Best known for being Frank Sinatra’s semi-serious girlfriend, June Tolley is actually a very interesting woman with a colorful life – from a rough childhood through 1950s modeling career, to a started marriage, then dating Frankie, getting engaged to royalty and finally finding her own niche in TV commercials, June lived through it all! Let’s learn more about her!
Bertha June Rossiter was born on June 28, 1930, in Los Angeles, California, to June Rossiter and Anna Milano. Her father was of Swedish descent (hence his name – in English it’s a feminine name, not so in Swedish) and a taxi driver by trade. She was the youngest of seven children – her brother Peter was born on July 27, 1918, her brother Paul was born on and died on November 10, 1919, her sister Maria Helen was born October 12, 1921, her brother Frederick was born on May 26, 1923, her sister Gloria Anna was born on September 10, 1925, and her sister Betty Jean was born on August 30, 1927.
Now for the sad part – Bertha and her two sisters, Maria and Betty were put into the Los Angeles Roman Catholic Orphan Asylum sometime before 1940. While I don’t know the whole story, it seems that their father ended up in prison (St. Quentin) their mother died, and the youngest children became wards of the state. The older children were big enough to function by themselves. This is such a sad story, but June beat the odds and became a successful model. Living in Los Angeles, she had been around movie people all her life this is how she got a bit part in Bing Crosby’s movie, “Pennies from Heaven.”, but most of her work was as photographer’s model for magazine covers, fashion ads and similar.
This catapulted her, in time, to movies, and her career started!
According to IMDB, June appeared in only two movies and her film career is definitely not one of her stronger suits. It is possible, based on my newspaper archive research, that she appeared in a whole list of other movies and TV series, but she’s not credited so nah.
The first one is The Garment Jungle, a bag of mixed pleasures. Basically a racket movie, it’s part film noir with dramatic touches, a so-so mesh of it’s two directors – Vincent Sherman and Robert Aldrich. And boy, we can hardly find two such disparate directors!Sherman was known as a woman’s director in the vein of George Cukor – he excelled in melodrama and worked with great divas like Miriam Hopkins, Joan Crawford and Bette Davis. Robert Aldrich was the master of unseen violence, one of the few directors that showed what a phantom menace looks like. Combine them and you have an interesting experiment – not a completely successful one, mind you. The movie, which ended up begin completely unknown afterwards – has flashes of brilliance as much as some truly dismal parts. The story is nothing to gape about – racketeering in the garment district of New York – but it works as a framing device for some very relevant questions and punches you hard when you finally realize that those things happened in real life. Oh yes, people literary died in these rackets. The actors are a mixed bag too. There are wonderful actors like Lee J. Cobb and , and on the other hand, we have Kerwin Matthews in the lead, handsome enough but a total wooden pole. However, the atmosphere and the style overall is superb. There is much “angry silence”, menace and doom in the air, and you can easily feel that Robert Aldrich did a large portion of the movie. It’s his signature style – brutal yet always subtle. Sherman infuses the more “intimate parts”, and they are lacking compared to the rest of the movie. The female love interest, played by Gia Scala, is so marginal to the story it’s almost sad, and Matthews was too thin an actor to truly pull of the more challenging gentle scenes. If you could pull out the redundant cheesy side of the movie, It’s almost a wonderful film noir, and it’s a shame it so neglected today, despite its shortcomings.
The second one is 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.
That’s all from June!
June met her first husband, actor John Compton, at a Hollywood dance. They were married on October 13, 1948, when June was only 18 years old. John Compton Tolley was born on June 21, 1923, in Lynchburg, Tennessee, to Lem Tolley and Ethel Compton. His father owned a distillery and a large farm near Lynchburg. After John graduated from Moore high school In 1941, he studied agriculture at Tennessee Polytechnic institute at Cookeville for a while before he went Into the army. After his discharge he decided to try his luck in Hollywood. He joined a large number of young hopefuls living in a shared house, was working as a waiter and hanging around the actors’ union hall, the “hiring hall”, all day. Finally he got a job on a labor gang at one of the studios, cleaning up and doing odd jobs. Then they put him to answering the telephone, on the Columbia set, for Rita Hayworth. He began taking acting lessons on the set, and paid the teacher $100 to give him a good part in the class play. That was when the talent scout noticed him and his big break came. He got minor and not-so-minor parts In “Mildred Pierce,” “Cheyenne,” “O, Susanna” and other movies. When his film work dried out, he went to Broadway for a performance or two, than would return to Hollywood and so on.
Since John’s Hollywood career was lackluster in the early 1950s, the couple decided to try their luck in the Big Apple (again). June and John were halfway across the desert on their way to New York when their old car broke down, and the garage man estimated that it would take $150 to repair it. John sold the car for $15 and spent the last money he had for two bus tickets to New York. “As soon as they got to New York, I had a call from Hollywood,” John said. “They wanted me back for a movie. They flew me back, all expenses paid”. June got jobs on TV shows in New York, in night clubs there and in Miami. Her continued appearing on magazine covers, frequently modeling brides’ costumes, evening clothes, bathing suits, sultry South Sea Island costumes for travel posters.
John and June together did summer stock for four years, at Lake Minnetonka in Minnesota, at Denver and in Ontario, and she worked at Earl Carrolls as a chorus girl. She became one of the famous Copacabana girls. June competed for the Miss Rheingold of 1954. Although she didn’t’ win the title, here is her sales pitch:
JUNE TOLLEY I have had the thrill of louring 27 hospitals in a pie wagon, appearing on the “Show of Shows,” “Man Against Crime,” “Crime Syndicated” and other TV dramatic shows, as well as playing leads In various stock companies. My modeling career was purely secondary to my theatrical career and it is a strange twist of fat that my modeling might be responsible for attaining the greatest fame of all, “Miss Rheingold of 1954.”
