Mimi Berry

The dame with the quirky name, Mimi Berry reached the pinnacle of her success on Broadway, way before she departed for Hollywood to try her luck in movies – from this sentence alone, you can summarize that her Hollywood sojourn was not a success. Luckily, she married, retired and found other venues for her talents. Let’s learn more about her!

EARLY LIFE

Mildred Emma “Mimi” Berry was born on February 2, 1924, in Ridgefield Park, New Yersey, to William Berry and Lillian Allinson. Her older brother William Jr. was born in 1915. Her father worked in the chocolate business as a salesman.

A dancer since she was 2 years old, Mimi branched out into the modeling field at 8. Until she reached the sixth grade she attended Lincoln School in Ridgefield Park. Berrys were a generous family, and they could always be count on for help, and Mimi often danced at local benefit parties. She also saved a certain man named Blind John from drowning and was known locally for it.

While working as a model and dancer, Mimi was also very passionate about swimming. She had her first lessons in the pool at Roosevelt School, Ridgefield Park. She was interested also in golf and riding, skating and roller skating. Henry I. Marshall, composer of “The Five Fifteen” and other songs, taught Mimi to sing and she had her first dancing lessons at the Morton School in Ridgefield Park at 2 years old.

Mimi started on her professional career as a dancer by accident. Her parents were spending their summer vacation at Cornwell, Ontario, when someone saw the then 5-year-old tow head practicing acrobatics on the lawn. She must have been pretty good even then because the passerby went in and saw Mrs. Berry (Lillian) and prevailed on her to let Mimi take part in the Cornwell, Ontario Legion, meet. The Legionnaires were delighted but there really was no class in which she could compete for a prize. “She wouldn’t be doing it for a prize anyway,” Mrs. Berry said. Mimi wasn’t half through before the judges chose the biggest shiniest trophy at their disposal for the little girl. For the six following summers Mimi and her mother returned to Cornwell for the show.

When Mimi was in the sixth grade, she and her parents moved to 3240 Henry’ Hudson Parkway, New York. Mimi’s crowded routine made the change necessary.  She became a pupil at the Professional Children’s School in New York. Someone told Harry Conover, head of the Conover model agency on Vanderbilt Avenue in New York about her. He went to the show December 28, agreed, signed her on the same day. Her first job through the Conover firm followed in short order, December 31. During her last year of high school, she became a Life cover girl.

Then her acting career took off. She tried out for “Keep Off the Grass” and was accepted. There was nothing much doing so she tried out for the Aquacade. Billy Rose selected her among hundreds of other girls. But that was not all. The producers of “Louisiana Purchase” saw her and signed her for the show. Ditto for the American Jubilee.

After all this ballyhoo, she was signed to Keep Off the Grass, and then was cast in Panama Hattie, with Ethel Merman in the lead. Mimi joined the production when it opened in New Haven, and later the show moved on to Broadway, where it enjoyed a long run. After it was finished, Mimi continued in Michael Todd’s Star and Garter. But this was all dancing work, with Mimi as a chorine – she wanted something bigger and better.

While still appearing in Star and Garter, she joined the cast of A Connecticut Yankee because she had a chance to speak a few lines and was assigned the job of general understudy. At one time during Monday night’s performance, one of the male leads blew a line and Mimi tossed it back to him coolly and the audience was none the wiser. It seemed that big things were in store for Miss Berry.

Mimi planned, after Star and Garter show ended its run, to try Hollywood. However, before the show ended it’s run, scouts took notice of her, and she was presented with a few potential studio contracts. At first she turned them all down to stay in New York until she show ended, and she had a special other reason – namely, her boyfriend. Then she had a quarrel with the boyfriend, they broke up, and she went to Hollywood and that was it!

CAREER

Now this a one paper-thin filmography. Mimi appeared in only three movies, and none of them made any real impact, so overall, she’s truly a minor footnote in Hollywood history.

Her first movie was Here Comes Troubleone of the “Sgt. Doubleday” series that was popular during and just after WW2. Little known comedian William Tracy played Doubleday, and is his dim witted sidekick, Ames. The point is that Doubleday is just as, if not more, dimwitted as Doubleday. And we have the famous “two morons working together to set things right” comedy sub genre. here, Doubleday and Ames are out of the army and in civilian life, with Ames becoming a cop and Doubleday a reporter. Of course the unwittingly save the city from gangsters. While it’s not the top of the pops, it’s a okay low-budgeter, with enough spunk and charm to make it an enjoyable, if forgettable experience. A plus is that Hal Roach, the indisputable king of comedy in the 1920s and 1930s, did the movie – it’ some of his later efforts.

Mimi’s next movie came only 3 years later, in 1951, was made in a similar vein, fun but shallow – Here Comes the Groom. Interestingly, it has nothing to do with Sargent Doubleday, but rather with Bing Crosby and Jane Wyman – he plays a foreign correspondent who has 5 days to win back his former fiancée, or he’ll lose the orphans he adopted. Heartwarming 🙂 The movie was directed by Frank Capra, better known for his more serious fare, but he’s a good director no matter the movie type and it’s more than evident here – the film is breezy, light, with great timing and charming performances. While it never did win any Oscars, it’s a true classic Hollywood fare, worth watching more than once.

