I was unpleasantly surprised just how little information about Ramsay Ames in available on the net. She wasn’t an obscure actress back in the 1940s, and today she has a firm fan base, mostly made out of camp classic lovers. And, to top it all of, she truly was an interesting woman. My biggest pleasure in writing this blog comes from learning more about the lives of strong, interesting women who lived life their own way. Ramsay, for all her shortcomings, was one such a woman. She was a band leader at the time when women didn’t even play in bands, let alone lead them, and she left behind a life in Hollywood to expand her professional credibility. Well, I’ll try to remedy this lack of information! Let’s begin!
Rita Rebecca Phillips Ames was born on March 30, 1924, in Brooklyn, New York,to Edouard Ames and his wife, Violett Phillips. (Her imdb, Wikipedia and other paged claim she was born in 1919. her social security death number also says this, but many other documents on Family Search claim her birth year in 1924. This corresponds to some ramification I have found about Ramsay in the papers, so I’ll take this year as a reference).
Rita Rebecca grew up in Jackson Heights, New York, in a well to do family. She attended a swank private school, Edgewood Park School and Walter Hillhouse School in Briarcliff Manor. However, Ramsay was just no cut out to be a socialite – she was a hyper energetic, lively girl, and had a burning desire to do something. So, at 15, she started modeling for John Powers agency. During one assignment, she had to wear a dancers grab and shimmy in a rhythm of some exotic tune – she liked it so much she decided to take up dancing at the Walter Hillhouse Dancing School. She trained with a partner for a few months then started to dance professionally. When they were dancing in Miami, he was drafted by the Immigration department, thus had to return to his native country somewhere in South America.
Stranded without a partner, unable to find anyone to replace him, Ramsay took up singing. Soon she was singing at the plush Stork club, and noticed by impresario Gus Martel. He gave Ramsay free reign of her very own band. He soon left for Las Vegas, leaving Ramsay completely on her own. Ramsay learned the hard way just how difficult it was to be a band leader, but managed to pull it through, even enjoyed her work very much. This was just before the attack on Pearl Harbor happened. Her band played in places like Stork, La Conga and Famous Doors club.
However, WW2 started and most of her band members were drafted. Left with just an “anemic piano player”, she was highly unsatisfied with the situation. To make things worse, she was nursing a bad back injury and couldn’t dance as well as before – she decided enough was enough and returned to modeling. In 1943, she went to California to visit her ailing mother.On the airport she met Harry Cohn, the president of Columbia, who told her to call him when she landed in Hollywood. She did contact him and somehow got a contract not with Columbia, but with Universal. She started her career in 1943.
Ramsay was the local queen of the Bs in the early 1940s, enjoying a semi successful career.
Ramsay had the luck to actually have a credited performance in her first movie – Two Señoritas from Chicago. This is very much forgotten today, and it has exactly 0 reviews on IMDB. What can I say, it’s a typical low-budget comedy of errors with a cast of fine but B level actors: Ramsay, Ann Savage, Jinx Falkenburg.
Ramsay next appeared in Crazy House, as did many other Universal International stars. It’s a Ole Olsen – Chic Johnson film, a typical anarchic comedy in the vein of the Marx brothers. It’s one of the their best efforts, with an actually pretty decent mix up story and some good gags. Percy Killbride kills it as the old man who everybody think (including himself) is a millionaire but is actually broke (love Percy!). Ramsay and her band have a short cameo.
Ramsay ended 1943 with Calling Dr. Death, a mind-fuck movie before the term was even coined. The plot roughly (taken from IMDB): Dr. Steele (Lon Chaney Jr.) is a psychiatrist married to a cheating wife who refuses to give him a divorce. He’s in love with his nurse (Patricia Morison) who loves him back. Then he blacks out one weekend and awakens to find his wife was brutally murdered. Did he do it or is he being set up?
The movie glides like a surreal ship down mystic waters, full of symbolism and mystery, giving you the sense that nothing is what it seems, like the viewer himself is hypnotized. It’s more mesmerizing than high quality, but truly an interesting viewing experience. Ramsay plays the cheating wife, and while she’s stunning to look at, she’s a wooden actress. Unfortunately, this would not change much in the future.
