Rowena Cook

Rowena Cook’s career might be considered lackluster by most standards, but she proved to be amazingly resilient performer in the long run. Rowena came to Hollywood via a contest, which is not good-by itself. Let’s be real,  most of the people who come to Hollywood by winning a contest (be it a beauty contest or anything similar) stay in the bottom levels of the pecking order, and Rowena was no exception – but unlike the majority of those people, she really wanted to act, not to become rich and famous. When such a person, with such aspirations, doesn’t hit fame in Hollywood, he find other outlets for his passion – and Rowena sure did! Let’s learn more about her!

EARLY LIFE

Rowena Sturges Cook was born on October 16, 1917, in Staten Island, New York, to Rowena Sturges and her husband, Wilburn Eugene Cook. Her older sister, Cordelia S, was born in 1906 in Mexico. Her father died in 1919 and, as far as I can tell, the family lived on his inheritance. Rowena and the girls moved to Traverse, Michigan in 1920, and moved to Pasadena around the time the recession hit.

After her education in Pasadena (of which I could not find anything), Rowena came to Chicago in the 1930s, working for about a year on a weekly radio show, before moving back to California in pursuit of an acting career.

In order to break into movies, Rowena entered the “Gateway to Hollywood“. It was a showcase for young up and coming actors, sponsored by Jesse Lasky, who conducts’ the search for new film talent via the show. She won, along with Ralph Bowman, Mary Jane Barnes and Lynn McKinley. And then it started!

CAREER

Rowena, as Alice Eden, was signed by RKO and got a decent role in Career, a movie showcasing life in a small Iowa town. And this is one good film – actually, it’s one of the few times that Hollywood realistically portrays the mentioned small town life. This ain’t no Andy Hardy, with his squeaky clean characters, perfect families and pristine streets – this is the real deal – as a reviewer on IMDB wrote:

This is a much grimmer world, where people are forced to face up to real issues, with no easy solutions; where panic and self-interest often take the place of reason and community-consciousness; where young love is often thwarted by ambition (and not just on the part of the career-minded male either); where the town drunk is not just a figure of fun, but contrives to be both boorishly obnoxious yet tragically sympathetic; above all, where venality is uppermost in just about everyone’s mind — except of course in the embittered storekeeper hero (revenge is what he’s after).

No wonder that the great Dalton Trumbo wrote the script – there is a ever present social undercurrent, and a very serious one. Sadly, the movie didn’t do any favors to anyone involved, including Rowena.

This is the story of a young girl who goes to Hollywood and hopes to become the next Sarah Bernhardt. Initially, Rowena was thrilled over winning’ the contest and getting a role and a contract. She’d spent years studying dramatic art, and naturally thought she’d be considered an actress. But she learned that people just thought of her as a contest winner. Her contract expired, and she was on her own. Instead of giving up hope, she decided that this was really her chance to make good. “I literally buried Alice Eden,” she said, the other day. “And started out to be just Rowena Cook.”

Sadly, Rowena Cook amassed only one credit. Kit Carson, an enjoyable but not particularly noteworthy western, with Jon Hall and Lynn Bari in the leads. A special bonus – Dana Andrews is also there!

That was all from Rowena!

PRIVATE LIFE

Rowena always maintained how she prepared for a theatrical career from her earliest days… When she got the Gateway to Hollywood contest, this is what papers wrote about her:

It seems that I will not have to worry about Rowena Cook’s (Alice Eden’s) future during the present year. She has 13 weeks of Alice Eden to do on the radio if she gets out of Des Moines alive. And then a picture and then the business of choosing between two or three contracts which have been slipped in the mail. Marvelously Lucky? You think that this little girl from New York has been marvelously lucky?

The sweet and dumb days have passed from Hollywood forever; a stupid grin and a good pair of gams are not enough at this time. Alice Eden is pretty enough to

Well, if you will start now and work for the next 17 years at plain and fancy dramatics, perhaps you will be lucky, like Miss Cook. She frittered away the precious hours during the first two years of her life and then someone told her that life is real and life ia earnest. “Oh, yes,” she said. “In June, 1939, only 17 years from now, Mr. Wrigley and Mr. Lasky will want me ta do a picture for them. Time’s a wastin’.” So there she Is as you will see her on Saturday.

