Reita Green

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Blonde, vivacious and beautiful, Reita Green was a star dancer at a beloved dancing troupe from the time she was 16 years old – she showed plenty of promise to make it as an actress. She did find her way to Hollywood and  astudio contract, but unfortunately this is were the story ends – after a few uncredited roles, she gave up the stage for motherhood.

EARLY LIFE

Reita Ann Green was born on April 15, 1936, in Scotland City, South Dakota, to Lloyd Green and Valeria Cach. Her older sister, Gloria, was born in 1935. Her father worked as a manager at a creamory – they made various creams, like ice cream and butter. Reita’s paternal cousin, Roger Green, lived with her and served as a helper for her father at the creamory business.

The family moved to Codington, South Dakota in the early 1940s, and after a brief time there, moved to Scottsbluff, Nebraska, where Reita grew up and attended high school. She was a gifted dancer and spent many hours immersed in dancing, with hopes of becoming a professional one day.

Reita danced only as an amateur, but her luck changed in 1950 (note that she was just 14 years old!!), when Horace Heidt’s touring Youth Opportunity program passed through the city. She auditioned for the show as a member of a dance duet. Heidt didn’t think the act had possibilities but was very impressed with the way she performed, and when an opening came in the show, sent for her and made her a regular member of the chorus.  She then became a member of Heidt’s youthful Heidt-Steppers and appeared every Friday on his TV show, KLA. She was one of the youngest members of the troupe, and attended school every day along with other members of the troupe who were working toward finishing their formal education. Reita lived at Heidt’s ranch with 13 other performers who appear on the show. It was via Heidt that she landed in Hollywood.

CAREER

Reita’s first movie was Indestructible Man, a Z class, trashy horror movie with Lon Chaney Jr. as the eponymous Indestructible man – a screaming, raving banshee avenger (who mutates after a death sentence goes horribly wrong and doesn’t kill him) out to get his scheming lawyer and pay back all her’s done to him. Stupid plot, low-budget, but if you like trash horror, than this is definitely something you should see. Lon Chaney Jr. is one of the best in the field, and the supporting cast is actually pretty decent – Max Showalter, Ross Elliot, Marian Carr.

reitagreen4Her second feature was another lo-budget horror – Daughter of Dr. Jekyll. The name says it all (guess what the plot is about…) It’s predictable, it’s got bad specials effects and no great artistic merit, but it’s fun and it’s trashy. That same year, 1957, Reita graduated to higher quality movies – she appeared in  Jeanne Eagels, a typical Hollywood 1950s biopic. That means – plot has no connection to the real life person, script is clichéd, acting is limited, pacing is choppy and often it’s over the top corny. Yup, Jeanne Eagles suffers from all of these maladies, although it has a few shining moments (it actually shows Jeanne’s alcoholism and some supporting actors are really good – Virginia Grey and Agnes Moorehead come to mind.) The leads, Kim Novak and Jeff Chandler, are beautiful and charismatic, but hardly decent thespians.

Reita then appeared as a chorine in The Joker Is Wild, actually a biopic made right. While not completely truthful to the source material, its got Frank Sinatra playing Joe E. Lewis and it works very nicely. The music is good and so is the supporting cast, so this one is a winner overall.

In 1958, Reita was a part of an Elvis Presley movie – King Creole. I’m no bog Elvis fan and find his movies lackluster, but that’s just my own personal taste. Reita’s last movie, where she finally had a normal, speaking role, was A Stranger in My Arms. It’s a movie that, at first glance, looks like an overblown Ross Hunter soaper, ends up a less than satisfying meditation on the nature of truth, lies and legacy. Yep, it’s deeper than it seems, it has the typical glossy veneer Hunter was famous for but still doesn’t make the grade totally. The dialogue is a bit off, and with some script doctoring, they could have made a semi classic. Too bad. The actors are a mixed bag also. On one side, we have Jeff Chandler and June Allyson, nice to look at but pretty much untalented, and on the other side you have acting greats Mary Astor and Charles Coburn. And Sandra Dee, a cute dynamo!!

