Marbeth Wright

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Pretty, well-built and with a fine singing voice, Marbeth Wright was just 14 when she signed her first contract and hope for the best. For whatever reason, her movie career never got oft he ground – however she found luck in other revues of showbiz and achieved a better career in Europe.

EARLY LIFE

Marbeth Wright was born on July 9, 1915, in Crawford, Texas, to James C. Wright and Mabel Anderson, their only child. Her father was a police officer. The family moved to Los Angeles, California sometime after 1920, and Marbeth grew up and attended school there.

Marbeth started performing at the tender age of 11 – on a gathering in her home town,  she sang popular songs, including “Honey Bunch,” “What a Man’ and several others, and won much applause for her skills. She was bitten by the showbiz bug, and there was no other path – she would become an actress. Although only 11 years old, she started working hard to achieve her dreams, and from then on was a regular at the pageant and dancing scenes.

Marbeth won Cecil De DeMille’s personality Contest, actually a lure to find new talent they could exploit in movies. Marbeth was allegedly Miss Los Angeles in 1928, which would make her only 13 years old when she won the title. Was that even legal? Yet, all the documents attest that she was born in 1915. Weird. I would put her at least in 1913, if not 1912. After winning this title, the doors to Hollywood were wide open for the beautiful girl, and she signed a studio contract in 1929 and started her career the same year.

CAREER

After three silent films that I won’t cover here (The Great Gabbo, Happy Days and The Bridge), Marbeth appeared in Just Imagine, one of the most bizarre movies to get out of Hollywood. The forced and generally unfunny comedian, El Brendel, plays a normal guy (huh, touch luck with calling his humor normal) who is struck by lightning in 1930, and winds up in 1980 New York. And you imagine how people in 1930 imagined 1980! They sure didn’t expect the shoulder pads and the hair spray! Needless to say, it’s campy, it’s ridiculous and it’s so bad it’s good! As one reviewer wrote, “There are relays of airplane roads above the city, babies are dropped from coin fed machines, and outfits are made reversible for day and evening wear.” Don’t tell me you don’t want to see this!

marbeth-wright-01Marbeth next appeared in The Trial of Vivienne Ware, a well made and sturdy drama with Joan Bennett as the innocent female lead, pushed into a nasty court trial. She was again a dancer in It’s Great to Be Alive, another bizarre one. The plot already goes south in the first sentence: An aviator who crash landed on an island in the South Pacific returns home to find that he is the last fertile man left on Earth after an epidemic of masculitus. A reviewer wrote about it on IMDB: “It’s Great to Be Alive” is one of the weirdest movies I’ve ever seen. It’s a science-fiction comedy, similar in spirit to “Just Imagine” (1930), although not quite as musicalised. This is a dumb movie, but it’s so cheerful in its mindlessness that you’ll have a good time watching it …. What more do I need to say? Hollywood sure made some very strange movies back in the day.

Marbeth took a hiatus from movies – I have no idea what exactly was she doing, I always suspect, when an actresses disappears, that she got married and then divorced, but perhaps this is not the case with her. When she returned in 1935, she appeared in The Lottery Lover, a conventional and only average movie about the misadventures of military cadets in Paris. Like most movies set in Paris in the 1930s, it features the Folies Bergere prominently. Lavish costumes and great sets can’t manage to save a dull script and insipid story.

Guess what? Marbeth then appeared in a movie aptly titled Folies Bergère de Paris. And guess what again? The movie is actually not a bad one. Headed by the effortlessly charming Maurice Chevalier (the king of precode, oh la la), it’s a story about an entertainer impersonates a banker who looks just like him, causing confusion for the bankers wife and his girlfriend. It has all the right ingredients – the witty banter, good music and decent actors. She continued her dancing output in George White’s 1935 Scandals, a typical George White movie, full of pretty girls dancing and with little to no plot.

