Doris Weston

DorisWeston1

Doris Weston was a lucky, lucky girl who did not come to Hollywood – Hollywood came for her. While this worked wonders in some cases, in others it was a proverbial kiss of death – it’s not easy for a newcomer to carry a movie right off the bat, especially if the said newcomer is a young and relatively inexperienced songstress (like Doris was). She was given a great chance to sing opposite one of the biggest stars of the decade in a A budget movie. What happened next? Fast forward years later, and Doris Weston is but a footnote in Hollywood history. Well, let’s hear her story!

EARLY LIFE:

Thyra Doris Marion Swanstrom was born on September 9, 1917, in Chicago, Illinois, to Gustaf and Cecelia Swanstom. She was the youngest of two children – her older brother was named Stanely. Her parents were both born in Sweden and emigrated to the US in the early 1900s.  

The Swanstoms moved to New York at some point in the 1920s. Doris was a talented child with an active imagination and an interest in the performing arts. She spoke  abit ofher parents native language, swedish. When Doris was 9 years old, her parents took her to listen to Irene Bordoni, the famous French soprano. Doris was so spellbound after the performance. There was no doubt – she was to become a singer. Her parents were very receptive of her wish – they enrolled her into the Children’s Professional School. Her mother when she was 16, in 1933, and she was put into custody of her aunt Nan and her husband, Herman Reksting.

Doris worked diligently on her singing skills, and made her stage debut at the age of 17 in “The great waltz” – she was one of the showgirls. This in turn triggered her career in the radio world – at the Major Bowles Hour, a popular radio show in New York. This got her a gig at the Rainbow Room, where she was so popular she lasted nine weeks. Somebody from the Warner Bros stable saw her in the Rainbow room, and decided to test her for the screen. After passing the tests, she departed for Hollywood.

CAREER:

Doris had the luck of being cast into leading roles from the very first day she came to Hollywood. Is it to be a blessing or a curse? Let’s take a look (but I think you can imagine how it ended). The moment she landed in Hollywood, projects were rolled for her. The first one, a George Brent movie, never belted out, but the second one did.. And it was…

DorisWeston2The Singing Marine  is great example of the kind of film Dick Powell was making all the time in the 1930s, and perhaps a good example of the general 1930s musical. It’s entertaining and charming in its way, but also has moments of downright silliness. The stories are often cardboard thin and the roles Powell played were different in name only. Powell was already an established star by the time Doris co-starred with him – and by most accounts, while pretty and with a good voice, Doris did not have that extra something to make an impression.

On the superb dick-powell.com site, there is a page about this movie, and I quote an interesting thing:

It seems Warner Brothers though Powell would do well with any innocent actress, but Weston simply did not fit the bill. No one could replace Keeler in the Powell-Keeler team.
Powell admitted that he was lost without Ruby Keeler. “The hardest thing for me to do is listen well. You have to react to what you hear, and as a reactor I’m dead from the neck up. Ruby Keeler used to react to me, and she was good at it. But yesterday I had to react to Doris Weston while she sang a song in The Singing Marine, and I sank like a chain anchor.”

While I have not watched too many Powell musicals, I have to agree – Ruby Keeler, despite her lack of acting talent, angular face and good (but not excellent) dancing abilities, was a perfect foil for Powell. Doris, obviously, not so much. It’s not truly anyone’s fault – they just did not click. And Powell was fed up with playing the singing marine by now and you can register it on screen.

DorisWeston4Singing marine was a big moneymaker, and Doris pushed on. Submarine D-1 is actually a pretty good submarine movie. George Brent (finally in a movie with Doris) is remarkably low-key and effective as the Commanding Officer. For a bit of romance, there is a love triangle between characters played by Pat O’Brien, Wayne Morris and Doris Weston. Of course Doris did not come into any prominence in this movie – it’s a mans movie, about military life in general and submarines in particular. The special effects and overall quality of the movie are astounding for that time and place – and there is so much to see, including  (as one reviewer wrote on IMDB): the use of the McCann Rescue Chamber and Momsen Lung in a dramatic rescue of men from a sunken submarine off the coast of Point Loma, California.

