Anita Thompson didn’t come to Hollywood because she was an actress, or a dancer, or a model – she came just because she was pretty, wanted to become famous and had monetary support from her parents. Unfortunately, nothing came of it, despite her beauty, but she did meet her husband in Hollywood, married him, and enjoyed a happy family life.
Anita Merle Thompson was born on December 15, 1915, in Dallas, Texas, to Hicks Ellington Thompson and Bessie Merle Cory. She was their only child. Her Texas-born father was an independent oil operator and manager, and the family was well off – they employed a servant when Anita was a little girl.
Anita grew up in Dallas and Galveston, Texas and attended high school there. She sometimes appeared in the society columns, as a beautiful young debutante. Despite her placid, safe life, Anita wanted more, and after graduating from high school, decided to try her luck in Hollywood to become an actress. She came to Hollywood in mid 1933, and started to work as an extra.
It was probable that Anita would have loitered in the extra ranks if not for a publicity gimmick. After being in Hollywood for a few months, with no roles behind her and unlikely to succeed, Anita had almost given up hope and returned home to Texas. Yet, just in the nick of time, 20th Century Fox revealed in the papers that they had found a way to help “unknown” actresses. The procedure was: Three extra girls were singled out to face the cameras In small roles. The three chosen were the ones who topped the field in beauty over a hundred chorines. They were shown in closeups and given a chance to speak a few lines. Anita was one of those girls. Their small parts may lead to greater roles, studio officials said. Of course, this proved to be a false alarm – neither of the girls ever achieved much, but Anita’s career was launched.
Anita started her career in Gold Diggers of 1933, top of the barrel Mervyn LeRoy/Busby Berkeley musical. It has all the right ingredients – a thin but serviceable story about young hopefuls in New York trying to make it in the musical theater, large, lavish and incredibly staged musical numbers, and well plotted but not over the top drama. And the cast! Warren William, Joan Blondell, Aline MacMahon, Dick Powell, Ruby Keeler… Except Ruby, who was a good dancer but dismal actress, all the others are tops!
The rest of Anita’s slim career followed the lavish musical path, and she always played chorines or other dancers. It seems that she was aimed to be seen, not to be heard or indeed to act.
First came Arizona to Broadway, a completely uneven movie about con men conning other con men that starts good but goes south pretty soon, and second came Dancing Lady, actually a pretty decent Joan Crawford musical with the same old Joan story – poor girl makes good. But I love my Franchot Tone, and he’s tops in this one! Anita’s contract went on, but she didnt’ appear in any movies in 1934.
In 1935, she appeared in Redheads on Parade, a completely forgotten musical, with Bing Crosby’s wife Dixie Lee as the leading lady. In 1936, she appeared in King of Burlesque, the funny but not particularly memorable Warner Baxter musical, with Alice Faye as the singing sensation. The second movie was Song and Dance Man, another totally forgotten musical with Claire Trevor in the lead.
Anita’s last movie was High Tension, a straight comedy with no singing or dancing numbers – finally, something that isn’t a musical!! Despite a plot that sounds vaguely interesting (brawling cable layer Steve Reardon, played by Brian Donlevy, doesn’t want to marry girlfriend Edith but he also doesn’t want her to date other men), the movie is a B effort, completely forgotten, and did no one any favors. Anita played a very small role in it anyway – it was clear that her career was on the skids, so going into retirement wasn’t the worst choice she could make.
That’s it from Anita!
Anita had light brown hair (which was bleached during her brief Hollywood sojourn), hazel eyes, was 5 feet 4 inches tall, and weighted 115 lbs.
When she was given a stock contract by Twentieth Century-Fox studios, she was lamented as a cute type, miniature, but perfect. with some of the vivaciousness of a Dorothy Lee or a Lupe Velez. Well, couldn’t say if they were right or nit – but she for sure never had a career to match the ladies mentioned (despite them not being big stars themselves). Interesting fact: when Anita went into Los Angeles court to get. action on her film contract, She was so busy with her work that she didn’t have time to change from her beach suit-slacks attire, and went dressed like that. Her contract wasn’t half bad – calling for a wage of $75, with options up to ‘$1,000 a week.
Anita also gave a beauty hint to the readers:
A “DRY shampoo” twice a week is an effective aid to hair beauty. Massage dry cornmeal thoroughly into the scalp, then brush it out. The treatment will invigorate the scalp give the hair a natural gloss and keep it fluffy.
As for her love life, it was a calm affair. Anita dated James Dunn in March 1934, but it didn’t work and he ultimately married Frances Gifford in 1937.
By late 1934, Anita started to date John Quillan, her manager. In June 1935, the papers noted that Anita went to visit her father Hicks Thompson, a Magnolia employee, at the Navarro Hotel, in Corsicana, Texas. She was accompanied by her mother, Mrs. Hicks Thompson, and Johnny Quillan, then the party went to Galveston. It all seemed completely normal – a starlet visits her parents after not seeing them for some time – but, the papers didn’t mentioning the true reason for her visit – Anita wanted her father to meet her betrothed. After she returned to Los Angeles, she was finally “busted”. How? The papers made her engagement into a semi romantic story about how she was found out:
There is nothing unusual these days in the sight cf a woman knitting in public, but friends of Anita Thompson. Twentieth Century-Fox film actress, became suspicious when they found her at the studio embroidering the initial “Q” on table linens. “How come?” they asked, and Miss Thompson was just smiling enigmatically.
Cute, no? Anyway, Anita married John Quillan on October 8, 1935, in the Los Angeles based Church of the Blessed Sacrament, in a service read by Father Edward Whalen.
John Joseph Quillan was born on June 25, 1906, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, to Joseph Quillan and Sarah Owen, who were both vaudeville performers. Quillan made his stage debut at an early age alongside his parents as well as his siblings in their act titled ‘The Rising Generation’. By the early 1920s the family moved to Los Angeles, where Mack Sennett signed his younger brother Eddie to a contract in 1922. John didn’t particularly like acting, and he appeared in only a dozen movies during his 15 years in Hollywood – he preferred working in the backstage aspects of the business, becoming a manager for bit players. Later became a comedy writer for several radio and television shows of the 1940s and 1950s.
The family lived in Los Angeles and had five children: Barbara Bess, nicknamed Bobbie, born on May 21, 1937, Irene Penelope, born on February 1, 1941, John Joseph, born on July 31, 1945, Edward Francis, born on December 24, 1950, and Joseph F., born on November 27, 1956.
In the mid 1950s, the family moved from Los Angeles to Palm Springs, where John became a succesful real estate broker. They had a big family house with a pond in the background. The husband-wife team also opened a roller staking rink, as this article from 1954 can attest:
The new roller-skating rink at the Recreation Center, Indian avenue and Radio road, is proving highly popular. It will be operating again under the direction of Johnny and Anita Quillan tomorrow, Saturday and Sunday. Anita Quillan said that the introduction of roller skating here for the short duration of seven weeks exceeded their most optimistic expectations. They will return early in the Fall and plan an ambitious program with many private parties to be allocated their own evenings.
All in all, it seems that Anita and John enjoyed a very happy, fulfilling family life, and that this is a happy story coming from Hollywood. their daughter Barbara was an child actress for a short time, and their son Joseph became a renown artist.
John Quillan died on August 27, 1985 in Los Angeles.
Anita Thompson Quillan died on 23 December 1991, in Sherman Oaks, California.