Archive for April, 2013

Rosalyn Boulter – Wonder who remembers this actress

Sunny and self-assured, Rosalyn Boulter seems an unlikely lady of mystery. She is the perfect no-nonsense foil for George Formby in his final film, George in Civvy Street in 1946.

Rosalyn plays Mary Colton, George’s childhood sweetheart. When George returns from the war, he finds that both he and Mary have inherited their fathers’ rival pubs. She owns (but is too young to run) the Lion, across a canal from George’s Unicorn. We may wonder, of course, where she got her posh accent in a Lancashire village, but the fair-haired, feisty Mary is more than a match for the requisite villain who seeks her inheritance, her hand, and George’s downfall.
When she learns of the villainy afoot and tries to warn George, Mary is locked up. No shy violet, she overpowers her jailer, swims the canal, and even strips to her undies (or less) behind a convenient blanket. To balance all this athletic eroticism, she then appears as a demure Alice in Wonderland to George’s Mad March Hare in a dream sequence. A dynamic post-war woman played by an actress of considerable talent!

                 George sings ‘It’ll Make you Madder than the Mad March Hare’

Fair-haired Rosalyn Boulter was born in Burton-on-Trent, Staffordshire, on February 1, 1916, the daughter of Arthur Edward Boulter and his wife, Lillian (Douthwaite). Rosalyn attended the North Middlesex School and then studied for the stage at the Central School of Speech Training and Dramatic Art under Elsie Fogerty.

 

Her first professional appearance was at age 19 at the Arts Theatre Club on June 11, 1935, playing Lady Clive in Clive of India. That summer she had important roles in A Midsummer Night’s Dream (as Hermia) and Love’s Labour’s Lost at the Regents Park Open Air Theatre. (The following summer she returned for As You Like It and The Tempest.)

 

Her career took off quickly, bringing both stage and film roles. She was featured in 4 West End productions in 1935 and 1936. Her first 2 film roles, a romantic comedy called Love at Sea (1936) and Holiday’s End (1937), a thriller, gave her top billing. In 1937, she toured the U.K. and made her Broadway debut, playing the ingenue lead in the West End hit George and Martha.

Rosalyn married Stanley Haynes, a film writer, director, producer, and, according to one friend, “charming philanderer.” They had a daughter, Carol, in 1942 or 1943. Rosalyn remained active in films during this time, appearing in 1942 with Leslie Howard, David Niven, and Anne Firth (another Formby leading lady) in The First of the Few (aka Spitfire), a stirring biography of R.J. Mitchell, designer of the Spitfire airplane. In 1943, she made two wartime propaganda films, The Gentle Sex, about women doing war work, and Rhythm Serenade, a Vera Lynn vehicle.

Back in the West End, she starred with Barry Morse in The Assassin in 1945. A fellow performer recalls impressing his girlfriend by taking her to the splendid opening night party at the Savoy which was attended by Noël Coward and other celebrities. There, the young lady was introduced to Boulter’s husband, Stanley Haynes, and “two weeks later, he buggered off with my girlfriend!” Apparently, this marked the end of Boulter’s first marriage. Devastated, she remained with her daughter Carol in the family home at 2 Gloucester Walk in Kensington, London, getting emotional support from friends that included Marcel Varnel (a Formby director) and fellow actors Derrick de Marney and Richard Neilson.

1946 represented both a peak in Rosalyn’s career and a major disappointment. Every actor knows how the right role at the right time can make a star. On stage, Rosalyn had scored a major triumph as the unscrupulous and faithless wife of a man driven to murder in Dear Murderer. However, the film, starring Eric Portman and Dennis Price, used Greta Gynt in Boulter’s role. Then her luck changed — or so she thought.

Rosalyn Boulter appeared in Richard Todd’s very first film ‘For Them That Trespass’ Directed by Alfredo Cavalcanti

She was cast in the key role of Burgess Meredith’s mistress in the film Mine Own Executioner. Unfortunately, Meredith’s wife, Paulette Goddard, was also in England, filming Oscar Wilde’s An Ideal Husband for Alexander Korda. Goddard decided that Rosalyn wasn’t sexy enough for the part and was instrumental in having her replaced by Korda’s current protegée, Christine Norden, a voluptuous green-eyed blonde who was playing Mrs. Marchmont in The Ideal Husband. Norden’s highly sensual performance as the mistress in Mine Own Executioner helped to establish her as the first postwar sex symbol of the British cinema, prior to the ascendancy of Diana Dors. So memorable was Norden’s performance that, after her death in 1988, part of the planet Venus was named for her!

