Dorothy Day AKA Vicki Lester

Vickilester2

Yank Girls continued! Dorothy Day/Vicki Lester had a more substantial career than most starlets of the time. She played both leads and supports in a variety of B movies. She was most certainly beautiful and wasn’t a talent less hack. So, again I ask, what went wrong? The more I think about it, the more I understand it’s not a question of what went wrong, but what went right with the ones that actually made it. Hollywood is such a fickle, unstable town, and there is no given formula of success.

EARLY LIFE

Dorothy Gertrude Day was born on April 17, 1915, in Manhattan, New York City, to Alfred Day and Gertrude Van Der Raalte. Her great great aunt was the great actress Charlotte Cushman.

Dorothy attended grade and Julian Richman High School in the borough. After graduation, she started doing modeling work, and pretty soon was one of the 12 most photographer models in Gotham. For instance, if you picked up just one issue of a magazine in 1936, she was bound to be in at least 3 commercials, and her record was 10!

Like many New York models, Dorothy was signed by Walter Wanger for Vouges of 1938, and this catapulted her to Hollywood.

CAREER

Dorothy appeared in movies as Dorothy Day and Vicki Lester. She came to Hollywood in 1937, a seasoned model, to appear in Vogues of 1938. The name alone reveals much about th emovie – it’s all about the fashions, the pretty colors and beautiful girls. Story? Characters? Zero sum! While they actually have decent actors at work here (Warner Baxter, Joan Bennett), it’s a paper thin affair.

VickiLester1Dorothy’s name was changed to Vicki Lester, and she would remain Lester until 1943. She made her first appearance in Warner Bros’s The Patient in Room 18, a typical, run of the mill comedy-detective-potboiler. Warners churned out hundreds of movies just like this on a yearly basis – what to say? Chances they are any good are slim pickings at best, but often the movies were mediocre and decent enough. At least we have the charming Ann Sheridan in the female lead here. Maid’s Night Out continued in the same vein, a silly and charming little romance movie with future superstar Joan Fontaine in the lead. The story is same old, same old – a rich guy pretends to be poor to win a bet, and fall in love. Moving on! Fools for Scandal is a Carole Lombard vehicle with a uninspired story – American actress (Carole Lombard) visiting Paris meets a penniless Frenchman (Fernand Gravet). He becomes smitten with her and pursues her for the rest of the movie. This doesn’t sit well with her dull American beau (Ralph Bellamy). Again, what to say? Carole sure was a charismatic, charming actress, Gravet is a Gallic Don Juan and Ralph Bellamy plays the scorned, boring lover to perfection. Cute, nice and nothing more than that.

This Marriage Business is another B romantic comedy, starring Victor Moore as a small town justice, none of whose weddings have ended in divorce. Mix it up with a mischievous reporter and Vicki in the leading female role, and you know the drill. Like most of the films mentioned beforehand, it’s charming and breezy, but no high art. Go Chase Yourself squarely fits into the silly but nice crime movie category. Look out for an early role for Lucille BallHaving Wonderful Time was originally a Broadway play about a Catskill Mountains resort and the assortment of Jewish people who visit it. It was a biting satire on the types and stereotypes of the New York’s Jewish population, written by Arthur Kober (to me, better known as the husband of Lillian Hellman). Hollywood, in its typical fashion, took a nicely done show, watered it down (the characters are not Jewish anymore!) and gave us only a mildly interesting final product. The roster of talent here is impressive – Ginger Rogers, Douglas Fairbanks, Jr., Lee Bowman, Eve Arden, Jack Carson, Lucille Ball and Michael (Red) Skelton, but all are underused. Sky Giant is an insipid, lukewarm aviation drama whose main claim to fame is Richard Dix’s profile. Go figure!

