Will Rogers (1879-1935)

Will Rogers The youngest of eight children, William Penn Adair Rogers was born on November 4, 1879 at Rogers Ranch in Oologah, Indian Territory (what is now Oklahoma). His parents, Clement Vann Rogers and Mary Schrimsher, were partly of Cherokee descent.

While growing up on the family ranch, Will worked with cattle and learned to ride and lasso from a young age. He grew so talented with a rope, in fact, that he was placed in the Guiness Book of World Records for throwing three lassos at once. One went around the horse's neck, another circled around the rider, and the third flew under the horse, looping all four legs together.

Will attended several schools during his childhood, including Kemper Military School in Boonville, Missouri from 1897 to 1898. He dropped out in the 10th grade to become a cowboy. In 1902 and 1903, Will traveled in South Africa with "Texas Jack's Wild West Show," in which he played "The Cherokee Kid" and did roping tricks. He also traveled in Australia and New Zealand with the Wirth Brothers Circus. Back in the United States in 1904, Will appeared at the World's Fairs in St. Louis and New York City. Will extended his career in entertainment, touring vaudeville circuits in America, Canada and Europe from 1905-1915. In November 1908, Will married Betty Blake, with whom he had four children (Will Jr., Mary, Jim and Fred). Betty was a loving and supportive wife to Will until his death.

During his years in the vaudeville circuits, as well as his time with Ziegfeld Follies in 1917, Will's act evolved from the exhibition of his lasso skills that had launched his career to the development of his own unique. Will had always regretted quitting school, and enjoyed talking to people and reading. These two interests became the basis for his humor, which focused on intelligent and amusing observations about people, life, the country and the government in simple language that his audience could understand. Soon, audiences hankered for Will's humor more than his roping feats.

Will Rogers Trick Roping Will Rogers Roper In 1918, Will began acting in several silent films, including Laughing Bill Hyde (1918) and The Ropin' Fool (1921), among others. When "talkies" came in, Will became a national star. His several credits in talking films include such titles as They Had to See Paris (1929) and State Fair (1934). His simple language and country roots appealed to audiences, who saw him as one of their own. Throughout his career, Will starred in 71 films and several Broadway productions. In 1934, he was voted the most popular male actor in Hollywood.

Will's career broadened beyond the realm of show business, as well. He wrote 4,000 syndicated columns and six books, becoming a prominent radio broadcaster and political commentator. He called politics "the best show in the world" and described Congress as the "national joke factory." His folksy humor and honest, intelligent observations about the government and America earned the respect of the nation. Eventually, Will roped in some nominations of his own. He declined a nomination to be governor of Oklahoma and became honorary mayor of Beverly Hills in 1925. For the 1928 election, Life magazine formed the Anti Bunk Party, in the hope that their nominee for the Presidency of the United States would not talk "bunk," as other politicians did. Will's no-nonsense spin on the political "show" made him the obvious candidate for the spoof campaign. Will, promising that he would resign if he won, wrote his observations on the election in Life and became one of the country's foremost opinion leaders. As a result of his status as a nationally beloved figure and powerful political pundit, Will also came to know many world leaders. He was a guest at the White House and a friend of Presidents Calvin Coolidge and Franklin Roosevelt.

WillRogersBroadcast Sadly, Will's life was cut short at the age of 55. In 1935, he planned a vacation with aviator Wiley Post, flying to Alaska with some stops along the way. Will had already flown all over the world as a reporter, visiting London, Manchuria, Java, Egypt, South America, Japan, Moscow and destinations all over America. The ill-fated flight to Alaska, however, took the life of America's most beloved celebrity. Tragically, on August 15, 1935, Will and Wiley's flight crashed near Point Barrow, Alaska, taking both of their lives. Will's untimely death shocked and saddened the nation. Initially, Will was buried in Los Angeles. However, his wife Betty built a memorial in Claremore, Oklahoma, which was dedicated in 1938 by President Franklin Roosevelt. In 1944 Will's body and the body of his son Fred, who died at the age of two, were moved to rest there. Betty died that same year, and rests beside her husband and son.

Will Rogers' political writings and sayings continue to remain relevant to politics today, and his wit and humor continue to endear him to audiences everywhere. A musical, "The Will Rogers Follies," chronicles the life of the amazing entertainer, humorist and author and keeps his memory alive by introducing him to new audiences. The Will Rogers Institute, which provides funding for research on pulmonary diseases, was established as a fitting memorial to the man who loved all human beings. To find out more about Will Rogers, fans can visit the Will Rogers Memorial Museum in Claremore, Oklahoma and the Will Rogers Dog Iron Ranch & Birthplace Home in Oologah, Oklahoma.

