Lorraine Allen Breecher

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Lorraine Allen Breecher achieved a minor level of fame by dating a string of prominent men – Busby Berkeley and George Raft, ultimately marrying rhumba king Xavier Cugat. Even after her movie career failed, she rallied and became one of the few female bandleaders, giving her husband, Cugat, more than a run for his money.

EARLY LIFE

Lorraine Stein was born on July 22, 1916 in Chicago, Illinois, to Herman Stein and Ethel Rubin. Her younger brother Jack was born in 1923.

Lorraine’s father worked as a garment merchant, her mother was a housewife. The family lived with her maternal grandparents, Barney and Bessie Rubin before Jack’s birth – afterwards they lived with lodgers. Lorraine grew up and was educated in Chicago. I have no idea how she landed in Los Angeles and into movies, but she was there by 1943.

CAREER

Lorraine appeared in only two movies, and it’s clear her movie career is not truly her forte. A dancer, she appeared in the capacity in The Gang’s All Here, an Alice Faye musical, directed by her one time fiancee, Busby Berkeley. You know the drift – plot – non existent, a great deal of singing, dancing and good sense of camaraderie between the cast.  The comedy is okay, nothing to sneer at. Carmen Miranda is in it, so that is a plus also.

lorraineallen5Her second appearance was in Cinderella Jones, one of Joan Leslie’s lesser efforts (I wrote about this movie at least 3 times, next!). After this, Lorraine took a breather from the movie industry.

Under the name of Lorraine Allen, she appeared in only one movie – Holiday in Mexico, and only thanx to her association with Cugat. The plot is simple, even a bit bare-boned – The U.S. Ambassador’s (Walter Pidgeon) daughter (Jane Powell) falls for a Mexican pianist (Jose Iturbi) old enough to be her grandfather. But what more can you ask from a Jane Powell musical? Nothing – the music is wonderful, the dialogue is witty, the cast is very good, it all moves around nicely. Totally forgettable movie, but more than worth a look

PRIVATE LIFE

Lorraine married and divorced her first husband, a Mr. Breecher, sometime prior to 1943. Unfortunately, I didn’t manage to find any more info on this…

Lorraine hits the news in 1943, when she became the prime woman in director Busby Berkeley’s life. Berkeley was born in, making him 21 years Lorraine’s senior.

lorraineallen6They got engaged in early August 1943, and were to be wed in 1944 after he got his final divorce decree from starlet Claire James. Busby gifted her with a expensive diamond sparkler. They were seen all around town in fancy nightclubs. Busby broke his arm in early 1944, and wore a sling over the injured arm, but this did not stop them from going out dancing.

In his biography of Berkeley, author  Jeffery Spivak claims that perhaps the reason Lorraine and Busby broke up was the fact that Busby was at heart a mama’s boy, and he deferred to Gertrude’s wishes more than she found acceptable. Anyway, I was not surprised they didn’t make it to the altar – with three or four wives behind him, Busby was a man prone to bursts of intense feeling that simply ended, and so did his infatuation.

Lorraine wasted no time in entering the dating pool again (I never understood these Hollywood people, they would plunge head first into dating the minute they were free, maybe even before! Did they really think that was the answer to their present mental and emotional state? tough luck, my pretties, it just shows that it ain’t never learned). She was seen with George Raft in October 1944, and in November 1944, she was the swain of attorney Seymour Chotiner. Later it was Steven Crane, the former husband of Lana Turner. She and Raft dated on off for about six of seven months. In May 1945, she was seen with Nat Pearlsten.

Then, in about March 1945, Lorraine got hot and heavy with her future husband, another major celebrity of the time – Xavier Cugat. Cugat was born on January 1, 1900, in Barcelona, Spain, and emigrated with his family to Cuba when he was 5 years old. He was married twice before, to Rita Montaner and Carmen Castillo.

lorraineallenThey traveled abroad together, and by June 1946, the papers were full of stories how Cugat’s marital state (he was still married to his second wife) was the only obstacle to matrimony. That same months, she got her engagement ring (another diamond stunner!). To add to his infatuation, he took Lorraine to a exclusive clothes shop and told her to pick anything she wanted. She took a almost 300$ cocktail dress. Cugar forgot to pay for it, and he was sued by the boutique not long after. They settled out of court. Cugat also persuaded his friend, Joe Pasternak, to test Lorraine for an MGM contract. Nothing came of it (she made only one movie).

In early 1947, Cugat announced Lorraine and he will be wed on October 3, in Mexico, after his divorce becomes final. However, as the date drew nearer, they had to push it day by day, and ultimately give up the option to get married in Mexico. Lorraine kept herself busy by preparing for the upcoming martial life and buying things like orange squeezers, can openers, bacon grills, etc., for their future home.

They married on October 15, 1947 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, in a civil ceremony conducted by Municipal Judge Adrian Bonnelly, and later they had their wedding soiree at Palumbo restaurant. It was second marriage for her and third for him. Cugat gifted his new wife with a magnificent kohinoor mink coat and a muff to match.

lorraineallen2Cugar later recounted how his good friend Joe Pasternak wanted to know the exact date and time of the ceremony, but Cugat was suspicious so he avoided telling him. With good reason – Pasternak wanted to get him arrested half an hour before the ceremony. Sly trickster. Anyway, Cugat bought a gorgeous six-acre estate in Westwood for Lorraine. Famous Mexican artist, Miguel Covarrubias, helped decorate the place. They allegedly had a mink rimmed bathtub.

In february 1948, Cugat Lorraine and fashion designer-cum-playboy Oleg Cassini made newspaper fodder when Cugat flipped after Lorraine danced with Cassini at the Mocambo club. With good cause, as Cassini most certantly was a rake who liked the ladies, and the ladies like him. Lorraine later claimed Cassini did nothing improper, but it was enough for Cugat to ask Cassini for a duel outside the club. They got into a brawl, and Cugat lost. Ah, men and their pride! Anyway, Cugat injured his finger, and Lorraine was livid with him, and refused to speak for two days with him. Cracks were more than visible in their shiny, new marriage.

