We are continuing our Yank Cover Girls marathon… This is taking much longer than I thought, but there are tons of girls to profile so I’m on it. One by one. My own calculations tell me I’ll be over with the girls in May or June… Anyway, back to Elaine. She has been one of the most unusual and intriguing women I have profiled so far… You wanna see why? Without spoiling too much, Elaine truly was a woman of the world who had great plans for herself and achieved some of them. It wasn’t an easy road – she was far from perfect, not a talented actress and only one of a large number of beauties that swarmed Hollywood at that time. She had impediments on every corner, but fought like a bull and did wonders with her career. She had an incredibly interesting life! Want to learn more? Well read on!
Elaine Elizabeth Shepard was born on April 3, 1913, in Olney, Illinois, to Thomas J. Shepard and Bernice Shepard. Thomas was a widower when he married Bernice, and brought three children into the marriage – Mable, Burl and Thomas Jr. her younger brother Elbert would be born in 1917. She was an imaginative, active, endearing child who always had big plans for herself.
However, the Shepherds did not have enough money to send Elaine to college, and money became even tighter after her parents divorced in the mid 1920s. So, by that time, Elaine decided to make her own luck. She started taking tap dancing lessons, and paid for them by doing housework for her tap teacher. However, after she graduated from high school, she decided against a dancing career, opting to become a secretary. She had to mortgage her piano to pay the 40$ of down payment for the course. So, she attended and graduated from McKeendre College in Lebanon, Illinois, and became a capable typist. Interesting in dramatics from her earliest days, she was active in college’s drama department.
After graduating from business college, Elaine started to work as a typist, but soon hit a slump and lost her job. Just at that time her mother, who suffered from serious respiratory problems, was ordered by her doctor to move to a less harsh climate than the one in Illinois. They packed their bags, and by sheer change, decided to move to San Diego. Elaine and her mom arrived therewith nothing but 86 cents in their pockets. That same day, Elaine wormed her way into a steady job – while having breakfast in a restaurant, she saw that the premonitory carried a pin from the same order that her mother belonged to (what order? Have no idea!). She used the connection and shed a few tears to get a job behind the counter.
A very active woman, Elaine was soon juggling two jobs – working behind the counter and ticket seller at a nearby cinema. She saw star struck not long after, ad started to seriously contemplate an acting career. But that was still a dream too far away at the moment. However, only patience and some will power was required, as Elaine was closer than she ever knew! She started modeling to earn more money, and won a day trip to Agua Caliente, where she won about 170$ at the gambling tables (and mailed it to her mother right away).
While working in the theater, she was noted by an agent who sent her to model in Palm Springs. While bowling there, she was noted by Mrs. Milton Bren, wife of noted producer. Impressed by Elaine’s beauty, charm and grace, she told her to contact her husband. Soon, Elaine landed in Hollywood and, due to her dancing background, started appearing as a member of the chorus for the studios, but never did any movies. It wasn’t until she was noted by choreographer Hermes Pan that she finally got in front of the camera.
Elaine had a three part career in Hollywood – one from 1936 until 1938, again in 1940, then from 1943 until 1945. She made her last movie in 1951, but it was a sole effort after several years of retirement, so I did not count it as a stage.
Elaine’s first role was a lead in the Darkest Africa serial, the very first made by Republic studios, which would become a prolific serial movie maker in the decade to come. What to say? While acting in serials is in no way the top of the world for an actor, it’s better than acting in western serials… Anyway, Darkest Africa is a decent example – fast-moving and action-packed, with a good lead (Clyde Beatty) and adequate support (Elaine is the love interest). The special effects are remarkable considering the year it was made and it’s not a bad effort, all in all. Elaine could have done much worse for her official debut.
