Marcella Martin

A pretty large number of budding actress came to Hollywood hoping to win the coveted role of Scarlett O’Hara. As we know today, the role went o Vivien Leigh, and the rest was history. Of all the girls who were in the pecking order for the role, most of them failed to parlay the sojourn into a stable career. On the other hand, a few of them actually developed impressive careers later (Susan Hayward is an excellent example), and some established mid tier, solid careers Sadly, Marcella Martin belongs into the former category. Despite her obvious talent and pleasing looks, she opted to remain a theater actress, and made only two movies of lesser quality. Let’s learn more about her!

EARLY LIFE

Elsie Marcella Clifford was born on June 5, 1916, in Chicago, Illinois, to William Clifford and Clara Kessberger. She was the oldest of three children, three sisters – her younger siblings were Catherine C, born in 1918, and Ruth C, born in 1925.  Her father was a State Senator of Champaign, making her a high society debutante.

Marcella grew up in Chicago, attended high school there and discovered an intense love for acting when she was a teen. Determined to become an actress, she got a degree in dramatics from the University of Illinois, where she was active in the debate club. Ready for bigger and better things, she said “goodbye” to her home town and started to look for opportunities around the US. Her first serious acting job was a few months tour with a Midwestern stock company. After a peripatetic life with a touring company, she settled in Shreveport, Louisiana, where her first husband was from. She wasted no time in gaining acting momentum, and immediately joined the local Little Theater. She started her acting tenure by appearing in two sound stage hits, “Stage Door” and “Tovarich”. Marcella studied southern diction on the side and became quite an expert at it. People could rarely detect that she was originally from Illinois due to this handy skill.

Sadly, acting gigs hardy payed the mounting bills, so Marcella started by selling various merchandise, at firsts az Felbleman’s-Sears, Roebuck and company and then at Goldring’s,  but rehearsing diligently at the local theater at night. In 1938, Maxwell “Max” Arnow, scout for David O. Selznlck, saw Marcella in a rehearsal at the local theater. He was touring the South in search of actors to play parts in Gone With ‘ the Wind” (Including for the elusive Scarlett). Thus, Arnow “discovered” Marcella.

Arnow reported his discovery to Selznick in a memo dated Nov. 16, 1938. “The results of the eighteen day trip through the South were quite meager with one exception. In Louisiana, at the Shreveport Little Theater,” he wrote. “Ran across a girl by the name of Marcella Martin. This girl is quite good-looking, has a nice figure, and is a grand actress. Without doubt she is the best of the hundreds of people who I interviewed during my trip.” Very kind words from Mr. Arnow indeed!

A short while later he wired Marcella to go to New York for screen tests. And so she went.  Two weeks in the rush and bustle of New York studios, and she was back in Shreveport. Then she was called again this time to Hollywood for further screen tests. Once in Hollywood, she was originally tested for Scarlett and Melanie. Along with two other Southern girls, Alicia Rhett and Bebe Anderson (in the future known as Mary Anderson), she was given a bit role in the movie, but that was just a part of the prize – she got a long-term contract, a possible crack at bigger things.

And this is how she landed in Hollywood!

CAREER

Marcella was tested for the role of Scarlett, which went to Vivien Leigh (and the rest is history, as they say!) got a memorable consolation prize. She earned the speaking role as Cathleen Calvert, who confides the inside skinny on Rhett Butler to O’Hara during the classic barbecue scene. “Cathleen, who’s that?” Scarlett asks as she locks eyes with Clark Gable’s Rhett Butler for the first time. “Who?” “That man looking at us and smiling,” Scarlett answers. “The nasty, dark one.” “My dear, don’t you know?” Cathleen answers with a grin. “That’s Rhett Butler. He’s from Charleston. He has the most terrible reputation.” Scarlett looks away for a second, then back. “He looks as if… as if he knows what I look like without my shim”. Great moment! On a side note, a columnist wrote that the producers had to compromise when casting Scarlett, for this reason: “The compromise may be forced in the matter of waist-line. The specifications call for a 17-inch girth. Even the most rigorous Hollywood diets haven’t achieved any such miracle as this.” (how true :-P) Also, Marcella was Leigh’s trailer roomie on location and taught her how to speak with a Southern dialect.

Marcella appeared in only two more movies before retiring altogether. The first one was West of Tombstone, a totally obscure low-budget western with Charles Starrett in the lead. The plot concerns Billy the Kid and his alleged demise – is he dead or not? UnfortunatelyWhat is funny about this movie is how Marcella is attired – the story takes place in the early 20th century, 20 years after the reported death of Billy the Kid, but she wears strictly 1942 fashions, with knee-length skirts, high-heeled shoes and bobbed hair. Ah, Hollywood!

The second movie was another low-budget western, The Man Who Returned to Life. This is another better-of-forgotten type of movie, about a man on the run from the law for murder (of course he’s not really guilty). Marcella plays the third female lead, after Lucile Fairbanks and Ruth Ford.

And that was it from Marcella!

PRIVATE LIFE

Marcella married John “Jack” Martin in about 1935, and moved with him to Shreveport, Louisiana. The marriage didn’t last, and they were divorced by 1939, before she landed in Hollywood.

Marcella met her second husband, James Ferguson, in the theater – they acted together in several plays before getting hitched in 1940 at the home of the Marcella’s parents in Champaign, in the presence of relatives and a few close friends.

James Ferguson was born on August 15, 1913  to Mr. and Mrs. William Ferguson in Izmir, Turkey. His parents were British subjects. He attended elementary school in Scotland and later moved with his family to Whittier, California, becoming a naturalized US citizen in 1930. He graduated from high school in 1931 and from Fullerton Junior College, California, in 1934. He enlisted in the Army Air Corps in October 1934 and underwent flying training the following year and completed it in July 1936. He was a flying cadet for one year before being commissioned as a second lieutenant in June 1937. Later, Ferguson He rose to the rank of full general in the Air Force.

Ferguson acted for fun, and this is how he met Marcella. This is a short article about it:

Marcella Martin and James , Ferguson Have Leads; Opens Oct. 10 , Miss ‘ Marcela Martin and Lieut. James Ferguson will have the leading roles In the first production of the Little Theatre season “Tovarlch,” to open at 8:15 pm, Oct. 10, John Wray Toung, director of the theater, announced Tuesday. Miss Martin will play the Grand Duchess Tatiana Petrovna, the exiled White Russian noblewoman in Jaques Deval’s comedy. Lieutenant Ferguson will ‘ play her husband, Prince Mikhail Alexandrovitch Ouratleff.

He he he, the fun doesn’t stop here – there is a whole juicy story of the Ferguson-Martin courtship. Listen to this: In early 1938, Marcella’s first appearance on the Shreverport Little Theater stage had her in a minor role in “Stage Door,” which also featured in its cast a Barksdale Field lieutenant, William E. “Ed” Dyess. Her co-lead in “Tovarich” was another Barksdale Field flier, Lt. Jim Ferguson.

One of Marcella’s best friends from Chicago was Marajen Stevick, a publishing and media heiress. It seems that Marcella hobnobbed with the Chicago high society, and often asked them to visit her in Shereverport. There was a lot of rivalry going on with Dyess and Ferguson, as they were after Marcella, both of them. Marajen was Marcella’s house guest and ended up with Dyess, and Marcella ended up with Ferguson. Dyess was the third of Stevick’s five husbands.

Dyess died a hero in World War II. A survivor of the Bataan Death March, he survived a year’s captivity in a Japanese prisoner-of-war camp, escaped, was on the run for three months, was rescued by a submarine and returned home to write a gripping account of the Japanese brutality to their prisoners after the fall of the Philippines in 1942. A recipient of the Distinguished Service Cross, second only to the Medal of Honor, he was promoted to lieutenant colonel. He died heroically in a training accident Dec. 22, 1943. He was flying over heavily populated Burbank, Calif., when his airplane caught fire. Instead of bailing out, he stayed with the airplane to make sure it didn’t crash into a school full of children. Dyess Air Force Base, near Abilene, Texas, is named in his memory.

Stevick became an Italian countess a through one of her later marriages, she died on the anniversary of Dyess’ death, Dec. 22, 2002.

Despite the fact that Marcella got her big break via Shreveport Little Theater, she left the city for good after 1939. She returned in the early 1940s to sign various legal papers relating to end her previous marriage but never lived there again. She was active in the theater for a few years afterwards, appearing in plays by Tennessee Williams among others, before retiring for good in the 1950s.

Years later, Marcella’s younger sister Ruth Brown, remembered meeting Leigh in New York City in 1963 through Marcella. Oddly enough, Leigh was performing in a stage version of “Tovarich,” in the same role Martin had played when she was discovered 25 years earlier. Vivien suffered from a bipolar illness, tuberculosis of the lungs and was divorced from Laurence Olivier, but nonetheless won a Tony Award for her work in “Tovarich. Marcella sent a note back to Vivien, She wasn’t sure she would remember her, though they had been very close in the making of ‘Gone With the Wind.’ It was wonderful. The people making ‘Gone With the Wind’ wanted Vivien to listen to Marcella’s accent. She had lived in Louisiana so long she had picked up pretty much a Southern accent, but it wasn’t too much. The producers didn’t want a real ‘Y’all’ accent, they wanted a ‘soft’ Southern accent, and Marcella had it. They didn’t know she had grown up in Champaign.”

Marcella and James Fergson divorced in the late 1940s or early 1950s. Laterm he remarried to Roberta Wilkes. He served in Korea and from 1955 until 1970 he was based in Washington DC. In 1966 he became a full general, and retired in 1970. Roberta died in 1977. Ferguson died on July 13, 2000, in Sarasota, Florida.

