Ellen Drew Profile

Ellen Drew
Ellen Drew
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(Esther Loretta Ray)
23 November 14 is born in Kansas City, Missouri, of Irish descent. Her father is a barber. She has a younger brother, Arden, who will pass away at the age of 47. From early childhood, she develops a passion for dogs. "Dogs have been part of my life ever since I was born, even before I was born; there was one already at home when I came on the scene," she later says.
19 moves with her family to Chicago
31 her parents separate; her father moves back to Kansas City
Circa 32 money is very tight for mother and daughter. She leaves Parker High in her junior year to support her mother and herself.
Circa 32 fibs about her age and tells the personnel department at Marshall Fields department store that she is 18. She lands a position in their accounting department, but is out of a job six months later. Next, she's a salesgirl at Grant's five-and-dime in nearby Englewood, Illinois, where she sells costume jewelry and baby clothes at a salary of $10 per week. The wages are not much, but she and her mother make ends meet. The two live in a light-housekeeping room for $4.00 a week. They budget $4.00 for room, $4.00 for food and entertainment, and $2.00 for clothes. With the arrival of the NRA, they become "rich," when her salary is increased to $15.00 a week.
34 the manager of Grant's enters her in a local beauty contest run by the Englewood Kiwanis Club, and she walks away with the "Miss Englewood" title. Friends encourage her to try her luck in Hollywood. Having had a bit of exposure in amateur theatricals, the thought of breaking into movies and acting on the screen like her idol Margaret Sullavan appeals to her.
34 she is off to California. Two family friends plan a drive to Los Angeles and offer to take her along. Her mother urges her to go, and she sees this as an opportunity to get out of a rut. They depart in a broken-down car. Having it no other way, she shares expenses for the journey.
Circa 34 resumes a relationship with her father. He has remarried, and she is quite taken with his second wife, thinking her a good influence on her father.
34/35 it takes little time for her to acknowledge her inexperience and realize the pointlessness of crashing studio gates and hounding agents. She gets a regular job as a waitress at Brown's Confectionery Shop, a popular film-colony hangout near Grauman's Chinese Theater. She makes $11.50 a week in salary and about $8.00 in tips. She alternates between candy counter duty and soda-jerking. While serving up sundaes, she meets Fred Wallace, a handsome young make-up man, and they fall in love.
35 befriends one of Brown's regular customers, character actor William Demarest, who moonlights as an actor's agent for the Edward Small agency. He's convinced that she has a good chance at making it in pictures. He asks her if she would like his help in securing a studio contract. She declines, not wanting to jeopardize her budding romance with Fred Wallace. It's a decision she never regrets. Demarest understands and tells her that he will always be there for her if she changes her mind.
35 marries Fred Wallace
Early 36 her son David, nicknamed "Skipper," is born. She comes to hate her job and the time it takes her away from her son. Thoughts of working in pictures loom in her mind. She discusses the matter with her husband and contacts William Demarest.
Spring 36 Demarest's efforts result in a standard $50-a-week stock contract at Paramount Pictures. The studio changes her year of birth to 1915.
38 Artie Johnson, assistant of top Paramount director-producer Wesley Ruggles, notices her one day at the studio's little theater, where twice a month drama coaches Phyllis Laughton and Oliver Hinsdell showcase young stock players in an assortment of scenes from plays and films. Johnson is greatly impressed by her rather emotional scene from Golden Boy and by her wholesome beauty. He thinks she's the prefect choice for the female lead in Ruggles's latest project, Sing You Sinners. Ruggles wants an unknown for the part, that of an average American working girl. Dozens of hopefuls test, but none turns out to be right. Johnson brings her to Ruggles, and she screen tests a few days later and wins the part. At the outset of filming, her dark brown hair is lightened to an auburn shade, and her name is changed. She isn't particularly crazy about her name-feeling that it is appropriate for a chorus girl or boy, but not a serious actress. Erin Drew is settled upon and announced to the press. Drew was chosen by going through the phone book. The New York office does not like Erin and changes it to Ellen. She's happy with the final choice. At Ruggles's request, she personally shops for her wardrobe for Sing You Sinners. For her role as Martha, a sweet country girl, she dresses in inexpensive shop attire. Her notices are positive, with critics taking notice of her looks and naturalness.
