Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Dorothy Appleby

Dorothy Appleby was a cute little actress who appeared in movies of the 1930s and into the early 1940s. While she was in some feature movies, she's mostly remembered for her work in many two-reel comedy shorts at Columbia Pictures. She worked with The Three Stooges, Buster Keaton, Hugh Herbert, Charley Chase and others.

Ms. Appleby was the subject of a search by me. I began around 1985, but it was on and off as I searched for other favorites, too. In 1989, searching through her clippings folder at the NY Public Library, any useful personal information I could find ended in the 1930s. I found the usual news items referring to being from Portland, Maine; winning a "Miss Maine" beauty contest in which she was selected by silent movie star Rudolph Valentino; reviews of various movies in which she appeared; one marriage to a Morgan Galloway in 1931 (the marriage was less than one year); and the usual various photos cut from period magazines.

I had to do a bit of genealogy to set me on the trail of finding out whatever happened to Dorothy. I called the Portland Public Library and asked if they had any information about her, since she was a native of their city. They had very little, almost the same information as I found in the NYPL collection. But they did have one item which turned out to be useful - a death notice for her father, George, who died around 1928. The notice gave one vital piece of information - the cemetery where he was buried. The next phone call was to the cemetery, where a very helpful records clerk pulled the burial plot chart for the Appleby family and began to read the names and death dates. I expected that Dorothy would be among them, but she was not. But her mother had died just a few years earlier, at age 102. The clerk gave me the name of the mortuary that handled the service, and I called.

Luck was with me, because the owner of the mortuary was a cousin of Dorothy, and he told me she was living in New York, but didn't have her address or phone number (or maybe he just didn't want to tell me). Instead, he gave me the number for Dorothy's brother James, who lived in New Hampshire. I called, and he was very helpful and said Dorothy wouldn't mind hearing from me, giving me her number and address. He said she was married to a musician named Paul Drake since the 1940s, and that's when she left the movie business.

Later that evening, I called her, and apparently took her by surprise. She at first thought I was a crank caller, asking about her movie career! When I finally convinced her I was seriously interested in her Hollywood years, she warmed up and became friendlier and talkative.

We talked for probably about 15 minutes, during which she told me: when Rudolph Valentino chose her as "Miss Maine", he asked her name, she told him, and he replied, "Nice apple!"; she was not fond of The Three Stooges, because their comedy was just too rough for her liking; she very much liked Buster Keaton, as he was a real gentleman; her first husband, Morgan Galloway, was the son of a wealthy Kentucky family and he was "a wild boy who never grew up", and she couldn't stay married to him; and, she loved working with Jules White (director of the two-reel comedies) because he was very helpful.

I told her I had two photos I'd like her to autograph for me, and she told me to send them. I sent them along with my usual cover letter. A few days later, at just about midnight, my phone rang and it was Dorothy, asking me what I'd like her to write on the photos! I told her "well, whatever comes to mind", and she said "well, sometimes nothing comes to mind any more" and she laughed. Well, something did come to mind, and she signed them with a nice simple inscription on each: "With Warmest Regards" and "Many thanks for your interest".

In 1990, she was invited to be a guest at a Three Stooges Fan Club Convention in Pennsylvania, but she declined due to health problems. She died shortly after, and I wrote an obit for the Three Stooges Journal.


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