Eleanor Bayley

EleanorBayley

Perpetually cast in the lightweight musicals of the late 1930s and early 1940s, Eleanor Bayley was the eternal dancer, always seen in the background and never truly noticed by the viewer. After a steady although unspectacular career, she retired to raise a family.

EARLY LIFE:

Eleanor Bayley was born on January 4, 1916, in Atchison, Kansas, to Hammond Bayley and Grace R. Bayley. Her sister was Gwendolyn Bayley, and her younger brother Hale was born in 1924. Her family was a staple of the city, being there for many generations.

Growing up and attending high school in Atchison, she dreamed of becoming a dancer and actress. She even made a notebook detailing those dreams for an English project. Sadly, her father died on July 1, 1927, when she was just 11 years old. The family moved to the West coast afterwards.

Eleanor finished her high school days in Hollywood, danced in all the schools’ production and took dancing classes from Moscow brothers, who were also dance teachers to Ted Shaw and Ruth St. Denis. She got her first taste of the real dancers life when she got a job as a member of a dancing troupe that gave 5 shows a day at the Paramount theater (between movies). Soon she moved to Grauman’s Chinese theater, and became a part of a vaudeville troupe (Gold Diggers) that traveled all around the US and Canada. She returned to Hollywood full time in 1933, and got a contract with Warner Bros, becoming one of the Busby Berkeley girls.

CAREER:

Eleanor made several very good movies at the very start of her career. The golden string started with Footlight Parade, a snappy, sharp musical with James Cagney, Joan Blondell, Ruby Keeler and Dick PowellFashions of 1934 is one of those sophisticated comedies they don’t make anymore today. A special plus is seeing Bette Davis in posh frocks with long blonde hair (have to see it to believe it!). Dames  gives us the best of Warner Bros 1930s musicals – plenty of witty comedy, great ensemble cast and f course, lavish dancing numbers choreographed by Busby Berkeley. It rarely gets better than this as far as the genre goes. And then, in her next movie, it did get better – Gold Diggers of 1935 are, as one reviewer summed it nicely, Good music, lots of beautiful girls and an inane plot, humorously acted out by a talented cast.

EleanorBayley2Sadly, the golden string was finished here, and some mediocre movies followed. Shipmates Forever is a Navy musical, a special sub genre of its own, but it’s not a typical example of the genre, giving us a more nuances, realistic portrayal of military life, but herein lies it’s problem – is it a carefree musical of a serious study about Navy men? The movie tries both and it fails. While not a complete waste, it’s below the usual Powell-Keeler musical of the time.

Both Colleen and Gold Diggers of 1937 show us just how the golden years of Warner Bros musicals was waning. Again, while not complete wastes of time, it’s a movie you see once and forget after two days. Over the Wall  is a pretty weird musical – a man lands into jail, lives his days full of rage and anger, only to discover he has a fine singing voice and becomes a singer. Yeah folks, they made a movie out of this silly story. Dick Foran, the singing cowboy, plays the bitter, twister fellow with a voice of an angel. Ha ha!

Girl from Avenue A is a forgotten Jane Withers movie. Joan of Ozark is an idiotic romp where Judy Canova playing her usual character, works as an anti Nazi agent. When she did it all, including hunting down Nazi criminals. What to say? if you like Bob Burns/Judy Canova comedies, maybe worth a look, otherwise avoid.

0024Footlight Serenade was a better movie, one of the first breakthrough roles for Betty Grable. It’s a nice piece of lightweight entertainment, with an interesting cast – the vivacious Betty, sharp Jane Wyman, charming, handsome John Payne and gruff, crass Victor Mature (who always played the same character over and over again – but at least he knew he was a limited talent and never denied this). Springtime in the Rockies is one of those movies that has neither the script nor the top direction, but the music and the actors make it an enchanting experience.

Du Barry Was a Lady, while not a master piece by along shot, is one of the most lush, beautiful looking musicals ever made. The gentle pastel colors create such a dreamlike, blurry feeling  so the viewer is transported into a heavenly place while watching it. I Dood It is a simple, pleasing Red Skelton/Eleanor Powell movie with some great supporting cast (Gloria DeHaven, Lena Horne!!).   Broadway Rhythm, on the other hand, is a below average musical. The reasons are plentiful: average music and leads with zero chemistry and charm. George Murphy was a great second banana, but never good enough for a leading man – the same goes for Ginny Simms.

Ziegfeld Follies needs no introduction today. The Harvey Girls is everything a light entertainment movie should be – good music, good actors, a solid script.

Eleanor gave up movies afterwards to raise a family.

PRIVATE LIFE:

Eleanor’s favorite actor was James Cagney, she considered Judy Garland a great person and highly strung, said that Marjorie Main was a germ fanatic, and noted many years later that she enjoyed jitterbugging with George Murphy. Among her most treasured memories from Tinsel town was the time she was invited to San Simenon, Heart’s huge castle above Los Angeles. Eleanor was appearing in a movie Heart was producing for his mistress, Marion Davies. Eleanor noted how Hearst spared no expenses when Marion was concerned, building lavish sets and buying whole department stores for her dressing room. Marion herself was extremely generous, giving the girls who visited her dressing room anything they liked from the racks.

