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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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.

Eleanor Prentiss

Eleanor Prentiss is one of those actresses who came to Hollywood owning to her looks, with absolutely no acting experience, and then fell in love not with the glitz and glamour of Tinsel town, but with the gentle art of acting itself. Eleanor thus became an serious theater actress and went into self imposed movie exile, without achieving any Hollywood success and frankly not even caring about it. Let’s learn more!

EARLY LIFE

Eleanor Josephine Johnson was born on October 7, 1911, in Fort Dodge, Iowa, to Edward H. Johnson and Ruth Stockman. She was the oldest of three children – her younger siblings were twins Wallace and Olive, born in 1913. Her father was an attorney.

She attended public schools in Fort Dodge, and then went to Iowa State College. While at university she majored in physical education. After graduation, she went to live and work in Chicago. In 1933, wearing the colors of the Lake Shore Athletic club, won the fifty yard dash in the Central A. A. U. swimming championships for women. Due to her exquisite blonde visage, Eleanor was selected by a group of prominent artists to represent a large soap company at the Chicago Fair.

Upon completing this assignment she decided to try her hand at acting and went to Hollywood. Her first contract was with a company producing Western pictures and she was starred in two of these films. Unfortunately I could not find any information about these movies, as she made them under a different  name.

Her all ’round athletic prowess stood her in good stead. An excellent horsewoman, it was predicted that she would be the greatest female Western star, but fate intervened again and she was chosen in a Los Angeles newspaper contest as the girl with the most beautiful face in California. This led to another motion-picture contract and here we go!

CAREER

Eleanore’s first known movie on IMDB is Thin Ice, the oh-happy -happy-happy Sonja Henie musical. You probably know by now, if you read this blog, that I am not a big Henie fan and find her movies brainless and only mildly entertaining. Thin ice is probably better than most, but still not good enough. Luckily, Eleanore’s next movie is a better type of musical (IMHO) – Something to Sing About, starring none other than the incomparable James Cagney!  Cagney always nails it as a dancer, and the same is true here – his wild kinetic energy just slips of him in doves when he does anything physical, especially dance! The plot is simple enough (a New York hoofer becomes a Hollywood star), and the solid music, good dancing and a decent cast make this a minor hit.

Her next movie, In Old Chicago, wasn’t too shabby either 😛 . A typical old school movie of quality, it boasts a very effective love triangle in the form of Tyrone Power, Alice Faye and Don Ameche, and an intriguing story based of the great San Francisco fire of 1871. Pair that with good production values and sturdy film making, and we have a winner!

Eleanor’s last movie, made in 1943, was Let’s Face It, a funny and breezy Bob Hope/Betty Hutton vehicle. Originally a very risqué comedy with plenty of sexual subtext, (the plot says it all:  if jealous wives pretending to have their own love nest to get revenge on their philandering husbands. Involved in their schemes are soldier Bob Hope and fat farm proprietor Betty Hutton, creating marital discord and getting hope in hot water with the army.). Sadly, it was watered down to a benign and not especially smart comedy, but Bob Hope make sit work.

And that was it from Eleanor!

PRIVATE LIFE:

Eleanor married her first husband, Earl Cooke, in Champagne, Illinois, in 1934. The marriage broke up by early 1936, and in 1937, so frequently seen with Nat Pendleton that people started to think the two were pretty serious. Pendelton aside, Eleanor filed suit for divorce charging her husband with punching her on the chin without provocation. She won her divorce in May 1937, claiming her husband threw her down the stairs on their first wedding anniversary. It seems that Eleanor managed to escape an abusive man, and good for her!

In 1940, Eleanor married for the second time, to Herschel Bentley. Born James Herschel Mayall on September 25, 1907, he was a noted theater actor from the late 1920s. The couple lived in New York.

After her movie career ended, Eleanor carved a theatrical career for herself in New York. Here is a short excerpt:

Most ordinary people would have been contented with this rather meteoric rise in their affairs, but not Eleanor. She wanted to become an actress and be known for her acting ability rather than her athletic qualities. In respect to this she says, “I put the cart before the horse and now I have to try and reverse it.” Suiting the action to the desire she got a release from her contract to come to New York to study dramatic art and in addition to her modeling she attends classes at the Moscow Art Theater three days a week. She has made a great deal of progress and now has a contract with a summer stock company for this season. At the present time she feels that her great love. is the theater and until she has become a success on Broadway she says she will not return to the movies, no matter how attractive the offer may be.

Eleanor also continued to do modeling assignments:

Eleanor came to our office with the same determination to be a success in this business that she has to be a success on the stage. She says that next to the stage she prefers modeling, because she finds that it gives her a real chance to display her dramatic ability. Artists like her particularly because she is a great help to them in improvising interesting poses. She is one of the few girls whom we didn’t have to tell how to make up. She is natural in her appearance and knows the value of it. She has excellent posture and she thinks that these two things are more than half the battle. “Walk with chin up and shoulders back and people will notice you. Be slovenly and you are one of the mob.” That is her advice to all women.

Eleanor settled into the summer stock/theater life and seemed very happy with it. Unfortunately, her marriage with Herschel disintegrated in 1948, and they divorced in 1949. Herschel remarried in 1952 to Isabella Hunnewell Lee Livingston and died on August 15, 1991.

Eleanor acted in her last Broadway play in 1948, and from then on she did some regional theater until her retirement.

Eleanor continued living in New York after her retirement. As far as I can tell, she didn’t remarry and had no children.

Eleanor Johnson Prentiss died on August  14, 1979. She was buried in Fort Dodge, Iowa.

Nadine Dore

Nadine Dore had a pretty standard career path – beautiful girl who aspired to become an actress, stared dancing young, worked as a chorus girl, and got to Hollywood via the pageant route. And it all ended with Nadine, barely in the 30s, retiring from movies after a string of uncredited roles. Let’s learn more about Nadine!

EARLY LIFE

Pyhllis Nadine Redman was born on September 18, 1912, in San Jose, California, the only child of Joseph M. Redman and Nina Koehler. Her father was a florist.

Phyllis grew up as a California beach girl, very much interested in the performing arts, dreaming to become a dancer and actress some day. She started attending beauty pageants when she was 13 years old, and pretty soon was a regular on the circuit, winning more of them than not.

After Nadine graduated from high school, she packed her bags and moved to New York, becoming a show girl. Nadine proved to be quite popular as chorine, but for unknown reasons she returned to California a year later. She became a member of the cast in the revue at the Hollywood Music Box.

1931 was a big year for Nadine, and one can say that Pyhllis Redman became Nadine Dore right then and there. In a short time-span she was successively named “Miss Los Angeles” and “Miss North America” in beauty contests. After she became Miss North America, Hollywood came knocking on her door, and she started her acting career that same year!

