Phyllis Ludwig is another example of a woman who was versatile enough to leave Hollywood behind and reinvent herself in a completely different career. While it’s out of the question that being married to a prominent and wealthy man helped her change tracks, no amount of money could have made her a talented interior decorator which she most certainly was.
Phyllis Marie Ludwig was born on November 23, 1920 in Cheyenne, Wyoming, (or Kansas, if you believe the 1930 census) to Jose M. Ludwig and his wife, Carol Close. Her older sister Betty was born in 1913.
Now, let’s make one thing clear. Phyllis was a real talent, but I think she finely tried to mold the past into something more acceptable to the social tastes, and not quite the truth. There are no big deviations, but small ones are really there. After reading her obituary, this is what I could muster about her past: Phyllis left Wyoming for the East coast after her father died. Allegedly she worked on Broadway, but I could not find any credits. And she landed on the West Coast, Sacramento to be exact. She worked there as a model, winning beauty pageants. Hollywood is never mentioned.
What I managed to find (and what probably did happen) was that Phyllis and her family moved to Fresno, California, in the 1920s. There her younger sister Joan was born on November 5, 1923. Phyllis soon became the toast of the town, appearing in all the local productions, playing the accordion and dancing Spanish dances, along with her younger sister Joan/Joanna. She attended Fresno High School and was president of the student body. In 1934, she was signed for Eight Girls in a Boat after a scout saw her playing the accordion in a Los Angeles night club. Phyllis, in addition to her working hours at the studio, also attended and graduated from Lawlos Professional School in Hollywood.
Phyllis’s career started in 1934 and ended in 1935. She was never credited, so you ca judge for yourself how succesful she was. Yet, I found her filmography strangely alluring and enjoyed exploring it. It’s not a pist of master pieces at any rate, but she appeared in some interesting movies that, in all probability, would never have been made today.
Eight Girls in a Boat was her first feature. Now, here is a film you can see in two ways: as an excuse to show off eight of well-developed ingenues in shorts, tight blouses and bathing suits. This automatically means the movie is a shallow albeit fun exploitation of young. On the other hand, one can see it a a drama dealing with a “quite commonplace theme of illicit motherhood with considerable delicacy and tact” (taken from this review here). However you choose to look at it, there is no denying that Dorothy Wilson was an actress of great warmth and gentleness that never amounted to much (maybe I can do a profile of her sometime int he future). It’s hard to say why, as she was not shunned in the uncredited tier as most of the girls were – she actually had her share of leading roles. Ah, the fickleness of Hollywood!
She Made Her Bed is one of those movies that are slightly stupid, slightly bad acted and not that great, all in all. But they sure are a guilty pleasure! Combine mad, wild, untamed passion between two beautiful young people with a mad, wild untamed tiger and a mad, bad, unwanted husband and I think everybody can guess how this one ends. The leads are played by Sally Eilers, Richard Arlen and Bob Armstrong, all three decently talented actors who never got big breaks in Hollywood (but did achieve mid tier careers, which is much more than most can say).
Southern Style is a comedy short, with Ruth Etting in the lead. The movie is sorely forgotten today and I could not find anything about it.
King Kelly of the U.S.A. is a hidden delight of a movie. With a typical screwball plot – it features little known actors who did their job admirably. Unlike many other Monogram pictures films, this one actually has a budget (not a big one, but they used the sets build for bigger budget movies for all their worth). Despite a rather thin story resembling “Duck Soup” ( a Eastern European monarchy with a zany monarch, a outsider trying to straighten out a tricky political situation, a romantic story in the background) in more ways than one, the charming leads and superb supporting actors rise this above forgettable fare.
The Return of Chandu is probably the most famous movie Phyllis has appeared in. A movie serial with Bela Lugosi in the lead, and not as a car or a bad guy, but rather as dashing figure with a cut of Errol Flynn. If nothing, the serial proved just how debonair and charming Lugosi could be when not playing a undead monster hell bent of sucking everyone’s blood or a deranged scientist. As a reviewer wrote on IMDB: “The somewhat lumpy plot engages Chandler/Chandu in an ongoing series of escapades pointed at achieving the rescue of his fiancee, Princess Nadji(Maria Alba) and others from the clutches of the idol-worshiping sect of Ubasti, which covets Nadji’s blood in order to revivify an ancient mummified princess entombed upon the mysterious island of Lemuria.” But let’s face it, people didn’t’ watch it for the plot back then, or even now – they watched it for the action and the fun. And the serial, with it’s fast pace and brisk change of locations, manages to keep one occupied wonderfully.