I Cover Chinatown is a very, very minor movie that proved that the right director could make something out of nothing. The story is thin and the actors only mediocre, but director Norman Foster (and main actor, but less talented as actor than as a director) rises above these restrictions to produce a nice comedy/drama with horror touches. It was clear by this time that Elaine, despite her beauty, was not an actress who set the camera aflame. She was adequate enough, but that was hardy enough to warrant anyone cinematic immortality. She didn’t’ have that extra something, that pizzazz that made great Hollywood stars. Too bad…
Then Elaine did what I always dread when first looking at an actress’ filmography – she started in a low-budget western! Two of them to be exact… Law of the Ranger and The Fighting Texan. As always, the less said about these movies, the better…
Elaine than had a minor role in Topper, a hilarious Cary Grant comedy, about a couple of crazy wheeling ghosts who decide to stir their stuffy friend out of his comfort zone. The real strength of the movie is Constance Bennett however – her career was on the wane by 1937, but Connie was a stunning woman and enchanting actress. Not a great actress, mind you, but she had something going for her. She was unusually graceful but also hard core – like a fairy that will smack you over the head. So great… However, Elaine’s career was on the downs like by then. She appeared in Night ‘n’ Gales, a Our Gang short, as Darla’s mother… As you know, nobody ever watched the grown ups in those movies – its regular work, not anything that will catapult you anywhere…
Then came a promising movie… Professor Beware , the comeback vehicle for Harold Lloyd. Lloyd plays an archaeologist who falls for the daughter of a tycoon and finds himself fighting the forces of Wall Street and fate itself to get the young lady. Lloyd’s character is trying to fight an apparent curse from the tomb that he opened. I understand the situation Lloyd was n when he made this – as a major 1920s star, the expectations were VERY high (almost astronomical) and this movie, while a decent effort with some good moments, didn’t quite measure up to it. Yep, the movie was cursed way before it even hit the theaters. Elaine’s role was so minuscule that she wouldn’t have profited from it even if the movie were a smash, but this only cemented her already shaky status in Hollywood. The most damaged party was the pretty young leading actress, Phyllis Welch, who never made another movie after this one.
She squeezed only one more minor role in There Goes My Heart. At a first glance, it’s a It happened one night rip off, with the same story – but behind the facade, it’s a silly comedy with a superb cast. Frederic March has been a long time favorite of mine, and can do no wrong in my eyes. Virginia Bruce, not a typical screwball movie heroine, is pretty decent enough. The laughs go to Patsy Kelly and rest of the supporting cast is excellent (Claude Gillingwater, Eugene Palette, Arthur Lake, Alan Mowbray). For a light, funny watch, recommended!
Elaine went to New York and got discovered again, and signed with RKO. She appeared in only one movie – You Can’t Fool Your Wife. It’s a pedestrian, nothing out of the ordinary, even boring comedy movie with a lot of mix ups and that’s about it… Charming leads (Lucille Ball and James Ellison in this case) can sometimes save the movie – but not this one! With this, Elaine again gave up movie work… Only to return in Hollywood in 1943!
Her first movie this time around was The Falcon in Danger, the sixth in the series and second with Tom Conway as the hero. The movie actually had a pretty good plot (taken from imdb: A small airplane comes in to land at an airport but it drifts off course and crashes. The police investigate but find the plane empty – totally empty. The plane was meant to have a couple of wealthy industrialists on board as well as a shipment of money. When the daughter of one of the men (Nancy Palmer) gets a ransom note she goes to Tom Lawrence for help), but nothing else measures up – the actor are all B class, the interplay between Elaine and the other femme fatale, played by Jean Brooks, is lacking to put it mildly, and last but not least, Falcon’s fiancée, played by Amelita Ward, is one of the worst characters on this side of Jar Jar Binks.
