June Brewster is somewhat remembered today. Just not for her acting achievements (which were not insignificant). Sadly, she is much better known as the wife of leading Las Vegas casino owner, Guy McAfee. A seasoned chorus girl when she landed in Hollywood, June had as much chance to succeed as any chorus girl who came to Tinsel Town in the early 1930s. Yet, after a promising start and a burning passion to make herself a serious actress, she took the other route and gave it all up to move with her husband to Nevada.
Kathleen Elizabeth Anderson was born on August 13, 1909, to Frank E. and Thena Anderson, in Decatur, Illinois. She was the eight of nine children. Her older sisters were Opal, Marguerite, Greta, Mildred and Lena. Her older brothers were Kenneth and Virgil. Her only younger siblings was a brother, Edwin.
Little is known about June’s childhood. At some point, she left for New York and became a chorus girl. She lived a hectic life for three years, and then departed for Hollywood.
June started her career in The Sport Parade, a formulaic, off the mill sport movie about football. I would usually tell: only for the die hard fans, but, on second taught, there is a redeeming feature: if you like Joel McCrea half naked, this is a movie to see! Marian Marsh, a pretty and charming but underrated actress, plays a convincing leading lady, but the love triangle is highly contrived and she seems out of place in a movie like this. There is also a strong homoerotic undercurrent, not something Hollywood could dish easily ever again after the Production code took effect.
Goldie Gets Along is a Lili Damita vehicle, and a dismal one at that, but not for the reasons one might suspect. I always imagined Lili as a talentless hack who got famous because of Erroll Flynn. Yet, after watching a few of her movies, it’s clear to me she is a woman of great personal charm. While she was not a top actress the camera loved her and she successfully lifts up any movie she appears in. Yet, in this movie, the trying dialogue, stupid story and her leading man, Charles Morton (Who? Well, exactly that!) make her fare much much worse that she deserves.
Professional Sweetheart is a mixed bag – on onehand, it’s a semi charming romance movie, on the other hand, there is nothing especially worthwhile about it. Ginger Rogers, who plays the lead role, is a legend for a reason – and she was just starting here, young, vivacious, crackling with energy.
Melody Cruise is a movie that could have been made only during the Pre-Code times. And June, in a meaty role, does exactly what you expect from a free-wheeling, morally flexible pre-code dame . As one reviewer wrote:
Naughty pre-Code elements are embodied, literally, in the presence of Vera and Zoe (Shirley Chambers and June Brewster), two party girls who pass out in Ruggles’ cabin after the bon voyage party instead of leaving the ship. When told their clothes have been thrown overboard, Vera reminds Zoe: “It’s possible, Zoe. You know whenever you get a few drinks in you, you always want to take your clothes off.”
Stolen by Gypsies or Beer and Bicycles is a forgotten comedy short.
Flying Devils is a typical run of the mill low budget movie, with a thin script and B class actors. However, it’s unfair to label it as bad – the airborne sequences, despite not being filmed exclusively for this movie, are well made, and the movie rolls out dynamically, never having a dull moment. June also plays a prominent role.
Headline Shooter is the type of a movie I love. Why? Well, passionate battle of wills between man and a woman, the cat-and-mouse games and a general scheme of trying to outsmart one another are some of my favorite movie themes in general. While “His girl Friday” remains the staple of the genre, several years before we have Headline Shooter with a similar premise, just not so strong in the acting department. Both William Gragan and Frances Dee are adequate, but as one reviewer wrote “you’ll miss Cary Grant and Rosalind Russell.”
June was uncredited in Rafter Romance, the original “living close but never met” romance movie. Ginger Rogers and Norman Foster are the couple who share the same bed just use it at different times – she during the night, he during the day. It’s a cute, fluffy romance movie, the likes we have seen many times.