Now comes the fun part. I can’t be 100% sure now since both June and John are dead, but let’s try and make heads and tails of it: It was arund 1953, the Tolleys acting career proved to me mediocre at best so they decided to move to John’s ancestral home in Tennessee and become trappers. Yep, they went to live on his father’s farm, which was on a pleasant rim of green hills overlooking a wooded valley near Mulberry creek. The creek was good for fishing and trapping, and the woods are fine for hunting. The remodeled farm house, homestead of the Tolleys for more than a century, was cozily furnished and equipped with all the conveniences of plumbing and electric heating that was made available at the time.
So they went rural and have the papers know everything about it, of course! It even looks a bit like a reality show where we have two celebrities trying to live a simple life in Mississippi, miles removed from their previous glamorous life in Hollywood. Here is a highly idealized account of June’s life as a trapper’s wife:
June took to country life immediately, John said. She “adopted” the motherless calf born soon after they arrived and she has fed it from a nippled bucket since then. She is learning to recognize mink paths and muskrat slides along the creek banks where traps are set just beneath the surface of the water. She is accustomed to the faintly gory appearance of mink hides turned wrong-side-out and stretched for proper drying. She has seen John bring in 10 minks and 75 muskrats since they came home. That was about the same time that John was walking along the road by the Fayetteville cemetery one afternoon when he saw a possum, chased it under a- car, reached in and grabbed it to bring home. “You didn’t know wild mink was trapped around here?” she asked. And then, echoing her husband, she sounded like an “old hand” at the trapping game. “It’s the best.” June turned a mink tail” back on the board where the skin was drying to show the long “guard hairs.” “Domestic mink don’t have these long hairs,” she said authoritatively. “Only the wild mink. The fur wears so much longer than domestic. And it’s so much prettier.” Everybody up and down the road is a Tolley or a Motlow, and June has her share of invitations to card parties in Lynchburg, Fayetteville and Tullahoma. She and John are going to coach a home talent play a benefit show for one of Tullahoma’s civic clubs this spring. The people who used to go see every “John Compton movie” several times every time it hit a nearby town are making John’s and June’s homecoming “mighty pleasant.”
The press was fawning all over them for a time, but ultimately it seems that their new life didn’t agree with them as nicely as they told the papers, and pffffttttttttt! The point is, the Tennessee experiment failed, the Tolleys returned to New York. Not long after June split from John, as it often happens to reality show couples. They didn’t even do the standard “divorce or not divorce” dance – June was soooo over it and was seen turning up at Armando’s with textile heir/producer Bob Evans. Not surprisingly, shortly after they officially divorced. I guess that June was more than happy to leave her trapper days behind. John retired from movies, became a successful journey as a real estate developer in the Hollywood Hills and Laurel Canyon area in the 1960s, remarried to Angela Hancock in 1964 and died on May 12, 2015.
June needed a new place of her own and roomed with fellow model Gita Hall for the time being. However, a very short while after, June moved out of their apartment in a huff because Gita’s famous beaus (Prince Christian of Hanover and Errol Flynn among others) had gone to her head and made her “overhearing.” Ha ha ha ha ha!
Next up, June was dividing her time between actor Helmut Dantine and Leonard Rogers, the young tobacco tycoon. In mid 1954, she was getting the rush treatment from Lou Stoeckiin, who took her dancing at El Morocco between and after all Copa shows
Then, in late 1954, June got involved with the ultimate Hollywood catch – Frank Sinatra. It seems that their was a passionate relationship, with Frankie first meeting her in a club (probably), wooing her, leaving her, than not being able to forget her, then crooning her and writing her long, sultry letters and giving her long distance phone calls. They alternated between New York and Los Angeles, and she was often mentioned in the papers at Frank’s girl of the moment.
However, the romance was flawed from the very beginning – not only was she just divorced (that definitely didn’t help matters) but Frank was unhappily estranged from Ava Gardner. The fact remains, Ava was his one great love and nobody could quite measure up to her. Plus Frankie was a serial womanizer who dated women by the truckload. He did introduce June to his children, and she was seen with Frankie Jr. at least once.
Frankie had a string of side pieces, but so did June – she was squired by Dick Cowell whenever she was in the East, and probably a few nameless others. Then, after months of intense left and right, Frankie went on a Gloria Vanderbilt kick and seemingly forgot June. They did some minor dating but the affair was over for the most part, and her five minutes of fame were also over.
After she and Frank were went kaput for good, June deserted LA for NY to do TV commercials. “Seventy-four per Cent of the commercials are still done in NY,” she told the papers. In NY, June became a highly highly successful TV commercialist, appearing in a large number of commercials.
Fast forward to 1960, and we have June engaged to Count Klaus Bentheim, a member of an elegant old German family. And no, this wasn’t just a newspaper park – they were seen holding hands during a dinner party at Ruby Foo, and June unveiled an engagement diamond ring. So, it truly was serious and they even had the date penciled in August 20.
While I could find any information about what exactly happened between them, the wedding never took place and my guess is that the German aristocratic in-laws didn’t take it too kindly to their son marrying a divorced working girl who did refrigerator commercials for a living. Snobs maybe? But, it’s just a guess.
June’s next serious beau was the handsome high society dandy, Harry Cushing IV. If you read this blog, you’ll know him from his wild marriage to Georgette Windsor. They dated for a few years, but didn’t get to the altar. It was also noted that June was famous as the latest Jackie Kennedy look-alike, and Jackie Gleason just used her in a White House sketch.
June falls of the newspaper radar from them on, so I can’t say what she was up to after the late 1960s. What we do know is that June married a certain Jacques B. Wilson and continued living in Los Angeles.
Bertha June Wilson died on January 13, 2001, in Los Angeles, California.