Agnes Craney was one of the girls who landed in Hollywood not thanks to her extensive dancing skills, nor her modelling career, nor indeed any acting prowess – she won her entry into Tinsel town via a publicity stunt! As you can imagine, that’s one of the worst ways you can gain entry into movie,s since you have no bankable skills and being pretty just ain’t gonna cut it in the town where hundreds of pretty girls arrive every day. As you can guess, Agnes made only two movies, married and retired to raise a family. Let’s learn more about her! (sorry for not having a close up of Agnes, she is in the photo somewhere!)
Agnes Jane Craney was born in 1917 to George Thomas Craney and Pearl Winifred Morss in Madison, South Dakota. She was the third of four children: her older siblings were a brother, Morris Charles, born in 1911, and a sister Leone, born in 1915. Her younger sister was Rita, born in 1922. Her father worked as a real estate salesman. The family moved to Long Beach in the mid 1920s for her father’s work.
Agnes grew up like any normal, middle class girl in Long Beach, and attended the Long Beach high school. What set Agnes apart from her peers was her obvious beauty and her star-stuck dream of becoming an Hollywood actress. And something massive happened when Agnes was just 17 years old and a junior in high school. She applied for a “Search for beauty” contest that was promoted all over the US. It was an instant gateway to Hollywood for a few lucky ones who won the coveted title of Beauty.
Agnes and Jack Jenkins, 205-pound Beverly Hills High School star tackle defeated some 100,000 rivals In the contest a “Search for Beauty.”, and they were awarded contracts with the Paramount film company as a result of the proceedings. It was noted that Agnes’ measurements most nearly correspond to the average of the fifteen most beautiful girls. She Is more slender, more graceful and more compact than the ancient Grecian goddess of love, Aphrodite, just as Jack was bigger than Apollo. How did they know the measurements of Aphrodite and Apollo is left open for debate, but it’s a publicity ploy much like any other from that time.
It appeared that Agnes was slated for big things in Hollywood, and her career started!
Agnes appeared in only two movies in her career. The first one was Search for Beauty, the movie that was more ballyhooed in the press and in the beauty pageant circuits than it has any artistically or indeed any merit. But there is plenty of nude girls, sexy dances and sensual stuff if one likes it. Never again will classical Hollywood make such carnal musicals, with such visceral scenery and atmosphere. Ah, Busby Berkeley and his kind although he didn’t make this movie)! Agnes played one of the beauty winners of course.
8 Girls in a Boat is a more interesting fare. While not a masterpiece by any stretch of imagination, it’s a solid movie dealing with a topic Hollywood made taboo after the production code was kicked in high gear – unwanted underage pregnancy. Dorothy Wilson is a student at an exclusive girl’s school, and a member of the shell racing crew (hence the 8 girls in a boat). She gets pregnant by chemistry student Douglass Montgomery, but he doesn’t have no money to marry her. The movie deals with the aftermath of this situation, and featured Kay Johnson as a sadistic, brutal rowing teacher, a acting highlight of the movie. Dorothy Wilson, a much underrated actress, is very good in the leading role, but sadly Agnes played one of the school girls and is very blink and you’ll miss her.
And that was it from Agnes!
Agnes gave a beauty hint to the papers:
I find exercise one of the most important factors in keeping the figure beautiful and the body fit. Swimming is my favorite exercise. But, in swimming, es in ether forms of sports care must be taken not to over-do. Too much swimming may over-develop the muscles.
Let’s reflect on the way Agnes got into Hollywood. While the Search for Beauty did give us one wonderful actress (Ann Sheridan), the bigger question is were these kind of pageants harmful for people int he long run? It seems to me they were. They gave false hopes to a plethora of young, inexperienced people, who had little to recommend themselves, that they can make it. And they can, but everything is stacked against them. While I am sorry to be perhaps a bit harsh, but the majority of girls who came to Hollywood because they looked good did not have an ounce of acting talent, and often did not work even one iota to posiblys remedy this disadvantage. They would last for a few months at most, then had to find other jobs, go back home, maybe be ostracized and generally suffer a period of depression since their dreams didn’t’ come true. Of course, it’s impossible to generalize, but this happened to more than 90% hopefuls who came to Hollywood in the 1930s, and most girls on this blog shared such a fate. We can have nothing but respect for any girl who has enough grit and guts to leave home and try to be something but a housewife, plunging head on to Tinsel town and hoping for the best was like trying to win a lottery. A few lucky ones would make it, most of them would not. Point is, it was much better to be a trained actor with some experience if you wanted to make it. Even if Hollywood rejected you, you could always do theater, summer stock and so on. Looking good usually isn’t enough, even for such a shallow town like Hollywood was (and still is).
Back to Agnes. Agnes married Wiliam Norton Hilliard on July 14, 1936, in Los Angeles. Hilliard was born on June 6, 1912, to Salvester Elven Hilliard and Emily Crave Norton in Colorado, the second of four children (his siblings were Charles, born in October 17, 1908, Eleanore, born on August 18, 1918, and Richard Francis, born on June 2, 1921). his father was a building contractor, and the family lived in Iowa for a time, before moving to California, where Hilliard started to work.
Hilliard was a store minder for oil supply machinery. The couple had three sons: William Norton, born on May 39, 1938, Gerald Thomas, born on January 4, 1940, and Michael John, born on May 25, 1948. After living for years in California, they moved for Hilliard’s work to Texas, where they stayed after William retired.