Tag Archives: Pop Culture History

Books: What Would Mark Twain’s Tale Of Today Be?


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Samuel Clemens, known to most as the popular author and humorist Mark Twain, was also an astute observer of American politics-he just believed that the stark truth about corruption in government would go down more smoothly with a dose of humor. Robed in a white suit, white cravat, and white shoes, crowned with unruly white hair and smoking an ever-present cigar, Mark Twain became one of America’s first global celebrities.

Over 100 years later, Twain’s insightful commentary retains an uncanny relevance to the challenges facing contemporary America. His views are as fresh and provocative as those of any contemporary cable TV “talking head,” Sunday morning roundtable debater, political blogger, or radio talk show host. Continue reading

Glens Falls Talk On Changing Perceptions Suburbs


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The Chapman Historical Museum in Glens Falls, NY will host a talk on changing perceptions of the suburbs on Thursday, November 1, 2012, at 7 pm.

From Leave It to Beaver to Desperate Housewives, viewers have been presented with visions of suburbia that are simultaneously pastoral and gothic, nostalgic and repressive. Using still photos and video, Professor Keith Wilhite, Assistant Professor of English, Siena College, will show how popular culture constructs specific images of suburbia, as well as how those images change along with postwar suburban development. Continue reading

Bryan O’Byrne: From Plattsburgh to Hollywood


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In late July, 1941, a young Plattsburgh boy received permission from his parents to visit the movie house just a few blocks away. Hours later, he had not returned home, and Mom and Dad hit the streets in search of their missing son. Soon they were at the Plattsburgh Police Station, anxiously seeking help. Two patrolmen were immediately put on the case, which, unlike so many stories today, had a happy ending.

The two policemen obtained keys to the theater building and began searching the interior. There, curled up in his seat near the front row, little Bryan Jay O’Byrne was fast asleep. He later explained that he enjoyed the movie so much, he decided to stay for the second showing and must have drifted off into dreamland. When the theater closed for the night, no one had seen the young boy lying low in his seat.

Perhaps no one knew it then, but that amusing incident was a harbinger of things to come. Bryan O’Byrne was born to Elmer and Bessie (Ducatte) O’Byrne of Plattsburgh on February 6, 1931. Life in the O’Byrne home may have been difficult at times. Six years earlier, Bryan’s older sister was born at the very moment Elmer was being arraigned in Plattsburgh City Court on burglary and larceny charges.

Still, the family managed to stay together, and after attending St. Peter’s Elementary School and Plattsburgh High, Bryan went on to graduate from the State University Teacher’s College at Plattsburgh. After stints in the army and as an elementary school teacher, he pursued acting, studying at the Stella Adler Studio.

He appeared on Broadway with Vivian Leigh in “Duel of Angels” (the run was cut short after five weeks due to the first actors’ strike in forty years). Other jobs followed, but he soon surfaced in a new, increasingly popular medium: television.

In the early 1960s, Bryan began appearing in television series, becoming one of the best-known character actors in show business. Most people recognized his face from numerous bit parts he played in television and in movies, but few knew his name. That is true of many character actors, but ironically, in O’Byrne’s case, it was that very anonymity which brought him fame.

It all took place in the 1966–67 television season with the launch of a show called Occasional Wife. The plot line followed the story of an unmarried junior executive employed by a baby food company. The junior executive’s boss felt that, since they were selling baby food, it would be wise to favor married men for promotions within the company.

So, the junior executive concocted a plan with a female who agreed to serve as his “occasional wife.” He put her on salary and got her an apartment two floors above his own. Hilarity ensued as a variety of situations in each episode had them running up and down the fire escape to act as husband and wife. This all happened to the obvious surprise and bemusement of a man residing on the floor between the two main players. That man was played by Bryan O’Byrne.


O’Byrne’s character had no name and no speaking lines, but he became the hit of the show. Usually he was engaged in some type of activity that ended up in shambles as he watched the shenanigans. The audience loved it. The show’s writers had such fun with the schtick that O’Byrne became somewhat of a sensation. His expert acting skills made the small part into something much bigger.

Eventually, in early 1967, a nationwide contest was held to give the “Man in the Middle” an actual name. Much attention was heaped on O’Byrne, but the high didn’t last for long. Occasional Wife went the way of many other promising comedies that were built on a certain premise, but were not allowed to develop. It survived only one season.