Seven Days Ashore is one hot mess of a movie – the movie officially stars Art Carney and and Wally Brown is supposed to be a straight comedy with the duo in the leads, but in the end more screen time is given to Elaine and Gordon Oliver, who play a straight romance movie. Then we have Marcy McGuire, the songstress, who plays like it’s a straight musical. Too much of everything but not in a good way. Forgettable movie in the end…
Elaine finally appeared in something of value – Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo, a very good war movie with a great cast (not all equally talented, but famous nonetheless): Van Johnson, Robert Walker, Spencer Tracy, Robert Mitchum, Phyllis Thaxter and so on…
Elaine had a small role in Ziegfeld Follies, a musical famous enough that I don’t really need to write anything about it. No plot, good music and dancing, great production values, and that’s about it…
Elaine put a stop on her career for the third time, and only appeared in one more movie – Fiamme sulla laguna, a forgotten Italian drama. And then, she’s gone (from the movies of course)!
In Late October 1936, it was announced that Elaine would wed Terry Hunt, studio physical director, on Thanks Giving. The two were introduced by Frederic March, who was to be best man. The two did not wed in November 1936, but continued their engagement. However, it was a very short lived engagement (or a overly long one, depends how you see it), as by October 1937, they were broken up and both dated other people (Elaine was seen with Marc Connelly around town). Then, they did marry in late 1937. Ups and downs, ups and downs… Their marriage seemed to be more of the same…
In April 1939, Elaine was looted from most of her jewels by an unknown assailant. She is the Nth woman who was looted that I have profiled, so I guess a very powerful thief group operated in Hollywood in the late 1930s/early 1940s.
In early 1938, Elaine decided to try her luck in New York and forgo her acting career, even refusing a contact with Republic Studios. Sounds a bit daffy, as most models go the other route, but let’s think about it – signing with Republic studios meant you were to play female leads in Z class westerns. BAD! Elaine shrewdly knew what was coming for her if she aid yes to the contract, and knowing very well that she could make more money modeling, went east. Elaine seemed to enjoy the work very much, and was known as one of the most versatile models around. She could impersonate Hedy Lamarr, Carole Lombard, Joan Bennett like it’s nobody’s business. She was titled as “The perfect model” of 1939 by a group of esteemed photographers. However, when better studios started calling (namely RKO), she jumped at the chance to return to Hollywood and acting. Elaine had to remove her wisdom tooth around this time, and for a few days after she could not be photographed as her jaw was constantly “off focus”.
Elaine dated a Chicago attorney before returning to Hollywood, then ditched him to date Greg Bautzer. One attorney for another, but I guess Elaine knew that Bautzer dated every good looking girl in Hollywood, and she was just one of many. She and Greg actually lasted for a few months, which is a pretty good track record for dating the notorious Lothario (she made the rounds for her birthday in April 1940 with him, although her estranged husband Terry bought her a fur coat!). Around this time, Elaine disclosed the secret of her perfect figure to the press – she did the hot water shaker – first she drank two glasses of water, then stands on her head and shakes her body. Whoa Nelly!
In the meantime, Elaine separated from her husband, and her started dating Patricia Morison (whom he helped shed the pounds). They finally divorced in May 1940. By then, Hunt operated his own sports club. He and Patricia never did get to the altar (I love Patricia, she is such an incredibly beautiful, enchanting actress! So sad she never got the recognition she deserves!). Of course, the divorce had its ups and downs, the will or won’t they… For a time in early 1941, Elaine was ready to return to her former groom, but was also dating S. Rosenblatt on the side (who owned a chicken farm). Anyway, she and Terry continued to date for some time after the divorce was made final. I find this very perplexing, but I guess that two people can enjoy each other’s company occasional, but are just not cut out to be married?
In August 19412, she was on the cover of Cosmopolitan, wearing the wings of Noel Vincent, pilot. Oh dear, who knows what happened there… By July, she was dating Bob Ritchie, once the heart of Jeanette McDonald… In December, she raised men’s pulses by wearing a nude colored chiffon gown to a Broadway premiere. However, by February she was in the hospital, about to have a major operation, but I couldn’t find more information about it…
In May 1942, Elaine announced her engagement to Pierre Huss, International Wars Service Correspondent. Huss was in Tunisia, North Africa ta the moment, and asked her to marry him via cable. She cabled a positive answer back to him. Pierre wired her 1000$ to buy herself an engagement ring. Elaine spend the entire sum on war bonds. Around this time, Elaine returned to Hollywood yet again and was constantly yin the papers. She gave some tips of how to take care of your eyebrows:
First she sues cold cream, rubs a lot into her eyebrows, brushed them every which way and then, after removing as much as much cream as she can with a tissue, she bathes the brows with hot water – as hot as she can take it. Then she takes out the tweezers and removes the errant hairs with no problem at all!