However, things didn’t get any better. Just a few days later, Lorraine appeared at Ciros, another posh nightclub, with Mary Kunody, sister of insurance broker Arnold Kunody, and her fiancee Charlie Morrison – but Cugat was nowhere in sight. Since Cugat was known to be an explosive, jealous lover, everybody was wondering what happened? Lorraine told the story that he was detained and would return shortly. And Cugie did return – but instead of sitting down with his wife and friends, he sat down with Harry James and Betty Grable. What? Rumors began to circulate in Hollywood abotu the state of the marriage. They made up very publicly a few days later, when she embraced him in front view of the whole audience at the Mocambo, but hah! We all knew it won’t last long.

lorraineallen3However, rumors never lot down. It went so far that the magistrate that married them, Adrian Bonnelly, sent them a letter and urged them to think before separating for good. By September, rumors were rampart that the marriage was on the verge of collapsing. They stuck together for some more time. In early 1949, the couple moved for a time to Brazil. she returned for a few days in June, and all was okay. She flew back to Brazil. Then, when she returned to the US in July, nothing was right. She was to return to Brazil, but had no idea when she would see Cugie. By August, the patched up their quarrel via long distance phone, and she was to return to Brazil. NOT! Something happened between them, and Lorraine filed for divorce in New York on August 19, 1949. They were wed for less than two years. Cogie flew back to New York, and they managed to patch up their differences. In fact, Cugie’s jealousy seemed to be the main reason for the separation. They were badly matched at any rate – Lorraine was a beautiful former starlet who knew her assets and liked flaunting them – Cugie was madly jealous at any man who just looked at her. Bad, bad combo…

Guess what? After a brief idyll, Lorraine sued again in late December 1949, and in January, the divorce made all the papers. She seeker 2000$ temporary alimony a month, Cugie didn’t want to give it to her, he threatened to stay outside of California territory for years, so that the divorce can never be finalizes and so on… The drama wen on and on. For a time Lorraine even threatened to call off the divorce – since Cugat decided to marry his newest singer, Abbe Lane, in the meantime, this was a huge torn at his side. While waiting for the divorce to come trough, Lorraine almost went bankrupt. She also filed a complaint that Cugie cheated on her with six women, one of them Abbe. It was truly a nasty divorce case that dragged for months with no end in sight.

Thing went from bad to worse when Loraine hired detectives that burst into Abbe’s room after a show with Cugat. They allegedly found them naked… You connect the dots. There was much newspaper coverage of the event.  They claimed she was only changing her gowns, that is why she was naked… I can say I was not unpleasantly surprised when I read this… To go this far.. It was clear to everybody that Cugat and Abbe were an item, so why do all the fuss? Why did Lorraine persist in this? Was it a case of wounded feeling or purely material gain? Anyway, Cugat was not much better than Lorraine was. Both acted like spoiled, overgrown children. And on and on it went… Until January 1953, when it was finally settled.

After the divorce was finally given, Lorraine dated oilman Bob Calhoun, agent George Wood and Glenn Ford. She also headed her very own rhumba band, trying to become serious competition to her ex-husband. She even sailed to Europe to look for new talent in 1953.

By November 1953, she was dating millionaire Robert Altman. In April 1954, she married Stanley Stalford, a Los Angeles millionaire banker. The two honeymooned in Europe and visited Paris.

Stanley Murray Stalford was born on April 10, 1919 in New Yersey. He moved to California in the 1940s and got into the banking business. Lorraine retired from showbiz after the marriage, and the couple lived in Beverly Hills. However, they divorced in 1960.

Stalford remarried in 1962, to Joan Frank, and his son, Stanley Jr., was born on January 19, 1964. The boy made newspaper headlines when he was kidnapped in 1968 and held for random for two days before FBI rescued him. Stalford died on June 10, 1980 in California.

In 1964, Lorraine dated songwriter Sammy Khan. That was the last I could find about Lorraine. I have no idea is she alive or dead today. As always, I hope she had a good wife.

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Naida Reynolds

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Naida Reynolds was a pretty, dark haired girl with a pleasing figure who danced in the Earl Carrol vanities before trying to make her luck in Hollywood. Sadly, she ended up like most of her fellow chorines – a footnote in the musical genre, with no credits to her name.

EARLY LIFE:

Margaret Naida Reynolds was born on Verne Reynolds and Pearl Weddle, on November 29, 1911 in Kansas. Much later, the papers would reported she was a kin of the famous Reynolds tobacco family, but I have no proof of these claims. The family moved around a bit during her childhood, living for a time in Kansas City, where her younger brother, John, was born in 1913, then moving to New Mexico before returning to Kansas City for good.

The family lived with her paternal grandparents in Kansas City in 1920. Naida grew up in the city  and attended elementary there. She also danced for fun on the side, but as time went by, it was increasingly obvious to Naida that she wanted to become a professional dancer. Her wish was so strong that she quit high school after only one year to dedicate most of her energy to dancing.

As the story goes, Naida won a Schubert contract, moved to the East Coast and danced in the Earl Carroll Vanities in New York city starting in 1931 (two other Kansas city alumnus were also at the Vanities at that time: Harry Sotckwell and Claire Curry). At some point, she went to the West coast to try her hand in Hollywood.

CAREER:

Despite her enviable dancing skills, Nadia made only two movies in her all to brief Hollywood career, and in both she was a chorine whos eonly role was to dance, dance, dance. Due to the the sheer slimness of her filmography, I will take a deeper look into both of her offers.

By the mid 1935, the golden years of 1930s musical were gone. Busby Berkeley had already made his best movies, and it was all downhill from there. Yet, Gold Diggers of 1937 has the the dubious honor of being one of the last movies “before” the going went totally down. The stars are typical Berkeley “constants” – Joan Blondell and Dick Powell. It’ basically more of the same from Berekely as far as the plot goes (which is not good, as most of his plots are puff, blink and you’ll miss them)  and nothing else measures up to the golden standard of the previous work. The comedy is contrived, the actor uninspired, and the musical numbers are mostly bland (there are a few exceptions, however). I would be too severe to say it’s a bad movie, it’s not, it’s just not a really good one. Still, if you like musicals and especially if you like Berkeley, it’s worth giving a shot.

NaidaReynolds3Naida’s second and last feature is Strike Up the Band. it’s a Judy Gardland/Mickey Rooney movie, but not a particularly popular one nor well remembered today.  Yet, it’s a very good one (the weird thing about Hollywood, quality sometimes realy does not count). The plot is simple enough: (taken from IMDB): Jimmy (Rooney) and his best friend Mary (Garland) unite the music loving kids in town with the dream to be in Paul Whiteman’s band. When their school doesn’t help, they decide to raise the money on their own. However, the many ups and down of growing up including first love, personal goals, and the serious illness/injury of a close friend causes them to think about what’s really important.

The happy go lucky feeling of a small town in the 1930s, the breezy song and Busby Berkeley dance direction make this movie a true treat for the fans. Mickey and Judy are, as usual, balls of energy just waiting to ignite, so great is their charm that even if the movie was a lesser version of itself, they could make it work. Worth watching more for the emotion than for any intellectual reasons, it strikes a cord and leaves the viewer with a nice, warm feeling inside. If you are not expecting a cerebral experience, go for it!

Naida worked in Hollywod for a few years more before retiring, but did not make a credited movie appearance.

PRIVATE LIFE:

Naida was as much in the papers as a typical chorine-turned-actress was in those days,often featured with . She was notable for a series of articles where she showed her exercise routines. She maintained her enviable figure by doing exercises on her tummy, and she claimed more muscles are active in that position.

NaidaReynolds4Naida married Clarence S. Friend on July 11, 1937. His occupation was listed as a movie property man. They met on the sound stage while both were working on a musical film and dated for three months before getting engaged. Friend was born on September 3, 1910, in Iowa, and actually had no credits at that time.