EleanorBayley3A beautiful blonde with porcelain skin, Eleanor was a popular girl in Hollywood. She started dating Eddie Foy Jr. in 1933, when she was barely 17 years old. The two wed in April 1935. Eddie Foy, born on February 4, 1905 in New Rochelle, New York, was the son of Eddie Foy Sr.  and one of the “Seven Little Foys”.  Throughout the 1930s and ’40s he appeared in dozens of B movies. He closely resembled his father, and portrayed him in four feature films.

The marriage did not last and couple divorced in October 1937. Eleanor continued to date, hoping to find the special man who would become her husband number two.

She married Philip Duboski, then a professional football player, on January 1940 in Yuma, Arizona. Their romance started when he was playing guard and halfback at the USC football team.  Duboski went on to serve in the US Air Force during WW2.

Duboski was born on November 19, 1916, in Beloit, Wisconsin, to Mr. and Mrs. John Dubosky. Highly athletic, he played both football and basketball before graduating from high school in California and enrolling into USC. He planned to go into the oil industry after the war, but fate had other plans in store for him.

Eleanor’s second marriage proved to be a happy one. The couple had four children. Dolynn Duboski was born on July 22, 1946 in Los Angeles County, Phyllis Anastasia Duboski was born on March 8, 1948, John Bayley Duboski (their only son), was born on May 17, 1949 in Los Angeles County, and Deborah C. Duboski was born on October 10, 1957 in Los Angeles County.

Her husband worked in the Los Angeles Police Department for a few years, and in 1963  he moved his family to Strathmore, where he had bough some land in 1957. Phillip became a full time farmer, in addition to going back to school and getting his teaching credentials – he ended up teaching in the Porterville Citrus High School.

Eleanor was active in the civic community, serving on boards of several schools and teaching children how to dance. She also kept in touch with other Busby Berkeley girls, and they often had meetings in California to reminiscence about the old days. The Duboskis moved to Porterville in 1974.

Eleanor Dubovski died on June 29, 1976. Her former husband, Eddie Foy Jr. died on July 15, 1983.

Her widower Phil Duboski remarried to Patsy Lou Gill in 1980. He died on April 16, 2003, in Tulare, California.

PS: Happy New Year!!!!

happynewyearannMiller

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Merle McHugh

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Merle McHugh was a girl who had connection in Tinsel town, her father being a prominent newspaperman who was a friend of Hedda Hopper and other social columnists. She was pretty, not without talent and had some stage experience. What went wrong? It’s the million dollar question nobody knows the answer to, but bottom line is, Merle McHugh made only two very brief appearances in movies before sliding into total obscurity.

EARLY LIFE:

Merle McHugh was born in 1927 in New York to Eugene “Gene” McHugh and Merle Trillard. Her father was the managing editor of the New York Daily News, and her mother was born from an union of a Frenchman and an English lady. Merle was a beautiful child much loved by her parents and nicknamed Scoop.

Merle started working as a copyright girl at the New York Daily News, courtesy of her father. Yet, Merle was unhappy with the job and wanted to go to the stage. She took lessons in Shakespearean theater, but wisely pondered that maybe going to the chorus gave her better chances at reaching her ultimate goal, Hollywood. She modeled on the side to make extra money.

In late 1945, Merle was a Broadway newcomer at the Latin Quarter, vying for bigger and better things. She came to some prominence in 1946, when she was firts mentioned in Walter Winchell‘s column. Pretty soon, she was summoned to Hollywood to have a screen test with MGM. Unfortunate before the scheduled flight, she fell and dislocated her spinal vertebrae, resulting in a period of six weeks rest, wearing a neck brace. The injury was quite serious, as she went to consult a specialist in Norwalk, Connecticut, where she lived with her uncle and aunt, Edn and Jay Erman, (Edna was her mother’s sister), for a week. While there, Walter Pidgeon, famous actor, who who knew her from New York, send her flowers and a note wishing for a speedy recovery. Not a girl to be easily discouraged, she patiently waited until she was better and was off to Hollywood in May 1946.

CAREER:

Pretty slim in this department, Merle made only two appearances in movies, and both uncredited. As I said several times already, what a waste!

Copacabana is a Grouch Marx/Carmen Miranda movie that only works when Groucho is playing his usual Marx brothers persona, and when Miranda is doing her electric musical numbers. The rest – the story, supporting characters, and more or less everything else – falls flat like a deflated balloon. Merle plays one of the Copa girls, and, of course, she simply drowns in the sea of pretties.

In Living in a Big Way, we have all the right ingredients for a hit – Gregory LaCava in his last credit, Gene Kelly at the time when he did hit after hit, and Marie McDonald, no great actress but a vivacious, endearing presence in most of her movies, with a body to die for (hence her nickname, The Body). The end result is only barely passable, and considering who is involved in it, it’s pretty much downright bad. Okay, maybe it’s not that bad – it can hardy go into the Hall of Worst Movies Ever Made, but could have been so much better. Saving grace of the movie is definetly Kelly, always sensually elegant in his dancing and a true gentleman in his demeanor.

Merle found no further luck in Hollywood, and left the film world for good.

PRIVATE LIFE:

When Merle hit Hollywood, she was chaperoned everywhere by a family friend, Lieutenant Charles Sweeney, the man who dropped the atomic bomb on Nagasaki. Another man who liked her was composer Sam Coslow, who wanted to write a song especially for her in her firts feature, Copacabana. Of course, he did not, but at least he tried 🙂

Like many starlets of the day, Merle tried the “less clothes, more flesh” approach to achieve any level of recognition. As she told a TV presenter, “Nothing succeeds like excess”. Of course, this is for the most part a wrong way to gain fame and fortune, Merle ultimately failing a victim to it, getting a bit of newspaper publicity but making no lasting impression on nobody.

