Likeable, pretty blonde ingenue who started a singer and ended up as a low budget western lead. Well no, that’s not quite all you can say about Terry Walker. Why? Because, she was “Twice born” in Hollywood – first under the name of Alice Dahl, and then under the name we all know her. Proof that good publicity can change your identity (literary!), Terry Walker and her dual career are great studies of the way Hollywood works and how far it’s ready to go to make someone a success. Hers is a benevolent example, but it’s clear how much illusions, lies and deception play a large part in the Hollywood star machines.
Theresa “Terry” Norberg was born on January 7, 1913, in Petersburg, Alaska to Adolf and Alice G. Norberg. Her younger brother, born in 1918, was called Zach. Her father was born in Michigan to Norwegian parents, and moved to Alaska in the early 1900s.
Terry was determined to become an entertainer, and was early to start, leaving the family home in the late 1920s, when she was little more than 17 years old (I have no idea if she graduated from high school). She was soon making her living as a lounger singer in Los Angeles, and entered movies under the name of Alice Dahl in 1933.
For all purposed, Terry started her career as Alice Dahl. Her career as Alice was pretty much unremarkable, but hardy a complete waste. She was given leading roles right off the bat, playing in low budgets westerns The Whirlwind, Deadwood Pass and Coyote Trails. I wrote enough about what happends when an actress scores it big in the low budget westenr territory. Not a bad start, but usulaly something extra has to happen to push her career out of the rut. In the meantime, Alice appeared uncredited in several other movies – an early mystery talkie, The Phantom Express, western comedy Thrill Hunter, musical George White’s Scandals, the psychological drama Jealousy, and the Laurel and Hardy classic, Babes in Toyland. Alice had more prominent roles in anther railway mystery, Twisted Rails, and a boy-dog movie, When Lightning Strikes. She also made two comedic shorts, Horses’ Collars and His Old Flame, and ended her career with the great Edward G. Robinson/Jean Arthur comedy, The Whole Town’s Talking.
Then some Hollywood magic happened. A nifty publicist decided to make Terry a star – but Alice Dahl was obviously not star material, so he remedied it by simply changing her complete persona. He even went so far as to claim that Terry had been living for 10 years in Hollywood and that nobody noticed her before this. Quite fishy. Yet, it worked, and Terry Walker was born, to have a slightly better career.
Terry skipped the uncredited grooming period and embraced supporting roles from the start. her firts movie was And Sudden Death. Like most of the quickie movies clocking at below 70 minutes, is a mediocre fare at best, and a formulaic, uninteresting fare at the worst. Luckily, it was graced by two charming leads, Randolph Scott and Frances Drake, who elevate it slightly. Yes, it had a predictable plot and no great dramatic value, but it’s not a worst case scenario.
23 1/2 Hours Leave is one of those idiotic WW2 musicals with a stupid plot and forgettable music. It was Terry’s first chance to play a leading role, however, and it’s notable if nothing than for that fact. James Ellison plays such a dummy it’s impossible to like him, let alone believe that such a man can be a competent soldier. Terry got some kudos as being a lovely and talented songstress – but no mentions of any acting accolades were given (as her role required none, it’s not surprising).
Mountain Music is a typical Martha Raye/Bob Burns musical. if you like hillbilly humor, by all means, go ahead! Blonde Trouble is an Eleanor Whitney showcase that failed – Eleanor was one of the few girls pushed into massive publicity but didn’t have the pizzazz to make themselves real stars. The musical is completely forgotten today.
Eleanor continued to appear in mid tier, good but not much more movies: This Way Please, a Betty Grable/Charles Rodgers low budget musical, Federal Bullets a movie about the G men with Milburn Stone in the lead (where Terry again plays a prominent female character), Delinquent Parents the very low budget but surprisingly decent weepie dealing with the aftermath of adoption, the uninspired, muddled musical western On the Great White Trail (where she again was the leading lady), comedy short, America’s Safest Tire.
By this time, terry was pushed into westerns and firmly got stuck in them. While it is a redeeming feature for a few actress, bread and butter for most, it’s a kiss of death for anybody who wants a serious, dramatic career. While I have no idea what exactly Terry went for, she did not get that revered, high quality career. The westerns, all low budget, and all more or less the same to a person ignorant of the genre (like me) are Billy the Kid in Texas, Take Me Back to Oklahoma and The Medico of Painted Springs.
On the other hand, the rest of Terry’s filmography is more diverse. Invisible Ghost, a horror thriller with a genuine creepy atmosphere but not much else (and let’s not forget Bela Lugosi). Dangerous Lady is, as the reviewer wrote, “Cheap Thin Man ripoff from PRC attempts to use Neil Hamilton and June Storey in the roles of sophisticated detectives, and they are good. The rest of the cast, alas, isn’t up to their acting ability and make a mess of the story. Some interesting early film-noir photography and the leads make this watchable.” Hellzapoppin’ is a very good “chaotic” comedy int he vein of the Marx brothers with the comedic duo Ole Olsen and Chic Johnson. And then, like many of her contemporaries, Terry gave up her career for marriage.
Let’s be clear, Terry was not an actress who retired because she was a talentless hack or her career was in shambles. In fact, she could have had a decent careerin the mid tier, and made a living in Hollywood for at least a few more years. While she was not a top acting talent, she was pretty enough, had a good singing voice, and enough charisma to go by (many have succeeded on less). But, she chose marriage over her career and that was that.