Wiley Post 1898-1935 (aviator)

Wiley Post Young Wiley Post 1898-1935 (aviator) - Wiley Post was one of the most celebrated pilots in aviation history. He set two trans-global speed records during the 1930s, one with a co-pilot, and one by himself. Post also developed the first practical pressure suit and helped pioneer high-altitude flight. Many Americans related to Post's ability to overcome his difficult circumstances, particularly during the Great Depression. His tragic and untimely death in 1935 stunned the nation and robbed aviation of a valuable innovator. Lost his left eye in an oil rig accident. (Photo Century of Flight, Aviation Pathfinders)

In 1935, Rogers was looking for new material for his act and a newspaper column that appeared in papers across the nation. He decided that a trip to America's final frontier, Alaska, would provide him an opportunity and inspiration for fresh ideas. He hired his friend Post to fly him to what was then an American territory. The two friends would make the whole trip and adventure filled with bear hunts and possibly finding a new air route to Europe through Alaska and Siberia.

Post Plane Post had a new plane that was built using the parts of two Lockheed aircraft. The fuselage came from an Orion while the wings were from an Explorer. For some reason, Post was short on cash and it was the most advanced plane that he could afford. He decided that it would be a good idea to fit the aircraft with pontoons to make water landings in Alaska possible. But, the pontoons he ordered did not arrive on time. Patience can be a virtue and a lack of patience can lead to problems; in this case it may have been fatal. Instead of waiting for the specially built pontoons, Post fitted the aircraft with a set that were longer than necessary. The long pontoons made the plane nose-heavy.

Wiley Post and Will Rogers took off from Fairbanks, Alaska to Point Barrow. From there, the details are somewhat conflicting. One version is that they ran into storms and Post used more fuel than anticipated. He tried to make his way Barrow and ran out of fuel. A problem with this post-event narrative is that Post's modified plane had an oversized 260 gallon tank. And, the initial reports were that, there were issues with the plane and Post put it down south of Barrow for repairs. Shortly after takeoff, the plane stalled and plunged nose-first into the lake. Both Will Rogers and Wiley Post were killed and America lost perhaps the most influential voice of the common man in the midst of the Great Depression and one of it's most innovative aviation pioneers. Ultimately, if the pontoon story is correct, then the cause of their deaths may have been a lack of patience.
1935 newsreel of the death of Post and Rogers Wiley Post Later

Florenz Ziegfeld

Ziegfeld Ziegfeld 2 1869-1932, American theatrical producer, b. Chicago. The talent manager son of a German immigrant, in 1907 he first produced the Ziegfeld Follies, for 24 years an annual revue famous for its extraordinarily elaborate staging, variety of performers, and chorus line of beautiful women. Anna Held, Billie Burke, Fanny Brice, Eddie Cantor, WillRogers, and W. C. Fields were among his stars. His other spectacular productions included Sally, Rio Rita, Rosalie, Show Boat, and Bitter Sweet. He was married to Anna Held from 1897 to 1913 and in 1914 married Billie Burke.

Anna Held Billie Burke
Anna Held Billie Burke

Florenz Ziegfeld, Jr. was born in Chicago on March 15, 1867. (Some published sources list March 21 - I have not seen solid documentation to verify which is the correct date.) His German immigrant father ran the successful College of Music, and raised his family in an atmosphere of relative comfort. Young Flo had two brothers, one sister, and a strict but loving mother who kept her brood in line. Even as a boy, Flo showed a penchant for creative publicity. He went a bit too far when he sold kids tickets to see a school of "invisible fish" that turned out to be nothing more than a glass bowl filled with water. The resulting fuss taught him a valuable lesson. In his adult career, he always tried to build his publicity around the best talent he could find.

In later years, Flo would claim that at age 16 he ran off with Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show and beat Annie Oakley in an 1883 shooting match - but since Oakley did not begin touring until 1885, odds are that this was one of Ziegfeld's many self-perpetuated legends. We do know that Ziegfeld so hated school that his parents sent him off to a brief stint at a Wyoming cattle ranch. After a few months playing cowboy, the teenager returned to Chicago.

In 1893, Ziegfeld's father opened The Trocadero, a nightclub designed to capitalize on the city's upcoming World's Fair. When the club's mix of classical music and variety acts failed to draw much of an audience, Flo offered to save the day. Given a free hand, he booked strongman Eugene Sandow and staged a massive publicity campaign. Sandow's statuesque physique and dramatic feats of strength wowed the opening night audience. When several high society matrons stopped backstage to see the handsome hunk flex his fifty eight inch chest up close, the resulting press coverage made the Trocadero the hottest night spot in town.