The marriage was short lived, and They divorced in 1939. Firend went on to work as a set designer and art department member on a number of movies and a greater number of TV shows. He married Barbara Nail in 1961 and died on June 27, 1970.

On October 1940, Nadia was again mentioned in the papers, this time because she was a guest at one of the col parties thrown by the popular younger crowd – Judy Garland and Mickey Rooney:

Mickey dances to his own music and to hot numbers from his new picture. Keeping pace with him is no task for Naida Reynolds, who often helps director Busby Berkeley teach new steps. Sometimes she works as an extra. There is much less drawing of social lines at a party like this than in Hollywood parties given by adults. Here, friendships have little to do with salaries.

NaidaReynolds2Naida remarried to Ralph Ellson Donerly on April 2, 1951. Donerly was born on June 26, 1920, in New Yersey, to Raymond and Mayzie Donerly. By the mid 1950s Naida was long retired from Hollywood but continued to dance as a hobby. In 1958, she hit the papers when dancing at a charity concert for funding the California Home for the Aged (other old Hollywood personalities who graced this manifestation were Chuck Ryan and Slim Lee).

Naida Donerly died on January 7, 1986, in Las Vegas, Nevada.

Her widower, Ralph Donerly, died on August 1, 2007, in Blue Diamond, Nevada.

Doris Weston

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Doris Weston was a lucky, lucky girl who did not come to Hollywood – Hollywood came for her. While this worked wonders in some cases, in others it was a proverbial kiss of death – it’s not easy for a newcomer to carry a movie right off the bat, especially if the said newcomer is a young and relatively inexperienced songstress (like Doris was). She was given a great chance to sing opposite one of the biggest stars of the decade in a A budget movie. What happened next? Fast forward years later, and Doris Weston is but a footnote in Hollywood history. Well, let’s hear her story!

EARLY LIFE:

Thyra Doris Marion Swanstrom was born on September 9, 1917, in Chicago, Illinois, to Gustaf and Cecelia Swanstom. She was the youngest of two children – her older brother was named Stanely. Her parents were both born in Sweden and emigrated to the US in the early 1900s.  

The Swanstoms moved to New York at some point in the 1920s. Doris was a talented child with an active imagination and an interest in the performing arts. She spoke  abit ofher parents native language, swedish. When Doris was 9 years old, her parents took her to listen to Irene Bordoni, the famous French soprano. Doris was so spellbound after the performance. There was no doubt – she was to become a singer. Her parents were very receptive of her wish – they enrolled her into the Children’s Professional School. Her mother when she was 16, in 1933, and she was put into custody of her aunt Nan and her husband, Herman Reksting.

Doris worked diligently on her singing skills, and made her stage debut at the age of 17 in “The great waltz” – she was one of the showgirls. This in turn triggered her career in the radio world – at the Major Bowles Hour, a popular radio show in New York. This got her a gig at the Rainbow Room, where she was so popular she lasted nine weeks. Somebody from the Warner Bros stable saw her in the Rainbow room, and decided to test her for the screen. After passing the tests, she departed for Hollywood.

CAREER:

Doris had the luck of being cast into leading roles from the very first day she came to Hollywood. Is it to be a blessing or a curse? Let’s take a look (but I think you can imagine how it ended). The moment she landed in Hollywood, projects were rolled for her. The first one, a George Brent movie, never belted out, but the second one did.. And it was…

DorisWeston2The Singing Marine  is great example of the kind of film Dick Powell was making all the time in the 1930s, and perhaps a good example of the general 1930s musical. It’s entertaining and charming in its way, but also has moments of downright silliness. The stories are often cardboard thin and the roles Powell played were different in name only. Powell was already an established star by the time Doris co-starred with him – and by most accounts, while pretty and with a good voice, Doris did not have that extra something to make an impression.

On the superb dick-powell.com site, there is a page about this movie, and I quote an interesting thing:

It seems Warner Brothers though Powell would do well with any innocent actress, but Weston simply did not fit the bill. No one could replace Keeler in the Powell-Keeler team.
Powell admitted that he was lost without Ruby Keeler. “The hardest thing for me to do is listen well. You have to react to what you hear, and as a reactor I’m dead from the neck up. Ruby Keeler used to react to me, and she was good at it. But yesterday I had to react to Doris Weston while she sang a song in The Singing Marine, and I sank like a chain anchor.”

While I have not watched too many Powell musicals, I have to agree – Ruby Keeler, despite her lack of acting talent, angular face and good (but not excellent) dancing abilities, was a perfect foil for Powell. Doris, obviously, not so much. It’s not truly anyone’s fault – they just did not click. And Powell was fed up with playing the singing marine by now and you can register it on screen.

DorisWeston4Singing marine was a big moneymaker, and Doris pushed on. Submarine D-1 is actually a pretty good submarine movie. George Brent (finally in a movie with Doris) is remarkably low-key and effective as the Commanding Officer. For a bit of romance, there is a love triangle between characters played by Pat O’Brien, Wayne Morris and Doris Weston. Of course Doris did not come into any prominence in this movie – it’s a mans movie, about military life in general and submarines in particular. The special effects and overall quality of the movie are astounding for that time and place – and there is so much to see, including  (as one reviewer wrote on IMDB): the use of the McCann Rescue Chamber and Momsen Lung in a dramatic rescue of men from a sunken submarine off the coast of Point Loma, California.

Want to see how bikers looked before Marlon Brando? Born to Be Wild is the kind of talky, flashy 1930s movie where the character just trade barb after barb at the expense of pacing and dynamic of the movie. And when the movie is dealing with truckers and bikers, you get the picture. A genre that would one day give us “The wild one” and “Wages of fear” was just beginning to emerge, making this movie a pioneer of sorts. Yet, take note, it is not a particularly good movie, but passable by most accounts. Let’s see what one reviewer wrote:

Look what we have going for us. We have Ward Bond, the major John Ford player, and he does a rumba in one scene. Ralph Byrd, who played Dick Tracy. There are lots of open road photography in semi-arid landscapes and California landscapes, with fast-moving cars and trucks. There’s an explosion of a diversion lock to a dam that’s fun. Plus there are several songs, lip-synched by Byrd I’d guess. These are light opera fare and enjoyable. Throw in a Spanish dance for good measure.

Well, what more needs to be said? Have to watch it to believe it.

DorisWeston3Delinquent Parents is a simple, small movie about something that can actually happen in real life (with a bit more drama, but hey, it wouldn’t be Hollywood otherwise). What seems like a low-budget quickie actually turns out to be a half decent effort.

Next, Doris made two short musical segments, It’s in the Stars and Men of Steel , both 20 minutes long, for MGM. Both can be summed up with this great line by an IMDB reviewer:

The story is old, some of the acting is dreadful and it was made on next to no budget but this is still an enjoyable musical short from MGM. Stevens and Weston are young, good-looking and so full of life and energy that it’s hard not to like them

Doris, while no talented actress, was a likable enough performer. Obviously she did not have “IT”, or she would have achieved a more prosperous career (heck, I think everyone can name a few actor who were not huge talents, but had IT and managed pretty decent careers for themselves).