Marcella married her third and last husband, Robert Lee McGratty, in 1953 in Duval, Florida. McGratty was born on October 22, 1908, in New York City, to Charles and Frances McGratty. He grew up in Suffolk, New York, and worked as a hotelier in Florida, running the Floridian hotel.  He was married in 1943 to Frances Stuart but the marriage didn’t’ work out, and  he divorced her a few years later.

The couple did not have any children, but enjoyed a happy and harmonious marriage. They moved to Houston, Texas after McGratty’s retirement. McGratty died there on January 21, 1979. Marcella remained in Texas after his death, opting not to remarry.

Marcella Martin McGratty died on October 31, 1986, in Houston, Texas. She is buried with her father, former Illinois State Sen. William E.C. Clifford, and her last husband, Robert McGratty, in Champaig, Illinois.

 

 

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Theo Coffman

Theo Coffman was a beautiful girl who rose from her modest working class origin to become a singer and dancer of some repute. After achieving minor success in Chicago, Hollywood beckoned and she tried to become an actress. Unlike many others, she really tried, even taking dramatic lessons, but, unfortunately, it did not work. She quite Hollywood after only one movie. Let’s learn more about her!

EARLY LIFE

Theo L. Coffman was born in 1915, in Indianapolis, Indiana, to Oscar Coffman and Josephine Snyder. Her father worked as a carpenter in a railroad company. Theo’s masculine name was due to her unusual familial circumstance – she was the only girl among five children, and her parents expected her to be a boy (pretty optimistic, don’t you think?). Her older brothers were Paul, born in 1910, and Alva, born on June 12, 1912, and her younger brothers were Oscar Jr., born in 1918 and Orville, born on January 1, 1921.

Theo was reared in Indianapolis, and attended Public Schools 28 and 8. She started singing and dancing when she was a child and pretty soon it was clear she had a good voice and some presence. In July 1931 her father died and her mother took over the reins of the family. Theo attended and later graduated from Manual Training High School. Her first job was as a cashier and secretary in a local Indianapolis shoe store. Feeling that she could give more to the world as a singer, she decided to try her luck in show biz. She danced for a while in the old Chez Paree, and sang with Paul Collins’s Orchestra. During this time she learned to dance like a pro on a roof of a Indianapolis hotel. Wanting more out of her career, she went to Chicago in 1938. by day she worked as a cashier, living with Ethel M Vandeveer, who was listed as her business partner. Yet, she hoped for a more stable career in dancing, so she teamed with Raoul Gomez in an exhibition dance act that was featured in Chicago in the Colony Club.

On a visit to New York in 1940, a film executive told her she should be in the movies, so she went to Hollywood, and obtained a Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer contract and a role in “DuBarry Was a Lady.” And there she went!

CAREER

Theo’s sole credited remained Du Barry Was a Lady, the movie she was brought to Hollywood for. Du Barry has a plot that was used a hundred times in a hundreds of types of movies (summary from IMDB) – A night club’s coatroom attendant whose in-love with the club’s singer accidentally sips a drugged drink that makes him dream he’s French King Louis XV courting the infamous Madame Du Barry. While not a top musical, it’s one of the most beautiful, shot in stunning Technicolor, almost like being in a pastel wonderland, just two shades short of Heaven. All the craftsmanship is first class – the set design, the costumes, the lightning, the editing. And the fabulous music by the premier big bands of the era. The supporting actors are a great bunch too (Zero Mostel, Douglas Dumbrille, Louise Beavers…) . Red Skelton, Lucille Ball and Gene Kelly in the leads are good too – but it seems they are overshadowed by everything else, and the musical doesn’t quite work as it did on Broadway. Still, it’s a sweet little piece of escapism, worth watching for sure.

And that was it from our Theo!

PRIVATE LIFE

It was often noted in the papers how Theo comes from a large family with several brothers. One of her four brothers, Oscar, got employed at MGM. Her other brothers, Paul, Alva and Orville, remained in Indianapolis. Growing up with a bunch of unruly bros, Theo developed a unique way to fend of all the hungry wolves, a handy skill to have in Hollywood. Here is a short bit from 1942, just after the war started, about that:

The other day at I ha Beverly Hills swimming pool, a “wolf” was trying to impress Theo. Coffman with his importance. “Just a year ego,” he said, “I had a suite at the Royal Hawaiian Hotel In Honolulu.” “You can have it again,” said Miss Coffman, “if you join the Marines.

Theo an ardent deep-sea fisher, her best catch being a 150-pound marlin which she landed off Florida after a fifty-five-minute tussle. Eager to play light comedy roles, Theo was reported taking dramatic lessons from Maria Ouspensknya, the noted actress. Her Hollywood home was a cottage formerly occupied by Victor Mature. Theo was also a pretty good seamstress who designed her own clothes. Here is a short article about one of her creations:

It all began when Theo Coffman, a shapely showgirl, strolled onto the set of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer’s frothy Technicolor musical, “Du Barry Was a Lady.” Theo’s avocation is dress designing and she was wearing one of her own creations, a tight-bodiced pink pique number with a wide flaring skirt. This skirt was the match that touched off the argument. Appliqued around its hemline were bold bars of music, clef, notes, and all. Admiring onlookers fell into Immediate dissension. “I say the notes make a melody!” “I say they don’t!” Theo’s dress was about to cause more trouble than Mrs. O’Leary’s cow when Tommy Dorsey happened by. Whipping out his trusty trombone, the sentimental gentleman of swing started in on Theo’s appliqued music. Listeners cocked anxious ears. Smiles cooled their faces. The notes did spell a melody: “Deep Purple,” Theo’s favorite song.

As Theo came to Hollywood via Du Barry, she was immediately associated to others girls hired to the movie. She got a years worth of publicity, the crowning moment being of course when noted illustrator Alberto Vargas made an illustration of the perfect girl, who was a composite of all the best parts the Du Barry girls – the hands of Inez Cooper, the hair of Mary Jane French, the feet of Theo, the hips of Ruth Ownbey, the waist of Eva Whitney, the bust of Aileen Haley, the legs of Hazel Brooks, the arms of Kay Williams, the profile of Kay Aldridge, the lips of Natalie Draper, the ankles of Marilyn Maxwell and the eyes of Georgia Carroll.

The press tried to report on a rapport between girls with snippets like this:

 Hoofing is traditionally cruel to the discovers between takes on a dancing sequence. Inez Cooper lends a sympathetic ear to Theo’s woes. Her own tootsies are killing her! Right Time out for repairs is taken by piquant Ruth Ownbey while Theo Coffman offers moral support.

And now for her romantic ventures, and there sure. Theo’s first Hollywood beau was Phillips Holmes, the gentle, feminine looking actor who worked so well with Nancy Carroll in several good 1930s movies. They dated for a few months before he join the Royal Canadian Air Force. He died in a mid-air collision in 1942.

In started May 1942 dating set designer Merrill Pye. This proved to be her longest liaison, and certainly the most tempestuous. They dated for almost six months in 1942, but it was a sketchy, spotty, passionate affair with lots of ups and downs. Merrill was freshly of his long relationship with hoofer Eleanor Powell, and dated almost half of the Du Barry girls team, including Ruth Ownbey. Yet, Theo proved to be the most resilient of the lot, lasting the longest (except one, you’ll see which one). Theo downplayed the relationship in the papers, saying there is nothing serious between her and Merrill. At least, not yet. . . . Nevertheless, she got Pye’s permission to go to the fights with Tommy Dorsey. So you judge how serious it was 🙂

Somewhere in September 1942, she took up with the playboy Jimmy Ritz, who dated a whole of other girls that way, so obviously it was nothing serious. The Ritz affair helped chill Theo and Merrill for good. Theo then switched to international producer Raymond Hakim.

She lingered for a bit more with Merrill, but it was truly over when he started to date his future wife, another DuBarry girl, Natalie Draper. Like most couples in Hollywood, they had a post scriptum, but that was that. Theo started to date her old beau, Eddie Braugnau, of Chicago. Then, in a strange twist of fate, Theo was seen with both Robbie Robinson and Merrill Pye, and even the press called it an odd threesome. Guess it truly was.

In early 1943, Theor was seeing Bill Hawks, brother of Howard and Kenneth, had a few dates with Pye (this time truly not serious), and was showing the town to Richard Jacobson of Chicago. Jacobson was a newspaper publisher, and the man who Theo ultimately chose.

In March 1943, Theo married Richard Jacobson. Jacobson was a wealthy publisher, who bought he Evanston News-Index, (which had been in bankruptcy for a few months by then), and was already publishing Standard Opinion in Chicago. Jacobson owned a palatial 51-foot yacht powered by 140 horsepower engines.

After the marriage ceremony, she went home to Indiana to sort out her affairs, and Richard went back to Chicago, looking after business, but they had plans to return and live in Hollywood, and were looking forward to their purchase of Joe Penner’s Beverly Hills home.

Theo used to joke that whenever she went to Indianapolis to visit her mother, she was invariably pressed to work at housecleaning. “It doesn’t seem to matter much what time of year I get here,” Theo said, laughing, “house-cleaning is just about to start and I get in on it.”

This is where I lost all track of Theo – did she remained married to Jacobson, did she have children, is she alive today – all remains  a mystery to me. We can only say for sure that she didn’t make any more movies under the birth name. As always, I hope she had a good life!

 

 

 

Marjorie Deanne

Beautiful Marjorie Deanne was a beauty contest winner that came to Hollywood, hoping for a big break. Like with the majority of girls who took down that route, her break never came. However, she became a proficient businesswoman, and in the end, retired to raise a family.

EARLY LIFE

Clara Pauline Boughton was born on January 28, 1917, in Brownsville, Texas, to Walter M. Boughton and Catherine Lieb. Her father was a fire chief. The family lived in Meridian, Mississippi for a time after Clara’s birth, and her brother Edwin was born there in 1922. The family moved to Memphis, Tennessee, in the mid 1920s. Clara attended school there but was very much involved with her Texan side of the family and often visited them in Corpus Christi.

