Marjorie Zier

Marjorie Zier’s life can truly be a cautionary tale for other women – she drank too much and married too many times to wrong men. However, painting her as a mere weak female is a gross oversimplification. Like most things in life, her story is told in shades of gray with no clear resolution. Marjorie is extremely ambivalent – as much as she was responsible for her actions and often behaved foolishly, she was also as much a victim of a ruthless, chauvinistic society that had no interest in helping her. Let’s hear more about her!

EARLY LIFE

Marjorie June (or May Marjorie) Zier was born in Hennepin, Minnesota, on February 3, 1909, to Harrison Zier and June Jeremy. She was their only child. Her father was a successful car salesman. Little is known of Marjorie’s childhood – she grew up in Minnesota, and the family moved to Los Angeles by 1920. Marjorie took dancing and acting lessons and decided to become a show biz professional – by 1923 she was dancing in various revenues, and then became a Mack Sennett Bathing Beauty. This propelled her into movies in 1927 when she was just 18 years old.

CAREER

Won’t write too much here, I usually don’t cover silent pictures since I’m far from being knowledgeable on the topic, and most of Marjorie’s filmography are the silents. Truth to be told, I really didn’t chose to profile Marjorie for her career, so I’ll focus on the private life more.

Marjorie’s biggest silent role was in Phantom of the Range, a Tom Tyler western. In 1930, she made a few sound Mack Sennett comedy shorts, – Average HusbandDon’t Bite Your DentistRacket Cheers and Rough Idea of Love. And then she gave up Hollywood!

PRIVATE LIFE

Marjorie married Danny Dowling in about 1925, when she was just 16 years old. She sure started young! Danny was born on November 16, 1906 in O’Neill, Nebraska. He was living in Los Angeles by the early 1920s, working as a singer and dance,r mostly for the cafe circuit. It was a firts marriage for both.

This hasty marriage was a semi disaster, as you can see from this article.

When Danny Dowling. cafe ‘entertainer, was separated from his wife. Miss Marjorie Zier, by an annulment action, he refused to take the decree as final. He pursued the girl to whom he had been married, trying to persuade her of his affectior- He didn’t get his wife back, and although he did make an Impression on her, it was not a good one. Tn the words of a late popular eon? “The only impression he made upon her was a dark blue Impression round her eye.” ‘ The most recent meeting between Danny and hie former wife occurred outside the Montmarte Cafe. Danny asked it he might take Miss Zier to her home. She refused tc ride

according to Miss Zier”a story, a struggle followed and de lady’s eye was punched. She called officers, who arrested Danny on a charge of battery. Municipal Judge Richardson gave htm a suspended sentence on that charge. But officer state they found a bottle of gin m Danny’s car, and now Danny must stand trial on a charge of possession of liquor. , The case was set before Municipal Judge Edmonds, but will be transferred today to Judge Stafford’s court for trial

They separated and divorced in 1926. Danny was an interesting fellow, but this wasn’t the first not the last time he did such a dramatic scene – in 1934, he made headlines for months because he kidnapped his former girlfriend, Marjorie Crawford, former wife of director William Wellman (whats with Danny and the Marjories?). Marjorie sued him, they were in court and he was almost sentenced, but then, wait for it, THEY MARRIED! After beign at each other throats for a month and even gettign to court, the wed! As you can imagine, that marriage didnt’ last long! Danny opened a nightclub in Los Angeles and remarried to Harriet Kelley in 1943. He died on July 23, 1993 in Monterey, California.

It seems Marjorie was not a woman who could be alone, or indeed not married. She was already on the prowl, and Marjorie married her second husband, Hugh Parker Pickering, on August 17, 1929. Little is known about him, except that he was a Chicago socialite, and was born on April 22, 1905, in Louisiana, to W J Pickering and Grace Parker Williams. The marriage did not last long – They divorced in 1931. Pickering later was married to madcap heriness Mary Elizabeth Fahrney from 1932 until 1933. Pickering died in 1979.

Marjorie married J. Richard Van Conover in Dallas, Texas, Dec. 17, 1934. Conover was born on 1905, to William B Conover, a prosperous rice mill manager, and his wife Cora Conover, the middle child after older brother William and before younger sister Elizabeth. Conover was a aviator and oil man with business interests in Lake Charles, Louisiana, where his family lived.