Vicki was finally cast in at least marginally better movies with The Mad Miss Manton, another piece of fluff, but well made and acted fluff. When you pair Barbara Stanwyck and Henry Fonda, you are bound to have at least a semi decent movie, and this has a script to match. This was Dorothy/Vicki’s last movie for a brief time, and she returned in 1940, with The Great Plane Robbery, a forgotten movie about a (gasp!) plane robbery. You’re Out of Luck is another in the series of films that paired Frankie Darro and Montan Moreland as best friends fighting crime. we have already mentioned it in this blog, as Kay Sutton plays the femme fatale. Decent but nothing special. Tall, Dark and Handsome is a parody of early 1930s movies, with Cesar Romero in the lead and a pretty good supporting cast – Sheldon Leonard, Virginai Gilmore, Milton Berle, Charlotte Greenwood. It’s quite funny at times and ultimately, a satisfying watch for this genre. Tom Dick and Harry proved to be the best known movie on Vicki’s filmography. This is a screwball comedy done right – simple but effective story, witty dialogue, great actors! While I understand that a number of people will never like movies like these, it is hard to deny that there are qualities (I lack a better word for that) about these movies that are impossible to reconstruct today. Classic! And Vicki has a pretty good role in this one, as one of the girls. Next came The Miracle Kid, a so-so boxing drama with Tom Neal in the lead.

VickIlester3And thus Dorothy came to the dreaded moment of an actresses life – the moment she starts to appear in low budget westerns. The movie in question was The Lone Rider and the Bandit. No comment. Her next one, Sleepytime Gal, is a Judy Canova comedy, movies that are sure to polarize the public. You either love or hate it. You’re Telling Me is another forgotten comedy. Her last movie under the moniker of Vicki Lester was I Live on Danger, actually a pretty decent crime movie with a sterling B class cast – Chester Morris, Dick Purcell and Jean Parker. Morris is a likable actor, and Parker could have catapulted to A class easily if she only had the right breaks.

After this, Dorothy reverted to her old name, moved back to the East Coast, and did a wartime propaganda short movie, Women at War. She then took time off to get involved in the war effort, and returned to movies in 1945, with Diamond Horseshoe. Now, this is a kind of musical I like better than some MGM extravaganzas. While it’s lush and lavish like a musical should be, it actually has a pretty good story, and the stars are simply magnetic! Who can not like Betty Grable? She such a vivacious, lively presence! Same goes for Dick Haymes. And here comes the last one… Kiss Them for Me. Now, this is one weird movie. The plot is actually above average, and the character Grant plays, if you get over the posh Mid Atlantic accent, is well written. However, there are some parts of the movie that just baffle me. Why did they have make them? Plus, Suzy Parker, for all her beauty, is a terrible actress. So sad…

That was it from both Dorothy Day and Vicki Lester.

PRIVATE LIFE

How did Dorothy get her moniker? Well, after making Vogues of 1938, she returned back to New York City for a brief visit, and when she came back, she learned from the studio brass she was renamed, without consulting her, to Vicki Lester, the heroine of A Star is Born, played by Janet Gaynor.

Vickilester4Dorothy played the piano, danced and sang. She was a clothes horse, and her ideal was “heaven of clothes”. She hated throwing away old shoes. Her favorite foods were caviar, steak, truffles and creppes suzettes (she sure had expensive taste!). Her favorite color was blue, and her favorite flower was the gardenia. She liked to watch football and ice hockey. She mostly read epics (Gone with the Wind, Anthony Adverse, Good Earth). She was superstitious, collected handkerchiefs and carried her lucky matrix ring with her at all times. For keeping her figure trim, she swam and ice skated.

There is a article that claims that Dorothy was married in the mid 1930s, and had a son from that marriage, who was born in about 1935. I could not find any such document, but this is possible, as her life in New York is obscure at best.

When she landed in Hollywood in 1937, she was a constant duet with Willard Parker, handsome B actor who would end up marrying Virginia Field in 1951 (I love Virginia!). By the end of the year, she was hooked up with another handsome B actor, Jon Hall. However, there were persistent rumors she would wed Parker, and they even had good odds in the Hollywood marriage betting pool (oh yes, they even had that back in the 1930s. Crazy decade!). She also managed to squeeze Milton Berle in between. However, by early 1938, she was seen with neither Hal or Parker, but with a new swain, Paul Draper.

In 1938, it was reported that Dorothy and Allan Lane, western star, were not an item but quite the opposite – they absolutely disliked each other off camera. The most ironic part of this story is the fact that Dorothy and Allan knew each other from way back, when she was just starting as a model in New York City and he owned a modeling agency.

By March 1938, Dorothy was steady dating Dick Purcell. The relationship turned serious pretty soon, and they were to be wed in July 1938. We gifted her with a sapphire engagement ring. They set the wedding to October. In July, he was on location for filming Valley of the Giants, and they wrote passionate love letters to each other daily. And upon his return, Dick took rumba lessons to please Dorothy. They planed to fly all over the States for their honeymoon. Ah, love! At the same time,  Dorothy fell into a feud with Frances Mercer over the title of Best Dressed Woman in Hollywood.