After saving his grateful father from bankruptcy, Ziegfeld took Sandow on an extended vaudeville tour, winning fresh press coverage in every city with a series of inventive publicity stunts. In San Francisco, things backfired when Ziegfeld announced Sandow would wrestle a man-eating lion - the thousands who showed up could see that the poor beast had been drugged into submission. After two years, Sandow and Ziegfeld parted on good terms.

Although Sandow's tour had been a tremendous success, Ziegfeld's penchant for gambling had eaten up most of his profits. He decided to try his luck on Broadway.

What Broadway lacked, at the turn of the century, was a figure who could fuse the naughty sexuality of the streets and the saloons and the burlesque show with the savoir-faire of lobster palace society - someone who could make sex delightful and amusing. What it lacked was Florenz Ziegfeld.

Betty Blake Rogers (1879-1944)

Betty Blake Rogers Excerpts of a Biography written by Joseph H. Carter

Biographers agree that the strong marriage, fidelity, loyal friendship and trust between Will and Betty Rogers were the keystones of Will Rogers' incredible career and life success.

The seventh of nine children born September 9, 1879 to James and Amelia Blake of Silver Springs, Arkansas, Betty's father died when she was three. Her widowed Mother moved the family to Rogers, Arkansas - a town whose name cannot be traced to Will Rogers' ancestry. Betty had been born nearly two months before Will Rogers' November 4, 1879 birth in Indian Territory.

Betty Blake's widowed Mother provided a happy home under tough economic conditions which meant the children all worked.

Betty Blake was a good student, but employment precluded her graduation from the local academy.

Betty Blake Rogers Talented in music, she played several instruments and was a popular actress in local theater. She clerked in a mercantile store, set type for the Rogers Democrat newspaper then became a railroad telegrapher.

Stricken by typhoid in 1899, she lost her hair and, as it grew back, she styled it into the boyish bob that would greet Will Rogers. To regain her health, she moved to tiny Oologah where her sister's husband was railroad station master.

Nine years after the fatal crash in Alaska, Betty Blake Rogers died of cancer in their ranch home atop the hill overlooking the Pacific Ocean. Her body was taken by train to Oklahoma and laid to rest under the sarcophagus at the Will Rogers Memorial at Claremore.

Roger's Children

Rogers Kids

William Vann Rogers Jr. (1911-1993)

William Vann Rogers JrRogers U.S. Representative from California 16th District, 1943-1945. Also an actor and son of humorist Will Rogers (1879-1935). (findagrave.com)

Will Rogers Jr. would gain fame in public affairs, politics and acting. He retired in Tubac, Arizona where he was laid to rest in 1993 at age 81. Two sons, Clem and Carlos, died at the dawning of the 21st Century. (Joseph H. Carter)

Mary Amelia Rogers Brooks (1913-1989)

Mary Amelia Rogers Brooks Mary Amelia Rogers was the daughter of William Penn Adair "Will" Rogers and Betty Blake. She married on 18 Sep 1950 in Las Vegas, Clark Co., NV, Walter Brooks II b. abt 1910. They had no children. Mary was a Broadway actress. (findagrave.com)

Mary Rogers was a stage and movie star who, saddened, became an American expatriate returning to California where childless she died at Santa Monica in 1989 at the age of 76. (Joseph H. Carter)

Jim Rogers (1915-2000)

Jim Rogers Actor, Son of cowboy entertainer Will Rogers. He was the third son and was born while his father was performing on the Broadway stage. When Will Rogers became a movie star, the family moved to California. He played a child's role in three of his father's films and went on to perform in six western movies, including three of the "Hopalong Cassidy" westerns. He was active for many years as a family representative to the Will Rogers Memorial in Claremore, Oklahoma and for the Will Rogers birthplace ranch near Oologah, Oklahoma. Like his father, he was a expert horseman and was also a three-goal Polo player. In his later years he was a cattle, horse rancher and curator to his father's west coast estate the Will Rogers State Historic Park, Santa Monica, California. Cause of death was cancer. (findagrave.com)

Jim Rogers, after a stint as a newsman and motion picture actor, became a successful rancher then moved to active retirement in Bakersfield, California. He was deeply involved in the Will Rogers Memorial Commission of Oklahoma overseeing the Claremore museum and Oologah birthplace. Jim died on April 28, 2000, at the age of 84, and was laid to rest with his parents in Claremore. His loving children are Kem, Charles and Bette. His widow, Judy, remains at the family ranch. Kem Rogers succeeded his father on the Will Rogers Memorial Commission of Oklahoma. (Joseph H. Carter)

Fred Stone Rogers (July 15, 1918 - June 17, 1920)

Fred Stone Rogers Died of diphtheria.