CAREER

Nadine appeared as a Goldwyn girl in the aptly named Palmy Days, a very good Eddie Cantor musical. Don’t expect any real depth, but there are plenty of funny lines, physical gags and good music, so that’s all we are asking for! Then came Good Sport, a perfect example of the best of elegant Pre Code comedies, with an implausible plot (a woman unwittingly rents an apartment from her husband’s mistress while they are both in Europe – whoa Nelly!) , but made with a dash of style and panache! The only minus is that John Boles is in it – one of the least memorable wooden faces ever! And he always plays the nice guy (boring as heck). But a plus to Linda Watkins and Greta Nissen, both underrated actresses!
Next up was The Scarlet Brand, a forgotten Bob Custer western. Ditto Bill Cody’s Law of the North. Luckily, Nadine went back to non western movies afterwards. A Parisian Romance  was another funny pre-Code sexual romp, the kind of they don’t even make today.
Nadine got her first credited role in A Strange Adventure, a Regis Toomey/June Clyde murder mystery. Imagine a cheery 1930s film noir and you’ve got it.
Nadine was then in Dancing Lady, a Joan Crawford musical, where Joan plays, surprise, a working girl who becomes a star! So atypical for our Joanie, no? While this movie is no masterpiece, I love it – mostly for Franchot Tone, whom I generally adore. His relationship with Joanie is the movie was tops! Sadly, this means her proper romance with Clark Gable (as the male lead) just didn’t do it for me. Ah, that happens when you act opposite your husband and your lover in the same movie!
Next: She Couldn’t Take It, a very-rich-and-plain-crazy-family doing some crazy things screwball comedy in t he mold of My Man Godfrey (made several years later). Unfortunately, the leads, played by George Raft and Joan Bennett, fare better in non comedic roles and don’t quite have the punch to make it work, but the supporting cast is tops (Billie Burke, Walter Connolly, Donald Meek…).
Nadine lost her contract, and decided to give herself a seocnd life under a different name, Carol Wyndham. Carol appeared in as a lead in the low-budget western, Roamin’ Wild. But that was about it with leading roles. She was back to uncredited role with The King Steps Out, a totally romanticized version of the Franz Josef/Sisi courthsip (much like the popular 1950s movies with Romy Schneider, not grounded in reality one bit, sadly). The movie has Franchot (as Franz Josef) so it’s a go go go for me! Sisi is played by Grace Moore, whom I find to be a bland actress to meh! Carol marched on. Venus Makes Trouble is a completely forgotten comedy, and Start Cheering is actually a pretty decent romance musical with Jimmy Durante. And that was it from Carol Wyndham.
Nadine’s last two movies, made under her original name in 1937, long after the code had taken place, were When You’re in Love and Women of Glamour, both inspired, made-by-the-book comedies with no real merit…
And that was it from Nadine!

PRIVATE LIFE:

Nadine weighted 116 pounds in her prime and had brown hair and sparkling blue eyes.

Nadine boasts a unique distinction of probably being one of the few chorus girls in history that owned an airplane and were able to fly It.  She was a proud proprietor of a swallow plane in which she took lessons in plain and stunt flying under the tutelage of Finley Henderson, stunt aviator. Prior to the purchase of the plane, when she was about 19 years old, Nadine had acquired a reputation for air stunting, but had never flown a plane.

Nadine married her first husband, Chester G. Miller, in Yuma, Arizona. Like most dramatic elopement cases, the marriage went kaput in short order. Already in 19134 there was this mini-scandal in the papers:

Beauty Charges Beating in Her Divorce Plea Nadine Dore Miller, screen actress and former beauty contest winner, filed suit in Superior Court yesterday for divorce from Chester G. Miller. Last Monday after accusing her of being too friendly with another man he beat and choked her, she charges in her complaint. They were married last April 22. As Nadine Dore Mrs. Miller won title of “Queen of Beauty” at the First National Beauty show in 1929 and in 1931 she was acclaimed “Miss North America” at the Ocean Park Municipal Auditorium.

Obviously that was hardly a high quality marriage. They divorced not long after.

Nadine Dore Suing To Rescind Contract 3 (Bv Associated Press) LOS ANGELES, Dec. 15 Nadine Dore, who two years ago was acclaimed as having the Ideal physical measurements for a screen actress, today filed suit against the Fox Film corporation to have rescinded a contract under which she never was paid more than $49 a week as an actress.

As we already learned elsewhere on this blog, suing a studio in the 1930s was a really, really bad idea, especially if you were a non name actress with no thick background. Olivia de Havilland and Bette Davis did it later in the 1940s, but they were both famous actress with plenty of clout – and Nadine most certainly was not.

So, Nadine decided to try again. he changed her name to Carol Wyndham, and tried to pick for stardom. As you ould read in the Career section, this also backfired. She did get some minor newspaper coverage over it – here is an example article:

Carol Wyndham started winning beauty contests when she was 14 and won too many. She says now it is hampering her chances for a motion-picture carer. She has changed her name to shake the jinx and has just been assigned a small part in a film.

She won the beauty contest titles of ” Miss Southern California” in 1927 ” Miss C a 1 i f or-nia ” in 1929, and “Miss North America ” in 1931, was espied playing a featured bit in the Carole Lombard-Fredric March picture, “Nothing Sacred,” at Selznick’s. Miss W y n d h am has her first speaking part in this film. Commenting on her long apprenticeship as a film dancer and part of the “beauty background” in so many pictures, this actress, now 24, uttered the following sage remark: “Too good a shape is a detriment for a girl in the movies. If a girl wants to be a star, it is her personality that she must make noticeable. ” After I won those beauty contests I thought for a while that I was wonderful But a couple of years in the movies knocks that feeling out of you,” she continued.

But no, it wasn’t really enough to fix the jinx. Nadine retired from Hollywood after Carol Wyndham outing, and married for the second time to Dell Henderson in Idaho in 1941.

Unfortunately, there was nothing else I could find about Dorine. According to the IMDB, she died on April 20, 1992, in Riverside, California. As always. let’s hope she had a happy life!

 

Adele Lacy

A Midwestern girl came to Hollywood armed only with a nice face, good body and some dancing skills, and actually got a chance to play leads in low-budget movies. This could go both ways – either it’s a springboard to something better or it’s a peak of an otherwise abysmal career. Unfortunately, Adele Lacy suffered the former fate, and after an initial short blast spent the rest of her career in the chorus.

EARLY LIFE

Adeline Charlotte Fergestad was born on September 8, 1911, to Morris Fergestad and Mina Johnson, in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Her paternal grandparents were born in Norway, and Mina’s family were also of Norwegian stock, making Adeline of the Minnesota Scandinavians. Her older brother Marvin was born in 1910. Morris Fergestad was a postal clerk at the local post office.

The family lived in Colfax Avenue, Minneapolis with two lodgers. Adeline was a vivacious red-haired child who had a knack for dancing and performing – she often played leads in local shows. She studied under Ruby Helen McClune of the Junior School of Expression. Beautiful and talented, she was appearing in several Kiddie Revues at the State theater, subsequently taking minor roles at the Schubert theater. When McClune went to Los Angeles to learn more dancing techniques, Adeline accompanied her. She loved the city, and vowed to return one day. But it was back in Minneapolis for now. Adeline’s first claim to fame was appearing in a Gus Edwards revenue in 1926 – she was chosen among hundreds of other Minneapolis dancers.