VickIlester5The couple had a spat in September, got over it, and when Dorothy landed in hospital in October 1938, Dick was with her every single day. Then, all of a sudden, the papers started mentioning that the man Dorothy really loved was not Dick, but rather some Billy Reed? And truly, by November 1938, they were kaput! After that, in typical “can’t live with you, can’t live without you” fashion, they were on and of for a few additional months. Purcell dated Jane Wyman, then tried to hush it up and claimed that Dorothy was his one and only and that he will wed her… typical hammy behavior. By the time Dorothy got really sick in October 1939, they were over. Her mother came from the East to take care of her. Now, this is my theory of what happened – During her convalescence, she met a Dr. Sterling Bowen, who became her fiancee by the end of the year. That barely lasted until early 1940 – she took up with John Rose, a Disney executive, afterwards. She then dated Dick Behans and Alex D’Arcy. She got together again with Dr. Sterling Brown by June 1940. Sometime in the 1940s, Dorothy also had a few dates with Mickey Rooney.

By 1939, Dorothy was dating Bennett Cerf, the wealthy publisher/bon vivant, former husband of Sylvia Sidney. This too did not last, and by mid 1940, she was seen with director Al Hall. Then came Bob Oliver. Later that year, she started to date Eddie Cherkose, famed songwriter. What started as a nice, lovely dovely romance ended a bitter feud by June 1941. That year she was also romanced, long distance, by Stuart Schweit (all the way from Chicago!). In August 1941, she was laid up in the hospital bed once again, this time ptomaine poisoning. By early 1942, she was dating Matty Fox. He was swiftly replaced by Cesar Romero in March 1942. By April, it was Terry Hunt, the bodybuilder. By November 1942, there was talk she would elope with Richard Deer (or Derr). This was a serious relationship, but it didn’t lead to the altar. Perc Westmore took over by early 1943. In April 1943, she was dated by Brazilian playboy George Guinle. However, by June 1943, she was serious with George Brent. Boy, did she move fast! She then went to a USO tour of Europe with Jack McCoy, and allegedly even met the Pope in Rome.

lildorothydayIn early 1945, she met Steven Stanford, and married him on December 2, 1945, in Los Angeles. Stanford was born on November 6, 1909, to Charles Stanford and Rhoda Jamnik in Norway. He was a Norwegian ski champion who decided to turn to clothes designing. He spent some time in Paris and New York before settling in Hollywood.

She gave up movies and bought a dress shop. She started designing clothes, and was quite successful at it. However, the marriage was very short lived – they separated in July 1946. Stanford remarried in 1960 to Betty Skelly and died on July 25, 1979.

Betty wasted no time in waiting, and started dating director Jack Bernhard. They were married on November 13, 1947. Jack was born on to, Joseph Bernhard and Tillie Schmalzback. He grew up in the States, and started working as a writer then as a assistant producer, finally graduating to producer. During the war, he served in the UK, where he met Jean Gillie, and actress who would become his wife. They married in about 1944 and divorced in 1947. Jean died in 1949 (what a sad waste! She was a superb actress).

Both Jack and Dorothy retired from movie by the early 1950s. I have no idea what they did afterwards, nor if they had any children.

Jack Bernhard died on March 30, 1997, in Beverly Hills, California.
Dorothy Day Bernhard died on May 7, 2001, in Beverly Hills, California.

Advertisements

Dorothy Van Nuys

Dorothy Van Nuys 3

Dorothy Van Nuys was a magnificent Amazon-line beauty, standing six feet tall, with a voluptuous figure and a pleasing face. Yet, as we have learned countless times before, this means so little in Hollywood, place where beautiful women pour in large doses. And Dorothy became one of the many nameless faces in musicals that never propelled their career on to the next stage.

EARLY LIFE

Dorothy Jane Van Nuys was born on November 24, 1922, in Payette, Idaho, to Edward G. Van Nuys and Roma Van Nuys. She was their only child. Her mother and father worked in a tandem as salespeople. The family moved to Honolulu, Hawaii, when she was 4 years old, in 1926. She grew up on the island.