O’Byrne’s career continued to flourish. Among his repeating roles was that of CONTROL Agent Hodgkins in the hit comedy series Get Smart, starring Don Adams and Barbara Feldon. Over the years, O’Byrne remained one of Plattsburgh’s best-kept secrets, appearing in 45 television series, 22 movies, and several Disney productions.

Among those television series were some high-profile shows and many of the all-time greats: Alfred Hitchcock Presents, Batman, Ben Casey, Get Smart, Gunsmoke, I Dream of Jeannie, Maude, Happy Days, Maverick, Murder She Wrote, My Three Sons, Perry Mason, Rawhide, Sanford and Son, The Big Valley, The Bill Cosby Show, The Bob Newhart Show, The Lucy Show, The Munsters, The Partridge Family, The Untouchables, and Welcome Back Kotter.

Advertisers discovered the appeal of Bryan’s friendly face, and he was cast in more than two hundred television commercials. His experience in multiple fields and his love and understanding of the intricacies of performing led to further opportunities. He became an excellent acting coach. Among those he worked with, guided, or mentored were Bonnie Bedelia, Pam Dawber, Nick Nolte, Lou Diamond Phillips, Jimmy Smits, and Forest Whittaker.

Writer Janet Walsh, a friend of O’Byrne’s since the early 1980s, noted that, early on, he recognized the talent of young Nick Nolte. According to Walsh, “Nick slept on Bryan’s couch for a year. Bryan cast him in his production of The Last Pad, and that launched Nick’s career.”

Besides working as an acting coach for the prestigious Stella Adler Academy, O’Byrne also served on the Emmy Nominating Committee in Los Angeles. He spent nearly forty years in the entertainment business, working with many legendary stars, including Lucille Ball, Clint Eastwood, Alfred Hitchcock, and John Wayne. His television resume covers many of the best-known, most-watched series ever. And through it all, he remained a nice, unpretentious man.

Quite the journey for a ten-year-old movie fan from Plattsburgh.

Photos: Bryan Jay O’Byrne; Bryan O’Byrne and Vivian Leigh; Michael Callan, Bryan O’Byrne, and Patricia Hart from Occasional Wife.

Lawrence Gooley has authored 11 books and more than 100 articles on the North Country’s past. He and his partner, Jill McKee, founded Bloated Toe Enterprises in 2004. Expanding their services in 2008, they have produced 24 titles to date, and are now offering web design. For information on book publishing, visit Bloated Toe Publishing.

New Director for George Eastman House


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George Eastman House International Museum of Photography and Film announced today the appointment of Dr. Bruce Barnes as the Ron and Donna Fielding Director. Barnes will assume his role as eighth director of the museum—the world’s oldest museum of photography and one of the largest motion-picture archives—in October 2012.

Barnes is the president and founder of American Decorative Art 1900 Foundation (ADA1900), a private foundation based in New York City, that works independently and in collaboration with museums across the United States to foster understanding and appreciation of American decorative art from the period around 1900.

Barnes is coauthor and editor of The Jewelry and Metalwork of Marie Zimmermann (2011), which was copublished by ADA1900 and Yale University Press. ADA1900 also copublished The Artistic Furniture of Charles Rohlfs (2008), an award-winning scholarly book that accompanied an exhibition of the same title co-organized by ADA1900 and the Milwaukee Art Museum. The exhibition traveled to the Dallas Museum of Art, Carnegie Museum of Art, Huntington Art Collections, and Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Barnes was chief executive officer of Element K, a Rochester-based company and pioneer in online learning, from 2000-2004, overseeing more than 800 employees. Over the course of his career, Barnes has held senior executive positions at Ziff Communications Company, Ziff Brothers Investments, Wasserstein Perella & Co., Reservoir Capital Group, and QFS Asset Management. He received a B.A., magna cum laude, and a Ph.D. in Economics from the University of Pennsylvania.

“I am honored to be selected to serve as the next director of George Eastman House,” said Barnes. “The range of its activities and opportunities is exhilarating. George Eastman House is a vital part of Rochester’s community. The museum’s unparalleled collections—in the areas of photography, cinema, and their technologies—and curators make important contributions on the international cultural scene, and its leading post-graduate programs advance the imperative of photography and film preservation around the world.”