Except for maybe her foray into Dick Powell territory, Doris today is best remembered for the serial Mandrake, the Magician, where she played Mandrake’s girlfriend. The fact that Doris was first pushed into shorts and then into a serial attests that Hollywood was on the verge of writing her off as a major star.  The serial is some mean stuff. First, Warren Hull is a magnificent lead, with an iconography easily recognized today. Secondly, it features an African-American actor in a prominent and active role, as Lothar, Mandrake’s assistant. Third, the overall serial is full of thrills, genuine “edge of your seat” moments and good acting from the leads. Yes, it’s a cheap serial and one can spot the budgeting restrains in almost every scene, but heck, when one knows serials were made on a dime, such technicalities should be pushed aside for some pure, unadulterated fun, and the serial has that in spades. Doris is typical cute, but also a second banana by all standards. 

DorisWeston5When Tomorrow Comes is a movie that happens every time Old Hollywood struck gold with something: take the same actors, modify the plot and away we go! A follow-up to the great Love Affair, it only retains the chemistry between the leads – Irene Dunne and Charles Boyer – but everything else falls a few notches down the scale of good/bad. Doris was for the first time uncredited in the movie – not a good omen.

Chip of the Flying U is a GASP! low-budget western GASP!. Yes, Doris came to that last line of defense – when an actress who was once a prosperous contender for stardom fails and ends up billed next to a horse. Seen that scenario quite a few time on this blog, didn’t we? Well, as for the movie itself, you can see it was made by people who made them by the dozens and know their job – as one reviewer wrote: “Directed at a smart enough pace to disguise most of its script and production shortcomings”. Lovers of low-budget westerns fo the 1930s and 1940s should find no great fault in it.

Doris retired after this.

PRIVATE LIFE:

Doris seemed like a nice, down to earth girl who was perhaps too good for the cold, brutal world of Tinsel Town. There is a very telling bit about her written on the superb web page dickpowell.net:

Weston was a newcomer to the screen, and her popularity took her by surprise. When a fan requested an autograph for the first time, she cried. “This is wonderful,” she said. “I never thought six months ago that anybody would ask me for a picture.”

DorisWeston6Doris had some decent publicity during the 1937/1938 season. He learned that she was adept at crying on cue (her trick: she imagined what should happen if her movie career failed. We all know what happened later, in a strange twist of irony), that she was one of the lucky ones that never gained weight, that a fan stole her licence plate, that her costar Hugh Herbert gifted her with a cigar box she used as a make up kit later on, and that she changed her surname five times before Warner Bros settled on Weston (that sounded the best, they thought).

As for her private life, Doris dated a Philadelphia manufacturer, name unknown, who almost proposed in August 1937. Even if her did, I somehow doubt that Doris would have given it all up for marriage, after working so hard for such a long time to attain stardom. Later on, his name was revealed to be Joe Linsk, and in October he allegedly dropped by Hollywood with the intention of popping that question (this time for real). No further information was given, so it’s pretty obvious he did not succeed in his endeavor.

Exactly one year later, in October 1938, it was announced that Doris would marry Dave Miller, who worked in the MGM’s shorts department. The wedding was to take place in December. That too never happened.

By that time, Doris was still acting in Hollywood, but was far from the eye of the press. In 1939, Doris married her first and only husband, Martin T. Borden.

Borden was born on January 28, 1907, in New York. Both of his parents were Russian immigrants. He lived in Rhode Island with his mother and siblings after his father died. He worked as a fur and clothes salesman for the Hollywood elite.

The couple lived in Beverly Hills in 1940, but moved later to the East coast. They had two children, a son, Weston Borden (born on October 13, 1943), and a daughter, Patricia Borden (born on December 15, 1946). Her son Weston grew up to be an eminent chemist, currently a professor of Computational Chemistry and Welch Chair in Chemistry at the University of North Texas.

Doris Borden died on July 27, 1960, in Scarsdale, New York, after a lengthy battle with lung cancer.

Her widower, Martin T. Broden, died in March 1982 in King, Washington.

Eleanor Bayley

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Perpetually cast in the lightweight musicals of the late 1930s and early 1940s, Eleanor Bayley was the eternal dancer, always seen in the background and never truly noticed by the viewer. After a steady although unspectacular career, she retired to raise a family.

EARLY LIFE:

Eleanor Bayley was born on January 4, 1916, in Atchison, Kansas, to Hammond Bayley and Grace R. Bayley. Her sister was Gwendolyn Bayley, and her younger brother Hale was born in 1924. Her family was a staple of the city, being there for many generations.

Growing up and attending high school in Atchison, she dreamed of becoming a dancer and actress. She even made a notebook detailing those dreams for an English project. Sadly, her father died on July 1, 1927, when she was just 11 years old. The family moved to the West coast afterwards.

Eleanor finished her high school days in Hollywood, danced in all the schools’ production and took dancing classes from Moscow brothers, who were also dance teachers to Ted Shaw and Ruth St. Denis. She got her first taste of the real dancers life when she got a job as a member of a dancing troupe that gave 5 shows a day at the Paramount theater (between movies). Soon she moved to Grauman’s Chinese theater, and became a part of a vaudeville troupe (Gold Diggers) that traveled all around the US and Canada. She returned to Hollywood full time in 1933, and got a contract with Warner Bros, becoming one of the Busby Berkeley girls.

CAREER:

Eleanor made several very good movies at the very start of her career. The golden string started with Footlight Parade, a snappy, sharp musical with James Cagney, Joan Blondell, Ruby Keeler and Dick PowellFashions of 1934 is one of those sophisticated comedies they don’t make anymore today. A special plus is seeing Bette Davis in posh frocks with long blonde hair (have to see it to believe it!). Dames  gives us the best of Warner Bros 1930s musicals – plenty of witty comedy, great ensemble cast and f course, lavish dancing numbers choreographed by Busby Berkeley. It rarely gets better than this as far as the genre goes. And then, in her next movie, it did get better – Gold Diggers of 1935 are, as one reviewer summed it nicely, Good music, lots of beautiful girls and an inane plot, humorously acted out by a talented cast.

EleanorBayley2Sadly, the golden string was finished here, and some mediocre movies followed. Shipmates Forever is a Navy musical, a special sub genre of its own, but it’s not a typical example of the genre, giving us a more nuances, realistic portrayal of military life, but herein lies it’s problem – is it a carefree musical of a serious study about Navy men? The movie tries both and it fails. While not a complete waste, it’s below the usual Powell-Keeler musical of the time.

Both Colleen and Gold Diggers of 1937 show us just how the golden years of Warner Bros musicals was waning. Again, while not complete wastes of time, it’s a movie you see once and forget after two days. Over the Wall  is a pretty weird musical – a man lands into jail, lives his days full of rage and anger, only to discover he has a fine singing voice and becomes a singer. Yeah folks, they made a movie out of this silly story. Dick Foran, the singing cowboy, plays the bitter, twister fellow with a voice of an angel. Ha ha!

