In Garbo’s footsteps

Here’s a photo from the August 31 1931 edition of the Toronto Daily Star of a Swedish actress who was apparently about to become a star in Hollywood.

Zarah Leander (1907-1981) did not wind up going to Hollywood, as she had school-aged children. Instead, she went to Germany, signing with the state-owned UFA film agency and appearing in a number of popular movies during the Second World War. While she never became a Nazi or socialized with Nazis, she became controversial because some of her films were often considered pro-German propaganda.

In 1943, she returned to Sweden, dodging offers for roles in future UFA films despite being contractually obligated to appear in one more. After the war, she appeared on the stage in Sweden, and eventually toured Austria and Germany to appear in front of nostalgic audiences. A senior Soviet intelligence officer claimed that she had been a Soviet spy, but she denied this.


Five is all

For those of you interested in (or horrified by) true crime stories, the August 31 1931 edition of the Toronto Daily Star described the arrest of Harry Powers, a man accused of killing two women and three children.

Powers found his victims through lonely hearts advertisements, and had met his wife in this way.

Powers’ Wikipedia page states that he was originally from the Netherlands, and that his name at birth was the (grimly ironic) Harm Drenth. It also indicates that no more victims were officially found, though he was suspected of two other murders.

After authorities stopped an attempt to lynch him in September 1931, Powers was put on trial at the local opera house in December to accommodate the large number of spectators that wished to attend. He was found guilty and sentenced to death on December 12, 1931, and he was hanged on March 18, 1932.


Breath-taking, isn’t it?

Here’s a publicity picture from the photo page of the August 31 1931 edition of the Toronto Daily Star:

Ruth Hall (1910-2003) was a great-niece of Spanish author Vicente Blasco Ibáñez. She appeared in movies from 1930 to 1935.

Happily, she had a Hollywood marriage that lasted: she was married to cinematographer Lee Grimes from 1933 until he passed away in 1978. Sadly, this meant that she was a widow for a quarter of a century.


Bread and vitamins

When I was looking at the August 31 1931 edition of the Toronto Daily Star, I noticed a number of ads for bread that mentioned vitamins and health, particularly Vitamin D. Vitamins were in the process of being discovered at about the time that this paper came out; Vitamin D (named this because it was the fourth vitamin to be isolated) was discovered in 1920.

The first ad was for Weston’s Vitamin-D Bread:

In 1931, Canadian society was much more prudish and strait-laced than today, but the makers of Weston’s Vitamin-D Bread thought nothing of including a photo of a naked child in their ad. This would not be acceptable today (which is why I’ve blacked out part of the photo).

The makers of Vitos Bread included the letter from the Pediatric Research Foundation that appeared in the Weston ad, along with excerpts from other articles that said that vitamins were good for you:

Not to be outdone, the makers of Vita-Mor Health Loaf praised the virtues of their bread:

And, finally, the makers of Barker’s Bread pointed out, in a much quieter advertisement that appeared twice in the paper, that they had been offering Vitamin D bread since 1930:

Nowadays, of course, people do not use bread as a source of Vitamin D, as it’s available from sunshine or as a supplement.


This rather large man

Here’s a photo from the August 31 1931 edition of the Toronto Daily Star of a large man about to marry a much smaller woman:

Searches on Harry Rowher and Merida Caswell turned up nothing other than a better reproduction of this photo, even though they had relatively uncommon names. I have no idea what happened to them.


Plays sub-par golf

Here’s a brief article from the August 31 1931 edition of the Toronto Daily Star about a golfer who had a good front nine at the U.S. national amateur golf championship.

(Aside: it’s fascinating that “sub-par” is good in golf, but bad when used in any other context.)

Jack Westland (1904-1982) wound up qualifying for the match-play portion of the U.S. Amateur championship and then made it to the quarterfinals. He eventually won the tournament in 1952.

When not golfing, he was a politician: he served in the House of Representatives in the state of Washington as a Republican for six terms from 1952 to 1964. He voted in favour of the Civil Rights Acts of 1957, 1960, and 1964.