Clement "Clem" Vann Rogers

Clem Rogers Rogers County was named for Clement Vann Rogers, who was a member of the Sequoyah statehood convention in 1905 and the Oklahoma Constitutional Convention two years later.

Clem Rogers was born Jan. 11, 1839 near Westville, Indian Territory. His parents had moved from Georgia to Arkansas Territory in 1832, then to Westville. Educated in the Cherokee Nation, he married Mary America Schrimsher in 1858 and pioneered a ranch and trading post in the Cooweescoowee District about 15 miles northwest of the present Claremore.

Clem Rogers was a district judge and served five terms in the Cherokee Senate. After his wife's death in 1890, he moved to Claremore and was active in local government, banking, business and investments. He served as the town's first treasurer.

He died Oct. 28, 1911 while visiting his daughters in Chelsea and is buried in the Chelsea cemetery. Their home still stands two miles northeast of Oologah and is the centerpiece of the Will Rogers Birthplace Ranch, open to the public 365 days a year. (willrogers.com)

Birth: Jan. 11, 1839 Oklahoma, USA
Death: Oct. 28, 1911 Oklahoma, USA

The Men of The Ziegfeld Follies

The 1917 Ziegfeld Follies starred the greatest comedic lineup of the day - Fanny Brice, W.C. Fields, Will Rogers, Eddie Cantor, and Bert Williams - alongside a dazzling array of American beauties. In his best-remembered skit from that year, Bert played a Grand Central redcap who continually brags to co-workers about his son in college. As Ann Charters described in Nobody, "Finally, when the son - Eddie Cantor in blackface - appeared, an effeminate youth wearing glasses with broad white rims, Williams' embarrassment and the eloquent difference in personalities between the two comedians stopped the show. But these moments of greatness were infrequent and fleeting."

Bert Williams

Bert Williams 1 My Landlady

Born in the West Indies, his dream from childhood was to become a song-and-dance man. From Wild West touring troupes, Williams landed on the Great White Way, where he not only became one of the first blacks to break through but also changed the face of the American stage. Forbes argues that every black performer owes something to Williams, who rose through vaudeville in New York to become a Broadway composer/lyricist, with his first show produced in 1889. He debuted as a performer the following year.

In 1903, he was featured in the first all-black cast on Broadway in the musical farce In Dahomey. The score, not by Williams, consisted of the no-longer politically correct "When Sousa Comes to Coontown." Three years later, he composed and starred in the musical comedy Abyssinia.

In 1910, Williams became the first black star of the fabled revues of beautiful girls, the Ziegfeld Follies. The impresario knew he was making a bold move, and he was severely criticized for integrating the company by many of his investors and audience members. Williams, singing his signature tune "Nobody" and doing rube-style comedy, played on the same stage as Fanny Brice and W.C. Fields - even if his salary wasn't commensurate with theirs. He starred in seven more editions before his death in 1922 at 47.

Eddie Cantor

Eddie Cantor1 A few moments with Eddie Cantor

Eddie Cantor was born Israel Iskowitz in New York 1892. His mother died when Eddie was 2 years old of lung cancer and his father abandoned him short after leaving Eddies grandmother to raise him. As a teenager, Eddie began winning local talent contests and began singing at the Coney Island Saloon where he was accompanied by Jimmy Durante. Cantor changed his name to Eddie in 1903, because his girlfriend liked the name. They were married in 1914 and were married until Ida's death in 1962. In 1907, Eddie began performing in vaudeville. In 1912 he appear in Gus Edwards' Kid Kabaret. Soon after, Florenz Ziegfeld gave Eddie a spot in the show Midnight Frolic. A year later, Cantor made his Broadway debut in the Ziegfeld Follies of 1917. He continued in the Ziegfeld Follies until 1927. His radio program, Time to Smile, was broadcast from 1940 to 1946. However, the show stirred up controversy when a young Sammy Davis, Jr. appeared as a guest performer. The producers threatened to cancel his and he responded by booking Sammy Davis Jr. for the rest of the season. Like many others, he lost almost everything in the crash of 1929, briefly considered quitting. He continued writing and performing and made a number of successful movies throughout his career. He died in 1964, after a series of heart attacks beginning in 1952. In the 1950s, he was one of the alternating hosts of the television show The Colgate Comedy Hour.