Bombshell is the essential Jean Harlow movie. While Jean was no great actress who could tackle Shakespeare easily, she was kinestetically so sophisticated, so intrinsically talented that she is truly one-of-a-kind, unique, never to be repeated again. The way Harlow moves and talks is something else. Jean aside, the movie benefits from a very good script and a great supporting cast. A sharp and witty satire on the studio system, it’s funny but at the same time devastating (oh yes, they really did this to people, you know), with luminaries like Frank Morgan, Franchot Tone, Pat O’Brien, Una Merkeln, Ivan Lebedeff, Isabel Jewell, and the list goes on!
Meet the Baron is a comedy with very mixed reviews. You can think of it as a sterling example of a wacky 1930s comedy with far fetched but humorous stories and a assortment of great comedic stars, or you can see it as a moronic effort without a sensible plot (just gibberish mashed together) and with mediocre comedy talents. Any which way you chose to see it, it made no wonders for the careers of anyone involved in it.
Hips, Hips, Hooray! is a Wheeler and Woosley movie, and a good one at that. So watch if you like their brand of comedy.
Success at Any Price. Now come the real, buried gems of the 1930s. The Depression era story of a young man who wants “success at any price” and his way to the top is more than a didactic morality story. It’s a story about choice, about people and what they are inside, about the ability to understand others. Douglas Fairbanks Jr., more famous as the son of Douglas Fairbanks Sr and later a UK socialite, is surprisingly good as the anti hero Joe Martin. I never thought much about him, but boy was I wrong! Again, he’s no Laurence Olivier, but played this part very well. Genevieve Tobin, an actress I admire, gives her usual “party girl” vibe and is excellent in her role of a kept woman who just changes her “sponsors”. A true sweet treat is Colleen Moore, the former silent movie megastar, now a dowdy woman int he mid 30s, but still you can feel the charisma that made her the “it girl” ten years before. That is a trait many stars have, and has nothing to do with age nor with looks – the magnetic look, the electricity, the passion.
Private Scandal was one of the few chances that June had a chance to shine on the screen. As a reviewer wrote:
This film is an ensemble piece, especially as the story progresses and the characters are quarantined at the office. Fittingly, Cody has assembled a memorable staff of employees. In pre-code thirties style, there is the less than polite receptionist June Brewster, who is really too wise for her job but lacks the conscientiousness to perform it. The head of the sales force is married man Jed Prouty, who has an eye for Brewster. Anytime is a good time for a drink with him: “Hey, hey,” Brewster responds when he repeatedly calls her away from the switchboard. Third wheel Harold Waldridge, who has a gambling habit he cannot afford, is wise to them, calling them Frankie and Johnny. Zasu Pitts seems to have an affinity for the restroom. Elderly Charles Sellon is on hand, either to be abused or to speak insensitively to Waldridge. And let’s not forget the sweet young lovers Phillips Holmes and Mary Brian.
June seems just like the right type to play the brassy secretary.
F-Man is a below average wannabe comedy. In short, as a reviewer wrote: The comedy is weak, the plot is predictable (especially for anyone who’s seen ‘The Monster’), and most of the performances are lifeless.
The Case Against Mrs. Ames is a solid Madeleine Carroll movie. A weepie at heart, it manages to escape the typical sentimentalist fare similar movies fall into. of course, Madeline shines int he lead role, and it remains one of her most compelling performances. June even has a credited performance in this one!
Spendthrift can only be remembered today as the official movie debut of Hendy Fonda, but even so, it’s a uninteresting, bland film not especially worth anyone’s time.
She’s Dangerous are proof that many, many movies from Hollywood’s golden years were not classics, or even good movies. As a reviewer wrote: “This is obviously a generic plot line with some interesting character performances and some singing by Walter Pidgeon, but not much else to recommend it. The result is extremely predictable, one of those bottom-of-the-bill features that really deserved to be there, and a leading lady obviously not destined for bigger things” The lady in question was Tala Birrell, a beautiful woman for sure and a mysterious figure, but not a talent by a far stretch of the imagination. She was another Garbo-imitator that never made it (do imitators ever make it? Usually not, but Hollywood never seems to learns this lesson!).