The Conovers were surprisingly married for five full years, but it seems those years were anything but milk and honey. In 1939, Marjorie sued Conover for divorce, claiming he was a drunk who regularly beat her. Conover didn’t spare any nasty details about his ex-wife-to.be – he said on one occasion she split his scalp with “an iron object,” and that the only lapse in her drinking was a three-month period in Los Angeles in 1936 when she “took the cure.” Trouble started immediately after their marriage in December, 1934, when she struck up an acquaintance with another pilot shortly after their honeymoon. He said she developed a habit of going out with him, getting drunk and behaving in public in such a riotous manner as to cause him serious embarrassment.

Now this is sad. This is just simply sad. Marjorie was a alcoholic as early as 1934 (and quite probably even earlier!) and by 1939, five years later, the situation had not changed one iota. She was still a raging alcoholic who behaved inappropriately when she s drunk. While there is no doubt that she was first and foremost responsible for her actions, it’s clear that she was out of her depth and that she needed help badly. Were there any real tries to help Marjorie? Did Conover truly try to dry his wife and just gave up when she didn’t take it, or was Conover a perhaps a slightly lesser drunkard who didn’t give a whiff about Marjorie? Who knows. The point is, Marjorie was not getting any help, and her husband was such that he rather aired her dirty laundry to the public than helped her. It was realistic to expect a steep decline after these unhappy occurrences, and in a way, it was more than clear this would be a crash-and-burn type of a situation.

It’s easy to judge Marjorie here – while it is without a doubt that by her own free will she drank too much and got involved with the wrong men, it takes a boarder look at the context to understand just that a woman, born in 1909, who slipped into this unseemly world, had no platform that would help her. Nothing. Almost nothing. It was shameful, ostracized and frowned upon, being a female drunk, but did anybody help women in these situation? Did anybody do anything? And Marjorie was even part of the higher class for a time, and at least she had money and wasn’t hungry nor lacking in resources. Imagine how the women from the lower classed had it? On another note, I may be wrong and there were several interventions for Marjorie, but I would venture to say no before I say yes.

Anyway, Marjorie asked $250 a week plus $5,500 in counsel fees. In the end, they got to an agreement and were divorced after much acrimony. Conover remarried not long after, but sadly died on March 25, 1945.

Marjorie had a chance to make her life different – she had some money in the bank, she had shed an annoying mate, and perhaps had the fighting chance to go to a sanatorium and get herself dry . But what did she do? She continued marrying rich men who had major alcohol problems, thus exacerbating her own problem. Talk about damaging yourself on all spheres – from the physical one (alcoholism) to the emotional one (marrying highly unsuitable men).

Marjorie married Michael Cudahy in January 7, 1941, in Mexico. Cudahy was a scion of a prosperous Chicago meat packing family – he was born on November 24, 1908, in Missouri to Jack Cudahy and Edna Cowin, the youngest child and only son after thee daughters. His father killed himself in 1921, suffering from en extremely nervous condition and insomnia. Michael grew up to be a typical 1920s and 1930s playboy who went to Hollywood frequently to rip through new assortments of young actresses. He married actress Muriel Evans in 1928 when she was just 18 years old. They divorced in 1930. He enjoyed a lengthy affair with Joan Crawford, but she was her own woman and ditched him the moment she figured out she can’t cure a raging alcoholic with mommy issues. Like many of the playboy set, Cudahy drank too much and was a victim of a overbearing mother who kept him on a short leash. In 1927, he tried to marry Marie Astaire, an actress he met literary 24 hours ago, and his mother had him arrested in order to stop the nuptials (better be in jail for a day than marry the wrong girl, I guess). Cudahy and his second wife, Jacklyn Roth, dancer, were divorced in 1937.

The marriage was a disaster literary lasted for six months. Mike went into the army on May 20, 1941 Marjorie got a divorce on grounds of cruelty, saying “He was very cruel. I was very ill and he struck me and called me vile names”. So very precise and exact! While there isn’t much more information, it seems that Cudahy was happy to get rid of her. He called the marriage “a gin marriage” and quite probably too easily agreed to a hefty settlement. Cudahy didn’t remarry, and died from a liver related disease (read: effects of alcoholism) in 1947.

Marjorie married a Mr. Page sometime in 1942, and that marriage also didn’t stick – they divorced by 1945. Professionally, Marjorie was dried up financially and had to work again, so she became an early in flight hostess for TWA. There was nothing I could find about the mysterious fifth husband. Then, Marjorie started to date Stanley Wassil, a man who would change her life forever.

