Wanda Barbour

Wanda Barbour was a blonde and pretty go-getter who left her hometown at age 13 to make it in Hollywood. Make it she did not, but she found her own life in California and she was a professional dancer for almost a decade, which, all considering, is a small achievement in itself. Let’s learn more about her.

EARLY LIFE

Wanda Louise “Lou” Barbour was born in 1930 in Cincinnati, Ohio, to John V. Barbour and Catherine Newland. Her father was a well-of sales executive. Her older brother, John Jr, was born in 1925. Her maternal uncle, Indiana-born Newland Ellsworth, lived with the family when Wanda was born.

Sadly, Wanda’s father John died on February 16, 1934. He was suffering from a typhoid fever that brought on pneumonia that ultimately killed him. I don’t know what happened to Wanda’s mom,  Catherine, but, by 1940, Wanda was living with her paternal grandmother, Orpha Barbour, and her aunt, Marguerite (her dad’s sister), in Cincinnati. Also a good question was what happened to her brother, but sadly, no information is forthcoming.

Wanda was a pretty child that displayed signs of an intense dancing talent from her early years. By the time she was in elementary school, it was pretty clear that she would one day depart for Hollywood or New York to achieve the dream of becoming a professional dancer. In 1943, only 13 years old, she was sent to Hollywood to work on her dancing skills, and attended the Schicl School there. Pretty soon, she was named “Miss Hollywood of 1944” by the Screen Children’s Guild. Wanda continued learning and dancing and pretty soon was supporting herself, without any help from her grandma or aunt.

By 1946, Wanda became an Earl Carroll girl, and this exalting position catapulted her to movies.

CAREER

Wanda appeared in only three movies and a few TV series. Her first movie was The Bounty Hunter, a low-budget western. Randolph Scott, an actor sadly too early typecast in westerns, plays the rare breed that can easily combine charm and affability with a steely resolve and a frightening ability to kill. He’s the best thing in the film, although it’s a solid affair out and throughout. The director, Andre de Toth, does an okay job, and everything else is well-enough made for a low-budget movie (cinematography, music, sets…).

That same year, Wanda appeared in Young at Heart, a movie about the lives and romances of three sisters in a musical family, played by Doris Day, Elisabeth Fraser and Dorothy Malone. if you like fluffy, cute and easy on the eyes and easy for the brain, now this is your cup of tea! The gorgeous Technicolor is brimming with strong, saturated colors, Doris Day is her usual charming self, and the male lead is Mr. Frank Sinatra himself. With a cast that strong, you can’t go wrong unless you really go wrong, and they didn’t. The problem is that it’s a thin movie overall, with no great depth, but for some fun and games, it is a perfect way to spend a Sunday afternoon.

Wanda’s last movie, made in 1955, was Women’s Prison. Unlike many of the lurid, over the top, convoluted campy 1950s movies, this one is a serious endeavor that mostly get to achieve what it wants – to show the everyday life in women’s prisons in a somewhat realistic manner. No, it’s not quite as realistic as it should be, but this is Hollywood in the decade it was least realistic and most illusionary (just look at all the Technicolor musicals). The cast is wonderful – Ida Lupino, Audrey Totter, Jan Sterling, Cleo Moore, Howard Duff – great!

That was it from Wanda!

PRIVATE LIFE

Wanda continued to dance during her whole brief Hollywood career. She was featured in what were mostly a decorative, thankless jobs, but they paid the bills, and here is a shining example of that kind of life.:

Showmen Joseph and Frank Zucca, sued by Ken Murray in effort to keep them from calling their Culver City show “Blackouts of 1950′ went to court yesterday and took along these girls from left, Bebe Allan, Marybeth Haughton, Lou Ann Louis, top row; Lorri Collins, Ruth Rowland, top, and Wanda Barbour.

And this:

These California beauties have been selected by the LA. Press Club as hostesses for visiting Florida girls due here Wednesday. Shown at Ambassador pool they are, from bottom level: Billie Nelson, Beverly Jones, Shirley Cotterill, Totty Ames, Gloria Maxwell, Marilyn Lamb, Lillian Farmer and Wanda Barbour.

No high art in this, but I guess it could be fun sometimes. Wanda, only 18 years old, married her first husband, Thomas McDougall, on August 21, 1948, in Los Angeles. Thomas Edward McDougall was born on March 20, 1927, in Lansing, Michigan, to William McDougall and Rose Lake. His older sister Billie was born in 1923. The family first moved to Long Beach, and then back to Lansing, Michigan by 1940. After graduating from high school, Thomas returned to California. When he married Wanda, he was working as a gas-and-oil salesman.

The marriage hits the skids pretty soon, and they were divorced in the early 1950s. Wanda got into movies afterwards using her maiden name, so let’s assume she didn’t brag about her early marriage and rarely mentioned it to anyone.