1944 was the best year for Ramsay’s movie career. She made 7 movies, among them her best known. She was in Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves, a escapist Oriental fare that bloomed during WW2, often with Maria Montez and Jon Hall in the leads. Ramsay Ames is the (quote from IMDB): incredibly HOT, sexy and traitorous lady in waiting Nalu who betrays her mistress, played by Montez. What can say about these movies? I think we all grew up watching this camp classics that aren’t worth a dime as far as any artistic pursuit is in question. On the other hand, they are fun, unpretentious and colorful, more than enough to warrant repeated watchings over the years.
Ramsay was uncredited in Ladies Courageous, a (watch for this) propaganda movie for men and anti propaganda movie for women. While I haven’t watched the film, based on the reviews, it’s clear that the main aim of the movie was to dissuade women from becoming pilots! Loretta Young, Geraldine Fitzgerald and Diana Barrymore play three mentally and emotionally unstable pilots who do some crazy stuff (and not crazy good but crazy bad) in the air. Weird, weird, weird movie.
Hat Check Honey is a completely forgotten comedy, so there is nothing to write about. Follow the Boys is one of those WW2 all-star extravaganzas that did nothing for anyones career, but served as strong morality boosters.
Ramsay was back on the horror track with Ghost Catchers, another Olsen and Johnson comedy. They play themselves as entertainers whose nightclub is next to a haunted house. It’s a silly, uncomplicated, almost dumb movie, but it fits the bill of a 1940s funny movie. Unfortunately, Ramsay fall such a minor role that she’s barely even seen in it.
Ramsay’s (all time) best known movie came next – The Mummy’s Ghost. Most people today remember Ramsay as the main selling point of the movie. She has several highly effective scenes, and her character doesn’t quite end up as one would expect from 1940s Hollywood. Make no mistake, it’s still a low-budget quickie without any truly artistic merit, but then again, this is Universal and these are the movies they made.
A Wave, a WAC and a Marine is a slightly above average women’s comedy about women helping the war effort. Most of the loads is carried by Elyse Knox, Ann Gillis and Sally Eilers, but Ramsay actually had a pretty good role in this one (compared to her previous roles of course).
In 1945 Ramsay signed with Warner Bros, and started appearing in higher quality movies. Mildred Pierce was her very first Warner Bros role, and I don’t think this movie needs any introductions (Joan Crawford!!). Just when it seemed that Ramsay was going up, PUFF! She appeared in only one more movie (Too Young to Know ), before Warner Bros dropped her.
And it was time to start doing low-budget westerns. As I noted numerous times before on this blog, an actress has truly hit acting rock bottom when she starts doing westerns where the horse is billed above her! Okay, this is a slight exaggeration, but the point is – women rarely fared well owning to their roles in such movies.
Ramsay appeared in two movies with Gilbert Roland portraying Cisco Kid – The Gay Cavalier and Beauty and the Bandit. What can I say? Roland sure is a handsome man and not that bad of an actor (like many other pretty boys – John Gavin spring sot mind) but I’ll never (and I am sure there are plenty like me) spend my time watching such movies.