Wassil was born on April 13, 1919 in Harwood, Pennsylvania, to Polish born Catherine Wassil – his father died before he was born. Wassil lived in his hometown, prior to WW2, during which he served in the Army. Upon discharge he relocated to New York City and from there moved to Los Angeles, California, where he met Marjorie. They hooked up in about 1946, and were soon living together. Wassil worked as a semi successful real estate broker. Here is a short newspaper article about what happened betwene them in the end:

A jilted suitor was in Hollywood jail on suspicion of murder today for the beating death of Marjorie Page, a former Mack Sennett bathing beauty. Mrs. Page, 41. once married briefly to the late Michael Cuadhy of the meat packing family, died in the General Hospital yesterday, 15 hours after police found her on the floor of her apartment with a gaping wound in the back of her head. Stanley Wassil, 32 year-old real estate man who said he broke up v.ith her a month ago after living with her for six years, was hooked following the death. Detectives said he confessed: “1 pushed her in the face and her head slammed against the wall,” Wassil 1 broke down when told of Mrs. Page’s death. He sobbed: “Oh. God. my God! ! didn’t intend to kill her. If I had known this would happen i never would have tried to get her to come back to me.” Later he explained that the fatal quarrel followed a discussion . “about a reconciliation, about G money, her drinking and other men.” Wassil said that since their separation Mrs. Page had refused to give him an accounting of their joint funds.

Here is some more information about what exactly happened that fatal night:

Yells Described in Killing of Ex-Actress Neighbor of Former Mack Sennett Beauty Heard Her Testifies She Say ‘Don’t Hit Me’ Thuds and muffled screams preceded the fatal beating of Mrs. Marjorie Zears Page, 43, one-time Mack Sennett bathing beauty, last March 9, a blonde nightclub entertainer tes 1 V tified yesterday at a preliminary hearing into the former movie actress death. The witness was Mrs. Jo Ann of Director Puffy Michaels, 24, occupant of an upstairs apartment at 1912 N Canyon Drive. She quoted Stanley Wassil, 32, real estate man with whom Mrs. Page had resided for some time, as yelling: “Aw, you’re not hurt; get up!” “Don’t Hit Me Again” She said she heard Mrs. Page plead at one time during the fatal row, “Don’t hit me again!” Sgt. James Barrack testified he had answered a disturbance call to the house on Saturday night and had heard “a sort of snorting kind of panting” and had been told by Wassil that Mrs. Page was an alcoholic and had “passed out.” The woman died the following day.

On with the story – Wassil was arrested and tried for involuntary killing of Marjorie. In the end, he got six year probation and one year of jail. WHAT???

Okay, fact number one: Marjorie was a full blown alcoholic by this time, no doubt about it. fact number two: Wassil literary killed her. Yet, he got only 1 years in prison. Why?? Is it because she was an alcoholic and a woman? Before we start making our own judgement, let’s look at the facts once again, with more depth.

Fact Number one: Wassil was abusive towards Marjorie – it’s hardly realistic to expect this was the first time he struck her. She was a victim of an abusive relationship, like many women today. It’s easy to blame her for not walking away – but isn’t is more logical to blame the perpetrator for inflicting abuse on the victim in the first place? At any length, this is a complex question that will barely be answered on this blog, so on with the facts. The point is, this probably was not an isolated incident – Wassil harmed Marjorie before, and never once did he stop to think that maybe this wasn’t normal behavior for a man, that he should stop. From this angle, Wassil is guilty as heck.

Fact number two: Marjorie was an spendthrift alcoholic who probably tired to seduce other men when she was intoxicated, and this drove Wassil crazy. While this is far from fine behavior on Marjorie’s part, THIS IS NOT, in any way or form, a reason to strike her or inflict any other kind of physical punishment upon her. There is no reason to strike somebody, ever, unless it’s a life or death situation (and here, let’s be frank, it was not – I can hardly imagine Marjorie going after Wassil’s jugular to terminate him or something similar). If you don’t like the way the other person treats you, then just quit. Say goodbye and never turn back. I know it’s easier said than done and not all situations are a clear black and white, but still, wouldn’t it have been better it Wassil left Marjorie and never contacted her again? Who knows how her life would have looked afterwards, and for that fact, his? Maybe Marjorie would have died not long after from effects of prolonged alcohol abuse but then again, maybe not. We’ll never know. And Wassil did not have to the executor’s blade, the one straw that broke the camel’s back. Too bad Wassil didn’t have the strength to simply leave her be. If you do’t like it, just leave! Wassil looks guilty here as well.