Eugen Sandow

Eugen Sandow 1 Strongest Man In The World

Born Friederich Wilhelm Mueller
Height: 5' 9" (1.75 m)

Sandow was already a great admirer of Greek and Roman statues of gladiators and mythical heroes when his father took him to Italy as a boy. By the time he was 19, he was already performing strongman stunts in side shows. The legendary Florenz Ziegfeld saw the young strongman and hired him for his carnival show. He soon found that the audience was far more fascinated by Sandows' bulging muscles than by the amount of weight he was lifting, so Ziegfeld had Sandow perform poses which he dubbed "muscle display performances." The legendary strongman added these displays in addition to performing his feats of strength with barbells. He also added chain-around-the-chest breaking and other colorful displays to Sandows routine. Sandow quickly became a sensation and Ziegfeld's first star.

He was married to Blanche Brooks Sandow, had 2 daughters, but was probably unfaithful to her, since he was constantly in the company of women who paid money to feel his flexed muscles back stage after his stage performances. He also had a close relationship to a male musician he hired to accompany him during his shows. The man was Martinus Sieveking, a handsome pupil of Sandow. The degree of their relationship has never been determined, but they lived together in New York for a time.

Sandow knew many famous people in his lifetime... among his friends were Arthur Conan Doyle; Thomas Edison, who made early motion pictures of Sandow; the King of England; Isabella Gardner of Boston and many other celebrities of the day. Sandow invented many bodybuilding exercises, some still used today, and equipment such as a lightweight dumbbell-shaped hand exerciser that was spring-loaded. He was quite generous with his time and money -- out of his own pocket, he paid the housing costs of foreign athletes at the Olympic Games held in London. Sandow was the promoter and judge at the first bodybuilding contest ever held, in New York on September 14, 1901. Sandow also made a world tour in 1903. He died prematurely in 1925 at age 58 of a stroke shortly after pushing his car out of the mud.

Ziegfeld's Favorite

Fanny Brice

FannyBrice1 FannyBrice2 Although known chiefly as a comedienne, Fanny Brice first became internationally famous for singing a torch song, "My Man." Channing Pollock wrote English words to the French tune, "Mon Homme," which Miss Brice introduced in "The Ziegfeld Follies." It proved a "natural," since it appealed to every woman who had ever been in love.

Her classic burlesque and pointed satire formed a hardy perennial of the "Follies" almost every year starting in 1916, when she first did a comic version of a dying swan ballet. Her lampoon of sultry Theda Bara, her take-off of "Camille," with W. C. Fields as the maid, and her travesty on fan dancers and the modern dance, were part of the repertoire of the actress whom Brooks Atkinson of The New York Times described as "a burlesque comic of the rarest vintage."

She was billed with Eddie Cantor, Will Rogers, W. C. Fields, Willie Howard and other top Broadway performers through the years, in which she appeared in such shows as the "Follies," "Music Box Review of 1924," "Sweet and Low" and Billy Rose's "Crazy Quilt." She also put across the song, "Rose of Washington Square."

She created the character Baby Snooks, originally acting the part of the annoying little girl at parties for the entertainment of friends. Later Snooks was regularly featured in sketches in the "Follies" and was introduced to radio in 1938.

After an eleven-year run, Baby Snooks went off the air when its sponsorship on the Columbia Broadcasting System network was withdrawn by General Foods. In November, 1949, however, Miss Brice resumed the role under a long-term contract with the National Broadcasting Company. The company announced yesterday that the program would be off the air for the remainder of the season, the spot being filled by an orchestra. FannyBrice3 She was really Fannie Borach, daughter of a saloon-keeper on Forsythe Street in the crowded Lower East Side, where she was born in 1892. Her first appearance on any stage took place when she was 13 at Keeney's Theatre in Brooklyn, where she won an amateur night contest singing, "When You Know You're Not Forgotten by the Girl You Can't Forget." The prize was $5 and numerous coins hurled by the audience, and from that night on Miss Brice gave up school for the stage.

Then followed a job as jack-of-all-trades in a movie house, playing the piano, singing and helping out in the projection room. When she was 16 she applied for the chorus of the George M. Cohan-Sam Harris review, "Talk of New York." She remained in the chorus until Mr. Cohan found out she could not dance and fired her.

She then sang in various burlesque houses in New York. One night Florenz Ziegfeld "caught" her act and offered her a job at $75 a week. When she left the stage after introducing "My Man," Ziegfeld gave her a check for $2,500 and said, "You've earned it." Her weekly salary soon reached $3,000.