Rowena’s only surge of publicity came when during that time, right after the win. As Andy Warhol would say, she had her five minutes of fame. Here is atypical article from that brief period:

Miss Eden, 21 and “blue-eyed blonde,” too was happy over her good luck and hoped it might lead to screen fame and fortune. Tuesday afternoon they presented medals at the A. A. U. and Wednesday night they will appear at the Varsity theater for the opening of the first picture In which they played featured – roles “Career.” Thursday morning they leave for Chicago and 13 weeks of radio work, and, in October, back to California.

It seemed like a wonderfully active, almost hectic life filled with interesting activities.. But it just didn’t last. On the other hand, Rowena’s co-star, John Archer (real name Ralph Bowman), enjoyed a long, if not especially successful career in Hollywood, amassed more than 100 credits, and married Marjorie Lord, and was the father of actress Anne Archer.
Rowena had a pretty low-key romantic life. On March 18, 1940, she married John Irving Laird, a fellow actor, in Los Angeles. Laird was born on December 10, 1911, to  Irving E. Laird and Ethel Taylor in Waukegan, Illinois, and came to Los Angeles for movie work as an actor. The marriage lasted eleven months, and they divorced in 1941. Laird remarried at least twice, second time in 1981, and died on August 5, 2003, in Florida.

By 1942, the US had entered WW2, and Rowena asked to be released from her contract so she could move to New York to help the war effort. This is what makes her such an interesting woman – when she saw that Hollywood wasn’t going to make her a top class actress, she opted to develop her skills in other ways and just left. No drama, just begin very efficient! In Nee York, Rowena began working as a trainer for new female Navy recruits at Hunter College in New York, and she did some part-time work as an actress, determined to become a legitimate stage actress.

In the theater circuit (during the run of John Loves Mary) she met director Vaughn Baggerly, whom she married in 1948. Vaughn Herbert Baggerly was born on April 18, 1917 in Davenport, Iowa, to Glenn Baggerly and Martha Crow, the youngest of two boys. The grew up and was educated in Davenport High School and attended the College of Theater Arts, Pasadena and then moved to Coral Gables, Florida, where he worked as a stage director. He was drafted in 1942, serving as a cryptographic officer and in the Special Services Corps. After returning to civilian life, he lived in New York.

The couple settled in Los Angeles, where their daughter Susan Rowena was born on July 31, 1949.  Despite his thriving theater career, Baggerly decided to become a professional Army officer, and was stationed in Tokyo during the Korean War. Rowena and Susan followed him there, and Rowena volunteered with a Red Cross at a local hospital. The couple returned to the US in 1955, and their son Vaughn David was born on July 28, 1955 in San Francisco.

Baggerly retired from the Army in 1964 with the rank of lieutenant colonel, then started to develop a recreation program for the Job Corps, and became head of the Job Corps office in San Francisco in 1965.

In their spare time, Vaughn was a director and Rowena an actress for the Theater of the Fifteen Company in Coral Gables – their love for acting never left them, and it was sure more than a simple fling but a deep passion. Not many actresses profiled on this blog could say that about their craft.

Vaughn retired in 1984 and he and Rowena settled in Laguna Nigel, Orange County.

Vaughn Baggerly died on January 20, 1990 and was buried in Illinois. Rowena moved to Barrington, Illinois, where she lived in a nursing home and was a capable illustrator and children’s stories writer.

Rowena Cook Baggerly died on March 2, 2004, in Barrington, Illinois.

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Jayne Shadduck

Jayne Shadduck truly is an inspiring woman. Okay, maybe her Hollywood career is as thin as air and she never really tried to be a serious, accomplished actress, but she managed to more than make up for this slight by being a pioneer aviatrix and successful businesswoman (and this long after leaving Tinsel town behind). Let’s learn more about her!

EARLY LIFE

Jayne Dunham Francis Shadduck was born on July 1, 1915, in Walla, Walla, Washington, to Joe F. Shadduck and Francis Shadduck. She was their only child. Her father was a general director of an automobile sales salon, and the family was relatively well of.  

By 1930, the family had moved to Portland, Oregon, where Jayne attended high school. Jayne caught the dancing bug early, and was in the chorus before she graduated from high school. She moved to California and started her Hollywood career in 1932, only 17 years old.