Girl from Avenue A is a forgotten Jane Withers movie. Joan of Ozark is an idiotic romp where Judy Canova playing her usual character, works as an anti Nazi agent. When she did it all, including hunting down Nazi criminals. What to say? if you like Bob Burns/Judy Canova comedies, maybe worth a look, otherwise avoid.

0024Footlight Serenade was a better movie, one of the first breakthrough roles for Betty Grable. It’s a nice piece of lightweight entertainment, with an interesting cast – the vivacious Betty, sharp Jane Wyman, charming, handsome John Payne and gruff, crass Victor Mature (who always played the same character over and over again – but at least he knew he was a limited talent and never denied this). Springtime in the Rockies is one of those movies that has neither the script nor the top direction, but the music and the actors make it an enchanting experience.

Du Barry Was a Lady, while not a master piece by along shot, is one of the most lush, beautiful looking musicals ever made. The gentle pastel colors create such a dreamlike, blurry feeling  so the viewer is transported into a heavenly place while watching it. I Dood It is a simple, pleasing Red Skelton/Eleanor Powell movie with some great supporting cast (Gloria DeHaven, Lena Horne!!).   Broadway Rhythm, on the other hand, is a below average musical. The reasons are plentiful: average music and leads with zero chemistry and charm. George Murphy was a great second banana, but never good enough for a leading man – the same goes for Ginny Simms.

Ziegfeld Follies needs no introduction today. The Harvey Girls is everything a light entertainment movie should be – good music, good actors, a solid script.

Eleanor gave up movies afterwards to raise a family.

PRIVATE LIFE:

Eleanor’s favorite actor was James Cagney, she considered Judy Garland a great person and highly strung, said that Marjorie Main was a germ fanatic, and noted many years later that she enjoyed jitterbugging with George Murphy. Among her most treasured memories from Tinsel town was the time she was invited to San Simenon, Heart’s huge castle above Los Angeles. Eleanor was appearing in a movie Heart was producing for his mistress, Marion Davies. Eleanor noted how Hearst spared no expenses when Marion was concerned, building lavish sets and buying whole department stores for her dressing room. Marion herself was extremely generous, giving the girls who visited her dressing room anything they liked from the racks.

EleanorBayley3A beautiful blonde with porcelain skin, Eleanor was a popular girl in Hollywood. She started dating Eddie Foy Jr. in 1933, when she was barely 17 years old. The two wed in April 1935. Eddie Foy, born on February 4, 1905 in New Rochelle, New York, was the son of Eddie Foy Sr.  and one of the “Seven Little Foys”.  Throughout the 1930s and ’40s he appeared in dozens of B movies. He closely resembled his father, and portrayed him in four feature films.

The marriage did not last and couple divorced in October 1937. Eleanor continued to date, hoping to find the special man who would become her husband number two.

She married Philip Duboski, then a professional football player, on January 1940 in Yuma, Arizona. Their romance started when he was playing guard and halfback at the USC football team.  Duboski went on to serve in the US Air Force during WW2.

Duboski was born on November 19, 1916, in Beloit, Wisconsin, to Mr. and Mrs. John Dubosky. Highly athletic, he played both football and basketball before graduating from high school in California and enrolling into USC. He planned to go into the oil industry after the war, but fate had other plans in store for him.

Eleanor’s second marriage proved to be a happy one. The couple had four children. Dolynn Duboski was born on July 22, 1946 in Los Angeles County, Phyllis Anastasia Duboski was born on March 8, 1948, John Bayley Duboski (their only son), was born on May 17, 1949 in Los Angeles County, and Deborah C. Duboski was born on October 10, 1957 in Los Angeles County.

Her husband worked in the Los Angeles Police Department for a few years, and in 1963  he moved his family to Strathmore, where he had bough some land in 1957. Phillip became a full time farmer, in addition to going back to school and getting his teaching credentials – he ended up teaching in the Porterville Citrus High School.

Eleanor was active in the civic community, serving on boards of several schools and teaching children how to dance. She also kept in touch with other Busby Berkeley girls, and they often had meetings in California to reminiscence about the old days. The Duboskis moved to Porterville in 1974.

Eleanor Dubovski died on June 29, 1976. Her former husband, Eddie Foy Jr. died on July 15, 1983.

Her widower Phil Duboski remarried to Patsy Lou Gill in 1980. He died on April 16, 2003, in Tulare, California.

PS: Happy New Year!!!!

happynewyearannMiller

Diane Cook

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Tall, good looking Diane Cook was a very good dancer and Hollywood utilized that talent – just not the way that warrants anyone fame and fortune, but is a short way into obscurity.

EARLY LIFE:

Maybelle M. Cook was born on January 8, 1913 in Valdez, Alaska, to John Cook and Margaret Hardie. Her father was an Englishman, her mother from Washington. Maybelle was the eldest child and only daughter – her younger siblings were all brothers: John, James and William.

The family lived in Valdez in 1930, where Maybelle attended high school. She started dancing pretty early and decided to make it her career. In 1933, she left Alaska for the West Coast and started her career in Hollywood in 1934.

CAREER:

Some of the best musicals of the 1930s can be found on Diane’s resumee – sadly, she was a uncredited chorus girl in all of them, one of many who never got noticed. it’s no surprise that she stay in Hollywood for about six years before calling it quits (hey, longer than some, but not nearly enough to be called a true working actress).


DianeCook1Dames i
s just the first of several Busby Berkeley musicals – and a very good one at that, with Berekely’s best cast – Dick Powell; Ruby Keeler, Joan Blondell. Kid Millions is one of Eddie Cantor’s best movies, about a simple Brooklyn boys who inherits a large sum of money but must go to Egypt to reclaim it. The superb supporting cast (Ann Sothern, George Murphy, Ethel Merman, Doris Davenport) make this a true delight for any musical fan!

Roberta goes down in history as the first pairing of Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire, but even without the eternal musical duo, it’s a finely made, entertaining movie.  Irene Dunne is, as always, a grand dame with a great voiceBroadway Melody of 1936 is one of the Broadway Melody series movies, while not the best, it’s not the worst by far. The plot is, as usual with these type of movies, quite thin, but it’s funny enough, and the musical numbers are seamlessly integrated in it. And who doesn’t like Jack Benny? And of course, the young and stunningly handsome Robert Taylor, while not a great actor by any chance, it very nice to look at.

The Great Ziegfeld is The best Picture Oscar winner, so nothing new to note here. Bill Powell is a tour de force in any movie he appears in, and playing the Great Ziegfeld did him no harm! Myrna Loy as his partner is that comes so naturally that it’s weird when they are not in the same movie!  Sing, Baby, Sing is a decent musical pairing off quite an unlikely duo – the angelic, sweet Alice Faye and the funny, sharp Patsy Kelly. And the pairing works great! I wish we had more of these interesting female pairings in movies!