Only once did she try straight drama. In 1925 she was starred in the Belasco production, "Fanny." It was unsuccessful. The critics called for Fanny the comedienne, not the dramatic actress.

She first went to Hollywood to appear in the silent film, "My Man." She returned to Broadway only to find herself in Hollywood again when talkies came in, playing herself in "The Great Ziegfeld" and appearing in "Everybody Sing" and "Be Yourself."

She was married three times. Her first husband was Frank White, a barber, whom she met in 1911 in Springfield, Mass., when she was touring in "College Girl." The marriage lasted only a few days and she brought suit for divorce. In 1918 she was married to Jules W. (Nicky) Arnstein, only to divorce him in Chicago in 1927, after she had stood by him during his two years' imprisonment, starting in 1924, in Leavenworth, in connection with the mysterious disappearance of $5,000,000 worth of securities.

Two years after her divorce she was married to Billy Rose, the showman, by Mayor James Walker in New York. In 1937 she sued Mr. Rose for divorce, and shortly after it was granted he married Mrs. Eleanor Holm Jarrett, swimming champion. (From May 30, 1951 New York Times Obituary)

Barbara Stanwyck

BarbaraStanwyck 1 BarbaraStanwyck 2 BarbaraStanwyck 3 The first photo: Future Hollywood star Barbara Stanwyck three-quarter length portrait, seated, turned to the left, holding fan. Photograph by Alfred Cheney Johnston "between 1920 and 1930", but more likely between 1922 (when Stanwyck, aged 15 and still named Ruby Stevens, became a Ziegfeld Girl), and 1926 when she began her career as a Hollywood movie star. The last photo is from the set of the television series "The Big Valley" which aired between 1965-1969.

The actress's take-charge, down-to-earth screen image mirrored her childhood as Ruby Stevens, born into a poor family of Scottish-Irish descent in the Flatbush section of Brooklyn on July 16, 1907.

When she was 4 years old, her mother was killed when a drunken stranger pushed her off a moving streetcar. The loss devasted her father, a bricklayer, who deserted his five children. They never saw him again. Left School at Age 13. Young Ruby, who had to board with family friends, sought solace by seeing as many movies as her pennies allowed. At the age of 13, she had to leave school to earn a living. She started as a wrapper in a department store and worked in other low-paying clerical jobs while studying dancing with a vaudevillian friend of her family. (From New York Times Obituary by Peter B. Flint, Jan. 27, 1980)

Today Barbara Stanwyck is remembered primarily as the matriarch of the family known as the Barkleys on the TV western "The Big Valley" (1965), wherein she played Victoria; and from the hit drama., "The Colbys" (1985). But she was known to millions of other fans for her movie career, which spanned the period from 1927 until 1964, after which she appeared on television until 1986. It was a career that lasted for 59 years. (IMBD.com)

Barbara Stanwyck was a dazzling study in contrasts. All times sultry and sweet, vulnerable and tough, comedic and dramatic, joyous and tragic - she simply was one of the greatest and most unique actresses during Hollywood's Golden Era. She could play whatever the part required, whether it was madcap glamour in comedies like "The Lady Eve" (1941), tough-minded feminism in weepeis like "Stella Dallas" (1937) or poisonous vixens in noir classics like "Double Indemnity" (1944). A working-class girl from Brooklyn, she became one of the richest women in the United States due to wise investments. On a personal note, she was widely popular with her peers, yet died a virtual recluse.

Helen Hayes

HelenHayes1 HelenHayes 2 Helen Hayes (October 10, 1900 - March 17, 1993) was an American actress whose succesful and award-winning career spanned almost 70 years. She was eventually to garner the nickname First Lady of the American Theater.

Born Helen Hayes Brown in Washington, DC, she began a stage career at an early age. By 10, she had made a short film called Jean and the Calico Doll, but she only moved to Hollywood when her husband, playwright Charles MacArthur, signed a Hollywood deal. Her sound film debut was "The Sin of Madelon Claudet," for which she won the Academy Award for Best Actress. She followed that with starring roles in "Arrowsmith," "A Farewell to Arms," "The White Sister," "What Every Woman Knows" and "Vanessa: Her Love Story." But she never became a fan favorite.

Hayes and MacArthur eventually returned to Broadway, and she starred for three years in Virginia Regina. Eventually, a theater was named in her honor. She returned to Hollywood in the 1950s, and her film star began to rise. She starred in "My Son John" and "Anastasia," and won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress in 1970 for "Airport." She followed that up with several roles in Disney films such as "Herbie Rides Again," "One of Our Dinosaurs Is Missing" and "Candleshoe."