Rosalyn was bitter about this loss for many years, feeling it blighted her career. Norden, aware of Boulter’s feelings, said in later years, “She blames me to this day, but I was under contract and simply did as I was told.”

On August 8, 1952 in London, Rosalyn married Joseph Sistrom, an American film producer (Double Indemnity, Botany Bay). A newspaper account described the happy couple accompanied by Rosalyn’s pretty, blonde daughter, Carol, then age 9. Rosalyn made only one more film, The Day They Gave Babies Away in 1959, and then her private life becomes something of a mystery.

According to one friend, she never remarried after Sistrom’s death in 1966. But another, actor Richard Neilson, recalls being introduced that year to Rosalyn’s husband William Dozier, “a prominent Hollywood producer with Universal….in a luxury high-rise in Greenwich Village. They later lived on a turkey ranch in Arizona.” William Dozier (1908-1991) was a Vice President at RKO Studios and later a CBS-TV executive.

“Ros was going on the road with some show,” recalls Neilson, “and I loaned her a rather beautiful — what we called in those far off days — wardrobe trunk, white leather, very posh. I had a few cards over the next months. Then Rosalyn — and my trunk — went out of my life.” (If indeed she did a U.S. road tour in the 1960s, this would indicate that Rosalyn remained active in the theatre well beyond Waggonload O’ Monkeys in 1951, her final, officially-logged U.K. stage appearance.)

Rosalyn Boulter died on March 6, 1997 in Santa Barbara, California. Her death certificate lists her Rosalyn Boulter Sistrom, indicating that either she never remarried after Joseph Sistrom’s death, or alternately, that she returned to his name after William Dozier’s death. To further muddle things, some sources recall that she married William Sistrom, a British film director (whose wives included Joan Fontaine and Ann Rutherford), but this clearly is not the case.  Perhaps a mental merging of Joseph Sistrom and William Dozier?

(The obituaries for neither William Sistrom nor William Dozier mention Rosalyn.)

Whatever her professional activities after her final film in 1959, Rosalyn Boulter deserves being remembered in the various biographical performing arts anthologies, both for her more than 20 years in show business with 12 films and 23+ stage appearances, and also for her obvious beauty and charm.

Real life, like reel life, can offer melodramatic twists and surprise endings.  Some of the George Formby leading ladies went on to well-documented fame. Others retired from performing, making it a challenge to locate them or find information about their later years.

One of the most elusive has been Rosalyn Boulter, who, despite extensive stage and screen credits, seemed to vanish when she left acting. No obituary has been found. Even a group of hardy scholars devoted to tracking the birth/marriage/death dates of obscure UK actors could not find a trace of her.

During several years of networking, I located two longtime Boulter friends. Both told me that Rosalyn Boulter had died “some years ago” in the United States — one thought in California, the other on a ranch in Arizona. They also differed on the name of her last husband. (Given the fallibility of human memory, it is a wonder that eyewitness testimony is ever permitted in court!)

Enter a recent boon for researchers: the on-line U.S. Social Security Death Index. As a matter of public record, it lists birth and death information for everyone with a U.S. Social Security number who has died since 1960. (Presumably earlier S.S. records will be added, back to its inception in 1933.) By checking maiden and all possible married names, I found that “Rosalyn Sistrom” died on March 6, 1997 in Santa Barbara, California. This was just 17 months before I was assured by good friends that she had been dead for a decade or two.

I sent for a copy of her probated will, another public document that could reveal the names and addresses of relatives or friends. However, another mini-mystery: her will wasn’t probated in the county where she died. Nor have I been able to determine if her daughter Carol (who would now be about 58) is still alive.

A poignant and probably fanciful explanation has occurred to me. Did Rosalyn suffer a stroke or incapacitating illness and enter a nursing facility several decades ago? Did her east-coast friends, having their Christmas cards returned and discovering her phone disconnected, decide that she must have died? And did she spend her final years alone and cut off from her old friends until her death in 1997? Or is there a simpler and less melodramatic explanation, such as a failure of the post office to forward letters?

Carol Haynes, if you are out there, we would love to know more about your lovely mother’s life after she left the spotlight.

POSTSCRIPT:

In the Spring, 2001 Vellum profile of Rosalyn Boulter, George’s sunny leading lady in George In Civvy Street, 1946, much of Rosalyn’s later life had evaded the author’s research efforts, making her something of a mystery lady.” But once the article was posted on the George Formby Society web site, a genealogical researcher in East Suffolk, Denis Sistrom, contacted the GFS to correct some errors [See Letters] and to put us in touch with Carol Johnson, Rosalyn’s only daughter. Here is a follow-up interview with Carol about the post-1952 life of her mother, Rosalyn Boulter.

