Mary Landa

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A seasoned dancer specializing in Spanish dances, Mary Landa landed in Hollywood during the war, working steadily for  a few years and never achieving nothing of note. However, she proved her mantle in the war relief work but sadly fell into obscurity a short time later.

EARLY LIFE

Maria “Mary” Landa was born in 1918 in Viscaya, Spain, to JuanJohn” Landa and Claudia (Clandia) Arrizabalaza. Her parents were of a proud Basque sort, and her father worked as a sheep man. The family moved to the United States in August 1920, and settled in Pocatello, Idaho for a time. Her younger sister, Helen Victoria Landa, was born there on February 7, 1922. In 1927, they moved to Salk Lake City, Utah, and the same year her parents opened up a boarding house for their fellow Basque expatriates, called “Hogars“. In Spanish, Hogar means hearth. A guest described her father as a “tiny man with a powerful voice. He had all the connections. He was like a Basque ambassador.” Her younger brother John was born there on July 28, 1929. In 1930, Mary lived with her parents, her younger sister and brother, two servants and a handful of lodgers in Salt Lake City. Her mother was an expert cook, cooking all the traditional Basque recipes: rich soups, chunks of breaded liver, pigs feet and and thick buttered slabs of bread washed down by flagons of red wine and coffee laced with Spanish brandy. Her parents often joined their guests for evening card games. It was a happy, very close knit environment that Mary and her siblings were raised in.

Mary was a very artistically gifted child, excelling at drawing and dancing. I 1930, her sketches won her the second place at “School Begins” sketch contest. She also learned the traditional Spanish dances from her mother. She attended West High School in Salt Lake City, and she was always dancing at all the revenues and shows at the school.

In 1933, barely 15 years old, she started to dance for real money at the “Brass Rail”, a nightclub in Salt Lake City. Step by step, she got to California and started her Hollywood career.

CAREER

As per her career prior to arriving in Hollywood, M;ary played chorines and dancers,a and was mostly uncredited. Murder on the Waterfront is a D class movie, less than an hour long, with a over stretched plot and no imagination whatsoever. The only thing to recommend is the tolerable cast, but even that’s not reason enough to watch it.

MaryLanda1Thank Your Lucky Stars is a better than average wartime extravaganza. Eddie Cantor sure knew how to make them! Destination Tokyo – Made during the height of the war, and before it was a foregone conclusion that the Allies would prevail, it shows a surprisingly detailed (if romanticized) portrayal of life in the “Silent Service”. The characters are finely drawn with a craftsman director’s skill, and are the archetypes for subsequent films, not derivative cartoons. The cast is superb: Cary Grant, John Garfield, Alan Hale to name a few.

In Our Time is a love story with a kick. The leads are played beautifully by Ida Lupino and Paul Henreid, and the story slowly moves towards some serious issues of the day, touching upon politics and WW2. The movie is expertly directed and the cinematography is on par with the other elements. Here we truly have a small but well crafted movie from the golden age of Hollywood.

The Mask of Dimitrios is a Jean Negulesco classic. Whenever I hear Jean’s name, I think of sophistication and elegance. Truly, Jean was a man of these traits, and his movies carry that mark with an ease of a bird flying. Even when the themes are less than “elegant” (here we have a murder case),he manages to enlighten it with superb visual style. And the cast is very, very good – Sydney Greenstreet, Zachary Scott, Faye Emerson.

The Doughgirls is a ambitious farce about wartime Washington, made after the successful Broadway show of the same name. Sadly, the movie is not as effective as the play – the performances are to hammy, and the silly plot goes out of hand and manages to confuse more than amuse the viewer. Yet, anybody who likes all women pictures should watch it – if nothing than for Ann Sheridan, Alexis Smith, Jane Wyman, Irene Manning and Eve Arden.

Cinderella Jones. Again this idiotic movie. I have nothing more to tell about it. Simply avoid.