The Lady Escapes is just another one of Gloria Stewart quickies from the 1930s. This one is almsot completely forgotten by the looks of it. While I generally like Gloria and find her a decent actress, she was sure in a lot of below average fare in the 1930s. While this is one is not really bad, it’s not something you could remember Gloria by.
Blonde Trouble is an Eleanore Whitney/Johnny Downs pairing. Thus, it’s not a good musical. As I already wrote several times in the blog, Eleanore was a likable girl and good singer and dancer, but not a talented actress and had no star charisma. Those women should not be given leads in movies of this caliber. For a musical star, you need someone like Judy Garland, someone with that “certain something” to keep the viewer enraptured. Since musicals never have a deep plot, if the stars are bad and the music is mediocre, it means most certain failure.
Partners in Crime is a lost and completely forgotten crime movie. Love Is a Headache are those simple movies made not for the artistic merit but just for pure fun. Gladys George plays a fading actress who adopts two children for the publicity. The children are played by Mickey Rooney and Virginia Wiedler, both juvenile classics. The press agent is played by Franchot Tone, an actor I absolutely adore (while a strong actor by himself, he is at his best playing foils for strong female stars. George, while not in the star caliber of Joan Crawford or Bette Davis, was nonetheless a diva personality and plays the part convincingly.)
June’s last movie came in 1938, Thanks for the Memory. It could seem like a typical Bob Hope vehicle at a glance, it’s definitely more low key and subtle than that. Too bad Hope made but a few movies like this.
June gave up Hollywood to go live with her husband in Las Vegas.
A newspaper article written about June in 1936 is spot on about her life so far and what she wants to do with her career:
Keep your eye en June Brewster, If you’re interested in the careers of screen youngsters who will be the stars of tomorrow. June isn’t exactly a youngster. She has attained the mature age of 24, but she may rightfully be classed as a movie neophyte and I’m predicting that she will become one of the important figures in the celluloid world in another three years.
All you have to do to be convinced that this auburn-tressed actress has a brilliant future is to talk with her for a couple of hours —listen to her ideas, her plans, and watch her during her dally routine work. No talented girl with such ideas and they will to carry them out could fall. And June has talent. For that We have the word of Laura Hope Crews, veteran star of the legitimate stage, under whom she has been studying.
Socially this attractive redhead is one of the most popular girls In the film colony. She is invited everywhere, but attends few functions. Before becoming a soda figure she wants to be able to meet the start on their own pita. So she now is devoting her time to studying. It is hard to see how a girl with such ideas—Ideas that the has worked out for herself, not any that have been put into her pretty head by others—and a will to carry them out could fall. And I believe that” June will stick to her guns. “Certainly, I’m dressed better than any woman here, but this crowd so flat they don’t even know It.’
“I don’t care particularly whether I attain stardom, but I do want to be known as a really fine actress,” June told me. “That is my whole aim in life. Everything else is secondary. And I am not going to give up until I achieve my goal. “I’ve had my fun, have experienced just about every thrill life holds for a girl. As a show girl On Broadway, where we were rated according to the fur coats we wore and the parties we attended, my one big thought was to have a good time. “And I did for three years. Then I decided that there wag nothing in such a life, that genuine satisfaction could be obtained only through achievement.”
Holding firmly to this thought, June made her debut In picture at the RKO stuido about a yea ago. A charming girl with a beautiful face, a. million-dollar figure and three years of Broadway experience behind her, she had difficulty in getting a. contract. “However, that’s about all I did get. Although her bank account flourished, she wasn’t getting anywhere. So she prevailed upon studio officials not to extend their option on her. “As soon as I was free from the studio, I went to Miss Crews and practically begged her to coach me,” Miss Brewster relates, think one of the happiest moments of my life was when she consented I now have been working wit! her for several month* and finally feel as though I am getting some where. “I am in no hurry to get another part in a picture. I am learning more about acting every day an that is what counts, because it means that when I do get a par I will be able to turn in a real performance, “in my opinion, the building e a career may be likened to construction of a house. If a house has a solid foundation, it will stand for years. So it is with a career. And I am building lay foundation now.”
