Maxine Cantway

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The beautiful blonde, trained in dance, crashes Hollywood. She gets some publicity, dances in several good musicals, and hopes to achieve stardom. A familiar story by now? Oh yes, and most of them did not move from the uncredited tier. Meet Maxine Cantway, a beautiful blonde with that very fate.

EARLY LIFE:

Florence Maxine Kantz was born on 1912 in Missouri, to John Kantz and Florence Conklin. The family moved to Los Angeles  not long after her birth. They settled in Pomona, and lived with Florence’s parents, Francis and Maria Conklin.

Maxine was a beautiful, vivacious child, and her mother enrolled her into dance classes at the age of 4. One of her earliest dance teachers was Lina Basquette, then yet to become a famous actress/dancer (and one of the most wedded women in Hollywood with seven husbands and about nine marriages all in all).

With a passion for the dancing, Maxine was a youngster barely out of her early teens when she started to perform on the stage. She attended both dancing and dramatic school to help her in her endeavor, in addition to graduating from high school.

In 1929, she got her due and got into the spotlight. In 1930, she and 11 other hopefuls were signed to a movie contract.

CAREER:

Maxine started her career in comedy short that were made by the dozen in the late 1920s and early 1930s. Jimmy’s New YachtIn Conference (Short) 1The Dog DoctorThe Bride’s MistakeA Poor Fish gave Maxine at least a chance to get in front of the camera (but sadly little else). Due to the rapid decline in ppopularityof short comedy reels, neither of these movies are known today and none has a IMDB review (and you know how obscure that makes it).

600full-maxine-cantway (1)Yet, Maxine started as did many dancers in those days – comedy reels were bread and butter to them.

Maxine then had a large boost in the quality of her movies. She remained uncredited, but all else went up! She had a string os superb 1930s gems – The Kid from Spain, one of the best Eddie Cantor musicals, 42nd Street perhaps oen fot he best Busby Berkeley musical ever made, with an unbeatable Warren Baxter in the lead, 

The Little Giant is a not well known but still a very good Edward G. Robinson movie that gave him a chance to truly shine as a racketeer trying to turn gentleman in one his rare comedic roles. Mary Astor and Helen Vinson are first class support for Eddie.

The last movie in Maxine’s golden line is Gold Diggers of 1933. Along with the already mentioned 42nd Street and Footlight Parade, this is the best 1930s have to offer in terms of musicals. Long before MGM made their lavish, vivid but squeaky clean musicals in the 1950s, the genre was dominated by these movies – they were sharp, unforgiving, funny, laden with innuendo, featuring massive dance numbers, top notch actors and music. Dick Powell and Ruby Keeler are the tyapical handsome leading pair, but the supporting actors are what makes this such a winner – the superb Precode cad, Warren William, Joan Blondell (need I say more about this fabulous actress?),  Aline McMahon, Guy Kibee, Ginger Rogers!

600full-maxine-cantway (2)It’s easy to fall after achieving great heights, and the rest of Maxine’s filmography is dismal at best. While neither was truly a bad movie, it was way below her usual fare. Redheads on Parade, for instance, is a sub par musical. Yet, it would be unfair to label Pride of the Marines as a worthless film. While not well known today (or indeed when it came out), it’s still a touching movie about rearing children in a unusual enviroment. Charles Bickford proves himself to be one of the best character actors in Hollywood, playing the tough-but-tender hero who “inherits” a small boy and has to raise him in a military camp. Thurston Hall as the major of the camp also gives a very good role.

Maxine’s last movie, Two in a Crowd, a not-above-average comedy. While far from being a bad movie and featuring some fine actors, it still does not manage to outgrow the uninspired direction by Alfred E. Green.

Maxine disappeared from Hollywood and the paper after 1936.

PRIVATE LIFE:

First, I have to say that IMDB lists the DOB and DOD for Georgia Maxine Cantwell, who they claim is Maxine Cantway. While I’m not 100% sure, I am more than 80% sure that that is not our Maxine. Maxine had been living in Los Angeles for quite some time by 1929, was about 19 years old – this does not match the information about Georgia Maxine Cantwell, who was still living in Cairo, West Virginia in 1930.

600full-maxine-cantway (3)Maxine came into the spotlight in 1929, when she was named the ultimate model for all chorus girls of that time. She was a perfect 109 pounds in weight, 5 foot 3 inches in height, with brown hair and blue eyes. She claimed that she had never dieted but that her slender body is the result of strenuous exercise and making several movies at the same time.