After this, Reita appeared in several Tv shows, and then left acting for good.

PRIVATE LIFE

In 1951, Reita was involved in a car accident. The summary: Orchestra leader Horace Heidt and three members of his show troupe were injured Sunday in a sideswipe automobile collision 12 miles west of Elgin. Heidt’s nose was broken. Anthony Giansanti, 35, a saxophonist, suffered a fracture left wrist. Reita lost two front teeth, and her friend, Betty Cole, 16, of Houston, Tex., suffered from shock. All were cut and bruised. Heidt’s group fulfilled engagements at Joliet Sunday despite his injuries (the show must go on!)

Reita married comedian Doodles Weaver on October 6, 1958, in a quiet ceremony at the Laurel Canyon home of son of his brother Sylvester Weaver, an industrialist and founder of the All-Year Club. Architect Ray Donley, a former school friend of Doodles, served as best man. The couple left for a short honeymoon trip in Northern California.

reitagreen2Winstead Sheffield Weaver was born on May 11, 1912, in Los Angeles, California, to Sylvester Laflin Weaver and Annabel Dixon. He attended Stanford University and started his work on the radio. He became a producer and renown comedian. More information onj his can be found on his wikipedia page. he was married three times before Reita – to Beverly Masterman, Evelyn Irene Paulsen and Lois Frisell, and had one son with Masterman, Wynette Laflin, born on June 20, 1941.

In 1959, Reita was hospitalized to have plastic surgery, unfortunately I have no more information about what exactly did she want to “mend”. She and Doodles settled in Los Angeles in the long run, but she gave up on her career and never appeared in a movie of a TV show after 1961.

The Weavers had two children: daughter Janella J. Weaver, born August 24, 1958, and son Winstead B. Weaver, born on June 6, 1960.

reitagreen5The Weaver’s marriage was marred by Doodles’ chronic alcoholism. Later, he would claim that everything they had – the house, the pool, the cars – meant nothing to him as he was in constant pain. This is truly a sad story, but at the same time, it should serve as a lesson on how NOT to live. The couple divorced in 1968.

Reita continued to live in Burbank, and built a very successful wallpaper business – Reita Green The Wallpaper Queen. She started in the early 1970s, after her divorce from Doodles, and still runs it today, at 8′ years old! She is very loved by her clients and has an incredible eye for aesthetics and details (see more on her yelp website, here is the link).

Doodles Weaver died in 1983. Reita’s daughter Janella Jill died in 2009.

Reita Green lives in Burbank, California today.

 

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Roberta Jonay

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Roberta Jonay had one of the most unusual entries into the world of fame – her boyfriend was a bodyguard for President Roosevelt, Eleanor Roosevelt took a liking towards her, arranged some “meetings” and whauzaa, there she went to the stars! Unfortunately, despite her obvious dancing talents, Roberta never made it as an actress. She signed with Paramount, made two dozen movies, but never jumped out of the uncredited tier.

EARLY LIFE

Roberta Jones was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, on October 15, 1921. I could not find any information about her parents. Roberta grew up in St. Petersburg, Florida, and considered it her home town.

What we do know is that Roberta’s mom was a typical stage mom (allegedly her parents were showbiz people themselves) that pushed her daughter into vaudeville as early as mid 1930s. The mother-daughter duo went to New York to seek new opportunities. She studied at the Neighbourhood Playhouse and did some stage work on the side. Roberta catapulted to fame in 1937, when she met Earl Miller (more about that in the Private life section).

She was soloist and mistress-of ceremonies at Earl Carroll theater and danced all over the States in various shows and revenues. Her appearances in the Broadway productions of “Allegro” and “As You Like It” in the 1940s led to a contract with Paramount and thus her movie career started.

