Helen Seamon

Helen Seamon started her career as a starlet in the 1930s, but that wasn’t quite the beginning of it all. Groomed for stardom from her early days, Helen was pretty and a good dancer, but the long awaited stardom eluded her after years in Hollywood. However, she found her niche in theater work, and racked up a nice string of theatrical appearances. From a starlet to an serious actress, like! Let’s learn more about her!  

EARLY LIFE

Helen Virginia Seamon was born on April 15, 1919, in Pine Bluff, Arkansas, to Alpha C. and Lottie Seamon. She was their only child. Her father, an Indiana native, worked as a railroad ticket master, almost 20 years older than his wife. The family resided in Pine Bluff.   

Helen’s mother was a typical stage mother who wanted her daughter up in the lights, with her name on marquees. When Helen was three years of age Mrs. Seamon started her study of dancing. She made her official debut in the local theater, during children’s matinees. Helen sat on the organ console and sang. When Helen was a bit older her parents scraped enough money to send her to study under Ernest Belcher, a dancing master in Los Angeles (the father of Marge Champion and teacher to Cyd Charisse), always hoping to catch somebody’s eye and make it in Hollywood. 

Helen’s luck changed when she was 17 years old – she danced at the Texas Centennial Celebration. Movie scouts saw possibilities in her, and after that crashed Hollywood with a contract. Alternative story goes that Helen accompanied a friend to a studio and sat in the waiting room, while the friend talked to the casting director. Another executive raced into the waiting room, waved Helen into his office and said he had to have a girl in a dance number. But anyway, she was finally noticed! 

That’s how her career started! 

CAREER

Helen mostly played chorus girls in MGM movies, and was uncredited from her first to her last role. Her first role came in 1935, with the movie Folies Bergère de Paris. The movie has a cliché, semi idiotical plot – an entertainer impersonates a look-alike banker, causing comic confusion for wife and girlfriend., but we have Maurice Chevalier who just rocks everything he is in, and thus we don’t’ really need anything of any deep substance to make it a palatable movie. Merle Oberon is also in it, as is Ann Sothern, so the girl cast is very good! Then came Hearts in Bondage, an interesting albeit flawed Civil war drama, with David Manners and James Dunn playing two naval officers who find themselves on the opposing sides of the war. The story is well constructed and shows us sea battles of the civil war (usually never seen in film), but the script is too banal and direction is so-so. Interesting to note that actor Lew Ayres is the director here! Good to know he was such a versatile man! Mae Clark as Dunn’s fiancée and Manners’ sister is also a plus! 

Helen then appeared in another of the Gold Diggers movies, Gold Diggers of 1937. What to say – lots of scantly clad girls, dancing and no story! Been there, seen that, but it’s fun fare is you like that kind of stuff. Similarly lightweight was her next feature, the Dick Powell vehicle The Singing Marine. The story – a young marine wins a talent contest, becomes famous, but gets in trouble with everybody! Dick Powell in the 1930s was a happy-go-lucky dance and song guy who made simple, low-calorie movies by the bucket load, mostly with the same story, only slightly rehashed and often with the same leading ladies. Dick wanted out of that heap of films and one can see why – while The Singing Marine, among others, is a funny romp that is enjoyable on some level, you literary forget it the second you stop watching it. Dick could do and would do better in the decades that came, and good for him, this was a waste of his talent!  

More serious but not very impressive fare was Comet Over Broadway, one of the movies that Kay Francis was pushed by her studio, Warner Bros, to make in order to milk more money from the . It’s a complicated story of why and how, but bottom line – Kay Francis, one of the most unusual and fresh actresses of the 1930s, was relegated to low-quality, over the top melodramas by the late 1930s, and not by choice. Kay was a very expensive star, commanding a large salary and Warner Bros wanted to put her into place. Viola, we have a very badly written melodrama with some good actors. The story is way over the top, and Kay is the only reason to watch this.

A similar mess is Broadway Serenade, one of the few movies Jeannette McDonald made without Nelson Eddy in the late 1930s. Here we have another incredibly thin story (a singer makes it big, blah blah), but at least there is plenty of music and the male lead is plays by the always nice Lew Ayres

And then! The Wizard of Oz, playing  a very small but charming role of a lady with a cat. I’ll just leave it here, only mentioning the name of this classic is enough! If anything, Helen will forever be remembered for this movie!

Helen’s 1940s movies were a bit better than her 1930s fare, but sadly she was still in the uncredited roster. In 1940s she made Strike Up the Band, a charming, funny and endearing musical with Judy Garland and Mickey Rooney as two youngsters trying to strike up a band (as per the title!).  Made by Busby Berkeley, it’s a minor classic and well worth a watch! Same for the musical classic, Ziegfeld Girl. MGM at it’s best – everything, is high class, elegant and expensive – there are tons of great actors (especially the supporting actors!), top notch music and dancing. And Lana Turner, Hedy Lamarr and Judy Garland! What is there not not like? Okay, it is a bit overly melodramatic and over-the-top with only a mediocre story, but that’s classic Hollywood for you!