Below the Deadline, a low-budget crime movie, in between the westerns. It’s a curious movie, made on a shoestring budget but very compact, without a sentence to waste and with some flair that resembles a film noir (not quite there, but not that far). The plot (taken from IMDB): This one starts out with gambling rackets boss, George Meeker being warned to stay away from a rival’s clubs. Of course the viewer knows this is going nowhere good for Mister Meeker. And right they are, as Meeker is given a severe lead overdose one night exiting a club. Now we have the just returned from the Air Force, Warren Douglas, putting in an appearance. Douglas is the brother of the just ventilated, Meeker. He grills the mob lawyer, Paul Maxey for all the info on the mob, and who was responsible for his brother’s death. Maxey suggests Douglas cool down and learn the business before he goes headhunting. On the way he gets hooked up with Ramsay, who works in the casino but a girl with a heart of gold. Compared to Ramsay’s other movies, this is Nobel league, and one of the best things she made. This is more sad than not 😦
Ramsay was back in musicals with The Time, the Place and the Girl. One reviewer succinctly wrote all that need sot be said about the movie: It never rises above being a pleasant little “let’s put on a show” musical, it does feature a few sprightly song numbers that are easy on the eyes and ears–and all of the performances are genial and appealing. Sadly, Ramsay’s role was minuscule, blink and you’ll miss me. She was top billed in Philo Vance Returns, a boilerplate Philo Vance movie, the last made with the famous detective in the 1940s. Wiliam Wright, who plays Vance, in no match for the more capable actors who played him the past (William Powell, anyone?).
Ramsay did another low-budget western (the less said about it, the beter) The Vigilante: Fighting Hero of the West, before acting in the major production of Green Dolphin Street. Lana Turner, not a very talented actress, nonetheless had the pizzazz to maintain an enviable 50 year-long career, and movies like Green Dolphin are a testament to her brand of “charisma” – she somehow made it all work, lack of talent or not. However, the movie actually has a pretty decent story (it was made from a book after all!) and good supporting players, making it one of the few A list movies on Ramsay’s filmography.
Ramsay then starred in The Black Widow, a Republic serial, and actually gained some fame and fortune from it. Boosted by her new-found aisle of opportunity, Ramsay did one more serial, G-Men Never Forget, then retired from the movies more or less. She appeared in one only more movie, Vicki, before moving to live in Spain. She occasionally appeared in movies afterwards (TV movie The Lie, Richard Burton historical epic, Alexander the Great, forgotten Spanish movie At Five in the Afternoon and Laurence Harvey/Lee Remick/Alan Bates thriller, The Running Man) , but it was a sporadic past time for her, not a real full-time job.
Ramsay made her final movie, Una tal Dulcinea, in 1963, and after that dedicated her life to other pursuits.
In 1943, Ramsay was a target of a stalker, and had to have police protection against the man for some time. Ah, when you’re young and beautiful these men just come like flies to you.
In early 1944, Ramsay was a duet with Jack “Legs” Diamond, and Barney Glazer, but then took with a more “glamorous” beau, Mickey Rooney. They were pretty serious for a few months, and there were news that Ramsay was going to be wed to Mickey. However, all that turned out to be one hot mess and they broke up in March 1944.
After Mickey, Ramsay dated some pretty ordinary guys, like Captain John Young, a flying ace, then a salesman (sorry, didn’t catch his name). But she also danced all night with director Frank Borzage, proving that she mixed Hollywood gents with normal gents. In May she was seen with Lee Fields.
In late May, Ramsay came to blows with fellow starlet Vera Shea. The reason remains unknown, but I somehow think it’s a (shahh!) a guy. In June, she dated John Meredith. That summer she collaborated with orchestra leader Emil Coleman on a brand new song. She also had another side project: building a miniature golf course on Sunset strip, with partner Mercedes Marlowe.
Ramsay went steady with Jimmy Ritz, one of the Ritz brothers, for a time in mid 1944. She was also seen with Don Alvarado sometimes. On a funny note, Ramsay had a maid whose real name was Amey Ramsay. Ha ha ha! Wonder how much the name played a part in Ramsay’s decision to hire her… In July, burglars broke into Ramsay’s home – but they stole only an electric clock. Talk about blessings in disguise! She also had time to squeeze actor Michael Harvey, who appeared in Winged Victory on Broadway, into the list of beaus. During this time, Ramsay owned a pet dachshund dog, and enjoyed when the neighborhood kids tried to pet him.
Also, it was reported that Ramsay and Jane Greer were not fond of each other. Too bad, I like both Ramsay and Jane 😦 In August, Ramsay took up with Artie Shaw, but didn’t they all? Later that month Ramsay fell ill, but that did not stop her from keeping in touch with Jackie Coogan, and old beau who was in the army then. By late August she was well enough to appear in the Hollywood canteen. One night her shoulder strap broke, and she had a pretty humiliating experience with it.