She was one of the few girls who signed a contract with RKO. All the girls were chosen from a chorus recently developed In Hollywood by Busby Berkeley. There were eighty members of the chorus, who, in turn, were chosen from among more than 5,000 applicants. And Jayne was of!

CAREER

Sadly, Jayne appeared in uncredited minor, minor roles in only three movies. Two of those were top of the shelf 1930s musicals – 42nd Street and Gold Diggers of 1933. Forget the story, enjoy the visuals and the dancing!

Jayne’s third movie was The Little Giant, a delightful, sharp and witty comedy with Edward G. Robinson playing a former bootlegger going straight. And fun ensures! Plus for featuring Mary Astor and Helen Vinson, both very capable, yummy actresses.

And that’s it from Jayne!

PRIVATE LIFE

Jayne gave a beauty hint to the readers in 1933:

Cologne is a boon for a variety of uses, such as scenting the bath, toning up tired pores and perfuming lingerie and handkerchiefs. When I am fatigued, I soak a pad of cotton with the refreshing liquid and press it to my temples, relaxing at the same time for a half hour, or as long as I can spare. It is most refreshing.

Jayne had a slight mishap during her early career, in 1932:

Jayne Shadduck, screen actress of “Forty-second Street” and “Gold Diggers of 1933,” was painfully injured yesterday while working in a tank scene in a new musical picture. “Footlight Parade,” on a Warner Brothers sound stage. She suffered a contusion of the nose when she struck the arm of another girl during rehearsal

In 1933, Jayne dated first Lyle Talbot and then left him for Mike Francovitch, Joe E. Brown’s adopted son and star footballer at the U. C.L. A. That didn’t last either – Mike married Binnie Barnes in 1940.

Next on the line was the much-married director, Eddie Sutherland (one of his wives was Louise Brooks), who just left Grace Bradley to date her. It didn’t last either.

Interesting to note that Jayne and Katherine Hepburn got their contract on the very same day at the same judge! Here is a short article about it:

Pair Choose Day of Jinx to Get Approval of Judge for Picture Work When Adalyn Doyle, “good luck girl” for Katharine Hepburn, and blonde Jayne Shadduck. raised their right hands in .Superior Judge Mc-Comb’s court yesterday and swore to tell the truth concerning their contracts to appear in motion-picture productions of the Twentieth Century Pictures, Inc., they crossed their fingers. “Oh, we told the truth, all right,” they chorused, “but, after all, It Is Friday the 13th and we aren’t taking unnecessary chances.” The contracts cover a period of years with gradual increases in salary until, in the event all the options are exercised, both will receive weekly salaries in four figures and without any decimals strewn therein. Both contracts were approved.

In late 1933, Jayne met playwright Jack Kirkland. Soon, she was telling the papers that the marriage to Jack was more desirable than a career in the movies. Here is a laughable and pretty silly article about Hollywood starlets and matrimony from that time:

Six of the Goldwyn girls who adorned Eddie Cantor’s “Kid From Spain,” “Roman Scandals” and other recent hits have called off their vow against matrimony. Jayne Shadduck, Vivian Bannon Keefer, Dolores Casey, Jane Hamilton, Barbara Pepper and Bonny agreed none would wed until all had progressed to be something more than show girls. Most of them had recent bits in Radio’s “Strictly Dynamite.” Miss Shadduck holds a studio contract and now she’s engaged to marry Jack Kirk-land and the other five girls declare it open season for orange blossoms.

This truly is a bit of make-believe – most starlets with no acting experience and no real wish to become the next Sarah Bernhardt didn’t’ come to Hollywood to establish a career – they wanted to have fun  and get married! Let’s not kid ourselves, most of the starlets I profiled here go squarely into this category. If they really wanted to act, they would have gone to a drama school and did theater before landing into movies. There will always be exceptions, but Jayne wasn’t one of them. She was aiming to wed and that was that.

Jayne was preparing a get-out for Hollywood, and get-in for matrimony. She married Jack on march 23, 1934, and left immediately for a honeymoon in Spain.

Like most hasty marriage,s this one ended in a fiasco. They got into an intense tiff and decided to divorce while on their honeymoon. However, when they returned to Los Angeles, the situation changed from day-to-day – one weekend they went from tavern to tavern , dancing and drinking together, the other they were separated and awaiting a divorce.

After an up and down period of about half a year, they finally did divorce in February 1935. Jayne testified that Kirkland often absented himself from home for days without an explanation, and that he was abusive in his language to her. The final decree was to come in February 1936.