As for academia, Adeline attended Jefferson Junior high school and West school. In 1928, before Adeline graduated from West high school, she packed her bags and left for Hollywood, hoping to break into movies after getting some slack by appearing in Gus Edwards show.

In Tinsel town Adele attended Hollywood high school, from which she graduated that same year. She did dancing work and some minor uncredited work in movies (could not find any information about what movies). In 1933 her luck changed when she got picked From 1,000 actresses to be a leading lady for a series of western pictures starring Lane Chandler. And thus her career started

CAREER

Adele’s first known role, and one of the few where she was credited, was Vanishing Men, a lost low-budget western. Adele had the dubious honor of playing leading roles in two more low budget westerns The Wyoming Whirlwind and When a Man Rides Alone. While none of these movies have any impact on the world of film, viewers actually seem to like When a Man Rides Alone and it got strong kudos! You could say I was surprised – I never expect anybody to watch these old cheapies. Obviously, people still like Tom Tyler and watch his movies, but the question was, did Adele benefited from acting opposite such a western icon?

Short answer, no. Like most B western heroines, Adele’s career went nowhere fast. While she started pretty good – leading roles after all, it was dissolved from then on, and she remained a chorus staple in some good movies, but she was still just one of the chorus girls, rarely noticed.

She was a Goldwyn girl in The Kid from Spain, the ultimate Goldwyn girls classic. She was also in the legendary 42nd Street, and this is for sure the highlight of her career. It seems that being a Busby Berekely chorus girl was a career path many girls took when they arrive in Tinsel town. Too bad only a small fraction outgrew this fun and quite limited function.

Adele appeared in Busby’s movies with an almost alarming frequency: Gold Diggers of 1933Footlight ParadeRedheads on Parade. They are all the typical Berkeley musical – slim plot but lavish dance numbers and a whole loads of scantily clad girls to go over.

And sadly, that was it from Adele

PRIVATE LIFE  

Adele had natural red hair, hazel eyes, was 5 feet 2 inches tall and weighed 114 pounds in her prime.

Adele married her first husband, Madison S. Lacy, in 1929. Madison was born on August 2, 1898 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. He worked in Hollywood as a stills photographer from the late 1910s. He later became a successful cheesecake photographer and took photos of many famous pin-up girls and actresses. His best known work are the stills of Ingrid Bergman from 1944.

Madison undoubtably helped her wife carve her path in Hollywood, but other than that little is known of the marriage. They divorced about the time her career came to an end, cca 1935. Madison remarried to actress Lois Lindsay and died on April 26, 1978.

In 1935, Adele left her movie career to become a special correspondent in Shanghai, China for a U. S. news syndicate. She was there for roughly a year, and then moved to London, England, also as a correspondent. After a year spent in London, she returned to New York, went back to Minnesota for a short time, and decided to take the big plunge and get married again. My guess is that she met her future husband during her two years outside the US, but anything is possible.

Adele married Walter Abel Futter in December 1937. Futter was an interesting, larger than life character.

Futter was born on January 2, 1900, in Omaha, Nebraska. Walter and his brother Fred were known in the early 1930s as the “junk-men of filmdom” because of their successful stock footage library. The two started buying negatives of bankrupt firms and amateur cameramen in 1926, calling their firm “Wafilms.” By 1928 they made profits by buying “short ends” of movie reels and selling them at big prices. Futter also produced short movies for Columbia studios, specializing in travelogues – his biggest ace was Africa Speaks – where a Colorado expedition visited Africa. In a world before internet, where a majority of the population never left the continent, and where Africa was a half mythical country, these movies were a smashing success. He tried to repeat the formula several times after, but never managed to react the success of Africa speaks. He was also one of the first filmmaker to show a zombie on-screen.

Futter was married once before, in 1927, to Patricia Elizabeth Murphy, they divorced a few years later.

In 1938, the Futter moves to London, where he produced British movies. When the war started in Europe, they returned to the US, living in New York. The Futters moved to Market, New Yersey, in 1944.

Reports Wife Missing On Trip to Manbattan New Market Police announced last night that Mrs. Adele Futter, 34, of Poe PI., had been missing since noon Tuesday when she left in her car for New York City. According to Arthur H. Schlun-sen, police chief of Piscataway Township, Mrs. Futter was last seen in Manhattan Tuesday by her doctor whom she visited during the day. Five feet two inches tall and weighing 120 pounds, the missing woman is the wife of Walter A. Futter, producer of motion picture short subjects and travel films. The Futters moved to New Market approximately one month ago.

And here is it how it ended:

Mrs. Walter Futter, 34, of Coe place, former actress, who had been missing for nearly a week, has returned to her home, police revealed today. The woman, who had left home last Tuesday to visit a physician New York City and then mysteriously disappeared, stated last night she had been visiting in Moorestown, Pa., and did not realize her husband had been alarmed about her. Futter notified police late Sun day night he was satisfied where wife was and asked the tele type alarm be recalled. Mrs. Futter stated she had telephoned a woman friend she knew the Orient while in New York City and discovered there had been a death in; the family. She decided to visit the friend in Moorestown and had asked someone to telegraph her husband to that effect Evidently, she said, in the excitement of the invasion, the telegram had not been sent. Mrs. Futter immediately tele phoned her husband when she read in the paper she had bee missing and came home yesterday. Her husband is a producer of motion picture shorts and travel forms.

This look normal to you? I am on the edge, this kind of gaffes can happen all the time, but something I feel something fishy… Maybe Futter was just an overtly dramatic man?

I’m guessing that Futter wasn’t  a picnic to live with (larger than life people seldom are), but the information about the union is scarce so no concrete evidence for that. Aside from that, the Futter lived in a small farm and even started to grow animals. Here is an article:

“Little lawnmowers” is what Mrs. Walter Futter of Burnt Mills Farm, Burnt Mills, calls the flock of sheep and lambs which she and her husband have on their farm. They advertise ‘today, “Choice milk-fed Easter lambs.” Mrs. Futter said that when they decided to get a few lambs some time ago, they were going to buy three “just to keep the grass down.” Instead, they got a flock of 24 and discovered they had to be fenced in properly or they eould eat flowers and shrubs as well as grass. Now the flock has grown to 80 and the Futters sell Easter lambs. Mrs. Futter also told us that the sheep is called “the animal with the golden hoof because Its manure, pounded into the ground with little hoofs does not disturb the sod and prevents weeds from growing. This is the kind of sod sold for landscaping. Mr. and Mrs. Futter also have a riding horse, chickens and French miniature poodles,

In 1953, Adele learned she had cancer – after a traditional treatment in the US, she moved to Mexico City for alternative treatment. Unfortunately, it was too late for Adele.

Adele Lacy Futter died on July 3, 1953 in Mexico City, Mexico, survived by her husband and brother.

Adele’s widower, Walter, married painter Howard Hoyt s ex-wife Betty Bartley in November 1955.