Fact number three: Wassil obviously struck Marjorie in the heat of the moment, with no intent to kill. Real bad and unacceptable, but still no murder. But the real deal breaker here is that he LEFT after he literary shoved her into the wall. HE LEFT!!!! The coward left!!! Now this is where the line was crossed into oblivion, on the point of no return. Yes, he stuck her, he deserves to be punished for this criminal act, but it’s much less damaging to strike somebody than to kill him/her. But if he only stayed and helped her, Marjorie would have probably survived (or maybe not, impossible to say now, but let’s go with the assumption that she would have been treated earlier and her changes of not dying would be dramatically increased). It’s almost too easy to imagine how Wassil did this to Marjorie countless of times before – and left her on the floor crying, probably quite a bit drunk. This method worked, until it didn’t. Strike number three against Wassil. So tragic.

Verdict: Any way you look at it, Wassil is guilty. He was not only abusive towards Marjorie in general, and instead of trying to help her, he only deepened their shared problem and in the end, crossed the line big time. Wassil is no victim of a imagined nymphomaniac-drunk Marjorie who drove him to the brink of madness with her lascivious behavior – quite the opposite, he was a weakling who instead of ditching a woman who, despite her obvious allure, was a cauldron of problems, he stayed and only aggravated everything by being a highly counter-productive bully (as bullies always are).

After leaving jail, Wassil continued living his life normally after these dramatic experiences. He remarried to Jessie Gedid, and ran a launderette in his hometown.

Stanley Wassil died on February 21, 2002 in Youngstown, Ohio.

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Valmere Barman

Valmere Barman was a California beach blonde who came to Hollywood because she was a looker. Her career, predictably, failed, but her later life was very interesting and to some degree cosmopolitan – she lived in the far east and was a very active woman! Let’s learn more about her!

EARLY LIFE

Valmere Barman was born on December 14, 1922, in Los Angeles, California to Wademar Jacob Barman and Edith Gay Barman. Her older sister, Edith N., was born on May 5, 1918. Her father was a refrigerator engineer.

Valmere’s childhood was pretty uneventful – she grew up in Los Angeles and developed an interest in the performing arts from her teen years. She was the assistant for the Mystical 13 Magician Association when she was 15 and her nickname was “Dolly”. She attended John Marshall High School and after graduation, opted to continue her education and go to college.

I could not find which college Valmere attended, but she was seen by a talent scout who bought her to the attention to Paramount studios – they signed her in 1942 and there she went!

CAREER

Valmere started her career in the low-budget Gene Autry western, Call of the Canyon.Who boy, can’t thing to anything more to say about these movies. Austry isn’t even half bad, so Valmere can even consider herself semi-lucky to star in his western. Happily, she did a bit better for herself in her next feature – Lady of Burlesque. A murder mystery set in a seedy, underworld burlesque house. Despite mixed reviews, this is a solid, entertaining movie with lots to offer, especially if you like burlesque, of course! Babs Stanwaxck is her usual great acting self, and there are plenty of underrated female talent here – Iris Adrian, Gloria Dickson, Stephanie Batchelor… A unique combination of Miss Marple and Gypsy Rose Lee, it’s a definite recommendation!

Like most of Paramount contract players, Valmere appeared in Duffy’s Tavern, a cavalcade of various dancing, singing and vaudeville segments with some very nifty names to feature (Bign Crosby, Betty Hutton, Paulette Goddard, Alan Ladd and so on). Then, Valmere played a schoolgirl in Our Hearts Were Growing Up, a sequel of the better known Our hearts were young and gay. Continuing the adventures of Cornelia Otis Skinner and Emily Kimbrough, it’s a charming but lukewarm romantic comedy, base entirely on the fact that pre 1920s girls were as a naive as smuck in terms of men and sexuality. While people from the 1940s could understand this and actually laugh at it, today it’s a bit sad and even a bit shocking to watch it. But still, Diana Lynn and Gail Russell and are easy on  the eyes and good enough actresses to pull it out. As a bonus we have Brian Donlevy playing a bootlegger who romances the girls. Whauza!

Valmere then appeared in Blue Skies, a well known, classic Bing Crosby/Fred Astaire musical, written by Irving Berlin. Valmere than graces one of Cecil B. DeMille’s epic movie, Unconquered. It’s a story of early America, about the struggle between the colonists and the Indians. Gary Cooper and Paulette Goddard star, and they make a fine couple, looking exquisite together. While the movie is lavish, stupendous and mesmerizing in its sheer scope, it has all the failings of such a production – namely, it’s not accurate historically , the plot is far-fetched and the characterization could be better –  but who cares when it’s so much fun!

