Virginia Hewitt

Virginia_Hewitt1

Virginia Hewitt was an incredibly beautiful model who never made it in Hollywood. Same old same old? Yes, but she was one of the few lucky ones who got their big break on TV, landing a role in a highly popular series of the 1950s, and later branched into other venues.

EARLY LIFE:

Virginia Hewitt was born on November 28, 1925, in Shreveport, Louisiana to Leland James Hewitt and Ethel Roloson. She was the youngest of three children: her older sister Etheda was born in 1920, her older brother, James, in 1923.

The family moved quite a bit during her childhood, and were living in Ada, Pontotoc, Oklahoma in 1930. They moved to rural Missouri in the mid 1930s, and by 1940, they were living in Louisiana, Pike, Missouri, where Virginia attended high school.

A stunningly beautiful girl with a perfectly sculpted face and an elegant bearing, it was no surprise that she chose to become a model. She started modeling upon graduation, and moved to Kansas City, Missouri. She dabbled as an actress in small theatrical production on the side. It was during  ashow that a talent scout approached Virginia and asked her to try her hand in Tinsel Town. In 1947, she and her sister left for Hollywood.

CAREER:

Although she was uncredited in My Dear Secretary, Virginia actually had a decent role in it, appearing in about three scenes and her character actually had at least a marginal importance in the film. Virginia was so beautiful that my breath stopped when the camera followed the contours her face – so perfectly sculpted, like a Venus statue!

VirginiaHewitt2Anyway, My Dear secretary is a nicely done, funny battle of the sexes comedy with some great acting bits. The star of the movie are not the leads (although they are “very much” charming), but Keenan Wynn, who has all the best one liners and delivers them with a impeccable comic timing. The man is  a genius, to put in succinctly.

It was that role that brought her to the attention of producer Mike Moser, who was about to bring a space adventure to the small screen. Soon, she was signed to appear on Space Patrol, her claim to fame. Virginia played Carol Karlyle, daughter of the Secretary General of the United Planets who, when she wasn’t helping Corey (portrayed by World War II flier Ed Kemmer) battle an assortment of evil-doers in the 30th Century, was trying to lure him into matrimony. It remains by far her most popular role.

The series opened  a few new doors for her, both in movies and TV. She appeared in The Flying Saucer, a low budget, very trashy B class 1950s SF about flying saucers in Alaska. Need I say more? This movie was not meant to be a good one, and of course it’s not even close to being one. This mind numbing feast is not for those who want some quality entertainment. Virginia has a small role at that, so it’s not even worth watching to see her pretty face.

Bowery Battalion, featuring the Bowery brothers, is a much better fare, and a real example of how low budget movies can actually turn good despite the lack of funding. The People Against O’Hara, a solid Spencer Tracy movie, was her last foray into Hollywood.

Virginia got married and quit acting for the time being. She only had a brief foray into episodic roles in the UK in the early 1970s – The GuardiansThirty-Minute Theatre and Adam Smith are mostly forgotten series today. Virginia never acted after that.

PRIVATE LIFE:

Unlike many starlets, Virginia was not a newspaper staple in the late 1940s when she crashed Hollywood, and got no media recognition whatsoever until her Space Patrol days. There is little information about her in the papers and just a few photos.

VirginiaHewitt3As far as her talents go, Virginia was an amateur writer who wrote articles and even got published several times in some papers and magazines. Her true dream when she came to the West coast was to become an writer first and actress second.

Virginia was described several times by her co stars as a ladylike, elegant woman who was nice to everybody, but always at a distance, not too friendly, with a touch of an ice queen about her. Her cool blonde looks complimented that image well.

Virginia started dating her Space Patrol co star, Lyn Osborne, in early 1952. Osborne was often connected to other actresses in the media (he dated Piper Laurie, Rita Moreno, Barbara Withing, model Christine Marlowe and the list goes on) but Virginia was his one true lady love. He fell like a ton of bricks for her.

Yet, the story did not continue the as one would expect. Instead of getting married to Lyn, Virginia met and was swept of her feet by Ernest Meer, a Viennese born architect working as interior designer for the rich and famous Californians. Virginia soon left Lyn to be with Ernst – Lyn took the blow extra hard. There was some tension on the set due to this – Lyn verbally lashing out on her and Virginia hiding behind her cool exterior to hide the distress. Luckily, they managed a more or less a professional front and the filming continued without a hitch after the first few tiffs.