Betty got pregnant a short time later, and the awaited their child in June 1956. Unfortunately, when the baby was born it lived only 8 hours. Their one year marriage perished with it, and they were divorced by late 1956. However, the soap opera hardly stops here! In early 1958, they were in court again:

Walter Futter, 58, who is being sued by his blonde showgirl wife, Betty Futter, 35, for separation and $’.00-a-week temporary alimony, made it known today that from now on he wants her to pick up her own tabs. In a paid newspaper advertisement, Futter said: “My wife Betty, having left my bed and board, I am not responsible for her debts.” Futter was served with a complaint in Betty’a action last Friday. In her papers, Betty charged he was “insanely jealous,” falsely accused her in public and private of infidelity, and frequently beat her up.

The drama came to a halt when Walter Futter died on March 12, 1958.

 

Esther Brodelet

Many pretty girls have completely wrong assumptions when they come to Hollywood. They think that good looks can get them to the top – since this hardy ever happened, after a couple of months or years they would leave Hollywood mostly unhappy, with bitter feelings towards the studio system that never gave them a chance to shine.  While the system was inherently flawed for sure, it was much better to simply accept the fact that only 3% of all screen players make a name out of themselves – other just scrap by from movie to movie but can still lead a happy and fulfilling life. Esther Brodelet knew this and wisely shunned any try to become a star, wholly realistic and truly satisfied to remain a chorus girl. Also as a special bonus, she had her own side job which poured in some decent money – kudos to Esther! Let’s learn more about her.

EARLY LIFE

Esther Brodelet was born on December 7, 1906, in Chicago, Illinois, to Francois and Anna Brodelet. Her father was Dutch (his mother was born in India, interesting lineage!), working as a cook at a restaurant where her mother (herself a daughter of Danish immigrants) was the waitress. In future years Esther would shave almost 10 years off her birth date – even her tombstone claims she was born in 1916. However, 1906 is the correct date, as her father immigrated to the US in 1902 and married her mother in about 1904.

The family lived as lodgers in a hotel when she was born. Her parents divorced in the mid 1910, and Esther and her mom lived in Los Angeles, where her mom ran a club house and put up accommodation for lodgers. Esther grew up in Los Angeles and started dancing at an early age, working as a dancer and chorine from the mid 1920s.

In 1932, she won a Fox film contract in a test that included more than 1,100 applicants, signed a contract and of she went!

CAREER

Esther began her career as a chorus girl, and appeared in a string of musicals – the weird, offbeat SF musical It’s Great to Be Alive, the light fluff Arizona to Broadway (not a musical, I admit, but heck!), one of my favorite Joan Crawford movies, Dancing Lady (boy, when Franchot Tone bought a whole theater just to see Joan dance, I melted! What a movie! Not high art or anything, but a girl can dream can she?), and the no-plot-no-brain-lots-of-fun George White’s 1935 Scandals.

Next Esther appeared in the completely forgotten Redheads on Parade. Likewise was Piernas de seda, a Spanish movie made in Hollywood. Esther get got a step up by appearing in movies at least sometimes mentioned today – Girls’ Dormitory is only famous for being an early Tyrone Power movie, but hey, at least somebody heard of it! Plus Herbert Marshall, oh man! He was the epitome of class and charm back then!

Esther was again a dancer in Charlie Chan on Broadway, one of the long running Charlie Chan movies. Ditto for her next picture, The Baroness and the Butler. The movie actually has a good story (taken from IMDB): This is a charming film set in Hungary, about a butler, Johann Porok (William Powell) who works for the Prime Minister (Henry Stephenson). The prime minister and his family, particularly his daughter Katrina (Annabella) are shocked when Johann is elected to Parliament – by the opposition party. What’s more, he wants to stay on as butler. Meanwhile, Katrina’s philandering husband (Josef Schildkraut) has a few political ambitions of his own. What to say? Powell could play roles like that in his sleep – and Anabella is absolutely gorgeous. While not a top actress not a great beauty, she has plenty of charm and knows how to work the camera. And I adore Joseph Schildkraut. Truly a wonderful actor, at best playing elegant schemers.

Esther became a model for her next movie, Thanks for Everything. a lackluster social farce about a sap who has the special talent of predicting stuff – and then the corporations are after him. Notable only for the role of Adolphe Menjou – otherwise avoid (the sap is played by Jack Haley and just meh!). Then came The Story of Alexander Graham Bell, a well-known classic that needs no introduction. Esther finally caught a credited role in Young as You Feel, a Jones family movie (and completely forgotten one!). Then came Lillian Russell, a solid biopic of (you guessed it) singer Lillian Russell, played by Alice Faye. Henry Fonda gives handsome support 🙂 Unfortunately, her next movie, Girl from Avenue A, is completely forgotten. But then came Brigham Young, a movie well-regarded today – while not a beloved classic like some other epics, it’s a very nicely done film – good production values, good cast (Tyrone Power, Linda Darnell,), everything done as it should. However, it is historically inaccurate, but that’s 1940s Hollywood for you!

Esther was then one of many chorus girls in Tall, Dark and Handsome, a pretty good gangster parody with Cesar Romero as a gangster with a heart of gold. Good stuff! Esther than appeared in the Fritz Lang classic western, Western Union. She came back to musicals with That Night in Rio – this one has a cliché plot (an actor impersonates a wealthy count and in the process seduces his wife), but the actors are all earnest and funny – Don Ameche, Alice Faye, Carmen Miranda and so on. Footlight Serenade is the same old musical – thin plot but plenty of good music and pizzazz. Ditto for Around the World. Esther then had a minor role in the Carole Landis penned Four Jills in a Jeep, about the tours four actresses made with USO overseas at the beginning of American participation in World War II. The actresses were Carole, Kay Francis, Martha Raye and Mitzi Mayfair. It’s actually a pretty good movie – just not a great one, but it does have that “based on a true story” extra value. Phil Silvers appears too much as a Sargent chaperoning the girls – and we get cameos by Betty Grable and Alice Faye!

Esther’s last four movies were all musicals: the remake of State Fair, the completely forgettable Mexican themed movie, Mexicana, Do You Love Me  a charming Cinderella themed movie where a matronly college dean, played by Maureen O’Hara, transforms into a glamorous singer and romances DIck Haymes in the interim, and for Esther’s last movie we have Mother Wore Tights, a so-so Betty Grable movie.

And that was it from Esther!

PRIVATE LIFE

Esther gave her beauty hint to the readers in 1934:

To keep my hands fresh and lovely I avoid putting them in water that is too hot or too cold. To keep them from getting dry, I apply a good hand lotion after washing, and massage them with a good tissue cream at night.

Esther worked on the side, as a hoofer at “The Jane Jones Club.” a Los Angeles whoopee asylum. In 1934, she dated William Harrison (Jack to you!) Dempsey for a few months.

Her next beau was William Boyd and Esther Brodelet. They were on and off for quite some time, then they got into a fight, then he left for Europe, then they reconcile, because of his numerous trans – Atlantic talks, finally to break up for good after he got back.

Esther then found an oil king you should be pursued her by buying diamond bracelets and Rolls Royces, but it didn’t lead to the altar.

Esther at one point left for England to appear in movie features made in their production studio at Elstree. She said to the papers:

“Prosperity is going to be reflected in more motion picture musicals, in other words, it will be out of the beanerics and into the best cafes for the decorative members of the tune films.”