DianeCook5Then, Diane started appearing in Sonja Henie movies. I never tried to hide the fact that I dislike Sonja Henie movies. Sonja, while very cute with her round face and quite a capable skater, was, IMHO, quite  a talent-less actress and mostly made extremely simplistic movies without  a hint of intelligence. Thus, anything I say about One in a Million won’t sound kind, so I’ll just skip it. Thin Ice  gets the very same treatment.

 Man-Proof was finally a non musical movie! While it’s not a very good one, it still veered Diane a bit off her usual fare and branched her into other genres. While the movie boasts a first class cast (Myrna Loy, Rosalind Russell, Franchot Tone, Walter Pidgeon), it’s quite predictable and some moments comes of as highly contrived ones. How to Watch Football is a hilarious, 9 minute Nathaniel Benchley shortHonolulu is what you would call a musical with an completely idiotic plot but with plenty of soul and sass. Robert Young and Eleanor Powell head off the cast of great supporting players (George Burns, Gracie Allen, Rita Johnson, Clarence Kolb, Ruth Hussey – 1930s was a gold mine of SUPERB supporting players!)

Then it was back again to Sonja Henie movies with Second Fiddle – at leas we have Tyrone Power in this one, and one can enjoy the beautiful visage! Another non musical film came in the form of I Take This Woman, a Hedy Lamarr/Spencer Tracy movie. Hedy is a truly unique actress, incredibly beautiful and immensely talented, but one has to pass several checkpoints to actually understand both her talent and her appeal. It took me literary years to finally see her in a true light – I tough of her as a beauty with a big ego and no talent before this. Tracy, as any classic movies fan knows, is one of the best actors that ever lived. The film did not utilize neither him or her very well and is a type of movie you watch and forget 2 hours after it ends. Still, I enjoyed seeing the soft spoken, ethereal Laraine Day in it!

Like many of her contemporaries, Diane left movies for marriage in 1940.

PRIVATE LIFE:

Diane had had a surprisingly small newspaper coverage. She was never mentioned as a solo starlet, but mostly in the context of a larger group of starlets. Not that much information was given about her as a result and there is not much to write on 😦

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Diane married her first husband, Henry Frederick Shilling, in May 1935. Schilling was born in 1905, making him 8 years older than Diane. The marriage was very brief and ended in 1936.

Diane married her second husband, Fred Fredericks, a well known hair stylist working for Max Factor, in October 1939. Fredericks was born in 1907 in New York. At some point he moved to the West Coast and was very well paid for his work.

They had two children, a son, Jerry Louis Fredericks, born on January 26, 1940, and a daughter, Diane Katherine Fredericks, born on March 22, 1945.  They divorced sometime prior to 1967. Fredericks died in 1984.

Diane married her third husband, Vincent Keating, on February 2, 1967 in Santa Barbara, California. She and Vincent owned a string of  liquor stores in Southern California, living in Los Angeles until their retirement. They moved to San Diego to enjoy their golden years.

Diane Cook Keating died on July 6, 1994 in San Diego, California.

 

Maxine Cantway

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The beautiful blonde, trained in dance, crashes Hollywood. She gets some publicity, dances in several good musicals, and hopes to achieve stardom. A familiar story by now? Oh yes, and most of them did not move from the uncredited tier. Meet Maxine Cantway, a beautiful blonde with that very fate.

EARLY LIFE:

Florence Maxine Kantz was born on 1912 in Missouri, to John Kantz and Florence Conklin. The family moved to Los Angeles  not long after her birth. They settled in Pomona, and lived with Florence’s parents, Francis and Maria Conklin.

Maxine was a beautiful, vivacious child, and her mother enrolled her into dance classes at the age of 4. One of her earliest dance teachers was Lina Basquette, then yet to become a famous actress/dancer (and one of the most wedded women in Hollywood with seven husbands and about nine marriages all in all).

With a passion for the dancing, Maxine was a youngster barely out of her early teens when she started to perform on the stage. She attended both dancing and dramatic school to help her in her endeavor, in addition to graduating from high school.

In 1929, she got her due and got into the spotlight. In 1930, she and 11 other hopefuls were signed to a movie contract.

CAREER:

Maxine started her career in comedy short that were made by the dozen in the late 1920s and early 1930s. Jimmy’s New YachtIn Conference (Short) 1The Dog DoctorThe Bride’s MistakeA Poor Fish gave Maxine at least a chance to get in front of the camera (but sadly little else). Due to the rapid decline in ppopularityof short comedy reels, neither of these movies are known today and none has a IMDB review (and you know how obscure that makes it).

600full-maxine-cantway (1)Yet, Maxine started as did many dancers in those days – comedy reels were bread and butter to them.

Maxine then had a large boost in the quality of her movies. She remained uncredited, but all else went up! She had a string os superb 1930s gems – The Kid from Spain, one of the best Eddie Cantor musicals, 42nd Street perhaps oen fot he best Busby Berkeley musical ever made, with an unbeatable Warren Baxter in the lead, 

The Little Giant is a not well known but still a very good Edward G. Robinson movie that gave him a chance to truly shine as a racketeer trying to turn gentleman in one his rare comedic roles. Mary Astor and Helen Vinson are first class support for Eddie.

The last movie in Maxine’s golden line is Gold Diggers of 1933. Along with the already mentioned 42nd Street and Footlight Parade, this is the best 1930s have to offer in terms of musicals. Long before MGM made their lavish, vivid but squeaky clean musicals in the 1950s, the genre was dominated by these movies – they were sharp, unforgiving, funny, laden with innuendo, featuring massive dance numbers, top notch actors and music. Dick Powell and Ruby Keeler are the tyapical handsome leading pair, but the supporting actors are what makes this such a winner – the superb Precode cad, Warren William, Joan Blondell (need I say more about this fabulous actress?),  Aline McMahon, Guy Kibee, Ginger Rogers!

600full-maxine-cantway (2)It’s easy to fall after achieving great heights, and the rest of Maxine’s filmography is dismal at best. While neither was truly a bad movie, it was way below her usual fare. Redheads on Parade, for instance, is a sub par musical. Yet, it would be unfair to label Pride of the Marines as a worthless film. While not well known today (or indeed when it came out), it’s still a touching movie about rearing children in a unusual enviroment. Charles Bickford proves himself to be one of the best character actors in Hollywood, playing the tough-but-tender hero who “inherits” a small boy and has to raise him in a military camp. Thurston Hall as the major of the camp also gives a very good role.

Maxine’s last movie, Two in a Crowd, a not-above-average comedy. While far from being a bad movie and featuring some fine actors, it still does not manage to outgrow the uninspired direction by Alfred E. Green.

Maxine disappeared from Hollywood and the paper after 1936.

PRIVATE LIFE:

First, I have to say that IMDB lists the DOB and DOD for Georgia Maxine Cantwell, who they claim is Maxine Cantway. While I’m not 100% sure, I am more than 80% sure that that is not our Maxine. Maxine had been living in Los Angeles for quite some time by 1929, was about 19 years old – this does not match the information about Georgia Maxine Cantwell, who was still living in Cairo, West Virginia in 1930.