38 is assigned the role that makes her a star, Huguette in If I Were King
38 is heralded by Paramount as their latest sensation. Her notices are outstanding. Over the next three years she is Paramount's reigning dramatic ingenue. She receives a tidal wave of publicity and is dubbed by the press as "The Girl from the Five and Ten" and "The Candy Store Cinderella," reflecting her humble beginnings.
38 Paramount raises her weekly salary from $100 to $1,000 and promotes her to the rank of star, with her name above the title.
38 some interviewers think her rather nervous when discussing her personal life; not knowing that the studio brass instructed her to keep her mouth shut regarding her husband and son. Paramount is not thrilled with her marriage. The studio wants to capitalize on her appeal as an ingenue and keeps both her husband's and her son's existence a secret until 1939, claiming that she lives with an aunt and cousin. Actually, she and Wallace reside in a three-bedroom farmhouse in North Hollywood.
Spring 39 travels to England, along with her husband and co-star Ray Milland, to star in Paramount's first feature filmed entirely in Britain, French Without Tears, at Shepperton Sound City. Marlene Dietrich had originally convinced the studio to buy the property so that she could star in it, but Dietrich had left the studio by the time the film was set to go. Claudette Colbert is considered for the lead, but finally Ellen is chosen.
40 along with Lillian Cornell and Virginia Dale, she introduces the catchy tune "Say It," which will be covered by Glenn Miller and His Band and go to number seven on the national charts
40 her flourishing career contributes to the dissolution of her marriage to Fred Wallace. When Wallace moves out, she shares the house with her friend Gladys Wayne, a secretary at Paramount.
41 tells writer Mary Barnsley that her flourishing career contributed to the demise of her marriage to Fred Wallace. "There were many other factors. We're still good friends, and Fred is now happily remarried. He sees Skipper frequently."
January 41 vacations in Palm Springs and is introduced to 39-year-old screenwriter Sidney "Sy" Bartlett. The two hit it off immediately. They begin dating regularly and become engaged, planning to wed in the summer. Bartlett (born Sacha Baraniev in Russia), a former Chicago newspaperman, is the former husband of screen star Alice White.
16 August 41 marries Sy Bartlett in Lake Tahoe. Bartlett, one of Hollywood's most vocal opponents of the Axis powers, has just enlisted in the service, being made a captain in the U.S. Army Air Force. The couple begins their life in a beautiful Bel Air home, but two months later Bartlett is temporarily reassigned to Washington D.C., where she joins him.
41/42 she and her husband seldom find time to be alone together. Life for Bartlett is very hectic, with the U.S. poised to enter the war. Paramount insists that she return to the studio and report for work.
42 Bartlett is promoted to the rank of major and relocated for duty in England with the Eighth Air Force. She tries to focus much of her energies on her marriage, her son, and the war effort. This dedication wreaks havoc on her film career.
42 Paramount begins investing a great deal of time on newcomer Veronica Lake. As a result, Lake's star rises meteorically, and Ellen is no longer the top young dramatic actress on the lot. Paramount assigns her to a lightweight musical where she will play second banana to Ann Miller. She refuses the role and is put on suspension without pay for the first time. The one-time workhorse will be off the screen for seven months. Her suspension contributes to this prolonged absence, as does her desire to be with her husband.
42 travels to England to be near her husband and to entertain servicemen
27 March 42 during the evening Bartlett is called away from his wife. She has no idea of why or where he is going; she does not ask, and he does not tell her. She does think he is "on some sort of mission." When he returns the following day, he casually tells her, "I've been over Berlin." Hours later reporters turn up at their door, and she finds out that her husband was the first American officer to bomb Berlin. Participating in a large-scale aerial attack on the German capital, Bartlett had been a member of the crew of a giant Royal Air Force Lancaster plane, riding as an observer and an extra bombardier. Shortly after the take-off, one of the bomber's four motors goes dead, but the crew presses on, though at a hazardously lower altitude and speed. Arriving over Berlin, Bartlett lets loose a two-ton, high-explosive bomb dead-center in a giant sea of flames. Returning to England, without being attacked, another of the Lancaster's engines goes out, and the crew prepares for a crash landing, but the plane sets down without a hitch. Bartlett's momentous accomplishment makes the front pages of every U.S. paper, most of which feature photos of the major and his proud wife, who tells her side of the story to reporters. She later tells Louella Parsons, "When I went to London to be with Sy we could be together so seldom. I know he worried about me and when I read what he had been up to, believe me, I worried about him. When I discovered he had been the first American to drop a bomb on Berlin, I was so proud of him I could have wept. But, how I worried after that every time he was out of my sight. Try as we would to be together, Sy had his assignments to carry out, and I tied to do my best at the various camps."
