly what she got from Paramount. It’s another one of those biopic movies that shows nothing about the true character of the person it portrays – but it’s fun, nice and breezy and features Bing Crosby. Also, she was credited, not something that many girls who broke into movies based solely on their looks can say.
Under Age an early Edward Dmytryk movie, was clearly made more to shock and less to achieve artistic value, and t’s a pity a movie dealing with issues of juvenile delinquency and its aftermath (something Hollywood does not touch too much upon and prefers to avoid), melts into a sub-par movie. She Knew All the Answers and Adventure in Washington are totally forgotten movies today, in which she was uncredited. She again had no credit in Blondie in Society but at least the movie is one of the best entries of the Blondie series and worth watching today.
Prairie Stranger was the third part of a western serial about Dr. Steven Monroe, and gave Patti a chance to act in a leading lady role. As per usual, low budget westerns need pretty and bland leading ladies – this one is no different. You’ll Never Get Rich is perhaps Patti’s best known film, and appearing opposite Rita Hayworth and Fred Astaire (together!) is not something a large number of people can pride upon. While not the best movie for either star, it’s a well made, solid musical with a few all time classics.
The rest of 1942 went by in a flurry of uncredited roles. The Officer and the Lady, Beyond the Blue Horizon, Wake Island, Here We Go Again and Let’s Face It were almost like stepping stones she had to do to get to a higher level, an obligatory education to graduate. Neither movie is well remembered today, but on a positive note, she acted with her former employer, Dorothy Lamour, at last once.
Many girl never make it out of the extras bulk, but Patti had both the luck and at least talent enough to get to the next level. Starting in 1943 and all the way up to 1946, she was active as a leading lady or at least a strong support.
Two westerns of dubious quality again had her as a lead – Death Rides the Plains and Fighting Valley. While I am pretty critical to serial B westerns (I’m definitely not a fan, but that’s just me), it’s impossible to deny that they have a solid group of fans today and these roles may be the reason at least somebody knows of Patti in the 21st century. Pretty soon, Patti profiled herself as a western heroine, and made several movies, parts of highly “prestigious” serials: Devil Riders (Billy the Kid), Fuzzy Settles Down, Gunsmoke Mesa, Gangsters of the Frontier, Rustlers’ Hideout, Terrors on Horseback, Overland Riders and Outlaws of the Plains. If nothing else, Patti was quite busy and undoubtedly achieved some recognition, a much better alternative to being an extra in A class productions.
In between her bread and butter western roles, she appeared in various other B class movies usual for the period – mostly horrors. Isle of Forgotten Sins is an older the top Edgar J. Ulmer mosh, but still quite watchable, if only for the great female cast (Gale Sondergaard and Veda Ann Borg). Bluebeard is a proper horror thriller, not a master piece by a long shot but not the worst movie you could find either.
Patti cut her career in 1946, right after the war – I am quite unsure why, as she was still appearing as a lead in B westerns and could have pushed for at least a few more years in that line of work. I guess she had her reasons.
Patti was quite popular in the early 1940s, first due to her position as secretary to a mega star, and then as an actress. When she went on her very first public relations tour, she came with with 5 marriage proposals and one adoption offer! Her Cinderella story was endlessly repeated in the papers and a great future was predicted for her in 1941. She failed to reach that potential, but she did enjoy a period of “fame” as we can call it.
In 1940, she dated Preston Foster, who used to date Dorothy (what a weird love triangle: boss, ex-boyfriend, secretary).
Patti’s only premier beau during this time was Glenn Ford. They dated, on off, from 1940 until early 1943. In the meantime, there was no shortage of willing escorts: the all American boy, Tom Harmon, took her out several time sin the summer of 1941, and so did the publisher Walter Hutshut. During her peak years in Hollywood, Patti stayed surprisingly grounded and never forgot her rough childhood and where she came from – she and Blake Carter pooled funds in August 1941 and hired a drama coach for a Los Angeles charity school where pupils were trying to stage a play.
Patti lasted as an actress until 1946, but then saw the writing on the wall and decided to change careers. She moved to Honolulu, Hawaii and started a new life far away from the spotlight. Going back to her roots, Patti found work as a receptionist and juggled between 27 doctors.
In 1957, Patti came back for a brief visit to the States, and her presence in Los Angeles was even noted in the papers! This was the last time we find any information about her. In the 1960s and 1970s, her days of fame long gone, she lived a quiet life on the beautiful island.
Despite her short burst of popularity and good looks that made her highly sought after, Patti never married (or I could not find any proof otherwise – but I know for sure she died unmarried).
Patricia McCarty died on July 7, 1985 in Honolulu, Hawaii.