Unfortunately, she got no credits from that time so it’s nearly impossible to know what exactly happened.

Durign her long career, Esther always professed a penchant for living a quiet and healthy life, as opposed to the hectic and party living Hollywood life most starlets were leading.

“On the Avenue” strolls Esther Brodelet, attractive tock girl, with the observation that popularity the chorine is to be shunned rather than sought. “Parties cut into your sleep so heavily that you lack the vivacity necessary to show your, best every day before the camera,” she affirms. “Girls who don’t sleep simply don’t stay in the movie. The movie chorine 1 a 10 o’clock girl If she’s smart and want to win a career. “And going out almost every night makes It impossible to keep, the same weight and figure. Irregular hours will do surprising things to you over a period of time.” And that, says Esther, Is the answer to the recurrent question about movie chorus girls and “dates.”

And this quote:

“While most chorus girls make a good salary,” says Esther, who draws her pay on the 20th-Century-Fox lot, “it is almost impossible for us to keep stocked with the gowns and jewelry necessary for party girls. “Entirely aside from the money, parties cut into sleep so heavily that you lack the vivacity you need before the cameras. Sleep and Stay “Girls who don’t sleep don’t stay in the movies.” When she’s making a picture, Esther goes to bed at 10 p. m. So if you’re planning a career as a movie dancer, don’t plan on having your fling in Hollywood. Esther says that’s a good way to be flung out. “

In 1937, Esther dated Douglas Fowley.

Here is a funny anecdote from the time Esther was filming Lillian Russell:

Discomfort and bother even torture such as shown above by Esther Brodelet and Bonnie Bannon, caused four of Hollywood’s film beauties to go on “strike” against the 1890 whale-boned corsets, which the studio insisted they wear all day during the shooting: of scenes for the movie, “Lillian Russell.” The girls, paid $16.50 each day. failed to report to the studio the second day, explaining they were laced so tightly they “couldn’t have swallowed an olive.”

At some point, Esther’s figure that was described as Hollywood’s loveliest. Not content with roles in movies, she decided to branch out in other industries. So, she became a farmer. Wait, what?!!

Oh yes, Esther used her earnings to start a chicken ranch in San Fernando Valley, where she conducts a lucrative off-screen business. Most of the stars at her studio bought the Brodelet brand of eggs at fair but nifty, prices. Here is a short article about with the colorful details:

Chorine Esther Brodelet’s chicken ranch is ‘no publicity gag, although though she owns only one acre, near Van Nuys, it has paid for itself in two years. No simple country lass, she learned about poultry In Chicago and says that, the chicken came before the egg, at least in her case. Seems that when she was a kid, somebody gave her an Faster chick, which in time surprised her by laying an egg. Using a sort of pa rid v system, Miss Brodelet ran it up into seven hens, made them earn her pocket-money. Thriftily, she now keeps two goats on her walnut-planted acre and fattens her chickens for market on milk and nut-meats. She puts personality into her business, ton loads her car with cartons of eggs every morning when she leaves for the studio and delivers them to the customers herself.

Talk about coincidences! Don Ameche and Esther Brodelet, both under contract to Twentieth Century-Fox, and both on their way to the studio to work in “Road to Rio,” tangled automobile on Sepulveda boulevard mile away from the lot. Neither was hurt and Don drove Esther the rest of the way to work.

After a long time of dating in Hollywood (of which we actually have little to no information), Esther married John Martin Amato in 1946. They met during the war when she was entertaining servicemen – he was a mechanic. Now, something about John. He was born on September 28, 1917 or 1920. Here are bits of his life (taken from his Find a grave site):

John was a graduate of Medford High School and Chauncey Hall. Mr. Amato furthered his education and obtained a Mechanical Engineering degree from Tufts University during WWII. Following his graduation, he attended Columbia University Midshipmen’s School and Harvard Communication School. In 1943, the US Navy sent the new officer, Ensign John Amato, to the Port Director Organization, Port Hueneme, California. There he was introduced by his late brother, Andrew J. Amato, to the love of his life, 20th Century Fox contract player and dancer, Esther Brodelet.

Their daughter Valerie Ann was born on July 26, 1948. Their son David John was born on December 19, 1949.  The family lived in Van Nuys then settled in Winchester because of John’s employment. John spent the next 30 years in the service of the developing High Tech defense and space industry where he contributed his intelligence and strong work ethic until his retirement in the early 1980s. After his retirement they moved to Acton, Maine and enjoyed living in such close proximity to the stunning natural sites like hills and lakes.

Esther Brodelet Amato died on December 21, 1989, in Portland, Maine.
Her husband John died on September 5, 2009, in Maine.

Mary Blackford

I noted several times in by previous blog posts that most of the actresses I have profiled actually had pretty normal lives – they went to Hollywood, failed and often slid into middle class family life. Most of them had happy lives, in retrospect. However, there are a few very unhappy exceptions, and Mary Blackford was one of them. Let’s find out more about her…

EARLY LIFE

Mary B. Blackford was born on July 22, 1914 in Bristol, Pennsylvania, to Charles Blackford and Ethel Maud Ludwig. Her older brother Albert was born on June 20, 1907. Her father worked as a car tire salesman.

The family moved to Kansas City, Missouri in 1918. They lived there with her paternal grandmother and aunt Anna. Her father died in 1923 – after his death her mother moved the family to Beverly Hills (probably that same year). Mary attended elementary and high school there. While a pupil at the school, in 1933, movie scouts found her. Here is a short article about her discovery:

The first contract of the new year to be awarded by Warner Brothers-First National has gone to Mary Blackford, 16-year-old high school pupil of Beverly Hills. With only two years’ experience in high school  dramatics to her credit, Miss Blackford, who will not receive her diploma until June, has been transported from obscurity and given this opportunity of becoming a motion picture star. Mary began her work immediately, dividing her time between the studio and her classes until she graduates in June.

Her name was changed to Janet Ford, but it was quickly reverted back to Mary.

Mary was the first student enrolled for the motion picture course under Ivan Simpson, veteran English actor. And thus her career started.

CAREER

Unfortunately, Mary appeared in only three movies and a most promising career was thus cut short. The first movie was Merrily Yours, a Shirley Temple short. The only reason anyone has to see this movie is, of course, Shirley Temple. It’s not a particularly good short – it’s not horrible mind you, but far from something you would recommend to anyone. The main character is a bratty teenager at odds with his sister (played by Shirley) who falls in love with Mary when she moved next door. How, original, go figure! But, it was a start…

The second one was The Sweetheart of Sigma Chi, a cute preppy movie about college love affairs. Mary Carlisle plays a flirty lady who has all the lads crazy for her – then she fall sin love with a non nonsense athlete played by Buster Crabbe. As you can see, not big brainer, but immensely fun and light weight – perfect for Depression era audiences and Sunday afternoon viewings. Many of the players later catapulted to stardom – Mary, Buster, Charles Starrett, Ted Fio Rito and so on. Mary plays of the sorority girls.

