Mildred Coles

Mildred Coles2

Pretty looking, demure Mildred Coles was just a student when the big, fat doors of Hollywood were opened to her, and the whole world seemed to be at her feet. Yep, that is what it looks like when you are 19, have just signed a contract and were expected to make tons of movies opposite well known stars of the day. Sadly, even this success story (and it is a success story, not many girl get to this step!) did not warrant a continuation, and by the mid 1940s, she was down to low budget movies and westerns, and in the end, retirement before the age of 30.

EARLY LIFE:

Mildred Blanche Coles was born on July 18, 1920, in Los Angeles, California, to Thomas R. Coles and Josephine Elizabeth Warrick. Her Ohio born father was a vice president of a company and her Illinois born mother a housewife. She was their only child.

Mildred grew up in Van Nuys and attended Van Nuys High School. She was nicknamed Milly by her parents, and, despite growing up in a well off homestead, helped her mother around the house, washing dishes and cooking.

Mildred attended Occidental Colledge in Los Angeles, and there she was noticed by a Paramount talent scout, who signed her in 1938 and thus her movie career started.

CAREER:

Mildred had a few uncredited roles when she first came to Hollywood, and in pretty high flying movies at that: Andy Hardy Gets Spring Fever, the absolute classic The Women, where she played a debutante, and 5th Ave Girl, a charming movie with Ginger Rogers.

As a part of the publicity gag, Mildred changed her name, briefly, to Gloria Carter, and appeared as the character with the same name in Our Neighbors – The Carters. This could be a forgotten movie, as it had no reviews on IMDB, and there is not even a summary written for it. I could only find Music with cues for the picture released in 1939 (you have it on the Internet Archive).

MildredColes3From then on, Mildred got up on the Hollywood ladder, slowly but surely. She appeared, uncredited, in Ladies Must Live, a bubbly but ultimately moronic B romance movie for Warner Bros, alongside Wayne Morris and Rosemary Lane. The next was Money and the Woman, a crime programmer (shorter than 60 mins), with Jeffery Lynn (an actor I admire) and Brenda Marshall in the leads. The plot is a bit above average, showing how you can steal money from the bank without staging a heist of a gun robbery. Still, is levels out to a standard programmer fare in the end.

No Time for Comedy  still had her in the uncredited tier, but it was a step up. This is no B movie, but it’s not easy to appraise it. The plot concerns a comedy writer trying to “mature” and try and write a tragedy, with tragic results. As one reviewer nicely put, it’s a uneasy mix of drama and comedy, a tricky meta genre Hollywood likes to do even today. It’s notoriously hard to pull off, and while not completely off the mark, the movie isn’t as successful as it would like in the balancing act. The cast is superb – Jimmy Stewart, Rosalind Russell, Charles Ruggles, Genevive Tobin, and are the real reason to watch this movie.

Mildred’s next venture into the uncredited territory is A Dispatch from Reuter’s, a biopic showing the life of Julius Reuter, who created the first world wide information system. The man strength of the movie is Edward G. Robinson in the lead role – like in most of his movie work, he’s magnificent and almost impossible to outshine. While not completely accurate (what do you expect from Hollywood biopics?), it’s a well made movie, moving at a brisk pace and with superb editing. The rest of the cast is very solid: Gene Lockhart, Otto Kruger, Nigel Bruce, Albert Bassermann and Edna Best. Eddie Albert, an actor I adore, who plays Robinsons’s assistant, has the most thankless role int he movie.

Santa Fe Trail  is a famous Errol Flynn western. I dislike westerns and am hardy the one to judge them, so I’ll just skip this one. I like Errol and find it hard to imagine him as a cowboy, but hey, he made several highly popular westerns in the 1940s, so he must have made something right!  She made a short comedy reel, March On, Marines, with Dennis Morgan, the singing Irishman of the 1940s. It’s a typical saccharine, over idealized portrayal of marine life. She made an appearance in Cliff Edwards and His Buckaroos, and was uncredited int he superb Gary Cooper movie, Meet John Doe, perhaps the best movie she appeared in.

