Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Carole's Sister Talks About Their Childhood

Carole was very close to her older sister Dorothy Ross. In 1985 Dorothy wrote about their childhood and Carole's road to stardom ...

How do you become a movie star? Well, let me tell you some about Carole - Frances Lillian Ridste. As we grew up in San Bernardino she was a very vivacious and beautiful little girl. Mother called her “Baby Doll” and she always signed her letters to mother as “Baby”. She was literally born singing and dancing, always performing when someone was near. She read every movie magazine she could get and had pictures of the stars on our bedroom walls. Her favorites were Dorothy and Lillian Gish, Mary Astor and Kay Francis. The intrigue of the Gish sisters was of course the names - Frances Lillian and Dorothy. They were silent movie stars and we saw them frequently at the Saturday matinees.

Dorothy and Carole (wearing a headband)                                                                             Carole (sitting) and Dorothy   

It is interesting that Mary Astor and Kay Francis were both a big part of her movie life. She made pictures with them and they were good friends. Kay Francis of course was on some of the USO Tours and was at Carole and Tommy’s wedding. Also in the movie Four Jills In A Jeep, which Carole wrote of their USO Tours. BUT I’m getting ahead of the story! When Frances was about seven years old the Fox Theater chain built a big, beautiful theater in our town and the management had talent contests. Frances was very outgoing and of course she was one of the first to enter. Without any fear and enjoying every minute she won first prize. She sang “Yes Sir That’s My Baby” and danced the Charleston. That victory really spurred her on and her dreams became greater to be a movie star.

Carole playing dress-up                                                                                     Carole (front) and Dorothy

The owners and dance instructor of the (only) dance studio in our town offered to give Frances free dancing lessons if she would appear in shows to be given at Resort Hotels and other places. Of course she was all for it, but my mother would not let her unless I was with her so the owners made the bargain for both of us. We worked hard, studied and practiced for weeks and then the night of our first appearance came. It was to be at a hotel in The Valley of the Moon, which is in the Big Bear Mountains. I can well remember the night we drove up there. It was a cold winter night. The moon was full and the sky soft with fluffy clouds that passed over the moon making everything kind of scary, but it was so beautiful as we drove the winding road through the beautiful pine trees and well worth the trip.

                                                                                                                       Carole with her mother Clara and Dorothy                         

Our performance was successful and we were given dinner for it. Lest I imply that the dance group was just Frances and me I had better mention we had eight girls in the group. About that time the Fox theaters were sponsoring a beauty contest. It was in three of the Fox theaters in San Bernardino, Redlands, and Riverside. The winner of the first contest and several of the runner-ups went on to the next town. Frances and I went to all three. She won first in all of them and I made second in the last contest. The Rose Room was a dance hall in town that held Saturday matinees for the younger crowd and you can believer that Frances was always there. Again, mother would not let her go without me so I sat and watched her dance, dance, dance! She was so popular, such a marvelous dancer and won so many dance contests. She was really a natural - her life was singing and dancing.

Finally on to Hollywood!! She stood in the extras lines for hours on end and days on end taking any bit part she could get. She was given a part in the chorus line in the picture Varsity Show, a musical starring Dick Powell and the Lane Sisters (there were four of them). Busby Berkeley saw and took her out of the line and she was on her way as a starlet for Warner Brothers Studio. She worked hard, studied much, took singing lessons, golf, tennis, horseback riding, learned French and other foreign languages and seemed successful through work and perseverance in all she attempted to do.

She went on from movie to movie, to New York stage plays and then made One Million B C. That was her big thrill because it had its world premiere in her hometown of SAN BERNARDINO, CALIFORNIA, at the very Fox theater where she won her first contest singing and dancing. As the War came (World War II) she went on U.S. bond selling tours all over the United States, to the Stagedoor Canteens to entertain service men and on USO tours here stateside as well as England, Africa, and the South Pacific. She was a warmhearted person who loved her family and all she met giving freely of herself, her time and talents. She was loved by all…