Late April 42 after a ten-week stay in London, she makes plans to return to the U.S., be reunited with her six-year-old son David, and keep the home fires burning for her husband, now in the U.S. Air Force's Bomber Command. She journeys across the extremely unsafe Atlantic waters in a ship carrying two hundred refugees, most of them German Jews, on their way to live with relatives. During one anxious moment she reaches into her bag and pulls out her lipstick. "I made it to my mouth. It seemed important to me that if I were going to die I look presentable while dying. During the rest of the trip, I was kidded a lot about that." She notices that her German-Jewish companions are treated with a general disrespect and lack of understanding. She finds these people the friendliest she's ever met and thinks they should be instead be regarded as heroes.
April 42 upon her return to the States, she notices Paramount's apparent indifference to her career. She hadn't endeared herself to the studio by taking a prolonged trip overseas, even for such a good reason. Contract stars Veronica Lake, Betty Hutton, Dorothy Lamour, and Marjorie Reynolds get plum roles while she finds herself being loaned out to Republic. She does not even receive billing in Paramount's all-star spectacular Star Spangled Rhythm, where her appearance is whittled down to about three seconds, as she follows Alan Ladd into a car.
43 makes a decision that will spell an end to her association with Paramount and plunge her career into turmoil. She contacts the American Office of War Information and the theatrical division of the British Ministry of Information and asks for permission for another ten-week sojourn to England, where she will do whatever she can for the war effort, while having the chance to spend more time with her husband, whom she hasn't seen in almost a year. The studio is furious. She is anxious for the excitement and experience of going overseas during wartime. She wants to entertain the troops and, she later tells writer Jerry Asher, "I was in love with a husband who was little more than a stranger. I was almost forced to start my career over again, but I still say it was worth it. Paramount punishes her by assigning her to a bottom-of-the-barrel program filler as her final obligation to the studio.
Late February 43 sails for London. Her luggage overflows with sheer hose and lipsticks that she plans to distribute to luxury-deprived British women. Once in England, she manages to spend some cherished moments with Bartlett, whose many military commitments give her much time to devote to public service. A favorite of the soldiers, she entertains both American and British troops, visits hospitals and factories, and sells war bonds.
May 43 returns to California without a studio contract and permanent home. She and her son David live in temporary quarters because the Bartletts sold their Bel Air house when Sy left for England. She has no luck when looking for a rental because of wartime overcrowding. Consequently, she is forced to purchase a house in Beverly Hills at an inflated price. No longer salaried and with a husband in the service, her financial situation is somewhat shaky. She summons all of her strength and sets about to rebuild her film career on her own.
43 after her Paramount departure, Twentieth Century-Fox studio chief Darryl Zanuck wants to put her under long-term contract. A meeting concerning this in the libidinous Zanuck's office convinces her not to pursue the matter. She laughs off his advances, deflating his ego. Despite this, she regards Zanuck as a true craftsman and innovator when it comes to film.
44 experiences a five-month period of film inactivity, during which time she appears on the radio, volunteers at the Hollywood Canteen, and stays at home with her son
January 44 signs a one-year agreement with Russell Birdwell and Associates, a top public relations firm.
June 44 is pacted by RKO to a term contract
44 during filming of Isle of the Dead, Boris Karloff severely injures his back, necessitating an emergency spinal operation. Production on the movie is halted for four months, during which time she begs RKO for a short leave of absence to visit her husband, whom she has not seen in over a year. The studio denies her request, and she has to make do with phone calls to Bartlett, now stationed in Nebraska and about to depart for a tour of duty in the South Pacific.
November 45 welcomes home her husband, who has been discharged from the service with the rank of lieutenant colonel. The reunion proves bittersweet. The war was over, we were like two strangers," she later relates to Silver Screen's Jerry Asher. "What happened when he returned what happened to us, is the same thing that happened to thousands of men and women who were married and were immediately separated and never allowed to work at it."
January 46 the Bartletts separate
March 46 the Bartletts reconcile
June 46 she files suit for divorce
Fall 46 she drops the divorce suit. She and Bartlett are living together, trying to make a go of their marriage. Director William Wyler celebrates this reconciliation by hosting a dinner party in the couple's honor at the Beachcombers restaurant.