Want to see how bikers looked before Marlon Brando? Born to Be Wild is the kind of talky, flashy 1930s movie where the character just trade barb after barb at the expense of pacing and dynamic of the movie. And when the movie is dealing with truckers and bikers, you get the picture. A genre that would one day give us “The wild one” and “Wages of fear” was just beginning to emerge, making this movie a pioneer of sorts. Yet, take note, it is not a particularly good movie, but passable by most accounts. Let’s see what one reviewer wrote:

Look what we have going for us. We have Ward Bond, the major John Ford player, and he does a rumba in one scene. Ralph Byrd, who played Dick Tracy. There are lots of open road photography in semi-arid landscapes and California landscapes, with fast-moving cars and trucks. There’s an explosion of a diversion lock to a dam that’s fun. Plus there are several songs, lip-synched by Byrd I’d guess. These are light opera fare and enjoyable. Throw in a Spanish dance for good measure.

Well, what more needs to be said? Have to watch it to believe it.

DorisWeston3Delinquent Parents is a simple, small movie about something that can actually happen in real life (with a bit more drama, but hey, it wouldn’t be Hollywood otherwise). What seems like a low-budget quickie actually turns out to be a half decent effort.

Next, Doris made two short musical segments, It’s in the Stars and Men of Steel , both 20 minutes long, for MGM. Both can be summed up with this great line by an IMDB reviewer:

The story is old, some of the acting is dreadful and it was made on next to no budget but this is still an enjoyable musical short from MGM. Stevens and Weston are young, good-looking and so full of life and energy that it’s hard not to like them

Doris, while no talented actress, was a likable enough performer. Obviously she did not have “IT”, or she would have achieved a more prosperous career (heck, I think everyone can name a few actor who were not huge talents, but had IT and managed pretty decent careers for themselves).

Except for maybe her foray into Dick Powell territory, Doris today is best remembered for the serial Mandrake, the Magician, where she played Mandrake’s girlfriend. The fact that Doris was first pushed into shorts and then into a serial attests that Hollywood was on the verge of writing her off as a major star.  The serial is some mean stuff. First, Warren Hull is a magnificent lead, with an iconography easily recognized today. Secondly, it features an African-American actor in a prominent and active role, as Lothar, Mandrake’s assistant. Third, the overall serial is full of thrills, genuine “edge of your seat” moments and good acting from the leads. Yes, it’s a cheap serial and one can spot the budgeting restrains in almost every scene, but heck, when one knows serials were made on a dime, such technicalities should be pushed aside for some pure, unadulterated fun, and the serial has that in spades. Doris is typical cute, but also a second banana by all standards. 

DorisWeston5When Tomorrow Comes is a movie that happens every time Old Hollywood struck gold with something: take the same actors, modify the plot and away we go! A follow-up to the great Love Affair, it only retains the chemistry between the leads – Irene Dunne and Charles Boyer – but everything else falls a few notches down the scale of good/bad. Doris was for the first time uncredited in the movie – not a good omen.

Chip of the Flying U is a GASP! low-budget western GASP!. Yes, Doris came to that last line of defense – when an actress who was once a prosperous contender for stardom fails and ends up billed next to a horse. Seen that scenario quite a few time on this blog, didn’t we? Well, as for the movie itself, you can see it was made by people who made them by the dozens and know their job – as one reviewer wrote: “Directed at a smart enough pace to disguise most of its script and production shortcomings”. Lovers of low-budget westerns fo the 1930s and 1940s should find no great fault in it.

Doris retired after this.

PRIVATE LIFE:

Doris seemed like a nice, down to earth girl who was perhaps too good for the cold, brutal world of Tinsel Town. There is a very telling bit about her written on the superb web page dickpowell.net:

Weston was a newcomer to the screen, and her popularity took her by surprise. When a fan requested an autograph for the first time, she cried. “This is wonderful,” she said. “I never thought six months ago that anybody would ask me for a picture.”

