Goldwyn Girls were all statuesque charmers, well publicized, appearing in top movies. Yet, none of them achieved any great success as an actress. Karen Gaylord likewise never rose above being the resident glamour girl.
Karen Xandra Goerner was born on January 4, 1921, in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, to Werner C. Goerner and Marie Goerner.
Her father is German, an engineer with the Northern Pacific Railway and her mother was from Illinois. The family moved to Minneapolis, Minnesota, where her younger sister Doris J.E. was born in 1925.
The family moved around quite a bit during Jane’s childhood, going back to Milwaukee, settling permanently in Devils Lake, North Dakota, where Werner operated a chain of lumber yards. Jane attended schools in Milwaukee, Minneapolis and Devils Lake and graduates from North Community High School.
The pretty girl became a fixture on the pageant scene in her late teens, and won the title of Miss Minnesota when she was about 18 years old. Harry Conover, the connoisseur of pretty girls, saw her in a Butte, Montana bank and signed her to become a model in New York City. Jane was quick to rise the ranks of models, appearing on covers of national magazines.
As a Goldwyn girl, Karen appeared in small, uncredited roles in a string of high budget, distinguished movies. Most of the movies are well remembered today and most them feature at least one A class star.
Her first movie appearance was in Cover Girl, a lovely Rita Hayworth musical, one of her best. Gene Kelly and Rita are a great dancing couple, and the breezy movie moves skillfully towards a stunning ending. Wonder Man is a hilarious Danny Kaye movie. The name itself is misleading, as Kaye doe snot play a superhero in any form, but a man haunted by the ghost of his dead twin brother who seeks justice for his murder. As always, Virginia Mayo is a great foil for Danny, and the finale, set during an opera performance, is one of the best scenes in comedic history.
The Virginia Mayo/Danny Kaye combination was exploited again in The Kid from Brooklyn. Kaye is at the top of his game here, with a youthful exuberance and one of a kind body language no other comedian manged to match since. Eve Arden is especially delightful in the role she excelled in – deadpan sparkler.
Night in Paradise was a lesser movie than her previous ones, biut still managed to pull of a mildly entertaining show, featuring Merle Oberon.
A extension of the “Three girls looking for husbands” genre, Three Little Girls in Blue was baed on the same play used by The Greeks had a word for them (1932), Three blind mice (1938), Moon over Miami (1941). It’s hard to judge the movie on its own merit as it was remade so many times, but it remains a lively, brisk, fast moving delight for all who love 1940s musical. While not as lavish as the MGM musicals of the era and lacking a huge star like Gene Kelly or Judy Garland, the cast is perfect: June Haver, Vivian Blaine and Vera Ellen as the sisters, with Celeste Holm in her very first movie appearance (and she kicks the trousers out of everyone with her impeccable timing!).
The Shocking Miss Pilgrim is a Betty Grable musical that hidden much under it’s glossy surface polish. The underlying story tackles both woman’s suffragette and their relationship to other ideologies (in this case, the prohibition), and never wavers into typical musical silliness. Dick Haymes is given one of the few meaty role sin his career and his character lived through a transformation easily believable even today (from a “manly man” looking down on woman, he learns to respect the working female and her role in society).
The Secret Life of Walter Mitty is the most popular movie Karen had appeared up until them, the absolute pinnacle of Danny Kaye comedy. A sharp, witty script, great performances and high production values mix together to make a top notch comedy movie. Unfortunately, her career trajectory did not go up after this, but rather down.
Linda Be Good is her first B class production with smaller names like Elyse Knox and John Hubbard. It’s a very good mystery movie. I Love Trouble, despite its lightweight name, is a full blown film noir, gritty and hard boiled like any good Raymond Chandler book (the movie patterns itself very devotedly after these books). While the performance of Franchot Tone, known as a second banana charmer in his heyday at MGM, is a matter of debate (some can never envision him as a tough private eye, some maintain that his inbred elegance help elevate the stereotype), the story and supporting players are all very good.
A Song Is Born is a paradise for music lovers. A remake of Ball Of Fire, it doe snot even remotely match the original in its pacing and comedy, but the spirited leads (Kaye and Mayo once again) and a wide variety of famous musical performers of the time gives it some ebb and guarantees a movie not that easily forgotten.