“Having devoted most of the last seven years to collaborating with major museums across the country and furthering art scholarship, I am eager to apply my strategic and management skills to leading George Eastman House,” he said. “The house and a great many of the museum’s objects fall precisely within my longstanding interest in American art, decorative art, and architecture of the period from 1876 to 1940. My background in innovative online education will be invaluable to the creation of a virtual museum that will provide global access to its superb collections. I look forward to returning to Rochester and working with the Eastman House board of trustees and staff to advance the museum’s tradition of excellence and service to the community.”

“George Eastman House is an international treasure, a source of local pride, and a complex organization,” said Thomas H. Jackson, chairman of the George Eastman House Board of Trustees. “In Bruce Barnes, we have found the perfect individual to continue the museum’s progress and build the local, national, and international infrastructure and connections that will be essential to Eastman House’s future.

“Our collections and location, important in themselves, are also the springboard for essential work in preservation and an understanding of how the image can inform as well as reflect society,” Jackson said. “Dr. Barnes understands these interconnections in an impressively deep way and has the vision to take our past accomplishments and turn vision into reality. His extraordinary talents across so many dimensions are matched by his passion for George Eastman House and its potentiality. That’s a wonderful, winning, combination.”

Barnes’s appointment is the outcome of an international search process. He succeeds Dr. Anthony Bannon, who retired from George Eastman House in May after 16 years in the position.

“The Search Committee feels extraordinarily fortunate to have found in Dr. Barnes the combination of skills, experience, and passion needed for the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead for the George Eastman House,” said James A. Locke III, the George Eastman House trustee who chaired the Search Committee. “He is quite a remarkable fit for us with his excellent academic background, financial acumen, with prior positions with top Wall Street financial firms, and tested leadership as a CEO in Rochester.

“He is also an engaged collector with scholarly and passionate interests in the arts and museums,” Locke said. “Dr. Barnes can and will be an energetic and transformational leader who surely will make a great difference at George Eastman House and, in the view of the Search Committee, he will make a great difference in the presence and importance of the museum and its varied missions here and globally. We are thrilled with his appointment.”

About George Eastman House International Museum of Photography and Film

George Eastman House International Museum of Photography and Film combines world-class collections of photography and film with an active program of exhibitions, lectures, film screenings, and the National Historic Landmark house and gardens of George Eastman, the philanthropist and father of popular photography and motion picture film. Eastman House is also a leader in film preservation and photograph conservation, educating archivists and conservators from around the world through historic-process workshops and two graduate schools, the L. Jeffrey Selznick School of Film Preservation and the Photographic Preservation and Collections Management master’s degree program. Eastman House, which was established as an independent non-profit museum in 1947, is one of the world’s foremost museums of photography and the third largest motion-picture archive in the United States. The museum intertwines unparalleled collections, totaling more than 4 million objects, of photography, motion pictures, and cameras and technology, as well as literature of these fields of study. Learn more at eastmanhouse.org

The Civil War: A Musical Journey


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Four Seasons, Four Years is a new Old Songs production featuring eleven singers and musicians from the Adirondacks performing a selection of songs extant in America between 1850 and 1865. This performance takes place at View (the former Old Forge Arts Center) this Saturday, September 29, 2012 at 7:30pm.

The show includes both popular songs of the period as well as songs composed in response to the Civil War itself and events leading up to it. The songs are interspersed with historical narrative specific to New York State and the New York Volunteer Regiments.

Old Songs’ presentation of Four Seasons, Four Years – The Civil War: A Musical Journey brings the songs and sounds of the Civil War back to life without stinting on the truth, the tragedy and the horror. Selections from letters, historical papers and soldier’s diaries are read between the musical passages, creating a seamless flow of narration and song.

The cast of singers and musicians include Greg Artzner, Dan Berggren, Betsy Fry, Steve Fry, Reggie Harris, Terry Leonino, John Roberts, Bill Spence, Toby Stover, Susan Trump and George Wilson. All known in their own right as fine working musicians, they have joined forces to present this unique show in observance of the 150th anniversary of the Civil War.