Marbeth appeared in another idiotic musical, and that movie is truly and well forgotten, Redheads on Parade. Next, she was not a dancer but rather a secretary in The Girl Friend, only a modesty funny comedy with Ann Sothern, Jack Haley and Roger Pryor. Nothing to write home about! She finished her movie career with Music Is Magic – this is officially an Alice Faye movie, the true star is  Bebe Daniels, a 34-year-old star who refuses to acknowledge that her prime is past that she must choose roles in accordance to her advanced age! I cannot stress enough how this movie shows, unintentionally, how Hollywood treats women. While I’m the first to say that casting people who are too old for some roles is not a perfect solution, the lack of substantial roles for women above 35 years of age is alarming. And Daniels, still beautiful and with tons of charisma, is a better actress than the younger Faye and truly steals the show.

Marbeth moved to other forms of showbiz, and never made another movie.

PRIVATE LIFE

Marbeth was 5’5” tall, and tried to get into the papers like any dutiful starlet tries, but she never caused a scandal or sensation. It was her baking skills that got her into the papers in 1929 – she baked a very nice bread man for a culinary fair.

Marbeth also gave a handy beauty hint to readers:

An alluring note is added to light summer gowns by the use of fresh flowers in the hair. A cluster of mess rosebuds, gardenias, or a pink camellia is especially attractive.

Marbeth’s life gets interesting in about 1936, when she was allegedly summoned to Maurice Chevalier to appear with him in a revue show in Paris. The story goes like this (taken from a contemporary newspaper):

Marbeth Wright has signed a contract to go to Paris and appear at the Casino there and also play in a picture with Maurice Chevalier. I’m not saying there’s a romance, but I hear Maurice selected this young lady, who played Just a bit in “Folles Bergere,” as the object of his special attention when they were making the picture and chose her also for the new Job.

marbeth-wright-3I was highly suspicions of this story. Chevalier, one of the most famous stars in the world, asking for a complete unknown for a co-star, and he’s not even a friend or a lover? While possible, I doubted this very much. However, after some digging around, I found out something that could be reason – it seems that Marbeth was involved, romantically of course, with Max Rippo, who was at the time Chavelier’s secretary. Now, this makes much more sense – Rippo recommended his lover to Chevalier, he obviously liked what he saw and signed her. This way I guess Rippo and Marbeth could continue their liaison in Paris.

Marbeth sailed for Paris in 1936, and stayed there for the next three years,  singing in the Monte Cristo casino. If we only knew what other stories of Paris Marbeth could have told us…

Marbeth only returned to US in mid 1939, when it became absolutely clear that bad times were looming over Europe – she returned to Los Angeles, where her parents lived, but she did not sign a contract with any studio nor did any nightclub work. One has to wonder what happened to Marbeth? Why the termination of her career? Could there be a revival?

Unfortunately, there was to be no revival. Marbeth Wright died from a dental infection on September 17, 1939, 16 days after was declared in Europe . She was just 24 years old, and we can say that it was a tragedy she died so young.

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Philippa Hilber

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Beautiful girl who danced at every show, who acted in every production in her birth town, who dreamed of becoming an actress fro as long as she can remember. Sounds familiar? There were thousands of such girls, and Philippa Hilber was just one of them. However, unlike most, she actually got somewhere – she signed a contract with a major studio and acted in bits and pieces. The problem was that she never got beyond that stage. In the end, she married and left the screen.

EARLY LIFE

Phillippa A. Hilber was born on January 22, 1918, in Los Angeles, California, to Phillip Melbourne Hilber and Vera Thornton. Her father was a professional photographer, born in Michigan.

Her parents separated when she was a toddler, and she went on to live with her maternal grandparents, Alvin and Addie Thornton. In 1920, Vera and Philippa lived with Alvin and Addie and Vera’s younger brother, Richard Scott. Alvin and Addie were both Mississippi natives that married in the late 1880s, had six children, and came to California in the early 1910s. After the divorce, Vera never remarried. Phillip remarried to Hazel Hilber and had a son, Charles, born in 1930.