Dorothy was tutored by private tutors in Honolulu and attended high school there. She was active in the sports department – she danced, swam, played tennis and took up diving. However, her major passion was deep-sea fishing – she was as good as any guy and undertook multi day excursions around Hawaii to catch big fish. Unfortunately, the adventure came to an end when she got stuck on a coral reef for two days with little to no food and water. She gave up fishing after that, and took up dancing more seriously. This propelled her to try to become a professional dancer.

Dorothy graduated from high school and returned to the mainland in 1940. She worked as a model and Ziegfeld girl, and got her Hollywood shot in 1944.

CAREER

Dorothy Van Nuys1Dorothy appeared in only two movies in her whole Hollywood career. The first one was Ziegfeld Follies. I have written about this movie before, as a large number of starlets appeared in it. But what is there to say? I myself don’t like this kind of musical. Yes, this is MGM at its absolute best, when the had the best sound stages, best songwriters, best music writers, best dancers and singer. The movie was easily attest to that – just look at the line-up: Fred Astaire, Gene Kelly, Lucille Bremer, Esther Williams, Lucille Ball, Fanny Brice, Lena Horne, Red Skelton, William Powell and so on… The dancing is magical. The sets are superb, and the music is pretty good. Yet, this is a movie with no substance behind the (wonderful) illusion. Mind you, it never tries to be much more than that, but as I said, I prefer my movies with a little more plot and depth. I understand that musicals are not quite the genre for deep philosophical discussion, but countless other musicals had better stories and conveyed stronger (no matter how simple) messages. But well, if you like it this way, enjoy!

Dorothy Van Nuys2Dorothy’s second and last movie role was in The Harvey Girls, another musical. IMHO, this one is a total step up from Ziegfeld Follies. It was made in the same studio – MGM, warranting great production values and wonderful stars, yet it has a coherent story and a message! Yaay! As one IMDB reviewer wrote:  the film tells the story, in words and music, of a group of waitresses brought west in the late 1800’s to open another link in the Fred Harvey chain of restaurants. In the process, they encounter all kinds of romantic and dramatic conflicts. Judy Garland plays the lead, and John Hodiak, a decent actor but not material for a musical lead (IMHO), plays her love interest. It’s got everything you could want from this type of movie – humor, a bit of a soapy melodrama, god music, great vocalists and a passable story. And all in lush Technicolor! Dorothy is one of the background dancers (the Harvey girls of the title!).

PRIVATE LIFE

In 1941, Dorothy graces the newspaper cover all around the States as the official Camel girl. This was  a huge boost for her career, as she truly was one of the most visible models of the year thanks to this. Then she falls of the newspaper radar for three years.

Dorothy Van Nuys 4In 1944, Dorothy was living with her mother in Los Angeles. One day she phoned home and a fireman answered – the house burned down! Her whole wardrobe, except the thing she had on when she went out that day, was lost. Luckily, her mother escaped the fire in time.

From the early 1940s, Dorothy was steady dating her business manager, Barry Mirkin. Mirkin was born in 1918, and was a fixture in the Los Angeles entertainment world for decades. They broke up in early 1944. Mirkin later married Joan Burnham. He died in 2007 in Los Angeles.

In May 1944, she was “The oddest twosome in town” with George Stone, five-feet-five. And yes, Dorothy was six foot tall! Imagine how cute they looked!

In late 1944, Dorothy dated Paramount director Marty Lewis.

By 1945, Dorothy was back to being a full-time model, and by 1950, she was living and working in San Francisco, part of an acting company. After that stint, she moved to San Raphael and with a few fellow models, gave lectures on how to look like a model. They were very popular, and had plenty of clients. She even had her own charm school at some point in the 1960s, and was a member of the local Models Association. But what about her love life?

Dorothy married Zachary Armand Charles in Las Vegas, Nevada, on November 3, 1957. Her movie career far over by that time, the marriage produced no ripples in the journalistic sea.

ZacharyCharlesZachary Armand Charles was born on November 7, 1918, in New York City,where he grew up. He was good friends with Marlon Brando and Carlo Fiore in the late 1940s, when all three were young and struggling actors. He made his movie debut in 1950, and worked in TV from 1954. On September 11, 1949, he married Donna Beamount in California. They divorced in the early 1950s.