DorisWeston6Doris had some decent publicity during the 1937/1938 season. He learned that she was adept at crying on cue (her trick: she imagined what should happen if her movie career failed. We all know what happened later, in a strange twist of irony), that she was one of the lucky ones that never gained weight, that a fan stole her licence plate, that her costar Hugh Herbert gifted her with a cigar box she used as a make up kit later on, and that she changed her surname five times before Warner Bros settled on Weston (that sounded the best, they thought).

As for her private life, Doris dated a Philadelphia manufacturer, name unknown, who almost proposed in August 1937. Even if her did, I somehow doubt that Doris would have given it all up for marriage, after working so hard for such a long time to attain stardom. Later on, his name was revealed to be Joe Linsk, and in October he allegedly dropped by Hollywood with the intention of popping that question (this time for real). No further information was given, so it’s pretty obvious he did not succeed in his endeavor.

Exactly one year later, in October 1938, it was announced that Doris would marry Dave Miller, who worked in the MGM’s shorts department. The wedding was to take place in December. That too never happened.

By that time, Doris was still acting in Hollywood, but was far from the eye of the press. In 1939, Doris married her first and only husband, Martin T. Borden.

Borden was born on January 28, 1907, in New York. Both of his parents were Russian immigrants. He lived in Rhode Island with his mother and siblings after his father died. He worked as a fur and clothes salesman for the Hollywood elite.

The couple lived in Beverly Hills in 1940, but moved later to the East coast. They had two children, a son, Weston Borden (born on October 13, 1943), and a daughter, Patricia Borden (born on December 15, 1946). Her son Weston grew up to be an eminent chemist, currently a professor of Computational Chemistry and Welch Chair in Chemistry at the University of North Texas.

Doris Borden died on July 27, 1960, in Scarsdale, New York, after a lengthy battle with lung cancer.

Her widower, Martin T. Broden, died in March 1982 in King, Washington.

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6 responses

  1. Hello… My Grandmother is the one and only beautiful, “Doris Weston”. I am the daughter of her daughter Patricia Borden. How did you get all this information and pictures. She is a legend to me. I am so fond of all the marvelous stories my mom tells me. She lived such a short life and left my uncle mom and grandfather way too early! I am so thrilled that someone like yourself keeps her memory alive!

    Thank you so much!
    Colby Roebuck

    • Hi Colby! It’s such an hoour havin Doris’ granddaughter leaving a comment here! I would love to hear and put more stories about Doris on the blog – I would appreciate it very much if you could share it with us! And I have to ask you, if there are any inaccuracies, please correct then. Is your uncle really Professor Weston Borden? Why did Doris die at such a young age, only 53 years old? Ad can you tell me when was your mom born exactly? Thanks for the info and all the best in 2016!!

      • I am sitting with my mom and we will update you with the correct information:
        Her name was spelled Thyra Doris Marion Swanstrom and she was born in Chicago. Her mother’s name was Cecelia and her father’s name was Gustaf. She only had one brother named Stanley. Her parents were from Sweden. Her mother died when Doris was 16 (not sure about father), but after the death of her mom she was raised by her aunt Nan and Herman Reksting. My mom said she only spoke a little Swedish ( no French). Doris went on major Bowes amatuer hour, and she won that. someone from the rainbow room heard her sing on major Bowes at age 16 and she then was hired to sing at the rainbow room. They called her the Cinderella girl (because she was so young), she broke records there for singing there for a very long time. Warner brothers either heard her at the rainbow room (we think). She did not go to Hollywood based on major Bowes.

        Doris was hired with 6 other young women by Warner brothers and they were referred to as 7 for the stars.

        Her husband was Martin L Borden (not T)

        My uncle is professor Weston T Borden! And his birthdate is correct
        Patty was born December 15 1946
        Doris died in 1960 at age 43. She died from lung cancer.
        My mom is curious as to why you guys have an interest in obscure actresses? She finds it very interesting.

      • Hi Colby! Thank you so much for the information! Say hi to your mom, and if she has anything to add, I would be glad to put it on the blog. PS: I got interested in obscure actresses during my high school years while reading the fabolous Glamorous girls of the silver screen page. It opened my eyes to the fact that about 90% of all Hollywood actresses are completely unknown today. I still love that page, almost 10 years later, and read it frequently. And that was the beginning of my jourey…

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