Maxine declared herself to be a shoe lover, was passionate when buying them, and owned more than 35 pairs. She lived with hr parents and did not own a car.

When one is the most beautiful chorine in the world, one if qualified to give beauty advice! Thus Maxine said for a syndicated newspaper column:

Any artificial means of adding sparkle to the eyes is bound to last only a short time, and may be actually injurious. Furthermore, no woman under 75 should require it.
Enthusiasm, health, physical and mental, are he real beautifiers that brings sparkle to the eyes. Cultivate these and you will not need to spend money on special eye treatment.

I have to say I completely agree with her, not just for the sparkly eyes but in general for all things related to beauty. The only true way to look good on the exterior is to feel good in the interior.

600full-maxine-cantway (4)As for her love life, the information is pretty slim. She dated Lou Friedberg, and broke his heart when she became serious with Charles Grayson, a young writer. The affair lasted for several months before they called it quits. Charles went on to date several famous women including Irene Hervey,  CaroleStoneGreta NissenJune Knight, Nancy Carroll, Audrey Totter and Joan Crawford.

The last we hear anything of Maxine, she was back to minor theater productions after her film career ended.

If Maxine is indeed Florence Maxine Kantz, then she died in 1996 in Riverside, and was never married.

 

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Diana Mumby

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With over 30 movies to her (un)credit, Diana Mumby, a pretty and talented chorus girl, worked regularly in Hollywood for almost 10 years, and had a much better track records than many of her contemporaries.

EARLY LIFE:

Diana Sootheran Mumby was born on July 1, 1922, in Detroit, Michigan, to Gerald Mumby and Gladys Wright. Her father was an English RAF officer, and her mother a born and bred New Yorker. Her parents divorced not long after her birth, and she was shuffled between her father who lived in England and her mother, who moved to Los Angeles.

In 1930, Diana and her mother (who attended college but did not graduate and worked as a nurse) lived in Los Angeles with a lodger. Gladys remarried to Mr. Johnson sometime in the 1930s,but they were living apart by 1939. Diana attended high school in Los Angeles and graduated in 1940, still living with her mother at the time.

She started her career as a chorus girl not long after graduation. She became an Earl Carroll girl and dancer for several years before getting into movies.

CAREER:

Diana  spent most of her career in musicals, not surprising considering she was originally a dancer, and was never ever credited, despite being a Hollywood fixture for at least 8 years.

Since she has a rather big filmography, consisting of 33 movies, and can be easily divided into three stages.

Diana originally made her movie debut in a 1940 movie, A Night at Earl Carroll’s, where she played one of the chorines, but that  did not warrant a movie career and after that she did not act for four years, working as a dancer in the interim.

Diana Mumby2-YankShe truly started to act in 1944, and until 1946 she appeared exclusively in musicals. We have Up in Arms (AGAIN!), where she was a Goldwyn girl, the slight but charming Two Girls and a SailorIt’s a Pleasure a typical Sonja Henie movie (no brains, but skating), Earl Carroll Vanities, one of those musicals with a hugely implausible story that are just simply fun to watch, the exotic and breezy A Thousand and One Nights (that type of a movie was a huge hit with the audiences that did not have easy access to all the information and photos about the faraway lands that we have today), the foul mouthed George White’s Scandals, the so obscure we don’t know what to say about it An Angel Comes to Brooklyn, the silly and slightly amusing Cinderella Jones, a Danny Kaye classic The Kid from Brooklyn, a three-girls-seeking-husbands movie, Three Little Girls in Blue, and a witty and sharp but ultimately forgotten musical The Thrill of Brazil.

What to say about this string of movies? While not bad at all, it is clear that she missed all the big, famous musical and settled somewhere in the musical mid tier, but at least she worked regularly and paid her bills.

Thus starts the second part of Diana’s career, where she got out of the musical cave and steered more towards straight drama and comedy movies. She kicked it high by appearing in The Razor’s Edge, one of Tyrone Power’s best movies, and generally one of the best movies of that year. More than a film about social problems, it’s a story of a man’s search for meaning, something much deeper than his social standing and his material wealth.

158875037_1945-diana-mumby-named-prettiest-girl-in-the-world-pressOut California Way is a low budget western, one of many, many many such movies. Winter Wonderland  is a forgotten Disney mumbo jumbo. A Song Is Born was a short veer back into the musical arena, but it was back to drama and crime movies in Alias Nick Beal, the Faust story with a modern twist and a superb cast with Ray Milland and Audrey Totter. Air Hostess was a typical light fare with three female leads trying to navigate their complicated professional/love lives. Beauty on Parade is an obscure drama about unfulfilled lives and wasted potentials serves as a good illustration of the husband/wife relationships back in the day.

