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Important sale of fine paintings

Here’s an ad from the October 14 1947 edition of the Toronto Daily Star for an art sale:

I looked in the Toronto city directories, and I couldn’t find a reference to anyone named V. E. Rumbell, and there wasn’t anyone living on Russell Hill Road who had a name similar to that. This doesn’t mean that she didn’t exist, of course, but this did remind me of this Jenkins Galleries ad from 1930, which offered art from the estate of a possibly non-existent Comte de Richemont. Malloney’s Art Gallery was just down the street from the Jenkins Galleries, which leads me to wonder whether there was a tradition in Toronto of making up high-sounding names when offering art for sale.

Either way, Grenville Street has been home to many artists and galleries over the years. Franz Johnston, one of the Group of Seven artists, was living next door to Malloney’s Art Gallery in 1937, and the city directory listed a total of 13 artists living or with studios on that street at that time. There were still a number of artists living on the street by the time of this 1947 ad.

Malloney’s Art Gallery was the brainchild and lifework of J. Merritt Malloney. He is listed in the 1920 Toronto city directory as an artist, with a studio on Yonge Street and making his home at the Elliott Hotel. By 1930, his gallery was in existence at its Grenville Street location.

He last appears in the 1951 directory. The 1952 directory lists Malloney’s Art Gallery as being managed by John L. Malloney, with M. Jerritt Malloney as president; presumably, they were his sons.

66 Grenville Street no longer exists. Women’s College Hospital, which was at 74 Grenville in 1947, has expanded to use more of the street.

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A warning!

Here’s a movie ad from the October 14 1947 edition of the Toronto Daily Star that was intended to attract attention:

Monsieur Verdoux was a controversial film because it showed Charlie Chaplin (or Charles Chaplin, as he was referred to here) portraying French serial killer Henri Landru, who met women through lonely hearts advertisements and killed them.

The idea for the film originated with Orson Welles, who pitched the idea of portraying Landru to Chaplin and who received $5000 for it. Chaplin’s portrayal of a murderer provoked outrage – it was banned in some American jurisdictions, and it failed commercially in the United States. Leading critics of the time loved the movie, though, and it was a commercial success in Europe and now often appears on various all-time best lists.

Chaplin was already being criticized by some Americans for his pro-Soviet leanings, and was accused by George Orwell of being a secret Communist. He had always retained British citizenship; in 1952, the United States attorney general revoked Chaplin’s re-entry permit when he sailed to London to promote his most recent film, the autobiographical Limelight. He chose to remain out of the country until 1972, when he was given an honorary award and a 12-minute standing ovation at that year’s Academy Awards ceremony. He passed away in 1977.

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Whodunit raids hospital

The October 14 1947 edition of the Toronto Daily Star contains this brief article that reads like something from a spy thriller:

So what we have here is a man disguising himself as a doctor, extracting the love of his life – who happens to have only one arm – from a Swedish sanitorium, and flying her to Norway in a private plane. The movie script practically writes itself.

I did a bit of searching, and went down a variety of interesting rabbit holes. First off: I could find no evidence that Torsten Akrell (also written as Thorsten Akrell) wrote detective stories. He appears to have been a lieutenant and a special agent of the Swedish Defense Staff during the Second World War, part of a team responsible for smuggling secret agents into Poland and Hungary. He also took on missions for the Allies in wartime Berlin. Given this history, smuggling a woman out of a sanitorium would have been a relatively stress-free exercise.

Louise Forsell, not Torsten Akrell, was the writer of detective stories; she was known as Loulou. There is a Wikipedia page for her in Swedish that provides more details on what happened:

  • Apparently, Ms. Forsell had been saddled with a narcotics habit as a result of being treated for injuries suffered in a plane crash.
  • After being admitted to a Swedish sanitorium, she complained about her treatment there and was then banned from receiving visitors or making phone calls.
  • This is the point at which Lt. Akrell stepped into the picture.

The whole affair became something of a controversy in Sweden at the time, as Ms. Forsell was still married to her first husband, a merchant named Nils Kaage. Not surprisingly, this marriage didn’t make it through the year.

Despite his heroics, Ms. Forsell and Lt. Akrell never did get married. She married a singer named Anders Börje in 1951, divorced him two years later, and then passed away in 1954 at the age of 31. I couldn’t find out what the cause of her death was. She wrote five novels, one of which was co-written by her brother and one of which was published posthumously.

A more complete history of this event can be found on this page about crime in Stockholm (translate it into English and then scroll to the section titled “The Knight and the Virgin 1947”). This page states that Lt. Akrell became a United Nations soldier (presumably peacekeeping); if this is him, he passed away in 1980. A photo of the two of them is available on Wikimedia Commons.

Last but not least: a Swedish movie called The Spy was released in 2019, with an actor named Rolf Lassgård playing the part of Thorsten Akrell. I have no idea what it is about.

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Flight

As I’ve mentioned before, the Toronto Daily Star’s editorial page used to contain a section called A Little Of Everything. This section led off with a daily poem; the poems varied widely in quality.

The poem from the September 9 1949 edition of the paper was interesting to me because it included the poet’s name and address:

I’m no judge of poetry; all I can say is that this poem didn’t really do anything for me. But I was curious, so I traced the poet’s name and address in the Toronto city directories. Sure enough, the 1949 directory listed Florence E. Schill; she was working as an editorial assistant at Maclean Hunter, and she was at 216 Snowdon Avenue.

I looked her up at five-year intervals:

  • In 1954, she was a reporter for the Globe and Mail and living at 72 Spencer Avenue.
  • In 1959, she was employed by the Children’s Aid Society and living at 125 Lyndhurst Avenue.
  • By 1964, she was the director of public relations for the Children’s Aid Society of Metropolitan Toronto and living in an apartment at 484 Church Street.
  • In 1969, she was still a director of public relations (location unspecified) and living in an apartment at 31 Alexander Street.

