Bob Harned Remembers His Mother, Actress Sally Phipps

If you ever wondered what became of silent film actress Sally Phipps, you’re in luck.  Bob Harned has written a thorough and revealing biography of one of the cutest flappers to ever grace the silent screen. Bob is not just any writer; he just happens to be her son!

Sally Philips

Sally Phipps

A little about Sally and then I will introduce you to Bob and bring you into the conversation we had about his book, Sally Phipps: Silent Film Star.

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Her real name was not Sally Phipps, but Nellie Bernice Bogdon. When she came to Hollywood and signed with Fox Studios, she became Sally Phipps, a name that seemed to fit a care-free Jazz baby.

Sally was born in 1911 in Oakland, California. A brother, Lane, came along in 1913. Her father, Albert E. Bogdon, was a professional magician and quite easy on the eye (He later became a lawyer). Her mother, Edithe, a commercial artist, later worked at First National Studios coloring black and white photographs.

Sally's father, Albert E. Bogdon

Sally’s father, Albert E. Bogdon

When Albert and Edithe’s marriage fell apart, Sally went to live with her maternal grandmother, Nellie Lane. When she was not quite two, Sally was placed with a foster family, Warren and Eva Sawyer. Warren and Eva were employees at Essanay Film Corporation in Niles, California.

Sally’s career began as Bernice Sawyer at age four when she made three Broncho Billy films at Essanay: Broncho Billy and the Baby, The Western Way, The Outlaw’s Awakening, all 1915 releases.

Sally in about 1915

Sally in about 1915

A stagecoach accident ended Sally’s career at Essanay and sent her back to Nellie, her grandmother.

Edithe, Sally’s mother, began a new life in the 1920s and wanted Sally and Lane to be part of it. Edithe married Albert Beutler in 1922. In 1924, The family moved to Los Angeles.

Danny Borzage, a family friend, saw potential in 14-year-old Sally. Danny’s brother Frank, a director at Fox, gave Sally a screen test and the rest, as they say, is history.

Sally and Danny Borzage

Sally and Danny Borzage

After several uncredited roles, Sally began playing leads. The studio considered her image as that of a happy-go-lucky flapper and used her in comedies, often opposite Nick Stuart.

Sally was named a Wampas Baby Star in 1927, along with Patricia Avery, Rita Carewe, Helene Costello, Barbara Kent, Natalie Kingston, Frances Lee, Mary McAlister, Gladys McConnell, Sally Rand, Martha Sleeper, Iris Stuart, and Adamae Vaughn.

Wampas Baby Stars of 1927. Sally is pictured second from the left. How many others can you name?

In 1928, while filming None But The Brave with Charles Morton, , Sally developed the dreaded Klieg Eye, a eye irritation caused by the powerful lights used on studio sets.

A scene from None But The Brave with Charles Morton (R) and Billy Butts

A scene from None But The Brave with Charles Morton (R)

After her recovery, Sally went on vacation. She was away from the cameras for nine months, an eternity in filmdom.

Nick Stuart was soon making films and making out with Sue Carol. The actress grabbed onto Nick and wouldn’t let go. They were married in 1929.

Sue Carol and Nick Stuart (Michael G. Ankerich Collection)

Sue Carol and Nick Stuart (Michael G. Ankerich Collection)

In March 1929, 17-year-old Sally sued her mother and stepfather for the misuse of her money — she was earning $225 a week.

Soon after, Fox dropped Sally from its rolls. She tried Broadway, appearing as a starlet in the Moss Hart-George S. Kaufman hit Once in a Lifetime.

Sally onboard the Ile De France in 1933

Sally onboard the Ile De France in 1933

I will save the rest of her life for your reading pleasure. In short, she was briefly married to a Gimbel department store. By the mid-1930s, Sally was living in a one-room apartment in Manhattan and making $25 a week as a secretary.

She lived in India for a time and studied Eastern religions.  At a séance, she met Alfred Harned, whom she married in 1941. A daughter, Maryanna, was born in 1942, followed by Bob in 1944.

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It would be another 17 years before Bob saw his mother. Sally moved to New York and worked as a secretary. After Bob moved to the East Coast in 1967, the two saw each other at least twice a year.

Sally Phipps died of cancer in 1978.

After I read Bob’s fascinating book, you know me, I had questions.

Michael: So many film actresses from the 1910s and 1920s came from families where the father was absent.  This was Sally’s case. Her father, a magician and vaudevillian, was pretty much out the picture, as was her mother, who was a commercial artist. What impact did this have on her life, do you think?

