Patrice Wymore's Second Movie and Her First (and only) Husband
Last month I watched the 1950 movie Rocky Mountain starring Errol Flynn, shown on Turner Classic Movies (TCM). Why? Because second billing went to Patrice Wymore (SHS Class of 1944). It was her second movie (after another forgettable 1950 movie, Tea for Two). I was curious.
This is the ad in the April 15, 1951 Salina Journal (NOT 1950) for the movie. Being shown at the Royal tells you something right there. It was produced by Warner Brothers; I wonder if the Royal is where all the Warner pictures were shown. Anyway, adults got in for only 30 cents, but under 12 year-olds could get a seat for only 9 cents! (What could you get with the penny change from a dime?)
I quickly found out that Errol and Patrice got seriously acquainted during this movie (Patrice had the only female role) and were married 3 months after it was completed. Patrice has said that she first met Flynn at a party after the Tea for Two movie but before Rocky Mountain. He was 40 and this was his third marriage; she was 24 and it was her first.
The showing on TCM was introduced by Flynn's daughter, Rory, by a previous marriage who said she hated it when Flynn married Wymore but she learned to speak to Patrice a little as the years rolled on. Rory was about 7 years younger than Patrice.
[Living with Flynn on Jamaica] must have been breathtakingly exotic compared with small-town Miltonvale [KS], population 500, where the actress was born in 1926 (a Google search turns up an image of a dusty cornfield and a solitary gas station). “Miltonvale was only a few miles from the geographical centre of the US – you can’t get anymore mid-western than that!” she explains. When the depression of the 30s hit, Wymore’s father went into a neighboring town and got a job driving a truck. “And before the year ended, he owned the truck line,” she says. The cargo contained a glimmer of her future – her father was in charge of distributing motion pictures as far as the border. “I even used to drive the truck sometimes,” she remembers. “When there was bad weather and we needed reserve drivers, I could skip school and deliver the films. So from delivering them, I ended up making them.” [The Wymore Motel was started after the truck job.]
Wymore happened to be the girl put on [Flynn's] arm for a western called Rocky Mountain, shot in the deserts of Gallup, New Mexico (“A film best forgotten” laughs Wymore). She didn’t count herself among the screen idol’s legion of fans at the time. “He said Errol Flynn, I said Errol who?” she remembers. “I was the only woman in the cast, we were out in the desert and became buddies. There was nobody else to talk to! And then he asked me to marry him. I said, you’ve gotta be kidding me! You have too much of this desert moon in your eyes. I’ll continue to see you when we go back to Hollywood, but marriage now… well, pretty soon I realized I was in love as well. He was a very intelligent man, with a wild interest in everything. He was just so interesting to be with.”
The movie's story was no masterpiece but the scenery was spectacular, on the order of Utah's Monument Valley where so many John Wayne/John Ford movies were shot. Checking the web, the location was New Mexico's Red Rock Park, a few miles outside Gallup. For many years, the Gallup area was popular with film makers and everyone stayed in Gallup's best hotel, El Rancho, right on Route 66 ( http://www.elranchohotel.com/ , still very much in business and proud of its old Hollywood connection). "According to screenwriter Winston Miller, director William Keighley and his wife were concerned that newcomer actress Patrice Wymore might fall victim to the seductive charms of the notorious womanizer Errol Flynn, and they arranged to have them assigned rooms on opposite ends of their hotel on location with the Kieghleys in the middle."
Frankly, throughout the film Flynn seems uninterested and listless; nothing like the action-packed swashbuckler in so many other of his movies. And Wymore's performance is about as flat. I began to zip through the really dull parts. But at least I satisfied my mild curiosity about Patrice's early acting career.
I don't know what it means, but Ronald Reagan had wanted the Flynn part and Lauren Bacall turned down the Wymore part. Reagan could have done a better job of it than Flynn, but Bacall was wise to turn down the weak role Wymore had.
For the record, the Rocky Mountain story has nothing to do with Colorado. Confederate soldiers attempt to get into California to start a revolt against the Union but get pinned down on Rocky Mountain, also known as Ghost Mountain for some reason I'm not curious about.
While digging through the web on this little topic, I found some Patrice Wymore photos that might interest you.
This playbill for the movie shows an Indian leaping toward Flynn. Unless I napped through part of the film, certainly a possibility, nothing like that ever happens.
Flynn shows more intensity in this still photo than he brought to the movie itself.
You don't see this in the movie either. Wymore's character was engaged to a Union officer and stayed with him throughout the movie. But it's nice to see her face here.
On the set of the movie the duo are seemingly captured in an off moment.
This still seems to have something to do with Rocky Mountain, but I have no idea just what it might be. But it illustrates that Patrice wasn't in Kansas anymore.
The web says this was taken in 1956. Their marriage wasn't in great shape by then but they certainly made a handsome couple when they wanted to. Flynn had only 3 years to live before his fatal heart attack at age 50.