Unfortunately, things didn’t quite go that way – she traded her career for marriage. June married Guy McAfee in 1936. McAfee was born on August 19, 1886, in Winfield, Kansas. He was married once before, to Marie McAfee, who worked as a madame (that must have been an unusual marriage!).
McAfee is surely an interesting character, and the reason why Juneis remebered (at all) today. Playground to the stars summs up al the information you need to know about this man:
Guy McAfee was one of the preeminent crime bosses in Los Angeles in the 1920s and 1930s. He spent his early career as an LAPD officer, rising to captain on the vice squad. In the 1920s, he married a madam named Marie, who worked in the sphere of crime lords Albert Marco and Charlie Crawford, top operators in a powerful organized crime racket known as “the Combination” and, because of its entanglements in civic institutions, “the City Hall Gang.” McAfee left the LAPD for a much more lucrative career as a vice lord and soon controlled a criminal operation that included dozen of brothels, bootleg liquor operations and the most lucrative underground casino in town, the Clover Club on the Sunset Strip.
A wave of reform swept the city in the late 1930s, resulting in the recall election of Mayor Frank Shaw, who was defeated by Fletcher Bowron, a former journalist and sitting judge in superior court. Once in power, the forces of reform targeted operations like McAfee’s, and he quickly decided to move east to Las Vegas, where gambling was legal. In an interview with a newspaper there in 1939, however, McAfee, who was by then remarried to actress June Brewster, denied he’d been driven out of Los Angeles:
“I came to Las Vegas because I’m happily married, have a great sized stake and have decided to operate in a community where my business of gambling is a legal proposition,” McAfee said. “I’m not saying the Bowron administration made it too hot for me, for that wouldn’t be strictly true. I’ve cut myself a slice of a new kind of life. Get this straight, no one ran me out of Los Angeles. I’m pulling out because I want to and no other reason.”
His first investment in Las Vegas was the Pair-O-Dice, a casino south of downtown — an area he is credited with naming the “Las Vegas Strip,” a nod to Hollywood’s far more glamorous Sunset Strip. He soon controlled a number of properties along the highway and on Fremont Street dowtown, including the Golden Nugget, which he built in 1946.
June Brewster hated Las Vegas,” he said. “She had been a star in a New York in a sexy revue and went to Hollywood. She was really into nightlife and the big city, and even Hollywood was a step down for her from N.Y.C. (Las Vegas) was a dump as far as she was concerned.”
Despite the letdown, the marriage remained strong. After being unable to concieve, June and Guy adopted a baby girl, Kathleen Elizabeth McAfee, in 1943.
McAfee was allegedly not a nice person. However: “He also seemed to mellow a lot as he got older He turned into more of a human being at the end of his life.” In his later years, he did a lot of charity work and was a supporter of the Elks Club’s Helldorado Days. His and June’s marriage seemed solid enough to last such a long time in such a city full of temptation.
McAfee died in 1960. Left a wealthy widow, she continued living in Las Vegas and did not remarry.
Kathleen McAfee died on November 2, 1995, in Las Vegas, Nevada.
Some of her things went on auction after her death. As I found on the internet, on the page Mark Lawson Antiques:
Also of special interest at the auction will be the items from the estate of Guy McAfee, originator of the moniker “the strip” for the Las Vegas Main Street and founder of the Golden Nugget Casino. Featured will be a massive gold nugget necklace given by McAfee to his wife, Hollywood starlet June Brewster McAfee, on the day the Golden Nugget Casino opened in 1946, and estimated to sell for $10,000 to $20,000.
June also has the dubious honor of having a video game character modeled after her. The game is L.A. Noire, and the character’s name is June Ballard. You can read more about the character on this link: LA Noire Wiki. A good or a bad thing? Let time answer that question.