Carol Haynes Johnson is the daughter of Rosalyn and film director-writer-producer Stanley Haynes. Their marriage broke up when Carol was quite young. “Daddy came into our lives when I was about 4,” she recalls,
referring to her step-father William Sistrom. “He was gentle, loving, giving. I always called him ‘Daddy.’”

Rosalyn married her second husband, William “Billy” Sistrom, in London on August 8, 1952 when Carol was 8. Sistrom was 68, Rosalyn 36. (Some newspaper accounts confused English-born William with his American-born sons, William and Joseph. Rosalyn’s Vellum profile erroneously reported that the groom was Joseph.)
As a child, Carol played with Jeremy and Jennifer Hanley, children of Dinah Sheridan (leading lady of Get Cracking) and actor Jimmy Hanley. Carol has a  wonderful photo of the 3 of them watching their parents on stage.

Billy Sistrom had produced 30 UK and US films between 1930 and 1949, including Dangerous Moonlight, A Dog Of Flanders, and Hungry Hill. After the marriage, he retired, and the family moved to Phoenix, Arizona. “It’s a dreadful memory for me, such a contrast between the desert of Phoenix and the green of England,” recalls Carol. Billy Sistrom managed a turkey ranch in Buckeye, about 40 miles outside the city.

Rosalyn worked with the Phoenix Little Theater, directing, acting, and producing 4 or 5 shows a year. She starred in a highly acclaimed production of Johnny Belinda for which she learned American sign language. The group frequently presented Shakespearean plays, and Rosalyn appeared in Othello (as Desdemona), Hamlet (as Ophelia), and Macbeth (as Lady MacBeth) — an extraordinary range for any one actress.

“The joke in the family to this day,” says Carol, “is that I have never read Shakespeare. Whenever a play was assigned in school, I’d ask mother to do it on stage so I could watch her do it and then report on it. I loved watching the plays, but not reading them. Which is odd because I’m a voracious reader.”

Carol appeared on stage only once as a child, a small role in a Phoenix Little Theatre production The Remarkable Mr. Pennypacker. She was not tempted to seek an acting career: “When you’ve watched perfection like my mother, it’s very intimidating.”

The “extraordinarily happy” couple had often talked of moving to Santa Barbara on the coast of California. Then Billy Sistrom died in 1972 in Arizona at the age of 88. Carol had already married Bill Johnson (“who also loves animals”) and moved to Texas. (They now live in Louisiana. Carol has a granddaughter and 3 grandsons.)
In 1975, Rosalyn made the move alone to Santa Barbara. “Mother was extraordinarily happy there,” recalls Carol. “She lived near the beach in a lovely home and had lots of friends.” Rosalyn got involved with the Lobero Theatre, connected to the University of California, Santa Barbara. She soon switched over from acting to behind-the-scenes activities. She was very active in fund raising and did benefits with people like Vincent Price, Dame Judith Anderson, Robert Mitchum, Jane Russell, and Jimmy Stewart.

Above – Lobero Theatre  Santa Barbara

Nearing the age of 80, Rosalyn developed macular degeneration which caused her eyesight to fail. Carol came to stay with her during the final 9 months of her life. “I’m so grateful that we had that time together.” Rosalyn went into the hospital for a fairly routine surgical procedure to remove plaque from an artery. The next day, she was chatting cheerfully with a dear friend when she collapsed unexpectedly and died of a blood clot.

A memorial service was held at the Lobero Theatre, attended by many of the celebrated performers she had known and worked with over the years. At the end of the service, actress Anne Francis stood and said, “Let’s give a hand for this great lady.” Everyone rose and gave a round of applause.

Carol recalls that her mother “had a fantastic sense of humour and loved to laugh. She was an incredible woman, very loving, very kind. She is terribly missed.” Eleanor Knowles Dugan

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Roy Rogers – King of Cowboys

Now we turn to a very well known star of film and TV of course  Roy Rogers, popular to kids of the fifties and before mainly because of his  comics – certainly in England that is – and the films he made of which there are many.