Karen’s last movie was The Girl from Jones Beach, a mediocre, no-reason-to-watch-it-twice Ronald Reagan comedy, with Virginia Mayo as his leading lady. Again, it’s not a bad movie, but it’s not a very good one either, falling solidly into the mid tier.
Karen got married and left movies for good after this.
As a Goldwyn girl, Karen was extremely active in the war relief program, touring army bases constantly in 1943/1944. She found time for romance on the side, dating Ted Knoll. They were even engaged at some point in August 1943, but decided to postpone the wedding. In late 1944, she revealed to the press how she wished to purchase a farm where she and Knoll can raise foxes. Her family had owned a fox farm outside Minneapolis while she was young and ever since she wanted to own one herself. Karen was known around Hollywood as a very shrewd, thrifty woman, and it’s not hard to believe she has such grounded goals (unlike many other chorus girls whose heads were in the clouds).
There were several other newspaper gimmicks she was a part of: in November 1944, along with six other starlets, she became the manager and backer of a professional acrobat, Allan Dodd. They would invest money in him and they hope he would become a movie star and pay them back the investment. Of course Dodd never became a movie star and nobody ever heard anything about him since the article, but it made a small splash. She and Ruth Valmy, both farm girls, constantly talked about their rural tendencies in the papers, and both tried to shake their “southern” accents (now this is a quack – Karen was from Minneapolis, quite far from the south, but okay!). There was a Sawtooth mountains outing at Sun Valley, Idaho, where, the press notes “three visitors Shirley Buchanan,Karen Gaylord and Pat Hall find plenty of winter facilities for rolling snowballs. “
By 1945, she had ditched Knoll for Brian Aherne, a rather cold man once married to Joan Fontaine. By October 1945 she was over with Aherne and dating Ted Howard. Not long after she suffered an accident and dislocated her hip, but recovered soon enough to resume her career and start a brief liaison with Ray Milland.
In 1947, Karen scored the big kahuna – Cary Grant. She was on tour with the Goldwyn Girls in Mexico when the screen star noticed her and a quick and passionate courtship followed. Karen had contractual obligations and had to continue touring South America, and Cary called her at least once a week to check up on her. Unfortunately, the affair never developed into something more permanent, and Cary went on to marry Betsy Drake a few years later.
Karen continued to burn through high profile men wit ease. She enchanted her boss’s son, Samuel Godwyn Jr., and in October 1947 the papers were abuzz with news of their engagement. The elder Goldwyn was furious and did all he could to separate the couple. He succeeded, as they broke up before getting hitched. Goldwyn would marry Jennifer Howard in 1950.
1948 was a very good year for Karen romantically. She started the year as the best girl of Harold Clark, a New York blue blood worth millions. There were some rumors he would divorce his wife Millie and marry Karen, but that did not happen. By May 1948, she was flying to Los Angeles frequently to date Steve Crane, Lana Turners ex husband and a very well known Lothario. After Steve came Jack Carson, handsome actor.
Then, in late May 1948, she met Don McGuire on a blind date. Frank Sinatra was the match maker. The whirlwind courtship lasted for only three months before their tied the know on August 15, 1948.
McGuire was born as Donald Rose on February 28, 1919, in Chicago, Illinois, to Benjamin Rose and Ann F. Uadanter. For a brief biography, I quote Imdb:
American screenwriter and director Don McGuire was a former Warner Brothers contract player and Hollywood press agent during the 1940s. He had a background in journalism, having begun his professional life as a reporter for the Hearst press. After four years of military service, he acted on screen in small roles as interns, barmen or drivers. After leaving Warners in 1948, he found good roles hard to come by and ended up being relegated to appearances in second features. Therefore, he decided on becoming a writer of film scripts instead
There were some bits and pieces about Karen in the paper after that, but she sank into obscurity after 1954. All I know is that she and McGuire did not have any children and divorced at some point. Don achieved his biggest success in 1982 with Tootsie that he co wrote with Larry Gelbart.
In 1949 she retired from films and moved to Clearwater, Florida to teach music and art and in 1950 she legally changed her name to Jane Goerner and up until the 1990s she gave private lessons out of her home.
Don McGuire died in 1999.
Jane Goerner died in her sleep on August 1, 2014.