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Wednesday, May 15, 2013


"Two of these girl are not like the others": This picture depicts 6 starlets
labeled as Paramount's upcoming ingenues. Four of them got
to Hollywood with a publicity lift. (Clockwise from top left:
Grace Bradley, Ann Sheridan, Katherine DeMille,
Wendy Barrie, Gertrude Michael, & Gail Patrick).

Ann Sheridan (left) had a little unexpected help getting to Hollywood-- unexpected because it was totally indirect. You see, the genesis of the "Contest to Fame" ploy goes back much further than today's "So You Think You Can Dance" and "The Voice" competitions, (give me a high-five if you think my pal Jessica Childress was totally robbed on the latter. For example, long before Clara Lou Sheridan's "Search for Beauty" win, another Paramount leading lady used a similar contest to get her ticket West: Clara Bow. Movie lover Clara won the Movie Picture Classics "Fame and Fortune Contest" of 1921, and many others would follow in her "Well, it's worth a shot" wake (see here). More importantly, it was because of the later, highly publicized contest for the casting of the "Panther Woman" in Island of Lost Souls that Paramount almost immediately instigated the next year's "Search for Beauty" contest. The amount of lovely talent that the studio was able to pick up from the "Panther Woman of America" hopefuls turned out to be a real coup!

Though only one woman could win, of course, the Lost Souls gag introduced Paramount to Grace Bradley, Gertrude Michael, and perhaps the most familiar, Gail Patrick-- known for her cleverly bitchy love-to-hate-her roles in My Man Godfrey and My Favorite Wife. All of the gals earned contracts due to their entries. Yet, the woman now forever known as the Panther Woman was Kathleen Burke (right), who would enjoy a fairly brief but memorable career-- in addition to her initial prize of a free five-week stay at the Ambassador Hotel-- because of her fortunate feline fame. Her sleek figure and large eyes definitely fit the bill for her first film role in Lost Souls. Another of her memorable works was the bizarre and iconic early horror film Murders at the Zoo. As a direct result of this pulchritudinous recruitment, Paramount stable initiatied the "Search for Beauty" contest, Ann's sister-- Kitty-- entered her photo into the mix, and Ann was chosen as a finalist and eventually became the only member of her pack of winners to obtain not only moderately successful but full-blown, movie star career. But, the joke was on Paramount, because it was Warner Brothers that would give that to her. Of course, Gail, Kathleen, and the girls had actually helped a bit too.

Discoveries are strange things. Some actors work for years or even decades before they attain a sliver of notoriety (or money) for their "cinespian" efforts. Then, there are those regular, every day people who are just minding their own business when show-business taps them on the shoulder-- see Lana Turner. Carole Lombard (left) was something in-between. She was "discovered" early, forgotten for some years, and finally able to force her way back into the industry. The almighty finger of fate that chose her future for her was attached to none other than director Allan Dwan, one of the biggest silent filmmakers in history. He just so happened to spot the 12-year-old Carole in her usual, tomboyish get-up playing pick-up baseball with her brother Stuart and some of the other neighborhood boys. It was serendipitous, because Allan was struggling to find a character just like Carole-- then called Jean Peters-- to play the role Monte Blue's kid sister in The Perfect Crime. As Allan watched Carole "knocking the Hell out of the other kids," he knew that he had found his girl. Carole was cast, much to her surprise and enjoyment, and though she only worked two days on the film, she considered the experience a blast. In fact, she decided then and there that an actress was just what she wanted to be! She had taken acting classes before, but it had only been in fun. Now, it was serious. After three years of nothin', Carole would re-enter the film biz-- first as Jane, then as Carol, then as Carole-- and after a lot of extra work and due paying, she got what she wanted: superstardom. Had Allan picked another girl that day, Carole might not have known that she was born to crack us up!

Joel McCrea (right) was one guy who got around. In addition to being William S. Hart's paper boy and good friend of fellow rodeo rider and future actor/governor Rex Bell (otherwise known as Mr. Bow), he also rubbed elbows with one of the most famous women in the history of film: Greta Garbo. It seems an unlikely pairing, if only because Garbo rarely rubbed anything with anyone, so much did she value her space and privacy. Joel's luck was catching an up-close glimpse of the Swedish Sphinx before she had become an American sensation and forever turned inward. In other words, he found her pre-jaded. At the age of fourteen, Joel was working as an extra and stunt double at MGM, and it just so happened that he was able to get a gig on the film that would be Greta's first American release-- Torrent. Interestingly enough, Joel was getting paid to be Greta's double on the film, which at the time,  he probably didn't see as too monumental, since no one really knew who Garbo was yet. If anything, it probably hurt his pride that he was playing a girl!

In any event, Jeol put his equal love of horses to work on the job, which was to "ride a horse onto the seen and pull him up so sharply that he would slide through the mud on his hind legs." This, Joel dutifully performed twice, but then, the surprisingly maternal and youthful Greta (left) insisted that she replace him. The stunt was too dangerous; he might be hurt! Joel was touched by her concern and dashing heroics, but he and the rest of the cast and crew were nonplussed with her resulting stunt work. It was Joel's performance in that sequence that made the final cut. Though Greta had tried to come to his aid, I guess you could say that it was actually Joel who helped her get her start in the American movie industry.