46 is placed under contract to Columbia
47 now deftly handling the course of her career, she reads through the script to Johnny O'Clock, a major project at Columbia, and sees possibilities for herself. She zeroes in on the character of Nelle, a faithless, alcoholic wife to a gangster and "other woman" to her husband's partner, and goes directly to the screenwriter-director, Robert Rossen, asking him to test her for the role. Rossen agrees, but is skeptical. He thinks her too genteel to portray the femme fatale. All doubts are erased by the test, and she goes on to deliver an electrifying performance.
December 48 her marriage to Sy Bartlett falters again. Both enjoy renewed success with their careers, but they can't reconcile their differences at home.
May 49 the Bartletts separate
19 July 49 she files for divorce
50 has a succession of Pekinese. She loves attending dog shows and visiting with the breeders. Her knowledge of canines is extraordinary, as is her sensitivity toward them.
30 May 51 becomes the wife of William T. Walker, a former Detroit advertising executive, whom she calls "Bill." Walker was born into a family who had made a fortune in the automobile business. They marry at Walker's ranch in Indio, California. After a two-month European honeymoon, they reside in Beverly Hills.
51 her new husband has a passion for travel and tells her to give up her career. She enjoys globetrotting at first, but soon tires of it. She would prefer to stay home for prolonged periods, involving herself with her hobbies and remaining close to her loved ones. Time in one place would also afford her the opportunity to act on a regular basis, something she really wants to do.
51 she amiably breaks her contract with Columbia. The studio will welcome her back many times in the years to come for guest appearances on their TV shows. The comparatively brief shooting schedules appeal to her since she does not want to retire from acting completely.
August 52 makes her TV debut in "Crossroads," an episode of CBS's Footlight Theater. Over the course of the next nine years, she will do guest shots on approximately twenty other TV shows, most of them dramatic anthology series.
May 54 appears on Columbia's Ford Theater. The installment, titled "Keep It in the Family," is a homespun comedy and pilot for the TV show "Father Knows Best." She and Robert Young star as the Midwestern parents of three, two girls and a boy. Both Young and Columbia expect that she will do the series, and she very much wants to, but her husband, Bill Walker, makes it clear that she should turn the show down. She accedes to this, and Jane Wyatt replaces her in the mother role.
57 makes her last movie
60-61 films her final TV roles
September 67 she and William Walker sue one another for divorce, amid contentious circumstances
71 marries for a fourth time, to Motorola executive James Edward Herbert. They reside in Indian Wells, just south of Palm Springs.
Approx. 76 divorces James Edward Herbert.
96 moves into a seniors residence, Casa Carillon, in San Diego, California
22 November 97 is honored with a star on the Palm Springs Walk of Fame. The event is attended by many of her admirers, including friends and family who warmly greet her arrival in an antique car. She is profoundly touched by this reception.
00 moves to a Palm Desert, California, retirement community, where she resides with a fluffy black and tan Pekinese named Patsy, to be nearer her son. She doesn't like trumpeting herself and seldom speaks of her career. Although she gets around with the help of a walker, she trots Patsy out once a day for a stroll. Three other times daily, dog walkers attend her friend. She's quite concerned about the quality of Patsy's care. The fact that Patsy is getting on in years is also a cause for anxiety. "You feel you just can't go on without them," she sighs, "but I guess you do."
October 01 a New York film society salutes her with an evening showing of two of her films. Between films, attendees pose for a group photo, taken against a backdrop of her portraits. Several people hold a banner that reads, "Ellen, Thanks for the Movies." The attendees then sign a birthday card, which will be sent to her, along with the photo, an illustrated program of the event and a notice of an upcoming article on her in Classic Images.
Late 01 her son, David Bartlett, sends a thank-you note for the film society tribute. He writes that his mother is "in ill health." Along with the note is a portrait that she has inscribed, thanking the society for the "Birthday Party."
January 02 "Ellen Drew 'Cinderellen'" appears in Classic Images
January 02 Ellen Walker phones the "Cinderellen" author with some very nice words about the article. She laughs that the article jogs her memory of some long-forgotten things about herself. She is gracious, her voice clear and soft, still retaining her Midwestern accent.
3 December 03 dies from a liver ailment. Her son David, five grandchildren, and some great-grandchildren survive her.
Classic Images, January 2002, "Ellen Drew 'Cinderellen'" and Ellen Drew Tribute, Classic Images, March 2004 by Jeff Gordon; Mr. Gordon's articles edited by Cheryl Messina
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