Mildred finally caught her moment of fame in Play Girl, a Kay Francis comedy. Make no mistake, Kay was way past her prime in 1941, and her movies were not top moneymakers, this one being no exception. The plot, as it goes is, as taken from a reviewer on IMDB: “An aging “gold-digger” Grace (Kay Francis), realizes that she’s too old (over 30) to hoodwink vain older men. She takes on a destitute nineteen-year-old Ellen (Mildred Coles), and grooms her to be her successor.” The movie gives some subtle hints of the dark side of “high class call girl” living, but it’s a light comedy at it’s very heart. Kay overshadows just about everybody else, including Mildred. Let’s be fair, as the ingenue, Mildred has a much drier, less interesting and meaty role than Kay. This is always the case where there are female dual roles in movies. Yet, it was a good start for Mildred, and she had something to look forward to.

MildredColes6Whatever you can say about the movie, Mildred was never uncredited again, a feast in itself in Hollywood, where one day you are the king, and the other day a pauper. Maybe her way was started. Her next leading role was in Here Comes Happiness.  The plot is a copy-paste of “It happened one night”, with a rich heiress trying to wiggle out of the gilded cage she lives in and enjoy her life at the normal middle class level (without her intended knowing she is a heiress, of course!). It’s a typical slow moving, gentle movie of the time Hollywood rarely makes anymore – no surprises, no big names, simple plot based on misunderstandings. MIldred is good enough, and so is her leading man, Edward Norris.

Hurry, Charlie, Hurry is a Leon Erroll vehicle all the way. Like in most of his movies, Errol tries to escape form his wife, telling her he is going there and there and doing this and that, but in fact going the totally opposite and way and doing something totally different. This time, he tells her he meeting with the Vice-President but goes on a fishing trip. He befriends some Native Americans and the fun starts when they come to visit him. Mildred plays the long suffering wife here, but, make no mistake, it’s Errol’s movie and Mildred is little more than a nice set piece.

After such a let down, Mildred got slightly bigger fish to fry. Lady Scarface is an interesting movie, if nothing than for the role of gender in its plot. Lady Scarface is, of course, a woman, played by the delicious Judith Anderson, and a hard core mob boss, who hold court with an iron fist over her group of petty criminals. Women rule in this picture, and man are mostly useless – as exemplified by the feeble tries of the male police officers to nab Lady Scarface. While it’s not a very good movie, with a thin plot and B movie values, it is Judith Anderson that makes it a worthwhile experience.

Mildred took up comedy afterwards, quite a change from her previous fare. Scattergood Meets Broadway is a mediocre, little seen comedy with Guy Kibbee in the leading role. Sleepytime Gal is a typical Judy Canova movie – if you like her brand of humor, than this is definitely a above average movie for you, if not, don’t watch it. Judy always played the same variation her her screen persona, but she sure had charisma and could hold together even the weakest of plots (this movie is not particular exception).

So This Is Washington is a typical wartime production of the early 1940s. The main plot concerns the contract of small town America and the big town America, and yet, it reached a nice conclusion of unity and how it’s not that important where you come from. It’s a nice, breezy and semi funny movie, and it takes some knowledge of the times to truly enjoy it. Chester Lauck and Norris Guff as the two leads, are a passable comedy duo, the predecessors of the two man comedy duo still prevalent today (just watch Dumb and Dumber!). Mildred plays a secretary, but it’s not big role, as she’s showed behind the spotlight held by the two main stars.

MildredColes5What was once a promising career was slowly melting by this time, and Mildred started going (GASP!) westerns. I said it lots of times, and I’m gonna say it even more – for most actresses, this is the sure way to movie work rock bottom. Same here. Already her first, Song of the Drifter  is a an completely unknown musical western. The rest of the westerns Mildred made are: Oklahoma BadlandsMarshal of AmarilloBack Trail and Desperadoes of Dodge City. I have no patience to even try to pretend I’m interested in them, so excuse me for the lack of info 🙂 .