Clara was a natural-born beauty, and from the time she was a high school student, she attended beauty pageants and won titles like “Miss Southwest Texas” and so on. After graduating from high school, she decided to make a career out of it and entered showbiz.

After winning a trip to Hollywood through Corpus Christi’s Splash Day beauty contest in 1935, Clara’s acting career started. Joking! When she came to Hollywood for the first time in 1935, Clara at least she hoped something would happen. She would get an acting gig, she would dance, she would do something. But, alas, it was not meant to be. She spent 12 months knocking vainly at the studio gates and then, with her bank account drained and her courage a bit shattered, finally give up and took a job selling tickets for a Hollywood theater.  She had the usual luck of beauty contest winners and eventually got a job as usherette at the Grauman’s Egyptian theater. At some point, pursuing her regular duties, Marjorie ushered a man to a seat. It was director John Farrow. He decided Marjorie was a screen type and had plans to make her a proper actress. Unfortunately, as with many such cases, nothing happened, and Marjorie was back to square one.

Deciding to try other options a working girl had in that time and age (very, very limited!), she became a traveling saleslady. After noticing that the hosiery business was blooming, she started selling men’s shirts and socks. Soon, she started a profitable business in Hollywood as representative for an Eastern shirt and hosiery mill. Business was good and she hired a salesman. It kept on being good and she hired some more. Now she has 40 salesmen and they support her in luxury while she haunts the casting offices. She did some bit work in movies.

Marjorie, by then wealthy enough to work for and not for money, got a job in the Earl Carroll Theater as one of his beauties. She did some touring with the Theater going to New York in 1939, and then returned to Hollywood and finally started her tenure as a working actress.

CAREER:

Marjorie is most famous today for appearing in a string of Three stooges shorts – Violent Is the Word for CurlyDutiful But Dumb Matri-Phony Three Smart Saps . She also appeared in a string of other comedy shorts – The Nightshirt BanditMutiny on the BodyThe Sap Takes a Wrap and so on.For more information about this, visit Lord heath’s link about Marjorie Deanne.

As far as full length movies go, Marjorie made her debut in 1938 in The Goldwyn Follies, followed closely by Freshman Year and Girls’ School. All three movies are alike as they are the typical fluffy 1930s movie with no real depth but some degree of fun – While the Follies are a plot-less but entertaining musical,  Freshman Year a Dixie Dunbar college musical, and Girls’ School a juvenile story about high school girls and their love squabbles, with the radiant Anne Shirley in the leading role. Marjorie’s only 1939 role in a full length movie was A Chump at Oxford, the witty Laurel/Hardy movie. Marjorie then took a great from movie acting to tour with the Earl Carroll Theater.

She returned to movies in 1941, and that ended up as Marjorie’s most productive year – she appeared in no more, no less than 10 movies! let’s see her full length ones. I’ll Wait for You is a formulaic movie about a bad guy reforms after meeting hard-working, decent folks, only slightly elevated by the endearing performances by Marsha Hunt and Virginia Wiedler (this cannot be said of the leading man, Robert Sterling, performance – he doesn’t have enough gravitas to truly play a hard-core gangster). Then came West Point Widow, another forgotten Anne Shirley comedy, and then Kiss the Boys Goodbye, an interesting musical  based on a play by Clare Boothe Luce which was inspired by the search for an actress to play Scarlett O’Hara in Gone with the Wind. The original play had to be watered down to the extreme, and it works well as a musical/showcase for Mary Martin. Buy Me That Town was also based on superior material – a Damon Runyon story about a crook who wants to bankrupt a small town to suit his own nefarious deeds. The movie is sadly completely forgotten today, but except a solid plot it boasts a good cast (Loyd Nolan and Albert Dekker). Next was Niagara Falls, a completely silly comedy with the Jean Harlow wannabe Marjorie Woodward. The movie is watchable only if you try really hard not to take it seriously in any capacity. Equally dismaying was New York Town Design for Scandal, another Mary Martin semi musical, semi comedy.  

In 1942, Marjorie appeared in only two full length movies: Tarzan’s New York Adventure and the patriotic Star Spangled Rhythm. I don’t think anything needs to be written about the famous Johnny Weismuller Tarzan movies – it’s something that you find either charming and educational and slightly idiotic. I guess Maureen O’Sullavan saves the day for both camps, as her warmth endears her to virtually anyone who ever watched the movies.

In 1943 Marjorie actually appeared in some solid movies, although not all of them were on the same level of quality by  along shot. The first was The Crystal Ball, a lightweight but funny Paulette Goddard/Ray Milland comedy. They were a pretty good combo, and have superb chemistry together, so it’s worth watching just for them. Next was Salute for Three a completely forgotten musical, and a Jimmy Rogers western comedy, Prairie Chickens, which isn’t half as bad as you would think it was. The bets movie of the year was For Whom the Bell Tolls, no more information necessary! So watch it! Marjorie was then in Let’s Face It, a watered and dumbed-down version of a saucy stage play, worth watching if only for Bob Hope and Betty Hutton. Equally sub par was Riding High, a Bob Hope cast off that went to Dick Powell – and he just isn’t the type to make it work. the plot is silly enough: A train arrives in the west and deposits a showgirl (Dorothy Lamour), an eligible bachelor (Dick Powell), and a swindler (Victor Moore), and the fun starts there. Dick and his leading lady, Dorothy Lamour, are completely overshadowed by a funny supporting cast (Victor Moore, Cass Daley and so on).  Luckily, Marjorie then appeared in True to Life, an above average comedy. The plot, while nothing special (A writer for a radio program needs some fresh ideas to juice up his show. For inspiration, he rents a room with a typical American family and begins to secretly write about their true life) lends itself nicely to the crazy family cliché that works because of a hilarious supporting cast. Dick Powell, Franchot Tone and Mary Martin are also top form, and do this kind of comedy with their eyes closed.

And that was it from Marjorie!

PRIVATE LIFE:

Marjorie dated actor Alexander D’Arcy at one point, and was on friendly terms with Frank Feltrop, tennis pro, and actress Movita, who later married Marlon Brando. Not much else was written about her private life.

Then, on March 19, 1944, Marjorie flew to New Orleans, Louisiana, to get married to Capt. Abraham Albert Manuck, attached to the Lifegarde General hospital dental staff there. It was noted that she expected to “settle down to a career of marriage with the captain.”

Abraham Albert Manuck was born on October 4, 1900, in Ehaterinslov, Russian Empire, to Benjamin Manuck and Rachael Sperans. he immigrated to the US, where he finished dentistry school and started to work as a dentist. He moved to San Francisco, and easily merged with the local high society. Manuck was married twice before – to Alba Baglione, whom he divorced in 1936 in Reno, Nevada, and Alla Manuck, whom he divorced in 1941 in Reno, Nevada. (guess Reno was his go-to destination for divorces).

Even before the marriage, Marjorie said to the papers she would not return to Hollywood and indeed cut her ties with the dream factory most thoroughly. She had obtained her release from the Actors guild and from Paramount studio, buying out her contract. Indeed, she would never return to Tinsel town and never made a movie again, opting for family life.

After the war ended, the family moved to Santa Clara, California. The couple had three children: Richard Albert, born on October 8, 1945, Stephen Bennett, born on December 3, 1948, and Denise Cheryl, born on June 19, 1951. All of the children were born in San Francisco. The Manucks enjoyed a happy family life in Santa Clara, and were active members of the local society, doing charity work and being quite civic-minded.

Clara Manuck died on May 21, 1994, in Redwood City, California.

Her widower Abraham Manuck died in 2000, aged almost 100.

 

Adele Longmire

It’s rare that I profile a true, dyed-in-the-wool actress on this blog – most of the girls I profiled before were starlets that didn’t have that much acting chutzpah. Adele Longmire is different. She is as obscure as they come today, but decidedly not a starlet – she was an unique talented, intensive girl whose rep reached Hollywood long before anyone even saw her in person (something not seen everyday, for sure!). She wanted top be a theater actress, and this is probably the main reason she never made it as a movie actress, but there are still several performances of her that we can enjoy today.

EARLY LIFE

Adele “Billie” Longmire was born on June 27, 1918, in New Orleans, Louisiana, to John and Germaine Longmire. She was the oldest of four children, and the only daughter. He younger brothers were John, Charles and Robert. Her father was a clerk in the financial sector. The family lived with their maternal grandparents, Albert and Corinne Rocquet. Albert was a physician, and came from a prestigious, old money family, thus Adele was considered something akin to Southern royalty.

Adele grew up in New Orleans, and was inspired to become a serious actress from her teenage days. She attended the local St. Joseph Academy Convent, and later recounted about the moment she decided to become an actress:

 “It was so strong It worried me.I really thought I must be headed straight for hell. I simply had to a peak to somebody about It. So finally I screwed up my courage and told one of the sisters. I expected to be scolded for having such wicked ambitions. But instead the was sweet about it. You can’t Imagine how surprised I was. She actually encouraged the idea and helped me In all sorts of ways. I wish I could tell you her name, but I’m afraid she might not like it.”

In 1936, after graduating from the Convent, she started to work as a stenographer and joined the local Little Theater, and started to do amateur theatrics. Her plan was to save enough money to go to New York and become a Broadway alumna.

In early 1937, while George Cukor was scouting all around the US and looking for a girl to play Scarlett O’Hara, and he heard about Adele. As a member of the esteemed New Orleans Little Theater (Petit Theater de Vieux Carre), she was known for her ferocity and prodigious talent, and was nicknamed Creole Girl. She refused to come to Hollywood, no really interested in a movie career, but opting to become a stage star. Cukor went to New Orleans and met Adele, and by all accounts was completely enchanted with her. He didn’t think she was made of the right material to play Scarlett, but that she was an unusual intensity and that Selznick should sign her. He tried – Adele refused. Warner Bros and MGM both chimed in, trying to find out who the girl with the hype was, but she turned them down smoothly. She did not want to be tangled up in a long term contract, still enamored of the stage and wishing to achieve artistic brilliance in that regard.