You want to be an actress but the things you have to do to get noticed and make a living.
A French magazine cover used a similar photo to this one, in color.
Far as I can tell, this movie's tale is NOT based on any actual historical event, although for a time the Confederates did have their eye on California and its gold. The only civil war activity in New Mexico involved fighting back Texans attempting to get to California.
If you'd like to read a good yarn about a true last-ditch attempt by the South to win the war, check out the story of the CSS Shenandoah. It was a tricky scheme to get a warship into the Bering sea where it could destroy the North's unprotected whaling fleet and wreck the economy of the Northeast. After a complicated process of smuggling a ship out of England and converting it into a warship while in the Atlantic Ocean, the plan made good progress with no Yankee warship in the Alaskan waters to oppose the Shenandoah. But then the war ended, leaving the Shenandoah's crew in quite a quandary -- had they destroyed ships after the war ended (because communication to a ship at sea was slow and haphazard), making them pirates liable for hanging, or not? Where could they make port with personal safety?
The story's on the web, but a book has the more complete story well told: Baldwin, John, Last Flag Down: The Epic Journey of the Last Confederate Warship, Crown Publishers, 2007.
But WAIT! There's MORE!
Just a few days after showing Rocky Mountain, TCM showed the first movie Patrice Wymore was in, Tea for Two, also made in 1950 and starring a very young Doris Day and a very young Gordon MacRae. It's a fanciful tale of how the hit Broadway musical of the 1920s, No, No, Nanette, came to be. In that actual Broadway show the song "Tea for Two" was introduced.
Wymore's character in Tea for Two was to be the lead in the new show being developed. But Doris Day ("Nanette" in this movie) promised much needed money ($25,000) and had talent too, so that bumped Wymore unwillingly into a lesser role. Troubles mounted throughout the movie, but in the last few minutes of the film everything suddenly turns out just fine (except for Wymore's character). Doris' character didn't produce the money after all but she still got the lead, plus she got Gordon although they had a big breakup only moments before the happy ending (you are supposed to figure out how they got back together), and Patrice seems to have passively accepted her secondary role after all -- it's all a huge plot leap at the end without any fussing about details or rationale. It seems that they figured the movie had gone on long enough (true) so all the big issues in the story were inexplicitly resolved between two successive celluloid frames. They figured the audience would welcome the happy ending -- or any ending. No objection by North Korea was raised although we were at war with them (and still are).
Wymore gave a realistic speaking performance as the tough show biz character the movie called for. But, alas, her dancing wasn't very strong, especially compared to all the girls in the dancing chorus who specialized in dancing, but it got her through. And she looked great.
Oddly, the official trailer for Tea for Two doesn't show her or even list her name in the list of performers! Yet she's always well shown on the playbills. See the trailer at http://cinemagotrailers.com/tea-two-1950-official-trailer-doris-day-gordon-macrae-movie/ .
Here's one of the many playbills you can find on the web. The ordering of the players is a bit strange with the biggest names put on the far left. Here are the stars of the movie, from left to right:
Eve Arden (humor)
Gene Nelson (song & dance man)
Billy De Wolfe (humor)
S. Z. Sakall (humor)
Eve Arden was there to deliver zingers, which she does very well as always.
But wait! You can readily see Patrice doing an elaborate song-and-dance number from the very start of Tea for Two. Go to the web site given here and click on "Videos," leading to the menu shown on the left http://article.wn.com/view/2014/03/25/Patrice_Wymore_x/ and watch selection number 2 (Tea for Two 1950, "Crazy Rhythm's...). You can see her seductive look in selection 3.
And she is briefly shown in number 11 as one of the "Dancing Ladies of Hollywood" -- she appears at the 4 minute mark, right after Shirley Temple. I'll save you some time and trouble: on the left is the 1951 photo as shown on the web site. The dance routine in selection 12 is good.
What was Patrice's training and how did she get started professionally? Here's what she told the Journal during her 55-year high school reunion in 1999.
"She spent [high school] summers dancing in competitions and shows on the road, and when high school ended, she knew she wanted to go to New York. [Find-a-Grave says "As a teenager, she modeled and was a vocalist in nightclubs, in addition to gaining acting experience in stock productions."] They [her parents, presumably] took me to New York to study dancing for the summer, and I saw Broadway for the first time. My peers were all much better than I was. And I thought, 'Oh gosh, if I go off to college and come back in four years, they'll be stars already and I'll be at square one.'"
"Her family supported her wonderfully in her decision to try and make it in show business. Her father put her college money into an account and told her when it was used up, if she wasn't supporting herself, she had to come home. And with a lot of hard work I made it. I came home on holidays, but not to stay."
"She landed roles in four Broadway musicals and toured in two. She starred in the shows 'Hold It' and 'All for Love.' The shows were not terribly successful but her reviews were glowing, and she won awards. That's when Hollywood came calling."