The songs of this period include Negro spirituals, shape-note hymns, marching songs, sentimental songs and songs and parodies written by 19th century writers such as Stephen Foster, George F. Root, the Hutchinson Family and Henry C. Work. The cast performs in individual and ensemble performances bringing these songs alive with great gusto, emotional impact and exceptional musicianship.

The production has been produced, compiled and directed by Old Songs, Inc. Executive Director Andy Spence in collaboration with the musicians. View their website at www.oldsongs.org  to learn more.

You may purchase tickets by calling View at 315-369-6411 or via email info@ViewArts.org.

Tickets are $25/$20 members, and can be purchased by calling View at 315.369.6411. To learn more about View programming, visit www.ViewArts.org.

Lippard and Conceptual Art Focus of New Exhibit


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Materializing “Six Years”: Lucy R. Lippard and the Emergence of Conceptual Art, the first exhibition to explore the impact of the feminist writer, curator, and activist Lucy R. Lippard on the Conceptual art movement, is on view at the Brooklyn Museum through February 3, 2013.

Using Lippard’s influential 1973 book Six Years, which cataloged and described the emergence of Conceptual art in the late sixties and early seventies, as a critical and chronological framework, the exhibition illustrates the dynamics of Lippard’s key role in redefining how exhibitions were created, viewed, and critiqued during that era of transition. Continue reading

Kathleen Hulser: History in 100 Objects


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1853 Singer Sewing Machine

Material culture stormed the British airwaves several seasons back when the BBC broadcast “A History of the World in 100 Objects.” Accompanied by a popular website which actually allows listeners to see images of the objects selected from the world class collections of the British Museum, the series fed an untapped appetite for history in small bites. Neil MacGregor, director of the British Museum observed “Telling history through things is what museums are for.” Continue reading

Sir William Johnson’s Bookshelf: Millenium Hall


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Sir William Johnson’s 1774 inventory of his New York western frontier estate, Johnson Hall, revealed a superb collection of books and other reading material.

Books were a bit more difficult to acquire in 18th century Johnstown than at present, so one could presume that selecting titles was considered, even more precisely than today, by recommended taste, by familiarity with an author, or perhaps from curiosity after having read a report of the book in the newspapers that arrived from New York City or from England via a New York City agent.
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John Lennon’s Travels in Ulster County, New York


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The Depuy Canal House has sat in High Falls since the 1790s when it was constructed by Simeon Depuy, “one of the most prominent citizens of High Falls, New York.” It opened, according to the Depuy Canal House’s website, as the Stone House Tavern. The tavern entered its heyday when work commenced on the Delaware & Hudson (D&H) canal to link the coal fields of Pennsylvania to the Hudson River in Kingston. This tavern sat on Lock 16, convenient to the canal men until the canal closed in 1899. Continue reading

Mark Twain and the Colonel: Samuel Clemens, Theodore Roosevelt


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Around 1900 two celebrated figures with close ties to New York rivaled each other in the love of their countrymen: Mark Twain and Theodore Roosevelt. Theodore Roosevelt dominated the politics of the era the way the author of Huckleberry Finn dominated its culture.

As national celebrities, Roosevelt and Mark Twain were well acquainted, and neither spoke ill of the other in public. Yet Philip McFarland, author of five works of non-fiction, reveals a behind-closed-doors rivalry in his new book, Mark Twain and the Colonel: Samuel L. Clemens, Theodore Roosevelt, and the Arrival of a New Century (2012, Rowman & Littlefield).
The book chronicles in-depth a relationship so prickly that it led Roosevelt privately to comment that he “would like to skin Mark Twain alive” and the humorist to assert that Roosevelt was “far and away the worst President we have ever had.” Continue reading

Adirondack Museum Dog Days Features ‘Marley and Me’ Author


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New York Times Bestselling Author John Grogan will headline the Adirondack Museum’s annual Dog Days of Summer event with a public program called “Marley &Me: What Man’s Best Friend Can Teach Us About Being Human.” The program will begin at 2:30 p.m. on Saturday, August 4 the museum’s center campus. Dogs are welcome. In addition to the public program, there will be a question and answer session, and a book signing. Copies of Grogan’s bestselling books will be available at the Museum Store. Continue reading