Impact is an interesting, if unusual film noir. While the plot is far fetched – a rich man becomes the target of his money hungry wife and her equally money hungry lover – and escapes to a small town, pretending to be a normal citizen, and falls in love with a good girl. See where this is going? But still, the cinematography and overall directing is good, and the performances are above average – when you have Bryan Donlevy, Chrles Coburn, Helen Walker and Ella Raines, it’s no wonder they are!

Mary gave up moves afterwards.

PRIVATE LIFE

Mary specialized in exotic dances – be it from Hawaii or from Chile, she knew them all! She started her career in Utah in about 1935, and dancing in the “Rio nights”, a colorful stage revenue.

MaryLanda2Mary Landa married dancer Robert “Bobby” True in the late 1930s. They divorced, amidst a furor of newspaper articles, in February 1941. Mary claimed he insulted her friends causing her great mental anguish, but it was the fact that he called her an “old duck” that was the last straw. He later headed the Bobby True Trio and made some movies.

In January 1944, Morton Downey proposed to Mary. She did not accept him immediately – she took a few days to mull over it. In the end, she declined his offer. Why? Well, Mary knew that, in 1943, there were other things she should do.

In May 1944, Mary undertook the most arduous, serious activity for the war effort – with Ann Sheridan, Ruth Deans and Ben Blue, she undertook a six week tour or American army bases in China and India. Mary, who served as a dancer, was very dedicated to her patriotic duty, as they traveled through perilous terrain and lived in scarce circumstances during their travel.

Yet, in October 1944, an Associated Press release seriously accused Ann and her troupe of being unprofessional during the tour – they allegedly complained about the food, told corny jokes and even cut the tour short. Mary was the first to spring up and defend the group, claiming the reports are all false and untrue. She shot back to her critics:

“C and K rations are not the ideal repast, but we realized that it was the best food possible at those camps, and there was never any complaint from the troupe. After out eight week stay in the jungles of India and China, we were hospitalized for five days. I had an unhappy combination of flu, dysentery and sandfly fever, and, furthermore, the boys are complaining about “corn” in the routine, they should tell it to the censors.
We encountered four inch long grasshoppers never seen before and they hampered our performance on the stage.
The editor in New Dehli – a paradise compared to Burma – refuses to recognize the difficulties of entertaining in the Burma and Chinese jungles. It is really too tough for civilians and yet Ann did all she could to make those boys happy.”

MaryLanda5Kudos to Mary, as I can only imagine the impossible circumstances the troupe had to perform in. Of course, the soldier had it even worse, but any input from people who could have just simply remained in the safety of the States should be applauded, not criticized. They were not perfect but hey, who is?

There is a funny anecdote about Mary from the trip. While staying in Cairo, Mary met Prince Michael of Greece. Like any normal girl, she was star struck by the suave royal, and was over the top happy when he asked her for a early morning luncheon one day. Sadly, the hotel bell hop failed to wake Mary up on time, and, when she finally did get up, she was 30 minutes late and not dressed! So, to placate the situation, she wrote the most polite, respectful letter she could:

“Your highness. I left a call but they neglected to wake me! I beg your highness pardon from the depths of my shattered heart. Could you forgive me? If you say you will wait another 15 minutes, I’d love having a talk. O, Dear Prince.” (Not even Hamlet could have put it better 😛 )
All she got was a reply: “Okay Pete”. Well, that was funny 🙂

Mary went on a 7 month tour of Europe in early 1945. She returned only in December 1945. She truly was dedicated to serving her country during difficult times. Mary falls from the radar from then on and I have idea what happened to her.

What I do know, is that the Hogar boarding house was sold off after her father’s death in 1977. her widowed mother, than in her late 80s, went to live in California with her son and daughter (sadly, Mary’s sister Helen Victoria died in 1949, at 27 years old), so Mary was probably living a family life in California in the 1970s. Her brother died in 1984, her mother in 1985, but I have no idea where she was.

I just hope she had a happy life.

 

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Joy Barlow

JoyBarlow4Her career was minor and she never had a truly satisfying role, but Joy Barlow will forever be remembered as the juicy, innuendo laden taxi cab driver from The Big Sleep, which is much more than most of the girls featured on this site can claim.