In 1952, long after her career was over, Merle made headlines by getting sick on a yacht owned by her then boyfriend, wealthy East coast socialite Eric Piper, and having to be rescued by the Coastal guard via a plane. The plane was flying at five feet over the waters, and a raft was dropped down that paddled to the Sandpiper. She was taken into the Salem Hospital. She was suffered internal hemorrhaging, but was said to have been fine later that same day. The Sandpiper, an auxiliary yacht (known as a ketch to the sea wolves), a 65 foot beauty, was sailing to Sciatuate, Masschusets.

Merle announced she would marry Piper as soon as she left the hospital. Piper was a good catch by anyone’s standards, not too old (he was 42 then), and a member of the Boston Brahmin. I found no traces of the union, so while it is possible it took place sometime, I highly doubt it.

In 1958, Merle married Jack Leon Medoff. Medoff was born on June 21, 1924, in Massachusetts to Katie and David Medoff.

The couple had two daughters, Marlene and Marilyn Susan Medoff. The family lived in New Yersey.

Medoff died on August 7, 2001.

Merle Medoff is very probably alive today and living in Closter, New Yersey.

 

 

Gwen Kenyon

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Blue collar, hard working girl who made it in Hollywood on her sheer willpower, Gwen Kenyon never made a classic nor carried a movie, but outdid many other starlets who gave up too soon or never believed they could succeed. While she did retire at a young age to raise a family, she still has over 50 movies under her belt and a few leads to warrant her at least a small degree of cinematic greatness.

EARLY LIFE:

Margaret Gwendolyn Kenyon was born on January 22, 1916, in Los Angeles, California, to William S. Kenyon and Margaret Spencer. Her mother was a former actress who retired prior to marrying her father. Her older sister Thelma was born on October 24, 1901. her parents were both from Michigan and came to California sometime in the early 1910s.

Gwen grew up in Los Angeles, with Hollywood just around the corner. Unfortunately, her parents divorced when she was but a girl, and she became the sole caretaker of her family by the time she was 12 years old, supporting herself and her mother. She did all sorts of odd jobs: selling candy, helping actors and actresses with their fan mail, working asa doctor’s receptionist, as a nurse, and finally as a theater usher. All this while still attending high school! To add to her list of chores, soon she was doing all the paperwork and keeping the books in theater. Her mother was bed ridden and Margaret also had to keep the household. She credits this with teaching her how to manage her time and be very efficient.

On the side, she did some ballet dancing and dreamed of becoming an actress. After graduation, she danced in a theater, and was noticed by a talent scout who persuaded her to enter the motion picture world.

CAREER:

Gwen was an extremely proactive woman at the time most women were expected to be gentile, passive and pliant. Taught by her grim childhood experiences, she took every chance that landed her way with both hands and fought tooth and nail for her roles. Fittingly, she was physically stronger and more robust than the average delicate actress, and was often photographed doing exercises for the papers, more than any other starlet of the times.

GwenKenyon3The story goes that she nagged the gate man at MGM to let her trough and finally she sneaked in when he was answering his phone. This spunky move got her a chance to become a chorus girl. Without any experience, she answered casting calls to sing, dance and even sky dive. She was really one of a kind!

Gwen appeared in more than 50 movies during her 10 year career. Thrill of a Lifetime is the typical musical where the back story is absurdity itself but the musical numbers are well made and make the movie. And, typical for this type of movie, the lead often ends up the least interesting part of the exudation. Who would even look at Lief Ericson (handsome but never a good actor) when you have luminaries like Eleanore Whitney, Yacht Boys and Ben Blue on the screen?

Bulldog Drummond’s Revenge, a input into the Bulldog Drummond series, is again centered over the bad guys attempt to thwart Bulldog’s marital plans (the explosives they are carrying are secondary to this, the most malicious of all deeds). Poor Phyllis Clavering, always waiting for Bulldog and always the bad guys appearing just before she is about to catch her prize. Joking aside, it’s a solid entry, with John Barrymore, generally a superb actor, giving a good performance as one of the good guys. Bulldog is finely played by the handsome John HowardDaughter of Shanghai is a movie very important or minorities and women in Hollywood – it features an Asian leading lady! Anna May Wong, the alluring siren seen in more than 60 Hollywood movies, gets a rare opportunity to play the lead. One can forgive the movie even if it’s not a master piece (due to the story and the characters), but it ends up a surprisingly well made film. Good plotting and very good acting roster make it an unique experience for not only B movies but female lead movies.

True Confession is a interesting blend of black and screwball comedy, with Carole Lombard playing the first prototype of a scatterbrained wife. Wells Fargo  is an unusual western about the early riders of the  US Post Office. Featuring the off screen life couple, Frances Dee and Joel McCrea, it’s quite realistic for the time and worth your money.

The Buccaneer is a typical Cecil DeMille film – historically inaccurate, with lavish production values, large cast and technically well made. Frederic March, while not the best choice of actor to portray what is basically a swashbuckler character, still does a decent job. The Big Broadcast of 1938 is one of the Broadcast series of movies, a flimsy excuse to showcase the studio talents like Bob Hope, Martha Raye, Dorothy Lamour and so on. Scandal Street is a forgotten movie.