Adele  first attracted the notice of insiders on Broadway when the American Theater Council, formed In 1937 precisely to help talented young people in the theater, gave her a chance to show what she could do in a single brief scene from “Bury the Dead,” and she passed with flying colors. As a result of this showing, two producers interviewed her for parts in two projected productions. Neither production reached Broadway, but indirectly the interest she had aroused gained her a small role in “Ruy Bias” at Central City, Col., under the direction of Robert Edmond Jones. This is where she was noticed by famed playwright Elmer Rice.  He engaged her for the role of Anne Rutledge in Robert E. Sherwood’sAbe Lincoln in Illinois.” Thus Adele joined the Playwrights Company and was on her way to theatrical success. In 1940,. she was on the stage with Old Acquaintance. In 1941, she was nabbed by Hollywood to appear in the movie version – this failed but she stayed in Hollywood at least for some time.

CAREER

Adele had a solid if too short career on Broadway and more extensive one in summer stock, but a slim career in movies. She only appeared in six movies, and the leading role in one, was uncredited in two and was a supporting player in three. While not the worst track record around here (most starlets I profile never made a credited appearance), this seems like such a letdown for an obviously unique, very talented actress. Ah, that’s life!

Adele’s sole leading role was in Bullet Scars. Imagine Adele, a  prodigiously talented,known far and wide, theater reared and Broadway-made actress, who was a contender for the Scarlett O’Hara role and revered by such prestigious directors as George Cukor, finally comes to Hollywood and they put her in a small budget, B class film noir. WHAT? Anyway, it’s a solid but uninspired, seen it hundred times before gangster film. Regis Toomey plays a doctor who is conned into helping treat a bank robber – Adele plays his nurse. The performances are good and overall it’s a decent effort, but nothing to shout about. Adele was quickly forgotten, as was the movie.

Adele returned to Hollywood only in 1952, with People Will Talk, a truly intelligent well made Cray Grant movie. Most of Cary’s movies were screwball or sophisticated comedies with little to recommend them on a higher level – but this one is an exception, as a socially conscious, highly cerebral movie hiding more than it meets the eye. Adele only played an uncredited role, alas, and was not remembered for it. She had small parts in two additional movies in 1952: With a Song in My Heart , a quality biopic about Jane Forman, played by the indomitable Susan Hayward, and Something for the Birds, a movie that combines elegant comedy with a strong ecological flavor – can you believe that Hollywood sometimes did these movies? Patricia Neal, an absolute favorite of mine, plays a conservationist who will do anything to preserve the natural habitat of an endangered California condor, including crash the gates of Washington DC, and Vic Mature is the oily lobbyist fighting against her. Add Edmund Gwenn to the mix, and you have a winner!

Adele had a more meaty role in the gritty, serious The Turning Point, film noir about a government committee investigating mob activity and corruption in a fictional city. Great cast – William Holden, Edmond O’Brien, Alexis smith and Ed Begley makes this an above average fare, despite the formulaic story, and the director, William Dieterle, is more than capable of making a fine movie and it shows, he knows what he’s doing.

Adele’s Hollywood sojourn ended in 1953 with Battle Circus. It’s a June Allyson/Humphrey Bogart pairing, and what a strange pairing it is! I didn’t particularly like the movie, and I dislike June in general, so I wouldn’t recommend it. It’s degrading to women in general, since all that Allyson does in the movie (which is not a straight comedy, but rather a drama with comedic elements) is run after Bogart, and Bogart himself is absolutely sleepwalking through the role.

Adele did some TV work on the side from 1948 until 1954, and then left the industry that year.

PRIVATE LIFE

When she first hit the papers in 1940, Adele gave advice for your girls in a form of an essay:

There is no better time in her life for a young girl to practice good sportsmanship, that Invaluable attribute to charm, than during high school and college years. Even if her character when she was very little is something her best irritants would rather forget, she can take herself in hand, while in her ‘teens, and really learn to be a good sport which simply means being unselfish. Once that is accomplished her chances of growing up to be a kindly understanding person with fine manners are very good indeed. Get into the habit of seeing others’ viewpoints, of really listening when they speak, of forgetting their shortcomings and magnifying their good points. Make it your business to know all types of people. If you try to forget yourself and whether you feel superior or inferior, you will make friends wherever you go. Among young girls there is a tendency to carry the idea of self-expression much too far. Less concentration on one’s self and less frequent use of the personal pronoun make for kindness, the very fundamental of charm. And, speaking of carrying self-expression too far, I think it’s a mistake to talk too much about yourself the first few weeks you are in a new community, in a girls’ club or a dormitory. Listen to others for a while, saving something of yourself for later on. Don’t tell your entire history and go into detail about every emotion you ever have experienced until you have had time to look around and find your own level among people whose friendship you will want to keep. There’s nothing more unpleasant than realizing that a person whom you have grown to dislike knows too many of your innermost secrets and all because you told them yourself. It is better to be shy and retiring, letting yourself go quite unnoticed for weeks, even at the risk of being homesick and lonely, than to be a flash-in-the-pan person-liked, noticed and talked about for a short time, then pushed back into oblivion all too quickly.

Adele had even written a comedy, “Fun to Be Fooled.”, but it was never staged. After trying Hollywood in 1941 and 1942, In 1943, Adele returned to New York and Broadway, and got the leading role in Nine Girls, which ran for literary 5 performances.

Adele married Robert Harris in Alameda County in 1941, and divorced him before 1945. I could find no additional information about Harris nor their marriage. While appearing in “Old Acquaintance” Adele dated actor Bill Hawkins, then actor/director Howard de Silva, and then Carol Bruce’s manager. During WW2, she was “a heartillery barrage” with Edmund O’Brien, then a Private fresh off his success with Winged Victory.

WW2 was raging by 1944, and Adele decided to do something about it. Her last Broadway appearance before embarking on War relief work was “Outrageous For tune.”. And then she joined the Foxhole Circuit. She did a six months’ tour of North Africa and Italy, playing an important role in the Camp Shows version of Ruth Gordon’s hit play, “Over 21.” Here is a funny anecdote from that time:

A YOUNG sailor was asleep in the hold of a sub-chaser at Salerno. His sailor dreams were interrupted by a loud thud. He opened his eyes, turned on his flashlight and found a beautiful young girl. “May I use your bunk?” she asked. . . . “Of course,” said the sailor, trying to believe that he was awake. … He wasn’t dreaming. The girl was Adele Longmire, the Broadway actress touring in the U.S.O. company of “Over 21.” She had been invited to inspect the blacked-out sub-chaser’s chart room, tripped and fell 12 feet into the hold. She needed the bunk to recuperate from the shock and concussion.

After she returned to the US in early 1945, Adele continued her relief work by giving lectures.

All over the US, from her first-hand experiences at the front, Adele used to recount how USO-Camp Shows operate on every battlefront of this global warp and how it felt to give American servicemen entertainment at the front; how a USO Camp Shows troupe bridges the gap between home and foreign lands. Here is a short example of her stories:

-Actress Adele Longmire’s advice regarding ways of helping returning service men is to “just leave them alone.” Miss Longmire, who gave up the stage temporarily to go with the USO camp shows, told the Rotary club that soldiers “don’t want a lot of well-meaning sympathy and suggestions when they return.” “They’ll have a difficult enough time to readjust themselves,” she said, “and all they want is to make the transition on their own.” Four British paratroopers who are touring Utah industrial centers were’in the audience.

After returning to acting, Adele married actor Arthur Franz in 1946.

A leap year baby, Arthur Franz was born on February 29, 1920, in Perth, New Yersey. Wikipedia stated that, during World War II, Franz served as a B-24 Liberator navigator in the United States Army Air Forces. He was shot down over Romania and incarcerated in a POW camp, from which he later escaped.

Before he became an actor on Broadway, and had minor TV roles, and worked in a “one-arm” lunch room to make a living during his first years in Hollywood. He worked there whenever parts were scarce, and later remembered it with real affection. After several successful stage roles in the United States and Australia, Franz was awarded a long-term contract by Columbia Pictures.

Adele and Arthur had two daughters: Melissa Merrill, born on June 22, 1949 and Gina, born on May 30, 1953. It seems that Adele, at least for publicity purposed, had a pretty harmonic home life. Her husband was happy to call himself a handy man around the house, and was a great help with the care of their daughters. he also did some minor cooking – he could whip up pretty passable spaghetti, hamburgers and strawberry shortcake. It is funny how we should applaud a man if he decided to take care of his child. WTF! it’s your child, of course you have to take care of it and not ask anyone to pat your back for doing it. This is still the prevalent mindset in society even today – that if a man tales care of a child, it’s just an added bonus. Argh!

The Franzes divorced in about 1962. Adele didn’t remarry. Arthur remarried in 1964 to Doreen Lang. Doreen died in 1999, and Arthur remarried to Sharon Keyser in February 2006, and died the same year on June 16, in Oxnard, California.

For many years Adele was a writers’ agent in Beverly Hills with AshleySteiner and later in New York with IFA and ICM, as well as an Administrator of the Television Academy for three terms. She was also a Story Executive for Universal Pictures in New York and Daytime Editor for producer Tony Converse.

Adele falls from the radar after the early 1960s. She moved to New Mexico, and probably lived there in quiet retirement.

Adele Longmire Franz died on January 15, 2008, in Taos, New Mexico.

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.

Joan Thorsen

A very beautiful woman and a successful photo model before she came to Hollywood, Joan Thorsen was given a solid contract not on account to her thespian skills, but rather her looks. Like any other girl in the long line of models turn actresses, she did some minor work and left the industry. let’s learn more about her!