Despite the bitter sweet ending of their relationship, Virginia cared deeply for Lyn for the rest of her days, saving all of his love letters, notes and photos of them together in a special memory box. Eventually they resumed their friendship, and she was devastated upon his early death in 1958 (after an unsuLyngunccessful operation).

She and Meer married on December 31, 1953, and she used the artistic talent to help him in business. The two then began to design some of the better-known chandeliers around Los Angeles, including the spectacular one in the Cecil B. DeMille Room at the old Hollywood Brown Derby. They owned the world famous Courant showroom.

Virginia and Meer divorced in the 1970s. Virginia never married again, and lived for a brief time in the UK before returning to Los Angeles.  Meer married Patricia V. Font in 1981, divorced her in 1985, and married Irina K Maleeva in 1985.

Virginia Hewitt Meer died on July 21, 1986, in Los Angeles, California from cancer. Meer died in 1987.

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Barbara Barondess

 

Barbara Barondess

Barbara Barondess is one of those people whose life story can easily serve as a movie script. A versatile, vivacious woman who gave up movies for marriage – as most of the girls did – she nonetheless rose again as a prominent interior decorator and acting coach. Quite a feat for someone who was born in 1907!

EARLY LIFE:

Barbara Barondess was born on July 4, 1907, in New York City, to Benjamin Brandes and his wife, the former Stella Sirkis. She came from a wealthy Russian Jewish family which made it’s fortune in lumber trade. The family moved back to Russia after being persuaded by Barbara’s grandfather. They lived in Shitomir, Ukraine, where her younger sister, Rosalie , was born in 1911. Hard times befell on the family in 1914 when the Russian revolution stated – they were both Jews and capitalists. Her father was shot in the throat the same day Barbara was shot in the shoulder. He survived due to an emergency operation, but was unable to speak normally for the rest of his life.

Her sister Lucienn was born on May 16, 1919. Afterwards, the family fled to Poland where Benjamin and Barbara were arrested and imprisoned. Barbara was eventually released and joined her mother and two sisters (who had crossed the border separately). Her father remained in custody for close to a year and a half while the family struggled to prove that Barbara was an American citizen. Her mother argued to authorities that at the time she and her husband were born, the Ukraine was part of Poland and therefore they were Polish citizens. Eventually, the family was allowed to leave for the United States.

They settled in New York where the girls attended school – Barbara went to Erasmus High School.  She started working in a bank at the age of 16. While working by day, Barbara attended night classes at New York University. At the age of 19, she entered a beauty contest and won the title of “Miss Greater New York” which in turn led to a role in the stage play Gay Paree . Barondess went on to appear on Broadway in a handful of parts, including Crime (1927) and, most notably, the ingénue role in Topaze (1929), . The recognition she received from these plays landed her a chance to try her luck in Hollywood in the mid 1920s.

CAREER:

Barbara Barondess 5Barabra appeared in several silent movies, All AboardSummer BachelorsThe Sorrows of SatanThe Reckless Lady , A Kiss for Cinderella but made no splashes in the sea of Hollywood starlets, warranting her no fame nor fortune.

Her career really started in 1932, when she made her sound movie debut in Rasputin and the Empress. Notable mostly for getting the colorful Barrymore family in one movie, it’s still a stodgy, over the top piece of work with a totally distorted history. Her second feature was Luxury Liner, an interesting if flawed account of a passengers aboard a (yep, you guessed it), a luxury liner!

Sadly Barbara’s next two features, Soldiers of the Storm and When Strangers Marry are very hard to get and moslty considered lost today, so we have no idea what kind of movies they are. Barbara had a credited role in Hold Your Man, a Clark Gable/Jean Harlow movie. This one is an unusual one – what starts as a typical rom com with Gable as a con man and Jean as a gun moll turns into a touching drama about life choices and change. Harlow is superb in the movie, as a woman who undergoes a major transformation, never an easy feast for any actor playing such roles. The Devil’s Mate, her next movie, is considered lost.

Barbara Barondess3Queen Christina is such a tour de force movie that it needs no introduction for anyone at least marginally interested in classic movies. Barbra continued appearing in credited roles, but small ones and in small movies. Eight Girls in a Boat, made just months before the code went into effect, dealt with teenage pregnancy and had a charming female lead in Dorothy Wilson, a WAMPAS Baby Star. Unknown Blonde is a movie about a con man who almost frames his own daughter (unknowingly, of course). The movie is worth watching if nothing than for Edward Arnold, a fine actor, in the lead role. Change of Heart was a level up for Barbara, as a gentle slice of life drama about young people starting their professional lives in New York. It’s interesting see and contrast it with the way New York functions today in movies and series. The movie also features the perennial movie couple, Janet Gaynor and Charles Farrell.  Beggar’s Holiday is a lost movie about a woman falling in love with an embezzler.