Mimi also did her last movie in 1951 – My Favorite Spy, one of Bob Hope‘s lesser 1950s movies. While it’s far from being a horrible piece of dumpster fire trash not worth anyone’s time, it’s a barely so so comedy, with the only really comic element being Bob – everybody else seems to play a straight drama role, including his leading lady, Hedy Lamarr. I like Hedy, but will always admit she was very hard to cast – too beautiful for her own good and not talented enough, she only and truly worked in a certain setting in a certain type of a role, and this is just not it. The story is a one Bob’s movie used to death – a sap, namely Bob, has a look-alike who is a master spy, and of course Bob, instead of running for the hills, has to get mixed head-first into the whole mess.

And that was it from Mimi!

PRIVATE LIFE

Mimi was 5 feet 7 inches and 116 pounds in weight, and was called a girl “symbolic of personable American girlhood” by a noted Life magazine photographer. She attended Children’s Professional High School and had plans to attend University of Southern California from which her big brother graduated (she did not, sadly). In New York, Mimi lived with her mother up on Henry Hudson Parkway, about 20 minutes from the center of New York. Here is a short quote about Mimi’s education and preferences:

 The Victorian novelists, particularly Charles Dickens (believe it or not), are the favorite authors of Mimi Berry, who sings and dances in the chorus of “Panama Hattie,” which boasts Ethel Merman as its star.  As for her favorite study at the Professional Children’s school (high school and college prep), where she has been a student for the past six years. Mimi calmly announces that it is mathematics. Her reason for this, she says, is that if she ever should find herself  looking for a new kind of job a ‘knowledge of mathematics would offer the best general qualification.

As most girls her age, Mimi was absolutely love struck, and she said she prefer the boys of the neighborhood to the more sophisticated Broadway crowd. Don’t know if this is true, but it sure seems that Mimi dated her Broadway acquaintances more than her next door neighbors.

Since Mimi was under age when she hit Broadway, when the wolves started to call, there were some rules that had to be reinforced: Beaux who take out have to call for her at Dinty Moore’s, where her mama gives the okay and they had to return her to mom at Moore’s after the date. During her days as “Panama Hattie” chorine, she was involved with one of the featured males in the cast. After they broke up, she was seen with Jay Conley, the Shubert theater stage manager. That also didn’t last long.

A bit later, Mimi was pretty serious for a time about Thaddeus Brown, son of the late Ohio Senator. Perhaps class differences or perhaps meddling mothers separated the young lovers, and they broke up. In 1943, she was again serious about a guy – Ensign Bill Taylor, who was serving in the US Army during WW2 when they dated. He was sent overseas, and Mimi often send him lovely letters of encouragement.

The relationship did not last, alas, and Mimi found  a new swain – Jimmy Ritz. She graduated from high school while she was dating him, and the first serious reports about her hitting the altar were written about this time. Sadly, Jimmie was married and separated from his wife, and this coupled with some personal difference led to their demise.

She rebounded by dating Capt. Paul Kirich, but then fell in love with Corporal Tony Martin. Their favorite pastime was to to to the  ball park and enjoy themselves there. However, she left to Hollywood by this time, and thus effectively broke up with Tony. He would marry Cyd Charisse later.

Mimi hit the papers in Hollywood, but not for the reason you might think – her career – but for her romantic exploits. Namely, in October 1944, this happened:

Col. Alex Guerry, much- decorated air hero – now flying bombers in the South Pacific, is generally in a hurry. Not for him the regular mail, or even air mail, when he decided to propose to blond and beautiful. Mimi Berry. He used V-mail. So did Miss Berry for her acceptance. They met In New York a year ago and began a correspondence with the above development. Miss Berry, on the 20th Century-Fox studio lot, said yesterday the wedding would take place when Col. Guerry gets his next leave.

A bit theatrical, overtly dramatic and over-the-top, but still, that’s young, lovely and during war time, so we have to try and understand it. By February 1045, all was finalized – Mimi would marry Alex in a few months. And then, ZAP! For unknown reasons, Guerry and Mimi broke up. Trust me, I really would like to know what happened to part them, but no information is given. I was surprised to see that Alex married a Louise Pemberton in October 1945. Louise looked quite a bit like Mimi! Talk about finding girls who want to marry you in a hurry! Mimi kept low for a time in the romantic arena, and later dated Nate Pearlstein, the advertising executive.

On February 1, 1946, Mimi married Errol Karl Silvera in Los Angeles. It was the first marriage for both. Karl was born on October 16, 1919, in Los Angeles, California, to Ivan E. Silvera and Elfriede Etta Balogh. He grew up in Los Angeles, and became a studio make-up man. He began his career at RKO in 1943 and moved to Paramount in 1946.

The couple had three sons: Darrell Karl, born on September 19, 1951, John Steven, born on June 8, 1954, and William, born on September 26, 1956. The couple lived in Los Angeles, with Mimi devoting her time to friends and family, and never returning to the stage. Mimi’s husband Karl achieved his greatest claim to fame in the 1960s, when he worked as a make up artist on the TV show The Munsters –  he was the creator of the iconic Herman Munster make-up.
Sadly, their son Darrell died on January 10, 1970. I could not find a cause of death.
Mildred Berry Silvera died on August 6, 1984. Her widower Karl remarried to Judith Silvera, and died in August 2013.

 

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One response

  1. I always enjoy reading about these relatively unknown actresses. Society has changed so much… marriage was truly a priority to both genders, reinforced by low wages for women and the abscence of reliable birth control. Movies and music romanticized dating (very different from today’s films and songs!). The town’s name is Cornwall, Ontario.

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