Terry returned to the movie set just one more time, in 1944, to act in Voodoo Man, a horror with all the typical cliches – Bela Lugosi playing a quack scientist (who wants to revive his dead wife), Keith Carradine as his dimwitted henchman, Henry Hull as the local sheriff and a tons of pretty girls who just scream (and Terry is among them). This did not lead to further movie offers, and Terry retired for good.
When in transition from Alice Dahl to Terry Walker, a whole web of stories was spun to make it seamless. Her past was forgotten, as were her previous roles and she started from a blank slate. She even had a story about how she was discovered! The story goes: In late 1935, Terry posed for Norman Rockwell, eminent photographer whose subjects often end up as movie starlets, and the painting was used in a cover for a national magazine. Nothing big happened and she continued her singing career. At some point in early 1936, she got a gig in Miami. While she was on the East Coast, a talent scout saw the Rockwell painting, liked what he saw and tried to find the girl. Rockwell only knew her name, but had no idea what happened to her. Messengers were sent to her home town in Alaska, then to New York City, Phoenix and Syracuse. The chase continued with little success. When he finally located her in Miami, she was asked to return to Los Angeles to take a screen test. After passing it, she signed with Paramount. Nifty story for sure 🙂
Terry got involved with the violinist Jan Rubini in about 1935, while she was still Alice Dahl. When she was resurrected as Terry Walker, she made two movies in Hollywood, and then took a six month hiatus to go to New York and try for a six months trial marriage period. The press ha no idea who the guy was, and there was much speculation over the nature of this unusual decision. And with good cause, it seems.
Basically, there were several problems with this whole set up. The biggest problem was that Rubini was married to Adel Rubini – and she was not thrilled. They made the papers in 1937 when Mrs. Rubini sued Terry for alienation of affection (or something similar, you get the point). In a plot worthy of soap operas, Terry wanted to marry Rubini, but he was reluctant. Unfortunately, it had little to do with any amorous reasons – it was more a matter of figures. After weighting his options, Rubini got his math right – it would be too expensive to divorce Adel now, since she would take pretty much most of his property. The two reconciled and made a pact that he must not be unfaithful to her for the next two years. If he keeps his end fo the bargain, he gets their (formerly) shared property back. I was thinking, reading this, okay, so he and Terry were over and he was back with his wife for good. No! Poof, several months later there are reports that Rubini is divorcing his wife to marry Teresa. They finally did marry in 1940.
Several sources lists Rubini’s birth year as 1904, but that cannot be valid – his son was born in 1919! It is more likely Rubini was born in the early 1890s, but since he was born in abroad, he conveniently made himself at least 10 years younger when he came to the US. (there is another source that claims he was born on April 5, 1897 – this is way more probable. He could have been 22 when his son was born – very much plausible for that time).
Anyway, his life story: Jan Child Rubini was born in either Switzerland or Stockholm, Sweden to an Italian father and a Russian mother, he was a musical prodigy, playing the violin from early childhood. He moved tot he US at some point, and married Diane D’Aubrey in the early to mid 1910s. Diane was older than Jan – she was born on November 11, 1889 in Michigan. Their son Jan Mario Rubini was born on April 29, 1919 in New York. Jan and Diane divorced (have no idea exactly when, but prior to 1928). He moved to Australia at some point, and there met his second wife Adele Crane (she appeared with him in a musical show). He and Adele married in 1929.
Terry gave up movies to raise a family with Jan. The couple had two children, two sons: Michel Rubini, born on December 3, 1942, and David Alan Rubini, born on December 15, 1945. Terry had a miscarriage in 1953. Both children were musically inclined: David ended up a prodity at the piano, and Michel played the violin at only 4 years old.
I quote IMDB for information about terry’s older son, Michael:
Michel Rubini was born into a musical family on December 3, 1942 in Los Angeles, California. He started playing piano at age three and began his professional music career as an accompanist to his violinist father Jan Rubini. Michel started playing blues and gospel music at age thirteen and left classical music behind at age eighteen to focus instead on blues, jazz, and rock’n’roll. Rubini was a much sought after Los Angeles session musician in the 60s and 70s; among the artists he has performed on albums for are Frank Sinatra, Ray Charles, Frank Zappa, Barbra Streisand, and Sonny & Cher (Rubini also arranged singles for Sonny & Cher as well as Maureen McGovern). While working for the legendary Motown label he produced and arranged albums for such artists as Junior Walker and Thelma Houston (he also co-wrote three songs for Houston’s album “The Devil In Me”). Moreover, Rubini has toured extensively with several groups that include Seals & Croft and Loggins and Messina. Michel has not only composed the scores for such movies as “The Hunger,” “The New Kids,” “Band of the Hand,” “Manhunter,” and “Nemesis,” but also composed the scores for episodes of a handful of TV shows that include “The Hitchhiker,” “Capitol,” and “Tales from the Crypt.” He has recorded two solo albums and runs the Rubini Gallery of Fine Art. Rubini spends his spare time between his homes in Porta Vallarta, Mexico, Palm Springs, California, and Oahu, Hawaii.
Rubini was a prominent musician of his time, and performer all over the world. Terry followed him dutifully, often with the children.
The Rubinis divorced in the early 1960s. Rubini remarried (for the fourth time) to Helen in 1965. Terry never remarried, and continued living in California.
Terry Rubini died on May 8, 1977 in San Diego, California.
Rubini died on December 2, 1989.