Philippa grew up in San Bernardino, and integrated herself with the entertainment world while very young – she appeared in school plays aged only 11, and was about 14 years old when she danced ballet in various summer concerts. Here is an excerpt of a newspaper article, dating from July 1931, about a concert at the Biltmore Bowl:

Suited particularly to this out-of-doors theater, and offering an atmospheric bit which will, in all probability, long be remembered, is the ballet “Clouds,” danced to the music of Debussy. Of the sixty dancers included in the personnel of this ballet, only six will appear as individual figures. The others are completely covered beneath more than 1000 yards of veiling, shading in color from foggy grays to brilliant orange: Representing the. clouds at sunset, the dancers drift in their rhythmic patterns about the stage, finally disappearing, leaving but one tragic little cloud who has strayed away from the rest, but who scurries away when she discovers she has been left alone. Hiding behind the clouds, but emerging in their full brilliance when the last bit of chiffon has drifted away, are five stars and, as a final climax, the moon. Featured in this ballet are Evelyn Wenger, Edith Jane. Elise Relman. Helen Doty, Phillipa Hilber and Dorothy Wagner

Philippa continued to dance at various revenues, and hope for movie stardom. And that came soon enough – she signed a movie contract in November 1934, when she was just 16 years old, and started her movie career. On the side, we have to note that she waited to finish high school in 1936, when she was already a working actress.

CAREER

Philippa started as a dancer, and as such appeared in uncredited roles of chorus girls. Her first appearance was in Arizona to Broadway, a sadly forgotten but not-all-that-bad comedy about con men trying to out-con each other. The underrated and tragic James Dunn plays the male lead, and my favorite Joan Bennett is the female lead. What’s not to like? Philippa then appeared in Roman Scandals, the seminal Eddie Cantor comedy.

philippahilber1This was followed by a show girl role in Moulin Rouge, a charming but shallow pre-code comedy with Constance Bennett playing dual roles and Franchot Tone as the husband. As you can imagine when there are dual roles involved, it’s about mistaken identities and so on. Predictable, but fun non the less. Then came Stand Up and Cheer!, which is less of a movie and more of an excuse to put one variety act after another. Avoid if you don’t like your movies without a plausible plot.

Philippa was a rumba specialist dancer in Redheads on Parade, a sadly totally forgotten Dixie Lee musical, with our favorite wooden actor, John Boles. She danced ballet in one of the few Spanish movies Hollywood made, Piernas de seda.

King of Burlesque, Philippa’s next feature, was an early Alice Faye movie with a plot that would become a genre staple in the 1940s – The low-class man aspiring to high society and married above himself, shunning his low-class sweetheart, who then goes abroad to sing and becomes a big success on the stage there. Faye actually played the shunned lady twice more, but this was the first time. The husband/cad is Warren Baxter, and socialite wife is Mona Barrie – decent cast, good dancing and singing acts, and what more do you need?

philippa-hilber-2Philippa appeared in two Loretta Young movies – Wife, Doctor and Nurse and Second Honeymoon. The former is actually an interesting take on the typical love triangle, with Loretta playing the wife – the latter is a lackluster Loretta/Tyrone Power pairing, devoid of any energy and wit (a must for a screwball comedy, which it feigns to be). She also appeared in Girls’ Dormitory, a flat movie that aimed to shock but of course is more boring than anything,  and You Can’t Have Everything, a breezy, charming Alice Faye/Don Ameche movie (where you need to forget the plot and just enjoy the music!)

Philippa ended her career with two total misses – Love and Hisses, a dismal movie at best, about  a rado feud between columnist Walter Winchell and band leader Ben Bernie(since neither knows how to act, you can imagine how good the movie is), and Kentucky Moonshine, a lesser movie of the Ritz brothers (and they were the poor man’s Marx brothers).

Philippa left movies to raise her children after this.

PRIVATE LIFE

In 1934, Philippa gave a Beauty hint for her fans:

FOR a facial that leaves the skin smooth and soft, mix equal parts of sweet almond oil and honey, cover the face and allow to remain on half an hour. Remove with cold cream or lukewarm, damp towels. through several waters. Do not wring them out, but hang up dripping. Dry celery leaves and parsley, then pulverize. Keep in salt shakers. They are worth the trouble to prepare and make a tasty garnish.

philippa_hilber_make_upPhilippa dated Doodles Weaver for a few months in 1935. She married Bill Goodwin on March 11, 1936, in Yuma, Arizona. They just hoped into Goodwin’s car one day and of they went! William Nettles Goodwin was born on July 28, 1910, in San Francisco, California, to . Goodwin attended the University of California. He acted in stage productions on the West Coast before he began working in radio in 1930. After working on a station in Portland, Oregon, he worked at stations in Sacramento and Los Angeles. he would act in Hollywood movies, and work with George Burns and Gracie Allen.