In between the westerns, Mildred squeezed some B (maybe C) level movies that she is best remembered for today. Bob and Sally is her crowning achievement. But is it a good thing? No, I don’t think so. This story is similar to the story of Thelma White, an actress remembered today only because she acted in a exploitation movie int he 1940s (in her case, Reefer Madness). Yes, unlike many other talented actress, she is remembered, but is that remembrance good? Let’s get back to Bob and Sally. Here is a brief synopses of the movie I found on this page:

The problem of young girls who embark on sexual relations without advice from their parents, who are too embarrassed; one has a still born baby after syphilis; the other an abortion and nearly dies.

Yep, you do the math. Is it a master piece with a compelling story great performances and good production values? I don’t think so. Should Mildred, not a wholly untalented actress, and certainly a nice looking girl, be remembered for? It’s hard to say, and depends on hos highly one values “notoriety”. At least she is remembered today (even that is open to discussion, ask a normal classic movie fan if he knows who Mildred Coles is and wait for the answer!)

MildredColes7A better movie (IMHO) and a much better fit for Mildred was Blonde Ice, a low budget thriller wholly elevated to a new level due to the great performance by the leading lady, Leslie Brooks. The plot deals with a lady who murders her way up the social scale. No, she can’t truly parallel the great Jean Gillies in Decoy, a another movie by the same director, Jack Bernhard (boy, did he like his women fatal!), but she more than holds her own. The movie is not as good as Decoy at any measure, but as I said, it holds it’s own in the story and acting department. Interesting to note that Leslie Brooks married Russ Vincent, the man who plays a sleazy blackmailer in the movie.

Mildred’s last movie, Bungalow 13, is another little known crime caper. The lead is played by George Sander’s brother Tom Conway, sadly always seen in his career a “poor man’s George Sanders” (playing charming but rough detectives). The plot is typical of the genre, and features detective Christopher Adams, who chases a precious antique jade lion through the Mexican cafes, auto courts, and the seamy side of Los Angeles. Heard that one before? A hundred times for sure! For the fans of 1940s crime movies it’s a treat, for others not even worth watching.

Mildred knew that, by this time, there was little chance of her getting to first base, and gave up her career not long after.

PRIVATE LIFE:

When Mildred entered Hollywood in 1938, she was almost married, and thus, no big scandals nor romance items for her. Well, who was her intended?

ca. 1940 --- Actress Mildred Coles Wearing a Swimsuit --- Image by © John Springer Collection/CORBIS

ca. 1940 — Actress Mildred Coles Wearing a Swimsuit — Image by © John Springer Collection/CORBIS

Mildred married attorney John Rodney Frost on June 18, 1939, at not yet 19 years old. Frost was born in October 9, 1913 to Winter R Frost and Faith Orton in Utah. He graduated from Freemont High School in Los Angeles, received his A.B. degree from U.C.L.A., and graduated from U.S.C. Law School. He managed a campus milk route to pull himself through college.

In 1940, Frost became a Douglas Aircraft Co. wage and salary administrator negotiating with unions, and spent much of his time in Washington.

Mildred was mostly in the papers due to her (soaring then failing) career. I do know that she had a appendectomy in 1941. The Frosts had four children: Josephine Faith Frost, born on May 14, 1942, Susan Elizabeth Frost, born on October 21, 1944, Jacqueline May Frost, born on March 5, 1949, and Sally Anne Frost, born on September 6, 1950. After the birth of her third daughter, Mildred effectively retired from movies to take care of her family.

The Frosts divorced on January 27, 1979, in San Diego, California. Frost died on December 4, 1985 in California.

Mildred remarried to a Mr. Call sometimes in the 1980s.

Mildred Call died on August 31, 1995, in Paradise, Butte County, California.

 

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s