~ Written by Dorothy Ridste Ross (1917-1997), sister of Carole Landis

Monday, June 26, 2017

Husbands & Lovers

Here is Carole's first husband Irving Kay Wheeler. He was a twenty year old civilian conservation corps worker. Irving eloped with fifteen year old Carole on January 14, 1934. When her mother found out she had the marriage annulled. On August 25, 1934 the couple got married again. This time they had the consent of Carole's father. She and Irving only lived together for three weeks before they separated. Irving eventually went to Hollywood and became an actor using the name Jack Roberts. In 1938 he sued Carole's boyfriend Busby Berkeley for $250,000 claiming "alienation of affection". The suit was dismissed and Carole officially divorced him in 1939. She said "I didn't think anyone knew I'd ever been married. I thought Irving had forgotten our marriage, too. We lived together for three weeks and then had an argument. I've only seen him once since then, and that was when he told me he wanted a divorce." Carole got Irving a job as a stand-in on her 1942 film A Gentleman In Heart. In 1954 Irving was arrested outside a nightclub on a narcotics charge. At the time he was on parole for another drug charge and was using the name Irving Decker.

Here is Carole with Willis Hunt Jr, her second husband. Willis was a twenty-seven year old yacht salesman from a wealthy family. He was divorced from heiress Dolly Brewer and had a reputation as a playboy who loved to party. Willis proposed to Carole two weeks after meeting her. She said "We like to do the same things. I think it will work". On July 4, 1940 they eloped in Las Vegas. He became abusive and she walked out on him two months later. They were divorced in November 1940 and Carole claimed it made her suffer a nervous breakdown. She told reporters "There I was being so happy, so ecstatic, so delirious, so willing to forsake all others. To stop being Miss Big and try being the Little Woman. He didn't want a Little Woman." Surprisingly Carole and Willis remained friends and continued to go out together. In December of 1969 Willis was stabbed to death by his wife at the age of fifty-five. His wife, Willia Dean Hunt, was charged with murder but she was acquitted.

Here is Carole with Horace Schmidlapp, her fourth husband. Horace was a twenty-nine year old Broadway producer from a rich family. Carole called him "Poppie". They were introduced by her friend Jacqueline Susann. Carole and Horace were married on December 8, 1945 and honeymooned in Cuba. She said "He's my definition of an ideal husband. In Horace I've found a man instead of a boy". Carole lived with him in New York City for a while but they spent much of their marriage apart. In an interview she said  "I have now what I've always wanted in a marriage. I have the feeling of a deep security which will insure a permanent future with children of our own. I have a home now, not merely a house. My husband has a solid sense of values and brings out the best in me. We're already planning a home in the East with at least three children. When this happens, I'll commute to Hollywood for my picture assignments." Carole began having an affair with Rex Harrison and filed for divorce in March 1948. After Carole's death Horace fought with her family over her estate. He later dated Lana Turner and Sheree North. Horace died in 1987 at the age of seventy-one.

Here is Carole with her fiance Busby Berkeley. He was one of Hollywood's most successful choreographers. They met in 1937 when she auditioned for a role in Varsity Show and he helped her get a contract with Warner Brothers. Busby was twenty-three years older than Carole and had been married several times. Although their romance got her a lot of attention she publicly claimed they were not dating. Carole said "Mr. Berkeley and I are good friends, but we certainly aren't in love". Her first husband, Irving Wheeler, sued Busby for $250,000 for "alienation of affection" but lost the case. Busby was an alcoholic and his mother did not like Carole. He broke up with her in 1938. She would later comment "I think Busby is a very grand person and I have the highest regard for him. I do hope someday he'll meet the right person to bring him happiness as a life companion. I wasn't the right person." Busby died in 1976 at the age of eighty.

Here is Carole with her fiance Gene Markey. He was a screenwriter and producer. Gene was twenty-three years older than her and had been married to Hedy Lamar. Carole started dating him in early 1941 but she continued to see other men.  She said "Gene Markey gives me books of plays to read, books about the theater; he talks to me about the theater and gives me the feeling we are talking about it". Gene gave Carole her beloved Great Dane Donner. Their relationship got serious in 1942 and they were engaged for a short time. When the press announced they were getting married in Washington Carole told them "I'm going to Washington for a visit, that's all. Mr. Markey is there and of course I will see him, but there are no immediate plans to announce." Soon after they parted as friends. In 1946 Gene married Myrna Loy. He died on May 1, 1980 at the age of eighty-four.

Here is Carole with her boyfriend Franchot Tone. They had a very serious romance in 1940 and remained close friends.

Here is Carole with her boyfriend art director Cedric Gibbons. They dated for a few months in 1941.

Here is Carole with her attorney Greg Bautzer. They had a brief fling in 1942.

Here is Carole with actor George Montgomery. They became a couple in 1941 when they worked together on Cadet Girl.

Here is Carole with her actor Tony Martin. They went out on several dates in 1942.