The Fountain has an impressive cast (Brian Aherne, Paul Lukas, Ann Harding) but not much else going for it – as an adaptation of a stage piece, it’s stilted, formulaic and often too slow. A must for Ann Harding fans (I love the actress, she was such a kind but strong personality) but hardy recommended for anyone else. The Pursuit of Happiness is a happy-go-lucky, charming movie with Charles Lederer in the lead.

Barbara downgraded to uncredited roles after that. The Merry Widow is a Lubitsch classic, but not worth a notch for her career. Life Begins at Forty is a mild movie, a perfect showcase for the comedic talents of Will Rogers. People Will Talk is another comedy, this time with Charles Ruggles/Mary Boland comedy duo, dealing with martial squabbles in a lighthearted way.  Diamond Jim is a very good biographical film – no wonder, when you have Edward Arnold and Jean Arthur in the leads and Preston Sturges as the director! A Tale of Two Cities, from 1935, still remains the best adaptation of Dicken’s classic novel, in large part thanks to Ronald Colman impeccably playing the dual  main roles.

BarbaraBarondess2Barbara managed to revive her career enough to get credited roles again. Easy Money gave her a meaty roles of a bride trying to set her wayward husband straight. The film is is a crime movie with an unusually intricate plot dealing with insurance fraud, not something Hollywood covers every day. Sadly, it remains one of many well made but obscure movies from the 1930s. Lady Be Careful, her next feature, is another movie completely forgotten today. The Plot Thickens is a delightful detective movie with the Inspector Piper/Hildegarde Withers sleuthing team.  James Gleason plays the Inspector, and is matched every step of the way by the indomitable Zasu Pitts playing Miss Withers. There is plenty of 1930s dry humor and wit in this one!

Make a Wish is a type of a movie Deanna Durbin excelled in – with a juvenile lead whose mischievous nature pushed him/her into various adventures and misadventures, mostly concerning their matchmaking skills. Instead of Deanna we have child star Bobby Breen, and the objects of his matchmaking are his widowed mother, playing by soprano Marion Claire (her only film role) and Basil Rathbone (known today as the ultimate Sherlock Holmes)Fit for a King is a good enough comedy with Joe E. Brown and Paul Kelly as the funny guy/straight guy pair.

Barbara left her pursuit of movie stardom afterwards, and made only one feature, Emergency Squad, a solid, fast paced action film from 1940. Barbara turned to other revues and managed quite a career outside the limelight.

 PRIVATE LIFE:

Barbara was a society butterfly who mingled with the elite of both the East and the West coasts. She knew everybody in Hollywood in the 1920 and 1930s, and afterwards was a doyenne of New York society in the 1940s and 1950s. She later switched to Palm Beach, Florida, in the 1960s and 1970s. Any way you put it, her social life was HIGHLY impressive.

Barbara Barondess6Barbara was featured to some degree in the papers, but generally not to much. She gave a beauty hint in 1933:

Upon finishing work I very carefully remove all screen make up with cold cream, soap and water. Afterwards I run in just a little cold cream because I like the highlights this gives to one’s face. I use only lipstick for street.

Unlike many starry eyed girls who land in Hollywood and expect miracles to happen, Barbara was a hard bitten realist. Years after her experiences as a minor actress, she said:

“In those golden years of Hollywood, women were treated like disposable Kleenex. My experience started at MGM in 1933. I made two dozen pictures in five years and my hair color changed in each one. We had nothing to say about our appearance. I had to lose weight, although I was a size 8. The strain of the working conditions was almost beyond endurance. I don’t know how we survived making Eight Girls in a Boat (1934) for Paramount. We had to jump into a cold lake 20 times for a take.”

Barbara’s first husband was theatrical producer Irving Jacobs whom she wed in 1929 in New York while working as an model/Broadway actress. The marriage fell apart by the time she came to Hollywood in 1932.

Barbara met Douglas MacLean shortly after she came to Hollywood. He was separated from his second wife, actress Lorraine Eddy. Before Eddy he was married to the east coast socialite Faith Cole. Soon they were a constant duet, and in February 1938 eloped to Tijuana, Mexico and got married. They lived in Beverly Hills, in a hotel. Barbara was a good friend of many famous actors, like Gary Cooper, Clark Gable and Douglas Montgomery.