GwenKenyon2Bluebeard’s Eighth Wife is a superb Ernest Lubitsch movie. While the verdict about the movie is well divided, I for one loved it and it figured much better than some of his other movies, like Design for Living. Cocoanut Grove is a nice little musical with Fred MacMurray showing he can do comedy easilyYou and Me is a scramble of opposing movie genres – crime, musical, melodrama, propaganda… And so on. Made by the great Fritz Lang and Kurt Weill, the bottom line was that crime does not pay, but the results are mixed. Worth watching, if nothing to see how an experimental mainstream movie looks like.

Tropic Holiday is a light and funny musical with Fred MacMurray. Sing, You Sinners, with a highly misleading title, is actually a above average Bing Crosby musical. Thanks for the Memory is a typical Bob Hope comedy of the era, quick on the wit and banter and hardly a master piece. The enchanting Shirley Ross is a welcome addition to any movie, including this one.  Say It in French is a breezy, elegant comedy farce, sadly forgotten today.

Artists and Models Abroad gave Gwen slightly more prominence (she plays Miss America and one can actually take note of her!) but it’s still a lightweight, simple Jack Benny comedy. Similarly, St. Louis Blues is another lightweight but amusing musical.

Disbarred is a thriller made after a book by the man himself, Edgar J. Hoover. The studio made a few of those, and this one is worse off than the rest, being an uninspired, dull movie. While the premise was an original one at the time (crooked lawyers and how they damage the society), it’s laden with cliches and the script writing is sub par.

Cafe Society is a typical social disparity movie, pitting the high class Madeleine Carroll (always a welcome sight for sore eyes) against the working class Fred MacMurray. King of Chinatown is one of the Anna May Wong movies of the time, usually with the same cast and similar characters (mostly Caucasians portraying Asian characters). I’m from Missouri is one of the many Bob Burns comedies, Bob playing his usual Midwestern hick. Unmarried, a tearjerker with moment of prize fighting mixed in (yes!) is more notable as one of Helen Twevetrees’s last movies than any artistical achievement.

GwenKenyon1Dancing Co-Ed is one of those movies anyone watched not for the sumplistic story, but for the impressive roster of supporting players (brace yourself – Ann Rutherford, Lee Bowman, Artie Shaw, Richard Carlson, and the list goes on!). Lana Turner, while no big actress, is her usual charming self and makes it worth a passing glance. All Women Have Secrets is a mediocre drama about the woes of college kids. Free, Blonde and 21 is a female heavy movie, following the lives of girls who live in an all girl hotel. Each actress is typecast to her usual fare (Lynn Bari as a B class Claudette Colbert, Mary Beth Hughes as the bad girl and so on…) so no big surprises here.

Turnabout is truly the proof how even not so sterling movies can become embedded into one’s brain. With an unusual story line and a few talented actors (Adolphe Menjou, Carole Landis) it raises above it’s own mediocre quality. This is a phenomena rarely seen in Hollywood, so it’s worth watching for that alone.

Under Age, about teenage delinquency shows that even early in his career, director Edward Dmytryk was a rule breaking man – even under the heavy eyes of the censors, he pulled so much delicate questions under the radar (including prostitution). Not a well know movie today, but an interesting one worth watching. You’ll Never Get Rich is a classic Rita Hayworth/Fred Astaire movie, and one of the most remembered movies on Gwen’s resumee.

Niagara Falls was one of the many Hal Roach vehicles for his special favorite, Marjorie Woodworth – and all went kaput without fail. While not a waste of film reel, the mundane, simplistic movie only reveals how Marjorie was never more than adequte as an actress, and never gives us enough of the true comedic talent, Zasu Pitts.

Confessions of Boston Blackie,  one entry into the long running series, was described like this by a review: “Interesting plot has to do with the missing body of the dead man and how it was accomplished with a phony statue. The story follows the usual Boston Blackie formula and this one is not quite on the same level with the first Blackie film. Still, for detective fans, it manages to move briskly within its short running time.”

Man from Headquarters is a movie in the genre typical for the early 1940s, a crime movie that’s not a comedy but that some elements of it. A typical high budget time waster, easy on the eyes but nothing to rave about. Lawless Plainsmen is a low buget western that finally gave Gwen a leading female role.

So’s Your Aunt Emma!  is an interesting movie if nothing else – a moronic plot plot was saved from total ruin by Zasu Pitts’ sweet character. Despite it’s paper thin budget, it’s a very enjoyable little comedy mixed with a bit of film noir.

What to say about The Corpse Vanishes? Read the summary and judge for yourself: A scientist, aided by an old hag & her two sons – a malicious dwarf and a brutish moron, kills virgin brides, steals their bodies, & extracts gland fluid to keep his ancient wife alive and young.

GwenKenyon7Shorts gave Gwen a chance to show more of her talents thanin full lenght movies. She made How Spry I AmCollege BellesPiano MoonerSocks AppealTwo SaplingsA Maid Made MadBlonde and Groom, Quack ServiceHe Was Only Feudin’. While shorts are all forgotten today, at least she had some exposure to the general public back then!