In the interim Valmere made a few short movies – Boogie WoogieThe Little Witch, where she played prominent roles. Fittingly, she finished her career with one such a short, Gypsy Holiday.

And that was it from Valmere!

PRIVATE LIFE

One of Valmere Barman’s treasured possessions was a letter from Mrs. Harry Houdini. Since she worked closely with magicians from the time she was a teen, it’s safe to assume Valmere liked the whole hocus pocus industry. Valmere also performed on stage as well on screen, dancing and singing as a member of the Bob Hope Stateside USO tours during World War II.

When Valmere landed in Hollywood, she wasn’t a happy-go-lucky unattached girl looking for swains – she was in a committed relationship with her John Marshall High School sweetheart, Charles Eugene Dickey.

After a long engagement, Valmere and Charles, then a recently discharged marine sergeant, were married by Rev. W. Don Brown on November 6, 1945 at Trinity Episcopal Church. They were attended by seven bridesmaids and seven ushers.

Dickey was born on January 10, 1922 in Illinois, to Charles R. and Marie Heaton Dickey. He had a younger brother, Howard. The family love to Los Angeles, where Charles Sr. worked as a retail paint salesman. Charles grew up in Los Angeles, and after graduating from high school was drafted on February 12, 1942.

I always wonder what happens to couple that date for ages get married and then divorce in a span of one year (or something similar). Relationship fatigue? Anyway, the point of this story is that Valmere and Charles’ marriage didn’t work and they were divorced by 1948. Dickey stayed in California, remarried in the 1950s and died on June 3, 1982.

Valmere was out of the public eye by then, so little was written when she married her second husband, Frank Kasala, on September 1, 1949, in Los Angeles.

Kasala was born on May 5, 1922, to Frank Kasala Sr., whose parents were from Czechoslovakia, and Kathryn Bureker, daughter of German immigrants. His younger sister Barbara Leone was born on August 1, 1924. The elder Frank worked as a clerk. Freshly graduated from high school, Kasala was drafted into the army in 1942 or 1943.

He was a scenario writer before he entered the service and has continued in his profession as much as possible while in the service. Kasala won 3 battle stars for his work in the European theater. During the war, Kasala married Eleanor Canoy (born on July 10, 1923) on June 30, 1944 in her hometown of Marion, Oregon. Eleanor was a Majorette in the American Legion Band. Their daughter Gail Lynne Kasala was born in 1945. Tragically, the girl died just a few months after birth. The Kasala’s marriage never recovered after this, and they divorced in 1946.

Terri remarried twice (second time to to John Yeager) and lived the rest of her life in Oregon – she and her husband die don the same day in 2005.

The Kasalas lived in Los Angeles, Valmere retired from movies and ready for motherhood. Their daughter Valmere Lynn was born on March 4, 1951. Their second daughter, Cathy Gay, was born on May 14, 1953. Their third daughter, Diane L., was born on March 30, 1956. After her daughters grew a bit, Valmere worked as the Dietitian at the Pilgrim School in Los Angeles from 1961 to 1963.

In 1964, the family moved to Japan for work reasons.  The family lived in Japan from 1964 to 1968 and Hong Kong from 1968 to 1975.  In Japan Valmere taught as an elementary teacher at the International School of the Sacred Heart and was a swim team coach for the Yokohama Yacht Club from 1965 to 1968. In Hong Kong she taught as an elementary school teacher and also conducted the school choir at the Hong Kong International School in Repulse Bay. While overseas she loved to race day sailboats and sail for leisure with her family.

They returned to the US in 1975. Now, what exactly happened in the East and then in the US I cannot know, but my own take (so could be purely fiction), based on the information I have found – Frank and Valmere grew apart, their marriage slowly deteriorated, Frank fell in love with a Japanese woman, divorced Valmere and married the lady. The facts: Joe and Valmere divorced in November 1977.

Kasala remarried to Shinako Kasala, they had a son, Craig, and lived in California, where they were both passionate golfers. Shinako sadly died in 2007. Kasala died in 2017.

Valmere returned to California after her divorce. On September 13, 1980, she married Robert C Barnhart.

Robert was born in Johnstown, Pennsylvania in 1920 to Robert C. Barnhart Sr. and Edna Adams Barnhart, Bob went to Valley Forge Military Academy on a trombone scholarship prior to attending the US Naval Academy. Immediately after graduation in 1944, Bob reported to the USS Astoria as a gunnery officer and saw action at Iwo Jima and Okinawa.