The online city directories don’t go later than that, so I don’t know what happened to her. A search turned up only a PDF document containing statistics obtained from an interview with her in 1961.

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Rushed to altar, asked money

Here’s a story from the September 9 1949 edition of the Toronto Daily Star about an impeding divorce in which one of the partners was the mother of child star Margaret O’Brien.

According to Margaret O’Brien’s Wikipedia page, her mother, born Gladys Flores, was a flamenco dancer who regularly performed with her sister Marissa. She passed away in 1954 of a heart condition; young Ms. O’Brien was 17.

I could find no reference anywhere to Don Sylvio.

Margaret O’Brien (born Maxine O’Brien) was seeing her film career start to wind down at the time of this article, as she did not successfully make the transition to adult roles. She did appear in a number of television shows as an adult. She is still alive as I write this; she turned 84 this past January.

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Resumes talent-scouting

Shows that featured amateur talent existed long before America’s Got Talent. Here’s a publicity photograph from the September 9 1949 edition of the Toronto Daily Star of Arthur Godfrey, host of the Talent Scouts radio show:

Arthur Godfrey (1903-1983) first achieved national fame when, as a radio announcer working in Washington, D.C., he broadcast Franklin Roosevelt’s funeral procession, bursting into tears as he blessed Roosevelt’s successor, Harry Truman. This led to his getting his own nationwide show, Arthur Godfrey Time. His Arthur Godfrey’s Talent Scouts show premiered on radio in 1946 and was broadcast simultaneously on radio and television starting in 1948.

In 1949, Godfrey started hosting an additional television series, Arthur Godfrey and His Friends. Additional shows followed; by the early 1950s, when Godfrey reached the peak of his fame, he could be heard or seen nine times a week. He grew more imperial as he grew more famous, firing over twenty cast and crew members, which led to a backlash and a decline in popularity; by the end of the decade, he was left with Arthur Godfrey Time (which lasted until 1972) and the occasional television special.

YouTube has some footage of Arthur Godfrey, including an episode of Talent Scouts from 1956 and an episode of Arthur Godfrey Time from 1958.

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Talented Torontonian

Here’s a photograph from the September 9 1949 edition of the Toronto Daily Star of a young woman who had been crowned Miss Canada and was hoping to become Miss America.

A search turned up very little on Margaret Lynn Munn. The Wikipedia page for the 1949 Miss America contest revealed that she did indeed win a preliminary talent contest, and that she eventually finished among the top 15 contestants. But I don’t know what happened to her after that.

The winner, Jacque Mercer, was the last married Miss America winner – during her year as Miss America, she married and divorced her high school sweetheart. After that, winners had to pledge that they had never gotten married or pregnant.

It’s odd that Miss Canada got to compete in the Miss America pageant – all of the other entrants represented American states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, New York City, and “greater Philadelphia”. No other non-American contestants were invited.

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Of the far yesterdays

Here’s a photograph from the August 13 1946 edition of the Toronto Daily Star of two old-time baseball players.

Both Ty Cobb (1886-1961) and Honus Wagner (1874-1955) were considered among the very best players in baseball in their time.

Cobb, nicknamed The Georgia Peach, won twelve American League batting titles between 1907 and 1919. A very intense player who often got into conflicts on the field, he became a philanthropist later in life.

Wagner was born Johannes Peter Wagner, and his nickname was Hans, not Hands. He won eight batting titles in the National League between 1900 and 1911. While “Honus” sounds unusual to modern ears, it could have been a lot worse: Wagner’s older brother, Albert Wagner, who played briefly in the 19th century, was nicknamed Butts.

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They’re “sont la”

Here’s a photograph from the August 13 1946 edition of the Toronto Daily Star of three French tennis players arriving in New York City.

Pierre Pellizza (1917-1974) was the least successful of the three men in this photograph, and also the shortest-lived. He was at the peak of his career at the time of this photograph, as he made it to the quarter-finals at both Wimbledon and the French Open in 1946. He made it to the last 16 in the U.S. championships in 1946, and turned pro in 1948.

Bernard Destremeau (1917-2002) had the most interesting life of the three men pictured here. After France was conquered by the Germans, Destremeau travelled through the Pyrenees to Spain and then to North Africa, becoming a tank officer in the Free French Army. He was wounded three times, including being shot in the back, and won the Legion of Honour. After the war, he combined tennis tournaments with diplomacy; he was posted to Egypt during the Suez Canal crisis.

Yvon Petra (1916-1984) was called “the human skyscraper” in this photograph because he was 6’5″. He won the men’s singles title at Wimbledon in 1946, becoming the last Frenchman to win the title and the last man to win the title while wearing long trousers. Like Pellizza, Petra finished in the last 16 at the U.S. championships in 1946 and turned pro in 1948. He later emigrated to the U.S. and became a tennis pro at clubs in Chicago and Connecticut.

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He missed two words

Here’s a photo from the August 13 1946 edition of the Toronto Daily Star of a man who was a British representative at the on-going Paris peace conference.

When not solving crosswords, Albert Victor Alexander, 1st Earl Alexander of Hillsborough (1885-1965) was serving as the First Lord of the Admiralty, a post he held three times: June 1929- August 1931, May 1940-May 1945, and August 1945-October 1946. Later in 1946, he was appointed Minister of Defense, a post that he held until 1950.

A Labour Party politician, he was head of that party’s faction in the House of Lords until 1964. He passed away fourteen days before Winston Churchill did.