Cosmo Jones, Crime Smasher is a low budget crime movie, not better or worse than al the others like it. Sarong Girl, one of the few movies by stripper Ann Corio, is a notch better than one would expect for such a programmer quickie –  a silly but endearing plot, great comic turn by Irene Ryan, an appearance of comic Mantan Moreland and nicely done musical numbers. The direction and editing is brisk and well done.

Gals, Incorporated is basically a long string of band performances with a thin story squeezed in between numbers (like many musical of the era).  Wintertime is a Sonja Henie movie (which you know I adore :-P), so no comment about that.

Riding High is Dick Powell’s last movie for the studio, and one of his dullest. Thus begins the last period of Gwen’s career, and by far the most succesful. Tornado is a finely scripted, surprisingly well made disaster movie with a touch of Cecil B. DeMille in it.

Phantom Lady is a special kind of movie. Not known outside a narrow circle of film noir aficionados, it’s still a compelling, interesting piece of work. Reasons? Several! First and foremost, it was made by Robert Siodmak, a director well versed in German expressionism.

As one reviewer wrote: “Siodmak’s use of sex, light, shadows, and music is truly remarkable as he tackles this genre. The shadows, lighting effects, and camera angles are all effective. But the highlight of the film takes place in a nightclub with a very sexual drum riff by Elisha Cook, egged on by an excited Raines. It’s this scene that brings “Phantom Lady” into new territory.” Performances by Ella Raines and Franchot Tone elevate the acting quality above the usual B fare. While it’s not a film noir classic, it has plenty to offer.

GwenKenyon8Charlie Chan in the Secret Service  is one of the technically most advanced from the Charlie Chan movie series, nt to be missed by any fan of the detective.

The Great Mike is a forgettable family movie about a boy and his racing horse. Three Is a Family, a wartime woman’s picture, was only midly amusing and gathered no laurels for anybody involved.Here Come the Waves is notable for pairing Bing Crosby and Betty Hutton, and a decent pairing it is, but the movie is not a top achievement for neither. Still, Gwen has a prominent role in this one, certainly a uppity compared to her previous minimal assigments.

Yet, just when she started getting billed parts, Gwen made her swan song in 1945, named The Cisco Kid in Old New Mexico . It’s a below average entry into the Cisco Kid series, with Gwen playing the female lead. Perhaps she could have embedded herself into the world of low budget westerns, but she rather chose to retire and devote her life to family matters.     

PRIVATE LIFE:

In 1937, when she was only 21 years old, Gwen dated David Niven. Niven, while not particularly handsome, was suave, with a butter like voice and knew his way around women. Sadly, he was also a firs class philanderer who played the field. Of course, the romance ran its course a short time later.

GwenKenyon5Gwen’s second serious Hollywood beau was Glenda Farrell’s cousin, Dick Farrell, but that too did not last long. Next was Buddy Westmore of the famous Westmore make up clan. In late 1938, papers were abuzz with the stories that Gwen will marry Robert Heasley of Beverly Hills, but the two never did get to the altar (but they were engaged for a few months).

Gwen then became a notch on the belt of Artie Shaw, who dated them all (and married many of them!). A more serious and mature relationship was John Howard, handsome young actor. The were pretty close in early 1941, but as most Hollywood romances, it fizzled out before reaching the matrimonial stage.

Bill Orr, agent extraordinaire, was for a time also serious about Gwen and even told pals the two were altar bound. The romance was serious and blossomed for a time, but by1942 they had broken up.

Gwen married Morton Scott in July 1943 in the Shatto Chapel of Los Angeles First Congregational Church in a 150 people ceremony. Her sister Thelma was the maid of honour. The couple honeymooned in Santa Barbara and went to live in Studio City.

Morton Scott was born on January 17, 1912 in Los Angeles. He graduated from Stanford University. He worked for the Republic Studio and composed musical scores mostly for B class westerns.

Gwen gave up movies not long after the marriage, in 1945. Their only child, Gayle Scott Kenyon, was born on February 1, 1946.

Gwen’s husband died on April 15, 1992, in Santa Barbara, California.

Gwen Scott died on October 18, 1999, in Montecito, California.

 

Melba Marshall

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Good looking chorine with an unremarkable career that ended her Hollywood sojourn a happily married woman with two beautiful daughters, making her a decent example of a typical late 1930s Hollywood starlet.

EARLY LIFE:

Melba Mae Kruger was born on August 9, 1914, in Rochester, New York, to John Marshall Kruger and Nina Gamble.

In 1920, the small family was living with her maternal grandmother, Ella Gamble, with her first cousin, and a boarder. Sadly, her parents divorced in the mid 1920s and her mother went on to marry Charles H. Fick. Nina and Mae moved to Chicago, Illinois, to live with Charles.

Melba was not a big lover of the academical life, and gave up high school after the second grade. She ran away from Chicago, moved to New York, and danced in Earl Carroll shows and Manhattan nightclubs.

Melba got her first movie job using a sly trick. Getting, via friends, to Busby Berkley, she told him she’s a friend of Dick Powell. Delighted, Busby casts her in his newest movie. The ruse was soon found out, but she was forgiven and remained in the cast. Thus her Hollywood career started.

CAREER:

While IMDB has a page for Melba, the page is empty. Yeah, you heard that right, it’s empty. So I have no factual information about the movies Melba appeared in. Yet, she was for sure in the above mentioned Busby Berekely movie, The Big Broadcast of 1937, but was not credited in the movie’s imdb page.

