Beautiful and a wonderful vocalist, Mildred Stone had all the pluses to make it in Hollywood. And just when she started her road to riches, she got married and gave it up. As we know from previous posts, such was the story of many women in 1930s Hollywood.
Mildred I. Stone was born on January 13, 1914, in Hanford, California to Cedric A Stone and Harriet Berachig Wilson. Her younger sister Dorothy was born in 1920. Both of the girls grew up in Lucene, Kings County, where their father had a farm.
Sadly, her father died on November 29, 1925, aged only 35. Harriet took the girls to Hanford, where both of them attended Hanford High School.
While there, Mildred was tutored by elocution and voice expert Mary Hobson Crowe, who was once a star of the stage. This gave her . She played leads in Mikado, the Indian Operetta, Lela Walla and other productions. She also studied for a bit with a voice coach in San Francisco. She had to return to Hanford to earn money to continue her education – Hanford chamber of Commerce staged a recital to help her. Then, she had her first solo concert in October 1933 – she was accompanied by her mother on the piano.She also did some work for Hanford Players to supplement her income.
After bagging some money, she returned to San Francisco studied with the prior mentioned voice coach for some more time, and then moved to Los Angeles to further her career. There she won a contest and nabbed a role in a at a Clark and McCollough comedy. Not long after she got a contract with KMTR radio, and did gigs at famous nightclubs:
In mid 1934, she was let go from her KMTR contract and signed with Jimmy Grier at the Biltmore bowl, where she sang 7 nights a week. On the side, she tried for a movie career. Her break came as a total lark – she was noticed in a nightclub by a talent scout, who arranged for her screen test. She passed with flying colors.
Mildred signed her first motion-picture contract, a seven-year agreement with Paramount Productions under which she was to. receive $50 a week to start with, her salary ascending on a sliding scale to $450 a week. And her movie career started…
Mildred made only two movies after she signed her contract with Paramount. And both were in uncredited roles. So much about becoming a film star…
Her first movie was the Bing Crosby vehicle, Mississippi. Most of his early to mid 1930s movies fall into the same basket – funny, charming, paper-thin plot wise musicals. Of course, they are of varying quality, but neither veers too much of the charted track. Mississippi falls somewhere in the middle of the road, being neither the best nor the worst of the Crosby offerings. The flimsy plot (taken from a reviewer on imdb): Bing is cast as a northerner set to marry a southern woman who lives in one of those great plantations, and who has a prettier younger sister. He is challenged by an evil ex-suitor, but won’t duel with him. So Bing is cast out in disgrace to sing on Fields’ riverboat. Bing has to somehow survive Fields’ influence, get back on shore and re-claim his marital “prize”. But she is married to the “bad guy”. What does Bing do? What is his relationship with the cute younger sister?
You get the drift. The best thing about this movie is the pairing of Bing Crosby and W.C. Fields – the only time they worked together. Shame, as they were on the top in their prospective fields: Bing a top crooner and Fields a top comedian. The movie’s one major downfall is its mild but still very much apparent racism. Hollywood of the 1930s was very ambivalent about racism – as one reviewer correctly wrote: “For every serious film that grasped at racial tragedy in this country (the US) (IMITATION OF LIFE with Louise Beavers and Freddy Washington, or IN THIS OUR LIFE with Bette Davis) there were hundreds which were made that insulted millions of African-Americans for laughs.”
Mildred’s second movie was 13 Hours by Air, a brisk, well made thriller. It offers little more than that, but let’s me real, nobody expects it to be a top feature. he plot is a bit convoluted, with planes, jewel robbers, high society ladies, corrupt counts and so on, but the cast is pretty good – Fred MacMurray and Joan Bennett in the leads, and John Howard , Ruth Donnelly, Alan Baxter and Zasu Pitts in the supports. Mildred plays a (what else) stewardess. Also worth watching out is a small role by the forgotten silent movie queen, Marie Prevost.
Mildred gave up acting to starts a family after this, and her Paramount contract was broken. She returned to movie making in 1947, with her last feature, The Shocking Miss Pilgrim, a truly enjoyable fare. Without insulting the sensibilities of the all mighty production code, it manages to be a commentary on the early women’s right movement in the late 19th Century. It’s also a delightful love story and ultimately musical with some irresistible music by Ira Gershwin. Yep, win-win situation on all accounts. Special plus is seeing Betty Grable and Dick Haymes paired on the screen.
And that was it from Mildred.
Mildred was a petite woman, standing at just 5′ 2″, but was of shapely build. She was nicknamed Midge by family and friends. She gave her beauty hint to the public in 1934:
If your blonde hair looks dull, try using a tablespoon full of vinegar in the lukewarm rinse water after a shampoo.
Short, sweet and very much true!
Now for her love life. While working at the KMTR radio, Mildred met Salvatore Santaella, the charming, suave musical director. Santaella was born on September 12, 1896, in Mexico City, Mexico, of Italian extraction, to Pasquale and Anna Maria Santaella. He immigrated to the States with his parents in 1908. They settled in Detroit, where he finished high school. A gifted pianist, he became a professional musician. In 1920, he married his first wife, Lillian Hansen. The couple moved to New York in 1921 and renewed their vows in 1922. Their daughter Dorothy G. was born not long after, in Oregon.
Santaella moved to Los Angeles at some time in the mid 1920s, and started to work in the radio and movie industries. He and Lillie divorced at some point. Santaella played piano solos for the George Arliss movie, The Man Who Played God, and became the KMTR musical director. He also wrote songs on the side, and even collaborated with Jan Rubini, famous composed who was the husband of another starlet I profiled on this blog, Terry Walker.
Mildred and Salvadore dated from at least mid 1934. He had already let her out of the KMTR contract so she can sign with Jimmy Grier and appear in movies. He obviously had misgivings about letting her go – not just professional ones mind you!
They married on September 14, 1935, in Los Angeles. Their daughter, Linda, was born on October 3, 1935, in Los Angeles (now, look at the dates – Linda was born just 20 days after they married. Pretty steamy stuff for 1935. I wonder why they married so late? Divorces, or?).
Mildred slowly gave up her budding career to become a housewife. By 1939, she was not working any more, and the family lived in 6506 Lindenhurst Avenue. She was close to her mother’s family, the Wilsons, and sometimes popped up in the local Californian newspapers in the society pages.
Saltavore Santaella died on January 11, 1964. I have no idea what happened to Mildred afterwards – the IMDB claims she died in 1989, but I could not a death certificate.
As always, I hope she had a good life.