Their daughter Cynthia was born on July 28, 1958, in Marin, California. Their son Jason C. was born on June 14, 1962, in Marin.

Dorothy Van Nuys 5Dorothy and Zachary divorced in February 1969 in Marin. He returned to New York and soem time later continued his TV career. In a strange stroke of fate, his last role was in one of my absolute all time favorite video games – The beast within – a Gabriel Knight Mystery. Anyone who played the game – he’s the cuckoo clock vendor!!! Dorothy stayed in Marin and lived quietly there for the rest of her life.

Dorothy Van Nuys died on October 8, 1985, in Marin, California. Zachary Charles died on November 15, 2007, in Burbank, California.

Martha Holliday

Martha_Holliday4
Beautiful and slightly exotic, Yank Cover girl Martha Holliday sure had the looks to stand up and be noticed. By the time she landed in Hollywood, she was an experienced ballet dancer. So, what happened? She was given a chance in a major musical and after that failed, her career sank for good.

EARLY LIFE

Harriette A. Olson was born on August 3, 1922 in Fort Smith, Arkansas, to Hialmer A. Olson and his wife, Betty G. Olson. She was the youngest of six children: her older siblings were Willard (born in 1906), Kathryn (born in 1908), Vivien Ione (born in 1910), Lester Don (born in 1913) and Byron M. (born in 1915). Her father was an accountant, born in Minnesota. Her mother was born in Sweden and immigrated to the States in the early 20th century.

The family moved to Oklahoma City, Oklahoma when Harriette was a toddler and she attended elementary and high school there.

Martha started to dance before she turned 10 years old. Her talent was noted and she was soon readying herself to become a pro. She became a professional ballet entertainer while still in high school. She spent her summer vacations traveling around these United States,’ dancing in night clubs all the key cities of the nation. On the day she got her high school diploma and a contract as premiere ballerina with the Pro-Arte Ballet company, of Havana.

After a season with the Havana ballet, Martha returned to the States, went to Hollywood, signed with Warner Brothers. She wanted to act, but they made her teach dancing. She was only 18 then, but for three years she taught some of the biggest stars at that studio how to dance. She set the routines for Jimmy Cagney’s George M. Cohan steps in “Yankee Doodle Dandy,” and often her legs doubled for those of feminine stars who couldn’t master intricate numbers. Martha’s option lapsed after three years. So she signed with RKO, with the understanding that she could forget dancing and become an actress. But a month later, studio executives asked her to teach dance routines to other players. She taught dancing for some more time.

Martha was patient and waited for her time to come. It did when she was noticed by Don Dilloway, RKO head talent scout. He tested her, and found her a perfect combo for musicals – beautiful, a good dancer, decent actress. She was put into George White’s Scandals, playing the romantic lead opposite Phillip Terry. The movie was the biggest film musical on RKO’s current program, and her career started!

CAREER

Martha was already 23 years old when she made her debut in The Enchanted Cottage, a wonderful, gentle and very touching movie. The plot alone is such a magical one: A homely maid and a scarred ex-GI meet at the cottage where she works and where he was to spend his honeymoon prior to his accident. The two develop a bond and agree to marry, more out of loneliness than love. The romantic spirit of the cottage, however, overtakes them. They soon begin to look beautiful to each other, but no one else. combine this with superb movie performances by Robert Young and Dorothy McGuire, and we have a winner for the ages.

Martha_Holliday1Her one brief flash of fame was due to her appearing in George White’s Scandals. Now, the movie is a mixed bag with more bad than good, unfortunately. As one reviewer wrote:

I have a feeling that over at RKO they heard that MGM was doing The Ziegfeld Follies and decided to do George White’s Scandals. White who was an actor as well as producer appeared in his own shows and in adoptions over at 20th Century Fox. Here however White is played by Glenn Tryon.
MarthaHolliday3But White himself is extraneous to this story which concerns two backstage plots. White’s number one assistant Philip Terry falls for Martha Holiday whose mother back in the day was chorus girl in the Scandals but who married English nobility and retired. Now Holiday is trying out but lets no one know including Terry. Holiday also has Jane Greer as a rival who is pretty ruthless about getting her way.

