Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Fashions For Festivities, Milwaukee Journal, December 20,1936 by Isabella Taves

I was lucky enough to capture Agnes Moorehead ( she is Phil Baker's madcap stooge on his program Sunday nights over CBS) for lunch and we got to talking at length about this very thing.

"I am naturally pretty much of a conservative when it comes to clothes." Agnes told me. "I am the tall and stately type and heaven help me if I try to look cute. But at Christmas I like a red dress. I have to be very careful about the shade of red, because my hair is such a funny color."

Her "funny color" hair is actually a beautiful rich auburn, almost mahogany, with shades of bronze in it.  I can see why Agnes has to watch her step with red.  I made noises to that affect.  Agnes smiled.
"I have had yearning eyes on a red fox cape for months," she said, "but my husband tries to keep me from it by warning me that I can't wear that particular shade of red. I can though.  I can wear anything that is in the orange tones and lavender and warm shades of brown.  I especially adore chartreuse and it's nice with my hair, but my husband definitely doesn't like it so I pass that up."

I made a particular mental note that the radio stars aren't much different from other folks; husbands have a lot to say about what they will wear.  I have been just a shade out of the fashion picture for years because my husband won't take me out if I am wearing anything in my hair, even a diamond tiara, if I had a diamond tiara.  I was prepared to go into this a great length over the onion soup but Agnes was rambling on.

"I don't dress up for broadcasts," she said "unless there's a special benefit after the program or some special high jinx that the cast is putting on. Then I like to be very formal. I have a lavender raffia lace with purple velvet straps over the shoulders which I especially adore- it is dignified yet dramatic.  And I love rich furs-ermine and silver fox."

Agnes does not change her hair for evening except sometimes to do it in a coronet braid.  She can make this braid of her own hair because it is very long and very heavy.  She has one interesting pet idea- she makes her own foundation cream for evening.

It is a special formula with bay rum in it, and witch hazel, a little glycerin and a drop or two of iodine and Mercurochrome.  The result, when applied, is a warm glow, a little like suntan make up.  But don't try to make it yourself it has taken her years of experimenting to work out the formula, and she only recommends it for girls who the same type of skin and coloring as hers.

Tangled Up With Paul

I know that when folks back in the day fluffed out their backgrounds to eliminate situations that were traumatic for them or situations that were not for public consumption they definitely didn't take into consideration that we would live in an age of information sharing.  If they had they might have been less likely to invent past experiences that would be easily disproved.  If you sit down, at any time, and look into the background of just about any of Hollywood's elite from its Golden Age you will find that many of them simply invented a past that worked for them.  Producer Paul Gregory was no exception to that.  

We all know who Paul Gregory is.  The man behind "Don Juan In Hell" and "The First Drama Quartet" he brought to the stage 4 talented performers and changed the face of theatre forever.  Charles Laughton, Cedric Hardwicke, Charles Boyer and the inestimable Agnes Moorehead wound their way across America and England performing "Don Juan" to rave reviews and standing ovations.  Paul Gregory, the plain spoken producer  of "Don Juan" revolutionized the way theatre was performed.  He and Charles Laughton together changed the way theatre would be viewed forever.

 While Paul may indeed be a plain spoken man now he hasn't always been. Paul Gregory is an invention of one James Burton Lenhart of Des Moines, Iowa.  Below is an excerpt from and interview with Paul done in 2012 and published in "The Desert News":

Gregory, a successful theater producer, was sent an adapted screenplay of Davis Grubb's novel about a conning, Bible-pumping sexual predator. The character reminded Gregory of his father, who deserted his family in Des Moines, Iowa, and ran off with his wife's $240,0000 Indian allotment, forcing Gregory to live with his aunt and uncle in England through his teens.

Gregory gained a cultural education in England that proved propitious upon his return to America. He recognized Ruth St. Denis while working in a Hollywood drug store, which led to him promoting a show by the modern dance progenitor. More promoting opportunities arose, and Gregory was soon hired by MCA to book “class acts.”

There is no evidence to indicate that  Paul Gregory, aka James Burton Lenhart, ever went to England to reside with an aunt and uncle there through his teens.  He was residing in Des Moines, Iowa in 1940 with his mother and sisters.  He attended Lincoln High School and is clearly pictured in 1937 in two pictures of the high school drama group.  He went by Burton Lenhart and his father went by James.  Furthermore, in the 1934 edition of the yearbook he is listed as being in the band and one will find him clearly listed as beneficiary of a senior will in Lincoln High School yearbook of 1938.  He was willed musical talent by one Laura Fontanini.  Clearly his claim of having lived throughout his teen years with an aunt and uncle is untrue.  He lived an average life in Des Moines.  His parents were divorced before 1940 but his father never ran off with $240,000.00 that had come from his mother's Indian Allotment.  His father remained in Des Moines and remarried.  His second wife was Alma Phelps. James Lenhart was a clerk in a grocery store in 1940, he was listed as a manager in a grocery store in 1930, and had an estimated annual income of $1200.00 and his second wife Alma worked in a hosiery mill adding $700.00 per year to their household income.  James Lenhart died in Iowa in 1982. Paul's mother Esther May Taylor Lenhart was living in Des Moines in 1940 and working as a seamstress.  Her annual income was $900.00 and her eldest daughter Lenore was a clerical worker for the phone company adding her $100.00 per year to their income.  Obviously Paul's father was much better off but he wasn't rich by any stretch of the imagination.  James maintained ownership of 607 Creston Ave, the family home in 1930, and Esther May Taylor Lenhart moved to 7th Street out of the family home. Paul had 3 siblings, Lenore, Virginia and Edwin.  Of these the only one I have been able to trace is Edwin Lenhart who died in 2007 in Alaska.

Paul's life may have been traumatic.  I cannot say for sure why his parents divorced or if his father ever gave any financial assistance to his former wife and children.  It's likely, at least from Paul's apparent disdain for his father, that no money was ever given to the family and that the children were supported by their mother.  It is also likely that this created stress for Paul and his siblings.  Edwin joined the military around 1943.  I can't find either of Paul's sisters beyond 1940 nor can I locate their mother.  Edwin spent time in California in 1955 because there is a marriage record there date June 5, 1955 in Los Angeles where he married Mollie McCart.  By 1981 Edwin was living in Alaska.  I can say that Paul's mother was not native American.  She was born in Iowa to John R. Taylor of Ohio and Margaret C. Lash of Illinois.

The American theatre owes a great deal to Paul Gregory.  He most assuredly is one of kind.  The enduring nature of his creations speaks volumes about his talent and foresight.  His truly humble beginnings speak volumes about his drive and desire.  We salute you sir for all you've given us.