Jo Carroll Dennison

JoCarrollDennison4

Let’s move on to another Yank Cover girl – Jo Carroll Dennison. She  will forever be remembered as Miss America of 1942 first, and comedian Phil Silver’s wife second. But what about her acting career? That was slim, sadly, and very forgettable. Such a shame, for Jo Carroll truly seems like an interesting person, definitely worth checking out.

EARLY LIFE

Jo Carroll Dennison was born on December 16, 1923, in Tyler, Texas (or Florence, Arizona), to Henry Dennison and Carroll Brownd, who ran a vaudeville troupe. She was their only child. She was raised on the Medicine Show circuit, began singing and dancing at age 2 and traveled all around the States with the troupe. They lived in San Francisco and Santa Barbara for a time.

Jo was a fine cowgirl, handling a lariat pretty well, milk a cow and herd cattle, She attended Hale Center High School. After she graduated, She left the traveling show to start a secretarial career in Tyler, Texas. She went to a city college and worked as a stenographer at a law firm for 25$ a week – after her father died, Jo had to work to support herself and her mother (they lived with her grandmother in Tyler in 1940).

The full story of how Jo Carroll became miss Texas goes like this (taken from Miss America site):

While she was outside of a bank on way to a drugstore, Jo-Carroll Dennison was stopped on the street by the Vice President of Citizen’s National Bank in Tyler, Texas. He asked her to be “Miss Citizen’s National Bank” in the Miss Tyler Pageant held by the Tyler Junior Chamber of Commerce. She declined. He insisted that many of the city’s finest young women were going to compete for the crown, and each girl could go to Swartz Department Store and pick out their own new swimsuit.

Eighteen, and on her own as a Student at Federal Institute, Jo-Carroll figured she could use a new swimsuit, so she became Miss Citizen’s National Bank and in short order, Miss Tyler. Her prizes were a scholarship to Federal and Flying lessons. She thought her pageant days were complete, when she was approached by the Tyler Junior Chamber of Commerce that they expected her to represent them in the Miss East Texas Pageant to be held in Dallas. She politely declined. She was made to feel as though it were her civic duty to her city, so she eventually agreed.

After she won the Miss East Texas Pageant she found out she was expected to go on to Miss Texas to be held August 16th at Austin Stadium with an audience consisting of soldiers from one of the largest Army camps in Texas, Camp Swift. Eight girls competed representing the points of the compass of Texas. Jo-Carroll won.

Jo Carroll won the title of Miss America in Atlantic City. She did a lusty rendition of “Deep in the heart of Texas” that much impressed the public. Movie man came knocking on her door right after, and she signed a contract with 20th Century Fox in November 1942.

CAREER

Jo Carroll signed with 20th Century Fox, and appeared in some good movies in that period – the only perh was that she was not billed! Her first appearance was in The Song of Bernadette, the celebrated religious movie about Bernadette Soubirous, a very powerful movie with an upbeat message about love. Jennifer Jones won an Oscar for her performance – I’m a big fan of Jennifer and find her a wonderful actress, and this is one fo her best for sure! Jo Carroll moved on to lighter fare in The Gang’s All Here, a slim in the story department, fat on the fun and colors musical. Think Betty Grable and Alice Faye musicals and you know what I mean – movies meant for enjoyment without too much thinking.

JoCarrollDennison1Jo Carrol started 1944 in Ladies of Washington, the typical “bad girl to good girl” story, where Trudy Marshall plays a selfish ma hungry dame that gradually becomes a better person after meeting soldier Anthony Quinn due to the shortage of wartime housing in Washington DC. What can I say, sound like a good movie but it’s impossible get a hold of it today. Something for the Boys is a below average musical tosh with Carmen Miranda as the only selling point. Heck, even Carmen and her incredible energy can’t save everything! No story and not enough good music, making it a dismal effort at best…

Jo Carrol appeared in Winged Victory, s well made wartime propaganda movie about the lifespan of a WW2 airman – the recruitment process, the waiting, the training, the battles… Impressive cast ( Lon McAllister, Edmond O’Brien, Martin Ritt, Red Buttons, Peter Lind Hayes, Karl Malden, Kevin McCarthy, Gary Merrill, Lee J. Cobb, and Don Taylor) and a more than able director (George Cukor) make this a winner – not a top f the shelf master piece, but good enough for what it wants to achieve.

