Friday, January 30, 2009

Adie's jewel...

Adie, Suzanne, Sister and Baby set out for the land of milk and honey of Hollywood, California--

“In February 1937, my mother, two sisters and I boarded the train for Hollywood,” recalls Suzanne (Lester, Suzanne’s father didn’t join the family until later that year).

Above- first letter mailed to Les, from nine year old Vickie (Baby) on Feb 14, 1937 on their way to Hollywood for Suzanne's debut with MGM and Louis B. Mayer. It reads; Milford February 14, 1937- 537 miles from L.A. Dear Daddy and Mr. Johnson, I suppose you don’t miss us yet. We are having a nice trip. Sister got lost today when we got off the train at Salt Lake City. We were worried about her but finally she showed up and were we glad. How is Rex? I hope he is feeling fine and I hope you are too. from Adelaide. xxxxxxxxxooooooxxxxxxooooo ('Adelaide' was Vickie's (Baby) first name by birth and 'Mr. Johnson' was 'Carl Johnson' the violinist who discovered Suzanne at the Palace theater, "Milford" was Milford, Utah).

Suzanne’s further remembrances from her first days at MGM…..

Inevitably, Suzanne also visited the set of The Firefly to meet her idol, Jeanette MacDonald. She was enthralled, “I couldn’t wait to sit down with her and have a long discussion about music, music, and more music.” Instead, she sat down with me and said, ‘Now you imitate me.’ She cleared her throat and said, ‘Johnny Johnny Johnny Johnny Oops Johnny.’ Well, the trick was that you had to clear your throat before you said it. I remember, why is she treating me like a child? I’m twelve years old!” The episode did nothing to diminish Suzanne’s love and respect for Miss Macdonald, who had always been an inspiration to her. Their paths would also cross again.

Found Letter from 11yo Kathleen-

Los Angeles June 27, 1937

Dear Daddy, We have moved to a darling house, we are going to be used as extras I think. About the house, it is classy, it has a long stairs and beautiful furniture. I am very tired as I have been writing so many friends that I am shaking. Suzanne Mother and Baby send their love and lots of kisses. Kathleen Larson

Found- Western Union Telegram (from Adie to Les)

KA57 49 NL COLLECT= LOS ANGELES CALIF 12 1937 JULY 13- 6 42 p




Found Letter from 11 year old Kathleen-

Los Angeles, Calif.

Aug. 6, 1937


Dear Daddy-

Suzanne and baby are sick they have lots of fever. But the two doctors say they don’t know what it is. Yesterday Suzanne started with an awful, heavy headache. And this morning we were all awakened by Suzanne and she was half asleep and half awake trying to talk an other Langue and she told mother to crawl under the bed. Well she asked for you and Rex. Baby took sick last night at about 2. We received your letter. and absolutely under all circumstances bring Rex Well baby started with a tempreture ok 300 degrees. Hope you come out soon. baby and Suzanne are in bed right now. Well you and Rex hurry right out Love to you All Kathleen Larson P.S. Suzannes waiting for you and rex Love)

THE MINNEAPOLIS TIMES Tuesday October 18, 1937

Flashes from Hollywood

to Merle Potter

Suzanne Larson, 12 year old Minneapolis soprano, spent the weekend at lake Arrowhead. It was a happily spent vacation for the girl, because she took with her the first riding habit she has ever owned and was given daily riding lessons.

DAILY NEWS, Los Angeles, Calif. Friday, NOVEMBER 5, 1937


By Harry Mines

Mary McCormick heard the voice of 12-year-old Suzanne Larson, and now the young soprano is under contract to MGM where she is being prepared for her first starring role.

Suzanne’s father Lester arrived in Los Angeles not long after Louis B. Mayer and MGM shined hope and relief for the beaten down Larson’s, it all came crashing down to new depths of despair with Suzanne’s firing. Although Suzanne’s ouster didn’t take place until Feb. 1938 (?), apparently chaos and disunity also prevailed while under MGM contract. As evidenced from found telegram (My mother had no recollection).Although an intended starring vehicle B ABOVE HIGH C never materialized, MGM offered her the lead in National Velvet. Suzanne, whose family allowed her to manage her own career (It isn’t any wonder), couldn’t see herself in the part finally played in the ‘44 release by Elizabeth Taylor, turned it down because she couldn’t sing in it. The studio appalled by her decision, dropped her at contracts year-end, in February of 1938. “When MGM let me go, I went up to the office of producer Nicky Lafack, who was married to singer Lynne Carver, chewing on a cigar and sounding like Mugsy Malone, he says, ‘Kid, you can’t sing. Go back to Minneapolis, your through- your finished.’ ‘I wanted to cry so badly, but I didn’t. I wouldn’t give him the satisfaction. I was crushed but determined. I marched down those stairs to my mother, who was waiting in the car. “Mom,” I said, “I’m fired”. Then she started to cry, and at that moment I grew up--at thirteen years old.”

From news clipping--

"Their one source of income cut off, the Larson’s were left marooned in their modest home in Beverly Hills. The denouement was swift. Creditors descended on them; repossessed the car, carted away the furniture bought on the installment plan. There was nothing left for Les to do but gather up his family and move to a two-room flat at nearby Venice where the rents were cheap and the vegetables plentiful."