Bob: Although Sally’s biological parents were frequently absent from her life, Sally lived full-time with her widowed grandmother, Nellie C. Lane from age three to age eleven. Nellie, whom Sally adored, was an intensely active civic leader during all the time Sally lived with her, and drove her own car as early as 1911. Nellie was the major stabilizing force in Sally’s life, was as a strong role model, and, although not a father, served as a good             parental substitute during Sally’s critical growing years.

Sally (L) and mother Edithe in January 1928, New York City

Sally (L) and mother Edithe in January 1928, New York City

 

Michael: Sally and her mother moved to Hollywood in 1924. Given that Sally had worked in the Broncho Billy films in the mid-1910s and performed in plays in school, it seems she was destined to become a film actress, doesn’t it?

Bob: According to interviews Sally gave, all she ever wanted to do was become a lawyer just like her father. However, Sally’s destiny was that she was too beautiful to live a normal life. When a family friend set up a screen test for her at Fox, which proved successful, Fox rushed to capitalize on her beauty and youth by immediately putting her under contract.

A Sally Phipps glamour portrait

A Sally Phipps glamour portrait

Michael: Tell me a little about your mother’s lifestyle after she went under contract to Fox and became a star.

Bob: According to Sally, it was all work, work, work. In a quote from a newspaper article, she said, “Hollywood is one of the most peaceful towns I have ever seen. Why, if wild parties and other things go on there, I’ve missed something. Most of us in the movies are too busy to think of anything but our work.”

Sally inscribed a photograph to Dorothy, her best friend, and explains her new name.

Sally inscribed a photograph to Dorothy, her best friend, and explained her new name, Sally Phipps

Michael: Sally became a Wampas Baby Star at age 15, I believe.  She must have been one of the youngest to receive this honor. Do you have any sense, based on your research and conversation with your mother, that she thought it was too much too soon?

Bob: Not at all. She loved every minute of it.

 

Sue Carol (Michael G. Ankerich Collection)

Sue Carol (Michael G. Ankerich Collection)

Michael: Nick Stuart was Sally’s frequent co-star at Fox.  Do you know whether there was a romance between them?

 

Bob: Sally was aware quite early that Nick and Sue Carol were smitten with each other and that a romance with him would be definitely out of the question.

Nick Stuart (Michael G. Ankerich Collection)

Nick Stuart (Michael G. Ankerich Collection)

Michael: Sally’s career in films was basically over by 1930, when she was only 19 or so. Did she have any sense of why her career ended? Was it the coming of sound?  Was it that Sue Carol came to Fox and played many of roles that Sally specialized in? Was it the lingering grief over her father’s murder in 1927? (Read the book to learn more).

Bob: Sally was always interested in giving the theater a try and found that the current upheaval in Hollywood gave her a chance to make a graceful exit. In the end, she triumphed by walking into a plum role in the 1930-1931 Broadway Kaufman & Hart spoof of     Hollywood, Once In A Lifetime.

Sally and Nick Stuart during the filming of The News Parade (1928)

Sally and Nick Stuart during the filming of The News Parade (1928)

 

Michael: One misconception I had about Sally was that, after her marriage to Ben Gimbel of Gimbels department store fame, she lived on “easy street” for the rest of her life.  That was not the case, was it? Without giving away a lot of the story, what direction did her life take after her divorce from Gimbel?

Sally in India

Sally in India

Bob: Sally moved on with her life after the divorce, having chosen to receive no settlement or alimony. She appeared in another Broadway show, did Shakespeare with a travelling company, joined WPA’s Federal Theatre Project, travelled around the world, lived in India for a year, and married again, giving birth to two children, including me.

Michael: One of the most unfortunate parts of Sally’s story was when she vanished from you and your sister’s lives in 1950 when you were youngsters. It’s interesting that Sally, as a child, was shifted back and forth between foster parents, her mother, and her grandmother.  Do you think her own childhood experience affected her idea of what it meant to be a parent?

Bob: It certainly seems possible.

Sally and Bob in Hawaii

Sally and Bob in Hawaii

Michael: Were you ever able to learn why she suddenly left you and your sister to grow up without their mother? Did she ever talk about it?

Bob: My sister and I were fortunate in that my father and my grandmother never imparted to us any blame or anger toward my mother. We always knew where she was and could keep in touch. Why she left and what precipitated it was never important to us. As for me, the time she spent with me as an adult was very precious.