Whitehall Filmmaking: The Girl on the Barge


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Following is the story of a movie that was filmed long ago on the barge canal in Whitehall, New York, where the canal links with Lake Champlain. The details were researched and written by my partner, Jill McKee, after following up on a recollection of her beloved elderly aunt, Mary Barber (now deceased). This fortunate collaboration led to the addition of an exhibit in Whitehall’s Skenesborough Museum.
In 1929, Universal Pictures released a film called The Girl on the Barge. The movie was about Erie McCadden, the illiterate daughter of a crusty, alcoholic barge captain. Erie falls in love with Fogarty, the pilot of the tugboat that is towing her father’s barge from New York to Buffalo on the Erie Canal. Captain McCadden is not at all pleased when he discovers the romance, and his anger is escalated further by the fact that Fogarty is teaching Erie to read.
Happily, in the end the captain comes to his senses, likely due in no small part to Fogarty’s rescuing of McCadden’s barge when it is accidently set adrift. Erie marries her love and the two present McCadden with a grandson.
The Erie Canal proved too difficult a setting for the Universal production department to create on or near the studio’s lot. However, the Erie Canal itself was not deemed suitable either. At least that was the opinion of the movie’s director, Edward Sloman, who came to New York State with two veteran cameramen, Jack Voshell and Jackson Rose, to find the right filming location.
Such location trips were rare at that time in the movie industry, but Universal was willing to invest the added time and money necessary to film the movie in the correct setting. After scouting the entire modern, commercialized Erie Barge Canal from Albany to Buffalo, Sloman felt it would not be believable to audiences. “They would swear we faked it in California,” he said.
Enter a contractor from Waterford, New York, named John E. Matton. He believed the Champlain Canal was just what Universal was looking for. After seeing it, Sloman agreed and chose Whitehall as the filming location.
In May 1928, Sloman and rest of the film’s cast and crew set up their headquarters at Glens Falls and took up temporary residence at the Queensbury Hotel in order to begin making the movie. The silent era was giving way to “talkies,” and The Girl on the Barge was a hybrid between the two—a silent film with talking sequences.

The film’s cast was made up of some notable stars. The title role of Erie was played by Sally O’Neil, who had found stardom in 1925 when she appeared along with Constance Bennett and Joan Crawford in Sally, Irene, and Mary. Erie’s father, the barge captain, was played by Jean Hersholt, who appeared in 140 films from 1906–1955, and served as president of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences from 1945–1949.

Malcolm MacGregor (or McGregor), who appeared in over 50 films during his career, played Erie’s love interest, Fogarty. Erie’s sister, Superior McCadden, was played by Nancy Kelly, whose career spanned from the 1920s to the 1970s, during which time she received nominations for an Emmy and an Oscar, and also won a Tony Award. Both Ms. Kelly and Mr. Hersholt have stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
The movie’s director, Edward Sloman, was no slouch either. He directed nearly 100 films and acted in more than 30, with some producing and writing thrown in for good measure. The story on which the movie was based was originally written by Rupert Hughes for Cosmopolitan magazine. Mr. Hughes was a prolific writer who saw more than 50 of his stories and plays made into movies.
The entire episode apparently caused quite a stir in the Whitehall/Glens Falls area. Several Whitehall residents took part in various scenes in the movie, and a humorous incident at the Queensbury Hotel was reported in the Syracuse Herald on June 11, 1928.
It seems that Mr. Hersholt arrived at the hotel after a day of filming. He was still dressed as his drunken barge-captain character and asked for his room number without giving his name. The desk clerk not so politely informed Mr. Hersholt that the hotel was filled with “those motion picture people,” and there were no rooms available. In order to gain access to his room, Mr. Hersholt had to call upon director Edward Sloman to vouch for him.

Universal had a three-tiered rating system for its motion picture productions at the time Girl on the Barge was filmed. Low-budget flicks were dubbed Red Feather, and mainstream productions were labeled as Bluebird. The Girl on the Barge was categorized as one of Universal’s most prestigious films, called Jewel. Jewel productions were expected to draw the highest ticket sales.