JJoCarrollDennison2o Carroll appeared in only one movie in 1945 – State Fair. A throwback to the simpler times, it’s a simple, colorful movie with a lots of soul and great performances, especially by Jeanne Crain in the lead. She finished out her contract in 1946 with two movies – The Missing Lady, one of the Shadow (super hero originating from a comic) movie series (and not a particularly good one), and the superior The Jolson Story, an Al Jolson biopic with wonderfully talented Larry Parks as the man himself. Jo Carroll moved to New York to be at hand with her husband and sadly left her career behind.

Like many similar stories, Jo Carroll decided to return to showbiz after her divorce. The year was 1950 – she was off the screen for almost four years. She appeared, first, in Beyond the Purple Hills, this time as the female lead. But, you guessed it, it’s a low-budget Gene Autry western. While it’s a great thing to finally get a leading role, but in this kind of movie? Remember, the cowboys changed their leading ladies like socks! The horses were more important than the women (at least it seems that way to me). It’s a typical movie for the genre, nothing more, nothing less. Next on the line was Prehistoric Women, a do bad it’s good camp classic with plenty of scantily clad women running around, fighting each other and dinosaurs. What to say, this could actually be a step down from the low-budget westerns. Secrets of Beauty is a weird movie that doubles as a beauty manual – do you know why husbands leave home? Because their wives don’t take care of themselves! Listen to Ern Westmore’s advice and you’ll get it right! Absurd  but it could be much worse 🙂

JoCarrollDennison8Pickup is a very low-budget, but still compelling Hugo Haas movie, a Take on The Postman always rings twice, but with a nice twist (he knows she wants to kill him). The lack of a budget is very jarring, but Beverly Michaels is more than fine as the lady from hell. Jo Carrol’s last movie of the period was A Millionaire for Christy, is a breezy, feel good comedy without much artistic merit, but a great way to cheer yourself up after a ponderous day. Eleanor Parker and Fred McMurray are both good in the leading roles.

Jo Carroll did some TV work on the side, but her career after 1953. She got married and slid into happy obscurity. She did only one more feature in 1975, and that was all for now!

PRIVATE LIFE

When Jo Carroll won the Miss America title, she  stoutly pledged her own sacrifice — she would not marry for the duration of her title. And she did not. She noted to the press how she has plenty of beau – enough to date another man every day of the week – but that matrimony was not on her mind. Taking into account that she was only 18 then, that was some good reasoning. Instead, Jo Carroll toured the Army bases with much vigor, working for days no end. She later said of the experience (you can read the full article here):

“It was an extraordinary job. I went to military bases all the time and the soldiers were so enthusiastic and treated me with such respect. I was a symbol of what they were fighting for — like the flag or the Statue of Liberty. It had a much bigger connotation than just the title.”

JoCarrollDennison5Jo Carroll dated Ray Carter, who was a captain during WW2, in April 1944. Then she started dating Phil Silvers in June 1944. She married Phil on March 1945. She was 21, he was 33. Phil was born as Philip Silver on May 11, 1911, in Brooklyn, New York, to Saul and Sarah Silver, both Russian immigrants. His siblings were Lillian, Harry, Jack, Saul, Pearl, Michael, and Reuben. He worked s a comedian in New York from the time he was 11 years old – he made his first movie in 1941. By the time he married Jo Carroll, he was not yet the household name he would become later.

Jo Carroll gave up her budding career and followed her husband to New York, where he appeared in the Broadway show High Buttoned shoes. Phil went along with Jo Carrol’s mom marvelously, and they truly adored each other. He seemed very loved up when he talked about Jo Carroll to the papers. Sadly, Jo Carroll suffered from serious migrants, and Silvers did his best to find her the best possible doctor who would help her. No further information was given, I just hope she found something to alleviate the pain… Yet, despite the idyll, the couple separated in mid 1949 and divorced in early 1950.