The Good Fairy is a perfect movie for those who like a warm, easy moving, breezy comedy. It’s a kind of movies Hollywood stopped making 30 years ago, and which are sorely missed by moviephiles. Ferenc Monlar, the author created a cast of varied and very interesting characters, perfectly inhabited by a selected few of truly top notch Hollywood actors: Margaret Sullavan, a genuine talent, is a living and breathing waif, enchanting like a pixie. Wait there is more: Eric Blore, Frank Morgan, Reginald Owen, Beulah Bondi and Alan Hale. Don’t even let me get started on them…
It Happened in New York is a comedy forgotten today, so there is nothing to write about.
Phyllis gave up her career first for war effort work, and later for marriage and other careers.
Here is a beauty tip that Phyllis gave to the papers in 1934:
If your hands become roughened, but a lemon in half and rub them with it. Allow to remain until dry. After five minutes, wash with warm water and a mild soap. This not only smoothes hands, but whitens blemishes.
As Phyllis Dobson, she was Miss California 1936 and first runner-up for the title of Miss America. Also of note is that, for publicity purposes, the papers claimed that Phyllis had a brother, Edward, who also became a Hollywood personality, working as a director. Thsi actually put me off the track for a time, since Edward Ludwig really was a director in the 1940s Hollywood, but he was born in 1899 in Latvia and had no familial connection to Phyllis whatsoever.
In the late 1930s, after 1936 and before 1939, Phyllis married her first husband, Thomas Fizdale, a publicity and advertising agent. Fizdale was born on September 21, 1904, in Russia. He was a successful businessman, president of several public relation companies. Like Phyllis he worked in Hollywood in the late 1930s, having taken over the offices of Robert S. Taplinger, Inc. He then moved to Chicago, then to New York, where he was situation on the Madison Avenue (Mad Man anyone?). He partnered with Win Nathanson in the mid 1940s and continued to be highly influential in the world of publicity.
Phyllis followed her husband first to Chicago then to New York. In 1941, she allegedly got a role in Uncle Dog House in Chicago. I have no idea what came out of it.
During a trip to Mexico to visit a cousin in 1942, Phyllis’ beauty caught the eye of the country’s most famous painter, Diego Rivera. Sitting across from Phyllis at dinner one night, Rivera boldly announced that he intended to paint the young actress. The painting, a light-hearted portrait of a carefree woman in a traditional Mexican dress, hung in Spalding’s home for years until she donated it recently to the State Foundation on Culture and the Arts.
The marriage was over for good in 1943. They divorced that same year. Fizdale went on to marry Patricia Stevens in the mid 1940s. Stevens soon opened a highly successful school for educating starlets and models, called Patricia Stevens Fashion College. The husband-wife duo ran the school together, even after they divorced in 1952.
Thomas Fizdale died on November 23, 1966 in Los Angeles.
Durign WW2, Phylis was very active in the war effort. She did radio shows for Office of War Information with Orson Welles, than signed on with the American Red Cross, which sent her to Guadalcanal, Australia and New Caledonia (where she was the first woman to land after the troops) helping with programs to entertain enlisted men. In the midst of all the war and violence, Phyllis found love.
Phyllis married her second husband, Paul I. Fagan, on March 1, 1945, in the home of Stanton Griffiths, a onetime husband of the lovely Whitney Bourne.
They met while she was serving in the American Women’s Hospital Reserve. He worked as a car salesman on Hawaii. Paul was born on January 19, 1916, in San Francisco, California. His mother was Marie Russell, and his father was Paul I. Fagan, Sr, a financier working in both San Francisco and Hawaii.