While it is possible that she was only used for publicity purposes and was never officially in the movie, and that indeed she never made a movie appearance, I hope for her sake it’s not true and her appearances remain buried by the veil of time.

PRIVATE LIFE:

Melba started dating George Scott Barnes, noted cinematographer, in mid 1938. Barnes was already married twice before, to Joan Blondell and Elizabeth Wood. If his later obituaries were to be takes into account, he was married not two but at least four times (allegedly one of his former wives was named Ethel). The relationship went from strength to strength, and the two married sometime in 1939. Later that year, Barnes was sues by his former wife, Betty Wood, for the support of their son, Carlton. That should have been a red flag for Melba, but she stood by her man.

MelbaMarshall2Garnes was born in 1894, making him 20 years older than Melba. Barnes was well known as the silver tongued Romeo among the Hollywood crowd – while not at the least handsome, he was soft spoken and very gentlemanly. He mingled with the high class, and knew everybody there was to know. His specialty was the soft focus camera technique, a technique made especially to flatter a woman’s face. No wonder so many women fell for him. There wasa dark side to his genious,  however. Like many “smooth” men, he was an egoist and a hard task master, rarely submitting to anything less than what he decided was his preference. He made his former wife, Joan Blondell, have two abortions, and their marriage was a truly miserable one.

Their first daughter, Barbara Ann Barnes, was born on April 16, 1940. Their second daughter, Georgene S. Barnes was born on May 7, 1942. The marriage did not last, however, and the divorced in about 1945.

Melba married noted composer Arthur Quenzer in December 18, 1947. Quenzel was born on  October 20, 1905 NYC, NY, to Hary Quenzler and Rose Coughlin. Prior to 1930, Quenzer married his first wife, Helen Wehrle. He divorced her in about 1936.

On February 14, 1938, Quenzer married Marcoreta Hellman and lived with her father in Los Angeles. His first son, Peter Dennis Quenzer, was born on March 26, 1940. His second son, Michael Arthur Quenzer, was born on December 4, 1943. Quezner adopted her daughters upon the marriage.

Quenzer got his five minutes of fame by composing music for movies like Swiss MissThe Cowboy and the Lady  and DumboThe family lived for a long time in North Hollywood, where her husband headed the California Academy of Music. Georgene, known as Gene to her peers, followed in her mother’s footsteps by becoming a well known model in the area, winning her first title by the time she was 16 years old. She attended Reseda High School.

Her former husband George Barnes died in 1953.

Melba Mae Quenzer died on December 10, 1979, in Los Angeles, California. 

Her widower, Arthur, died on January 29, 1986 in Nevada. Together they are interred in the Hollywood Forever Cemetary.

Harriette Haddon

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Pretty chorus girl who made countless uncredited appearances in many 1930s movies in Hollywood, Harriette Haddon was a true working gal for a time, before marrying into Hollywood royalty and leaving the industry for a family life.

EARLY LIFE:

Harriette Jane Northfoss was born on October 13, 1915, in Los Angeles, California, to Victor Northfoss and Jessie Blanpied. Her father, born in Minnesota, worked as a interior decorator. Her mother, born in Kansas, was a librarian.

Harriette was the couple’s only child, and grew up in Los Angeles, the city that would soon become the hub of most of the US film industry. She began dancing as a youngster, and was a sure bet to become a dancer. After graduating from high school, she entered movies in 1932.

CAREER:

Harriette’s career lasted for 15 years, and can be divided into roughly three chapters.

She started as a fresh faced, naive girl barely 17 years old, when she signed with Fox Film Corporation. Make no mistake, her career would always remain a marginal one for Hollywood, but quality of the films wildly varied. Between 1932 and 1936, Harriette worked only part time in movies an dit showed. The Trial of Vivienne Ware was a hectic, well plotted 1932 quickie, less than an hour long, with some very good actors (Joan Bennet in an early appearance, Zasu Pitts and Skeets Gallagher). She did not fare so well with her second movie, a truly weird one, It’s Great to Be Alive. The story is center on the last fertile man in the world! Guess no more needs to be said… Arizona to Broadway was one of those comedies that have al the right ingredients but fall flat in the final run. Joan Bennett again (he girl sure made some strange movies early on…)Stand Up and Cheer! is a Shirley Temple movie with only 5 minutes of Shirley Temple. The rest is taken up by Warner Baxter as a theatrical producer whom Franklin Roosevelt appoints as the new Secretary of Amusement in order to cheer up an American public still suffering through the Depression. it’s a basically a pastiche of musical acts not worth your money.

Harriette Haddon1Kentucky Kernels is an average input into the Wheeler and Woosley comedy series. if you like them, you’ll like this, if not, don’t even come close. Similarly, College Rhythm is another one of the endless college campus movies of the early 1930s. Nothing to yell about, but not the worst either. Interesting if nothing than for seeing the Bing Crosby wannabe, Lanny Ross, who had a brief career and never managed to live up to his potential. The Lottery Lover is a lightweight romance movie, with a lukewarm script and mostly decent actors (Lew Ayres, Peggy Fears, Pat Paterson). Star for a Night was by far the most serious movie of this part of Harriette’s career. When the blind mother comes to visit her children in America, hoping to find them all well off, quite a different scenario occurs. Great actors like Jane Darwell and Claire Trevor light up this realistic movie. The next one, Rose Bowl  is, again, a college campus movie,with a convenient love triangle. Yawn. And more of the same in College Holiday, but at least it’s a very fun, feel good movie with several wacky performances (the crazy professor is here, and the crazy old rich lady played by Mary Boland). And Gracie Allen, George Burns and Jack Benny together are always a good combo.