EARLY LIFE

Dorothy June Thompson was born on May 18, 1924, in St. Paul, Minnesota, to Wilton J. Thompson and Eve Thomspon. Her father was from Iowa, her mother a Minnesota native. She was their only child.

The family lived in St. Paul, with the Wood family, for a time, and then moved to California after the Great Depression hit. In 1940s they were living in Los Angeles, with Wilton working as a foreman, and her mother a housewife. Dorothy graduated from high school in the city. Dorothy was greatly interested in dancing, and by the time she was in her early teens, she knew she wanted to become a dancer/actress. She got her first serious taste of showbiz by becoming an Earl Carroll chorus girl in 1939. This prestigious position catapulted her to movies by 1942.

CAREER

If you like  blends music, comedy, and a Cajun flavored atmosphere, than Louisana Purchase is a movie worth watching. Mirroring real life and the dealing of Huey Long, it turns a serious story into a half baked comedy plot. More worthy for the atmosphere than anything else, it’s still not a omplete waste of time if you watch it. To me, a added bonus is Vera Zorina, the stunning ballerina who made a few movies in Hollywood in the 1940s. Anyone interested and George Balanchine and modern ballet knows her as one of his muses (and the second or his four wives).

JoyBarlow5Call of the Canyon is a typical Gene Autry western. What more do I need to say? Thank Your Lucky Stars is one of those star studded, wartime extravaganzas made more for the morale than for the art. Surprisingly, it’s a good movie, effortlessly lead by the ever magnetic Eddie Cantor.

Joy continued appearing in war related movies in Destination TokyoMade during the height of the war, and before it was a foregone conclusion that the Allies would prevail, it shows a surprisingly detailed (if romanticized) portrayal of life in the “Silent Service”. The characters are finely drawn with a craftsman director’s skill, and are the archetypes for subsequent films, not derivative cartoons. The cast is superb: Cary Grant, John Garfield, Alan Hale to name a few.

To Have and Have Not is a classic, and much has been written about it. While I certantly prefer the later pairings of Bogart and Bacall, it does not diminish its stature of a superb film noir with a great cast.

After a not too shaby start, Joy fell into the musical category from then on. Earl Carroll Vanities is a sub par, bland musical whose only strong points are the stunning dancers.The Horn Blows at MidnightWhere Do We Go from Here? and George White’s Scandals just continue the endless line of musicals with a paper thin plot but likable enough music and dance scenes. Joy briefly returned to the western genre in Don’t Fence Me In, a semi decent Roy Rogers movie (as I said multiple times, I am FAR from being a western fan so the less I write about it, the better). Then, it was back to some mainstream fare. Cinderella Jones is a stupid movie with Joan Leslie. I like Joan, but the movie is way too idiotic to be worth watching, even for Joanie.

JoyBarlow7Now comes the crowning moment of Joy’s career. The Big Sleep. Taxi Driver. This bit of dialogue is all you need to know just how GREAT this very brief role is. Remember, Joy plays the taxi driver, and Humphrey Bogart is Philip Marlowe, the main character and detective extraorinaire (actually not, he’s far from Sherlock but has other aces up his sleeve).

Taxi Driver: If you can use me again sometime, call this number.

Philip Marlowe: Day and night?

Taxi Driver: Uh, night’s better. I work during the day.

What more is there to say? This is such a short but perfectly times, delicious scene, the kind that makes this movie much more than a very good film noir. Gotta love Howard Hawks! The rest of the movie is just as good. The plot is too complex and asks for repeated viewings, but I since I love complicated, intricate stories, it’s a true PLUS for me.

After her crowning moment, Joy appeared in a mixed bag of films, mostly B class ones, and never again achieved anything even approaching The Big Sleep. The Trespasser is a Dale Evans vehicle. Here we have a perfect example of a well plotted movie suffering from a “star” appearing in it – namely Dale. She puts forth absolutely nothing to the movie in terms of plot nor any advancement. She is too shrill and unladylike to work in a movie that is not a western and where she is not paired with Roy Rogers. Too bad  – the could have been a decent B crime movie if she was just left out of it.