Myrna Loy also had some unexpected help from a Knight in Shining Armor-- or should I say, "Amour?" Myrna's dreams had not always been geared specifically toward film. In truth, she longed to be a dancer and had filled her childhood days by designing elaborate costumes and performing shows in her yard. Yet, by the time she was in her late teens, her dreams and her fate were starting to merge. She was working then as a dancer at the Egyptian Theatre when it hosted big premieres with live pre-shows and scenes. Then, in 1925, her grace and unusual features, which made the intelligent and well-bred girl from Montana look quite exotic (right), earned her a sitting with photographer Henry Waxmen, leading to her alluring figure and visage being on two-dimensional display on the Egyptian walls. 

Henry also kept these shots at his studio, of course, which is where heartthrob Rudolph Valentino (left) saw them. He knew in his heart that he had spotted a star! Myrna's misleading, vixen looks made Rudy think that she was perfect for the role of "Mary Drake" in his upcoming project, Cobra with Nita Naldi. He got her a screen test, which the untrained novice unfortunately bombed, and the role went to Gertrude Olmstead instead. Yet, Myrna had obviously made enough of an impression on both Rudy and his wife, Natacha Rambova, to earn herself a small role in the latter's pet project What Price Beauty?-- a satire on the cosmetics industry. Unfortunately, Rudy didn't turn out to be much of a Pygmalion, due to his shocking and early death the following year, but his small invitation to another world opened a door to the career Myrna was born for, and she did all right by herself-- from extra girl, to bit player, to supporting lead, to leading lady extraordinaire. (Interestingly, Myrna would remember Rudy as a happy-go-lucky, friendly guy while  she though Natacha seemed a bit of a slave-driver. Their marriage seemed more child-parent than husband-wife).

Ginger Rogers (right) was also the kind of person to help someone out, particularly family. This explains the brief cinematic career of her maternal cousin Helen Brown Nichols of Kansas City. Almost as soon as Ginger starting working steadily in feature films, she called on Helen and suggested that she try her hat at the acting biz too. Ginger offered more than entre, for she was the one who also suggested Helen's stage name, which was to be Phyllis Fraser. Phyllis didn't tarry in the biz too long, but the experience was certainly a stepping stone to other things, including her literary aspirations. However, there is another pseudo-relative of Ginger's in the famous Hollywood pool. 

You see, Ginger's aunt Jean Owens  was married to actor Vinton Hayworth. Vinton began working in films in the mid '30s and his impressive career extended to the end of his life in 1970. His most memorable work was on television, which included appearances on "Alfred Hitchcock Presents," "Green Acres," and "I Dream of Jeannie." Coincidentally, his natural niece was Rita Hayworth, his sister Volga's daughter! When Margarita Cansino made it big (see left), she took her mother's last name as part of her stage name, and Vinton, who up to this point had been performing as "Jack Arnold," made a lucrative decision and followed suit. While this doesn't make Rita and Ginger blood relatives, the matrimony of Vinton and Jean did unite these two ladies as cousins-in-law. Makes you wonder if they ever chit-chatted at family reunions...

Speaking of relations, Anne Baxter (right) sort of had art in her blood. The maternal granddaughter of Frank Lloyd Wright, the legendary architect, little Anne grew up with expectations for greatness and the notion that utilizing and sharing one's talents was a necessity. Anne saw her way to contribute to the family glory when she attended a play starring the always remarkable Helen Hayes. That was that. Acting was the thing. Of course, those acting classes with Maria Ouspenskaya also helped her along past the point of sheer willpower.  By the age of thirteen, the ambitious youth had appeared on Broadway! By the age of fifteen, she was auditioning for the role of "Becky Thatcher" in a cinematic adaptation of Tom Sawyer. Making this moment even more exciting to the wannabe ingenue was her scene partner in the screen test-- the eighteen-year-old Montgomery Clift! 

While Anne would recall that his perfect beauty was marked with a few pimples, she would admit that the blemishes did not detract from his already breath-taking handsomeness. Of course, Monty (left) was not to be outdone by Anne's resume. He had performed very successfully onstage, including his recent praised-- albeit brief-- performance in "Yr. Obedient Husband" as 'Lord Finch.' Coincidentally, the leading man in this play was Fredric March, who reflected years later that he knew right away that the hypnotic Monty was "going places." But, back to Anne... The duo got along swimmingly during the audition process, but unfortunately were not cast as Tom and Becky. Who was??? Exactly. Big mistake, casting directors. BIG. Anywho, Monty-- whom Anne recalled as being both "hyperactive" and "hypersincere"-- very courteously invited her to a show at Carnegie Hall to take the burn off the harsh slap in the face that they had both received. No matter, they would team up later with none other than Alfred Hitchcock in I Confess! Some years had passed, but both got where they were going, separately but together.


  1. Meredith, great story. That's so cool that Rudy and Natacha had a role in discovering Myrna. I know he judged many pageants. Do you suppose he would be on "The Voice" today? Also Gail Patrick. She was a wonderful bitch! Especially in "Stage Door". I believe Eleanor Boardman and Billy Haines were discovered out East in some sort of talent show put on by MGM. I never knew about the Rogers / Hayworth connection. Where else can I find someone who remembers Maria ( your son is a voolf) Ouspenskya? Thanks

    1. Hahaha, yay!!! I could totally see Rudy, especially on "Dance." He would probably get on stage and do his own tango!