Now, what exactly happened to Huss remains a mystery, but Elaine married George F. Hartman in a surprise ceremony in Mafra, Texas, on October 4, 1943. She came to Marfa in September to sell war bonds, and the two met – and were stunned to rem embed that his brother was Elaine’s childhood sweetheart back in Illinois, but they had not seen each other for years! Puff, and a month alter, they were wed! Unfortunately, the couple had only a few days together, as George was sent overseas to fight, and Elaine was summoned back to Hollywood to resume her career.
In the absence of her husband, Elaine was very active in the war effort, touring the country with her co-star Charles Ruggles and selling thousands dollars worth of war bonds. In May 1944, Elaine had barely seen her husband for more than 5 days and was hoping he was to return home soon. Sadly, her mother was just then struck by a car somewhere in Hollywood, and Elaine nursed her to health. In the meantime, Hartman got a Soldier’s Medal for rescuing his comrades from a burning tank, and met with Paulette Goddard in Spain, where he gave Paulette his Wing so she can give them to Elaine.
In 1945, George returned home from the war, and he and Elaine established a solid marriage, moving to Mobile, Alabama, where he was stationed. Opting to work in the world of aviation, George became a adviser to companies specializing in Air travel all around the World. So, in 1949, he was posted as a Turkish Airlines Adviser and the couple were living in Istanbul. Elaine hopped to Rome once in a while to make a movie (she also did the Billie Dawn role in Born Yesterday on stage in Rome) or go shopping. She was a champion bridge player, spoke some French, Italian and Turkish, and visited Orson Welles in Venice when he was playing Othello there. She later said about her experience in living in Istanbul:
“It was delightful living in Istanbul. The city is a lovely combination of old and new – modern buildings and those that go back centuries; cobblestone streets and modern highways. Our house was built in 1946 so Colonel Hartman and I had the same conveniences as we have here in New York. There was no servant problem., Constantine settled that. Of Greek, Italian and Turkish descent, he is a chef by profession but he did everything at out house. The only drawback was that while he spoke Russian Greek and Turkish he spoke no English. So we were forces to learn some Turkish. I finally acquired enough to get along at home and in the city. I I also learned enough Italian to get by with fellow workers in the picture.”
By 1951 they were home, and Elaine had a health scare – she went to the Red Cross to donate blood, but when the doctors saw her blood, she was immediately transferred to a hospital, where a tumor was discovered and operated on. She managed to recuperate pretty quickly. By 1953, the couple had settled in Washington, and were very active on the social circuits. Elaine was known for her parties (she even had a party with wild animals) and wrote a column, dealing with the Washington social scene, for the local newspapers.
Elaine and George separated in 1957, but lingered on and off. Thy even flew as a couple to the South Pole in late 1957 (imagine when Elaine canceled her lunch plans with Tedi Thurman, she told him “Sorry, can’t come, gotta fly to the South Pole! Can’t imagine how Tedi felt…). Unfortunately, the reunion didn’t work, and they divorced in 1958. She dated Aly Khan in 1958 (who didn’t)! Elaine continued working as a free lance writer, and fought tooth and nail to get commissions usually reserved for men. She also dabbled in masculine past times – she became a truly proficient poker player and won big money in some tournaments (she played with the biggies at Jack Hurdle’s apartments, among others). In 159, she was the only female correspondent (working for Women’s New Service) who traveled with President Eisenhower when he toured 11 countries. She also became quite chummy with Mamie Eisenhower, the First Lady
Elaine was especially impressed by India and president Nehru, whom she had the honor of seeing with his “cap off”. She dated Khrishna Menon while there. She also visited Congo. By late 1951, she was home again and started dating published George Little, and later was very much in love with a fellow correspondent, Russian Count Constantine Zernekau. She lived for some time in Paris, where she interviewed a large number of notables, among them Juraj Ganarin (and continued to date Zernekau).