Michael: Your sister had a bad experience when she was reunited with Sally, but you actually developed a friendship when you and Sally met again in the 1960s. Was it more of a friendship or was it a real mother and son connection?  How did growing up without your mother impact your life?

Bob: I was born into a show-biz family with bohemian attitudes. My father, who brought us up, was a musician, former vaudevillian, orchestrator, and composer. I grew up loving all            aspects of entertainment. Both my sister and I sang, danced, and acted. Meeting my mother later in life and hearing her stories about her own show-biz life was an incredible experience for a son like me to hear and enjoy. She and I became really good friends, and we spent many happy hours together, which I will always treasure.

Sally and Bob, May 1968 (Brooklyn, NY, atop St. George Hotel)

Sally and Bob, May 1968 (Brooklyn, NY, atop St. George Hotel)

 

Michael: Roi Uselton and I were very close friends when I lived in Atlanta in the 1990s.  He made contact with Sally in the late 1960s while researching the Wampas girls. Marion Shilling, another actress who had disappeared into obscurity, credited Roi as her “Christopher Columbus.”  Did Sally feel the same way about Roi, that he rediscovered her? She welcomed the attention, didn’t she?

Roi Uselton, actor William Janney, and Michael G. Ankerich, 1991

Roi Uselton, actor William Janney, and Michael G. Ankerich, 1991 (Michael G. Ankerich Collection)

Bob: I remember well the Roi Uselton period in Sally’s life in the late 60s and early 70s. Sally was very excited about being re-discovered by him and with his including her in his upcoming articles in “Films In Review” magazine. I have preserved all the letters from Roi in the Sally Phipps Archive, which I maintain.

Sally and Bob, October 1977, the night Sally was honored with a Rosemary Award

Sally and Bob, October 1977, the night Sally was honored with a Rosemary Award

Michael: How many of her films are available for viewing? Do you have a favorite Sally Phipps film?

Bob: All of Sally’s films were made at Fox except for the first and last listed (below). All are silent except the final, which is a Vitaphone talkie. I particularly enjoy the Fox comedy short Girls, because she has a chance to show off her comedic talents in physical comedy.

Broncho Billy And The Baby – Essanay – 1915 (drama short)

Light Wines And Bearded Ladies – 1926 (comedy short)

Girls – 1927 (comedy short)

The Cradle Snatchers – 1927 (feature)

Sunrise – 1927 (feature)

A Midsummer Night’s Steam – 1927 (comedy short)

The News Parade – 1928 (feature)

Why Sailors Go Wrong – 1928 (feature)

Where Men Are Men – Vitaphone — 1931 (comedy short

Sally with David Rollins in High School Hero (1928)

Sally with David Rollins in High School Hero (1928)

Michael: Is there an outstanding question that you would ask your mother if you could talk with her again? What would it be?

Bob: I feel that I got all of my questions answered during the time we spent together between the years 1967 and 1978.

Sally in Hawaii, 1941

Sally in Hawaii, 1941

 

All photos, unless otherwise noted, are courtesy of Bob L. Harned.

Dove Tails — Lee’s Final Hollywood Adventures with Sue Carol, Gloria Stuart, and Others

Lee Heidorn’s adventures in Hollywood come to an end, but not before she visits more studios and lunches with her Hollywood favorites.  One of the highlights was visiting actress Sue Carol.

Sue Carol signed this portrait to Lee.

Lee picks up the story from here:

The next day, after visiting Joan Blondell on the set, I gave a luncheon for Billie (Dove) at the Victor Hugo Restaurant and invited some of our honorary members and all of our California members. Besides Billie, Doris and me, there were Lina Basquette, Bodil Rosing, Tove Blue, Millie Wist, Ellen Snyder, Jerry Rogers, Muriel Mosley Benton, and Babe Flogaus. After cocktails, we lunched in the garden court.

After lunch at The Victor Hugo Restaurant. Among those pictured are: Lee (L), Tove Blue (back left), Lina Basquette (center back), and Bodil Rosing (front of Lina).

Luncheon over, we adjourned to Tove’s home for the remainder of the afternoon. We took some snapshots, and then went into the spacious living room where Tove served cocktails.

At Tove Blue's home: (L-R) Al De Vries, Doris Heidorn, Bodil Rosing, and Lee Heidorn.

Billie told us some very interesting and hair-raising experiences she had during active studio days. Doris and Jerry tried out the swimming pool and reported a very refreshing dip. Ellen came back to our apartment with us, and we spent the evening with Johnny Downs and his family. Jack after much coaxing, sang a song from his new picture for us. After cake and ice cream were served, Johnny autographed pictures for all of us, and we went home.

