Ila Rhodes was a pretty blonde who got to Hollywood via the Pasadena Playhouse, and expressed a wish to seriously act (as she studied drama at college). Too bad it never came that far – she did a few small roles and then gave up movies altogether to get married. Her Tinsel Town highlight was dating Ronald Reagan, which got her five minutes of fame in the 1980s, after he became the President. Let’s hear more about her.
Ila Rhodes was born on November 17, 1913, to William Allen Rhodes and Birdie E. Baley, in Marion, Missouri. Her father was an engineer. She was the youngest of six children, where her oldest siblings were really older than her – her brother Ernest and Omar were born in the 19th century (in August 1892 and July 30, 1895 respectively)! Her other siblings were Sarah, born on December 21, 1903, Nancy Ethel, born in April 5, 1906 and Charles, born in 1909. Sadly, Ernest died before Ila was born, probably in 1910. The family moved to Oklahoma when Ila was a little girl, and by 1920 they were living in Ottawa, Oklahoma.
Ila had a normal middle class childhood, even if it was a bit hectic. Namely, due to her father’s work, she moved a great deal and attended grammar school in Okmulgee, Hitchita, Checotah, McAlester, all in Oklahoma, and Fort Smith, Ark. She went to high school in Atoka, Muskogee and Tulsa, and later attended university at Oklahoma City (all four years). At the university Ida majored in dramatics, got a solid groundwork in Shakespeare and other classics.
Later publicity claimed that Ila’s full name was Ila Rae Cornutt, and that she was of Cheerokee Indian descent, but since they made up a great chunk of young starlet’s histories, I wonder if this is true. Not only was her surname not Cornutt, but she was born in Missouri, not Oklahoma. Although it could be she had some Cornutt family connection, but can’t be sure. Here is the article:
Permanent Blonds But if Ha’s a vanishing Indian (out of this school and into that one), she’s not a vanishing blond. Her family is a durable exception to the new scientific theory of “perishing blonds.” This theory holds that bruneta are gradually absorbing blonds. The blondness in Ila’s family is so strong that it erases competition. In the family tree is a great maybe even a great-great grandmother who was full-blooded American Indian. “Rust-Proof” Legend says that from the union of a blond, Dutch-English white man and an Indian’ maid came one child who had flaxen hair and blue eyes the first of the “non-rusting” blonds in the Curnutt clan. Ila’s pink-and-white complexion won her a role without a screen test in “Women in the Wind.”
No comment on that. Anyway, after graduation from college, Ila started to act in the Pasadena Playhouse and attended their dramatic school. Following graduation the dramatic school, she was noticed by Arthur Lyons, Warner Bros producer, and after a successful screen test signed a two-year contract with Warner Bros and her career was go!
Ila appeared in only 6 movies. She was uncredited in Off the Record, a Joan Blondell/Pat O’Brien combo movie. The two leads are dynamite together (playing newspaper people) and Joan is her usual cute but tough broad, but the movie is a low budget B class film and it shows in the short running time and too much stuff meshed into it. Part newspaper film, part drama and part romance, ti doesn’t really work, but as I said it’s worth seeing for Joan and Pat alone. They don’t make them like this anymore!
Ila was given a leading role in Secret Service of the Air, the first movie Ila appeared with Ronald Reagan. It has a very thin plot: Brass Bancroft and his sidekick Gabby Watters are recruited onto the secret service and go undercover to crack a ruthless gang that smuggles illegal aliens. As one IMDB reviewer notes, this film contains just about everything you could possibly fit into a 61-minute movie: a prison break, car chases, shootouts, bar fights, a love story, brawls, various plane chases and much more. Typical for a B movie of the period, where more was considered more.
Next was Women in the Wind, one of the movies that Warner Bros made Kay Francis do that that their prized star, who was paid thousands a week, would quite before her contract expires. Thus, we can assume it’s not a particularly good movie. Ila then appeared in a small role in Dark Victory, the Bette Davis weepie classic of 1939, with George Brent and Humphrey Bogart thrown into the mix. The story is well known: a socialite discovers she has an inoperable tumor and has to change her whole life before her time comes. Bette excelled at these kind of roles, and the supporting cast is wonderful, so overall it’s a very good movie.
Ila’s last movie was Hell’s Kitchen. The Dead End Kids star in this remake of The Mayor of Hell and Crime School, with Ronald Reagan and Margaret Lindsay as obligatory grown ups support. Nothing to write home about, but does have some socially conscious moments and it’s one of Ila and Ronnie’s movies together!
That was it from Ila!