JoyBarlow¸1Blackmail is a movie so bad it’s good. I laughed out out when I read this review on IMDB:

Ricardo Cortez, who must have been in almost every film ever made, is being blackmailed for something about incriminating pictures (naughty, naughty) by at least two people. So he makes the mistake of hiring Marshall to put a stop to the nonsense. Murder ensues, people fight, shoot each other, fall into swimming pools and cause general mayhem. All’s well that ends well and the film ends. You may want to jump in the pool after enduring this mess but frankly,it’s worth the laugh to watch it………maybe even a couple of times. A true misfire, if there ever was one.

Now don’t tell me you are not at least bit interested?

Two Guys from Texas was one of the string o movies Warner Bros made with the new Hope/Crosby pair, Dennis Morgan and Jack Carson. As one reviewer superbly wrote:

A large part of the dialog in their films was ad-libbed, something that Jack and Dennis either could not do or were not allowed to do. No, the songs are not all that memorable and, no, Dennis Morgan doesn’t have as good a voice as Bing, but while the songs are forgettable they are still pleasant. Jack Carson was a good actor and a fair comedian, but he was never as funny as Bob Hope.

As you can imagine, the movie did no favors to anyone involved, least of all to Joy, who plays a minor role as it is.

JoyBarlow3The Decision of Christopher Blake basically deals with problems Hollywood, always trying to achieve that “pink glasses outlook” on life, rarely tackled – divorce. But, let’s leave the “basic” behind – it what the studio brass does with basic stories that interested us. It turns into a mushy, over the top drama stories. Yes, I understand that many mundane topics are not good movie material, but divorce in itself is emotional and climactic enough, without any added soap opera elements. Wen are they gonna learn? On thebright side, we have Alexis Smith, an actress I find very interesting, whose appeal is actually very “inverted” – never a strong talent, she had that brand of icy charm that always worked wonders with her co stars.

Look for the Silver Lining! I love that song, and the musical, about the life of, while not as good, is not a bad piece of art either. June Haver is her usual graceful self, and Ray Bolger is definitely one of the most prominent tap dancers ever.

Just Across the Street is the kind of light comedy you rearly see today. While it’s an obscure movie no doubt, it’s a great example of the genre, with very good leads. Ann Sheridan she was a superb light comedienne, always had that tough edge to her that made her unique and interesting (most light comediennes are not as masculine as Sheridan was). She is matched very well by the underrated John Lund, a truly good actor that never made a name out of himself. The supporting cast is drool worthy: Robert Keith, Cecil Kellway, Natalie Schafer. With a cast like that and clever mistaken-identity romantic plot, it’s truly a forgotten gem.

Joy retired from movies after this.  

PRIVATE LIFE

Joy entered the Hollywood tabloid scene in mid 1940, when she was barely out of high school, but already a seasoned Earl Carroll showgirl. She served as a model for the Goodrich seal-o-matic safety tube. A bit funny for sure, but it was a beginning of a almost a decade long “tabloid career”. For instance: a few months after that, this short anecdote made the columns: “Dorothy Gill and Joy Barlow were discussing romance backstage. Said Dorothy “I always judge  a man by his kisses. After all, kisses are the language of love.” Sighed Joy is response: “Then my boyfriends must be deaf mutes!” Not really funny, but Joy was slowly building up publicity.

JoyBarlow6Joy also headed, as an elected president, “The Million Dollar Babies”, a tongue-in-cheek organization whose sole aim was to pair wealthy gents with nimble young Earl Carroll showgirls. While mostly seen as a joke, we all know it’s far from being one. Earl Carroll girl dated millionaires by the shovel load. Let’s just hope that Joy was an able president and did much for the conditions of gold diggers in the early 1940s 😛 On the flip, serious side, Joy was very active in the war effort work, knitting sweaters for the soldiers and touring army bases along with her fellow chorines.

