Tina Thayer had excellent newspaper coverage. She had several high profile roles and was praised constantly by the critics. So, what happened? While the answer is impossible to formulate, the fact is that she left Hollywood in 1944 and ended up as obscure as actresses who never made a credited role.
Thelma Thayer Gibson was born on November 2, 1923 in Boston, Massachusets, to Manual Flanders Gibson and Florence Emsralda Fogg. Her parents divorced in the late 1920s, and Tina and Florence went on to live with Florence’s mother (also called Florence) in Worchester, Massachusests.
Tina’s mother, who was college educated, ran a singing school in Worchester, and Tina, naturally, took up singing from an early age. The mother-daughter duo moved to Boston when Tina was 8, and later to New York when she was 14 years old.
She got into acting by a random act of fate: while on vacation in Provincetown, Massachusetts, she was spotted by a theater director, and given a chance to act. Always a fan of acting, and more interested in it than in singing, Tina was ecstatic at the given opportunity. Her role had only 2 lines of dialogue, but she poured her heart and soul into it, and the critics took notice of her.
Tina returned to New York after her experience, and enrolled into dramatic school under the guidance of her aunt, Draja Dryden, a concert pianist and screen actress working in France. She was a great believer in Tina’s talent and her biggest champion. Soon, she was appearing in Broadway opposite stars like Ruth Chatteron, and this pushed her into Hollywood.
Unlike many other actress of this site, Tina was truly a contender for stardom, not just the recipient of empty promises and meaningless publicity. While she was never cast in leading role in big budget movies, she was given leads in solid B movies and could have achieved much more. It’s hard to say exactly what went wrong with her career, but that’s Hollywood for you – like magic, it’s impossible to understand and analyse (talented actors never get anywhere, and those less talented end up big stars, and many other simply wierd examples).
She made her debut in Girls Under 21 , a movie about juvenile delinquency (Tina played one of the delinquents). Despite it being a low budget programmer (running at 64 minutes) it moves at a brisk pace, has many snappy, funny, irreverent lines, and its ending is surprisingly socially sensitive. Rochelle Hudson is very good as the leading lady (now, Rochelle is a real example of a very talented lady who never got past these kind of movies).
Meet John Doe is the best known movie on Tina’s filmography, and one of the classic of 1940s world cinema.
It a finely crafted meditation about manipulation by the media, democracy, organised religion and simply, life choices. Like all Capra movies, despite it’s blatant criticism, it’s an inheretly optimistic one, giving the viewer the feeling that it can be better if one tries. The actors make this movie a stand-out classic. Barbara Stanwyck is the true American epitome of a sharp, smart woman. She’s no lady, but her gutsy ways make her a very vibrant, assertive character, a reporter trying desperately to climb up the newspaper ladder. Gary Cooper, “Coop”, was at his best playing normal, everyday guys who show surprising courage when the going gets rough, and find that resilience and inner strength they had all the time, but never had the chance to manifest.
Next came an expected letdown in A Yank at Eton , a Mickey Rooney vehicle and a spiritual successor of A Yank at Oxford. Rooney is the typical plucky, althetic and funny self, with a fine supporting cast. The movie is a thingly veiled remaking of Boyswtown, another Rooney classic, and while it’s nowehre the quality of that film, (or indeed many other similar movies) it’s a fine treat for old movie fans.
Secrets of a Co-Ed was the leading role Tina was waiting for. And it’s not the worst one by any strench of an imagination. But, is it a really good one? No to that account too. The plot actually has some potential: A free-spirited college girl insists on carrying on her romance with a young mobster, scandalizing the town and going against the wishes of her father, the town’s most prominent attorney. While cast in a role that doesn’t ask for any acting bravura turns, we still see the type Tina could have played with much gusto in the future had she remained in Hollywood: outwardly sweet, nice, on the inside, complete brats. Tina’s father, played by Otto Krueger, has the best role in movie and plays it very well (sadly, another actor who never got to first base despite a bevy of talent).
The Pay Off is the typical crime movie quckie of the period. The script is full of snappy dialog, some of it having to do with the plot, some just clever filler. Worth a look for those of us who like rapid-fire dialog and don’t mind a few clinkers or clichés. Most of Tin’a thunder got stolen by Evelyn Brent, once a great silent star, and a low tier actress in the 1940s.
Jive Junction is another wartime quickie made purely as escapist fare. It’s a no-name cast with forgettable musical numbers and a non existent plot. With nothing much to reccomend it, it slid into total obscurity over the years. Tina’s career was by now going nowhere, and unless something big hapened anytime soon, she was doomed to either quit Hollywood or to remain in the B tier for a long time.
Henry Aldrich’s Little Secret was not a bad movie, in fact it’s one of the best in the long running Henry Aldrich series. Tina played a supporting role that got her nowhere.
Ready to give up her Hollywood career to start a family, she broke her contract after this and never acted in a movie again.
In a smart publicity move, Tina was introduced as the next love interest of Mickey Rooney, only to reveal it the end that she is not a real love interest, but rather a movie love interest. It was noted how she was a perfect leading lady for Rooney, since she was lower than him by two inches (when several of his other leading ladies were taller than him).
Thayer married Lester Koenig on August 27, 1942. She was just 18 years old when it happened.
Koenig was born on December 3, 1918, New York City, New York. The marriage was a short lived one, and the two divorced in 1944. I quote IMDB on what happened to Koenig after that:
Although never a card-carrying communist himself, Koenig was blacklisted because he refused to name names. The result was that he unable to work in the film business. He began producing jazz records on Commodore Records with some of the best West Coast musicians of that time, among them Art Pepper and Ornette Coleman, whom he was the first to record. K
Koening married two more times, and died on November 20, 1977.
Tina ended her movie career in 1944, moved to Neew York, gave up acting, and took up newspaper work. She joined the Milton Rubin press agent staff, and bought an apartment on the Madison Avenue (Mad Men anybody?). She suffered from bad tonsillitis several times and was living an high class, “urbane” lifestyle many women of the period went after. She most certantly deserved it.
Tina married Eric Wyndham-White on November 1, 1947. They honeymooned in Havana later in the month.
I will quote Wikipedia on Eric:
Born on the 26 January 1913, White was educated at the Westminster City School and the London School of Economics. He graduated as a LLB with first class honours and in 1938 was called to the bar by the Middle Temple. He was an assistant lecturer at the LSE until the Second World War started when he moved to the Ministry of Economic Warfare. In 1942 he became the First Secretary at the British Embassy in Washington.
In 1945 he became Special Assistant to the European Director of the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration. He became involved in the forming of a secretariat for a new international trade organisation, theGeneral Agreement on Tariffs and Trade in 1948 and became the first Director-General.
Tina and Eric had two daughters, one of whom is named Carolyn (I could not find the name of the other daughter). Carolyn was educated in Geneva, Switzerland, leading to the conclusion that the family moved a lot in the 1950s and 1960s.
Tina divorced Eric sometimes in the late 1960s. She never remarried, and moved to New York City.
Wyndham White died from a heart attack while swimming on January 27, 1980, in Spain.
Tina Wyndham White died on December 27, 2003, in New York City.