Ila was five feet five, weighting 112 lbs in her prime, and shaved 4 years of her CV when she was signed by Warner Bros. Growing up in Oklahoma, Ila was something of a bronco-busier. She didn’t tell Warners about that at first, because she was afraid she’d be cast in westerns and have to hide her pretty figure in a pair of chaps. She also told the papers that she dieted on baked potatoes and skimmed milk when she wanted to lost a few pounds. She was best friends with Margaret Lindsay and Marie Wilson, and the three often sipped drug store ice cream sodas like a trio of high school girls. She also wore two old-fashioned hat pins with garnet beads she found among her mother’s keep-sakes.
Here is a bit more about Ila: She liked to sing and dance and did both well. She was a fine horsewoman, a fact she concealed for a time fearing to be typed westerns. She played tennis and danced to keep fit, dieted mildly, attended the Methodist church, drove a two-year-old car, didn’t care for jewelry. She rised early, saved her money and read a good deal. Her best friend was Ida Lupino. Her natural blond hair and startlingly blue eyes were the kind that delight cameramen. She also gave a recipe for a special bleaching masque – take a whipped up egg you add the juice of a big lemon, then apply it to your face and leave it on for a half hour. Take two facials each week.
If Ila is indeed remembered today, it’s because she was, allegedly, engaged to Ronald Reagan, then a young actor in the Warner Bros roster. It was the year 1937/38, she was around 21 (officially, but actually about 25) and he was around 30. Their budding romance consisted of lunch-break trysts and stolen weekends together. Ronnie used to take her for hot dogs and he had a no-smoking, no-drinking, no-dancing stance, preferring simple things like taking long walks and talking. Ila would later say of him: “Ronnie was very attractive, and I enjoyed our weekends out together. I became engaged, with a ring on my finger, when fame started to affect us. The fans started to multiply.” Allegedly, Ila tried to sell some tall tales to Ronnie, claiming she was related to some old guard, wealthy aristocrats, but it remains to be proven either false or true.
The engagement lasted eight or nine months, when Warner Bros moguls decided romance between their stars was bad for box-office business, and started pressing Ronald to give Ila up. They used any means necessary to do it. Arthur Lyons, the Warner producer who had discovered Ila, started taking her to celebrity get-togethers and fashionable nightclubs. Bit by bit, this erosion led to the break-up. Ila recalled later: “But it was elegantly done. He grew distant, withdrew a little, giving me plenty of room to take any kind of decisive step. And then we decided to face facts.” Shortly after the couple split they both married, Reagan to actress Jane Wyman and Rhodes to Lyons. Anyway, Ila and Lyons planned their wedding to be a Mexico City double-wedding with Ida Lupino and Louis Hayward getting married with them.
In the end, Ila traveled to Yuma. Ariz., to be married to her agent, Arthur Lyons. Lyons was born on May 27, 1906, in Russia. Little is known of his early life. He became an talent agent with his brother Sam representing such stars as Joan Crawford, Ida Lupino, Lucille Ball, Ray Milland and Jack Benny.
They started happily, looking for a new house and so, but the marriage was not to last. Lyons and Ila separated in June 1940, and divorced in November 1940, and court awarded her $500 a month for the rest of this year. Lyons remained a prominent agent and producer, and remarried in 1961 to Winifred Gilbert. He died on July 26, 1963.
After her divorce, Ila left Hollywood, hoping to revive her fledgling acting career. She went to New York to act on the legitimate stage. Her first and last role on the stage was in “Goodbye My Love”. Then, in mid 1942, Rhodes met a man at a dinner party in i Washington. In October 1942, they made their relationship public by appearing at the swank 21 club – Ila on the arm of Air Corps Brig. Gen. Bennett Meyers. Meyers was considered quite a catch and Ila was allegedly envied by tons of glamour girls. Meyers was high up in the military and was a powerful man who enjoyed friendships with other powerful men, and it seems that Ila was ready once again to give up acting to take up the mantle of domesticity. On February 14, 1943, they were married at the Marble Collegiate Church.
Bennett E. Meyers was born in Buffalo, N.Y., in 1895. During World War I he enlisted in the Aviation Section of the Signal Reserve Feb. 2, 1918, and served as a flying cadet until June 22, 1918, when he was commissioned a temporary second lieutenant in the Air Service, serving continuously until he was commissioned in the Regular Army as a second lieutenant, Air Service, to rank from July 1, 1920.
He completed ground school at Berkeley, Calif., and flying school at Rockwell Field, Calif., remaining at the latter station after being commissioned. He transferred to Love Field, Texas, for duty in various staff capacities from July 1919 to November 1920, when he became commanding officer of the Surplus Property District at Detroit, Mich. When this was completed he undertook a similar assignment at Buffalo, N.Y., in the following September, and became commanding officer of the Air Reserve Depot there.