EARLY LIFE

Joan Marie Hoff was born in 1918 in Auburn, Indiana, to John Hoff and Lottie Wolford. She was their second daughter – her older sister, Mary J., was born in 1911. Her father owned an auto repair shop. The family lived with Lottie’s mother, Clara M. Wolford.

Joan grew up in Auburn, where she was a graduate of the Auburn high school. She then attended Northwestern university at Evanston, Illinois, for three years, where she was a member of the Kappa Kappa Gamma sorority.

As an interesting trivia, we can note that the Freshmen class at Northwestern University in 1938 certainly contributed its quota to the entertainment world. Living in the same dormitory were: our Joan, Anne Lee, later a minor Hollywood actress; singer Julie Conway (she was later vocalist with Kay Kyser), and Jennifer Jones. Girls were registered under their real names. All four have adopted different ones for professional use.

She has achieved fame as a model in New York City and her pictures appeared in many popular magazines. This is how she landed in Hollywood in 1942., primarily to make tests for the famous beauty lover, Howard Hughes, and she stayed there, hoping for a career.

CAREER

Joan made her debut in The Heat’s On in a not completely insignificant role – too bad the movie is a really, really insipid and bland Mae West vehicle – unfortunately, what worked in 1932, when Mae was a Hollywood leading light, was not quite what worked in 1943, and the movie did nothing for Joan’s career.

Joan was uncredited in A Guy Named Joe, a touching, high quality, touching WW 2 movie with an interesting duo of actors, Irene Dunne and Spencer Tracy. 

Despite her obscurity, Joan had the honor of being a (albeit minor) part of the wonderful MGM musicals of the 1940s and 1950s – as far as the genre goes, you couldn’t do much better than that! She was in Two Girls and a Sailor Week-End at the WaldorfThe Harvey Girls and The Hoodlum Saint. I’m not a particularly big fan of musicals and rarely watch them, but these movies make for fine viewing – a great Sunday evening viewing!

In 1945, Joan appeared in the slightly more serious Adventure, the first movie Clark Gable made after his return from war. He was paired with Greer Garson, and actress I absolutely adore, but sadly, it’s a polarizing film, parts lackluster parts pure genius. Much deeper than the plot suggests, it does tackle some quite profound psychological issued, especially for soldiers returning from war, but, like most ambitious movies, it gets lost in too many directions and fails to capture its own brand of charm. Gable and Garson are an interesting couple and an unusual pairing, but they didn’t really click like she did with Walter Pidgeon or he did with Claudette Colbert. All in all, worth a viewing, but nothing to write home about.

Joan’s last movie was Undercurrent, one of the woman in peril movies made popular by Gaslight. It’s a good, edge of your seat film, headed by Katherine Hepburn, Robert Taylor and Bob Mitchum. Yep, imagine, Kate and Bob int he same movie!

And that was it from Joan!

PRIVATE LIFE

During her college days at Northwestern University, Joan met and married the boy-next-door, Robert Edward Thorsen, in 1940.

Tragedy struck when Joan gave birth to a daughter on September 13, 1941, but the girl died the same day. Not long after, her husband was drafted. Lonesome and trying to ease the pain, Joan took up acting and due to her beauty, she was noticed by Hollywood. After being tested by Howard Hughes, she was signed to a seven-year Paramount contract in 1942. She was to receive 1350$ a week during the life of the contract (which is quite  a lot and left me quite surprised!).

Despite her new job, Joan tried to keep her marriage in top shape, and often visited her husband, then Ensign Thorsen, who was stationed at Cleveland in 1942 and 1943.

Joan did her part for the war effort, as this article can attest:

Joan Thorsen visited the Army camp near Las Vegas, and while there they showed the picture, “A Guy Named Joe,” in which she has just a bit. When she flashed on the screen, the film stopped, and the soldiers made her get on – the stage for a speech.

in her spare time, Joan took Spanish lessons in a Beverly Hills High school, along with fellow contractees Marc Cramer, Bob Sully and Bonnie Edwards.

However, the strain of being apart got to Joan, and by mid 1943, she started to date eligible Hollywood bachelors, like George Raft and Sherman Fairchild. Raft was even semi serious with her, dating her for a few months. Things didn’t look good for the Thorsen’s marriage, and they tried for a reconciliation in November 1943 while Robert was on a furlough, but it didn’t yell and Joan decided to declare game over.

In late 1943, Joan moved temporarily to the Last frontier in Las Vegas, in order to win a divorce from her husband. It was there that she learned she was pregnant, but hardly changed her mind – the divorce was still on. There she met writer John Gunther, who was also there trying to divorce his spouse, and the two got romantically involved. After her divorce came trough, she had started to show, it was time to go back to the safest place – her family home in Auburn.

Joan arrived in Auburn in May to spend the summer months with her parents, John and Lottie. Her baby was expected in August and she hoped to return to her motion picture work the last part of September. After a tranquil summer, that she spend in part corresponding with Gunther, her daughter, Pamela Christina, weighing seven pounds and twelve ounces was born on August 9, 1944. Joan still expected to return to Hollywood with her daughter in the near future to resume her work in motion pictures. First she went to New York in September 1944, and spent some time with Gunther. She returned to LA afterwards, and Gunther gave  a magnificent farewell party for her.

Joan’s mother followed her to LA to take care of Pamela. She tried to resume her career, and still dated Gunther, just long distance. She was also feted by Fefe Ferry, the famous impresario, who was also her manager. Another swain was famous humorist Robert “Bob” Benchley. Joan used to take her mother as a chaperone on her dates with Benchley, to the delight of gossip columnists 🙂 Allegedly, when Joan, after being invited to dine by Robert, asked if he would mind her mother accompanying them. “Mind?” he said. “I should say not. I am flattered!”

However, Gunther was the number one man in her life. In January 1945, her former husband came to see their daughter for the first time, but no reconciliation happened. She and Gunther dated for the better part of 1945- Then, in November 1945, Joan met a man who swept her of her feet and suddenly, Gunther was out. That man was Vincent Fotre, the former beau of Ann Miller. Things progressed pretty quickly, and the wed in December 1945.

Here is an article about Joan’s second marriage:

The marriage of Mrs. Joan Thorsen, daughter of Mr. and Mrs. John Hoff of 123 North Indiana avenue, Auburn, and Vincent Fotre of Beverly Hills, Calif., a millionaire shoe manufacturer, is being revealed. The wedding, kept secret, was solemnized on Dec. 21, 1945. The bride is a former well-known Auburn girl.  For the past four years she has been a starlet under contract to the Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer movie studios in Hollywood. She has appeared in a number of pictures. Mrs. Thorsen and Mr. Fotre were married near Las Vegas, Nev. The former was in a group of movie starlets who went to Las Vegas to pose in a series of six pictures for Liberty magazine which were used in connection with an article “From Sun to Snow in 60 Minutes.” Mrs. Thorsen was in one individual picture in a ski outfit and appeared with two other actresses in ski clothes, ski jackets and sweaters. Mr. Fotre flew from California for the wedding ceremony. On March 22 of this year she represented the MGM studio in a style show, “East Meets West,” at the Ambassador hotel in Beverly Hills, sponsored by the Theta Sigma Phi sorority. She modeled a Grecian gold green evening gown styled by Irene, the studio’s famous designer. Pictures- were taken of the style show in technicolor and will be shown throughout the country. The former Mrs. Thorsen and her daughter, Pamela, are now residing in the home of her husband in Beverly Hills. Mr. Fotre is the father of two children by a previous marriage. They are planning to erect a new home in Beverly Hills as soon as building restrictions are lifted.

Vincent Valentine Fotre was born on February 14, 1901, in Chicago, Illinois, to Jacob and Catherine Fotre. He was married once before, to Kathryn Guinnee. They had a son, Vincent G, born on May 10, 1924, and a duaghter, Patricia Anne, born on May 11, 1927. They divorced in the 1930s, and Fotre dated a few of the Hollywood starlets prior to the marriage.

Their son Terry Vincent was born on May 17, 1948. Their daughter Janet Christina was born on April 18, 1954. They lived in California and were socially active, but sadly divorced in the late 1950s.
Fotre remarried to starlet M’Liss McClure in 1966, and they divorced in 1970. Fotre died on December 20, 1975. 
Joan married James S. Kemper on December 29, 1960, in the Bel Air Country club. It was a third marriage for both of them.
James Kemper was born on April 14, 1914, in, to James S. Kemper and Mildred Hooper. His father was at one time the US Ambassador to Brazil. Kemper was a studied at Yale and worked as a lawyer all around the States before taking over his father’s company. He joined the Kemper organization in 1960. He was named chairman and chief executive officer in 1969 and remained in that position until his retirement in 1979. During Mr. Kemper’s tenure, the Kemper organization expanded in both the insurance and financial services marketplaces.
Kemper was nationally known for his work in the field of alcoholism. As a former alcoholic who went clean, he had plenty of experience and a lot of good will to help others. President Carter appointed him to the National Commission on Alcoholism and Other Related Problems. President Reagan named him to the Presidential Commission on Drunk Driving, and he was chairman of the board of trustees of its successor committee, the National Commission Against Drunk Driving. He served as a member of the Department of Health, Education and Welfare’s Interagency Committee on Federal Activities for Alcohol and Alcoholism. He was also a director of the National Council on Alcoholism.

Kemper was the father of five children:  James, Linda, Stephen, Judith and Robert. The Kempers lived in Golf, Illinois, and at a vacation home in Pauma Valley, California. They were both passionate about golf and very much active in civic affairs.

Kemper died on July 2, 2002. Joan continued to live in Illinois after his death, but I could not find any information as to what happened to her afterwards.

As always, I hope she had a good life!

 

Carmen Clifford

Carmen Clifford was a trained pianist and dancer of some repute when she entered the Hollywood arena in 1942 – but for unknown reasons, she never made it past the uncredited roster. Later she became a songwriter and had an extensive TV career, so let’s hear more about her.

