Jan Buckingham

Jan Buckingham

Jan Buckingham was given the huge honor of acting in many a movie made by Preston Sturges, one of the foremost comedic directors of the 20th century. Why? Well, she was his niece – and here we also have the answer of how Jan broke into Hollywood. Yet, Jan was pretty realistic about her capabilities – pretty and not without any charm, but not a trained actress nor a big talent, she played uncredited and supporting roles for several years, made a relatively good run (as compared to some other actresses), and retired to become a wife in 1944.

EARLY LIFE:

Jane Ridgway was born to Edward S. Ridgway and Gladys Ewin Johnson on July 22, 1913, in Los Angeles, California. The press claimed later that she is the famous director Preston Sturges’ niece – but how I have no idea how. Sturges was born under the name of Edmund Biden. His mother, Estelle Dempsey, most certainly remarried, but I think she had no additional children. Now, his father, Edmund C. Biden, had another son, Edmund Biden Jr., but he is a Biden, not a Johnson or Ridgway. The only other viable option was that she was related to one of Preston’s wives, but which one? Neither was a Johnson or Ridgway. Sorry, no additional information here.

Little is known about Jane’s early life. She grew up in the movie colony and mingled with actor, directors and other Hollywood personnel from her earliest years. Being Preston Sturges’s “niece”, it was only natural she traveled the high road. However, it took her a marriage and widowhood before she started acting in movies full time.

CAREER:

Jan was already widowed from her first husband when she entered movies in 1935. Exactly why she did it then and not before eludes me, but it could be that she was feeling lonely after her husband passed, and wanted something to distract her. Truly, acting, could be a pretty good remedy for that. Take note, Jan was to be uncredited in most of her appearances.

The Woman in Red is a Barbara Stanwyck quickie, mid 1930s style. Thin in plot, but Barbara always makes it work. Another meaty role is played by the delicious Genevieve Tobin. Gene Raymond, as the love interest, is his usual wooden self. Recommended only for hardcore Stanwyck fans.

Gold Diggers of 1935 is all you ever  wanted from a Busby Berkeley extravaganza. Thin plot but great dance choreography and that is about it. The Moon’s Our Home is a movie they don’t make anymore – a fast paced, utterly charming and fluffy romantic comedy. In the time of stupid romcoms, I wish they made movies more like this. They are not master pieces, don’t even try to be master pieces, but the rapport between two mains stars (Margaret Sullavan and Henry Fonda – divorced in real life by the time the movie hit the theaters) is pure gold, the script is witty, and the supporting actors are tailor made.

The Case Against Mrs. Ames, made after a well known book, is Madeleine Carroll’s movie all the way. She gets decent support from George Brent (wasn’t he always a second fiddle for a strong female lead? Well he ain’t no Gable, if you catch my drift). As one reviewer wrote on IMDB:

English actress Madeleine Carroll delivers a convincing performance in a dramatic role of the kind that she was, unfortunately, given too few opportunities to exploit during her career. As Hope Ames she reveals a compelling sense of emotionalism that was never over-wrought and remained contained, but not blunted, by a cool, elegant exterior. Every thing about her had a sense of elegance and refinement that is so characteristic of the exquisitely beautiful English actress, from her angelic countenance to her flawless diction. Even in the highly fraught scenes where she tries to regain the love and trust of her estranged son never descend into rank sentimentality, but elicit a welling poignancy at the heart-felt expression of affection that only a mother could feel for her child.

Easy to Take  is another one of those lightweight romantic comedies. You might ask, why should I watch ANOTHER movie like that. Well, one reason only: the two stars, Marsha Hunt and John Howard, both perfectly charming in their own way. Plus, there is a bunch of kid talent displayed during a radio segment. I like Marsha Hunt, she is such a true Hollywood legend! And Howard was very, very handsome.

The Lady Objects is a movie I like from the get go. A story about a successful female lawyer, who proves that she can be both a career woman and a family woman. And the superb Gloria Stuart plays the lead. Even if it’s a little rough around the edges (like most B movies), it makes a fascinating watching experience.

Men Against the Sky is an aviation movie only aviation buffs should watch. It’s not a bad piece of work, but you can only truly enjoy it if you understand the state of aviation in the early 1930s. On a plus side, it featured Wendy Barrie, my absolute favorite!

Christmas in July is a less known, but also a more sedate, mature Preston Sturges movie. Warped up in a Depression era story are some very poignant questions about the nature of success and exactly what does our society deem the most important trait a man has? Dick Powell and Ellen Drew are good as the leading couple, but the supporting actor make this a feast: Ernest Truex and Raymond Walburn give top of the shelf performances!

Mexican Spitfire Out West is a Lupe Velez movie with Lupe Velez in a supporting role. What? Oh yes, exactly what it says on the tin. It’s a Leon Errol vehicle all the way. He plays a double role (both staple of the series, Uncle Matt and Lord Epping), and enjoying it to the hilt! Still, like many from the series, it’s a dim witted movie with little to recommend it. Donald Woods, who plays Lupe’s husband, is easy on the eyes but a sub par comedian, and the great comic actress Elisabeth Risdon is more or less wasted in her role. While it does have a slight charm of it’s own (I sure like the world charm, don’t I?), not worth watching.

Life with Henry is a typical Jackie Cooper movie of the period. A moronic plot but likable enough actors. Let’s Make Music is an unusual but interesting musical. The leading actress is actually Elizabeth Risdon, playing a musical teacher about to retire, and double questioning her life’s work. How many movies can you name with a lead who is both a female and +50 years old? Well, now you have it! The music is supplemented by Bob Crosby and his Bobcats (yes, the brother of that Bing Crosby). It features at least one hit song and turned out to be a good enough musical. Bravo for Hollywood for tackling these kind of stories!

