Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Nance O'Neil

I forget how exactly I came across Nance's name, but I think it was when I was reading about Lizzie Borden. 

Yes. THAT Lizzie Borden.

Keep reading to see the connection between these two ladies!

Nance O'Neil was born Gertrude Lamson on October 8, 1874 in Oakland, California. She was the second child born to George, an auctioneer, and his wife, Arre. Her sister, Lillian was born four years earlier. 

George Lamson was a very religious man who publicly denounced his daughter's choice to become an actress. I am not sure if they reconciled before his death in 1903, but I am guessing not. 

Older sister, Lillian also worked as a stage actress. She was married to actor William Desmond, but I am not sure what year they wed. In 1910, she injured her leg in a fall and was left an invalid. She passed away in 1917, possibly due to her earlier injury. I am not sure why George Lamson had such an issue with his youngest daughter's career choice and didn't seem to have a problem with his eldest daughter acting on stage. 

Nance made a big splash on stage and was christened the "American Bernhardt." And it wasn't just in the U.S. where she was a big deal, she also made a name for herself in Australia and Europe. The most notable productions she appeared in include Camille, Hedda Gabler, and Macbeth

Nance made her film debut in 1913's The Count of Monte Cristo. 

Now, at 40 years old, Nance couldn't just swoop in to the budding industry and become competition for Mary Pickford or Theda Bara, but her film career was nothing to sneer at. She actually appeared in some pretty noteworthy films:

  • Appeared in the Seven Deadly Sins serials with Shirley Mason.
  • Appeared in His Glorious Night (1929) with John Gilbert. This is the film that reportedly helped bring about the end of Gilbert's career, due to the interference of L.B. Mayer himself. According to Hollywood lore, L.B. Mayer had Gilbert's voice tampered with so that it was higher than normal. So, audiences saw this dashing and manly John Gilbert on the screen but heard a high, feminine voice come out of his mouth. This is according to legend, mind you. In truth, Gilbert's voice sounded fine. The issue with the performance was more along the lines of bad dialogue and bad direction. Just setting the record straight!
  • Appeared with Renee Adoree in her last film, Call of the Flesh (1930). Renee began to suffer frequently during filming, and the production was almost shutdown completely due to her being sick. She managed to complete the film but sadly she passed away from tuberculosis three years later.
  • Appeared in 1930's The Rogue Song, the only Laurel and Hardy film that is lost. All that remains of the film are the soundtrack and a badly deteriorated technicolor clip.
Her final film appearance was in 1932's False Faces

Nance O'Neil passed away on February 7, 1965 in Englewood, New Jersey. 

She was interred at Forest Lawn in Glendale, California.

Nance was married once, to actor Alfred Hickman. The couple was married from 1916 until his death in 1931. I don't believe they ever had children. 

Now! On to the Nance and Lizzie Borden connection. Nance met the infamous "murdereress" in 1904 while she was performing in Boston. Lizzie was reportedly a big fan of Nance's and was very excited not only to see her perform live, but to meet her as well! The two hit it off and even lived together for a time, throwing lavish parties. There were rumors that the two were lovers, but I haven't found any information to support this. Lizzie idolized Nance and apparently used to follow in her wake because she just adored her. So, perhaps people are assuming that means that there was romantic feelings involved, but again, not enough evidence for me. 

"It's youth that wins hearts!" ~~ Nance O'Neil

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Katherine Grant

I was going to include Katherine Grant in the series about Bathing Beauties, (she was a Hal Roach beauty, not Mack Sennett, but same difference) but I kept finding more and more intriguing information on her and wanted to give her her own entry. 

So, let us begin!

Katherine Grant was born on May 1, 1904 in Los Angeles, California. She was the youngest child and only daughter of John Grant, a carpenter and car salesman, and his wife, Anita May Whiteman. Her brother, Chester was born in 1901. 

John and Anita Grant divorced in 1919 and John took Chester and moved to San Francisco. Meanwhile, Katherine stayed behind in Los Angeles with her mother. Anita later remarried, while John passed away in 1921. 