The movie was released on February 3, 1929. Various newspaper ads and articles have been found showing the movie still playing in theatres around the country into the following fall. The movie also received many favorable reviews. The Chronicle Telegram of Elyria, Ohio, complimented the “realistic and picturesque scenes” of “the barge canals of Upper New York State” (May 20, 1929).
The New York Times reviewer, Mordaunt Hall, raved about Mr. Hersholt’s make-up and costume, and stated, “The scenes are admirably pictured.” The Sheboygan Press of Sheboygan, Wisconsin, called the film “an exceptional picture,” and went on to report, “The picture actually was photographed along the picturesque Champlain Ship Canal in Upper New York State.”
Photos: Top―Movie Poster now on exhibit in the Whitehall Museum. Middle: Sally O’Neil and Malcolm MacGregor in a scene near the canal. Bottom: Movie advertisement in the Ticonderoga Sentinel, 1929.

Lawrence Gooley has authored eleven books and dozens of articles on the North Country’s past. He and his partner, Jill McKee, founded Bloated Toe Enterprises in 2004. Expanding their services in 2008, they have produced 22 titles to date, and are now offering web design. For information on book publishing, visit Bloated Toe Publishing.

Roxy Rothafel: Legendary American Showman


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American Showman chronicles the life of Samuel “Roxy” Rothafel (1882–1936), the prolific movie palace showman and radio star who helped transform the moviegoing experience, radio broadcasting, and American popular culture to become an international celebrity.

Ross Melnick’s American Showman: Samuel ‘Roxy’ Rothafel and the Birth of the Entertainment Industry (2012, Columbia University Press) is the first book devoted to Rothafel’s multifaceted entertainment career. Among Roxy’s notable popular culture contributions include the first showings of Robert Flaherty’s documentary “Nanook of the North” and the German film that reinvigorated the a genre, “The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari” – oh, and there was also those Rockettes, and that mention in Cole Porter’s “You’re On Top.”

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Kodak Elegy: A Cold War Childhood


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What was it like to grow up as the son of a Kodak engineer during the company’s glory days? William Merrill Decker presents a vivid portrait of life in the Rochester suburbs where residents eagerly conformed to period expectations: two kids, two cars, a move from a snug middle-class neighborhood to a spacious upper-middle-class subdivision.

In Kodak Elegy: A Cold War Childhood (2012, Syracuse University Press), Decker recollects the blithe and troubled scenes of America’s postwar prosperity and evokes a bygone era. Continue reading

Cambridge Home of Pie a la Mode in Foreclosure


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The invasion of British TV Chef Gordon Ramsey into Washington County during the winter of 2012 did not leave the horrors of the invasion of British General John Burgoyne during the summer of 1777. However, Ramsey’s new program for Fox TV, Hotel Hell, could not remake the historic Cambridge Hotel hotel and has left the home of Pie a la Mode on the auction block.

As first reported here at New York History in January, the Cambridge Hotel is best known for where apple pie with vanilla ice cream, was invented . Since the filming of the Fox TV show, the hotel, which owed nearly $470,000, has been foreclosed on by the Glens Falls National Bank and Trust Co. The Cambridge Hotel has had financial troubles for years under different owners. The Fox TV show is scheduled to air late this summer.

The American Victory at Saratoga over General Burgoyne in 1777 is known as the Turning Point of the American Revolution. This commentator is hopeful that Chef Ramsey’s TV show will mark a turning point for the Cambridge Hotel.

Sean Kelleher is the Historian for the Town of Saratoga. He served as the Director of the Washington County Fair Farm Museum, and worked with a number of Champlain, Hudson and Mohawk Valleys historic sites on grant writing, interpretive planning, and marketing.

Doris Kenyon’s North Country Connections


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A frequent visitor to Ausable Forks (and once a resident) Doris Kenyon starred in nearly fifty silent films, including 1924’s Monsieur Bocaire with living legend Rudolph Valentino, and 1925’s A Thief in Paradise with Ronald Colman. During her long career, she played opposite all the great stars of the day, among them Loretta Young, Spencer Tracy, Ralph Bellamy, John Barrymore, Melvyn Douglas, Robert Young, and Adolph Menjou. Her fame was such that newborn Doris Kappelhoff (in 1922) was named after Kenyon. Kappelhoff would gain great fame under her stage name, Doris Day.