Virginia, a Madeleine Carroll/Fred MacMurray pairing, deals with the aftermath of the American Civil War. The south is slowly disintegrating, and the Yankees are buying the plantations. Melodramatic as it can be, with an unbelievable story and over the top dialogue, it’s still a decent movie, and the leads make it work also (I love, love Madeleine. Such a lady! Fred was a good actor, but I heard so many things about him as a person that I personally don’t like that I can’t separate his movie persona from his real persona. My bad, I admit). Also watch out for Sterling Hayden, that handsome hunk of a man (whom I also like quite a lot).

The Lady Eve is a Preston Sturged classic, and I think it needs no additional words spent on it. Watch it if you haven’t by now!

One Night in Lisbon came next. What to say? As Leonard Maltin wrote about it: Mild screwball comedy with gorgeous Carroll falling in love with flier MacMurray despite interference from his ex (Morison). Looks pedestrian enough. Yet, her next movie is truly a highlight… Sullivan’s Travels is another Sturges classic that needs no introduction. Veronica Lake at her alluring best, mmmm…

Miss Annie Rooney gave Jan a credited role. Hurrah! Still, the movie drew very much mixed reviews – from being a charming Shirley Temple movie to being a brain dead, stupid romcom. I guess you can’t account for taste, but Shirley was growing up and could not be bothered to play girls anymore, so this was not wholly unexpected (I could hardly imagine Shirley graduating to serious, Bette Davis dramatic roles at the age of 14! Give the kid a break!). But if you like cute, endearing movies with little plot and a bit of soul, this is it!

After Midnight with Boston Blackie is a Boston Blackie quickie, short but well made. The Miracle of Morgan’s Creek is the last Preston Sturges movie Jan appeared in. It’s another classic and needs no further describing.

Lady in the Dark is another unusual but interesting movie. It progressively melts into a fashion and millinery extravaganza, but the core story is something worth taking notice of – one of the few movies dealing directly with deep psychology and the huge role of subconsciousness in our daily life. And it was a big budget production, surprisingly – meaning Hollywood took could take artistic risks when somebody decided it (often movies with these kind of touchy, double edged themes were low budget ones where there was little to lose). Ginger Rogers gives one of her most inspired performances here. The male supporting roles are also pretty decent (Ray Milland, Warner Baxter, Jon Hall)

Practically Yours is Jan’s last movie. Another Claudette Colbert/Fred MacMurray vehicle, while not a completely pedestrian effort, is not a great piece of worth either. It’s a mediocre, nicely made movie worth watching once if you like the leads and enjoy 1940s screwball comedy.

Jan retired after this.

PRIVATE LIFE:

There is only ONE photo of Jan on the net. I apologize for that, but I could not find more. She was more of a socialite than an actress, so this is to be expected.

Jane married Thomas Buckingham on August 20, 1932, at at the age of 19. Buckingham was born on February 25, 1895, making him considerably older. He was a successful director and writer, making his start in silent movies in 1920 and working steadily ever since.

Tom was Jan’s foray into Hollywood society and movies. By all accounts, their marriage was a happy one.

Sadly, it did not last long – Buckingam died on September 7, 1934, after some surgical complications. Jan was devastated and it took her a long time to get over her loss.

Jan was an active woman who traveled widely (she visited Paris several times before WW2 started), and was best friends with several Hollywood personalities, like Ruth Hilliard, Jimmy Ritz and Bob Armstrong.

She resumed dating other man in late 1936. In 1937, she was dating Al Kingston for a few months. In late 1940, she was seen with writer Robert Buckner, the ex of actress Mary Doyle. There were some bogus rumors the two married. Interestingly, Jan got married, just not to Robert!

Jan eloped with Pasadena oilman, Taber Mahler, to Las Vegas on April 14, 1942. Taber Hasler Mahler was born on July 13, 1895 in Boston, Massachusetts. At some point, he moved to California. In 1935 he married Virginia Alice Baughman, who brought her two daughters in the marriage, Shirley and Antoinette. Virginia’s former husband, Cyril Fay Moseley, left the three to fend for themselves. The marriage ended with Virginia’s death on June 22, 1939. Jan more or less gave up her career to become a society wife.

The Mahlers lived the high life in California. They often commuted to Mexico for holidays, along with Palm Springs and Kona Coast, and mingled with the local genteel society. In 1960, the whole family moved to Mazatlan, into a huge Spanish style colonial home with a living room 66 feet big. They did not have any children.

What exactly happened is a mystery to me, but one moment Jan was happily married to Tabor, even accompanying him to a check up at the St. Luke’s hospital – next we know, she takes a Pasadena home for the summer season. All seemed fine and dandy. However, things were about to change. Her husband got ill, and passed away on April 14, 1962.

After a period of widowhood, Jan remarried on November 21, 1962. Her new husband was named James Robert Moiso and was younger than Jan, born on March 6, 1917 in New Mexico. His parents were of Italian origin.

Anyway, Jan continued her social life, just not as Jan Mahler but Jan Moiso. Her third marriage was a happy one, and was to last until her death.

Jan Buckingham Moiso died on March 12, 1988, in Pasadena, California.

Her widower, James Moiso, died on May 15, 2001, in Pasadena, and was buried next to her.

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3 responses

  1. In 1960 my parents bought Jan and Taber’s Pasadena home and owned it until 2015. Taber was no longer alive by 1960 but the house was filled with his carpentry so he must have lived there. Jan was a character who adored my parents. She would show up occasionally around the cocktail hour and, when offered a drink, decline by reaching into her oversize purse and lifting out an old fashioned glass full to the brim. She and Jim Moiso continued to vacation in Mazatlan in a home that, from the pictures I have, looks like the spanish colonial you describe.

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