Mary’s last movie before the forcible termination of her career was Love Time, a completely lost and forgotten movie today. It’s a biopic of composer Franz Schubert, and with a cats that is absolutely stunning to look at: Nils Asther, Pat Paterson and so on. Unfortunately I could find nothing on the movie, so let’s just skip it.

PRIVATE LIFE

Mary gave a beauty hint to her readers:

For a quick facial treatment take a rake of yeast and mix the paste consistently with peroxide. Apply this paste to the face after It has been cleansed with cream. Wash off with cold water when it has dried.

Here is a short story on how Mary got her role in:

Mary Blackford got a Job In pictures Indirectly by hiding her blonde hair tinder a dark wig. She applied for the stage role of the young girl In “Ah, Wilderness;” with Will Rogers, and learned that one reason she was not accepted was her blonde tresses. She applied again, In’ the disguise, and got the job. After dyeing her hair for the run of the play, she slipped into pictures and is playing Pat Paterson’s sister In “Serenade.”

It seemed Mary was on her way up. However, something catastrophic happened in October 1934 . Mary became paralyzed from the neck down from an injury suffered in an automobile accident (the automobile she was a passenger in hit a light pole at Santa Monica and Hoover). It was never revealed with whom she was in the car – this is very strange and one has to wonder why is it like this? Our hyperactive imagination probably can come up with a few explanations in just two seconds…

Doctors said a broken vertebra is causing pressure against certain nerves. They say she may live weeks or a few months, but paralysis will never leave her. It was just one month after she finished her first important picture role.

Here is a short article about how her friends helped her:

The golden-haired youngster suffered a fracture of her neck vertebrae and surgeons decreed that she must spend the rest of her life immobile, with the broken neck preventing use of any of her members. ‘Puppets’ came to Rescue But Mary’s friends, most of them like herself members of the Puppet Club of younger screen folk, rallied around, and a parade of trips to important surgeons began. Will Rogers volunteered to pay some of the heavy expenses, this being one of that beloved actor’s secret kindnesses no one learned during his lifetime. Joan Crawford had Miss Blackford cared for for a time in a hospital room Joan endows at Hollywood Hospital. The “Puppets,” with Helen Mack, Paula and Dorothy Stone, Lois Wilson, Anita Louise and Tom Brown in the forefront, then took over the case of their chum. With Gertrude and Grace Durkin, Sue Carol, Patricia Ellis, Anne Shirley, Billy Ganney, Eddie Rubin, Henry Willson, Jimmy Bush, Jimmy Ellison, Don Barry, Hugh Daniel, Stanley Davis and Marshall Duffield helping; they staged a big benefit at Coconut Grove some months ago. With Benny Rubin, Orchestra Leader Ted Fiorito and Dick Powell contributing talent, they managed to raise $5,000.  This paid for more trips to specialists for Miss Blackford, but when the fund recently dwindled to $600 Bruce Barton, the author, stepped into the breach. Barton recently had been elated when his eighteen -year -old daughter Betsy was restored to health by Milton H. Berry, a former Chicagoan, who.operates the Berry Institution for the muscular retraining’ of paralyzed persons near Hollywood. Barton tendered $2,500 to the man whom nearly all Hollywood calls affectionately as “Doc” Berry and stipulated the money should be used for the most deserving case Berry knew. Berry chose Mary Blackford, who was recommended to him by Paula Stone. The girl, who has not been able to move one of her members in more than a year, already has shown improvement under the treatment which Berry calls “muscular re-education”.

Mary, far from being idle, still smiling hopefully, took vocal lessons, ambitious for a radio career. Some time later her friends arranged to have her appear on one of Bing Crosby’s programs (she will be taken to the studio in an ambulance), for which she was paid. She also boasted to the papers how she was able to attend a theater. In her wheel chair she attended a performance in downtown Los Angeles and took a photo with Donald Barry, a member of the cast.

Months went by and Mary was still paralyzed and in about the same condition she was after the accident. Her contact with the outside world was furnished in the people who come to see her. The whole crowd who rallied to her aid when she was stricken still remember, and most of them visit her regularly. her best friend was Paula Stone, actress of director Fred Stone. Unfortunately, a member of the group, Junior Durkin, died in a tragic automobile accident in 1935 (Jackie Cooper was in the car and his father was driving, but only Jackie survived).

For a time there  a false impression going the rounds that Mary Blackford was undergoing a miraculous recovery. The papers even reported that the doctors gave her a green light that she could walk again some day. Milton H. Berry refuted these claims and reported that she shows amazing improvement but that it is a slow process.

However, this story does not have a happy ending. The date was September 25, 1937. Mary had gone to the beach for a complete rest. She had suffered several fainting spells in recent months, but had no premonition of the end. In fact, she wrote her mother: “I have never been so happy in my life.”

Then she went into another fainting spell and died. Many of the Hollywood folks who helped her attended her funeral. Sadly, her brother died in 1953 and her mother outlived them all, dying in 1963.

PS: Betsey Barton, the daughter of the mentioned author Bruce Barton, was also injured in a car accident and lost the use of her legs, but learned to reinvent herself and became a top author and painter. Learn more about her truly inspiring life by Googling her name and reading this article: http://archives.chicagotribune.com/1944/11/19/page/104/article/miss-barton-offers-hope-to-disabled 

Mary Blackwood


Blonde Mary Blackwood was another debutante who wanted to make good in Hollywood. It wasn’t’ the money obviously – perhaps it was the glamour, the fame, the notoriety that drew such girls to Hollywood. And like most of them, Mary Blackwood came, tried and left. Let’s find out more about her!

EARLY LIFE

Mary Tom Blackwood was born on October 4, 1912, in Colfax, Louisiana, to Dr. E.H. Blackwood and Laura Blackwood. Her older brother Hershel was born in 1909 – her younger sister Lurline was born in 1914. They employed a maid and were obviously well of. Mary spent her earliest years in Colfax.

Her father died in the early 1920s, and her mother remarried to Marcus Dunham, who owned an automobile dealership. Laura, Hershel Mary and Lurline lived with Marcus and his three children from a previous marriage (Martin, Harper and Mildred) in Alexandria, Louisiana.

Mary grew up as a typical debutante of the 1920s – constant garden parties, visits to extended family, and going out with eligible young men whom her parents would approve of.  Imagine Scarlett O’Hara in the early 20th century. She graduated from Bolton High school and attended Stephens College in Missouri and the University of Texas, Austin. Mary’s beauty was so widely known that she was” chosen “sweetheart” of the University of Texas by popular student vote.

Like several other debutantes, Mary decided to go into movies on a lark. She wanted some fun and Hollywood seemed like the bets bet for a girl to experience life outside her own social caste and perhaps meet new guys. So when a casting director wanted society girls to play real society girls in a movie, she jumped at the chance and Tinsel Town.

CAREER

Mary made her debut in David Harum, a not particularly good but nonetheless very interesting movie. Why? Well because it features Will Rogers in one of his mos unusual roles – a banker! Imagine that – Rogers, the champion of the every man who always played normal people, here plays a less than admirable banker (taken from imdb) “who is a pillar of his late Victorian era community who engages in a rivalry over horses with Charles Middleton, they keep trying to sucker the other in horse trading”. It’s a two-man show, and Rogers in mesmerizing to watch in a role with tad bit more edge than usual. Mind you, it’s not a particularly good movie – like many movies of the early 1930s, it has some racist content (the character played by actor Stephin Fetchit is… dismal at best) and it drags to long, the story is thin, but perhaps worth watching to see Rogers in a different role. And he was good, make no mistake.  

