Nora Gale – a chorus girl who crashed Tinsel town with scant experience but luckily got a contract, danced in various movies, never made it to a credited role, returned to the stage and in the end, married and left showbiz. Heard this story before? Anyway, let’s learn more about her!
Nora Gwendalyn Gale was born on January 20, 1917 in Bristol, Gloucestershire, United Kingdom, to Herbert Lancelot Gale and his wife Liza Ashman. Her father worked as a carpenter, her mother was a housewife.
Herbert and Liza actually met and married in Winnipeg, Canada, in 1906. Her mother was married once before, in 1903, to James Wiliam Fear, who tragically died in November 1905. They had a son, Nora’s older half-brother, Wallace James, born in 1904. The Gales lived in Canada until shortly before Nora was born, and then returned to Bristol. It seems that Wallace remained in Canada, living with relatives.
Tragedy struck the Gale family when James, barely 16 years old and working as a rivet heater for a railway company in Winnipeg, drowned in 1920. The family moved to California, and they became naturalized US citizens in 1932. Nora was a outgoing, talented child who was adept at dancing, and wanted to become an actress. She started to work as a chorus girl while she was in high school, and by the age of 16 was an experienced chorine. Somehow she met dance director LeRoy Prinz, and he put her into the good graces with a studio that signed her in 1935.
Nora started her career with Murder at the Vanities, a sensual, bawdy and rowdy murder mystery made before the code was reinforced – and boy, could this movie never be made after 1934. Plenty of skimpily clad girls, songs with dubious drug references lyrics , weapons, a sleek killer, murder in the ceiling and dripping blood.. You get the picture! Nora was of course one of the showgirls. Nora’s second movie, Lottery Lover was in a lower tier – a pleasant but not all too interesting musical. Nora was back in the sexy pool with Rumba, a George Raft/Carole Lombard pairing. Their first pairing was the ultra slinky Bolero which made ton of money for the studio, so they made a repeat, but this movie, made after the code was enforced, had none of the lusty sensuality and energy of the original, not to mention trading the bittersweet ending for atypical Hollywood happy one, so it’s a mid tier movie at best, perhaps worth watching for the dancing and for Carole/George fans.
Nora undertook a brief hiatus from Tinsel town, got married and divorced in the UK, and returned to Hollywood in 1938. She made only three small movie appearances in this iteration of her career: The Big Broadcast of 1938 and Sing, You Sinners and Artists and Models Abroad.All three movies are musicals with comedic touches, but are quite different in tone – Artists and Models is a more traditional romance, Big broadcast is a pastiche of various performers doing their stuff and even with some animated segments, while Sing you sinners is a charming family movie about three brothers (played with aplomb by Bing Crosby, Fred MacMurray and Donald O’Connor). Then Nora took another hiatus after this.
In 1941, Nora made an appearance in the most well known movie of her filmography – the James Cagney/Rita Hayworth/Olivia de Havilland/Jack Carson classic The Strawberry Blonde, a witty, nostalgic comedy with a great cast and a actually highly realistic story. The plot is simple: Carson as Hugo Barnstead marries Virginia Brush (Hayworth), “stealing” her away from Biff Grimes (Cagney) who later marries Amy Lind (de Havilland), on the rebound. Years later, Biff sees reality of what it would have been if he had married the vapid Virginia (when he’s asked to pull Hugo’s tooth), and hence better appreciates his own wife. This is a golden role for Jimmy Cagney – atypical from his previous gangster movies that made him a household name, here Cagney plays a softer character, albeit still brash and rough around the edges.
Nora’s last movie was The Great American Broadcast, and as one reviewer wrote on IMDB: “actually has a fun if unremarkable plot, pretending to be about the history of radio, but really just an excuse to let its stars do what they do best: Alice Faye to sing in her throaty, comforting contralto, John Payne to look handsome (he also warbles a bit, and not badly), Jack Oakie to clown (less annoyingly than usual). Mack Gordon and Harry Warren wrote many gorgeous ballads; It moves fast–positively at a gallop, by Fox standards–and though there are anachronisms everywhere, in the costumes and the dialog and the sets, this time you don’t mind. A very entertaining, unpretentious Fox musical.”
That was it from Nora!
Nora had a brief one year career in movies before becoming a full time showgirl. She was working in the UK when she and a group of other chorus girls ( Luanna Meredith, Patricia King, Nora Gale, Harriet Haddon and Jeannette Dickson) had toleave England immediately because the Ministry of Labor has refused to extend their labor permits. Nora, who visited her family in Bristol and reconnected to a previous swain, decided to stay and marry him.