Let’s Dance is a Fred Astaire musical, and that fact alone elevates it to a very high level of movie making. Let’s be realistic, any movie with Fred in it is worth more than some better movies with lesser names today.  The movie is far from a work of art, but fits the bill of an entertaining, fluffy film very well. Fred and Betty Hutton were a very interesting pair: he was technically flawless and very graceful, but she had the pizzazz and the magnetic pull that pried all eyes to her. Fred really has to work hard to keep the attention off of Betty, a refreshing change to his usual dominance on the dance floor.

Diana Mumby1Diana continued the line with Bowery Battalion, the good enough entry of Bowery boys comedy series, The Lemon Drop Kid  one of Bob Hope’s better 1950s comedies, and finally I Can Get It for You Wholesale, the prototype of the serious, theatrical, glossy 1950s dramas (featuring Susan Hayward, who next to Lana Turner was the queen of such roles).

G.I. Jane  was an unusual but highly diverting musical, just one of the many forgotten gems in the Hollywood low budget vaults. The Model and the Marriage Broker is an unjustly overlooked George Cukor movie. It has much to offer and an interesting choice of thespians – with Thelma Ritter being the absolute queen of the cast! The Las Vegas Story is a formulaic crime movie of the 1950s, using the ever lasting love triangle cliche to get together Jane Russell, Victor Mature and Vincent Price.

A Fool and His Honey is a comedic short of no great merit, Something to Live For, a George Stevens drama, is a somber, dark movie showing complex people in complex relationships – but it’s very predictable and has too many holes in the plot. Up next: when you have a movie called Aaron Slick from Punkin Crick, I think everybody can guess what kind of a movie it is. While not the worst movie ever made, it’s still a muddling mess.

whiteSound Off is a pedestrian Mickey Rooney musical, and We’re Not Married! boasts such an impressive cast that even the mediocre quality of the movie can’t hamper it down. I mean, Ginger Rogers, Marilyn Monroe and Mitzi Gaynor all int he same movie, priceless!

Diana took a hiatus after this, and returned in 1955 with Son of Sinbad, just one of the many “adventure on the high seas” that overcrowded the 1950s. Coincidentally, her last movie was also the last movie of Humphrey Bogart, The Harder They Fall, a superb study of the behind-the-scenes of the boxing world in the 1940s.

PRIVATE LIFE:

Diana was a seasoned chorus girl who hit the papers before she hit the movies, appearing in the Florentine gardens and in various musical revues as early as 1941.

In 1944, MGM contract player Lorraine Miller sued a distributor for using her photo and labeling it as Diana’s photo and circulating it amogn the GI-s. How did this happen I have no idea, as Diana herself was a very attractive woman who surely did not need a stand in for any pin up poses she did (as a testament to her pin up prowess, she was in the Yank Cover Weekly).

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In 1945 she was voted the Prettiest girl in the world and by her fellow pin up girl/chorines, no less! Truly, Diana had the perfect look for the 1940s/1950s pin up girl – a pleasing, round face and a lean, elegant figure.

In late 1945 Diana married Richard Allord, who was married to Marie McDonald for a brief time in 1940. The marriage proved to be equally brief, ending in 1946. She wasted no time in looking for a beau, and came very close to getting married to millionaire Eddie Torres in November 1946.

Diana married James Carlos Hernandez on September 30, 1951. Born in New York in 1920 to Frank Hernandez and Edna Considine, he attended college while living in Westchester, New York, and served his country in WW2. Their son, James Carlos Hernandez, was born on September 4, 1954.

Diana and James divorced in September 1968. Hernandez died in 1998.

Diana Mumby died on may 19, 1974 in Westlake, California.

Florence Lundeen

Florence Lundeen

The stunning blonde amazon was a short lived Hollywood extra, following suit of many other Goldwyn girls.

EARLY LIFE:

May Florence Lundin was born on February 9, 1922, in Los Angeles, California, to Carl Ludin and his wife, Selma Lenden. Both of her parents were born in Sweden. Her older sister, Gerda, was born in California in 1918.

Florence grew up in Los Angeles. Her parents separated sometime during the the 1930s. In 1940, Florence lived with her mother, sister and brother-in-law (Keith Garrick) and nephew in Los Angeles and worked as a model.