Next came the movie that actually catapulted Mary into Hollywood, Coming-Out Party.  Now this is a worse-case-scenario for the good-actors-bad-plot movie – while the leads are passable (Frances Dee wasn’t Katherine Hepburn, but she was fresh-faced and did what she had to do) the story is downright stupid and too dramatic, there is not enough humor and witty repartees. Mind you, it’s not the bottom of the barrel category but with so many good movies to watch, who can watch such mediocre movies anymore? Unfortunately, such movies became Mary’s bread and butter. Come On, Marines! , Mary’s next feature, could have been a great movie about marines fighting a dirty, dirty war but ended up a totally mid tier war-in-the-jungle effort with no big merit to it.

Mary then appeared int he idiotic Stand Up and Cheer!, a no-brain and no-plot musical without any really good music. Minus. her next movie, Black Sheep, was much better –  it’s a fun movie about gamblers on cruise ships – Lady Eve before Lady Eve! Solid story, great actors (Claire Trevor and Edmund Lowe) and snappy dialogue – and we have a winner! Unfortunately, Mary’s next movie, Song and Dance Man, is a completely forgotten one. Afterwards came Girls’ Dormitory, a movie notable today only as one of Tyrone Power’s earliest forays into the seventh art. Otherwise it’s a good-enough but not outstanding movie about a girls dormitory (duh) and the romances both inside and out. Then came Pick a Star one of those movies where the main story is less important and interesting than the side shenanigans. And when Laurel and Hardy appear as comedy relief, you know what I mean. In other words, a typical Cinderella makes it good in Hollywood movie with no special reasons to watch it (except for Laurel and Hardy, but if you want them, go watch their movies!). Mary’s next movie fared no better – The Devil Is Driving is a preachy, boring cautionary tale about the dangers of drunk driving. While you have to respect the cause, it doesn’t cut it out either as art nor as entertainment. Worth watching only to see Elisha Cook Jr. as the drunk driver, a wealthy daddy’s jelly brained son prone to solving everything with money. Mary’s last movie was Start Cheering, a completely over-the-top, outrages screwball comedy but funny to boot. Jimmy Durante and The Three Stooges make this movie, and you can forget about the leading man and his story (Charles Starrett).

And that was it from Mary!

PRIVATE LIFE

Mary was beautiful, well bred debate from a good family – seemingly a perfect bride-to-be material. In the early 1930s, she dated Social Register’s David Doss, and he even met her parents, but that did not end in marriage (shocking!!).

Mary came to Hollywood in 1933, and started her tabloid career by giving a beauty hint to the readers:

To keep my hair healthy, lustrous and free from dandruff, “launder” it with a good hot-oil shampoo of pure olive oil

In late 1933, Mary was seen with young actor Gordon Westcott around Hollywood, but the relationship ended the same year.

Then, she hit it big in the papers, but sadly not due to her own merit – quite the opposite! Here is the chain of events:

In early April, 1934 Mary Blackwood nearly died on the set of Come On Marines. While filming a swimming sequence, Toby Wing was swinging across a lake and accidentally struck Blackwell in the face as she surfaced from her earlier dive. Seeing her floating unconscious, Toby broke ranks and dived in the water rescuing the uncredited extra from drowning.

That same year, there was an article about a new fad in Hollywood – debutantes becoming actresses! This was a first real batch of such girls to enter Tinsel Town.

An producer had an idea that he will capitalize on the beauty, culture and poise of the society girl. An instance in point was “Coming Out Party,”, in , which a. number of beautiful debutantes were used. It was a charming enough picture, but failed, by a long way, to set the world afire, and I don’t believe that a single one of the girls who played in it has been leard of since in the Alms. The trouble with the rich girl is that she is likely to take up acting as a mere fad. Thelma Morgan Converse at one time came to Hollywood to go into pictures. She had great charm, beauty, and some acting ability. Yet she did not remain. Possibly the new group will be different. Virginia Pine and Mary Blackwood seem to be glowing exceptions tight now.

Unfortunately, neither Mary nor Virginia made a lasting impression on the movie world. While Virginia is more famous today for being a long time paramour to famous actor George Raft, Mary never dated an A class actor (as far as I know) and has no known claim to fame. Her career ended in 1937, and she stayed out fo the newspaper columns for some time after, so I have no idea what her life looked like after the glory days of Hollywood (ha ha ha, a bit of an ironic exaggeration here…). 

Anyway, next time we hear from her, Mary married her first and only husband, Billy Miesegaes on 24 Mar 1942. Billy Miesegaes, Dutch heir to an Indies rubber fortune and president of New York’s TransfUms, was born as William Lodewyk Primavesi Miesegaes on June 10, 1906, in London, England to Auguste Miesegaes and Adrienne Homans. His family was German-Dutch and both of his parents were born in Indonesia. He lived for a time in Canada before immigrating to the United States in 1940.   

They had a daughter, Mary Jane, born in the 1940s, and enjoyed a successful marriage. Mary and her husband lived the high life in New York, and were active in social activities and civic duties. For instance, in the 1950s they gave a supper party to premiere the movie version of “The Medium.” an opera bv Italy’s latest musical prodigy Gian-Carlo Menotti.

Mary Blackwood Miesegaes died on May 1, 1969 and was buried in Louisiana. Her husband died on 21 March 1978.

Irene Bennett


Most of the actresses I profile on this side had a dismal career but led normal, happy lives – they had other careers, got married, had children and so on. One has to wonder if such a “happy ending” is applicable to actresses like Irene Bennett, or can we call them tragic? Let’s learn more about Irene…

EARLY LIFE

Irene Opal Horsley was born on December 17, 1913, in Marshall, Logan, Oklahoma, to Calvin Horsley and Margaret Frances Bennett. Irene came from a very big, tight knit family. She was their fourth child – her older sisters were Velva Verona, born on September 4, 1905, Velora Mildred, born on April 22, 1908 and Doris Pauline, born on June 18, 1910. Five more children would follow after Irene – twins, a son, Ray, and a daughter, Elaine Margaret, born on October 25, 1915, Elizabeth “Bette”, born on January 11, 1918, Virginia “Bobbie” Kate born in 1919, and the baby of the family, Quinton Roosevelt, born on June/January 6, 1920. Later in life, Irene would claim that her mother was the first white child born in the Cherokee strip of Oklahoma.

The family moved from Marshall to Enid, Oklahoma, in about 1917. Irene and her siblings grew up , attended and graduated from high school there.

Irene came to Hollywood twice. The first time was in 1935, as a beauty-contest winner in the Tri-State cotton festival at Memphis, Tenn. Approached a local merchant who was so struck by her beauty that he invited her to ride his float in the Cotton Carnival parade. She accepted, unaware that the parade was also a beauty contest. She won the contest and then followed the inevitable trip to Hollywood with a try at the movies. The customary rounds; the usual publicity; the unavoidable result nobody paid much heed to Irene. “But nothing happened,” she said of the experience later “so I went back to selling magazines.”