Barbara and Douglas wanted a baby badly, but at first she was unable to conceive, and when she did get pregnant in 1943, she suffered a miscarriage. Sadly, in the end, no children were born out of the marriage.

Barbara enrolled at UCLA, studying art and design. By 1940 she started an secondary career as an interior decorator, designing homes for celebrities like Garbo, Norma Shearer, Gail Patrick, Errol Flynn, Gary Cooper, Jane Wyman and Ronald Reagan. She was so successful that she expanded her business to the East Coast, opening a branch in New York in the mid-40s. Barondess later branched out into fashion, designing and manufacturing clothing, and even added cosmetics manufacturing to her growing empire.

Barbara BarondessBarbara’s soaring career as a n interior decorator and fashion designer ruined her marriage to MacLean in cca 1947. They divorced in 1948, after ten years of marriage. Her next beau was Roger Dann, a French singer. He gave her a diamond ring, but it did not last long.

Barbara re-meet Phillip Reed, whim whom she went to school on the East coast, and the two started dating in July 1948.  They broke up in early 1949. That year she also dated a fabolously wealthy Spanish, Alfred De Vega.

Barbara also dabbled in real estate. She was the owner the apartment where Joe DiMaggio and Marilyn Monroe spent some of the happiest days of their brief marriage.

In 1952, Barbara married Nathaniel Rouvell. The marriage made front page news and it was not surprising that their separation a few months later spread like forrest fire among the press. They divorced in 1953. At the divorce proceeding she claimed that Nathaniel criticized her constantly but never constructively and was always dissatisfied with everyhing she did.

Barbara married her fourth husband, a wealthy Pal Beach man, ladies’ apparel executive Leonard Knaster, in 1955. He divorced his previous wife in 1952. They divided their time between Palm Beach and New York. As many wealthy dames, Barbara was looted from a chunky part of her jewelry collection in 1957. The marriage did not last – they divorced in 1974. Barbara never married again.

In 1984 she founded a non profit organization to help theatrical professionals move on in their chosen areas. She produced several off Broadways plays. Among the alumni of the school is the notable actor Morgan Freeman.

Barbara Barondess died on May 31, 2000 in New York.

 

Jean Chatburn

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Entering movies as a Barbara Stanwyck double, Jean Chatburn actually made her way into the credited tier and even had a chance to become a full pledged working actress, but sadly left movies before she could make a memorable career for herself.

EARLY LIFE:

Geneveive Jennie May Kellar was born on September 11, 1914, in Hanover, Michigan, USA to Daniel H Kellar and Leora Marion M Kellar. Her father came from Indiana to Michigan and married her mother, a Michigan native.

Her younger sister Gladys Pearl Kellar was born in 1916 and her younger brother Robert Franklin Kellar in 1920.

In 1920, the family lived in Hanover, Michigan. Genevieve attended elementary and high schools in the city and showed an early interest in a showbiz career.

I have no idea exactly how she ended up in Hollywood, but by 1934 she was appearing in movies regularly.

CAREER:

As all girls who had any singing ability, one would expect Jean to be pushed into musicals for most of her brief career. Wrong! She actually had a varied career spanning several genres, somewhat of a rarity for somebody who was basically a starlet.

Her first movie, Paradise Valley, made in 1934, is a lost one today and nothing can be said about it’s quality or indeed any plot.

JEanChatburn5Come On, Marines! her second feature, could have been a very good if not solid jungle combat movie, but ends up a lukewarm mess with no real redeeming features (a lot of money and authenticity went into its making, but for no avail). Thirty Day Princess, while no big master piece, is Jean’s first solid movie. A fluffly comedy starring Sylvia Sidney and Cary Grant, it’s  a perfect Sunday afternoon watching and highly enjoyable if you’re not looking for a serious, philosophical drama. Jean had a short foray into serious drama with Society Doctor, a mediocre movie with Chester Morris on the downside of his career and Robert Taylor on the upside (although it’s clear as day that Morris is a seasoned actor and Taylor a mere amateur trying to learn his craft… Sadly I never found Taylor to be a good actor until the 1950s, when he finally matured into something, but even then he was lacking compared to the true greats of cinema… Ah well, a handsome face could get you far if you had the right breaks!). A predecessor of the Ben Casey franchise with a dedicated but gruff doctor as the lead, the movie has it’s moments of glory but also had several highly absurd ones (Morris’s character operating on himself with the help of a mirror! Come on!!).