 Here is Carole with writer Kenny Morgan. They were rumored to be engaged in 1939.

Here is Carole with her longtime lover George Jessel. They had an on-again off-again affair that lasted for years.

Famous Friends

Everyone in Hollywood wanted to be Carole's friend! Here is she with some of her famous fans ...

With Yvonne De Carlo

With Louella Parsons and George Jessell                                                  With Tom Drake

                                           With Xavier Cugat                                                                 With Carmel Myers                                              

 With Gracie Fields                                                                                       With Victor Mature

 With Steve Cochran                                                                           With Dorothy Lamour

 With Ed Sullivan                                                                         With Robert Stack

 With Linda Darnell                                                                                 With Randolph Scott

 With Gary Cooper                                                                            With Mickey Rooney

With Bruce Cabot                                                                                         With Groucho Marx

Carole's Early Years (1919-1934)

Carole at age eight

Carole's early days were filled with heartache and dreams of stardom. She was born on January 1, 1919 in Fairchild, Wisconsin. Her birth name was Frances Lillian Ridste - she had been named after her maternal grandmother Francis Sentek. Carole was the youngest of five children. Sadly her brother Jerome had died in 1917 after being burned by boiling water.  Her father Alfred Ridste was a railroad worker and her mother Clara Sentek Ridste was a housewife. In the Spring of 1919 the family moved to Denton, Montana. Clara began having a relationship with a farmer named Charles Fenner. She filed for divorce and Alfred sued Charles for alienation of affection. The divorce became so messy that Carole and her siblings were put in Foster care for a short time.

Left to Right: Carole's brother Lewis, her brother Lawrence, Carole, her mother Clara, her sister Dorothy

1919 articles about the Ridste divorce

Clara married Charles Fenner in December of 1919 but the marriage only lasted eighteen months, Then she took the children to San Diego, California where she reunited with Alfred. In 1923 the entire family relocated to San Bernardino and moved into a tiny home at 175 Bryant Street. Alfred walked out on Clara leaving her to raise the children alone. They were very poor and Carole's older sister Dorothy often watched her while their mother worked. According to family sources Carole was sexually molested by a relative during her childhood. Tragically in 1925 Carole's ten year old brother Lewis died after he was accidentally shot with gun.

 Left to Right: Carole's brother Lewis, her sister Dorothy. her father Alfred, Carole, her brother Lawrence

A 1925 article about Lewis Ridste's death

Carole was such a beautiful child that everyone called her "Baby Doll".  From a young age she dreamed about becoming a movie star. She loved watching The Gish sisters and covered her walls with photos of Kay Francis and Mary Astor. When Carole seven she won her first talent contest by singing "Yes Sir That's My Baby" and dancing the Charleston. She started taking dance lessons and performed with her sister in local clubs. By the time Carole was twelve she was winning beauty contests. She attended Sturges junior high school where she was a decent student but often skipped her classes. Carole said "I always seemed so much older than the other kids my age - they seemed like tots."

Left to right: Carole's sister-in-law Helen Ridste, her sister Dorothy, her mother Clara, and Carole

Articles mentioning Frances Ridste (Carole Landis)

Carole enjoyed playing sports especially baseball and volleyball. She even tried to start an all girl football team! Carole was raised a Catholic and attended church every Sunday. Her philosophy was "Pass the good deed along". She became a beautiful teenager and admitted she was "boy crazy". In the Fall of 1933 she met twenty year old Irving Kay Wheeler, a civilian conservation corps worker, from Benning, California. They eloped on January 14, 1934 in Yuma, Arizona. Because Carole was only fifteen she lied about her age on the marriage license. When her mother found out she had the marriage annulled and Irving was arrested.

   Carole, Irving Wheeler, and her sister Dorothy

Carole and Irving's wedding license                                                   An article about their annulment

In August of 1934 the couple got Alfred Ridste's consent and were married again. Carole and Irving moved into a one room apartment with no refrigerator. After three weeks of marriage she walked out on her husband. She dropped out of school and got a job working at a restaurant where she earned $2 a day plus tips. Carole started saving money so she could move away and become an actress. Years later her father Alfred said "When she was five years old we knew she had unusual talents. Without any professional training whatever she learned to sing an dance beautifully - and we were confident she would achieve her goal to become an actress."

Carole (right) with her sister Dorothy                                                                         Carole at age three

                     Carole with her grandparents                                                  Carole at age seven