Wikipedia has this about her early days: "She auditioned in New York City for a part in Up in Central Park, in which she performed in 1947. She then performed in the Broadway musical Hold It!, for which she won a Theatre World Award for 'Promising Actress'. This was followed by a five-month stint in the revue All for Love in 1949, where she was discovered by a talent scout from Warner Bros. who signed her up."
Here are a couple of good quality stills of Patrice in Tea for Two. On the left she's in the costume for the dance number that opens the film. On the right she's trying to figure out how to hang onto the lead in what evolved to be No, No, Nanette.
http://www.mediander.com/connects/15035332/patrice-wymore/#!/video has more videos with Patrice, including the 1951 routine shown in the b/w still photo above. I'll guess that the singing is by someone other than Patrice (I'm not sure), but she looks great and tap dances well. There are lots of other videos and tributes at this web site.
Tea for Two debuted in Salina at the Royal (another Warner Brothers movie) on March 4, 1951.
This ultra-simple ad was home made with "Salina's Own Patrice Wymore" and the clever wording "TEA-LICIOUS."
Same prices as before, 30 and 9 cents.
Tea for Two came back to Salina on July 8, 1951 for two days only.
The 81 Drive-In used an advertisement made by a pro.
Assuming Tea for Two is one of the "Great Hits" to be shown, the other in the ad was Montana (1950) with Errol Flynn and Alexis Smith.
Adults had to pay 60 cents, but kids under 12 got in FREE. The Drive-In opened at 6:45 pm.
ALL of the videos I mentioned above show Patrice Wymore's talents much, MUCH better than her dull, static role in Rocky Mountain. In Tea for Two she comes across as vibrant and skilled. As stated in a retrospective tribute on the web to her, "She deserved more" attention and fame.
From the 1944 Trail.
Her talent was appreciated by her classmates.
"G.R." must be "Girl Reserves," the forerunner of "Y-Teen." (See "Personals" this month.) "Cabinet" baffles me.
Still More on Chuck Nelson
Now and then I follow a potential lead for more info on Chuck Nelson. Recently I came across an interview with him in the July 1997 Los Angeles Magazine. Here are new tid-bits that I've now worked into the long WORD article I wrote about him and is available for downloading on the Salina Links page; or click here to start the download right now. I can't vouch for any of his statements, so they are what they are.
Nelson did indeed sing "Without a Song" during the national talent search contest. As a vehicle for his fine voice, it probably led him to victory. He also sang "Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego" and "Song of the Open Road."
After high school he went to Wichita on a music scholarship, but says he dropped out after a year because his mother and grandparents were ailing and he needed to earn money.
In 1952 he was singing at the Sand's Hotel when he replaced Merv Griffin in the Sands' show "Ziegfeld Follies" because Griffin's throat couldn't survive the desert climate.
Nelson spent 3 years in Las Vegas and worked with Sinatra in the "Follies" show. (A 1954 article in Billboard Magazine makes it clear that it was then a Sinatra show with Nelson having minor roles.) "In Vegas, Frank was the only one I could trust," Nelson said. During these years Alan Ladd taught him how to dive, he taught Lena Horne's kids how to play chess, and weekly he dined and played poker with Howard Hughes.
In 1997 he talked of having a crush on Marilyn Monroe and she told him "I can feel your energy all the way across the stage." I thought they may have met when on the Edger Bergen/Charlie McCarthy radio show of Nov. 9, 1952 where MM was the guest ready to marry the dummy. You can hear the whole radio show off the web and Chuck clearly isn't on it. So perhaps they met while Nelson was doing a stage show at the Sands Hotel; photos prove that MM was at the Sands in 1961, so maybe earlier too when Nelson was on stage.
He left Vegas in 1957 and decried the city's "very low social structure." He joined the Fred Waring group for the next 5 years.
After Waring he spent several years as part owner and headliner at the Gypsy Cellar restaurant in San Diego. In the mid 1980s he moved to Orange County where he used his voice to raise money for the Pacific Symphony and other charities.
Health problems forced him to retire in 1994. In 1997 he was working on his autobiography.
He felt his concrete slab at the Chinese Theater had been moved to the far right of the forecourt after Sid Grauman died in 1950. Yet the neighboring slabs today are for Jean Simmons, Richard Widmark, Roy Rogers, and Humphrey Bogart, so I wonder if his slab was really ever moved. There are some big names even father to the right: Jack Lemmon, Shirley MacLaine, Sidney Portier, Jackie Cooper.
In 1997 he said "I knew I wasn't going to be a big star, so I chose the middle road."
Just for Fun
Here's a retrospective on Salina's Patrice Wymore, triggered by recently seeing two old movies of her's. Throughout a year Turner Classic Movies does a lot of repeat showings of better-known movies but there are also a lot of lesser-movies that you'll never see any other place. I keep my eyes open for them and last month this paid off. I saw TWO movies with Patrice Wymore that I never would seen any other way. Were they worth the wait?