Shirley Tegge’s selling point were her impressive outdoor abilities. She was a superb fly fisher, and spend a large part of her early life in the forests of Michigan. On top of it all, she was a drop dead gorgeous woman with some theatrical training and not without any acting experience. Yet, like many similar cases with genuinely talented woman, this got her nowhere in Hollywood, and except a few spots of publicity, she did not achieve anything big.
Shirlee Ann Tegge was born on August 6, 1927 in Iron river, Michigan, to Albert and Esther Tegge. She was the oldest of four children – her siblings were: Elaine “Peaches” (born in 1931), Marilyn (born in 1933) and Richard (born on March 16, 1934).
The family lived in Iron river in 1940, where Shirley attended high school. Shirley had a very outdoorsy, active upbringing. Her father took her trout fishing ever since she was toddler, and as a result, Shirley became an expert fisher by the time she was in high school. She also knew the woods of northern Michigan like the back of her hand after spending many, many hours there. Shirley’s pretty visage, combined with her rough and tough lifestyle, made for an interesting personality that only further developed as time went on.
Except her fishing activities, Shirley was the Iron River corps drum majorette in 1941 (she made the papers for the first time that year). It was clean an unusual future was waiting for the girl. Shirley’s father owned a hardware store specializing in sporting goods, and among other things, he sold trout baits made by Shirley, named “Tegge Tantalizers”. They were very popular all over the US and Canada.
Shirley graduated from the Iron River high, in 1945. In June of that year, she won a scolarship for speech and dramatics in Illinois. Shirley relocated to Chicago, and started working as a model to earn money on the side. In 1946, she was named “Queen” by the wounded veterans in US naval hospital in Great Lakes, Illinois. Soon, she was doing summer theater work on Cape Cod.
After modeling and sometime acting for years, Shirley was crowned Miss USA in 1949. Her strong point:
“Her recipe for latching onto a lad I is a brand new gimmick in the wiles of women. It is called the “Tegge tantalizer,” which has absolutely nothing to do with her own blonde beauty or her colossal curves. The former Powers model is a one-woman manufacturer of hand-made fishing flies”.
Due to her title and new found fame, in 1950 she finally landed in Hollywood.
Although uncredited in all of her films, Shirley actually appeared in a good number of solid movies, many of them fondly remembered today.
Her first feature was in Where the Sidewalk Ends, a Dana Andrews/Gene Tierney pairing. I’m a fan of this pairing, so I’m not the best judge of their movies, but when I say I think this movie is tops, it seems that most critics and fans agree with me. It’s a stylish, dark and impossibly cool film noir, directed by Otto Preminger (a difficult personality but a top-of-the-shelf director), and with such a great cast you could just lick your fingers with them. Dana Andrews, so underrated as an actor, plays a jaded detective par excellence, and Gene Tierney has just the right mix of stunning beauty, glamour and toughness to make her a perfect femem fatale. Very good performances are given by Craig Stevens, Gary Merrill and Tom Tully.
Strangers on a Train. What should I say about this movie? Hitch made tons of famous, good movies, and this one falls into the upper echelon category of his work. Take special note of Robert Walker, by far the best actor in the movie (and all the other were nothing to slouch about – Farley Granger, Ruth Roman, Leo G. Carroll). his portrayal is just… W-how. Perfect. Such a shame about his premature death .- he could have developed into a leading actor of the generation.
Take Care of My Little Girl, despite it’s idiotic name, is actually a serious drama hidden by a veneer of a breezy comedy. What seems like a fun loving movie at first, dealing with college, sororities, youth, fun – turns into a dark fable of narcissism, snobbery and greed, showing how those sins penetrate our modern, democratic society like snakes. Jeanne Crain, a mediocre actress in most of her efforts, is good enough, but it is Jean Peters (such a vivacious, interesting actress) and Jeffery Hunter (sadly to much of a pretty boy to be taken seriously, but not a bad actor) who take all the thunder. Dale Robertson is handsome and decent as the male support (although he always sounds like a cowboy IMHO).