Philippa promised that marriage would not interfere one bit with her career. Typical sentence, spoken by dozens of starlets – with typical results. Yes – within three years, Phillipa was pregnant and leaving movies for good.

philippafamilyThe couple had four children – Jill (born on December 20, 1939), William Richard (born on January 8, 1942), Lynn (born on October 18, 1943), and Sally (born on June 29, 1945). In 1945, she was named Glamour Mother of the Year by infantry men fighting in Europe. In 1951, there was thing short item in the papers about Philippa: People are always asking Philippa Goodwin, wife of Bill Goodwin, how she finds time to raise four children. “It’s the same as raising one,”, explains Philippa. “When Jill, our firstborn, arrived, she took all my time. What can three more do?”

Philippa and Bill enjoyed a happy and fulfilling marriage, and even had their own radio program. Unfortunately, Bill died from a sudden heart attack on 1958. In the 1970s, Philippa worked as a successful real estate agent, based in Los Angeles.

Philippa never remarried, retired in the 1980s and moved to Palm Desert to enjoy her golden years.

Philippa Hilber Goodwin died on April 1996 in Palm Desert, California.

Mildred Stone

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Beautiful and a wonderful vocalist, Mildred Stone had all the pluses to make it in Hollywood. And just when she started her road to riches, she got married and gave it up. As we know from previous posts, such was the story of many women in 1930s Hollywood.

EARLY LIFE

Mildred I. Stone was born on January 13, 1914, in Hanford, California to Cedric A Stone and Harriet Berachig Wilson. Her younger sister Dorothy was born in 1920. Both of the girls grew up in Lucene, Kings County, where their father had a farm.

Sadly, her father died on November 29, 1925, aged only 35. Harriet took the girls to Hanford, where both of them attended Hanford High School.

While there, Mildred was tutored by elocution and voice expert Mary Hobson Crowe, who was once a star of the stage. This gave her . She played leads in Mikado, the Indian Operetta, Lela Walla and other productions. She also studied for a bit with a voice coach in San Francisco.  She had to return to Hanford to earn money to continue her education – Hanford chamber of Commerce staged a recital to help her. Then, she had her first solo concert in October 1933 – she was accompanied by her mother on the piano.She also did some work for Hanford Players to supplement her income.

After bagging some money, she returned to San Francisco studied with the prior mentioned voice coach for some more time, and then moved to Los Angeles to further her career. There she won a contest and nabbed a role in a at a Clark and McCollough comedy. Not long after she got a contract with KMTR radio, and did gigs at famous nightclubs:

In mid 1934, she was let go from her KMTR contract and signed with Jimmy Grier at the Biltmore bowl, where she sang 7 nights a week. On the side, she tried for a movie career. Her break came as a total lark – she was noticed in a nightclub by a talent scout, who arranged for her screen test. She passed with flying colors.

Mildred signed her first motion-picture contract, a seven-year agreement with Paramount Productions under which she was to. receive $50 a week to start with, her salary ascending on a sliding scale to $450 a week. And her movie career started…

CAREER

Mildred made only two movies after she signed her contract with Paramount. And both were in uncredited roles. So much about becoming a film star…

mildredsantaellaHer first movie was the Bing Crosby vehicle, Mississippi. Most of his early to mid 1930s movies fall into the same basket – funny, charming, paper-thin plot wise musicals. Of course, they are of varying quality, but neither veers too much of the charted track. Mississippi falls somewhere in the middle of the road, being neither the best nor the worst of the Crosby offerings. The flimsy plot (taken from a reviewer on imdb): Bing is cast as a northerner set to marry a southern woman who lives in one of those great plantations, and who has a prettier younger sister. He is challenged by an evil ex-suitor, but won’t duel with him. So Bing is cast out in disgrace to sing on Fields’ riverboat. Bing has to somehow survive Fields’ influence, get back on shore and re-claim his marital “prize”. But she is married to the “bad guy”. What does Bing do? What is his relationship with the cute younger sister?