That same month, she was dating Cantinflas, noted Spanish comic. Then it was Ramsay and David Silva. Then it was Marc Cramer. In October she was seen with famous man about town, George Jessel. The man bragged how he never dinned at home – he was so popular everybody invited him everywhere. Maybe it’s true, maybe not, but what is true is that he dated a large number of stunning Hollywood starlets. Ramsay suffered a nasty car crash that month, but there were no serious injuries involved.
Ramsay obviously has a thing for burglars – after being robbed a few times, she and her friend Sylvia Lee walked onto a burglar trying to steal a ring that Jackie Coogan gave her. Tough luck! Jackie Coogan came to New York for a furlough, and he and Ramsay tried to date again. It didn’t work out – Ramsay went on dating right away, but Coogan pined after her for some time. Interesting enough, he was seen with Mercedes Marlowe, Ramsay’s business partner!
In December, Ramsay was feted by Leslie Fenton and Ben Bogeaus. By the end of the year, she was frequently seen with Arturo Cordova. Ramsay spent the Christmas holidays that year in Palm Springs, plays gin rummy (she was allegedly an excellent player). She started the year of 1945 by dating producer Eddie Peskay. As a funny anecdote, Ramsay once received a type writer from a boyfriend of the moment. The two broke up, but she kept the typewriter and sometimes wrote bits and pieces to help her relax. Unfortunately, it the end she found out that the typewriter was not a gift – it was merely rented, and she had to pay for all the time it was with her! Imagine what she did to the former boyfriend when she met up with him (if she did, but that would have been a rage fueled encounter for sure!). On a side note, Ramsay was likened to another B movie heroines Linda Stirling – as two peas in a pod, physically very similar (I don’t see if frankly!). Another funny anecdote Ramsay was introduced to a well-known Don Juan at a party. Before the guy could even finish saying his name, she asked him”I heard all about you. So, what’s your side of the story?”
Around that time, Ramsay had an unfortunate blonde episode – she died her hair, but hr studio was so angry with her, she had to change back in less than three days. On her 21st birthday, Ramsay inherited a sizable fortune, and bought herself a mink coat. Unfortunately, just before her birthday, Ramsay had a serious mishap – she parked her car on a hill, and when she started the engine, the car just lurched forward. She hit the brakes, but they were faulty and she didn’t stop, but instead rolled down the hill for a whole block and smashed into a garage. The car was wrecked, Ramsay had to be treated in a hospital. Luckily, it wasn’t anything serious and she was back on her feet in a day or two, but she learned her lessons about faulty brakes!
In May 1945, Ramsay dated Howard Thomas. She will received presents from her constant on off beau, George Jessel. Jessel dated most of his girls like that – never serious enough for marriage, but more than a casual fling. Anyway, she announced plans to run her very own music publishing company with the money she inherited from her father (but that didn’t mean she would give up acting or cheesecake). Columnists, by then used to Ramsay dating another guy every night joked that it’s because she was so popular, not because no guy asked her out twice.
In August 1945, Ramsay sniffer orange blossoms with captain Ken Noulton, army pilot. When she went to a camp show in Texas, he was the one who flew her there. Ramsay had an elaborate wardrobe prepared for the show, and even changed three times but it was so freaking hot she shed all her clothing, doing the skit in a sun suit… Sadly, that relationship didn’t last. She was seen with George Morgan (son of actor Frank Morgan) next. That same month, Ramsay was dropped by her studio, Warner Bros.
Ramsay had another brush in with thief, when one stole a radio from her car, but left the phonographic records on the front seat. Not under any contract, Ramsay decided to expand her education and started taking a course in psychology. Afterwards she decided to freelance, and signed to appear in Cisco Kid movie. However, Ramsay’s solo effort were tougher than she expected – she broke her hand during filming, didn’t have the time to visit and a doctor and lost 10 pounds from the injury related stress. She could barely wait to finish filming and take a long break and mend her broken hand – it was healed awkwardly by then, and she had to have it broken again so it could heal properly. Ah, the boy of filming low-budget westerns!