CAREER

As a dancer, Roberta naturally started her career as a chorus girl – she was a string of mostly mid tier musicals – Riding High, a Dorothy Lamour vehicle, Star Bright (a forgotten short), Here Come the Waves (this movie sure had a lot of starlets in it), Duffy’s Tavern (ditto), Masquerade in MexicoThe Stork Club (with Betty Hutton, our favorite little dynamo!).

roberta_jonay_2After this set of happy-go-lucky movies, Roberta was then featured in something more “mature”. She first had a small role in Miss Susie Slagle’s, a tear-jerker made with enough flair and style to make it one of the best movies of the year. With Veronica Lake, Sonny Tufts and Joan Caulfield in the leads, what the cast lacked in talent they make up in beauty and elegance. Plus notables like Lillian Gish and lloyd Bridges  give the true acting chops. Then, Roberta was in another of Veronica’s movies – The Blue Dahlia. What more is there to write about this movie? it’s a classic, nuff said.

For some lighter fare, there was The Well-Groomed Bride, a lukewarm Ray Milland/Olivia de Haviland comedy, and for some heavier fare, there was O.S.S, a pretty realistic WW2 spy movie with Alan Ladd and Geraldine Firtzgerald. And no, spying does not look like James Bond movies – kudos to Hollywood for not trying to fluff it up too much.

Roberta was back in musicals in Blue Skies, a mid tier Bing Crosby/Fred Astaire movie. it’s got good music and dancign numbers, but a vapid script and Joan, despite her great beauty, was no quality actress! Ladies’ Man was more of the same – thin plot, but loads of music and good comedy (with Cass Dailey and Eddie Bracken!). These musicals were followed by a so-so comedy, Suddenly It’s Spring –again it was a silly story but with good performances by Fred MacMurray and Paulette Goddard.

Roberta then appeared in The Imperfect Lady, a Ray Milland/Teresa Wright movie with conciousness. It’s a out-of-the-box movie, nothing too deviant but it does touch upon some delicate issues about women’s positions in society and their reputation. Next up was Golden Earrings, one of Marlene Dietrich’s lesser known movies, but what  a shame – it’s an interesting movie any way you look at it, part comedy, part romance and part serious drama. Strange mix for sure, but it works, and Ray Milland, the leading man, and Marlene have some good chemistry together.

roberta_jonay_3Afterwards came Variety Girl, the movie with just about everybody who was anybody on the Paramount lot. Roberta’s last musical was The Emperor Waltz, charming, fluffy but low-calorie, and with superb leads (Bing Crosby and Joan Fontaine).

Roberta appeared in just one more movie – Whispering Smith, Alan Ladd’s first western, and a sort of predecessor to the better known Shane (Alan plays almost the same character). Ladd, despite being slight and short, played the quiet cowboy quite well, and he has very good support (Robert Preston, Donald Crisp, Murvyn Vye). The direction was bit on the pedestrian side, but Leslie Fenton, a former actor and husband of Ann Dvorak, does the job ably (but not spectacularly).

Roberta appeared in some minor TV shows, and afterwards retired to start a family.

PRIVATE LIFE

Some bits of info on Roberta:

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Roberta was a very, very ticklish. In fact, she was so ticklish that it was a herculean task to refrain from giggling in the midst of soulful love songs with her leading men, when he was supposed to touch her. Funny. Really funny.

One of Roberta’s earliest crushes was Marty McDonough, star Syracuse half back, but they were both hardly more than kids and the relationship was short and sweet.

roberta_jonay_4Roberta’s first TRUE beau was Earl Miller, a bodyguard for Franklin Delano Roosevelt and his wife, Eleanor,m when they lived in Albany. Earl was close to both of his patrons on a personal basis, and naturally introduced Roberta to the couple. Eleanor came to like Roberta immensely and develop a maternal relationship towards her.