JEanChatburn4Drifting through the genre, Jean finally hit her stride in a musical, Memories and Melodies. Yes, the movie is forgotten today but it gave her  chance to sing on screen. The quality of her movies went up from then on. Naughty Marietta is a classic today, one of Jeanette MacDonald/Nelson Eddy’s best efforts, a charming movie worth watching several times.

No More Ladies is the suave, elegant drawing room comedy Hollywood made dime a dozen in the 1930s. It’s brisk, funny but not really noteworthy as far as the genre goes. Joan Crawford played the role she does in most of her movies, as do Robert Montgomery (before his greatest roles in film noir and drama, he was a typical charmer) and Edna May Oliver (mostly played the same type, but what an actress, simply hilarious!). The Great Ziegfeld is a movie that needs no introduction, a absolute classic that holds up more than well today. Jean even has a delightful scene with the ever suave William Powell playing Ziegfeld. Then, typically, there was a decline in movie quality.

New Shoes is a mildly disturbing (or better said weird) short with Jean’s shoes having the leading role (as I said, weird).

JeanChatburn2The Devil on Horseback could have been an entertaining movie with a silly but endearing plot – sadly in ended up an undefined, weird movie with some pretty bad acting and lots of stereotypes. On the plus side, Jean played the best character in the movie – the female lead’s (Lili Damita, Errol Flynn’s first wife) secretary and one of the very few female characters with lesbian overtones in movies of that time in general (yes, the movie does have a few surprises)! However, with this dud, Jean entered the prestigious area of supporting characters. She would never be uncredited again, something many other actresses never managed to achieve in career that lasted longer than Jeans!

Some Time Soon another musical short, lost today, gave Jean a leading role. She then played the main female support role in Bad Guy, an interesting movie about a convict who gets out of jail but returns to crime. It’s a morality story, very much grey, and shows both the good and the bad sides of the main character, played well by Bruce Cabot. Willowy and beautiful Virginia Grey serves as his love interest.

Jean’s last movie is a good one. Dramatic School, while not really a classic today and not a top movie in terms of plot nor character development, features so many good actresses it’s a must see for anyone who likes the golden age of Hollywood. Paulette Goddard, Louise Rainer, Lana Turner, Ann Rutherford… and the list goes on! Of course Jean, a little known actress then, gets drowned by the sheer number of bigger stars, but her role was prominent enough that maybe someone could have noticed her.

Like many other actress of the day Jean gave up her career, which was slowly but securely on the rise, for marriage and children.

PRIVATE LIFE:

Jean married Richard Metz, a future professional golfer from Kansas, in 1929 when she was just 15 years old. Metz was born in 1908, making him only 21 for the marriage. The marriage was quickly annulled, but that was not the end of the Jean/Dick story.

JeanChatburnVictorOrsattiJean was quite active in the publicity stakes in Hollywood. While her career was nothing to talk about, she was featured in papers on every opportunity she (or her publicist) could muster. We learned from the various articles that she was an active horse woman, maintained her slim frame by bowling, that she enjoyed sun bathing, was a passionate motorcyclist and was quite a clothes horse. Jean seemed like a well rounded, interesting woman a bit ahead of her time. She also entereted beauty peagants pretty late, when she was in the early 20s and working as an actress, but was quite successful at it, winning several titles.

JeanChatburn6Jean married Frank Orsatti, brother of the better known agent Victor Orsatti in 1936, not yet 22 years old. Frank was born in 1893, making his almost 20 years older than Jean, and worked as a press agent (like Victor) and had one writing credit to his name. The couple bought a breeding farm outside of Los Angeles and were heavily involved with thoroughbreds. Their horses frequently won races at the famous Santa Anita racetrack cca 1937. At their peak, they had four champions. Frank and Jean were very good friends with his brother and his then wife, the stunning beauty June Lang, and they often went out to town as a foursome. Frank seemed like a nice and attentive husband to Jean, but fate would have it otherwise. Jean re-met her former husband, Dick Metz, by chance, in 1939 and it changed their lives.

Jean divorced Orsatti in November 1939 in Reno, Nevada, and married, two days later, her first husband, Dick Metz. This time it was for keeps. She left Hollywood not long after to live in Chicago with her golfer husband. They had three children, two sons Craig and James and a daughter, Joan.

JeanChatburn3After Dick retired from golfing in the 1950s, the two went into the cattle ranching business in his native Kansas. Theirs was a happy marriage until declining health compelled Metz to commit suicide in the parking lot of an Arkansas City, KS funeral home on May 4, 1993. She never remarried.

Genevieve Metz died on July 18, 2007 from cancer.