However, her hectic love life finally came to steady pace after she and George Morgan became a proper lovely dovely. They dated for several years breaking up in about 1950, after a passionate, on off romance. They often battled, and the columnists almost took it for granted that they would wreak havoc and then make up. In December 1947, Ramsay sprained her back during dancing practice. Little was heard of Ramsay from then on. She dated Polan Banks in 1951. I 1952, she dated a N. Darvas.
Ramsay headed her own band, and they often toured South America. She got mixed up in some trouble there, and sued a very, very wealthy South American family in 1952, but I couldn’t find any information as to why and how? In 1953, she was madly in love with Harry Crocker. The papers called Ramsay a divorcee, but I have no idea whom she married and when did she divorce him. Maybe it had something to do with that South American family? Mysteries, mysteries…
In September 1953, she dated producer Morrie King before departing to Rome and Spain to make more movies. In November, there were news that Ramsay was to wed an Italian in Rome. In the end, it was reported that she met a man on the boat to Rome, married him, and separated from him, all in the span of one month!
In the meantime Ramsay went to live in Madrid, and became a columnist there. She started to hang out with Ava Gardner, another Hollywood expat. Years later, she noted how Ava slept late, like many Spaniards did – once she asked her to a flamenco party at 11 pm, and Ava said she’ll get up, have her coffee and get there. After a few years in Madrid, Ramsay ONLY returned to New York to help plug the Alexander the Great film. She underwent surgery there, but went back to Spain. She dated a wealthy Spaniard, and life seemed good for her. In 1958, Ramsay narrated the Oscar ceremony when it was broadcast in Spain. She also had her very own TV show where she interviewed celebrities. Her all time favorite guest was Sophia Loren.
At some point, Ramsay met playwright Dale Wasserman, and married him in 1966 in Nevada. Whoa Nelly, not so fast! Let’s start from the beginning. Dale Wasserman, born in 1914 in a poor family in Wisconsin, was a self schooled playwright who just hit it big time when in the early 1960s – his play Men of la mancha was a major hit that played to sold out theaters. He became a glitterati of Manhattan, and there met Ramsay in 1964. She was still living in Spain, but they kept in touch and dated on/off for two years. Ramsay was hardy the only girl on Dale’s arm – he dated a string of girls simultaneously. Yet, his friends were baffled by their relationship.
What was peculiar about Ramsay was that she wasn’t Dale’s type – he was a shy, introverted, self-centered writer, deeply imaginative, easily emotional and very fragile. She was a original Arian woman: strong, capable, independent, stubborn – a true diva in every sense of the world, who liked “fun and cocktails”, was not above being petty from time to time, pretty much spoiled from early childhood – a woman more than capable to hold her own but extremely difficult to live with.
He liked intellectual women – she was anything but, more street smart and shallow than well read and educated. She dated well-groomed, wealthy men about town (she was well-known for it in Spain) – he was noveau riche (literary!), famous for only a few years and not from an illustrious background. They were ill-matched, but married anyway. Dale kept the marriage a top-secret for as long as he could (why??), and then moved to Spain with Ramsay.
To please her, he built and furnished a lavish house somewhere in coastal part of Spain. The house gained such prominence due to its interior design that it was featured in several architectural magazines. They entertained many notables, both American and European, in it.
The Wassermans returned to US in 1970, so Dale could continue and pursue his career.Also, with this act, Ramsay ended her 17 year-long stint as expat. However, their marriage turned sour somewhere along the road, and they divorced in 1980 after 14 years after the married. later, Dale claimed that marrying Ramsay was the worst mistake he made in his long life.
Ramsay lived the rest of her days in California, and was devoted to many charity causes, especially those with regards to homeless animals (dogs in particular). She was very kind towards her fans, always writing back whenever sent her a fan letter.
Ramsay Ames died on March 30, 1998, from lung cancer, in Santa Monica, California.