Gwen Kenyon

GwenKenyon4

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.

 

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