The best part of the movie is a love story, but not Martha’s love story. Here is another review from IMDB:

Where it is very funny (and very worth watching) is for the teaming of Joan Davis and Jack Haley as musical revue comics who have to deal with the fact that Haley’s spinster sister (the wonderful Margaret Hamilton) does not approve of her brother being in show business and is determined to keep Davis from marrying him no matter what. Davis and Haley are perfectly matched, and of course it is a delight to see Hamilton playing sister to her “Wizard of Oz” co-star (Haley).

Martha_Holliday2Yes, the movie is a funny and amusing farce when Haley/Davis are on the screen, and it becomes a mush, a bland exercise in romance when Martha and Phillip Terry. Martha does have a few dancing sequences, but she is hardly ever mentioned in the reviews and obviously she was not quite what RKO expected when they made the movie. This hurt her career tremendously, and she was dropped from her contract not long after. In 1947, she signed with the death row Republic Studios.

The Flame was Martha’s first movie for her new studio, Republic. It’s easy to put a summary of it: A woman falls for the victim of an intended blackmail plot. Yep, been there, seen that! The plot is lackluster at best, and fails to give the leads any chance to act (heck, when your leads and John Carroll and Vera Ralston, I somehow doubt they even know how to act!). The best things about the movie is Broderick Crawford who plays the ruffian villain and Constance Dowling as his dancer girlfriend.

Martha_Holliday7Martha followed this by I, Jane Doe, another run of the mill, uninteresting movie. The plot is a typical woman weepie – an American fighter pilot marries a French girl during WW2, but he’s already married to a successful lawyer back in the U.S. However, the European bride follows him back to the US and winds up killing him, and finds herself being defended in court by the wife of the man she has just killed. The only true plus side is the charming Ruth Hussey (love that woman!), and you have to wonder why did the sop marry Vera Ralston (the European wife) when he has Ruth Hussey back home!

Martha’s last movie appearance was in Lulu Belle, an interesting movie. While not a top master piece, it’s a story Hollywood rarely told (IMHO) – about a woman who does everything to climb the ladder of success. There are some good movies of this type, but not enough! Here we have Lulu Belle, played deftly by Dorothy Lamour (she was weird looking, but a decent actress!), who uses men to leave behind her saloon singing job to become a Broadway star. The men are played by George Montgomery, Albert Dekker,Otto Kruger and so on. As you can see, it’s a pretty good cast and the movie definitely works. Unfortunately, it did nothing for Martha’s career.

PRIVATE LIFE

In June 1945, there was talk of Martha marrying actor Mike St. Angel. a native of Rockford, Illinois. Now this is where all the mumbo jumbo started – I was sure that she married Mike and lived happily ever after with him. NOT! In fact, that totally pushed me of the right track. Namely, Mike St. Angel did marry a Miss Holliday, it just wasn’t Martha but Marjorie. For a time I was sure that Martha and Marjorie were one and the same person – but upon closer inspection, they were two separate entities.

Martha_Holliday5However, there are some interesting similarities. Martha was born on August 3, 1922 – Marjorie was born September 21, 1920 (only 2 years apart). Marjorie, like Martha, was born in the South – in Alabama. Like Martha, she moved as a toddler to another state – just not the same one, Martha moved to Oklahoma and Marjorie to Florida (counted Miami as her home town). She started her career in 1947, while Martha was still in Hollywood. And the girls bear a superficial resemblance, mostly due to their slated eyes. The biggest and saddest similarity if their DOB – Marjorie died, age 48, on June 16, 1969 – the same age as Martha when she died (in 1970).

Martha was dating Robert Graham Paris, Rita Hayworth’s coach. There were rumors the two would elope. Pushed by this info, I did a little research on Paris, and found some interesting things. In the blog, Art Lobster, Robert’s nephew writes that Robert left home (Wyoming,) for New York City, studied acting with some of the best acting coaches of that time (Boleslavsky, Ouspenskaya, and Belasco), and ended up a speech coach in Hollywood. He never married, and there were rumors that he was gay (typical, bachelor men were often branded gay back then 😦 ). Robert was a master gourmet cook, and published his very own cook book, Gourmet Cooking for One. What an interesting man!

Martha_Holliday6Sadly, the relationship didn’t last. In late 1945, she was seen with Barney Glazer.

After 1946, Martha slide into obscurity. She still acted but only in uncredited roles. All steam was gone from her acting career, and she retired in 1948. I could not find any accounts of Martha ever marrying, so I’ll assume she never did.

Harriette Olson died on November 22, 1970, in Los Angeles, California.