In 1922, Katherine was encouraged by her mother to enter the Miss Los Angeles pageant. Her mother's instincts proved right because Katherine won! The following year she headed out to Atlantic City to compete in the Miss America pageant. She didn't win, but, hey, she made it that far!

This is where we are going to throw in a little bit of scandal. Before she entered the pageant, Katherine had worked as an artist's model, as a lot of young starlets have done. Some of the work that she did for photographers included nude modeling, but she just thought it was for the artist's use only. However, when she was in Atlantic City for the Miss America pageant, she saw postcards of her photos for sale. She immediately tried to stop the sale of these photos, but was shown the release she had signed that gave away her rights to the photos. Katherine was taken aback because she thought that the paper she signed was simply just a receipt for the photos taken. 

Soon after this, she received a phone call from a man threatening to show Hal Roach (who she was contracted to at the time) the nude photos of her unless she gave him a substantial amount of money. According to the photographer, the original plates from his shop had been stolen and he had nothing to do with the extortion attempt. It was also rumored that the extortionist had worked as a movie extra with Katherine at some point and seized upon the opportunity to make money off of her. 

One of frustrating things in regards to researching the case is that the outcome of the whole ordeal was not made public. However, I think it is safe to assume that the outcome was in Katherine's favor because the scandal was kept pretty quiet as compared to what it could have been. 

I briefly mentioned above that Katherine was signed with the Hal Roach studios, one of the great things that happened after she won the title of Miss Los Angeles. Her film career lasted from 1922 until 1926 and she appeared in around 50 films and shorts. She was most well known for frequently costarring with Laurel and Hardy and Charley Chase. 

She modeled, she acted, and she also danced! When she was not working on the sound stage, Katherine also taught dancing. One of her students was little miss Mary Kornman of "Our Gang" fame. The two probably looked quite alike considering that Katherine was a bitty little 5'4''. (I'm 5'8'' so anyone shorter than me is bitty, sorry!)

Unfortunately, life didn't ease up on Katherine. In 1925, while crossing the street near her home studio, she was hit by a car. The driver, described by witnesses as a teenage boy, was never identified as he sped away from the scene. Katherine was taken to the hospital where thankfully her injuries were minor. The doctors, however, prescribed bed rest and taking a break from work. Katherine would have none of it and went back to work a few days later to continue filming on her latest picture. 

A year or so later it was reported in magazines that Katherine had been a patient in a sanitarium under the name, "Ruth Woods." She apparently had been suffering from shock due to the accident and needed more care than her mother could provide her. According to a 1932 magazine article, Katherine had also been suffering from the effects of yo-yo dieting. Mother Anita tried to help save her daughter's reputation by telling reporters that her daughter was just sick and there was nothing seriously wrong with her, especially mentally! Her daughter just needed rest! An understatement if there ever was one, Katherine ended up spending the last few years of her life in hospital.

Katherine Grant passed away on April 2, 1937 in a San Bernardino hospital. Her cause of death was listed as pulmonary tuberculosis. She was only 32 years old.

She was buried in an unmarked grave in Evergreen Cemetery in Los Angeles. I don't know why it still remains unmarked. 

I cannot find any information on Katherine ever marrying or any relationships she had. 

I read an anecdote online that reportedly came from actress Esther Ralston's memoir. It seems that Esther and Katherine were roommates at one point and that Katherine chose to launder her underwear by wearing it while she was in the bathtub. Interesting...

Saturday, January 3, 2015

Bathing Beauties XV

Patsy O'Leary was born on September 8, 1910 in Los Angeles. Her career consisted of 50 films/shorts, spanning from 1927 until 1932. She sometimes appeared under the name 'Patricia O'Leary.' It sounds like she really enjoyed her time in the movie business because according to a magazine article she would come to the studio on her day off to sunbathe on the roof. One of her last screen appearances was as Bing Crosby's love interest in the 1931 Mack Sennett short, One More Chance.
I know Patsy married at least once, to a Dr. Clement Joynt. They divorced in 1936 and I am not sure if she ever remarried. Actually, I don't know what happened to her after that at all! I don't even know when she died!