Literary nothing was written about Wanda’s love life. What we know is that, by the mid 1950s, Wanda was dating a real catch by Hollywood standards – handsome Southern gent, Hoyt Bowers, the head of the casting department for Warner Bros. The couple married in the New Frontier Chapel at Las Vegas, Nevada in April 1957.

Hoyt Stephen Bowers was born on September 7, 1911, in Georgia, to Peck and Verbenia Bowers. His father was a bookkeeper. Hoyt had a younger brother, Bates, born in 1914. The family moved to Los Angeles in the mid 1920s. Hoyt started to work as an insurance clerk after high school, and married Patricia Nunn in 1930. Their daughter Sherry Ann was born on February 7, 1932. Their daughter Nancy Jean was born on December 1, 1937. In the late 1940s and early 1950s, both husband and wife drifted towards the lucrative movie industry. Hoyt became a casting agent, and Patricia a movie extra.

Here is a short blurb about Patricia:

Hollywood’s youngest grandmother, Patricia Bower, sits beside Actress Piper Laurie. Sirs. Bowers, currently acting as stand-in for Miss Piper, is married to Hoyt Bowers, casting executive. She is 37 years old and has two daughters, one of whom is mother of a two-year-old girl.

Whoa, I had to do the math and it’s not particularly impressive – I Patricia gave birth when she was 18, the same for Sherry. I just hope the granddaughter didn’t follow the family line and took a bit more time to get married and have children (if indeed she ever decided on such a course). Sadly, the couple divorced before 1954.

Wanda and Hoyt had a son, John Hoyt Bowers, born in 1960. Wanda gave up her career and immersed herself into motherhood and domestic affairs. The Bowers often visited Abilene, where some of Hoyt’s extended family lived.

After more than a decade of marriage, Hoyt and Wanda divorced in the early 1970s. Wanda married her third husband, Victor Bennett, on April 10, 1975 in San Bernardino, California. Victor Bennett was born in 1916 in Nebraska, and moved to Los Angeles when he was a youth. There he married Ruth Schwerdtfeger, had two sons, Charles Nicholas, born on October 4, 1938, and Vance Chadwick, born on March 9, 1942, and worked as a meat cutter. He and Ruth divorced at some point.

Wanda and Victor settled in San Bernardino, and started to trade in antique furniture. They were a well-adjusted, happy couple, and it seems that Wanda had finally found a husband worth keeping. However, this story does not have a happy ending.

Tragically, Wanda and her husband were murdered on November 14, 19179, in their home in San Bernardino, during a robbery attempt. She was only 49 years old – her husband 63. To add to this horror, her son John was arrested almost immediately after the bodies were found, as an obvious prime suspect. Of course he was innocent, but the stress and the pain had been inflicted. Here is an article about the slayings:

San Bernardino Sheriff’s deputies today are questioning an 18-year-old Twentynine Palms man in connection with the slaying of his mother and stepfather. John Hoyt Bowers was arrested Wednesday night, just hours after the body of his mother, Wanda Bennett, 49, was found underneath trash at the Landers dump. Her husband, Victor, 63, was found shot to death at his home here, deputies said. Both were shot in the head. So far, deputies do not have a motive or a weapon in the slaying.

Two men wanted in California to face double murder charges were arrested early Friday, state police said. Officers said Richard W. Garrison, 38, of Hulberton, Orleans County, .was picked up in the Town of Murray, Orleans County, and Gary M. Roelle, 30, of Rochester, was taken into custody in the Town of Sweden, Monroe County . The pair, according to state police, are wanted by the San Bernardino County, Calif., sheriffs office in the robbery slayings of Victor and Wanda Bennett with a shotgun in Yucca Valley Nov. 14. “Numerous items of stolen jewelry and firearms were brought to New York state by the subjects and were seized at the time of the arrest,” according to a state police statement. “It’s believed they had been in the upstate New York area since Nov. 27.” State police said the two were being held as fugitives from justice. Garrison was being held in the Orleans County Jail and Roelle in the Monroe County Jail.

The police are looking for the motive for the killings. The Bennetts’ car was also taken, but was later recovered near Old Woman Springs Road, investigators said. The Bennetts bought and sold antiques and may have been contacted by one of the suspects who wanted to sell an old desk, Knadler said. It may have been through that contact that the suspects learned about jewelry and other items the Bennetts owned, he said. ” Documents filed in a Barstow ‘ court in support of murder warrants issued for the two men stated that after the murder Garrison was seen in possession of jewelry with Wanda Bennett’s name engraved on it. Several persons told investigators they had seen Garrison with a bag containing many items ,mostly jewelry, including a silver and turquoise squash-blossom necklace, other pieces of turquoise jewelry, an ID bracelet, a charm bracelet and numerous rings, the documents said. The bag also contained numerous American and foreign coins, investigators were told.

What a sad, sad end to a woman who had so much vitality and zest for life.

But, as always, let’s hope she had a happy life!