The Guy Who Came Back – now we come to the less flashy, but still memorable movies. It concerns an aging football player living in the past until WWII allows him to relive his “glory days”. Part a character study, part a life story, it’s one of those movies that undeservedly slipped into oblivion. Even if you don’t like sports movies, it’s worth watching for the actors alone – Paul Douglas, Joan Bennett, Linda Darnell.
Two Tickets to Broadway is a musical made by Howard Hughes with a roster of former MGM talent – Janet Leigh, Tony Martin, Gloria Dehaven, Ann Miller. As a reviewer succinctly wrote: “This is not a bad musical. It’s also not a good one.” Let’s be realistic for a moment: if you like bouncy, happy-go-lucky 1950s musicals, this will be more than enough – if you’re not a fan, don’t come close. There are no memorable musical numbers, but they are more than amended by the buoyancy and youthful vivacity of the actors – Janet Leigh, despite not being a singer or an dancer, is enchantingly charming, and Ann Miller is as fast in her tapping routines as ever!
The Las Vegas Story is a film noir Robert Mitchum used to make by the bucket load int he 1940s. This one breaks no new ground, nor differentiates itself from the mass of others. The most notable exception is that the lead is not played by Mitchum but by Victor Mature. Mature was not an actor, and he knows it – he always plays himself, but this is exactly what the movie needs – a hard boiled, stones faced, stoic leading man. Matures chemistry with female lead Jane Russell, the veritable man’s woman – is superb. Vincent Price, another favorite of mine (did you ever see him in Witchfield general? Whoa boy, watch it!) is slimy and hammy as usual.
With a Song in My Heart is that rare musical where much consideration was put not only into the music, but also all the other facets of the production – beautifully written, professionally directed and finely acted. The story is touching enough – songstress Jane Forman’s rocky life story is bound to shed tears from the more demure public, but the underlining message is an positive, upbeat one – proving that “determination and grit” can truly do miracles in anybody’s life. Yet, the true strenght of the movie is the superb song book – when you look at the list of composers, one canot but stop and gape: Rodgers & Hart; Sammy Fain; Harold Arlen, Peggy Lee, Vincent Youmans, George & Ira Gershwin; Arthur Schwartz Frank Loesser; Jule Stein & Sammy Cahn. Nothing could go wrong and nothing did go wrong. It’s a true Hollywood classic, more than worth the watch 5 decades after it was made.
April in Paris is a movie that made Doris Day the Doris Day we all know and love today. I was thrilled that Doris’ leading man was not a square jawed, perfectly handsome Hollywood hunk like Rock Hudson, but Ray Bolger, the wacky looking, tall and reed thin actor, but a dancer to boot! This is a movie where your can truly see how the 1950s (the sunny side of them, anyway) looked and felt like. It’s a time long past, and there is a charming naivete to it I cannot find in today’s movie anymore (even in rom coms and other lightweight comedies). While this is not necessarily a good thing (I don’t think the world was a cute, peaches-and-cream place then), a slight nostalgia creeps up and makes it an interesting viewing experience. Doris is the plucky, likable girl-next-door with a strong current underneath, a role she would play to perfection int he rest of 1950s and the 1960s. While the choreography leaves much to be desired (Doris even noted this in her autobiography), kudos goes to Bolger for milking it to all of it’s worth with his flawless tapping.
Shirley appeared in another of Jane Russell’s movie, The French Line. This movie truly is one of a kind. In a time when elegance and good taste were of paramount importance to the movie industry (just look at the musicals MGM made during this time), we have a crass, vulgar movie that know that it’s crass and vulgar and doesn’t even bother to hide it! Jane Russell is granted, the perfect female lead for such a “travesty”. She was one of the few blatantly sexy actresses who made it to the top (most girls with the same brand of in-your-face sexuality never made it to even mid tier stars, let alone top tier!) and works like a charm here. The whole movie is brimming with primal energy and is untarnished with taking itself too seriously. Gilbert Ronald is a bit of a sore spot (another pretty boy with little to no talent), but otherwise more than a decent viewing.
Shirley made a hiatus from the movies, and returned one last time as a thespian in Half Way to Hell. When I saw the tag line, the rating and the summary, and all I can say it: run. It sound like a horrible movie, and it has no reviews, but let’s take it face value and imagine Shirley was better off without acting in it.