One of the leading men in several of Kenyon’s movies became the leading man in her personal life. Milton Sills was a major star of the era, and he and Doris had performed together many times. In May 1926, Doris announced she had purchased her brother’s camp, and a few weeks later came an update—she and Milt Sills would soon marry … on the shores of Silver Lake!
The ceremony took place amidst the October splendor of the leaf color change, creating a sensational backdrop at the camp Doris called “Moose Missie.” They honeymooned through the Adirondacks (two days in a suite of rooms in Agora at the Lake Placid Club), plus Niagara Falls, the Grand Canyon, and Yellowstone Park. Meanwhile, workmen were completing a beautiful mansion on their sixty-acre estate in Hollywood, California.
The wedding had been announced in May 1926, but was delayed until October due to Doris being ill. (Seven months after the ceremony, she gave birth to a son, Kenyon Clarence Sills.) Following the wedding and lengthy honeymoon, Doris took some time off from acting, but returned soon to star in several movies with her husband. In effect, they were the industry’s “power-couple” of the day, starring in movies and receiving constant media coverage.
In 1929, they passed the summer at Silver Lake, where Milton was recovering from illness. Doris spent several weeks at the camp, but she also did about a month of vaudeville performances before the two of them returned to making movies. And, upon special request, she served in August as a judge for the baby parade and pageant in Lake Placid’s summer carnival.

In 1929, Doris gave a concert performance in New York City, confirming that she still had a great singing voice. At the same time, unlike many other silent-film stars, she smoothly transitioned into the world of “talkies,” remaining one of Hollywood’s top stars.

In September 1930, tragedy struck Doris’ life. Shortly after playing tennis with his family, Milton Sills, 48, suddenly collapsed and died of a heart attack. Doris, just 33 at the time, was devastated by the loss, burying herself in work to help ease the pain.
She had been recognized in the past for other skills—writing, poetry, and as a pianist—but it was singing that Doris really missed. Plans had already been made for a return to regular concert performances, and after the death of Sills, Doris went on a world tour.
After many successful European shows, she returned to the United States with a renewed interest in her film career. Through the 1930s, Doris remained a major movie star, appearing in at least fourteen more films. She was also quite busy on the marital front. First came Syracuse real estate broker Arthur Hopkins in 1933, a union that lasted only a few months (annulled). Next, Doris was married to Albert Lasker in 1938 for a year (divorced). Finally, she married Bronislav Mlynarski in 1947 (that one lasted twenty-four years, ending with Mlynarski’s death in 1971).
Through the WW II years, Doris again supported the troops by singing with the USO. In the 1950s, she acted in television shows, sang on the radio, and performed two roles in radio soap operas. From silent films to the advent of television, she had done it all.
It was an incredible career spanning the Metropolitan Opera, stage, screen, vaudeville, concerts, radio, poetry, television, and writing. She was a success at everything she tried (even marriage, in the end). One of Hollywood’s lasting stars, Doris Kenyon passed away from heart trouble in September 1979, just a few days shy of her 82nd birthday.
Photos: Top―Poster from a Kenyon movie. Bottom―Doris Kenyon in A Thief in Paradise.
The Doris Kenyon story is one of 51 original North Country history pieces appearing in Adirondack Gold: 50+ New & True Stories You’re Sure to Love (352 pp.), a recent release by author Lawrence Gooley, owner of Bloated Toe Publishing.

Woody Guthrie Centennial: Guthrie Archivist Interview


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Music legend and songwriting luminary Woody Guthrie was born on July 14, 1912, and this year marks his centennial birthday. To celebrate, the Grammy Museum, the Guthrie family, Woody Guthrie Publications and the Woody Guthrie Archives have planned an international program of events, including tours, concerts, festivals, and conferences.

Ryan Anthony Donaldson of the Archivists Round Table of Metropolitan New York (ART) recently had the chance to ask Tiffany Colannino a few questions about the Woody Guthrie Centennial Celebration. Tiffany is the Archivist with the Woody Guthrie Archives, currently located in Mount Kisco, New York, as well as the newly appointed ART Advocacy Chair.

ART: How did the centennial partnership between the GRAMMY Museum, Guthrie Family/Woody Guthrie Publications, and Woody Guthrie Archives come about?