That night, we had the privilege of seeing the Hollywood Hotel Broadcast. Billie had gotten us tickets for it from Harriet Parsons, the famous Louella’s daughter.  John Boles, Gladys Swarthout, and H.B. Warner were the guest stars and it was a grand program with Frances Langford, who looked very stunning in a black velvet suit, and Dick Powell, who is very handsome. He thrilled all the gals. We thought we might be able to talk to John Boles after the broadcast, having met him in Chicago. The crowd around the exit was too great so we gave up that idea. John’s secretary called  me one day and said that if John finished work in The Littlest Rebel before we left, he would like to see us. Later, while walking down Vine Street past the Brown Derby, we saw Johnny Weismuller being mobbed by a bunch of autograph hounds. 

The next day, Gloria Stuart sent her chauffeur for us, and he took us out to the beautiful Fox Westwood Studios, where we were directed to her dressing room.

Lee, Gloria Stuart,and Michael Whalen.

While she finished removing her makeup–she had been making tests for her first picture (Professional Soldier) since the birth of her daughter–we chatted about her club, and its president’s visit to California.  Then, she took us over to the set where they were making costume tests of Constance Collier and Freddie Bartholomew. We then went over to the wardrobe department where she showed us the gown she will wear in the new picture.

Freddie Bartholomew, Victor McLaglen, and Gloria Stuart.

We were amazed at the quality of the materials used–real furs, heavy satin, etc. Leaving there, we went over to the projection room where Gloria was to see her wardrobe, makeup, hair dress, and voice tests.  There, Arthur Sheckman, her very nice husband, joined us. The tests were run off then, and it was engrossing to hear them discuss light and dark makeups, dress accessories, etc. Then, we all went to luncheon in the Cafe De Paree, where the only other celeb we saw was Jack Holt, who was dressed in a Civil War uniform–he is in Shirley Temple’s picture (The Littlest Rebel), too.

Several days later, we spent another afternoon at the Fox Studios in Westwood with Gloria Stuart. I found her knitting in the portable dressing room on the set, waiting for us. She changed into lounging pajamas and then we headed for the Cafe De Paree for lunch. We saw Victor McLaglen, Jack Oakie, Billy Benedict, and Cy Bartlett lunching there. Marshall Duffield, on again, off again husband of Dorothy Lee, stopped by the table and chatted for a few minutes.

Gloria Stuart poses for Lee's camera.

Back to the set after luncheon, Gloria rounded up Freddie Bartholomew, Vic McLaglen, and Michael Whalen. Gloria went to work on the masquerade ball scenes that afternoon.  Watched the still cameraman take some still pictures of Gloria and Michael. Gloria is such a sweet  person and extremely beautiful.

Our next adventure was with Jackie Cooper and his charming mother, Mrs. Bigelow. They called for us in the car and had the first wife of Jackie’s manager with them.

Jackie Cooper

We went to the exclusive  Vendome, where we were joined by Mrs. Norman Taurog, who is Mrs. Bigelow’s sister and the wife of the famous director.

Jackie Cooper and cousin, Patricia Taurog.

The place was jammed with celebrities. In the various booths, we could see Toby Wing (very heavily made up), H.B. Warner, Frank Fay, Harry Richman, Bert Wheeler. George Jessel, B.P. Schulberg, Louella Parsons, Laura Hope Crews, Margaret Sullavan (who looked very lovely), and  Alice Joyce. Later, Patricia, three year old daughter of Mrs. Taurog, was brought in by her nurse. After she had some ice cream, we went outside and took some pictures of her and Jackie and then they drove us home.

The next day, Bing Crosby was our host at the Paramount Studios. After visiting for awhile with his lovely secretary, Gladys Wayne, his swell dad escorted us over to the Anything Goes set, where we saw Bing chatting with that swell personality gal, Ethel Merman. He called Bing over, and introduced him to us, and we were thrilled that Bing remembered us from our letters. Unfortunately, Bing wasn’t doing anything while we were there but we saw them film one of the dance sequences. We chatted with Bing again for a few minutes before we took our leave, and he said he hoped he would see us the next time he was in Chicago. 

Billie (Dove) called for us the next day and took us out to the Swimming Club for luncheon, and we spent the afternoon playing cards and taking pictures. That evening, we attended Ruth Roland’s radio broadcast, which was very enjoyable. She dedicated her request number to us. Ruth drove us home, and we stopped on the way for ice cream cones. 