Hayes wrote three memoirs: A Gift of Joy, On Reflection and My Life in Three Acts.

She has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 6220 Hollywood Blvd.

Helen Hayes died on March 17, 1993 and was interred in the Oak Hill Cemetery, Nyack, New York.

Follies Girls

Ziegfeld Follies "Glorifying the American Girl" 1907~1931

Former Ziegfeld Follies Girl Recalls the Glory Days
A pretty girl is like a melody.

Florenz Ziegfeld interviewed 15,000 beautiful women a year for a quarter of a century and a total of 3,000 were selected as Ziegfeld Girls, his idea of the most glorious specimens of American womanhood. Floating across the stage to Berlin's wistful, haunting tune, they were choreographed to convey desire - lust being (slightly) too strong a word - in chiffon and silk, feathers and lace. Ziegfeldgirls1 For those with the right stuff (36-26-38 was Mr. Ziegfeld's preference) and a willingness to strut it, the stage of the New Amsterdam Theater was the place to be in Jazz Age Manhattan. Diamond Jim Brady would lay down $750 to snap up 10 opening night seats for the legendary Ziegfeld Follies, and admirers would indicate their appreciation of particular showgirls by sending precious jewels to their dressing room, ensconced in bouquets of long-stemmed roses.

"All I had to do was say I was in the Ziegfeld Follies and everything was fine," said Eleanor Dana O'Connell, who became a Ziegfeld Girl in 1921 at the age of 17. "Girls in no other show got the attention."

Seventy-five years have passed, and Mrs. O'Connell, now 92, seems not to have missed a beat. At a time men anguish over what to call a woman, she is unabashedly and forever a girl.

But she is much more than that. She is the new president of the National Ziegfeld Club, an organization of former Ziegfeld performers, of whom there are a dozen left, she said. A widow for 25 years, she is on the lookout for "a light love affair," though she doubts the, ahem, agility of gentlemen her age. Two months ago, she spent $4,000 to have her eyes touched up by a plastic surgeon.

"If I only live two years, so what?" said Mrs. O'Connell, her blue eyes dancing mischievously. "I've had two years of joy."

Or as her doctor, Victor I. Rosenberg, director of cosmetic surgery at New York Downtown Hospital, put it, "You have to look your best."

Ziegfeldgirls2 Mr. Ziegfeld's point exactly. If he was shown silk for his dancers' costumes at $5 a yard, and another roll at $30, he would invariably pick the $30 variety. He had three gold phones on his desk and traveled in a private rail car, not only with a chef, but sometimes also with an extra chef adept at preparing the liver and onions he particularly savored.

His theatrical home was the opulent New Amsterdam, a magical dreamland of luscious ornament, including 16 five-foot-high peacock sculptures and sinuously spilling floral exclamations.

His signature production was the Ziegfeld Follies, presented from 1907 to 1927, and for one last time in 1931. Then Mr. Ziegfeld's spending and the Depression coalesced to force him to Hollywood to hire himself out as an adviser to Sam Goldwyn.

But the Follies, dedicated to "glorifying the American girl," lived on in memory, not least because of the other talent: the 1918 Follies season featured Eddie Cantor, W. C. Fields and Will Rogers, in addition to Jessica Reed, the highest-paid showgirl on the planet at $125 a week.

Now, 59 years after the New Amsterdam became the last legitimate theater on 42d Street to close, the Disney Company is resurrecting it for live productions, beginning in May. Disney's hope, in the phrase of an executive, is to take the theatergoing experience "beyond expectations."

Mrs. O'Connell hopes only not to be left out. She demands the Ziegfeld girls be prominently included in opening festivities, and be granted an exhibit area and a small office in the theater. She has written Michael D. Eisner, chairman of Disney, but has yet to hear back.

"Showgirls don't mean a thing to him," she said. "There should be showgirls in an area of theatricality."

Well, maybe. Michael Paris, a Disney spokesman, said the company hopes to "do something" with the Ziegfeld Girls. "As to what degree, it's too early," he said curtly.

Ziegfeldgirls3 The larger danger is that it may be too late. The remaining Ziegfeld girls are drifting offstage, and now get together mostly for memorials to those gone. Just a few can still tell their stories.

One is Nona Otero Friedman, 88, whose middle name is the stage name she stole from a European ballerina. In one Ziegfeld production, she danced with Betty Compton, Jimmy Walker's girlfriend. She tells of riding in the Ziegfeld train on tours; being required by Mr. Ziegfeld to wear hat and gloves even when not at work, and then meeting Mr. Right, with whom whe spent 58 years until he died last year.