However, even after they divorced, Jack and Jayne couldn’t keep their hands of off each other. They still went out regularly and maintained a very flirty and sexy front. The reporters predicted that their divorce would not last for long and that they would remarry. But, well, life operates in strange ways, and this is an interesting story.

During the throes of their post divorce passion, Jayne left for Honolulu for a short break. Kirkland, like a love-struck youth that he was, drove her to the ship and almost forgot to come off before the gang-plank was lifted. he was expecting Jayne to return in a few weeks so they can continue their liaison and probably get married once again. BUT!

A romance that started under a tropical moon in Hawaii in May 1935, and it wasn’t Jack. Jayne and Henry J. Topping, Jr., New York banker and wealthy heir, fell hard for each other, and announced, literary two weeks later, that they will be married next February. I can only imagine how Jack felt, but he didn’t waste any time in finding new swains – he married three more times (to Julie Laird, Halia Stoddard and Nancy Hoadley), sired several children, among them the famous ballerina Gelsey Kirkland, and died on February 22, 1969.

Jayne went to Reno to speed up the nuptials. The press joked that she had to pay extra fare to Reno because Bob Topping’s diamond ring is so big. In Reno, Jayne won a final divorce from Jack Kirkland, on. charges of cruelty and was boarded a night plane for New York to meet Topping. Like in a fairy tale dream, Topping was right on job to greet Jayne when she arrived by air from Reno. Oh, so sweet!

The happy couple wed in August 6, 1935. Bob and Jayne were the town before sailing on that South American honeymoon. After their return from the honeymoon (no honeymoon divorce this time!), they continued living the high life in New York City, a solid part of the local jet set.

One of the first female pilots in the United States, Jayne flew a six-passenger plane from Detroit to New York in 1937, for which she was featured in Life magazine.

However, in August 1937, Bob and Jayne parted! They went to Hawaii together. He returned from Honolulu solo and flew right on to New York. Jayne followed on the next boat and is flew east to woo him back. For the next few months, there was scant information about the couple, but then in October the bomb fell: Topping said he had told his wife,  to “get a divorce.”, but he refused to confirm or deny rumors of a $500,000 settlement. The soap opera continued, with ups and downs, much like her first marriage. Will they or wont’ they?

First, they were being sued by the Wall St. lawyer who once smoothed out their differences. Okay, so they had outside help in the marriage, but it seems that it didn’t work quite as expected. In May 1938, this happened:

The secretly filed divorce action of Henry J. Topping Jr. of Greenwich, big-game hunter and heir to a tin plate fortune, was revealed today when his pretty actress wife, Jayne Shadduck -Topping, petitioned the Superior Court that the action be thrown out. Miss Shadduck, accuses her husband of bad sportsmanship by violating the hard and fast rules of divorce procedure. Topping’s application to sever his marriage is based on grounds of intolerable cruelty and was written into the record last April 25. Apparently the decision to go ahead with the proceedings was delayed, since the original papers were dated April 16. He Charges Cruelty. Topping claims that a year and four days after their marriage, Aug. 6, 1935, in the elopers’ paradise of Armonk, N. Y., his actress wife started to show signs of cruelty. Her acts of cruelty, he states, continued until April 16 of this year.

In reality, Topping wanted to divorce Jayne so he could marry socialite Gloria Mimi Baker, and finally it cost him a pretty cool $500,000. Jayne put the price tag on the marriage and said: pay and get divorce or no pay no divorce. And she got her money. Such was Toppings passion for Gloria. Topping married  three more times after Gloria (to Lana Turner, Arline Judge and Mona Topping) and died on April 21, 1968.

Anyway, Jayne decided, wisely, to stay away from romance and enter the business arena: She said: “I have no romance whatever in my life now. And I’m not interested in romance. I’m interested now in the ice cream business.” In December 1938, she arrived in Hawaii, accompanied by A. Rost, who will be her partner in a Honolulu ice cream business.