Joy was popular with the boys for sure. In 1941, she was dating Dick Purcell. Her big, serious romance was Vaughn Paul, the former husband of Deanna Durbin. The two started dating in early 1944 and dated for about eight months. After breaking up with Vaughn, Joy dated Curly Richards for a brief time in late 1944. Then, Joy hooked up with a man from her past – Herbert Ahrens. Theirs was a cute romantic story. Both natives of St. Paul, Minnesota, they were childhood sweethearts, but lost touch after she moved to California. Then, WW2 started, and Herbert went to attend a Navy preflight school in Oakland, where they met again. They were quick to reconnected and one thing led to another. Thus, Joy married Herbert Neal Ahrens on November 15, 1945. Ahrens had to return to active duty right away, and the had to wait for him to get a discharge in order to have a honeymoon. Arens was born on September 13, 1920, in , to Hebtert N. Ahrens and Myrtle Vassal. During WW2, he was 1st Liutenant, US Marine. Sadly, the marriage was not to last.

Joy81947 was, romantically, a busy year from Joy. By April she was separated from her husband for good. They tried for a reconciliation for a few times, but it amounted to nothing. She was involved with Tommy D’Andrea in September and started to date Ray Montgomery in November. Joy’s marriage disintegrated fully during this time, and by 1948, she and Ahrens were divorced. Herbert died on May 13, 1968 in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

The last we hear about Joy from the papers in late 1947 – she had just gotten a chance to appear to a greater effect in a movie, and a big Hollywood future was before her. Well, that sure proved to be a lark! She made her last movie in 1952, and retired after an unsatisfying career.

I have no idea what happened to Joy afterwards.

Joy Barlow died on May 2, 1995, in North Hollywood, California.

 

Aina Constant

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Stunning chorine turned many heads during her dancing days, but not much could be said of her slim filmography. She married and retired from Hollywood after only a few years of uncredited performances.

EARLY LIFE:

Aina Constant was born on September 11, 1914, in London, England, Great Britain, to Edgar Constant and Helen Anna Constant. When she became popular, the press claimed Aina allegedly grew up in London, was educated in private school and that she frequently commuted between the US and Britain while young. While I can’t claim this with a 100% certainty, I am pretty sure they are all bogus claims: her father was a Latvian immigrant (or officially, a Russian immigrant since Latvia was part of Russia then) who married her mother, who was also from Lativa, in the late 1900s. Their first daughter, Austra Constant, was born in cca 1913. Aina’s younger sister, Sylvia, was born in 1917.

The family moved to New York in the late 1910s. They lived in the Manhattan Assembly District 7. Aina grew up in the district and attended high school. She was a pretty girl who liked to dance and dreamed of becoming a professional dancer. She started performing young, before she turned 18. Her parents separated at some point, and the sisters lived with their mother, while their father took up lodgings in Manhattan Assembly District 3.

Aina was a chorine at the Casino De Paree, and she got her first newspaper mention during the tenure. In 1938, she was one of the many chorines who tried to make their fortune in the UK. In 1939, she was chosen the most beautiful brunette (alongside Adele Jergens, who was voted the most beautiful blonde), at the New York World Fair. This gave her a chance to become an actress.

CAREER:

Aina’s firts and foremost value in Hollywood was her body, and she was cast accordingly.

Bathing Beauty is the seminal Esther Williams movie. Here she has the perfect partner – Red Skelton, one of the premier comedians of the time. Their movies are never intellectually stimulating nor first class art, but if you like funny, breezy films, do not miss! And the “aquatic” numbers Esther excelled in are a feast for the sore yes even today, more than 60 years later!

AinaConstant2You like hammy, over-the-top performances? Then you’ll love The Canterville Ghost, a movie loosely based on the Oscar Wilde story of the same name. And who the big ham is, you wonder? Why, Charles Laughton, of course! Laughton plays a ghost, and has a blast while doing it. It’s the type of a movie where the story is non existent, but the charming cast make the most of it. Except Laughton, there is Margaret O’Brien and

Those Endearing Young Charms is a okay movie. Yep, I said okay, yet, I wholeheartedly agree with several of the reviewers who wrote that Robert Young (who plays the lead, a smooth talker and ladies man who wooes Laraine Day away from her fiancee), was never truly at ease at playing cads. Somehow, him innate placid, kind and calm nature always comes across, no matter what the role. This is not necessarily a god thing for an actor – great for typecasting, sure, but not for somebody who wants to play a broad range of roles. I always have trouble buying the story that he is a womanizer and rake. Same for this movie. I love Laraine Day, and find her one of the most sincere, gentle actresses ever to grace Hollywood, so having her act in any movie is only a bonus in my eyes.