She is considering some plastic surgery herself. "I'm still vain, you see," she said. "You never get over that."

Another is Lucile Layton, 93, who chose her last name for its alliteration. She then dropped an "l" from her first name because it otherwise would have had 13 letters. She remembers going to fancy restaurants with a couple of Ziegfeld girls and always getting the best table. "People would come up and say, 'May I have the pleasure of shaking your hand?' "

She left the Follies to go to secretarial school, married a stockbroker a week after the market crashed in 1929, and has been a widow for 25 years. She perfectly remembers the old Ziegfeld feelings. "It made you hold your nose up high," she said.

Mrs. O'Connell was born in London on Sept. 21, 1904. Her father was in charge of advertising for Barnum & Bailey Circus, which was on a European tour. She spent her early years in Greenwich Village going to dance classes on Saturdays.

Ziegfeldgirls4 At 15 she tried out at the old Hippodrome at 44th Street and Sixth Avenue, where she was put in an act with another young girl and a baby elephant. All but the elephant danced in pajamas and held candles. "I get hysterical thinking about it," she said over a vodka and tomato juice at Sardi's, one of her hangouts for more than 70 years.

She answered a call for the "George White Scandals of 1920," a popular revue with music composed by Gershwin, among others.

"I was dancing on Broadway," Mrs. O'Connell said. "I had to keep pinching myself."

The show went on the road, and her parents reluctantly let their 16-year-old daughter go. Her boyfriend, 10 years older, followed her to Chicago and the two promptly went to a judge and got married. The girl's furious parents immediately ordered the marriage annulled, a process that took seven years and $10,000.

Mrs. O'Connell saw the man once more in her life. She met him walking up Broadway five years later. They started strolling together. He told her he had named a race horse for her. A few steps later, he dropped dead of a heart attack.

"I liked him very much," Mrs. O'Connell said. Then she added, "You name it, and I have a place in my life for it."

Next the dancer answered a call for the Midnight Frolics, a more intimate version of the Follies held on the roof of the New Amsterdam. She was accepted as a Ziegfeld girl, and found herself in fairy-tale world in which the Duke of Windsor would appear one night and Jack Dempsey the next. She was "a special girl," because she got to do special numbers. The audience, she recalls, seemed like a colony of penguins, because everyone wore formal evening attire.

Then, at 18, she auditioned for the 1922 Follies and was accepted. But after the New York season, the show was going on the road. Her parents didn't make the same mistake twice. So she resigned.

"Can you imagine I quit Ziegfeld?" she said. "Nobody ever resigned from Florenz Ziegfeld."

Ziegfeldgirls5 A couple of other dancing jobs followed. She went to Hollywood and found the people boring and back-stabbing. She decided to give Mr. Ziegfeld another try. She was admitted to his office, she thinks, because nobody else had ever spurned him.

"Can you learn the entire show in two days?" he growled.

She did and she danced several more seasons. There was an endless chain of admirers.

"We used to party and we used to do a little bouncing around," she said. "You know those places."

She also began dating one of J. P. Morgan's lawyers, whom she wouldn't name. She said he was tall, handsome "and commanded attention with the money to back it up." She also found him boring, describing a typical meal: "He and his friends would just sit and wait to be served," she said. "Then they ate, and sat and waited for the next course."

The lawyer was dumped when she met Jack O'Connell, an entirely different kettle of fish. A bartender who owned a couple of bars, he took her to a club on a Long Island hill on their first date. Onstage was a six-piece band of exceptionally zaftig German women bellowing away, a sight that greatly amused her.

"He kept me laughing for 21 years, that's all I can tell you," Mrs. O'Connell said.

Ziegfeldgirls6 These days, she spends her time trying to clear up the tangled finances of the Ziegfeld Club, which raises money for performers in financial trouble. The club has a small office in the Presbyterian Church on Park Avenue at 63d Street, filled with pictures of long-ago flamboyance.

She lives alone in a studio apartment in Rego Park, Queens, near the house where she lived for years. She has no children and no relatives. But she has friends, who gave her a swell birthday party at London Lenny's, the Queens restaurant where her husband was headwaiter for many years.

And Eleanor Dana O'Connell has some fine memories. Asked to describe them, she sipped her second vodka and tomato juice and thought.

"Oh, boy," she finally answered, smiling ever so sweetly. "Oh, boy."

© Derrick Hampson