You get the drift. The best thing about this movie is the pairing of Bing Crosby and W.C. Fields – the only time they worked together. Shame, as they were on the top in their prospective fields: Bing a top crooner and Fields a top comedian. The movie’s one major downfall is its mild but still very much apparent racism. Hollywood of the 1930s was very ambivalent about racism – as one reviewer correctly wrote: “For every serious film that grasped at racial tragedy in this country (the US) (IMITATION OF LIFE with Louise Beavers and Freddy Washington, or IN THIS OUR LIFE with Bette Davis) there were hundreds which were made that insulted millions of African-Americans for laughs.”

mildresstone2Mildred’s second movie was 13 Hours by Air, a brisk, well made thriller. It offers little more than that, but let’s me real, nobody expects it to be a top feature. he plot is a bit convoluted, with planes, jewel robbers, high society ladies, corrupt counts and so on, but the cast is pretty good – Fred MacMurray and Joan Bennett in the leads, and John Howard , Ruth Donnelly, Alan Baxter and Zasu Pitts in the supports. Mildred plays a (what else) stewardess. Also worth watching out is a small role by the forgotten silent movie queen, Marie Prevost.

Mildred gave up acting to starts a family after this, and her Paramount contract was broken.  She returned to movie making in 1947, with her last feature, The Shocking Miss Pilgrim, a truly enjoyable fare. Without insulting the sensibilities of the all mighty production code, it manages to be a commentary on the early women’s right movement in the late 19th Century. It’s also a delightful love story and ultimately musical with some irresistible music by Ira Gershwin. Yep, win-win situation on all accounts. Special plus is seeing Betty Grable and Dick Haymes paired on the screen.

And that was it from Mildred.

PRIVATE LIFE

Mildred was a petite woman, standing at just 5′ 2″, but was of shapely build. She was nicknamed Midge by family and friends. She gave her beauty hint to the public in 1934:

If your blonde hair looks dull, try using a tablespoon full of vinegar in the lukewarm rinse water after a shampoo.

Short, sweet and very much true!

mildredstone3Now for her love life. While working at the KMTR radio, Mildred met Salvatore Santaella, the charming, suave musical director. Santaella was born on September 12, 1896, in Mexico City, Mexico, of Italian extraction, to Pasquale and Anna Maria Santaella. He immigrated to the States with his parents in 1908. They settled in Detroit, where he finished high school. A gifted pianist, he became a professional musician. In 1920, he married his first wife, Lillian Hansen. The couple moved to New York in 1921 and renewed their vows in 1922. Their daughter Dorothy G. was born not long after, in Oregon.

Santaella moved to Los Angeles at some time in the mid 1920s, and started to work in the radio and movie industries. He and Lillie divorced at some point. Santaella played piano solos for the George Arliss movie, The Man Who Played God, and became the KMTR musical director. He also wrote songs on the side, and even collaborated with Jan Rubini, famous composed who was the husband of another starlet I profiled on this blog, Terry Walker.

Mildred and Salvadore dated from at least mid 1934. He had already let her out of the KMTR contract so she can sign with Jimmy Grier and appear in movies. He obviously had misgivings about letting her go – not just professional ones mind you!

the_bee_thu__jan_10__1935_They married on  September 14, 1935, in Los Angeles. Their daughter, Linda, was born on October 3, 1935, in Los Angeles (now, look at the dates – Linda was born just 20 days after they married. Pretty steamy stuff for 1935. I wonder why they married so late? Divorces, or?).

Mildred slowly gave up her budding career to become a housewife. By 1939, she was not working any more, and the family lived in 6506 Lindenhurst Avenue. She was close to her mother’s family, the Wilsons, and sometimes popped up in the local Californian newspapers in the society pages.

Saltavore Santaella died on January 11, 1964. I have no idea what happened to Mildred afterwards – the IMDB claims she died in 1989, but I could not a death certificate.

As always, I hope she had a good life.