So, why did Jo Carroll and Phil divorce? While it’s impossible to say exactly, ether were reports that Silver was a gregarious guy who like nothing better than to go out with his coterie and laugh and drink till morning. Jo Carroll found that too “crowded” and not intimate enough. They clashed over such little things, but, in the end, those are the little things that make a marriage either a success or a failure. However, this was just the tip of the iceberg. The real problem would emerge only later (to the public) – Silvers was a compulsive gambler. Jo Carroll later said of him: “We never lived expensively, or travelled, because he gambled everything away”

JoCarrollDennison7Silvers went on to become a major player in the 1950s TV comedy, playing Sargent Bilko in the Phil Silver Show. He remarried to Evelyn Patrick, a Revlon model, and had five daughters:  Cathy, Candance, Tracey, Nancy and Laurey. He and Evelyn divorced in 1966. Silvers died in 1985.

After her divorce from Silvers, Jo was beaued by producer P.K. Palmer before embarking on a serious relationship with Sydney Chaplin, son of Charlie. They started dating in November 1950, and dated for more than a year,  ending in cca June 1952. In the end, she left him for no other than her former husband, Phil! They seemed pretty serious, but did not rekindle their relationship completely.

Trying to make something out of her showbiz career, Jo Carroll alternated between Hollywood and New York, and finally became a secretary at the office of Rodgers and Hammerstein in early 1953. In September 1953, she was dating Bob Joseph.  In mid 1954, she became a script girl on the Lux Video Theater.

Jo Carroll started dating Russel Stoneham in early 1954, and married him on October 15, 1954 in Santa Monica. Stoneham was born as Russell Charles Stoneham on April 18, 1920, in New York City, to Charles Stoneham and Margaret Leonard. His father was the owner of the New York Giants, married once before (his half-brother Horace was 17 years older than Russell). He died in 1936, and Russell lived with his mother and sister in New York. He worked for the CBS as a producer when he married Jo Carroll.

JoCarrollDennison6The family settled in California in 1954. Their son Peter R. was born on November 20, 1956. Their second son, John D., was born on June 5, 1961. Both of the children were born in Los Angeles. While retired from the movies, Jo Carroll still remained active in the beauty pageant world and appeared with some frequency in the papers. In 1970, she said of her life so far:

“I was immature in so many ways in my early 20s. I didn’t settle down in domesticity until I was 30. I doubt that I could have. Now I know what will make me happy, but without having worked, doing by jobs, traveling a great deal, being rich, poor again, I would have been discontented, I think. My life is now happier and more complete than I had ever hoped, and I always had great expectations.”

I generally agree with Jo Carroll here – it’s so much better to taste life and do things then settle down, when you know what you want and how to get it. Of course, there are examples of people who found their true “calling” very early, but those are (IMHO) exceptions and I find this to be the rule of the thumb – experience will teach you the best what way to go. By that time, Jo Carroll lived in Pacific Palisades with her family and was obviously very content. She was also on very good terms with Silvers, often acting as his confidante, as well as his travel agent.

JoCarrollDennison9Jo Carroll divorced Stoneham in 1981. He remarried to a Sharon ? right away, and divorced her in 1984. Russell died on March 12, 2002, in El Paso, Colorado.

After her divorce, she served as a community relations director for the nonprofit group, Hemet Hospice, during the 1980s and 1990s. Later, in the 2000s, she told an interviewer about her activities in those decades:

“I had a fantastic life and met so many interesting, talented people. I thought I should do something to give back, so I worked at Hemet Hospice for 11 years,” said Dennison,  “I feel it was truly the most purposeful, rewarding work I ever did. Working with the terminally ill, you learn so much about life.”

Jo Carroll Dennison lives in Idyllwild, California.

 

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