Thus begins the second phase of Harriette’s career. She started to focus on her Hollywood career more, and do less nightclub work. With what results? Not so good, I’m afraid, but she had had several good credits to her name.

In 1937 only, Harriette made 8 movie! Turn Off the Moon is a Paramount 1930s musical, and as we already noted, Paramount was not the best place for musicals back then. While tolerable, they are barely able to hold a candle to the superior studios like Warner Bros and MGM. The stars (like Charles Ruggles and Ben Blue) do try but it’s never quite enough. Mountain Music  is one of the hillbilly musicals that could be absolutely hilarious when made by the right people. And here we have big mouthed by infinitely charming Martha Raye and the rugged Arkansas bum Bob Burns in a funny romp worth watching. Thrill of a Lifetime is the typical musical where the back story is absurdity itself but the musical numbers are well made and make the movie. And, typical for this type of movie, the lead often ends up the least interesting part of the exudation. Who would even look at Lief Ericson (handsome but never a good actor) when you have luminaries like Eleanore Whitney, Yacht Boys and Ben Blue on the screen?

Bulldog Drummond’s Revenge, a input into the Bulldog Drummond series, is again centered over the bad guys attempt to thwart Bulldog’s marital plans (the explosives they are carrying are secondary to this, the most malicious of all deeds). Poor Phyllis Clavering, always waiting for Bulldog and always the bad guys appearing just before she is about to catch her prize. Joking aside, it’s a solid entry, with John Barrymore, generally a superb actor, giving a good performance as one of the good guys. Bulldog is finely played by the handsome John HowardDaughter of Shanghai is a movie very important or minorities and women in Hollywood – it features an Asian leading lady! Anna May Wong, the alluring siren seen in more than 60 Hollywood movies, gets a rare opportunity to play the lead. One can forgive the movie even if it’s not a master piece (due to the story and the characters), but it ends up a surprisingly well made film. Good plotting and very good acting roster make it an unique experience for not only B movies but female lead movies.

Harriette Haddon2True Confession is a interesting blend of black and screwball comedy, with Carole Lombard playing the first prototype of a scatterbrained wife. Wells Fargo  is an unusual western about the early riders of the  US Post Office. Featuring the off screen life couple, Frances Dee and Joel McCrea, it’s quite realistic for the time and worth your money.

In Old Chicago, one of Harriette’s better known movies, is certainly a mixed bag. With a big budget, big stars it should have been a sparkling cinema hit, and it does have some fine parts, but it collapses under its weight before the credits are out. Everything seems to just be the interlude for the great Chicago fire playing for the last 20 minutes of the film. Tyrone Power, Don Ameche, Alice Faye – all secondary. Sad.

The Buccaneer is a typical Cecil DeMille film – historically inaccurate, with lavish production values, large cast and technically well made. Frederic March, while not the best choice of actor to portray what is basically a swashbuckler character, still does a decent job. The Big Broadcast of 1938 is one of the Broadcast series of movies, a flimsy excuse to showcase the studio talents like Bob Hope, Martha Raye, Dorothy Lamour and so on. Scandal Street is a forgotten movie.

Bluebeard’s Eighth Wife is a superb Ernest Lubitsch movie. While the verdict about the movie is well divided, I for one loved it and it figured much better than some of his other movies, like Design for Living. Cocoanut Grove is a nice little musical with Fred MacMurray showing he can do comedy easilyYou and Me is a scramble of opposing movie genres – crime, musical, melodrama, propaganda… And so on. Made by the great Fritz Lang and Kurt Weill, the bottom line was that crime does not pay, but the results are mixed. Worth watching, if nothing to see how an experimental mainstream movie looks like. Give Me a Sailor is a funny little musical about a love quadriple (Bob Hope, Jack Whiting, Martha Raye, Betty Grable). The Arkansas Traveler is a one man movie, a showcase for the many talents of Bob Burns.

Illegal Traffic is a formulaic, uninteresting crime movie with Robert Preston.  Say It in French is a breezy, elegant comedy farce, sadly forgotten today. Zaza is a little known George Cukor movie. While not his best by a long shot, it’s not his worst either – despite the story being a typical Camille rip off (married aristocrat loving a dance hall girl) he has very capable leads (Claudette Colbert and George Marshall) and even better supporting cast (Constance Collier, Bert Lahr, Helen Westley). Paris Honeymoon is a watchable but unmemorable Bing Crosby musical. Similarly, St. Louis Blues is another lightweight but amusing musical. Cafe Society is a typical social disparity movie, pitting the high class Madeleine Carroll (always a welcome sight for sore eyes) against the working class Fred MacMurrayKing of Chinatown is one of the Anna May Wong movies of the time, usually with the same cast and similar characters (mostly Caucasians portraying Asian characters). 