EARLY LIFE

Carmen Mary Scanzo was born on September 19, 1921, in Pittsfield, Massachusetts, to Patrick Scanzo and Inez Bascherie, both of Italian descent. Her mother was a hairdresser. She lived with her mother and grandfather for a time, so I wonder just what the exact state of her parents marriage was? Separated or divorced or maybe her dad was away traveling a great deal of time?

Anyway, Carmen was a musical prodigy, and took lessons in pianoforte, playing it daily from an early age. She also helped her mother in a beauty salon as a mini hairdresser and manicurist.

Pretty soon, Carmen took up dancing and excelled in it. She completed a three-year course at the prestigious local Roma Serra Studio. Carmen also studied tap dancing with Ray Hart. Carmen’s first dancing show was held at the home of her aunt. Mrs. Leon William, under the direction of Roma Serra. It was clear to all that Carmen was a girl with loads of talent who is going places in the near future.

In 1937, when she was just 16 years old, Carmen had been chosen as one of 15 girls to appear in a ballet ensemble at the International Casino, New York, to be staged by Chester Hale. She moved to New York and studied under Hale for some time afterwards. After living in New York for about five years, she moved to Los Angeles in 1942 to try her hand at movies. She managed to get work with a studio and started as a chorus girl.

While in Hollywood, Carmen became Miss Cheescake of 1944, but had little luck in the business arena. Carmen became the protegé of another Massachusetts girl – Eleanor Powell, who hailed from Springfield. Carmen was in the dancing chorus of one of Eleanor’s pictures, and the star became interested in Carmen, who was soon taken u n d e r the Powell wing, and is learning the best In dance tricks. And here we go!

CAREER

Sadly, we are pretty thin here. Carmen obviously danced as anameless chorus girl in movies from 1942 onwards, but imdb mentions The Blue Dahlia as her first movie – qhauza, you could do much worse for a firts movie, that’s for sure! Then we skip to 1949, and Carmen was in Always Leave Them Laughing, a mdiocre Milton berle Virginia Mayo pairing. Moving oN! 

Then came Call Me Mister, one of the lesser Betty Grable movies, with Dan Dailey playing her love interest. The story, a “lets stage a show,” is slim at best, and the only good thing the movie had to it are Betty and Dan – but even they can’t make this a classic! Carmen appeared in a bit better fare with Royal Wedding. While not a massive classical musical, it’s a pleasant, funny and at times funnily romantic fare with Fred Astaire and Jane Powell at their top form, plus Peter Lawford, seductive as always!

By 1951, Carmen was delegated to B class musicals, like The Strip, with Mickey Rooney (past his prime and playing a drummer who gets mixed up in some nasty company) and the light-on-her-feet Sally Forrest. The same year Carmen appeared in a non musical movie, the thriller The Man with a Cloak. This movie is one of many hidden gems that nobody ever heard of, but that have lots to offer. While not a top-tier movie, it’s well written, with great casting (Barbara Stanwyck and Joseph Cotten), good music and solidly directed. There is nothing much that detracts from its good qualities, but it just didn’t make it as a classic and remained buried and forgotten.

Carmen’s last movie appearance was There’s No Business Like Show Business. She went into TV but I could not find any credits. That’s it!

PRIVATE LIFE

While living in New York, prior to 1942, Carmen married a certain Robert C. Clifford, whose name she took as her nom de guerre. Unfortunately, I have no information about the man, except that they divorce prior to 1945.

Carmen’s second husband was Jack Passin, and they married on December 13, 1945, in Tijuana, Mexico. It was Jack’s third marriage. Since they married on December 13 and Carmen was superstitious, they did a retake assisted by Judge Griffith in Beverly Hills. Jack Passin was born on April 30, 1912, in Chicago, Illinois, to Morris J. Passin and Saide Hansberg. Little is known about him – he moved to Los Angeles in the 1930s for work in the movie industry, becoming an assistant director. He married Hazel Lee on April 19, 1942, and they divorced in cca 1944.

Their son Steve Michael was born on March 12, 1946. They lived in Los Angeles, both worked in movies, and often hosted Carmen’s mother, Inez. Sadly, the marriage did not work out, and they divorced after 1950. Jack later married Virginia Boyle in 1959. He died on October 29, 1983.

Carmen had a solid musical education, and in addition to her movie career, had a minor career as a lyricist. She collaborated with Nat King Cole in the 1950s, as this article can attest:

A former Pittsfield resident, Mrs. Carmen Scanzo Clifford, has collaborated with Nat (King) Cole to write a new song, “Calypso Blues,” which will be on sale here in a few days. Mrs. Clifford composed the lyrics, and Cole, the music. About a year ago. Mrs. Clifford wrote the lyrics for “Nina Nana.” with Cole.

As Carmen’s movie career hit the skids very early, it was clear she needed an alternative option to stay afloat financially. In a bid to stay an active actress despite her lack of success, Carmen switched to TV but sadly we have none of her TV credits on IMDB. Could be she used a different name, but no information is given. She explained her choice to work on TV to an interviewer:

CARMEN CLIFFORD … worked on Bob Hope specs screens she reported. During a telecast some shows are cut as much as 15 or 20 minutes. Some telecasts aren’t cut at all before going on the air. It all happens while the viewers are at home watching. In addition to working in TV Miss Clifford has worked in all the studios. However, she points out that studio work Is not booming like TV. “TV is more lucrative at the moment. The studios are feeling the recession. In addition, many of the musical specs are moving from New York to Hollywood where they can get top names. Naturally, this calls for more work,” she says. While discussing the current television topics, Miss Clifford says: … on Pay-TV: “Everyone I’ve talked to in Hollywood is in favor of Pay-TV In the event such an innovation is launched, TV would have real money for the big spectaculars. With Pay-TV viewers would see high grade, top entertainment. I just wonder how much longer the viewing audience will put up with westerns and quiz shows.” … on Videotape: “The swing to video is on in Hollywood. By the end of this month and the early part of Sept., I’m sure TV will be taping more and more shows.” … on new shows: “I’m presently working as assistant director to Nick Castle on a Japanese musical which will be presented at the Frontier Hotel, Las Vegas at Christmas. . . . Frank Sinatra is planning six specs for the coming season. . , . Dean Martin’s six shows will be launched throughout the next year.” Look for her. . You’ll be seeing a lot of her.

Carmen talked about the nature of TV work to the local press in Pittsfield in the 1950s:

Next time you tune in one of the musical spectaculars from Hollywood, Calif., take a closer look at the choreography. If you don’t see Carmen Clifford in one of the dances, it will be pretty safe to assume that she helped with the art of planning them. She may have done the dance-in. This means that she learned a dance, for say Dinah Shore, and taught her the steps. Miss Clifford has worked on such shows as: Bob Hope specs, “The Jerry Lewis Show,” “The Gale Storm Show,” “The Dinah Shore Show,” “Red Skelton,” and “The Frank Sinatra Show.” She danced in the “Playhouse 90” Emmy award winner, “The Helen Morgan Story.” “Ordinarily, (we work from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m., seven to ten days to polish dances on larger shows. There are times, however, when we are required to work late at night. Most of the smaller telecasts require three or four days work,” Miss Clifford explains. In preparing for presentation of “The Helen Morgan Story,” the actors rehearsed three weeks and dancers ten days. This “Playhouse 90” production, like most of its dramas, was very well-organized.

Sometime in the mid 1950s, Carmen married her third husband, Alexander Goudovitch. Goudovitch was born on May 30, 1923 in Paris, France of Russian ancestry, the son of Countess Anastasia and Count Basil Goudovitch of Monte Carlo and Nice. He graduated from the Pare Imperial at Monte Carlo. Afterwards he danced at the Ballet Russes, and during WW2 came to the US where he settled in Hollywood and worked as a dancer in the movies.

On January 25, 1945 he married Sharon Randall, glamorous musical comedy singer. The marriage did not last very long – they divorced in 1950, and Sharon later testified her husband stayed away from home at nights and when she asked him where he had been he struck her. When he married Carmen, he was an assistant to the director of the George Gobel Show.

Their marriage lasted for a few years in the 1950s, and they divorced as the decade was coming to a close. Alexander married Ida Mercier in 1962. He died on October 17, 1984.

Carmen married her fourth and last husband: Robert Rapport, on February 2, 1963, in San Francisco. Robert was born on February 9, 1901 in Patterson, New Jersey, making him a bit older than Carmen. He moved to California in the 1920s, got married to Florence Rapport, who worked in the movie industry as a secretary. Robert later managed a theater.

The Rapports marriage was a happy one. After living in California for some time, they moved to Pennsylvania to enjoy their retirement.

Carmen Rapport died on February 15, 1981, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.  

Robert Rapport died on November 22, 1996 in Bucks County, Pennsylvania.

PS: Some good news! This blog has been selected by Feedspot as one of the Top 30 Classic Movie Blogs on the web!! Thank you!! Check out all of these great blogs on the list!

Valmere Barman

Valmere Barman was a California beach blonde who came to Hollywood because she was a looker. Her career, predictably, failed, but her later life was very interesting and to some degree cosmopolitan – she lived in the far east and was a very active woman! Let’s learn more about her!

EARLY LIFE

Valmere Barman was born on December 14, 1922, in Los Angeles, California to Wademar Jacob Barman and Edith Gay Barman. Her older sister, Edith N., was born on May 5, 1918. Her father was a refrigerator engineer.

Valmere’s childhood was pretty uneventful – she grew up in Los Angeles and developed an interest in the performing arts from her teen years. She was the assistant for the Mystical 13 Magician Association when she was 15 and her nickname was “Dolly”. She attended John Marshall High School and after graduation, opted to continue her education and go to college.