Barbara Pierce was born on October 15, 1904 in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Her career consisted of 16 films/shorts from 1924 until 1929. One of her most notable film appearances was as a manicurist in Chaplin's Gold Rush in 1925.
Barbara passed away on April 27, 1972 in Alameda, California. I do not know where she is buried. 


I wanted to include three more ladies that I found but I unfortunately couldn't find pictures of them or any additional information.

Jean Keller - appeared in four films from 1927 until 1929
Gloria Lee - appeared in nine films from 1927 until 1929
Mary B. Stuart - appeared in six shorts, all in 1928

And of course, to all the uncredited Bathing Beauties. You are not forgotten!

Bathing Beauties XIV

Thelma Bates was born on April 1, 1903 in New York. She was the second child born to Walter Bates, who worked for a telephone company, and his wife, Florence Frazier. Thelma had an older brother, Dean and two younger siblings, Ralph and Verna Lillian. 
Her career was relatively short, only 8 films/shorts from 1919 until 1921. She married Frank Stransky the same year she retired from films and they remained married until his death in 1961.
Thelma passed away on April 4, 1979 in Oregon. She is buried next to her husband at Winona Cemetery in Tualtin, Oregon.

Isabelle Keith was born on May 27, 1898 in New York City. Her film career consisted of 53 films/shorts and lasted from 1919 until 1937. She appeared under a variety of different names including: 'Claudelle Kaye,' 'Elizabeth Keith,' 'Isabelle Keep,' and 'Isobel Keep.' I am not sure if any of these were her given name, but a few of them sound like someone was hearing her name through a game of Telephone. 
Her career wasn't stellar, but she did become a well known face, especially to Laurel and Hardy fans. She also had a bit part in The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse with Rudolph Valentino. Later in her career she had small parts (usually as a secretary) in pretty big pictures like 1931's Mata Hari with Greta Garbo, Manhattan Melodrama with Myrna Loy and Clark Gable, and 1935's Anna Karenina again with Garbo. 
She was married at least once, to writer Richard Weil, but I am not sure of the dates. I also read rumors that she had lesbian affairs, notably with singer and actress Lillian Roth, but I can't find anything to substantiate these claims.
Isabelle passed away on July 20, 1979 in Mill Valley, California. I do not know where she is buried. 


Lucille Miller was born on November 11, 1909 in Los Angeles. She was a beauty right from the get go and was actually voted the first Miss Venice. Her film career consisted of 43 films/shorts from 1927 until 1941. While she wasn't a huge star like Crawford or Bow, she did appear in a few big pictures (usually as a dancer or chorus girl) like Dancing Lady in 1933 and Week-End in Havana in 1941. 
She was married at least once, to Colonel Robert Johnston. I am not sure when they married, but I believe they remained married until death. After she retired from film, she and her husband traveled frequently and they owned and operated a store in downtown Los Angeles called Colonel Bob's Hobby Shop. 
Lucille passed away on August 28, 2002 in Camarillo, California. I do not know where she is buried.


Aloha Porter was born Eugenia Aloha Porter on June 5th in Los Angeles. I have seen her birth year span from 1908 all the way to 1911. She was born to Lewis Porter, a mining expert, and his wife, Eugenia Stevens. I read somewhere that she had a twin brother named Harold who also worked briefly in Hollywood but I can't find anything to substantiate that. Aloha's film career lasted from 1926 until 1935, with 16 film/short appearances. She was also named Miss California of 1926. After she retired from films she became heavily involved in the show horse circuit.
She was married at least twice. Her first marriage was to Leonard Lee Roy Thomas in 1926, but the marriage was annulled the following year. Her second husband was a dentist named Eugene Jess Robinson who she married in 1936. The couple remained married until his death in 1967.
Aloha lived a long life, passing away on June 1, 2004.