The next few months were…tenuous at best.

Suzanne remembers: While living in Beverly Hills, she would frequent a Five and Dime down the street from their newly provided ‘modest’ Beverly Hills home, Vera, the woman behind the counter, had a small sign on the wall that had an Egyptian looking ominous “eye” on top with an “I AM” in the center.

Suzanne would often wonder what that sign was all about. A day or two after the Creditors descended and the Dodge was repossessed, Suzanne learned all about the “I AM” sign.. She stopped by the store, bemoaning the Larson fate and the heartrending loss of their brand new Dodge. Vera says in a blustery affected English accent, “Now just believe that that car is in the garage,” and in a hot air over-the-counter blast spouts…. “ Just say this, OH MIGHTY I AM PRESENCE, BLAZE FORTH THY COSMIC RAY, AND BELIEVE THAT THE CAR IS THERE, BACK IN THE GARAGE!” “Say this over and over on your way back home and the car will be there.” This is exactly what Suzanne did running up the hill to her Dodge-less garage, saying over and over, ‘OH MIGHTY I AM PRESENCE, BLAZE FORTH THY COSMIC RAY,’ ‘OH MIGHTY I AM PRESENCE, BLAZE FORTH THY COSMIC RAY’…. I BELIEVE MY CAR IS BACK IN THE GARAGE…. Yes. I BELIEVE MY CAR IS BACK HOME…

Sadly it wasn’t...

About eight months had passed as Adie kept pushing her little jewel in audition after audition and kept swigging her favorite Green River gin (my mother remembered very well, Adie's drink of choice), things were getting pretty dicey for the Larsons (familiar territory), when Suzanne participated in a “stand- in-line audition” at Paramount Studios. Leroy Prinz, the famed choreographer/director, who did the Fred Astair-Ginger Rogers films, among others, had witnessed Suzanne’s audition, stopped Suzanne on the lot, and told her what a beautiful job she had done. This meeting led to Suzanne singing, yes, “Kiss Me Again” for producer Andrew Stone. The erudite Stone was impressed, and awarded Suzanne the showcase part of Peggy in Paramount’s musical extravaganza of 1939, The Great Victor Herbert with Mary Martin and Alan Jones, in this biography of the great operetta

composer, played by Walter Connally.

Just after Suzanne was swept up by Paramount, and signed for “The Great Victor Herbert”, the Powers That Be decided that Suzanne needed a more “professional name”- Suzanne Larson was just too plain. Adie and Gilda (The Powers That Be) decided they were the ones to cement Suzanne’s destiny with a new nameplate. “Gilda Garden”, was mentioned....Mary, no, how about Adelaide Anderson? In the middle of all this, Suzanne became increasingly frustrated, “Mother, why can’t I just keep my name?” “I want to be Suzanne, that’s all, like the French actress ‘Annabella’, the one who’s married to Tyronne Power, just my first name!.” Gilda and Adie persisted, Adie says “I have a distant cousin, his name is ‘Foster’, I always liked the name ‘Foster’. Gilda adds, “How about, Soos-Anna?!” “Soos-Anna” in emotive Italian accent.....”Yes, Soos-Anna!....Soos-Anna Foster”. Susanna Foster came to be.

“The stars, Allan Jones and Mary Martin, were both very supportive of me. For my scenes, Allan would stand behind the camera and sing to me, giving it everything he had. I remember when I had to cry in the film, they’d play my record of “Kiss Me Again” (which she sang in the film, hitting B flat above high C), I’d think of my father walking up and down the hot dusty streets of Los Angeles and the icy snow bound hills of Minneapolis looking for work, that’s how I’d cry!”

At the gala Hollywood premier in December of 1939 something happened which became a trademark of Susanna’s films: the audience applauded her singing as if it were a live performance. Overnight, 14 year old Susanna was a Paramount star. Susanna missed the premier; she was in Hollywood Presbyterian Hospital with bronchitis. When newspaper reporters and photographers invaded her hospital room to report her triumph, Susanna was characteristically unimpressed with herself--“When I did see ‘The Great Victor Herbert’ and finally saw myself on the screen!!! All I could think was “My God! I’m not Jeanette Macdonald!”

Further evidence of a swirling discontent:

Los Angeles Times- February 27, 1940

Stars Kin In Trouble

Susanna Foster’s Mother Says Mate Won’t Get Job

Hollywood, Feb. 27 (By International News Service),-The film success of Susanna Foster, fifteen year old screen actress, has caused a rift between her parents, according to separate maintenance papers on file today. The young actress’s mother Mrs. Adelaide F. Larson filed the suit against Lester L. Larson charging that since the child soprano has been signed under a lucrative contract, Larson, a salesman, has refused to get a job. As a result, the mother said, Larson depends on the earnings of Susanna to support the family which includes two other younger daughters.

Fold out from Modern Movies magazine published just after MGM signed Suzanne. Suzanne’s caption reads: “Twelve years old and fast on her way to stardom. Suzanne Larson’s fine soprano voice was discovered by Mary McCormick, and because of this a contract with MGM followed.” That’s Ronald Reagan on the right.

Adie and Susanna circa 1941

No comments:

Post a Comment