I could not find which college Valmere attended, but she was seen by a talent scout who bought her to the attention to Paramount studios – they signed her in 1942 and there she went!

CAREER

Valmere started her career in the low-budget Gene Autry western, Call of the Canyon.Who boy, can’t thing to anything more to say about these movies. Austry isn’t even half bad, so Valmere can even consider herself semi-lucky to star in his western. Happily, she did a bit better for herself in her next feature – Lady of Burlesque. A murder mystery set in a seedy, underworld burlesque house. Despite mixed reviews, this is a solid, entertaining movie with lots to offer, especially if you like burlesque, of course! Babs Stanwaxck is her usual great acting self, and there are plenty of underrated female talent here – Iris Adrian, Gloria Dickson, Stephanie Batchelor… A unique combination of Miss Marple and Gypsy Rose Lee, it’s a definite recommendation!

Like most of Paramount contract players, Valmere appeared in Duffy’s Tavern, a cavalcade of various dancing, singing and vaudeville segments with some very nifty names to feature (Bign Crosby, Betty Hutton, Paulette Goddard, Alan Ladd and so on). Then, Valmere played a schoolgirl in Our Hearts Were Growing Up, a sequel of the better known Our hearts were young and gay. Continuing the adventures of Cornelia Otis Skinner and Emily Kimbrough, it’s a charming but lukewarm romantic comedy, base entirely on the fact that pre 1920s girls were as a naive as smuck in terms of men and sexuality. While people from the 1940s could understand this and actually laugh at it, today it’s a bit sad and even a bit shocking to watch it. But still, Diana Lynn and Gail Russell and are easy on  the eyes and good enough actresses to pull it out. As a bonus we have Brian Donlevy playing a bootlegger who romances the girls. Whauza!

Valmere then appeared in Blue Skies, a well known, classic Bing Crosby/Fred Astaire musical, written by Irving Berlin. Valmere than graces one of Cecil B. DeMille’s epic movie, Unconquered. It’s a story of early America, about the struggle between the colonists and the Indians. Gary Cooper and Paulette Goddard star, and they make a fine couple, looking exquisite together. While the movie is lavish, stupendous and mesmerizing in its sheer scope, it has all the failings of such a production – namely, it’s not accurate historically , the plot is far-fetched and the characterization could be better –  but who cares when it’s so much fun!

In the interim Valmere made a few short movies – Boogie WoogieThe Little Witch, where she played prominent roles. Fittingly, she finished her career with one such a short, Gypsy Holiday.

And that was it from Valmere!

PRIVATE LIFE

One of Valmere Barman’s treasured possessions was a letter from Mrs. Harry Houdini. Since she worked closely with magicians from the time she was a teen, it’s safe to assume Valmere liked the whole hocus pocus industry. Valmere also performed on stage as well on screen, dancing and singing as a member of the Bob Hope Stateside USO tours during World War II.

When Valmere landed in Hollywood, she wasn’t a happy-go-lucky unattached girl looking for swains – she was in a committed relationship with her John Marshall High School sweetheart, Charles Eugene Dickey.

After a long engagement, Valmere and Charles, then a recently discharged marine sergeant, were married by Rev. W. Don Brown on November 6, 1945 at Trinity Episcopal Church. They were attended by seven bridesmaids and seven ushers.

Dickey was born on January 10, 1922 in Illinois, to Charles R. and Marie Heaton Dickey. He had a younger brother, Howard. The family love to Los Angeles, where Charles Sr. worked as a retail paint salesman. Charles grew up in Los Angeles, and after graduating from high school was drafted on February 12, 1942.

I always wonder what happens to couple that date for ages get married and then divorce in a span of one year (or something similar). Relationship fatigue? Anyway, the point of this story is that Valmere and Charles’ marriage didn’t work and they were divorced by 1948. Dickey stayed in California, remarried in the 1950s and died on June 3, 1982.

Valmere was out of the public eye by then, so little was written when she married her second husband, Frank Kasala, on September 1, 1949, in Los Angeles.

Kasala was born on May 5, 1922, to Frank Kasala Sr., whose parents were from Czechoslovakia, and Kathryn Bureker, daughter of German immigrants. His younger sister Barbara Leone was born on August 1, 1924. The elder Frank worked as a clerk. Freshly graduated from high school, Kasala was drafted into the army in 1942 or 1943.

He was a scenario writer before he entered the service and has continued in his profession as much as possible while in the service. Kasala won 3 battle stars for his work in the European theater. During the war, Kasala married Eleanor Canoy (born on July 10, 1923) on June 30, 1944 in her hometown of Marion, Oregon. Eleanor was a Majorette in the American Legion Band. Their daughter Gail Lynne Kasala was born in 1945. Tragically, the girl died just a few months after birth. The Kasala’s marriage never recovered after this, and they divorced in 1946.

Terri remarried twice (second time to to John Yeager) and lived the rest of her life in Oregon – she and her husband die don the same day in 2005.

The Kasalas lived in Los Angeles, Valmere retired from movies and ready for motherhood. Their daughter Valmere Lynn was born on March 4, 1951. Their second daughter, Cathy Gay, was born on May 14, 1953. Their third daughter, Diane L., was born on March 30, 1956. After her daughters grew a bit, Valmere worked as the Dietitian at the Pilgrim School in Los Angeles from 1961 to 1963.

In 1964, the family moved to Japan for work reasons.  The family lived in Japan from 1964 to 1968 and Hong Kong from 1968 to 1975.  In Japan Valmere taught as an elementary teacher at the International School of the Sacred Heart and was a swim team coach for the Yokohama Yacht Club from 1965 to 1968. In Hong Kong she taught as an elementary school teacher and also conducted the school choir at the Hong Kong International School in Repulse Bay. While overseas she loved to race day sailboats and sail for leisure with her family.

They returned to the US in 1975. Now, what exactly happened in the East and then in the US I cannot know, but my own take (so could be purely fiction), based on the information I have found – Frank and Valmere grew apart, their marriage slowly deteriorated, Frank fell in love with a Japanese woman, divorced Valmere and married the lady. The facts: Joe and Valmere divorced in November 1977.

Kasala remarried to Shinako Kasala, they had a son, Craig, and lived in California, where they were both passionate golfers. Shinako sadly died in 2007. Kasala died in 2017.

Valmere returned to California after her divorce. On September 13, 1980, she married Robert C Barnhart.

Robert was born in Johnstown, Pennsylvania in 1920 to Robert C. Barnhart Sr. and Edna Adams Barnhart, Bob went to Valley Forge Military Academy on a trombone scholarship prior to attending the US Naval Academy. Immediately after graduation in 1944, Bob reported to the USS Astoria as a gunnery officer and saw action at Iwo Jima and Okinawa.

After WWII, Bob served int he Navy and won a bronze star during the Vietnam war. Bob completed his 30 year career in the Navy as Chief of Staff in Philadelphia. After his retirement from the Navy, Bob settled in Lake Forest, California, where he worked for General Dynamics, Pomona for 10 years before completely retiring.

Bob married Paula Jeen Gay of Long Beach on March 24, 1945, and they had four children, Bobby, Randy, Annette Colver and Gary. Paula died in 1979.

Bob’s passion was fishing, and he and Dolly would often summer at the family fishing cabin in Pennsylvania. They also volunteered at Saddleback Hospital when not traveling.

Valmere Barman Barnhardt died on February 2, 2012 in Lake Forest, California. Her widower Bob died on December 15, 2012.

Amelita Ward

AmelitaBigOne

Amelita Ward is a vintage classic. A girl too beautiful for her own good, possessing a healthy dose of silliness and probably no small ego, she crashed Hollywood as a unique combination of good looks and a mean Texan accent. For a time it seemed that a bright future was in front of the lady. True, she did her share of slacking, appearing in a string of B movies and  was working steadily for a few years, not a small feat in cut-throat town like Tinsel town, where they can crush you down easily as an egg. However, it was Amelita’s fiery, passionate personality that was her professional undoing – after marrying a man who was ultimately totally unsuitable for her, she retired and never made another movie again. Let’s learn more about this flaming vixen.

EARLY LIFE

Amelita Culli Ward was born on July 17, 1923, in Magnolia, West Virginia, to Claudius Hatifled Ward and Pauline Pownall. Her parents were both college educated and worked as radio entertainers and singers.

Later studio claimed that Amelita was half Indian, half Irish, from Washington, was born in Texas. I don’t know about the half Indian/half Irish part, but Amelita was not born in Texas for sure. Ah, publicity stunts!

The family moved to Forth Worth, Texas, before 1930, for work reasons (her father was a production manager for NBC). They were well off, and employed a maid, Leona Phillips. Amelita grew up in Forth Worth and learned how to ride horses – anyway, she became a proficient horsewoman while still in her teens. The family returned to Fairfax, West Virginia, in the late 1930s, but Amelita returned to Texas frequently and kept up with all of her Forth Worth friends.

Sometime sin the early 1940s, Amelita went to Los Angeles and did a screen test for MGM. She didn’t pass and left her acting dreams flounder for a while. However, fate had other plans for her. She moved to Seattle, Washington, and did some radio work as a singer. In 1942, something happened, and here is a short excerpt from a newspaper article:

Producers Pine and Thomas had been questing for a new feminine star for their production which is being made on location in Texas, When Pine learned about the young lady. He heard she had made a test once for M.G.M. and wired Thomas in Hollywood to take a look. Result wan that Thomas was impressed and communicated enthusiastically with his partner. And so the new career was born. The sponsors of Miss Ward assert she’ll be going places. Paramount, the organization through which they release, is Interested.

And Amelita was off!

CAREER

Amelita started her career on a high note, with a female leading role in Aerial Gunner. Unfortunately, the movie is a mid tier war film, nothing really special. there are fighting scenes, there is a love triangle, you get the picture. This was followed by Clancy Street Boys, an East Side Kids movie. This is the first time Amelita worked with her future husband, Leo Gorcey. The movie is typical of the series – light, funny, with a decent cast.