TC: The centennial partnership between the GRAMMY Museum and the Woody Guthrie Archives has deep roots. For starters, we are both non-profit organizations committed to the history of American music. The Archives’ mission is to perpetuate Woody Guthrie’s life and legacy through the proactive preservation of his Archival material, whereas the GRAMMY Museum’s mission is to explore and celebrate the enduring legacies of all forms of music. Although these missions differ, with the Archives’ focus on preservation and research, and the GRAMMY Museum on public programs and activities, our two organizations can work together to use these archival documents to bring Guthrie’s life to a broad audience.

But it’s more than just our missions that link us together: Robert Santelli, Executive Director of the GRAMMY Museum, is actually a former researcher at the Woody Guthrie Archives. Since 1990, Santelli has researched in the Archives in support of several Woody Guthrie book projects, including his 2012 work This Land Is Your Land: Woody Guthrie and the Journey of the American Folk Song. He has maintained an active working relationship with Nora Guthrie – President of Woody Guthrie Publications, Inc and Director of the Woody Guthrie Archives – for over 20 years.

In a recent press release, Nora Guthrie comments on this partnership, remarking: “Because of its deep enthusiasm for Woody’s creative legacy as well as the underlying influence he’s had on so many musicians and songwriters in all genres of American music, the GRAMMY Museum is the obvious choice to help us celebrate the legacy that he created.”

The centennial celebrations will include concerts, conferences, and exhibits across the United States, Canada, and Europe. We’ve launched www.Woody100.com as a one-stop-shop for all of our North American events, and www.Woody100.de for our European events. In addition to the events we are planning with the GRAMMY Museum, these sites also list the Grassroots events that Guthrie fans and supporters are planning across the world, including lecture series, concerts, hootenannies, and exhibits. In addition, there are many new releases – books, films, and musical albums – including many based solely on material from the Woody Guthrie Archives, set to launch in 2012 to help celebrate Guthrie’s centennial, and perpetuate his legacy.

ART: In terms of centennial celebrations for Woody in the New York area, there will be a concert at Brooklyn College as well as a conference at Penn State University in September. What topics relating to Woody Guthrie would you like to see explored at the conference?

TC: That’s a tough question, because there are so many facets of Woody Guthrie’s life yet to be explored! However, the great thing about the academic conferences being planned for this year is that rather than focus solely on a specific aspect of Guthrie’s life, each conference will use Guthrie as the starting point to open a discussion on a broader, contemporary theme. The theme for each conference will be selected by the host institution, allowing them to decide on a topic that is of direct relevance to their local community.

The 2012 Woody Guthrie Centennial Celebrations will include four large academic conferences: Tulsa, Los Angeles, Penn State, and Brooklyn.

The Tulsa conference, Different Shades of Red: Woody Guthrie and the Oklahoma Experience at 100, used Guthrie as a stepping stone to discuss Oklahoma politics. At the University of Southern California conference, Woody Guthrie’s Los Angeles: A Centenary Celebration, we’ll talk about Los Angeles in the late 1930s, where Guthrie worked for several local radio stations and wrote for various newspapers after fleeing the Dust Bowl. Woody At 100: Woody’s Legacy to Working Men & Women, the Penn State conference in September, will use Guthrie to focus on the labor movement and unions, while the theme for the Brooklyn conference, also in September, is yet to be announced.

ART: It has been announced that the research collection of the Woody Guthrie Archives will be relocating from Mount Kisco, NY, to Woody’s home state of Oklahoma in 2013. How is the planning coming along for it?

TC: In 2013, the Woody Guthrie Archives will relocate from Mount Kisco, New York to a permanent home with the George Kaiser Family Foundation in Tulsa, Oklahoma. As a native Oklahoman, this move will truly bring Guthrie’s life full circle!

The Archives will be located in a repurposed warehouse – the Tulsa Paper Company – along with other arts oriented organizations, and I have had the opportunity to walk through the building site several times. Work is already underway, and it is exciting to see the Archives’ new home come to life! I have had meetings with the building architects to review design plans and requirements, discussing the archival needs to be taken into consideration during the design phase. This relocation to Tulsa will ensure continued researcher access to the material in the collection, and the long-term preservation of over 10,000 pages of documents held in the Woody Guthrie Archives.

More information on Woody Guthrie centennial events is available online.