600full-maxine-cantway (3)Maxine came into the spotlight in 1929, when she was named the ultimate model for all chorus girls of that time. She was a perfect 109 pounds in weight, 5 foot 3 inches in height, with brown hair and blue eyes. She claimed that she had never dieted but that her slender body is the result of strenuous exercise and making several movies at the same time.

Maxine declared herself to be a shoe lover, was passionate when buying them, and owned more than 35 pairs. She lived with hr parents and did not own a car.

When one is the most beautiful chorine in the world, one if qualified to give beauty advice! Thus Maxine said for a syndicated newspaper column:

Any artificial means of adding sparkle to the eyes is bound to last only a short time, and may be actually injurious. Furthermore, no woman under 75 should require it.
Enthusiasm, health, physical and mental, are he real beautifiers that brings sparkle to the eyes. Cultivate these and you will not need to spend money on special eye treatment.

I have to say I completely agree with her, not just for the sparkly eyes but in general for all things related to beauty. The only true way to look good on the exterior is to feel good in the interior.

600full-maxine-cantway (4)As for her love life, the information is pretty slim. She dated Lou Friedberg, and broke his heart when she became serious with Charles Grayson, a young writer. The affair lasted for several months before they called it quits. Charles went on to date several famous women including Irene Hervey,  CaroleStoneGreta NissenJune Knight, Nancy Carroll, Audrey Totter and Joan Crawford.

The last we hear anything of Maxine, she was back to minor theater productions after her film career ended.

If Maxine is indeed Florence Maxine Kantz, then she died in 1996 in Riverside, and was never married.

 

Virginia Cruzon

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Another Goldwyn girl that never broke from the uncredited tier. Nothing new here, but Virginia Cruzon was so much more – she was a true and blue working gal who supported not only herself but her mother and seamlessly switched to a career in the oil industry after her Hollywood years were over.

EARLY LIFE:

Virginia Monroe was born on May 25, 1921, in San Francisco, California to Albert Harold Monroe and Mabel Maude Babb.

She had four older brothers and sisters: a unnamed sister, who was born in 1908 and died a few months later in 1909, Phyllis Morine, born in 1909, Muriel Nadine, born in cca. 1913, Harold Richard Monroe, born in 1916.

Her parents divorced not long after her birth. In 1930, she was living in the house of Garfield Stanley Kirkpatrick, with her mother acting as his housekeeper.

Virginia attended high school in Los Angeles, but completed only the first two grades before dropping out to try her hand at the showbiz career. She worked as a usher at the Grauman’s Chinese Theater and graduated to a chorus girl not long after. She worked for five, six years before becoming a Goldwyn Girl (she was also an Earl Carroll girl for a brief time), and then got into movies.

FILMOGRAPHY:

Virginia had two breaks into movies before she finally settled into it (but she never did get any credits). Her first experience was in George White’s 1935 Scandals. For ambitious chorus girls who wanted to taste the movie life, George White’s movies were paradise. A man well known for his taste in women, and, much like Busby Berkeley, George White made lavish musicals featuring a large number of dancers. Also like Berkeley, his movies had a paper thin plot, the lead was normally a Mary Sue and characters were mostly one dimensional. The above mentioned movie is no different, it’s pure escapist fare you watch once and forget soon after. The charismatic lead, Alice Faye, lends the movie a warm flavor but it’s not a top achievement.

VirginiaCruzon2Fast forward to 1941, and to Virginia’s second movie, Ziegfeld Girl. Co directed by Busby, top notch production values and with several huge stars in the cast, what could go wrong? Nothing did go wrong, but it’s most definitely not a legendary movie well known to the masses like Gone with the wind. And then again a hiatus from the industry.  

Virginia made the cusp of her filmography in 1944/45.  Up in Arms was her last Goldwyn girl appearance. As mentioned several times of this site, it’s a fluffy, happy go lucky movie, perfect for a Sunday afternoon viewing, with very charming leads (Danny Kaye and Dinah Shore).

Having Wonderful Crime was one of Carole Landis’s last worthwhile movies. She would die three years after the movie was released, in 1948, but the rest of her filmography is dismal to say at least. While this movie is no big work of art, it’s still a decent screwball comedy. Some gags are repetitive and hardly funny, but Carole Landis is superb in her role, and George O’Brien is as good as usual in his stock role. The story of course, expects a total suspension of belief on the side of the viewer, but that is to be expected from a WW2 comedy.

A Thousand and One Nights is the movie that gave the people what they wanted – exotic escapism. it’s full of colors, fancy costumes and endearing musical numbers. Characters come and go, there is no structure of indeed a decent plot, but who cares? it’s not that kind of a movie to start with. Conrel Wilde and Evelyn Keyes make a handsome couple.

Virginia had more of the same by appearing in George White’s Scandals. Nothing more needs to be added. A typical George White movie with Virginia in the chorus.

Shadowed was a run of the mill Columbia crime quickie. One Sunday Afternoon isd a movie that tries to chew more than it can swallow – why?  Because it’s a remake of “Strawberry blonde“, a superb movie with James Cagney, Rita Hayworth and Olivia de Havilland. Need I mention that surpassing one of these thespians is hard work, but surpassing all three is down right impossible. Cagney owns the rough but lovable Irishman stereotype and nobody, but nobody could put him in shade. Dennis Morgan, the lead in One Sunday Afternoon, was always a passable actor bu tno big talent (he was a great singer, but actor? Meh). Janis Paige and Dorothy Malone, while very good actresses in their own right, do not peg down the roles sufficiently. The end result is a pale remake, completely overshadowed by it’s older brother.

Emergency Wedding was a bright spot on Virginia’s filmography. It’s a low key, funny, gentle movie about male-female relationships  and the meaning of work in one’s life. The cast is made out of highly reliable actors and actresses that never achieved huge fame – Larry Parks, Barbara Hale, Willard Parker, Una Merkel and so on. Great comedic moments, good romantic tension, a clear message,  it’s a movie that shows what was so right with Hollywood in the 1950s.

Virginia retired from movies after this.

PRIVATE LIFE:

Virginia came into the media spotlight after Ziegfeld Girl. The movie had some extensive publicity, with the Ziegfeld girls from the movie wearing the newest fashions and doing tours all over the US. A brilliant press agent send Virginia and Myrna Dell to New York for the festivities to promote the movie, and claimed both never set foot outside Los Angeles county. Since Virginia was born in San Francisco, it’s clear what a fad that was.

The press was also inventive in her life story: she was depicted as a poor girl working in a factory who was pushed out of that mundane life by a talent scout who started pulling strings to have her become a chorine. Not quite true – in 1940, her official occupation was being a photo model, not a factory worker!

VirginiaCruzon3Virginia continued to appear in variety and revue shows even after her movie career started, and supported her mother all the while. She appeared as a in Ken Murray’s Blackouts several years in a row, proving her mantle as a comedienne.

Virginia’s first known beau was producer Robert “Bob” Sherwood. Nina Orla was also vying for his attention, but Virginia won hands down.