Amelita Ward in The Falcon in Danger (1943)Amelita finally made a more worthwhile movie – The Sky’s the Limit. While not one of Fred Astaire’s best, like most of his vehicles it’s worth watching and overall it’s an okay movie. Fred plays a Flying Tiger pilot and Joan Leslie, a very likeable actress, playing his leading lady. Amelita then made an appearance in another movie series, this time The Falcon, with The Falcon in Danger. She has a meatier role here than in her previous movies – she is Falcon’s fiancee! As a genius reviewer wrote on imdb, her role in the movie is as it goes:

Plenty of colour is added to the film by the Falcon’s current ‘fiancee’, played by Amelita Ward with an authentic (rather than phoney) Texas accent as a loud and blundering Southern belle who constantly wants to ride her horse but rides the Falcon instead, relentlessly, until at the end he gets rid of her by sending her a false telegram in which her old boy friend asks her to marry him instead

So funny! And notice how he mentions the authentic Texas accent – seems this was Alemita’s selling point in Hollywood. One wonders how much good it did for her.

Then we have 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 makes it work.

AmelitaWard4Amelita appeared in a thin plotted war propaganda movie, Gangway for Tomorrow. Unfortunately, most of these movies ages badly, and outside of WW2 context, have no real artistic merit. Amelita played her second role in the Falcon series in The Falcon and the Co-eds.  She plays one of the 40 girls at an all girls school, but not a mere stand in but rather a girl who actually does something with the plot! This is vintage Falcon – Tom Conway was as charming as his brother, George Sanders, and played Falcon with an astounding ease and fluidity – if nothing else, he should be the reason to watch the movies.

Then came Seven Days Ashore, one hot mess of a movie – the movie officially stars Art Carney and and Wally Brown is supposed to be a straight comedy with the duo in the leads, but in the end more screen time is given to Elaine Sheperd and Gordon Oliver, who play a straight romance movie. Then we have Marcy McGuire, the songstress, who plays like it’s a straight musical. Too much of everything but not in a good way. Forgettable movie in the end…

Amelita continued appearing in B class movies – Gildersleeve’s Ghost was a nice comedy, with the veteran radio entertainer playing the legendary Gildersleeve character. Rough, Tough and Ready is a completely forgotten Victor MacLagen drama. The Jungle Captive is an interesting movie! While it’s campy trash out-and-out, it does hold some rather ubiquitous qualities. The basic plot revolves around Mr. Stendall, played by Otto Kruger, a mad scientist who is trying to revive the dead ape woman, Paula Dupree, from the previous two Universal movies Captive Wild Woman and Jungle Woman. Paula is played by Vicky Lane, more famous for marrying Tom Neal and Pete Cnadoli than for any of her acting achievements.

More low-budget movies – Swingin’ on a Rainbow, a C class musical about a perky Midwestern girl trying to make it big in The Big Apple – seen the plot a thousands of times, but the movie is surprisingly funny and not a bottom of the barrel effort at all. Come Out Fighting is another Mugs McGinnis movies with Leo Grocey in the lead, but no other info is given. Who’s Guilty? is an interesting experiment in movies – it is a murder mystery, and beginning with the second chapter each suspect is trotted out after the credits while the narrator points out incriminating things about him/her. As the reviewer shrewdly notes in the review, it really does look like a movie version of the famous Clue board game, more so than the actually Clue movie that was made in the 1990s. Amelita plays the heroines, and it’s funny that despite all the perilous situations she finds herself in (she almost gets rn over by a car, etc. etc.), she plays looks picture perfect and her hair is weather resistant! Sweet! 

In 1946, Amelita appeared in The Best Years of Our Lives, for sure the best movie on her filmography, just in a small role. Amelita next played a model When a Girl’s Beautiful, a zany but sadly forgotten comedy. Amelita than appeared in the Bowery boys movie Smugglers’ Cove. And then Amelita hit the low-budget westerns rim with Rim of the Canyon. You all know what I think about those movies, but hey, they were bread and butter for many, so what is there to complain? Amelita’s last movie is one of her best – Slattery’s Hurricane, an underrated, minor gem. The main problem – censors. The original draft, written by Herman Wouk, was quite racy for the time, dealing with themes like adultery and drug addiction, but squeaky white Hollywood couldn’t touch that stuff, so most of it was cut out – leading to a lukewarm script at best. Richard Windmark gives a towering performance and sadly both Veronica Lake and Linda Darnell and underused.

That was it from Amelita!

PRIVATE LIFE

It was said for Amelita that she “looked like Hedy Lamarr and talked like Gene Autry”, which is a pretty cool combo as far as pairing Hollywood personalities go.

For a time in 1942, Amelita was in a pretty serious relationship with  Bert Gordon. Gordon appeared throughout the early 40’s in films and on radio as his character “The Mad Russian.” They broke up cca 1943. Here is an excerpt of an article about Amelita during this period:

William Clemens thought to spare Amelita Ward by having her howl offstage just as if being spanked. But Amelita said no. She’s one of 40 lovelies (count ’em, 40) in RKO Radio’s thriller about murder in a girls’ school, “The Falcon and the Coeds.” She said if the Falcon spanked her the moment he caught her rifling a desk in the principal’s office, it would be much more convincing. Do it right out in public, she urged, and she could yowl more convincingly. It would be humiliating, but one must make sacrifices for Art. So that’s the way the scene was played with Tom (The Falcon) Conway laying it on, and Amelita yelling. Director Clemens praised her devotion to Art. But he has things to learn about women. The other 39 lovelies among whom rivalry for the limelight is intense, looked on, biting their nails. Afterwards, Amelita smiled sweetly but the 39 groaned: , “Scene-stealer.” “Ah,” said Amelita. “Try to top that.”

AmelitaWard3Sometime after starring in a Bowery boys movie, Amelita got involved with Leo Gorcey, one of the Bowery boys. Leo was born on June 3, 1917, in New York, to Bernard Gorcey and Josephine Condon, both vaudevillian actors. Bernard started working in theater and film. he pushed and Leo and his brother, David to try out for a small part in the play Dead End. Having just lost his job as a plumber’s apprentice, Leo agreed and thus his acting career started. In 1937, Samuel Goldwyn made the popular play into a movie of the same name and Leo went to Hollywood. Soon he became a household name.

Leo, when he met Amelita, was married to his second wife, Evalene Bankston. He was divorced from Kay Maris, with whom he had a son.

Amelita and Leo’s illicit affair seems to have gone for some time before got a whiff of it. There was a major scandal when Leo fired three shots at detectives that barged into his house without his consent while he was with Amelita (she allegedly jumped out of the window just in time) – his wife hired them to find any proof of infidelity. The whole thing ended up in court and Leo won against the detective agency, getting 35000 $ in the process (the money went straight to his by then ex-wife as a part of the divorce settlement).

The same day that the divorce came through, Leo married Amelita  in Ensenada, Mexico. They remarried in the US a year later. They moved to a 8 acre ranch 30 miles outside Hollywood. Their son Leo Jr. was born on September 1, 1949. Their daughter Jan Lee was born on June 30, 1951.

Unfortunately, the Gorceys marriage was highly dysfunctional and not particularly happy. They fought constantly, and at some point Amelita started to “wander around”. In a cruel stroke of fate, Leo’s dad died in 1955, causing his son to sink into a deep depression and start drinking and popping too many pills. It definitely didn’t help with the already shattered marriage.

AmelitaWard2By late 1955, Leo has had enough. In February, 1956, when he asked for his third divorce, he told the judge Amelita was “rather fickle” and with tears streaming down his cheeks he accused her of misconduct with “her doctor, her dentist, a couple of other gents and a handsome cowboy.” Leo won custody of their two children, Leo, 6, and Jan, 4, but it was reported that he gave Amelita a hefty settlement with a lump sum of $50,000, 750$ a month for child support (although she didn’t have custody), and the farm.

Leo remarried twice, to Brandy Gorcey and Mary Gannon. After years of hard-drinking, he died on  June 2, 1969, just a day before his 52nd birthday.

After their divorce, Amelita moved to Reno, Nevada and there married Sid McClosy on August 10, 1965. The details were sketchy and it seems nobody was sure were they married for real or not.

Sid is an interesting character himself. Sid was born on September 20, 1927 in Greeley, Colorado, to Sidney Allen McSloy Sr. and Bessie Crawford. He grew up in Missoula, Montana. While I have no way to know 100% if this is correct, but a guy with the same name, Sidney Allen Jr., and the same residence in Missoula, Montana (so I guess it is him), was sentenced for 50 years of hard labor in a Montana state penitentiary, for, I quote, “an infamous crime against nature”. I was like, what is that? Is this some period short-code they used for less than pleasant crimes? It seems this was a “code” for, I quote Wikipedia:  identifying forms of sexual behavior not considered natural or decent and are legally punishable offenses. Whoa, who knows what really happened there. He appealed and got out of jail early, and married a girl named Mable. They divorced in 1957. He moves around and worked, like Amelita’s parents, as a radio entertainer.

Sometime in the mid 1980s, they separated and she moved back to West Virginia, seemingly to take care of her widowed mother. Her mother was quite wealthy, and Amelita had power of attorney over her estate and finances. Amelita started spending her mother’s money lavishly, even buying a Pink Cadillac for their mailman. There were several concerned friends who tired to talk some sense into Amelita. Unfortunately, Amelita contracted breast cancer and lost the power of attorney. Her son took over the care of Amelita’s mother.

Amelita Ward McSlosly died on April 26, 1987, in Durante, California or Alexandria, Virginia.

Her widower Sidney Allen McSloy moved to Newport, Virginia and lived with his companion, Thelma Bernice Jackson. He died there on September 15, 2002.

 

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.