In 1962, after 18 months of writing, Elaine’s book, “Forgive us our press passes”, was published. She was a hit with the readers, and the book was deemed a witty and sparkling read. Here is a Kirkus review of the book:
Though forgiveness may be in order on the title too, Elaine Shepard is a woman who has really been places and seen things. She reports on them with the verve of a young girl, perception of an inveterate newshawk, and the wit of a high-priced comedy writer. For only a few years, she has lived in the “”methodical havoc”” of the international correspondent, as a reporter for North American Newspaper Alliance and Women’s News Service syndicates (“”when Rosy — my editor — handed me my accreditation. I vowed that if I interviewed the devil himself, I’d stick to the facts””). She arrived in this “”honorable and coveted position”” via Hollywood, Broadway, John Robert Powers’ agency, diplomatic hostessing in major world capitals (as the former wife of an Air Force officer) and TV in Washington (Rosy “”did not share some people’s opinion that all actresses have the IQ of a marble””). Her book covers trips with the Eisenhower entourage, interviews with Castro and Gagarin, press conferences with Patrice Lumumba, and a short tour of duty in Russia (“”modern buildings can best be described as Soviet Gothic or Early Hallowe’en). Her material is thoughtful, interesting, and very, very funny.
Elaine continued her journalistic career. She was posted for a time in Haiti when Papa Doc Duvalier took over the reins of the country. In 1965, she was sent to cover the Vietnam war. In 1967, her second book, about her experience in Vietnam, called The Doom Pussy, was published. Here is a review:
The Doom Pussy crouches in wait for American pilots when they fly their missions over North Vietnam. Elaine Shepard has been there and seen the Pussy. She has brought back a bouncy recall of the men in the air and on the ground, whether flying into the jaws of the terrible cat or tearing shirts afterwards to let off steam. She came to know Smash, beseeched and sought after by the passionate Mercy Belle back in the States, and Nails, who beseeched and sought after her. She joined in their revels and their raids, moves from ribaldry and revelry at R&R (rest and recreation) periods to the tense and trying moments of combat. “”The sharpest Negro pilot in Vietnam”” died in her arms after they had been shot down and picked up; she saw Dickey Chapelle “”crumpled on her right side in the weeds and dirt like a broken doll.”” From such experiences is hard to be neutral, and she closes her book with George Washington’s words: “”If we desire to secure peace, it must be known that we are at all times ready for war.”” This is a book about the flyboys, held aloft by admiration for their courage and understanding of their off-duty flings. It has glamor and guts, and may well hit a market no other Vietnam book has, the ladies.
Also interesting to note, Elaine and first and foremost a woman who like do to shop – when she was in Vietnam, she cashed more than 40 000$ worth of money orders, and had to have her visa and passport revoked since cashing that much money violated military rules. However, this ended up being Elaine’s last big journalistic adventure.
Elaine dated some prominent men of that time – former ambassador Henry Taylor and Washington Redskins owner, George Preston Marshall (the former husband of Corinne Griffith). However, she did not remarry following her split from Hartmann. Elaine also had a long standing feud with fellow scribe Dorothy Killgallen – Dorothy wrote a blind item about a female reported who slept with Clark Gable to get an interview (the girl in question was Elaine of course), and later another blind item, when Elaine traveled around with the Eisenhower entourage (as the only woman), Dorothy accused them of doing wild orgies on the plane. Elaine sued Dorothy for slander, but Dorothy walked of victorious.
Elaine retired from active correspondent duty in the early 1970s, and slowly slipped of the newspaper radar. She moved to New York City for good and lived the rest of her days there.
Elaine Shepard died on September 6, 1998, in New York City, New York.