The Body Snatcher is Aina’s only horror film. It’s a good movie, much deeper in terms of plot and the underlying message it wants to share, than most people expect from a horror movie (the author of the original story, Robert Louis Stevenson, shares the same “malady” – today he is considered little more than a children’s adventure books writer, when in fact he is a fine stylist and a artist of great depth). The legendary Boris Karloff gives one of his best performances, and Henry Daniell is superb as the man doctor (the Body snatcher of the title).

Ziegfeld Follies is a movie I wrote about what likes seems a hundred times, and since it was am mecca for uncredited girls, obliviously I will be seeing it more in the future, but I have no idea what more I can write about it 🙂

AinaConstant4Johnny Angel is a George Raft movie all the way, but an uneven one. Raft was no great actor for sure, but when a director knew his strength, he could use him and make a true tour de force moments. While Raft does have these moments in this movie, the story changes lines mid movie and never really gets back on track. A plus is a incredibly imaginative and sophisticated cinematography, and a true “noir” atmosphere, dark, tense and rotten somewhere deep inside.

The Bells of St. Mary’s are a breed of movie you rarely see today. There are no bad guys, no action, but  alot of heart and soul. it’s a simple, warm movie, while not very realistic at least not totally impossible, and with a stunning cast (Bing Crosby, Ingrid Bergman, Henry Travers, William Gargan, Ruth Donnelly and others). The plot is very straightforward, dealing with the friendly rivalry between Bing’s priest and Ingrid’s nun, both working at the same catholic school. This is a companion piece to Going my way, and both movies share the same happy-go-lucky tone and  pleasant atmosphere.

Ding Dong Williams is a low quality comedy, made with the sole purpose of entertaining the audience of the day with a few songs and some good looking actors. Not really recommended for viewing, unless you have to see all classic movies you get your hands on.

Aina retired from the movies to marry and raise a family.

PRIVATE LIFE:

Aina claimed that she was a natural girl, who only used a bit of rouge when she was off stage. She was a also a sugar lover, using 10 lumps of sugar in her tea, and only cutting down to six when she was dieting. As far as sports go, Aina was a passionate cross country cyclist, especially when she was in the UK.

AinaConstant3By 1939, Aina was already a seasoned man eater, having gone abroad in 1938 and returning with quite a bit of jewelry. Not on her chorine paycheck, as it seems. Tall, slim and lovely, she was a natural man magnet, much like her blonde counterpart, Adele Jergens. She and Adele even gave an interview about it to the press, lamenting that titled and moneyed men are much harder to find in 1938 and they were in the 1920s. Imagine that! It seems that 1930s really were a golden age for being a chorus girl, especially if you went across the pond and entertained the wealthy gents of England.

Aina went zig zag from continent to continent, but soon the war started and the golden days of popping to London to have a tea with an earl or two were over. She did her work for the war effort, like many of her fellow chorines.

In 1943, Aina was just one of many girls who dated the well known Lothario, Greg Bautzer. Afterwards she took up with James Everett. On November 29, 1944, she officially became an US citizen.

Aina married Alexander MacMillan Shields in 1946. That was the first time anybody mentioned them dating, let alone engaged! Alex was the son of Henry Howard Shields and Grace Ste. Marie, born on October 21, 1917. He had an younger sister, Barbara, born on January 30, 1918. His parents divorced, and his mother remarried to Kenneth W. Pope. He lived with Pope, his mother and sister in San Mateo, California.

AinaConstant5Their daughter Alexandra Zia Shields was born on September 29, 1947. The couple lived in Park Avenue, Manhattan, New York and enjoyed a happy marriage.

Aina Shields died on June 25, 2009 in New York.

Her widower Alexander Shields died on August 13, 2010.