Dove Tails — Lee Lunches with Thelma Todd and Visits Jean Harlow on the Set

Lee Heidorn’s adventures in Hollywood continue. In this installment, she lunches with Thelma Todd and Madge Evans, and visits Jean Harlow on the set of Riffraff.

Lee picks up the story from here:

A few days later, I spent an afternoon at the Hal Roach Studios with beautiful Thelma Todd.

The ever-smiling Thelma Todd

We had lunch in her dressing room and were gaily getting acquainted when Mae Busch, who was once a famous star, came in. She had a featured role in the picture. She is very sweet and friendly. We chatted there for awhile and then went down on the set. Thelma was wearing a dark wig as she plays the Queen of Gypsies in The Bohemian Girl, which they were were making with Laurel and Hardy as the stars. When we got to the set, Thelma asked me if I’d like to have my picture taken with her and Laurel and Hardy, and of course I wasn’t averse, so she got the boys and the still cameraman and the picture was taken, and it certainly turned out swell. I saw Hal Roach and Tony Moreno, just as handsome as ever, sitting in a corner, and a lot of gypsy extras in gay costumes lolling around. Between scenes, both Thelma and Mae would come over and visit with me, so I had a very gay afternoon.

Lee (center) with Inez Courtney (L) and Thelma Todd


Several days later, we were to meet Thelma Todd at the Russian Eagle for lunch, but when we got there, we found they had closed prior to moving to a new location on Sunset Blvd. So we lunched at Al Levy’s instead. Just as we were ready to start eating, Thelma asked us if we had ever met Inez Courtney, and when we replied in the negative, she asked the waiter for a phone and called Inez and asked her to lunch with us. Inez had just had her tonsils out and so couldn’t eat much. She joined us just as we were having dessert. She’s a card and we had lots of laughs between her and Thelma. Leo Carrillo occupied the next booth so as he was leaving, he stopped and chatted for a few minutes. He’s very nice and we enjoyed meeting him. We stayed there chatting for awhile and then went outside and took some pictures of them and then bade them goodbye.

Thelma and Inez standing in front of Thelma's car. Less than three months later, Thelma was dead.


The next afternoon, we lunched with Madge Evans at the Brown Derby.

Madge Evans, dressed for luncheon.

Madge is one of the sweetest girls we met, and we enjoyed being with her so much.  She’s so doggone natural and friendly that it was easy to talk with her. We had lots of fun discussing mutual friends. Saw Karen Morley sitting right across from us and Jack Durant and Molly O’Day. Also, Sy Bartlett and Dick Arlen were lunching together. Alice White had bawled me out because I hadn’t spoken to him (Sy, White’s husband) before, so when I finished lunch, I went over and said hello. Naturally he introduced me to Dick Arlen, and it was really a thrill because he has been a favorite of mine for years, and he’s just as nice in person as he is on the screen. I was surprised that Sy Bartlett had remembered me. After leaving them, I joined Madge and Doris, and we walked over to I. Magnins.

Lee and Madge Evans


The next afternoon was one I had been looking forward to ever since our arrival — our visit with Jean Harlow. Most of you know that Jean and I have been dear friends for many years, so that by the time Ethel Ley (Jean’s secretary) and Millie Wist came for Doris, Ellen and me, I was in quite a dither. Ethel’s husband had gone for Ruth and Marion so we met them at the studio. Arriving there, we went directly to Jean’s lovely dressing rooms and there she was, smartly dressed in a dark blue tailored suit, a tiny blue hat trimmed in white parked on her gleaming white hair.