After WWII, Bob served int he Navy and won a bronze star during the Vietnam war. Bob completed his 30 year career in the Navy as Chief of Staff in Philadelphia. After his retirement from the Navy, Bob settled in Lake Forest, California, where he worked for General Dynamics, Pomona for 10 years before completely retiring.

Bob married Paula Jeen Gay of Long Beach on March 24, 1945, and they had four children, Bobby, Randy, Annette Colver and Gary. Paula died in 1979.

Bob’s passion was fishing, and he and Dolly would often summer at the family fishing cabin in Pennsylvania. They also volunteered at Saddleback Hospital when not traveling.

Valmere Barman Barnhardt died on February 2, 2012 in Lake Forest, California. Her widower Bob died on December 15, 2012.

Myrla Bratton

Girls that came to Hollywood in the 1930s could be neatly boxed into a few categories (trained actresses, chorus girls, models, debutantes and so on…). Myrla came from the “beautiful but not trained” background. Most of these girls never amount to much in terms of a career and sadly this goes for Myrla too. But, here is the catch – instead of marrying and settling into sweet domesticity, she decided to stick out on her own as a theater actress. After her acting days were over, she worked as a secretary. Kudos to Myrla and all the women that did more than well for themselves! Let’s learn more about her!

EARLY LIFE

Myrla Cook Bratton was born on February 12, 1910 in Cave Spings, Alabama, to William Bratton and Tennie Bell Bratton. She was the oldest of four children – her siblings were Harvey William Bratton, born on March 2, 1912 , Myra Ethel Bratton, born in 1914 and James Leon Bratton born on August 11, 1920. Her father was a farmer.

Myrla and Harvey were taken to live with their maternal grandparents, James and Nancy Danley in Florence, Alabama, in the late 1910s. Myra Ethel remained with her parents, as did James Leon. I can assume money was scarce so the Danleys took care of the two elder children, but it’s only a guess. Myrla grew up around horses and was an accomplished rider from early childhood.

Sadly, William Bratton died in the mid 1920s, living Tennie a widow. The family bunked together once again, and by 1930, Harvey was the keeper of the family, working as a potter.

After graduating from high school, due to hard time and little money, Myrla went to work too. As a typical starstruck teen who dreamed of acting, she got the perfect job as an usherette at the Tivoli Theater in Montogery, AlabamaFrank Dudley, manager of the Tivoli, would later recall her early ambition to “let a break in the movies.” This was in 1930 – by 1933, Myrla was in Hollywood, making movies (to learn more about her path to “stardom”, go to the Private life section).

CAREER

Myrla made her debut in Roman Scandals, a movie that is a literal golden mine if you are looking for shapely Goldwyn girls. The girls aside, it’s a very funny movie, with a good cast and some great dancing numbers – exactly what a quality 1930s musical should be – definitely one of Eddie Cantor’s best work.

A similar snappy, happy musical was Moulin Rouge, where Myrla was again a chorus girl. Same for Wild Gold, a completely forgotten pot boiler where Mryla plays one of the Golden girls (chorines by any other name).

Myrla then tried her luck in the low-budget western arena. She did one full length movie, The Way of the West, where she played the female lead (in most cases, that equally a decorative pretty girl who get kidnapped and screams a lot) and two shorts The Lone Rider and West of the Law. The Way of the wets is allegedly a truly abysmal movie, with a bad script, horrible acting and laughable action sequences. Myrla made one more western, Timber Terrors, where she was billed below the horse (figures, the horse has more acting time than her). Okay, being billed below the horse in a western is not actually that bad – but here, Myrla was billed below the dog. Yes, the dog! obviously this is a western where the dog is more important than the leading lady, so figures!

In the end, Westerns didn’t pay, so Myrla decided to return to dancing. As she was auburn haired, she found her way to the already legendary Redheads on Parade. If you like lavish, huge 1930s musicals, this is for you. Nothing too nifty, but good enough to watch.

Myrla tried her hand at the then popular college musical – the name of the movie is Collegiate (how imaginative), and it’s actually not that bad – the plot is very much predictable (A Broadway playboy inherits an almost bankrupt girls’ school and tries to save it by a big show) and the leading man, Joe Penner, is rightfully completely forgotten today (very annoying, one wonders how anyone in the 1930s found him funny – but hey, they obviously did). However, the day is saved by the ever funny Ned Sparks and the ethereal Frances Langford. Also watch out for an early role of Betty Grable!