Helen then signed a contract with the Poverty Row studio, Republic pictures. Her first picture for the studio was Mr. District Attorney in the Carter Case, which is sadly completely forgotten today. It sounds like a okay crime/mystery movie with James Ellison and Virginia Gilmore in the leads. Then Helen appeared in another absolute classic, this time just a comedy – Ball of Fire. Gary Cooper, Babs Stanwayck, written by Billy Wilder and directed by Howard Hawks, whauza! This combo of talent can’t really go wrong now can it. And a insanely good supporting cast – Richard Haydn, Oscar Homolka, Henry Travers, S.Z. Sakall, Tully Marshall, Dana Andrews, Allen Jenkins… And the story, so simple and yet so perfect – when academia and burlesque meet, and sparks fly! Just add in some bad guys and you have it!

Unfortunately, Helen followed this with very good string of movies with three lackluster films: Joan of Ozark, a typical Judy Canova hillbillie movie with a humor level to match (I am sure there are people who enjoy this, but let’s not pretend it’s the height of sophisticated comedy), Hi, Neighbor, a completely forgotten musical comedy with Jean Parker, and Here We Go Again, a typical Fibber and Molly McGee movie (if you like that brand of humor, great, if not, don’t watch it).  

Helen ended he career in some TV series, and then retired in 1955 for good. 

That’s all from Helen! 

PRIVATE LIFE

Helen was a natural blonde and five foot tall. She was very close to her parents, and here is a short and sweet tidbit about their relationship, as published in the local papers: 

That trick little blonde who has graced so many cigarette advertisements and who has induced so many ladies to buy a certain soap will be leading lady this week at Deer Lake Theatre. Besides having been one of the most popular of New York models, Helen Sea-mon has also had a busy career on the screen, radio, television and the stage. When Helen Seamon came east from Hollywood after appearing in such films as “Diamond Horseshoe,” ‘The Dolly Sisters,” and The Gang’s All Here,” her father and mother decided on a pleasant custom. For every Broadway production she played in they would give hera charm for her bracelet. Firsthere was a four leaf clover for “The Vigil.” Then a stork for “Born Yesterday” was followed by a miniature box of chocolates for “Goodbye, My Fancy.” Helen played the ingenue who passed candy when she announced her engagement. The most recent charm on her bracelet is a tiny heart to represent the French laundress in “Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep.”, it was this coquettish maid that the Ecuadorian General played by Frederic March was always pursuing. If her family continue the custom for summer productions Helen will be wearing a miniature sundial for the play she does at Deer Lake Theatre. It’s Susan Glaspell’s “Tickless Time.” ! But beside rehearsing at Deer Lake. , has been commuting to New York. She has an important role in the Paul Douglas film, “14 Hours,” which Is being filmed in Manhattan. Then, too, she’s getting ready to be Penny of the comic strip over NBC when that television show is released this fall.

After her Hollywood career fizzled, Helen went into theater full time and was quite successful at it, appearing on Broadway four times (Waltz of the toreadors, Now I lay me down to sleep, Goodbye, My Fancy and The Vigil). Helen tirelessly acted in regional theater and summer stock, becoming a real, high quality working actress, a person who is not in it for fame and fortune only but also for the acting fulfillment and for the chance of working alongside legends like Paul Kelly , Uta Hagen, Lon Chaney, Scott McKay and so on. This is such a great story about an actress who didn’t make it in Hollywood, but worked steadily in the theater afterwards.

Helen’s private life was quite low key newspaper-wise, and she married for the first time on July 10, 1964 to Thomas Evans Beal. Beal was born on November 25, 1917, in Washington DC, to Carlton Beal, wealthy oil operator, and Helen E. Beal. He had an older brother, Carlton Evans born in 1914. His father was the Vice-President of Marland Oil Company, and was credited with discovering some of California’s greatest oil fields. His parents’ marriage was stormy and they divorced when Thomas was in elementary school. There was quite a bit of push and pull around the division of property (read money) between Carlton and Helen, and finally it was court ordered that Carlton had to pay for Thomas’ tuition. Ultimately Thomas went on to work for his father’s company,  BTA Oil Producers.

Thomas was married once before, to Dorothy M. Nilson in 1938, and had three children: Mary Elizabeth, born on April 2, 1941, Thomas Evans, born on August 27, 1943, and Donald Nilson, born on October 11, 1948. He was divorced in the 1950s. Thomas and Helen met sometime in the mid 1960s and the rest was history! The couple lived together in Orange county and were very active in the local philanthropic and civic sphere.

Beal died on February 28, 1979, and Helen continued living in Orange county after his death, then moved to Garden Grove at some point and enjoyed her golden years there. She continued to support the Children’s Hospital of Orange County (CA) through the Helen Seamon Beal Trust.

Helen Seamon Beal died on February 2, 2001, in Garden Grove, California.

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