Inna Gest tried to live the Hollywood dream – a Russian immigrant making it big as an actress. Of course, she never made to to top brass, but did much better than many girls in similar positions, playing leads and working steadily for a few years.
Inna Gest was born on February 11, 1921, in Odessa, Ukraine, to Arseny Gest and Maria Kaminina. The family moved a round quite a lot during her earliest years, and lived in Czechoslovakia and Poland for a brief time.
In 1925, her parents immigrated to the US, and settled in California. Her brother Vladimir (called Walter) was born in 1928. Her father died sometine in the 1930s, and her mother got job as a neck tie operator. Inna graduated from Hollywood high school in 1939 and decided upon a showbiz career. A major factor in that decision was her uncle, Morris Gest, a well known theater producer who gave Inna her first push by introducing her to all the important people. Along with Margaret Roach, daughter of Hal Roach, she was signed to a movie contract the same year.
To be perfectly honest, when I started exploring the career of Inna Gest I fully expected to find her to be like most of the Goldwyn girls – a glamour gal with a very slim, almost nonexistent movie output. I was proven wrong and ended up pleasantly surprised after discovering she was in fact a western leading lady and that she really worked from 1940-1944, making several appearances in a year.
Inna started her career in 1939 with Babes in Arms . Her next one was one of thebest (and the first) Harry Aldich movies, What a Life. Fast and Furious is a mediocre murder mystery, only heightened by the genial pairing of Franchot Tone and Ann Southern as husband/wife sleuth team.
Inna got noticed by the studio brass and her career went up. She had her first credited role, and a female lead one at that, in the not-that-bad low budget western, The Golden Trail, playing opposite Tex Ritter. She continued the trend, playing leading ladies in man’s movie (where the female lead is mostly decorative and not as important to the plot as the male lead’s machinations). Her next movie was Boys of the City, where she played second fiddle to the East Side Kids. She reached the pinnacle of her career in Gun Code, again as the female lead. A well paced western with a good balance of characters, story and action, it is certainly one of Tim McCoy’s best movies.
Road Show was a silly comedy of little merit, Hard Guy is probably one of Inna’s better known credited movies, for no other reason than that it’s her only gangster movie (very popular at the time) and features Jack LaRue. It’s not even a good movie to start with – it’s premise is extremely ridiculous (as one user masterfully wrote on imdb):
His specialty was getting the women in his employ to marry rich men and then get quickie annulments or divorces–splitting the money with him. This was a big problem with the film, as there is no reason for any woman to split the money with LaRue–it just made no sense. Nor did it really make sense for them to give up on their ‘sugar baby’ so quickly. When one of the women develops a conscience, LaRue kills her and makes it look like her new husband did it! So it’s up to a bunch of idiots to somehow unravel the mystery.
So very funny… Yes, they made movies like this before 😛
Just when things could have turned out nicely for Inna, she gave up movies for the time being to become a wife. Sadly, her change to become a solid actress was gone by the time she returned to the movie arena in 1943, when her husband was off fighting in WW2.
She had one lead role, in Six Gun Gospel, a totally forgotten Johnny Mack Brown western. Sadly, Inna was never to have a lead after this, but totally slipped into uncredited territory.
Up in Arms was Inna’s chance to finally appear as a Goldwyn girl. I mentioned this film so many times on this blog that I’m so fed up with it and am not going to mention it again. Show Business is a wacky, vulgar pastiche of vaudeville shorts and RKO musicals footage with some very racy jokes. Ladies of Washington is an interesting movie about the housing shortage in Washington during WW2 and how people deal with it, but sadly not widely known today.
Inna’s only movie in 1945 was Bring on the Girls, a sparking, vivacious comedy with Eddie Bracken and Veronica Lake. Veronica’s career was already on the downhill, and except Blue Dahlia, would never regain her early 1940s fame. Such a shame for this uniquely talented femme fatale…
After the filming was over, Inna decided to devote more time to her infant daughter and husband and gave up Hollywood for the time being.
Inna made two more uncredited appearances, one in 1947 in Northwest Outpost, one of Nelson Eddy‘s last movies (and nothing to write home about, Nelsonw as never a good actor and he sue did not become any better with his last features), and No Minor Vices, an interesting comedy that received mixed notices, but boasts a fine cast (Dana Andrews, Lili Palmer, Louis Jourdan).
That was all from Inna.
Inna started her career as a typical starlet with strong familial connections, but grew into a working B class actress and was rarely featured in the papers. Except a brief flash of interest that followed her around when she entered the Hollywood scene in 1939, she got some minor publicity in 1944, when she was doing war relief work. She posed with Malinki, a cat found floating in a bucket by a Naval officer during the battle for Guadalcanal.
Inna married Alex Grobenko in San Francisco in the late 1940s. He was born on November 6, 1895 in Russia, moved to the US and became a naturalized citizen in 1932. They divorced a few years later. Grobenko remained in California and died there at the ripe old age of 93 on January 31, 1989.
Inna married her third and last husband, Alexander Istomin. Istomin was born on June 12, 1923, making him the only husband who was younger than Inna. Like Grobenko, he was born in Russia and became a naturalized US citizen (just in 1953 not 1932).
Inna Gest Istomin died on December 31, 1964, from hepatitis B, aged only 43.
Inna’s widower, Istomin, married Irina Thompson in 1968. On a sad note, Inna’s only child, daughter Victoria, died in 1969 in Eldridge, California, aged only 24.