He moved to Luke Field, Hawaii, in September 1923 for intelligence duties until July 1924, when he joined the 23rd Bombardment Squadron. In June 1927 he was transferred to Wright Field, Ohio, for procurement duties. He was away on temporary duty from November 1927 until February 1928 to take the special observation course at the advanced flying school, Kelly Field, Texas. He returned to Wright Field for procurement planning duties, becoming chief of the Plans Division of the Industrial War Plans Section.
He was assigned to the Army Industrial College, Washington, D.C., in September 1929, and graduated in June 1930. He then returned to Wright Field as chief of the Plans Division, Industrial War Plans Section. He was detailed to the Babson Institute, Mass., in September 1931 and graduated in June 1932 with “high distinction” and was valedictorian for the class. He remained there for post graduate work for another school year until June 1933 when he again returned to Wright Field as executive to the Field Service Section. In 1935 he established the Budget Office at that field and was budget officer and chief of that division until September 1940 when he was transferred to the Office of the Chief of Air Corps as assistant executive. He became executive officer of the Materiel Command in that Office in November 1940, and in March 1942 was named deputy to the Assistant Chief of Air Staff of the Army Air Forces.
He assumed command of the Materiel Command, with headquarters at Wright Field, Ohio, in June 1944, and the following month was named Deputy Director, Army Air Forces Materiel and Services at Patterson Field, Ohio (later redesignated Air Technical Service Command, with station at Wright Field, Ohio). In May 1945 he assumed command of the Air Technical Service Command. He retired in the grade of major general.
He was awarded the Distinguished Service Medal and Legion of Merit and was rated a senior pilot, combat observer and technical observer.
He was dismissed from the service of the United States by President Truman July 16, 1948, after conviction of a felony.
Ila and Bennett lived the high life, and had three children: twins Arnold and Damon, born on February 26, 1944, and Ila Jr., born on February 24, 1946. But it seems the salad days were not to last, as Meyers was privy to enough to make himself some dough, on the side, and not in a ethical or indeed legal fashion. Here is the article:
Gen. Bennett K. Meyers. head of the Army Air Force wartime procurement. 1 about to get hit with a bag of wet cement when the Ferguson-Bretr-Hughee war contract Investigation reopens Monday. “Benny” Meyers, m the 48-year-old purchasing official la generally known, will be slapped with a receipted hotel bill, showing . he accepted more than , 11,000 worth of weekend entertainment from vHow-ard Hughes., via his fat bagman, Johnny Meyer. The hotel bill, from the swanky Town House in Los Angeles, will be produced by Senator Homer Ferguson, of Michigan, who will ask the general why he accepted favors from a man who ‘ was trying to get army contracts. General Meyers, who married Ila Rhodes, a movie actress about half his age four years ago, enjoyed a very expensive weekend at the Town House with his wife. The ten shows it was lifted by the ubiquitous Johnny Meyer with one of his famous “okay to pay” notations. Without realizing it, I have been sitting on most .of this story since the Hughes investigation opened early in August.
Ila stood by her husband, getting papped daily in the courtroom, and often being called the general’s ultra sophisticated, very chic younger wife. Guess the publicity wasn’t that good, and Ila came around as quite a shallow money digger – the press obviously twisted the story according to their own agenda. Anyway, Bennett was found guilty on three counts of subornation of perjury, and faces a maximum 30-year prison term. In the end, he was interred in Wasghington, DC.
Ila was under siege after the trial, and she tried to make a normal life for herself and the couple’s children. Sadly, the press didn’t let her – a few months later, she was discovered modeling In a Manhattan fur salon under her maiden name. She was unhappy about the publicity but said she took the job because She needed money to support her three children, and she wanted to be near Washington, D. C., where for one hour each week she is allowed to visit her husband, in jail for perjury. .She allegedly told a reporter: “Jeepers! They didn’t know who I was when they hired me. Maybe Ill be looking for another job tomorrow”. Yep, Ila tried but they were not really forthcoming.
Ila’s life changed when she went for a business trip to South America in 1949, to model some furs to be exhibited there. She met a wealthy Brazilian industrialist, Paulo Franco, and promptly fell in love. Ila divorced Bennett in 1950, while he was still in prison, and married Paulo. Bennett died February 25,1979. I could not find any information on the mysterious Mr. Franco, except that he died in the 1970s. In 1980 Ila was dug up my a overly zealous newspaper reporter, and interviewed in her home in Brazil about Ronnie, much to his consternation (he thought the matter settled years ago and safely tucked away). Ila falls from the newspaper radar from then on, so I have no idea what happened to Ila afterwards, but I hope she had a happy life!
IMDB claims that Ila died on December 10, 2012, in Glass Valley, California.