Dark horse in baby derby

Here’s an article from the Toronto Daily Star about a 24-year-old woman who had given birth to ten children:

The contest being referred to here is the Great Stork Derby, which lasted from 1926 to 1936. Charles Vance Millar was a wealthy lawyer, financier, racehorse owner, and part-owner of O’Keefe Brewery. When he passed away in 1926, he did not have any immediate heirs, so he decided to be capricious with his will. Among other things:

  • He left a vacation property in Kingston, Jamaica, to three men that he knew couldn’t stand one another. (The property had been sold before he passed away, so the men didn’t have to endure each other’s company.)
  • Every practicing Protestant ministry and Orange Lodge in Toronto was left a share of O’Keefe stock. O’Keefe was primarily owned by Catholics.
  • A number of Christian ministries in the Windsor and other areas were left a share of racetrack stock.

But the most capricious clause in his will left a considerable share of his fortune to the woman who bore the most babies during the next ten years. Thus, the Great Stork Derby was on.

The Historicist web site has a long article on the Great Stork Derby. The $500,000 prize money offered to the winner was eventually shared by four women: two of them, Lucy Timleck and Kathleen Nagle, were on the list above. $125,000 in 1936 is equivalent to over $2.6 million in today’s money, so this was quite a haul.

The mysterious Mrs. X mentioned in the Daily Star article was actually named Pauline Mae Clarke. She and one mother mentioned in the article, Lillian Kenny, settled out of court when at least one of their children was ruled ineligible for the contest.


After speed record

Here’s a photograph from the August 25 1936 edition of the Toronto Daily Star of a man who was designing a plane that he hoped would set a speed record.

Harry Crosby went on to sustain serious back injuries when testing his CR-3 plane (which might have been this one). Undeterred, he designed the CR-4 plane while recovering, and finished in third place in the 1939 Greve Trophy race, part of the National Air Races. His plane was unofficially clocked at 386 mph in one test flight, which would have given him the record.

Crosby later flew as a test pilot for Northrop, and was killed in 1945 when testing the Northrop XP-79 flying wing fighter aircraft, which was later abandoned. His CR-4 plane was featured in the movie Tail Spin (1939). YouTube has two excerpts from this film:

  • Constance Bennett and Joan Davis smoking in three clips, one of which appears to feature Crosby’s plane.
  • Alice Faye singing “Are You In The Mood For Mischief”.

Go to sleep, my baby

Here’s a photo from the August 25 1936 edition of the Toronto Daily Star of a singer who had just become a mother.

The Boswell Sisters were Martha (1905-1958), Connie (1907-1976), and Helvetia “Vet” Boswell (1911-1988). By the time of this photo, they had split up as a performing act; they had made their last recording earlier in the year. Connie, who was unable to walk, due most likely to polio or a go-kart accident (she used both stories at times), continued as a solo artist. She eventually changed her first name to Connee, apparently because this was an easier name to use when signing autographs.

The sisters were extremely successful on radio during the early 1930s, and were an influence on other close-harmony recording artists that followed them, such as the Andrews Sisters. A number of recordings of them can be found on YouTube, including this film clip of them singing “Crazy People” in 1932.

I couldn’t figure out what Vet Boswell was doing in Toronto in 1936. She and her sisters weren’t Canadian, and there’s no evidence to suggest that she settled here. She wouldn’t have been touring with her sisters, as they had split up as a group.

At any rate, since her daughter was born in Canada, the daughter would have been a Canadian citizen. Since her married name was Jones and her husband’s first name was not provided, it was not possible to trace her in the Toronto city directories.


Yvonne goes in for hairdressing

The Dionne quintuplets (last mentioned in this blog here) were so famous in 1936 that people knew who they were even if they were only mentioned by their first names. Here’s a photograph of two of them from the August 25 1936 edition of the Toronto Daily Star:

Two of the five quintuplets are still alive, but not Yvonne and Émilie – Émilie passed away in 1954 and Yvonne in 2001.