She trained as a stenographer at J C Fremont high school and was dancing as a junior hostess at Hollywood Canteen when discovered by MGM’s Ida Koverman (Koverman was Louis B. Meyer’s secretary and a very influential woman). She signed a contract with M G M and the following day was loaned out for Up in Arms.

CAREER:

Florence had a very, very minor career. She appeared in only four movies, all uncredited.

She made her movie debut long before she was noticed by Ida Koverman, in 1941, by appearing in Hitchhike to Hell, an exploitation movie. Needless to say, it’s a low quality work of dubious reputee, and it is even possible that Florence appeared in more of these movies to cash in some loot.

Her first proper movie was Broadway Rhythm, where she played a autograph seeker. A imdb reviewer wrote nicely of the movie

A pleasing enough entertainment, working primarily as a pageant of various MGM specialty acts – impressionists, contortionists, nightclub acts, tap-dancers, as well as the standard musical theatrical numbers. The film isn’t a musical in the traditional sense, as all the musical numbers are in the contest of an actual performance (some done toward the camera). It’s much more in the tradition of a 1960s-70s variety TV show.

FlorenceLundeen2In other words, it’s a typical bread and butter musical with the “it was always there but you never saw it” theme. For a newcomer like Florence this was not the worst way to start a career.

Being a tall and shapely Teutonic maiden, Florence was cast a one of the Goldwyn girls in Up in Arms. Again, I am not writing any more about this movie. Obviously a huge number of nice looking girls appeared in it, and Florence was just one of the masses.

Florence’s last appearance was in Meet the People.A modest film with no big production values, it’s far from a very good movie but it fits the bill of a mid tier musical. Lucille Ball and Dick Powell aretypically good in the leads, plus is features some other MGM musical stock actors and actresses like Virginia O’Brien, Bert Lahr and June Allyson.

After this, Florence got divorced and probably left Hollywood.

PRIVATE LIFE:

Florence hit the papers before she even made a proper movie debut. Due to her “Scandinavian blond” good looks, she was a sought after girl about town as early as 1940. She dated noted songwriter Garwood Van, but hit the jackpot when she was noticed by Franchot Tone. She happily let the two men vie for her affections. Franchot won out, but he was a all around charmer, dating Peggy Moran at the same time. Franchot, ever the perfect gentleman, used to wine and dine Florence at the Beachcomber’s, a famous sea food restaurant in Los Angeles. Predictably, it did not last long.

Florence married actor Robert Conway in 1941. He was born on June 12, 1908 in Chicago, Illinois as Robert Anderson.

Florence gave birth to twin daughters, Jeannette Kathryn Andersen and Judith Anne Andersen on April 27, 1942. Sadly, her marriage to Andersen was a very troubled one, and they separated in September 1943. She went back home to her mother Selma, and never returned. They divorced in 1944.

I have no idea what happened to Florence afterwards. IMDB lists her death on January 23, 1961, but I could not find any Florence, born on February 9, 1922, who died on that day. There is a whole list of women named Florence born on February 9, 1922 who died at  a later date, ranging from 1980s until 2000s, and our Florence could be any of these women.

What I do know is that Florence’s sister, Gerda Garrick, died on 2000. Her former husband, Robert Conway, died in 1969.

 

 

 

 

Inna Gest

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Inna Gest tried to live the Hollywood dream – a Russian immigrant making it big as an actress. Of course, she never made to to top brass, but did much better than many girls in similar positions, playing leads and working steadily for a few years.

EARLY LIFE:

Inna Gest was born on February 11, 1921, in Odessa, Ukraine, to Arseny Gest and Maria Kaminina. The family moved a round quite a lot during her earliest years, and lived in Czechoslovakia and Poland for a brief time.

In 1925, her parents immigrated to the US, and settled in California. Her brother Vladimir (called Walter) was born in 1928. Her father died sometine in the 1930s, and her mother got  job as a neck tie operator. Inna graduated from Hollywood high school in 1939 and decided upon a showbiz career. A major factor in that decision was her uncle, Morris Gest, a well known theater producer who gave Inna her first push by introducing her to all the important people. Along with Margaret Roach, daughter of Hal Roach, she was signed to a movie contract the same year.

CAREER:

To be perfectly honest, when I started exploring the career of Inna Gest I fully expected to find her to be like most of the Goldwyn girls  – a glamour gal with a very slim, almost nonexistent movie output. I was proven wrong and ended up pleasantly surprised after discovering she was in fact a western leading lady and that she really worked from 1940-1944, making several appearances in a year.