Most of his films were 60 or 70 minute B features but as you will see below he made a very good living from them. However in 1952 he shared star billing with Bob Hope and Jane Russell in the brilliant ‘SON OF PALEFACE’

 

Roy Rogers, born Leonard Franklin Slye (November 5, 1911 – July 6, 1998) inCincinnati, Ohio and  moved to California to become a singer. He quickly formed a Western cowboy music group called the Sons of the Pioneers with Bob Nolan and Tim Spencer and in 1934 the group hit it big with songs like “Cool Water” and “Tumbling Tumbleweeds”. He made his first film appearance in 1935 and worked steadily in western films including a large supporting role as a singing cowboy while still billed as Leonard Slye. In 1938 Gene Autry temporarily walked out on his movie contract  and needing someone to quickly replace him Republic Pictures decided on a name change and Leonard Slye was  rechristened “Roy Rogers”  and he then took  the lead in Under Western Stars.

What a break that was because quite quickly he became a matinee idol and American legend. He was then a competitor for Gene Autry as the nation’s favourite singing cowboy.

In addition to his own movies, Rogers played a supporting role in the John Wayne classic Dark Command (1940). Rogers became a major box office attraction.

Roy Rogers in The Carson City Kid

In the Motion Picture Herald Top Ten Money-Making Western Stars poll, Rogers was listed for 15 consecutive years from 1939 to 1954, holding first place from 1943 to 1954. He appeared in the similar Box Office poll from 1938 to 1955, holding first place from 1943 to 1952. (In the final three years of that poll he was second only to Randolph Scott.)  Although these two polls are really an indication only of the popularity of series stars, Rogers also appeared in the Top Ten Money Makers Poll of all films in 1945 and 1946.

Rogers was an idol for many children through his films and television shows. Most of his postwar films were in Trucolor during an era when almost all other B westerns were black-and-white.

With money from not only Rogers’ films but his own public appearances going to Republic Pictures, Rogers brought a clause into a 1940 contract with the studio where he would have the right to his likeness, voice and name for merchandising. There were Roy Rogers action figures, cowboy adventure novels, and playsets, as well as a comic strip, a long-lived Dell Comics comic book series (Roy Rogers Comics) and a variety of marketing successes. Roy Rogers was second only to Walt Disney in the amount of items featuring his name. The Sons of the Pioneers continued their popularity, and they have never stopped performing from the time Rogers started the group, replacing members as they retired or passed away (all original members are deceased). Although Rogers was no longer an active member, they often appeared as Rogers’ backup group in films, radio, and television, and Rogers would occasionally appear with them in performances up until his death. In August 1950, Evans and Rogers had a daughter, Robin Elizabeth, who had Down Syndrome and died of complications with mumps shortly before her second birthday. Evans wrote about losing their daughter in her book Angel Unaware.

Above – Roy Rogers and the Sons of the Pioneers in the film   Rainbow Over Texas

Rogers and Evans were also well known as advocates for adoption and as founders and operators of children’s charities. They adopted several children. Both were outspoken Christians. In Apple Valley, California, where they made their home, numerous streets and highways as well as civic buildings have been named after them in recognition of their efforts on behalf of homeless and handicapped children.

Rogers and Evans’s famous theme song, “Happy Trails”, was written by Dale Evans; they sang it as a duet to sign off their television show. In the autumn of 1962, the couple co-hosted a comedy-western-variety program, The Roy Rogers and Dale Evans Show  but it wascancelled after three months. Rogers also owned a Hollywood production company which handled his own series as well as others..

Roy Rogers and Dale Evans at the 61st Academy Awards in 1989

 

Below is one of the many films that Roy Rogers starred in in the late fifties – available now on DVD from the original Trucolor print :-

 

Directed by William Witney Associate Producer: Edward J. White Original Screen Play by A. Sloan Nibley Director Of Photography: Jack Marta

CAST: Roy Rogers, Trigger, Jane Frazee (Taffy Baker), Andy Devine (Cookie Bullfincher), Stephanie Bachelor (Jean Loring), Roy Barcroft (Matt Wilkes), Chester Conklin (Old Timer) and Bob Nolan and The Sons of the Pioneers.

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For whatever crazy reason Republic Pictures saw fit to cut the Trucolor Roy Rogers films to a TV-friendly 54 minutes from running times of around 67-75 minutes each and, of course, the TV prints were black and white. What’s worse, they cut the original negatives and tossed the “scraps” away so the story goes.