Jean Harlow, one of Lee's favorite movie stars

She greeted us enthusiastically and then Ethel introduced her to the rest of the girls. We talked on many subjects and when someone mentioned diets, Jean said it was time for her to get on her soapbox, for that is one subject she is enthusiastic  about–especially rational diets where you don’t have to starve yourself. Our visit ended too soon and then only because she had to sit for a natural color cover portrait for which she had to have a special makeup put on. We planned to get together again with her and her dear mother, but they were both taken down with the flu, and as soon as she was up and able to get out, she had to return to work, and worked night and day to make up the time lost. But, she’s planning a trip East soon, so it won’t be long before we see her again. When we left her, they took us over to her set where she was making Riffraff. There we glimpsed  J. Farrell McDonald, Spencer Tracy, and on the street outside the stage, we saw Frank Morgan and Freddie Bartholomew.

Another thrill was provided for us the next day, for we were the guests of Joan Blondell at the Warner Bros. First National Studios in Burbank. Maurice Leo, Joan’s swell secretary, called for us and upon arriving at the studio, we went to the Green Room, the restaurant used by the stars and writers, where we met Joan. She looked extremely lovely in a grey tailored suit. While lunching, we saw Glenda Farrell, whom we were later introduced to and who is a swell gal.

Joan Blondell

After a delicious meal, we went over to the set where Joan was making Miss Pacific Fleet, and though we  were there for three hours, Joan didn’t do anything but sit and wait. Maurice took us over to the Meet the Dutchess set, where we watched Louise Fazenda and Warren Hymer do a couple of scenes.

Returning to Joan’s set, we were watching Hugh Herbert do a scene or two when we saw Minna Gombell come on the set. I must mention here that Minna and I have been exchanging telephone calls, but without any success in contacting one another. She is a grand person and we made plans to get together when she came back from San Diego, where she goes to be with her husband whenever she is not working. Luck wasn’t with us there, however, for as soon as she returned, she began work again and we couldn’t get together, but we did have several nice telephone conversations.

Joan invited us up to her house to see her baby, but due to Joan’s mother’s illness and Joan’s trip to Palm Springs with the baby, it was an invitation that was never realized. 

To be continued ….



Dove Tails — Meeting Jean Harlow and other Adventures of a Fan Club President

Not long after Lee Heidorn took over the running of Billie Dove’s fan club, she met one of her all-time favorite movie stars.  Living in Chicago afforded Lee the opportunity to meet many who were making personal appearances along with the opening of their pictures. Said Lee,  “It was surprising to find that very few of them refused to see you when you went backstage to see them. Those I met on personal appearances were people like John Boles, Mary Brian, the Boswell Sisters, Jackie Cooper, Esther Ralston, Bing Crosby, Buddy Rogers, and Mary Pickford, who had a group of us up to her hotel suite for tea!”

Lee had written to Jean Harlow after seeing her in Hell’s Angels. The blonde bombshell wrote back almost immediately and enclosed a signed portrait. A few weeks later, Lee received a telegram from Jean, asking her to visit her when she was making a personal appearance at the Oriental Theatre in Chicago.

The ever-gracious Jean Harlow

“Nervous I was when I was escorted to her dressing room while she was on stage,” Lee recalled. “As soon as she came off stage, she rushed up to her dressing room to see me. We had a grand visit and when it came time for me to leave, she came down with me and the doorman took pictures of us. Later, every time she and her mother came through Chicago, I would get a telegram from her and while our visits were necessarily short, I’ll never forget them.

“After one of our visits, Jean went on to New York. She sent me a beautiful white-beaded evening bag from Magnin. She even wrote a letter on the day she married Paul Bern, and later, sent me a piece of her wedding cake. After Jean died, her mother would call me and send me gifts when she’d pass through Chicago. Jean is one of my fondest memories.”

In the meantime, Lee got business with Billie’s fan club, which was operated much like the other fan clubs of the day, said Lee.

Lee operated Billie Dove's fan club from her little home office in Chicago


“Most of them were sponsored by the stars. They would provide an autographed photo and would usually write a letter to go along with a club letter or magazine. Since this was the Depression, these magazines were not on a regular basis since the president usually had to pay for them.”