Myrla’s last movie was Anything Goes, an adaptation of a Cole Porter musical with Bing Crosby and Ethel Merman. Yep, this is one of the few movies La Merman appeared in, and this is perhaps the strongest reason to see it. Of course, that isn’t saying much – the movie suffers from the censoritis syndrome. We all know how witty and punny Cole was, and the censors hated such a witty and punny men and tried to put them to size any time they could. Yet, there a some good stuff to be enjoyed int he movie, and it’s from the bottom of the barrel.

And that’s it from Myrla!

PRIVATE LIFE

In 1929, 19 years old Myrla married R.J. Renfroe in Montgomery, Alabama. Renfroe was born in Atlanta, Georgia, but I couldn’t find anything else about him (how old he was, what was his profession – all a mystery!). On June 17, 1931, Myrla gave birth to a baby boy – unfortunately, the boy died the next day. The Renfroe’s marriage didn’t’ survive this unhappy occurrence – they divorced the next year, and knowing full well how life is short and fickle, Myrla decided to “just do it” – she quit her usherette job and went to Hollywood. Kudos to her brave decision!

By the 1940s, Myrla was out of movies and on the stage In New York City, studying under John Hutchinson and made appearances in the then nascent television industry (but under a different alias I could not find, so no TV credits are known for her). All considering, Myrla did really well for herself, and managed to pave her way into real acting, something not many actresses managed to do.

Myrla married for the second time to a James V. Moriarty on August 30, 1958 in Reno, Nevada. I couldn’t find any concrete information on this particular James, sorry. Unfortunately they divorced sometime in the 1960s.

After her acting career was over, Myrla lived in San Francisco for a time where she worked as a secretary. She later lived in Dallas, Texas, and several years later moved to Billings, Montana. Since she lived alone and was seemingly not in contact with her family, she was transferred to Valley Health Care Center when she became too feeble to take care of herself.
Myrla Cook Bratton died from natural causes on November 16, 1987, in Billings, Montana.

Bonita Barker

Bonita Barker was firmly cast in a Hollywood stereotype – a pretty girl from a good family who wanted to dance since she was a toddler, and slowly her “talents” morph into a wish to become a movie star. Heard that story before? Oh yes, and most of them ended dismally – with the girls in question out of Hollywood before they did anything of worth. Same can be said of Bonita – after three short years and some dancing roles, she retired, married and led a quiet life of domesticity. Let’s hear her story!

EARLY LIFE

Bonita Beryl Barker was born on July 21, 1916, in Rocky, Oklahoma, to Omar Barker and Mable Morris. She was their only child. Her father worked as an automobile salesman, her mother was a housewife.

The family moved to Hobat, Oklahoma, in about 1918, where Bonita attended elementary school, before moving to Ventura, California in the mid 1920s. Her father ditched his auto business and went into the sand/gravel business, again as a salesman. He became quite successful and was an esteemed member of the Ventura society, making Bonita a type of young, up-and-coming socialite.

Bonita caught the dancing bug as a pre teen girl, and always by 1926, when she was barely 10 years old, she was dancing in various local events where the genteel people of Ventura would gather. She was the best pupil at the Meglin Dance Stadio and perhaps one of the few that went into dancing professionally. She became a dancing fixture in town and was well-known for her skills.

Pretty soon, by the early 1930s, she  was appearing in the famous Hollywood Bowl in ballets and in more than a score of amateur and little theater programs all around the US.

In 1933, barely graduated from high school, she was noted by agents and brought to Hollywood.

CAREER

Bonita made her debut in the semi-idiotic musical, It’s Great to Be Alive. Whoa boy what a way to start your Hollywood career! She fared a bit better in her next show, Arizona to Broadway, a very polarizing movie that gets many things right but ultimately goes wrong. Whats starts as a promising story about con-artists trying to con other con-artists melts into a cheap, no-brainer stupidity. Too bad! But still, things got better, and they got even with Dancing Lady. i know this movie is not top of the class, best musical ever made, but I for one love it. Joan Crawford looking her best, playing an independent, strong-willed dancing lady, Franchot Tone as a wealthy suitor plus Clark Gable as a rough around the edges choreographer – whats not to like? And a special bonus – Fred Astaire in one of his earliest movie role! Whauza!

Like tons of other chorines, Bonita appeared in Stand Up and Cheer!, which is less a movie with a normal narrative and more of a pastiche – depends if you like these sort of things – I prefer my movies with more story and characterizations, sho skip! And then Bonita went the usual downhill route – she started to appear in low-budget westerns. I know I may be too critical towards this, but most actresses that went this way ended up nowhere (there are exceptions of course, but Bonita ain’t one of them). The movie was Outlaw’s Highway and there is nothing substantial to be said about it.