Virginia married Rex W. Whaley, a movie splicer, on May 29, 1944 . Whaley was born in Oklahoma in 1918 and since the 1930s lived in Los Angeles where he raised his three younger sisters with the help of an aunt.

Virginia gave up movies not long after for started working for the Chevron Oil Company. She and Rex resided in Glendale in 1955. They divorced in 1956.

Virginia married Stephen H. Sanders on April 26, 1957. Their daughter Virginia Jocelyn Sanders was born on June 3, 1958. They divorced in February 1968.

Virginia retired from Chevron Oil Company in 1988, and moved to Lamarie, Wyoming to enjoy her golden years.

Virginia Sanders died on August 21, 2010, in Lamarie, Wyoming.

 

Alice Jans

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Alice was a talented dancer who landed a Hollywood contract. Her story is shared by the vast majority of dancers-turned-actors: after appearing in countless musicals in uncredited roles (mostly as chorus girls) they were dropped by the studio, often going into retirement. Cases of international success like Cyd Charisse  and Ann Miller were few and far between in the sea of thousands of young hopefuls who wanted to taste stardom. Still, in her defense, being a Busby Berkeley chorus girl is truly something to be proud of!

EARLY LIFE:

Alice Katherine Jans was born on July 11, 1912 in Jefferson, Iowa, to Hugo Gustav Jans and his wife, Genevieve M. Givens. The family moved to Spring Lake, South Dakota, where her bother Robert was born a year later.

The family moved to Creston, Iowa, in cca. 1922, Alice had her first taste of showbiz in Creston, attending dance classes and deciding to become an actress. She finished two years of high school before departing for Tinsel Town.

By 1930 she was living with her mother in Los Angeles, and was listed as a dancer by profession. Her dancing talent led her to a career in movies the next year, 1931.

CAREER:

Alice was primarily a dancer, but her road in Hollywood started on a completely different note. Signed by RKO, she was put into dramatic movies. All of her appearances are uncredited.

5i2uj1zpknb22bpHer start was not a particularly good one: Too Many Cooks was a slow moving, uninteresting move with Bert Wheeler and Dorothy Lee (without their frequent partner Woosley). The movie is the type only Wheeler’s fans can watch, as for anyone who is not into his “man -child” act the film is simply unbearable. She Wanted a Millionaire, her next feature, was marginally better, but comes off more a didactic work condemning women who want to marry rich than a subtle film showing how everyone can make wrong choices in life. Still, the pairing of Joan Bennett and Spencer Tracy is an exceptional one and today it gives the movie a more prestigious veneer than it deserves.

Alice’s first musical, 42nd Street, was a good one. The movie is worth watching just to see the great Warner Baxter at his best, but even if you push him aside, the gorgeous, scantly clad chorus girls (Alice was one of  them) and interesting choreography by Busby Berkeley make it and a totally different experience from the saccharine, sometimes artificial musicals of the 1940s and 1950s.

tumblr_m55qyjG80I1qzx4bjo1_500Her next two movies were top ones. The Little Giant gave Alice a chance to appear in the same movie as the great Edward G. Robinson, and the actor is a “tour de l force” by playing a former racketeer who wants to enter genteel society. The other movie is Picture Snatcher, a showcase for Jimmy Cagney, an actor always in impressive acting form.

Alice’s three last movies were all musicals. Gold Diggers of 1933 is perhaps the best of the Busby Berkeley musicals. It has everything: a perfect cast, tons of chorus girls, great music and dance parts. Her next film, George White’s Scandals is a collage of  sketches, revues, black-outs and singing and dancing turns, bound together by a flimsy story (a backstage romance, blah blah blah, the most boring part of the movie actually…), but with a name like that, it would be unrealistic to expect a Shakespeare play.  For people who like that kind of stuff, it’s paradise (I prefer my movies with plot, thank you). George White’s 1935 Scandals was a lesser version of the former – also a pastiche of the George White revue, it had a slightly better plot – but only slightly, as the story is a cliche seen millions of times before (and after – a talented girl from the mid west goes to the big city and yadda yadda yadda). The musical part itself is not as good – there are no catchy songs, and despite being Eleanor Powell’s debut movie, dancing parts were mediocre.

Alice never acted again after this, leaving Hollywood aged (only) 23.

PRIVATE  LIFE:

Alice’s peak year in Hollywood was 1932. Recently “discovered”, she got publicity for her dancing skills and was famous enough to actually give beauty hints! The hint she gave was:

“Few persons, I believe, know how to get the greatest value from bath salts in a tepid bath. Since they will not dissolve well unless the water is hot – too hot for the body – place the amount desired in a cup of hot water, dissolve, and then put into the bath. Much the same method gives me pleasure when applied to soap instead of baths. I often come home tired after a long day at work, dissolve a whole bar of soap in hot water, and then revel in the luxury or a whole tubful of frothy studs.”

20130311213055-00db5e23-meNow, how Alice was discovered is another typical Hollywood lackluster story. The pretty youth, appearing as an extra in movies for RKO, was noticed by Douglas Fairbanks and director Al Freen because of her rhumba skills. They demanded she get meatier roles in more prestigious movies. Did it make the papers? Oh yes. Did it make her more popular? By all accounts yes, it was the first time anybody ever heard of her. Did it make her career in the long run? Heck no. It faltered just as quickly as it raised.

Like a large number of starlets in the early 1930s, she modeled clothes and was pictured doing various physical exercise for the benefit of her fans. It was later claimed Alice was tutored in several languages (English, Russian, French, German) to be able to do foreign versions of movies. She was 162 cm tall.

Surprisingly, her private life was not as covered. Alice married Dean Spencer, a sound engineer, in 1933. The marriage ended prior to 1937. Spencer did not work in the industry then, but after their divorce he turned to the seventh art and made his fist and only acting role in God’s Country and the Man, a Tom Keene western. In the late 1940s, he became a sound technician on several low budget movies.

Alice married her second husband, John A. Burns, on April 13, 1937. Burns was born in 1907 in North Carolina, eldest of three children, grew up in Montanamoved to California, finished 1st year of college before giving up on official education. In 1940, they lived in San Diego, Alice by then retired for at least 4 years, and had no children. Burns was drafted in 1942 and several photos of him wearing a military uniform exists on the net. 

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In 1943, when she was notified that her husband was missing in action, Alice joined the WAACs.  It was later learned he was a prisoner of war in Japan. She was given an assignment at the WAAC admin center in downtown Des Moines after she finished her basic training at Fort Des Moines.  

It is unclear did Burns died of they divorced after he returned from the war.

Alice married her third husband, Donald Andrew Baker, on November 29, 1946. White I cannot be 100%sure, I assume that Baker was born in 1916 in California. Again, no information is given about the marriage, but they divorced prior to 1957, when Baker married Bernice Wilhoit. Baker died in 1999.

Alice married for the fourth time to a Mr. Blood.

Alice Jans Blood died on June 21, 1992 in San Bernardino, California.