Late one afternoon, we met Evelyn Venable at Sardis for tea. With her was her friend, Edna Sollee, who is her stand-in and who is a very charming  girl. Evelyn is very pretty and very sweet and is very much like her screen personality. We chatted there for some time. Saw Thelma Todd there and introduced her to the others.

Evelyn Venable (right) and her stand-in, Edna Sollee.

The next day, we met Billie and her mother at the Broadway Hollywood and browsed around the toy department in search of some toys for her young son. We lunched at Al Levy’s Tavern, where the only celebrity we saw was Wallace Ford. We walked with them to where they parked their car and said our final goodbyes, because Billie and Bob were leaving for San Francisco and would not be back until after we left.

The next day, Sue Carol picked us up in her car and took us to the beautiful Ambassador Hotel for luncheon. It had been a long time since we had seen Sue, and we were glad to see her looking so well.

Lee had known Sue Carol since the early 1930s. She took this photo of Fred Waring, Sue Carol, and Nick Stuart (Sue's then husband) in Chicago in 1932.

After luncheon, we went shopping with her, and it was fun to see her modeling dresses, coats and hats. Then she invited us over to her house for a snack, and to see her daughter, Carol Lee, age three. We had been delayed somewhat, for driving down Wilshire Blvd., we went through a red light, and there would be cops around, but good old Susie talked herself out of a ticket.

Sue signed this photo to Lee.

We found Sue’s current boyfriend, Howard Wilson, at her house when we arrived, and Carol Lee is certainly a darling little girl. Then Sue and Howard took us to see Joan Crawford in I Live my Life at the Grauman’s Chinese Theater, and then drove us home.

Another afternoon we spent at Bodil Rosing’s home and we had an enjoyable  visit with her.  She is such a sweet person and so very interested in her fans and the fan clubs.

Bodil Rosing poses for Lee.

On our last day, we packed, and then at noon, Millie Wist came and we piled all of our luggage into her car and then Lina came by and we all went to Sardi’s for luncheon. We had nearly finished, when Lina jumped up from the table, and told us to wait until she returned. When she came back a few minutes later, she handed Doris and me each a little box. Doris’ contained a sterling silver charm braclet with her name in silver letters hanging from the chain. Mine held two little charms for my bracelet–one a little camera and the other a lucky “touch wood” piece. After we bade Lina au revoir, we went with Millie on a few errands and then stopped at her house for a few minutes. En route to the Beachcombers Club, where we were to meet Alice White for farewell cocktails, we stopped off to say hello and goodbye to Lina’s mother, Mrs. Ernest Belcher.

When we got to the club, Alice hadn’t arrived, so we stood outside and waited for her. When she did come, she was accompanied by a tall man, and we couldn’t figure out who it was, for he wore dark glasses and his nose was bandaged, and he had several day’s growth of beard. When they came up to us, she introduced him as George Givot–you know, the Greek Ambassador. We asked George what had happened to him. First, he said he had told so many stories that he couldn’t remember what had happened, and then he finally confessed that he “had his nose remodeled because he thought Hitler might get mad at him.”

The time passed only too quickly and soon we had to leave and get back to Millie’s, where Monte and Tove Blue and Millie’s husband were waiting to take us to the train. We had a few minutes before we had to leave, so I made a few farewell calls to Ruth Roland and Bodil Rosing. Then we were on our way down to the train. They all tried to make it easy for us by wisecracking all the time, but it was hard saying goodbye, especially to Millie who had been so darned sweet to us during our stay there. Naturally, we were thrilled when people recognized Monte as our escort–he’s so tall and handsome and he towered over everyone else.

We were soon on our way, and waving goodbye to dear old Hollywood and all the people that had been so grand to us. So, publicly, I want to thank all of these swell people who helped make our vacation in Hollywood the marvelous success it was, and especially thanks to Lina, Billie, and Bob for being such perfect friends.

The trip home was rather dull–the only bright spot being when we hit Kansas City. There we met one of our oldest and dearest pen pals and friends.

It was nice coming home to see the family again–they were all at the train to meet us. The only other redeeming feature about coming home was finding my old friend, Ethel Shutta down at the College Inn and to hear her sweet songs coming over the air again.

So, my friends, this is the story of a dream come true, and I hope that some day, each and every one of you will have the opportunity of visiting Hollywood and have the swell and elegant time that we did!

Ever fondly, 

Lenore