Delma Byron

Delma1

On with the Yank girls… In a city of beautiful women that was Hollywood in the 1930s, Delma Byron was a stand-out and that is certainty saying something. With smooth, porcelain skin, pale blonde hair and a regal bearing, she was truly a perfect example of a stunning lady-like beauty. Too bad she ended up a minor actress (but not a complete unknown).

EARLY LIFE

Sara Delma Bynum was born on July 31, 1912, in Weakley County, Tennessee, to Samuel H. Bynum and Minnie Pearl Harris. Her older sister, Dulcie, was born on July 19, 1910.

Unfortunately, Minnie died in 1914, when Sara was only 2 years old. Samuel remarried to Reoma A. Gargus, a Kentucky native who ultimately raised both Dulcie and Sara. Her half brother James was born in 1919.

The family moved around a bit, settling for a time in Kentucky. They were living in Akron, Ohio, in 1930. The family moved back to Kentucky at some point after 1930. Sara was a lively child who studied dancing from the age of ten.

After high school, Delma ran away from home to join a revue as a dancer. She toured the southern states in a troupe then later took a job modeling clothes. The became an actress and toured with a stock company. In 1935, after years of stage experience, she was discovered by 20th Century Fox and given a chance in films.

CAREER

Delma, despite her exquisite beauty, had a very thin movie resume, and only a slightly more expansive TV resume. Her best known movie came very late in her career, something I have rarely seen in any actress’ filmography.

Delma2Delma made her debut in Professional Soldier, a movie that’s very successful at what is tried to be – a lightweight, fun and colorful action movies, aimed for men and boys. The plot is simple enough: major star of the day, iron jawed Victor McLaglen plays a professional soldier who is hired to kidnap a king, played by kiddie star Freddie Bartholomew, but he gets much more than he bargained for. it’s not a world-class masterpiece, but it works wonderfully. Victor is superb as always.

Delma had a bigger role in Everybody’s Old Man, based on a strikingly contemporary (even today) story – taken from imdb – The leading actor, Irvin Cobb, plays a grumpy, but very successful businessman who holds a grudge against his main competitor, who is also a former friend. When the friend dies suddenly, Cobb investigates the competing company and finds that his friend’s son and daughter have been wasting all their money and are in danger of losing the company to some conniving executives. He does his best to straighten out the profligate kids and nurtures a romance between his son and the competitor’s daughter. Cobb is not quite up to the task, and the movie suffers accordingly.

Champagne Charlie is a typical, run of the mill 1930s B movie. Short summary, taken from IMDB: B-film from Fox has a gambler known as Champagne Charlie (Paul Cavanagh) getting behind on debts so he decides to marry a society girl (Helen Wood) so that he can get her money but the poor sap ends up falling in love. There is nothing to recommend the movie, but it’s not a bad piece of work, and features some pretty good character actors.

Delma4Dimples became THE movie of Delma’s early filmography, and the first one that gathered her some major newspaper coverage. Why? Because it was a Shirley Temple vehicle, that’s why! In a time when Shirley was de facto number one star of Hollywood, when she saved studios from bankruptcy and was as influential as any politician, it was A BIG thing to act in a Shirley Temple movie. And Delma had that honor. Something about the plot: Dimples Appleby lives with the pick-pocket grandfather in 19th century New York City. She entertains the crowds while he works his racket. A rich lady makes it possible for the girl to go legit. “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” is performed. It’s easy to get the drift of this movie. The plot is secondary, the music and dancing are good enough, Shirley is so cute and vivacious she just steals your heart away, she is supported by tons of good older character actors and beautiful younger actors. Delma squarely fits in the later category.

Delma3Let’s try and appraise this role realistically: it was without a doubt a major boost for Delma’s publicity. And when you are a young and pretty starlet hungry for fame, this is a good thing. However, in hindsight, it’s clear that acting as a second fiddle in a movie that’s centered on a 10-year-old child is not the way to go if you want a solid acting career. It’s impossible to deny that some actors propel this into lucrative careers, but they are few and far between, and Delma wasn’t one of them. Despite all the hullabaloo surrounding the movie, she quickly faded into obscurity.