Soon, Jayne was a staple in Hawaii and even started to sponsor various sports teams:

Jayne Shadduck Topping Signs Contract To Sponsor Gridders Jayne Shadduck Topping yesterday definitely decided to sponsor a football team composed of ex-college stars next fall, signing a contract to finance the team which will play in the Hawaii Football association, local senior circuit. The aggregation will be known as the Hawaiian Polar Bears. Bob Patrick will be associated with her as advisor, while Francis Brickner will be the business manager. John Masterson, director of the annual East-West Shrine football game, is the Mainland representative with headquarters in San Francisco. He will assist Mrs. Topping and Brickner in contacting and selecting the players. The team wm be selected by July 15

In January 1940, Jayne married her third and last husband, Richard Durant. She settled into a highly satisfactory family life in Hawaii afterwards. Richard Church Durant was born on April 25, 1906, in Great Barrington, Massachusetts to Mr. and Mrs. Clark Durant. He was a sportsman graduate of Yale and Harvard, and became a surgeon who helped found Kaiser Hospital in Hawaii.

The Durant’s daughter, Louise, was born on March 20, 1941. Their son Clark was born in August 1942. Their last child and son Payson was born on March 19, 1951.

Jayne was later embroidered a scandal concerning the divorce of James Roosevelt from his wife – it was the same scandal that touched fellow actress Andrea Leeds:

Denials that they are among the women named in letters from James Roosevelt to his wife were made yesterday by these two former actresses. Andrea Leeds (left), now the wife of Robert S. Howard, a millionaire resident of Palm Springs, Calif., said she “never had a date with the man.” She agreed with Mrs. Richard Durant (right), the former Jayne Shadduck, that the names listed could have referred .to any women so named. ” Her name was one of nine listed in a letter which Mrs. Roosevelt filed with her suit for separate maintenance. Roosevelt’s attorney is expected to file an answer today

Mrs. Durant said she had cabled Roosevelt demanding an Immediate public retraction of “the false, libelous statement” linking her name and his. Mrs. Durant declared today that it does not “exonerate him from the responsibility of smearing innocent person.” She said in a statement “a lot of damage has been done to a lot of innocent people. I cannot condone Mr, Roosevelt ever signing any document containing such damaging lies … in order to extricate himself from his personal problems … no matter what the circumstance.” Mrs. Howard said she felt compelled to make a public statement.

This one is open for debate, but I somehow believe, in this case, where there is smoke there is fire. Why would anyone put a random society woman living for years in Hawaii (by then) on such a list? While there can be some vindictive bastards who would do such things, I somehow think it’s not the case here. If the affair did happen, it happened around 1945, 5 years after Jayne married Richard.

Anyway, Jayne had a rich and varied life in Hawaii. She was vice president of the Hawaii Hotel Association in the early 1950s. She raced canoes with the Kahana-moku brothers and Doris Duke. She was also an ardent angler and landed many big tuna and marlin during fishing trips off Kona and Oahu. She was a member of the Friends of Iolani Palace. Durant was an avid traveler and had seen much of the world with her husband.

The Durants had lived in the penthouse of the Palms Condominium since it was built more in the early 1960s to replace the Palms Hotel. The Na-hua Avenue hotel, which Durant owned and managed, was often the vacation spot for Hollywood celebrities before and after World War ll. All in all, Jayne made quite a life for herself in Hawaii and it seems she led a truly happy existence there.

Richard Durant died in September 1973. Jayne stayed at the island and continued with her civic and professional work.

Jayne Durant died from cancer on May 29, 1993, in Honolulu.  Her last trip was to Kenya in November 1992, after she learned she had cancer. When she died, her grandchildren told these touching lines in her obituary:

Jayne Shadduck Durant, actress, pilot, hotel owner, deep-sea angler, world traveler, lived a life that was larger than life. After she learned last fall that she was terminally ill, she invited granddaughter Sonja Freebairn on a safari to Kenya, then they stopped in London to see some of the new stage shows. “Her life was more packed than anyone’s,” Freebairn said. “She was so much fun to talk to. In all those years, we never had the same conversation twice.” “She was a glamour girl,” said grandson Robert Freebairn.

The grandchildren were learning new things about her this weete as they found magazine and newspaper clippings about Durant’s full life. “She wasn’t a bragger,” said Sonja Freebairn. “She was so low-key about her accomplishments. ;. “She wouldn’t let us do a videotape of her stories. But she knew very much, she never forgot anything,” Robert Freebairn said. One clipping they found was about her piloting a small aircraft, breaking a flight record between Detroit and New; York in 1937. “

She was cremated and her ashes were scattered at sea.

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.

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