Friday, October 21, 2011

Two starlets: Susan Blanchard & Carol Donell

Despite her fancy lineage -- taking her Australian-born mother's maiden name as her own she was in reality the stepdaughter of Oscar Hammerstein 2nd -- Hollywood did not do right by auburn-haired Susan Blanchard (born March 8, 1928), who had signed a contract with 20th Century-Fox in 1945. Oh, sure, Susan turned up in all kinds of publicity, dating everybody from Peter Lawford to Prince Troubetzkoy, the brother-in-law of Barbara Hutton, and both Dorothy Kilgallen and the ever-present Louella Parsons could verify that at one point she was close to sealing a matrimonial deal with director Daniel Mann, the intellctual star of the New York Stanislavsky crowd. But Mann apparently balked when Susan asked him to postpone the nuptials so she could appear for Fox in The Late George Apley (1947). The future Hollywood director of such classics as Come Back Little Sheba and The Rose Tattoo apparently knew what he was talking about when poor Susan ended up in the cutting room floor.

She almost suffered the same fate in the highly anticipated Forever Amber (1947), where she played Beck Marshall, one of Amber's theatrical colleagues. According to Gary A. Smith, author of the highly recommended "Forever Amber -- From Novel to Film" (Duncan, OK: BearManor Media, 2010), a slightly risque conversation between the Mistresses Amber and Beck and a stage door Johnny, as written by Ring Lardner, Jr., was too much for the censorious Breen Office:

Fop: Upon my honor Mistress St. Claire, you look more beautiful every performance!
Amber: Thank you, sir.”
Beck: You waste your time, Sir Walter. She's the property of an officer in his Majesty's Guards, aren't you dear?
Amber: (sweetly) It's better than belonging to the whole regiment, Mistress Marshall.

The result of the censor's scissors was that Susan Blanchard is barely visible in the released version of this once scandalous production and she apparently soured on Hollywood altogether. In any case, in April of 1947, Louella Parsons could report that Blanchard had “up and asked for her release [from Fox contract] so she can return to New York and open her own establishment.”

And return to New York, she did and right into the arms of Henry Fonda, who was appearing in "Mister Roberts" on Broadway. In 1949, Fonda told his then-wife (and the mother of Jane and Peter), Frances, that he wished to divorce her and remarry. A vulnerable person at best, Frances Brokaw Fonda took the news hard and soon found herself at the Austen Riggs Psychiatric Hospital, where she took her own life April 14, 1950. Later that year Henry Fonda married Susan Blanchard and together they adopted a daughter, Amy, before calling it quits in 1956. Many years later, in 1999, Susan wed an old friend, the actor Richard Widmark. She was widowed in 2008.

Unlike Susan Blanchard we know very little about the contemporary Carol Donell. Other than that she was a WAC serving in Washington, D.C. when a talent scout from RKO discovered her. The results were small roles only, including the 1946 noir The Locket, where she shows up briefly in the opening sequence as Laraine Day's bridesmaid.

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