Delma made only one more movie in the 1930s, Laughing at Trouble. Plot: Jane Darwell is Glory Bradford, a newspaper editor whose niece is in love with John Campbell (Allan “Rocky” Lane), unjustly accused of murdering his wealthy uncle with a knife. After the jury returns a guilty verdict, Campbell escapes from prison and hides out at Glory’s home, with the alert Sheriff (James Burke) following close behind. Leading the chase with his German Shepherd in tow, is hot-headed Deputy Sheriff Alec Brady (John Carradine), determined to replace his boss as the town sheriff, who doesn’t hesitate to shoot the elusive Campbell against the Sheriff’s orders. The local doctor (Frank Reicher) gives Campbell the okay to remain at Glory’s due to his near-fatal injury, while Brady resigns and begins to work up the townspeople into an outraged mob over their harboring of an escaped criminal. During the evening, a remark from unmarried gossip Lizzie Beadle (Margaret Hamilton), about $10,000 in Treasury bonds belonging to Campbell’s late uncle, helps lead Glory to the true identity of the real murderer. The movie looks good enough, and tackles some interesting questions, but it’s almost lost today and obviously not remembered as well as it should have been. Delma plays the blonde ingenue, and it’s clear that if she remained in Hollywood for a longer stretch of time, she would have continued to mold this thankless stereotype. She was so beautiful and fragile that I find it hard to believe she could have broken the bound to become a proper dramatic actress. Hollywood is just like this sometimes. Aware of her status, Delma quite movies and devoted herself to other pursuits.

Delma5She returned 13 years later, in the late 1940s, with Southward Ho Ho!, a short comedy skit with Tom Ewell. She worked more or less steadily for the next decade, doing TV work (Hands of MysteryRobert Montgomery PresentsMasterpiece PlayhouseMartin KaneKraft TheatreThe Brighter DayM SquadRichard Diamond, Private DetectiveThe Untouchables), and appearing in two movies. The first was a TV movie, Lady in the Dark, a musical with music by Kurt Weill and lyrics by Ira Gershwin. Ann Sothern plays Liza Elliott, is the unhappy female editor of a fashion magazine, Allure, who is undergoing psychoanalysis. It’s a Freudian movie musical,

In 1958 Delma appeared in Auntie Mame, her most famous movie and best remembered role. What more need sot be said about this infinitely charming movie? Roz Russell is a gem, the writing is superb and the movie in general is truly emotional and touching. Classic Hollywood filmmaking at its best. Delma plays Sally Cato.

Delma stayed active in the theater for some time after, but never made another movie.

PRIVATE LIFE

Delma was a constant duet with your Australian actor, Alan Marshal, in 1936. For a while it was tough thy might get to the altar, but the relationship fizzled before the year was out. In January 1937, she was the leading contended with Howard Lang, who took her out for five night in a row.

Delma6In 1937, Delma became engaged to Frank Hervey Cook, a member of a well-known Helena, Montana oil family.  Cook was born on November 28, 1899, in Colorado Springs, Colorado. His father died when he was a boy and his mother remarried to A.B. Cook, was a world renown grower of blooded livestock. He attended St. Paul’s School in Concord, New Hampshire, graduating in 1919. He assisted his adopted father on the ranch, and after his operated the ranch on a smaller scale. In 1931 he married Lena (Sally) Gosnell Finley, heiress of the Gosnell oil fortune. She died of a heart ailment August 5, 1933. He was a widower when he met Delma.

This relationship lasted for several years, and Delma was a frequent guest at the home of Frank’s sister Gloria Walker (for propriety’s sake, of course). However, by 1942, after years of dating, they seemed to have gone kaput! In 1953, Cook moved the Dunleavy house to the Bedford Ranch north of Townsend, Montana. He rarely left the ranch and never remarried. Frank Hervey Cook was murdered there, in an apparent robbery attempt, on November 22, 1970. Three men were arrested under the suspicion for his murder.

In 1943, Delma was dating Ken Spalding of the Tobacco Road ensemble show. Sometime after 1945, Delma moved to Europe and became an accomplished sculptress when she lived in Venice, Italy. She returned to the States in the late 1940s. She settled in New York and was active in the theater circles. Delma never married, and news of her love life were scarce.

In the 1970s,  she retired from showbiz and moved to Kentucky, where both her sister and brother lived. There she was a much-loved member of the community and enjoyed her golden years surrounded by family and friends.

Delma Byron died on May 29, 2006, in Leland, Kentucky.