The second time was much more fruitful. As a professional saleslady, she came to a movie studio to sell magazines. She said she was known from coast to coast as “The Magazine Girl,” having conducted her subscription campaigns in thirty -three states. She listed among her clients Gov. Albert Ritchie of Maryland, and Gov. Frank Merriam of California. “I always go right to the front office,” Irene explained. But Irene couldn’t get to the front office at Paramount studio. A cordon of alert secretaries stopped her. So the only executive she was able to contact was John Votion, head of the studio talent department. He told her he did not want any magazines. But he did offer her a contract and she accepted. She become a member of the studio “stock” company to gain experience and changed her name to Irene Bennett.

And Irene was off!

CAREER

Irene’s first movie was Too Many Parents, a not-bad-at-all drama about the boys who are sent to military school in order to get them out of the way of their too-busy-to-bother parents or guardians. Special plus is seeing Frances Farmer in an early role. Her next movie was the completely forgotten Sky Parade, an aviation move with Katherine DeMille and William Gargan. Then Irene appeared in Florida Special, a run of the mill crime movie with Jackie Oakie as a worldly journalist trying to stop a train robbery. Yawn! Been there, seen that at least a hundred times…

She next appeared in Poppy, a W.C. Fields movie and only Fields makes it worth watching (at all). While I understand that he’s the main character, a movie can’t be that good if it’s absolutely boring when the lead is not on-camera. Beats me why they always paired Fields with 3 Bs (blond, bland and boring) supporting actors with according story-lines. After this comedy came another comedy, My American Wife,  another almost lost movie. After that we have Lady Be Careful , which goes into the same bracket of lost movies.

Irene had another uncredited role in Easy to Take, another completely forgotten movie with Marsha Hunt and John Howard. Irene’s next movie is perhaps the bets known on her filmography – The Plainsman , one of the few A budget westerns from the 1930s. Before one wonders why somebody decided to make such a western – the answer is simple – Cecil B. DeMille wanted a epic movie and got one set in the Wild West. Like most DeMille’s movies, it’s meticulously and elegantly done, very much stamped by the old master’s unique and easily recognizable style. Yes, the story is historically inaccurate and over-the-top, but the acting is great (Gary Cooper and Jean Arthur are always a good combo), and the stunts are amazing! One should watch it more for its grandiose and epic feeling, western style, than for any true substance.

The Accusing Finger is perhaps the perfect low budget classic movie from the 1930s – it’s socially conscious, with a solid story, dramatic but not overly theatrical moments and a good cast. The story concerns a attorney who sent quite a lot of people on the death row just to end up there himself. And a true transformation occurs. I see this movie as proof of how little it takes to make a very good movie if you have all the technical and logistical things in order – a heartfelt story and a message you want to convey. For a low budget quickie, this is a true winner! Kudos to Paul Kelly and Marsha Hunt in the leading roles.

Then came another completely forgotten movie, Hideaway Girl. Irene’s last movie, Champagne Waltz , was a mid tier musical with the boring old music vs. new music plot. The plus side is hearing Gladys Swarthout sing opera and see Fred MacMurray playing a band leader, something he was before he became an actor (I never knew that!!!).

Unfortunately, Irene’s career ended after this.

PRIVATE LIFE

Irene married Carlton L. Burnham on July 9, 1929, when she was just 15 years old. Carlton was born in 1912 in Mississippi. They divorced in February 28, 1935.

While she was in Hollywood, she enjoyed the well known pastime of rowing but only on a rowing machine. She also frequented the gym of her home studio.

In March 1936, not long after she came to Hollywood, there was this notice in the papers:

Irene Bennett, Actress, Sues Doctor f or $500,000 Hollywood, Cal., March 31. (Special.- Irene Bennett, movie actress, today filed a suit against Dr. H. J. Strathcarn, studio physician at Paramount studio, for $500,000 damages. She alleged improper medical treatment. She asserts that when she came in need of medical treatment the studio referred her to Dr. Strathcarn, that he failed to diagnose her ailment until it was loo late. She said she contracted tuberculosis. Her real name Is Irene Bennett Horsley of Enid, Okla.. who came lo Hollywood after winning a Memphis, Tenn,, beauty contest.

The article was son forgotten in a small flurry of other articles about Irene:

  • March 1936: Irene Bennett dancing with Viscount Roger Halgouet. son of the wealthy French diplomat at Cocoanut Grove
  • April 1936: Joan Bennett and Gene Markey, Irene Bennett and the Charles Buttorworths week -ending at Palm Springs.
  • May 1936: Styled in Hollywood Irene Bennett, Paramount starlet, appearing with George Raft , and Dolores Cotello Barrymore in “Yours for the Asking.” sent her younger sister a dress for the latter’s graduation from the Enid (Okla.) High School.
  • August 1936:  Irene Bennett is going places with Tom Monroe, Paramount scribbler
  • September 1936: Jackson, Mississippi –  Among them were Miss Irene Bennett, formerly of this city. Mr. Champion” reports that Miss Bennett is well on her way to stardom, having played several leading roles in recent pictures. Miss Bennett has many friends in Jackson who will be pleased to know of her splendid success in pictures.
  • Luckiest player of the week in Irene Bennett, who had her option taken up the other day by Paramount and who climaxed the day by this shivery experience. She left her chair on the “Chinese Gold” set to go to the photograph gallery for a few minutes. While she was gone, a heavy sun-arc toppled over, crashing down on tho chair where Irene would have been sitting but for her lucky break. w1 noon off.”

For six months, she was trained in the Paramount dramatic school, meanwhile playing brief “bits” in a number of pictures, “The Milky Way,” “Poppy,” “Yours for the Asking,” and last of all, “Easy to Take.” At the end of the period, her contract was not renewed. During that time, she supported her mother, Mrs. Calvin Horsley, and her sister, Elaine.

Why? In November 1936 Irene was reported to be in a Hollywood sanitarium dangerously ill of tuberculosis. A purse of $1000 was collected for her when it was learned she was without funds. Here is a brief article about it:

Irene Bennett, the pretty Oklahoma girl who was Hollywood’s biggest success story six months ago, is in a sanitarium today, dangerously ill. Her physician, Dr. H. A. Putnam, says she is facing a long .and uncertain fight for her life. What was worse, her dreams of a movie career ended abruptly several weeks before she became ill. Friends said they understood she is without funds. Having been in the movie studios less than a year, she is ineligible for aid from organized Hollywood charities. A purse of 1OOO$ has been collected at Paramount Studios, where she was under contract, to pay her expenses for a time at the sanitarium. Irene Bennett’s true name is Irene Horsley.

Irene went on to live in Los Angeles. Unfortunately, she slowly wasted away, living in a care assisted facility, with no cure for her malady back then.

Irene Bennett Horsley died on August 25, 1941, in Los Angeles, California, from tuberculosis. She was buried on the family plot in Oklahoma.