A 1932 issue of Dove Tales, the official organ of the Billie Dove Fan Club


Letters from Billie and Lee to fan club members

“In my day,” Lee remembered, “running the club was usually at the expense of the club president, helped by minimal  dues (usually a couple of dollars a year) and sometimes the star would make a small donation. At that time, the stars were proud of their clubs and I found proof in that, not only in my association of Billie Dove, but of those other stars whom I became acquainted with at that highlight time of my life.”

Billie graciously added photographs to Lee's collection

In 1933, a group of clubs that were located in Chicago formed the Movie Club Guild. “We published a beautiful magazine called The Audience. Billie and her new husband, Robert Kenaston, were on the cover of our first issue. Presidents of the clubs wrote articles about their ‘stars’ and had interviews with others when they were in Chicago. For a couple of years, we had a so-called fan club convention, and presidents from clubs around the country came.”

After that first convention, Billie wrote Lee a letter congratulating her on the accomplishment and inviting her to visit her in California.  That invitation from Billie started Lee to seriously consider a trip West to meet her favorite Hollywood movie stars.

Billie congratulates Billie on the First Annual Convention of movie fan clubs

Billie offers Lee a personal invitation to visit her in Hollywood

In my next post, Lee recounts her adventures in Hollywood!


Dove Tales – Let’s Go!

Dove Tales was the official organ of the Billie Dove Fan Club, an organization that had its roots in the late 1920s.

Dedicated to one of Hollywood’s most ravishing movie stars of the 1920s, Billie Dove, the club remained in existence until the death of its long-time president, Lenore Heidorn Foote, in 1999.

My favorite Billie Dove portrait... well, one of my favorites!

Lenore, or Lee (as her friends called her), dubbed her friendship with Billie one of the longest that Hollywood ever birthed and fostered. After my 1994 interview with Billie for my book, The Sound of Silence, Lee contacted me with her stories. The next time I ventured to the Coast, I spent the day with Billie in Rancho Mirage and an afternoon with Lee at her home in Vista, California.

Within the next several months or so, I want to share with you the story of the friendship between Billie Dove and her fan club president. I’ll call this series, Dove Tales, after the fan club newsletter. I want to share the story of how a starstruck youngster from Chicago became the fan club president for one of the most beautiful stars Hollywood has ever known.

In the course of my series, I’ll share with you Lee’s firsthand account of traveling to Hollywood in 1934 and how she was entertained by Billie and scores of other “picture people.” Her diary is fascinating, I think, especially for those of us who feel we somehow belonged in that bygone era.

Billie and Lee

While sharing Lee’s story, I will also sprinkle in some of my own recollections of Billie and Lee.  For instance, here is an anecdote that didn’t make it into my book. Billie and I were on the phone one evening when the subject came around to Greta Garbo. Billie had a story.

“We were at a party of the Mayfair Club, which had the Ritz in New York and the Biltmore in Los Angeles as its headquarters. The professional people (film stars) were there. The doors opened and there stood Garbo. We were such fans of hers–all of us!  She was so outstanding as far as we were concerned. We didn’t look at her at all. We didn’t want her to feel any different. We wanted her to have fun. She had a good time. Then, it so happened that she and I left at the same time. They didn’t have parking boys at the time, so our escorts went to get the cars. Garbo and I just looked at each other. Finally, she came over to me, put out her hand, and said, ‘I am Garbo.’ I replied, ‘I am Dove!’  Imagine her thinking that no one saw her or recognized her.”

Like Billie, Lee was a great storyteller. You will recognize many of the stars she encountered on her adventures in Hollywood: Thelma Todd, Jean Harlow, Lina Basquette, Ruth Roland, Ivan Lebedeff, and others.

Here’s the letter that Billie mailed to Lee in preparation of Lee’s trip to Hollywood.

Letter to Lee Heidorn from Billie (Dove) Kenaston


Happy New Year, everyone!  I’m looking forward to journeying back with you to Hollywood of the 1930s —  in 2012.  Let’s go!