Gayle Mellott

James Montgomery Flagg  "Gayle Mellott "  Charcoal - Museum Purchase 1971

Gayle Mellott… Stunningly beautiful, not without charm, and with a strong showbiz background… So, what went wrong? I honestly have no idea. Maybe she did not catch the right breaks, maybe she was not “talented” enough, maybe she was too “beautiful”… But, as it happens so frequently in Hollywood, there are no sure answers, and Gayle remains one of many actresses that never realized even a bit of their potential.

EARLY LIFE

Edna Gayle Mellott was born on August 21, 1916, to Lawrence Clement Mellott and his wife Frances Wick in Wheeling, West Virginia. She was the middle of three children – her older brother, Lawrence, was born on March 17, 1914 (in New York). Her younger sister, Nancy, was born on April 27, 1920 in West Virginia.

Her father was from Ohio, and her mother from West Virginia. The family lived in Wheeling with two lodgers. While the papers paint Gayle as a member of a rich southern family, I get the impression her parents were normal, working middle class. Gayle attended high school there, and developed a love for horses, riding form the time she was a child. Her emerging talent in dancing also became a prominent factor in her life from the time she was in her early teens. By the time she graduated from high school, there was no doubt in her mind – she would enter showbiz and make her luck there.

Gayle moved to New York in circa 1935. She used her talent for horse riding, and got a stop at the Billy Rose’s Jumbo revenue. In the meantime, to supplement her income, she modeled for John Powers Agency and did a bit of summer stock. She also studied designing and attended beauty pageants with some frequency. To further her career, she decided to move to Los Angeles in 1938.

Gayle’s father died on November 21, 1938. Her widowed mother decided to move to Los Angeles along with her youngest child, Nancy. In 1940, Frances and her three children (Gayle, Lawrence and Nancy) were living together in Los Angeles.

CAREER

Gayle followed the same old story line many stunningly beautiful girls went through – the town belle comes to Hollywood, hoping to become a star, but in the ultra competitive environment of Tinsel Town, she’s not the best looking gal in town anymore. Usually these girls have little to to no acting experience (and are mostly chorus girls),never break from the uncredited tier, last for a short time and then fizzle away.

Gayle1Missing Daughters, her first feature, is a crime movie quickie with a solid cast: Richard Arlen, Rochelle Hudson, Marian Marsh and Isabel Jewell. The plot is actually pretty interesting, dealing with a try to break the Broadway Hostess ring, but the movie slid into obscurity and has no reviews on IMDB. Too bad, just one of many with a similar fate.

The Saint in Palm Springs, one of the few George Sanders made playing the famous Leslie Charteris character, this time involved in trying to find priceless stamps. It is an fine, amiable movie, a very good way to spend an hour and a half. Interestingly, Sanders himself hated the movie and considered it the nadir of his career, but he was certainly too harsh with the criticism – while no masterpiece, it’s well made, with Sanders giving his usually cool, sophisticated performance and the plucky Wendy Barrie playing his love interest with her typical gusto (can’t help it, I like Wendy Barrie). The end is quite unexpected and the whodunnit is more interesting than one perceives it at the first glance.

In the Navy  is a level up for Gayle. The plot involves crooner Russ Raymond (Dick Powell) dropping out of the celebrity spotlight, only to join the Navy under the name of Tom Halstead. He is relentlessly pursued by newspaper photographer Dorothy Roberts (Claire Dodd). The movie, despite some shortcomings (silly, silly silly), is a genuinely funny, witty romp. Powell and Dodd are a nice enough couple, and the music is more or less fine. Gayle was seemingly on her way up.

Manpower is Gayle’s most famous movie and most prominent role. The movie boasts not one or two but three top tier names: Marlene Dietrich, George Raft and Edward G. Robinson. Even is teh story was a shallow one liner, it couldn’t have been bad with that cast! While it’s not a top movie for either of the stars, . Gayle has the role of one of Marlene’s “girls”.

And then, poof pow, Gayle’s career started to slide, and slide fast. Just as one would hope better roles were waiting around the corner… No.

Gayle5Flying Blind did Gayle’s career no favors. A dull, uninteresting B movie about pilots and airplanes. I was surprised how that cast, otherwise not an untalented lot, gives so little, like they didn’t really want to act here. You can still enjoy the sight of pretty Jean Parker and luscious Marie Wilson, but it’s hardy enough to make a compelling viewing.