Harriette Haddon3Never Say Die is another Bob Hope/Martha Raye comedy. The two worked well togetehr and could salvage even pretty bad script writing. Undercover Doctor is a thriller made after a book by the man himself, Edgar J. Hoover. It’s nothing to rave about, but it does make a nice afternoon viewing. Man About Town is a typical Jack Benny musical comedy, where he always plays the same old,same old character (as one reviewer nicely wrote: “Different aspects of his cheap tightwad and his narcissistic would-be great lover popped up in many of his films, even his best ones”). A Yank in the R.A.F. was one of the better propaganda piece movies to come out of Hollywood, with real life lover Tyrone Power and Betty Grable playing the leads. Never Give a Sucker an Even Break  is the last W.C. Fields leading vehicle, and one of his best known and most enduring movies, well known today.

What to say about Thank Your Lucky Stars ? As the summary goes: “Two producers are putting together a wartime charity show with an all-star cast but the egotism of radio personality Eddie Cantor disrupts their plans.” Plenty of talent, a flimsy story, but nicely done. Casanova in Burlesque is a Joe E. Brown comedy, totally obscure today. The lively music, colorful locations and all around cheerful atmosphere is the saving grace of Harriette’s next movie, Brazil. The bland leads (Virginia Bruce and Tito Guizar) are overshadowed by the mentioned elements, and Edward Everrett Horton cannot take a wrong step in my book.

 Earl Carroll Vanities is a sad excuse to showcase the lucious Vanities, with a sorry plot and no good actors. It was time for some B westerns for Harriette. Bells of RosaritaMan from OklahomaSunset in El DoradoDon’t Fence Me InRough Riders of Cheyenne and Dakota are all B westerns, with varying degrees of success. Most of them are Will Rogers/Dale Evans, pairings, but we also have an early John Wayne/Vera Ralston movie (Dakota).

Harriette made several more movies in 1945 before she retired for good. The Cheaters is a touching and delightful film, perfect for Christmas family viewingHitchhike to Happiness is an uninteresting Dale Evans musical (yeah, you heard that right, before she became Mrs. Rogers, Dale was a promising musical movie alumna)Behind City Lights is a completely obscure but possibly interesting crime/drama.

HarrietteHaddon4Love, Honor and Goodbye is similarly forgotten. The fluid, well plotted The Tiger Woman (with the seductive Adele Mara as the nominal character) is a lost treasure of the 1940s B movies. Like one reviewer wrote, “Republic features were almost always entertaining, economical, professionally made, well-cast, and tightly paced”.

An Angel Comes to Brooklyn is an absurd, so bad it’s almost funny category of a movie. Just to taste it, here is what one reviewer wrote:

High up in Actors’ Heaven—where those actors who have taken their final curtain on earth still maintain a lively interest in theatrical activity—there is a bell which has been named Minnie. When a struggling young actor on Broadway has sufficient faith in himself—if he believes strongly enough in his ability and talent—then Minnie rings out clearly, signaling that the time is right for an angel to leave Actors’ Heaven and go down to earth to help a worthy, but-as-yet-successful actor or actress.

Ha ha ha. The joke’s on them at any rate. Obviously not worth watching.

That was all from Harriette.

PRIVATE LIFE:

Harriette started her Hollywood career in 1932, but also went on to seek more luck in other venues – one of them was night club performing. She was so good she ended up in London in early 1935, and was popular with the night club going public, but visa problems forced her to return to the US (and consequently Hollywood) before the year was over. There were signs, here and there, that Harriette could become more than a uncredited chorus girl, her name mentioned in the papers a few time, but it all ended up zero.

Harriette Haddon5In 1939, Harriette was involved with Jackie Coogan, a former child actor. The misfortune of such a match was that Jackie was just getting divorced from Betty Grable, and he carried quite a large torch for her some time after the divorce took place. Not even Harriette could alleviate it, and the two broke up in 1940.

Harriette married Hilliard Herbert Marks on November 23, 1942 in Jack Benny’s Beverly Hills home, just before he joined the US army to fight in WW2. Harriette was photographed for the papers in February 1943, still a newlywed, knitting garments for her corporal hubby.

Marks was born on June 29, 1913, in Seattle, Washington, to David Henry Marks and Esther Wagner. His older sister, named Sadie Marks, was to become Mary Livingston, a famous comedian and wife of Jack Benny. Benny proved to be one of the most important men in Marks’, and in effect, Harriette’s life.

Marks returned dot he civilian life in 1945. Harriette gave up her career in 1945 to take care of her family. Their first child, son Phillip Haddon Marks, was born on October 19, 1948. Their second child, a daughter, Victoria Jessica Marks, was born on February 23, 1952.

THarrietteHaddon7he Marks enjoyed a hefty Hollywood social life, mingling with Benny and his innee circle. Mary Livingston, Harriette’s sister in law, was an interesting woman herself. Mary’s adopted daughter, Joan Benny, wrote about her after her death:

She had so many good qualities — her sense of humor, her generosity, her loyalty to her friends. She had a famous, successful, and adoring husband; she had famous, interesting, and amusing friends; she lived in luxury; she was a celebrity in her own right. In short, she had everything a woman could possibly want. When I think of her it’s with sadness because I wish she could have enjoyed it all more

The Marsks divorced in January 1967 after more than 20 years of marriage. Marks remarried in 1971 to Virginia Amber Morrison. He died on August 19, 1982, in California.

Harriett did not remarry, and lived the rest of her days in California.

Harriette Marks died on March 1, 1999, in Los Angeles, California.