Inna started her career in 1939 with Babes in Arms . Her next one was one of thebest (and the first) Harry Aldich movies, What a LifeFast and Furious is a mediocre murder mystery, only heightened by the genial pairing of Franchot Tone and Ann Southern as husband/wife sleuth team.

51777255030ae_149919nInna got noticed by the studio brass and her career went up. She had her first credited role, and a female lead one at that, in the not-that-bad low budget western, The Golden Trail, playing opposite Tex Ritter. She continued the trend, playing leading ladies in man’s movie (where the female lead is mostly decorative and not as important to the plot as the male lead’s machinations). Her next movie was Boys of the City, where she played second fiddle to the East Side Kids. She reached the pinnacle of her career in Gun Code, again as the female lead. A well paced western with a good balance of characters, story and action, it is certainly one of Tim McCoy’s best movies.

Road Show was a silly comedy of little merit, Hard Guy is probably one of Inna’s better known credited movies, for no other reason than that it’s her only gangster movie (very popular at the time) and features Jack LaRue. It’s not even a good movie to start with – it’s premise is extremely ridiculous (as one user masterfully wrote on imdb):

His specialty was getting the women in his employ to marry rich men and then get quickie annulments or divorces–splitting the money with him. This was a big problem with the film, as there is no reason for any woman to split the money with LaRue–it just made no sense. Nor did it really make sense for them to give up on their ‘sugar baby’ so quickly. When one of the women develops a conscience, LaRue kills her and makes it look like her new husband did it! So it’s up to a bunch of idiots to somehow unravel the mystery.

So very funny… Yes, they made movies like this before 😛

Just when things could have turned out nicely for Inna, she gave up movies for the time being to become a wife. Sadly, her change to become a solid actress was gone by the time she returned to the movie arena in 1943, when her husband was off fighting in WW2.

In 1943 she made You Can’t Beat the Law, a run of the mill low budget thriller, two well made war movies, Hangmen Also Die! and The North Star. Both can still be seen on television today.

She had one lead role, in Six Gun Gospel, a totally forgotten Johnny Mack Brown western. Sadly, Inna was never to have a lead after this, but totally slipped into uncredited territory.  

Up in Arms was Inna’s chance to finally appear as a Goldwyn girl. I mentioned this film so many times on this blog that I’m so fed up with it and am not going to mention it again. Show Business is a wacky, vulgar pastiche of vaudeville shorts and RKO musicals footage with some very racy jokes. Ladies of Washington is an interesting movie about the housing shortage in Washington during WW2 and how people deal with it, but sadly not widely known today.

InnaGestInna’s only movie in 1945 was Bring on the Girls, a sparking, vivacious comedy with Eddie Bracken and Veronica Lake. Veronica’s career was already on the downhill, and except Blue Dahlia, would never regain her early 1940s fame. Such a shame for this uniquely talented femme fatale…

After the filming was over, Inna decided to devote more time to her infant daughter and husband and gave up Hollywood for the time being.

Inna made two more uncredited appearances, one in 1947 in Northwest Outpost, one of Nelson Eddy‘s last movies (and nothing to write home about, Nelsonw as never a good actor and he sue did not become any better with his last features), and No Minor Vices, an interesting comedy that received mixed notices, but boasts a fine cast (Dana Andrews, Lili Palmer, Louis Jourdan).

That was all from Inna.

PRIVATE LIFE:

Inna started her career as a typical starlet with strong familial connections, but grew into a working B class actress and was rarely featured in the papers. Except a brief flash of interest that followed her around when she entered the Hollywood scene in 1939, she got some minor publicity in 1944, when she was doing war relief work. She posed with Malinki, a cat found floating in a bucket by a Naval officer during the battle for Guadalcanal.

InnaGest3Ina married Clarence H. Peterson in the early 1940s. Their daughter Victoria Inna Peterson was born on November 6, 1944. They divorced in cca. 1947/48.

Inna married Alex Grobenko in San Francisco in the late 1940s. He was born on November 6, 1895 in Russia, moved to the US and became a naturalized citizen in 1932. They divorced a few years later. Grobenko remained in California and died there at the ripe old age of 93 on January 31, 1989.

Inna married her third and last husband, Alexander Istomin. Istomin was born on June 12, 1923, making him the only husband who was younger than Inna. Like Grobenko, he was born in Russia and became a naturalized US citizen (just in 1953 not 1932).

Inna Gest Istomin died on December 31, 1964, from hepatitis B, aged only 43.

Inna’s widower, Istomin, married Irina Thompson in 1968. On a sad note, Inna’s only child, daughter Victoria, died in 1969 in Eldridge, California, aged only 24.