Interestingly, Philips Spalding Jr. served as the best man… Just wait and see what is going to happen here… Anyway, Phyllis left her career, New York and Hollywood behind to live with her new husband on Hawaii. She quickly integrated with the island’s high society, and started interior decorating as a hobby for friends.
As time went by, Phyllis and Phillip Spalding get to know each other better and soon they were in love. Phyllis divorced Fagan in 1952 and married Spaling the same year, entering one of the most prominent families on the island.
Now some background on Spalding. He was born on July 21, 1918, in Hawaii, son of Phillip and Alice Cooke Spalding. He had a younger brother, Charles. There is a story of how his father came into wealth in Hawaii: here is a short biography of the man, dating from 1925:
PHILIP E. SPALDING, Department Manager. Coming to Honolulu in 1912 in association with his brother, Walter, with a contract for the construction of the marine barracks at Pearl Harbor, Philip E. Spalding, now manager of the merchandise department of C. Brewer & Co., Ltd., has since made Hawaii his home. Their first work completed, the Spaldings branched into a general contracting business and built the United States naval hospital and officers’ quarters at Pearl Harbor, the Honolulu Iron Works and Star-Bulletin office, among other work.
With the intervention of the World War, Mr. Spalding entered the army as captain of the Machine Gun Company of the 1st Regiment, Hawaiian National Guard, and served at the Hawaiian Department headquarters until he was honorably discharged in May, 1919, when he joined Lewers & Cooke, Ltd. He resigned as vice-president of that firm in October, 1924, to take his present position with C. Brewer & Co., Ltd.
Mr. Spalding is a director of Lewers & Cooke, the American Sugar Co. and the Pacific Trust Co., Ltd. He is also a trustee of Leahi Home, Queen’s Hospital, Palama Settlement, a member of the Republican county committee, and has served on the City Planning Commission since 1918. He is a member of the University, Oahu Country, Commercial and Hawaii Polo and Racing Clubs.
Born in Minneapolis, Nov. 5, 1889, Mr. Spalding is the son of A. W. and Anna (Talbot) Spalding. His father was a prominent architect in Minneapolis and later in Seattle. Mr. Spalding was educated in the schools of Minneapolis and Seattle and attended Stanford University for two years, terminating his college course to come to Hawaii.Mr. Spalding married Alice Cooke, daughter of the late C. M. Cooke, whose family founded the Honolulu Academy of Art, in 1917 and they have two children, Philip E., Jr., and Charles C. Spalding.
Phyllis and Phillip lived in a 1925 home in Waikiki Heights, and had two sons, Phillip and Michael.
Phyllis made a second career out of interior design for herself. She became wildly successful at it, too. From her obituary (this is the link):
During a long career in Hawai’i as a designer, businesswoman, collector and patron of the arts, she worked on some of the finest buildings in the state — Castle & Cooke, Alexander & Baldwin, Mauna Kea Hotel, ‘Iolani Palace, and the state Capitol — and came to be recognized as a connoisseur with impeccable taste.
“For many of us who grew up here, she defined good taste,” said family friend Ian Sandison. “If you go to places commonly held out as eloquent in Hawai’i, chances are she was involved.”
She also owned the Mandalay stores at the Halekulani Hotel and Four Seasons Resort in Wailea.
Spalding often credited the influence of her second husband’s mother, Alice Cooke Spalding, whose family helped found the Honolulu Academy of Arts. Phyllis and Philip Spalding lived in the 1925 family home, which later became The Contemporary Museum.
During construction of the state Capitol, she was the only woman consultant, choosing the fabrics, rugs and wall coverings that give the interior offices and halls their warm, Hawai’i feel. For Rockefeller’s Big Island home, she coordinated all the fabrics — including draperies, bedspreads, wall prints and pillow coverings. For Harrison’s Maui home, she worked closely with the ex-Beatle and his wife while two of their bodyguards stood outside the office door.
One great quote from Phyllis: “You don’t tell the clients anything. You just try to find out what they like and work around that in the best of taste. Good taste. Always good taste.”
Phyllis’ husband Phillip died on April 15, 1999. Phyllis continued living in Honolulu after his death.
Phyllis Hume Spalding died on June 23, 2006, in Hawaii.