Hard Guy came next. I already mentioned this movie, and I am goign to quote a revierew from IDB who summer the movie nicely:

The film is set mostly in a nightclub run by Jack LaRue. LaRue had an up and coming career with MGM, but by 1940 was forced to act in anything–and this fit that bill nicely. As he often did, he played a heavy–a cheep hood hiding in the guise of respectability. His specialty was getting the women in his employ to marry rich men and then get quickie annulments or divorces–splitting the money with him. This was a big problem with the film, as there is no reason for any woman to split the money with LaRue–it just made no sense. Nor did it really make sense for them to give up on their ‘sugar baby’ so quickly. When one of the women develops a conscience, LaRue kills her and makes it look like her new husband did it! So it’s up to a bunch of idiots to somehow unravel the mystery

Yup, what more do I need to write?

The Falcon Takes Over is another in the Falcon series of movies with George Sanders. Still, it’s not the typical Falcon movie, having a shade darker atmosphere, a complex story packed into 65 minutes. George Sanders was always the epitome of elegance and charm in his roles, and this one is no exception. This is by far the best of Gayle’s roles in her post-Manpower filmography.

Gayle3Cinderella Jones is an idiotic film. There, I said it. Okay, while I can’t claim it’s one fo the worst movie or anything similar, it has an absurd story, and the actors were obviously bored by it, you get the idea they wanted to be anywhere but on the sound stage. Just look at this summary:

Judy Jones, sings with a band and also works at an aircraft plant. She takes part in a “missing heirs” radio program and is discovered to be an heiress to a fortune. But the will provides that she must be married by a certain time or lose the inheritance. She then has to decide whether rivals-for-her-hand Tommy Coles or Bart Williams, loves her for herself or for her fortune. What’s a girl to do?

Oh yes, what more is there to add? While some movies take brainless plot but the sheer charm and vivacity of the leads push them into enjoyable viewing, not so much for this movie.

Gayle’s career was, to be frank, on the total downslide, and she retired after this movie.

PRIVATE LIFE

Gayle was a Republican, and passionate about the choice, even trying to run for congress in her home state (she lost, obviously).

In November 1935, Gayle was just beginning to get her name in the papers for the first time, and she was dating a T. Sweeney. In late 1936, Gayle the papers pegged Gayle as a Californian bride to be. We never learn the name of the lucky fella, and it seems the marriage did not happen. In April 1937, she was seen with C. Vanderbilt Jr., who was till convalesing from his car crash. Sadly, Vanderbilt was quite the ladies man, and Gayle was probably just another notch on his (pretty big) belt. In May 1937, Gayle dated the clean cut, perfect American Yale boy, Larry Kelley. This was just what the society of the time expected from a girl like Gayle – date such a steady, dependable guy, get married, have kids. Yet, it seems Gayle was not quite the type to take that advice…

In February 1943, it was reported that the luscious Gayle was dating Al Busiel, the millionaire cosmetics firm executive. The two weer wed in early march 1943.

Alfred Hamilton Busiel was born on 1900, in Chicago, Illinois, to Aaron Cohen and Miriam Cohen. His siblings were Simon Cohen Coates; Esther Wallace; Ida Patten (Padnos, Cohen); Otto (Abraham) Jay Cohen; Syma Busiel; i Florence Hamburg. He was a savvy businessman and became a executive with the lady Esther Comspetics company by the time he was 40 years old. 

Gayle4He was married once before to Carolyn Busiel, and had a daughter with her. Unfortunately, Gayle and Al’s marriage was a catastrophe from the very beginning. At the time when most newlyweds experience bliss as they will never experience again, Gayle and Al quarreled constantly. Busiel tried to remedy it with expensive gifts, but hey, we all know that never works, right? By September, it was more or less all they could take, and a separation occured. In November, it was in the divorce court.

Some dust was raised int he papers due to the divorce,  but than again, the papers just loved it when a showgirl marries a millionaire after a short courtship and then divorced him not long after. They preyed over such opportunities like vultures. Gayle accused her husband of running away fromt he couple’s shared home with some valuables and the horses her gifted her (WHAT? How?!). After some tiffing, Gayle was awarded a handsome sum (undisclosed in the papers, unfortunately), but had to return the 50 000$ necklace he gifted her. Some fine gentleman he is!

After his divorce from Gayle, Busiel married Suzette Childeroy Compton, a noted writer and member of the jet set. It was her second marriage. Busiel died suddenly in Honolulu, Hawaii, in 1951.

Little is known what happened to Gayle after the divorce. She gave up her career, and slipped into total obscurity. I have a nagging feeling I once read that she dated George Raft in the 1950s, but I could not find that newspaper article anywhere. I have no idea if she ever remarried, but she died with her maiden name, signaling she was single at the time.

Edna Gayle Mellott died on in December 16, 1988, in Los Angeles, California.

 

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