So, in 1936, Nora married Alec G. Henstridge back in Bristol. Alas, the marriage was not meant to last, as they were divorced by the time Nora returned to the US in 1938 and started acting in movies again. Here is a article about being a chorine back in those days :
Hollywood had cated, too, because the studios today make dancing a secondary consideration, look first to personality. “Personality and carriage are the two prime attributes we seek,” Prinz explained. “Personality with naturalness, without coyness. A girl may not be pretty, may even be homely, but if she has nice features, can be herself, can walk properly or learn to do it, we can transform her in 30 days so that you won’t recognize her. She might not have been able to get a job in the Five-and-Ten before, but when we get through with her, she’s ready for a place in any smart shop.” To EFFECT these magic changes, the studio teaches the girl: 1 how to walk; 2 how. to talk, and not to talk too much; 3 how to use makeup according to her type; 4 how to dress her hair; 5 how to pick and wear clothes; 6 to study her own personality and how to bring out her best points. Only after the girl has been thus remolded does her ability to dance come into the picture. Even then, dancing is preceded by the teaching of rhythm, which is essential not only to dancing but to proper walking. “In teaching rhythm,” said Prinz, “I have the girl walk to a waltz, then to a fox-trot, finally according to her own idea of how she should do it and pointing towards a natural but graceful interpretation.” As outstanding examples of the new type screen chorine Prinz named Nora Gale and Harriet Haddon. “Nora came to me when she was 16,” he said. “She was just another chorus girl who wore slacks and carried a little grip with a baby doll painted on it. She wanted to break her neck doing acrobatic dancing. Now she is a smart and poised young lady.” Later we met Miss Gale. . She seemed a serious-minded young person with an urge toward getting somewhere in pictures. “I want to be a comedienne,” she confided. “Most of the girls are pretty earnest about their careers, and work hard for advancement.” I fall Mm University. Then she got a summer Job in the studios. One reason Hollywood girls are movie sophisticated than they used to be, she believes, is to be found In the influence upon them exerted . by numbers to Broadway girls who have come to the film studios in the past few years. ‘ “Since I started here I’ve worked both in New York and London,” sha said. “The Broadway girls used to be so much older for their, years than the girls here. At 17 they were like youthful women of 25. You would never catch a New York chorus girl running around in bobby socks, sweaters and slacks and low heels, with a scarf on her head.” Miss Haddon agreed, as did Dorothy Haas, whom we met and immediately listed as our personal selection.
In Hollywood, Nora was mighty serious about Mack Gray, George Raft’s right hand man (also known as Raft’s companion-bodyguard-shadow in the press) and a close friend of Dean Martin and Frank Sinatra. For unknown reasons the two broke up after about a year together. In 1940, she was beaued by Louis Zamperini, the U.S.C. intercollegiate track star and one-mile champion whose later wartime experiences would later serve as the basis for the Angelina Jolie movie Unbreakable.
Then, there were reports that Nora was secretly married to Ned Stewart. It seems that they were very much close to the altar, but something thwarted them and they gave up. We can assume that Nora was quite bitter over the experience, here is a newspaper snippet written after their crash-and-burn romance:
Not all actresses prefer actors for boy-friends. Nora Gale seems definitely typical. Young and attractive and sufficiently talented to win a part In “Unmarried,” with Buck Jones and Helen Twelvetrees, Miss Gale has this to say about the stated situation: “I’ve been in pictures about a year and a half and I have yet to find a movie actor who didn’t consider himself a pretty competent article indeed. I mean most of them are of the firm opinion they are the real McCoy.” Nora’s preference is for young business men. When she steps out over the holidays, it will be with young business men, the same kind of young men you find in Toledo, O., or South Bend, Ind., just as well as in Hollywood. Nora prefers them to actors. “They know more and talk less.”
Ouch! One wonders what exactly happened to warrant this kind of an outburst. There is usually a very good reason why actresses date more actors, movie people (or in some cases millionaires) than normal business people, but Nora was hurting and perhaps she truly needed a break from Tinsel town? Anyway, next thing we know, Nora gives up Hollywood and becomes a member of the St. Regis ice show.
Unlike many other starlets who said all sorts of stuff to the papers and then did the exact opposite, Nora really did date and in the end marry a businessman. She was wed to George Shannon Baker, a wealthy liquor magnate of Minneapolis, in January 1942 at a 4 p.m. ceremony at the home of Mr. and Mrs. Cedric Adams, with the The Rev. Frederick D. Tyner officiating. The couple lived in Minneapolis after the nuptials, and Nora retired from the movies for good.
Unfortunately, the Bakers were divorced in 1951. I have no idea what exactly did Nora do after the divorce, did she stay in Minneapolis or move back to Los Angeles?
Roughly 20 years after they were almost married in Los Angeles, Nora married Ned G. Stewart on November 2, 1961. The couple moved to Hawaii to enjoy their mature years.
Norah Gale Stewart died on July 21, 1996 in Honolulu, Hawaii.