Tracking down the King Of The Cowboys’ Trucolor movies is a real challenge for DVD labels and collectors alike. So when another turns up uncut and actually in colour, it’s a real cause for celebration.    Such is the case with the recently-released Springtime In The Sierras  1947 from Film Chest. This has been transferred from an ultra-rare complete 16mm colour print

 

Roy Rogers is after a gang that’s slaughtering wild game illegally. There’s a lot of money in the meat, and these guys are willing to kill (both animals and people) to keep their operation going. Roy’s old friend Captain Foster (Harry V. Cheshire) is murdered, and Roy takes on the gang — with the usual Roy Rogers/William Witney mix of music, comedy and lots and lots of action. There are at least three fistfights, with one between Roy Rogers and Roy Barcroft taking place in a mammoth freezer full of slaughtered game. (Watching these later Rogers films, you have to remind yourself at times that these were aimed at kids.)

There’s plenty of singing, too, which is a real treat with Bob Nolan and the Sons Of The Pioneers on hand. Andy Devine provides his usual comic relief. Dale Evans isn’t around, but Jane Frazee is — and there’s Stephanie Bachelor as one of the deer-killing villains. Sloan Nibley wrote a number of the later Rogers films. This was one of his first, and it shows his flair for story (usually a somewhat oddball one) and gift for balancing the various elements that make up a Roy Rogers movie. Around the time Roy left Republic for TV, Nibley wrote a few good Western features (Carson City and Springfield Rifle, both 1952) before settling into a busy life as a television writer.

The stars here are Roy Rogers and director William Witney. Working together, they created a tough, lean, fast-paced series of films and  Witney’s under-cranked action scenes are incredible in Springtime In The Sierras, with a couple riding stunts that have to be seen to be believed.

So what does the DVD look like?  It’s a little soft, attributable to the 16mm material and the Trucolor process. (See picture left.) If you’ve seen Trucolor before (during this period when it was two-strip instead of three), you know what to expect. It’s a long way from Technicolor  though – because in colour terms that is about as good as it ever gets.

Film Chest has done us all a favour by releasing this one.

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Treasure Island 1950 – revisited

I make no apologies for returning to this classic Technicolor adventure film made by Walt Disney here in England at the famous Denham Film Studios. Even by todays standards this is still a very good film indeed and beautifully made in fabulous colour.

In the above picture, we see Byron Haskin the Director, sitting in the foreground with a book or script in his hand and to his right Award Winning Photographer Freddie Young as well as other technicians, and not forgetting the actors including Basil Sydney as Captain Smollett.

 

Above – This is not exactly the same scene but it is a colour still on board the ‘Hispaniola’

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A Day To Remember 1953

On the eve of their visit to France the members of the Hand & Flower pub darts team gather for a drink. The day trip is being organised by one of their regulars who is a travel agent. For some of the team it is their first ever trip abroad, while for others it is the first time they have returned to France since the war. One of the team has developed a plan to buy watches in France and smuggle them back into Britain to sell at a profit. Another, Jim Carver ( Donald Sinden)  is going through a rocky patch with his fiancee, who he suspects considers him to be boring and plain.

The following day the group meet at London Victoria and catch the boat train to Boulogne. Once they have landed in France, despite the insistence of their unofficial leader the pub’s landlord that they stick together, Jim Carver departs to visit a farm where he had been involved in heavy fighting during 1944 when British troops had arrived to liberate France. He takes some flowers to the cemetery where his comrade is buried. He then meets a young woman, Martine (Odile Versois), who he first met eight years before, who invites him to have lunch with her family on the farm. They immediately strike up a chemistry, which his relationship with his fiancee in England lacks. However his newfound friend is also engaged to a local lawyer.

Back in the town, the rest of the group enjoy a lunch in a cafe and then break up into smaller groups to tour round the town. One goes to try to pick up his black market watches, another gets drunk and joins the foreign legion in spite of their efforts to stop him. One of the group becomes violent homesick despite having left England only hours before. After attempting to, and failing to retrieve their friend from service in the foreign legion the group begins to drift towards the docks and the ship that will carry them on their voyage home – and wonder what has happened to Carver who has been missing all day.

Carver has fallen in love with Martine, and she has broken up with Henri. However they argue and he heads for his ship without her. Unbeknownst to him, his fiancee in London has met and struck up a relationship with an American servicemen during a visit to Hampton Court. Carver seems to realise he is far better suited to Martine, and after he boards the ferry she drives hurriedly to dockside and shouts her true feelings for him. They agree to meet again soon when he returns to France.

I found this a totally delightful film. I have seen it several times and still love it.
It is particularly interesting because of the array of a galaxy of British talent. including  Joan Rice, James Hayter, Bill Owen, Stanley Holloway, Donald Sinden, Edward Chapman, Hary Fowler, Thora Hird and Brenda DE Banzie.
With such a wealth of talent this could never fail!  It is quite good fun and has recently been released on DVD.

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