Here is a bit about Eleanor and Roberta’s relationship:

Roberta Jonay, the girl who is  dancing at Northwood Inn just now told us about some of her rovings. Miss Jonay, protegé of Mrs. F. D. Roosevelt, has done plenty of getting-around for a girl, including visiting at the White House and being tossed into a concentration camp in Cuba. … She admits having been scared when she entered each of then, but got used to the first and got out of the second. We asked whether visitors at the White House ever tried to pump state secrets out of the President, and she said no, that people didn’t even talk much about polities around the house or at dinner. . . . “Mostly at dinner,” she said, “they listen to Mr Roosevelt cracking jokes.” . . . Mrs. Roosevelt generally went horseback riding very early, and Miss Jonay got up when Mrs Roosevelt returned and they went swimming, she said. . . . The most trouble she had was in running into Secret Service men before they had learned that she belonged there. It happened twice. Once in the house a guard thought she was a sightseers, but she explained who she was, and another time (and much more embarrassing) she got the brush-off by a guard at the front door, but an official who knew her explained

At a first glance, Roberta and Miller had everything they needed to be happy – both were young, healthy, with good jobs, and plus Earl could actually help catapult Roberta into a major career due to his connections in the White house. However, it was not meant to be. Roberta’s mother took an instant dislike towards Earl, and nothing he did was good enough for either Roberta or her. Even after he pulled strings and truly jump started Roberta’s acting career, Mrs. Jones did not consent to the relationship. It might have been fine if Roberta had a say in the matter – unfortunately, she did not. Her mother controlled every facet of her life, including her lovers. Under intense pressure, Roberta broke it off with Earl in 1939. He was shattered, and did the absolute worst thing he could – on a rebound, he married Simone Von Haven in June 1941. I have no idea what happened to Miller or indeed how did his marriage end up.

Roberta marched on with her love life. In 1939, she was to be married to Martin Jurow, 26-year-old Harvard law school graduate, then the company manager of What a Life (he was the youngest and most prosperous theater manager at that time). They didn’t get to the altar and Jurow became a premier Hollywood producer later, in the 1950s and 1960s.

roberta_jonay_5In 1941, Roberta filed suit for $20,125 damages in Superior court. The suit named Dr. Harry Singer, plastic surgeon. She said she went to him when advised that she needed nasal alterations to meet with success in the films. The operation was performed but her nose ended up crooked on the left side and a bump developed on the bridge. She claimed her movie career was damaged by the mishap.

In 1947, Roberta was seen with the dashing John Conte, but he left her for Katherine Lee, a ballerina, before the year ended. Due to her hectic lifestyle, Roberta gave some hints for the frequent traveller:

Roberta Jonay, who has the part of Jenny Brinker in “Allegro” at Taft theater this week, has worked out a basic wardrobe which keeps her looking well-groomed all day long when she’s on tour. At first glance, this may sound like a lot of clothes, but remember that Miss Jonay is on the road for months and months. She said the wardrobe listed below along with a cloth or fur coat sees her through the various changes of climate the average tourist encounters. This is what she takes with her: 1 black and 1 white lace evening dress, as these do not wrinkle. Suits of neutral colors with changes of blouses. ‘ 3 black cocktail dresses. 1 silk print dress. 4 hats, small models that can pack easily in suitcases. 8 pairs of stockings. 5 pairs of shoes. 2 nightgowns in addition to usual under-things. Miss Jonay said she never wears black suits on trains as they catch every bit of dust and you emerge at the station looking a mess. She recommends grays In a solid color or blue (not too dark).


In 1948, Roberta started dating actor Judson Pratt, a Broadway alumnus like her. They married on June 3, 1950. Judson D. Pratt was born on December 6, 1916, in Brookline, Massachusets. He grew up in Massachusetts, and went to act on stage, ultimately ending up in Hollywood. From 1950 until 1980, he racked up more than 100 credits in movies and TV shows, making him a highly prolific character actor.

Their first son Michael was born in 1954/1955. Their second son, Mitchell W, was born on June 29, 1959.

Roberta lived a quite life outside the limelight in California and was a devoted wife and mother.

Roberta Jonay Pratt died on April 19, 1976, from cancer. Her widower, Judson Pratt died on February 9, 2002.