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.
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.
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.
Kentucky 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 Howard. Daughter 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.
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 easily. You 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 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).
Never 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 Rosarita, Man from Oklahoma, Sunset in El Dorado, Don’t Fence Me In, Rough 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 viewing. Hitchhike 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.
Love, 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.
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.
In 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.
The 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.