Bonita made her first and only college musical (a genre popular back then) in 1934, called College Rhythm. It’s quiet a good example of the genre, with a solid cast and some decent music. The stories are more or less all the same – young people goofing around in college (and nobody ever studies!), but it’s the energy and the charm that count, and this movie has them enough.

After so many happy-go-lucky musicals, Bonita appeared in a bit more serious fare – Rumba – it’s not a cry your eyes out drama, but it’s more than fluff. Leads are played by George Raft and Carole Lombard (who were involved in real life – love there small trivia trinkets!). Unfortunately, it’s a pale version of the superior Bolero (with the same acting team) and with a somehow similar story (Raft is a dancer who comes from the wrong side of the tracks, Carole is a ritzy society girl). Raft can dance, that much is obvious, and Carole is a very capable actress and stunningly beautiful, but the movie lacks bite. One of the reasons is probably the newly minted production code that forced producers and directors to water down most stuff – and the white-hot chemistry between George and Carole was definitely one of them.

The Big Broadcast of 1936  is another of the pastiche musicals – IMHO, skip. There are tons of talented performers here, but that ain’t enough for a truly good viewing experience. Bonita’s last movie, made in 1936 was Anything Goes, an adaptation of a Cole Porter musical with Bing Crosby and Ethel Merman. Yep, this is one of the few movies La Merman appeared in, and this is perhaps the strongest reason to see it. Of course, that isn’t saying much – the movie suffers from the “censoritis” syndrome. We all know how witty and punny Cole was, and the censors hated such a witty and punny men and tried to put them to size any time they could. Yet, there a some good stuff to be enjoyed int he movie, and it’s from the bottom of the barrel.

And that was it from Bonita!

PRIVATE LIFE

When Bonita came to Hollywood, she expressed a particular lack of enthusiasm as far as men are concerned to the papers. This of course was all tell and no-show – girls sometime did this to gather publicity (“she doesn’t want to get married, gasp!!” effect).

Bonita’s first Hollywood beau was Sammy Finn, who was toting her around the Club Colony for months but it didn’t get to the altar.

Like most young, unestablished starlets, Bonita appeared in the fashion and coiffure columns with some frequency. here is an example:

A coiffure like Bonita Barker’s would be becoming to you. The hair is parted on the right side, combed off the brow with a curl coming down over the left temple to the eyebrow, a wave below this and curled ends over the ears.

Bonita also wrote about her eating habits. Due to being in the chorus, she had to work long hours and did strenuous dance routines, and dieting too much just didn’t cut it out for her. As they said about chorines:

A dainty little sandwich and a soda may be good for the thinning office girl at noon, but not enough for the girls who want to keep their curves to stay in the chorus, these days. These screen dancers must eat, to regain the weight they lose daily in their work, and eat they do, even if it’s a soda between meals.

It seems that Bonita was a serious antiques collector. Her prized possession was pipe with a twenty-six-inch stem which once belonged to Emperor Frederick III, father of Kaiser Wilhelm. Famous director Lewis Stone used to smoke from it when Bonita loaned it to Paramount.

In the late 1930s, Bonita got engaged to Oren William Haglund , and actor and former husband of Warner bros actress Priscilla Lane . Oren and Priscilla were married for one day sharp – imagine what an awkward marriage that was. A wedding date between Oren and Bonita was set, but never reached. Yup, they never married. Who knows what happened between them, although Hollywood is notoriously cheap in this department – engagement were made and broken almost daily, like something extremely mundane.

Bonita traveled extensively after her Hollywood career. She visited Puerto Rico, Hawaii, and Europe several times. In fact, she was in Italy when WW2 started – she returned to the US from Genoa just a few days after September 1st. In 1940, she visited Cuba.

Bonita married Bennett Albert Robinson on October 7, 1941 in Los Angeles. Bennett was born on February 12, 1906, in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, to Louis Robinson and Rose Waxler. He studied to become a chiropractor and moved to Los Angeles for work. It was the first marriage for both.
Bennett was drafted into the US army on August 20, 1942, but after serving for a few years came back happily home (sometime before 1945).
Bonita gave up marriage to devote her life to her husband and family. The couple had one child together (couldn’t find the name, sadly). They lived in California where Bennett worked as a chiropractor.
Bennett Robinson died on July 10, 1982, in Los Angeles, California.
Bonita Barker died on May 11, 2006 in California.