In addition to her acting, career, Shirley made a few appearances in TV series: Mark Saber, The Abbott and Costello Show, Racket Squad and I Love Lucy. They are all small, uncredited appearances that did not warrant her further engagements.
After 1961, Shirley retired for good.
In 1947, Shirley was involved pretty deep with the famous boxer Maxie Rosenbloom, and he wanted to marry her. My guess is that Shirley declined his offer, as the marriage never happened (Maxie was divorced from Muriel Faider, and he never married again).
When the press asked Shirley, who was a an expect in catching trout, how to catch a man, she said:
Elementary. Looks, grooming and domestic ability are necessary to a girl. But to interest a man, to land him and hold him, you have to be able to actively share in his interests.
I can cook, do water colors, embroider and sew as well as any girl. I tool my own leather handbags. But these things don’t interest fellows.
But, I can also ride horseback, swim, play tennis and baseball, fly planes, shot deer and fish with the best of the more virile sex. And I can tie a better fish fly than most men.
It’s an interesting story how Shirley met her first husband. A girl friend showed her a picture of Earl Shade beside Mayor Fletcher Bowron of Los Angeles, posing beside a king size marlin caught at Shade’s La Paz Fishing Club in Raja, Mexico. Shirley was smitten before even meeting the fella, and decided she must “catch” him.
A mutual pal introduced them at a dinner party. Shade ignored her, thinking her another blonde stunner – until her learned she was the creator of “Tegge Tantalizer”. The next week they eloped, during a few days off from Where the sidewalk ends.
Thus, Shirley married Earl Hill Shade in a ceremony in LaPaz, Lower California, Mexico, on Jan. 31, 1950. According to the press, Shirley “wore a white off-the-shoulder gown and a Spanish mantilla of white lace secured by small white flowers”. The newlyweds resided in Hollywood.
Earl Shade, was born on February 15, 1923, the son of the Laren Bartlett Shades of Los Angeles. He grew up in Los Angeles. The marriage was a short lived one, and they divorced in the mid 1950s, after 1953.
Shade remarried to Robin Stroud in 1962 and died on June 18, 1985.
Shirley married Jack Ford, a WWII pilot and actor/technical consultant, sometime around 1957 or 1958. Shirley gave birth to a daughter, Jacquelyn Annelyse Susan Ford, on September 5, 1959. Sadly, tragedy struck just five days before her daughter was born – Jack was killed in a mid air collision.
Shirley remarried to Reginald K. Russell on December 17, 1960. Russell was born on June 1, 1914, in Australia and came to the US prior to 1940. He was married first to Nancy (in the late 1930s). Shirely and Reginald divorced not long after, in 1962 or 1963. Russell remarried to in 1968 to Joan E. Humphrey, and in 1972 to Leona Pendelton. He died on May 23, 1974.
In 1964, Shirley married for the third and final time to Charles F. Stoker. She and Stoker too divorced at a point. Shirley relocated to Simi Valley, California.
Interesting to note, is what happened in September 2003, when Shirley was well over both her modeling and Hollywood days:
Simi Valley, CA — A former actress and model who played “Miss 3-D” in a promo for the first major 3-D film is finally getting her due.
Half a century ago, Shirlee Tegge Stoker was hired to prance around with puppets Beany and Cecil in a short film explaining 3-D technology.
The film ran before the feature, “Bwana Devil” — a movie which ushered in the golden age of 3-D in the 1950s. However, Ms. Stoker missed the premiere of the movie because she was stuck in New York on a modeling assignment. Now 76, Stoker is getting a second chance: She’ll be attending a screening of both movies next Tuesday (Sep. 16) as part of the world’s largest 3-D film festival. It’s truly a redo for Stoker, because the screening will be at the same theater as the premiere was: Hollywood’s Egyptian Theatre.
The sassy senior says she’s “delighted to be recycled after 50 years,” but admits the job as Miss 3-D was just “a days work for me.”
She lived in Simi Valley for many years before she fell ill. Her daughter Jesse Lindell, who also had a career in Hollywood like her parents, came to live with her and take care of her.
Shirley Stoker died on June 12, 2010 in Simi Valley, California.