Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Anita Garvin

Anita Garvin was a comedic actress who appeared in many movies from silents in the mid-1920s right into the sound era, ending her career in the early 1940s. She is best remembered for her roles in some Laurel & Hardy and Charley Chase comedies.

While I was living in Los Angeles in the mid-1970s, my friend Dick Baldwin, who was then the Corresponding Secretary for the Sons of the Desert (the Laurel & Hardy appreciation group) Founding Tent in New York, asked me if I could find a couple of actresses who worked with 'the Boys'. One was Rosina Lawrence, and you can read my blog about her here. The other was Anita Garvin.

Dick's request came shortly before I was to leave California and return to New York permanently, in May 1976. But I did what I could on short notice. I wrote to Ms. Garvin in care of the Screen Actors Guild, and they kindly forwarded my letter to the address they had on file, which was from the 1940s. A week or so later, the letter was returned to me, stamped by the post office "no such street number". The address was on Sunset Boulevard as I recall, and the following Saturday I drove to that location, and surely the number no longer existed. There were some tall office buildings on that block, and no residences. I had to put this search on hold as I needed to prepare for my cross-country move.

Once back in New York, I frequented the New York Public Library Performing Arts Collection at Lincoln Center, to which I've previously referred in other blog postings. They had a clipping file for Anita Garvin, mostly containing movie reviews in which her name was listed in the credits. But there was one article, actually just a couple of lines, clipped from a Variety or Billboard magazine, from around 1929. It mentioned Ms. Garvin's marriage to a movie comic named Jerry Drew, whose his real name was Clem Beauchamp.

I looked in the clippings files for Jerry Drew/Clem Beauchamp, and found references to his being a director, assistant director, and unit producer for various tv shows in the 1950s and 1960s. The Library had some member directories for the Directors Guild, and one had an entry for Mr. Beauchamp, who was living in North Hollywood. I was hoping the phone number was still a good one.

When I returned home, I called Mr. Beauchamp, and when he answered, I naively asked if he was married to the actress Anita Garvin. I say 'naively' because I was still relatively new to this 'hobby' of locating movie people from long ago, and hadn't thought that a person's life circumstances could change over so many years. He replied "Yes", and then I asked "Is she there now, may I speak to her?". He then stammered somewhat, explaining that she wasn't there because they were divorced many years ago. I then asked him if he knew anything of her present whereabouts, and he told me she'd married a musician named Red Stanley, and I could probably locate him through the Musicians Union.

I called the Los Angeles Local of the American Federation of Musicians, and their membership department gave me Mr. Stanley's phone number. His first name was actually Clifford. I eagerly called, as by this time I was "thisclose" to finding Anita Garvin, who was apparently long sought after by Laurel & Hardy fans. Mr. Stanley answered and I introduced myself, explaining the purpose of my call. He was very cordial and told me Anita was there and he'd give the phone to her.

Ms. Garvin was courteous and happy to be remembered for her movie work of many years earlier. She told me she was aware of the Sons of the Desert but nobody had ever contacted her, and she never attempted contacting the group. When I told her of my search for her, and that I'd talked to her first husband, Clem Beauchamp, she replied, with a sarcastic tone, "Oh, is HE still alive?". She explained that there was no love lost for him, as during their first year of marriage, she walked in on him committing a marital infidelity with her best friend, another actress. She said she turned around and walked out, and filed for divorce. She later met her present husband, Clifford Stanley, a musician, and they married and raised a family.

With her permission, I gave her information to Al Kilgore of the Sons of the Desert, and he followed up by passing the information to others in California 'tents', and soon after, Mr. and Mrs. Stanley were on their way to attending dinners and meeting fans.

Over the following several years, Anita and I talked many times by phone, and exchanged Christmas cards. She sent me a couple of signed photos, a few years apart. The first was accompanied by this note in which she apologized for the autograph not being readable due to the dark area of the photo (but she wrote this note on the back). Some years later, she sent this photo, via my friend Steve who'd become a close friend of Anita's, and visited her during his travels to Los Angeles.

I never did meet Anita in person, as I never returned to California as I'd thought I'd do from time to time. I had the opportunity to meet her when she was in New York, some time in the early 1980s. I believe she attended the annual banquet of the Two Tars Tent in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and afterwards would be staying for a few days with somebody on Long Island, and the plan was for me to drive out there and spend a day. But it was not to be, because Anita had to return to California promptly upon hearing of a family emergency.

Here is one of the Christmas cards I received from her. All of her cards had a religious motif.

After several years of declining health, Anita Garvin died July 7, 1994, age 87.


Devin said...

So you're the one that tracked down Anita! I really wanted to meet her. Unfortunately she wasn't able to make the 1992 convention, and I didn't realize until later that a group of Sons had gone out to visit her after the convention. I would have joined them had I known about it.

Peter said...

That's another outstanding story Bill. What a wonderful find that was...both for her fans as well as for her. Great job!

catsafterme said...

Once Anita's contact info was passed on to the west coast Sons, it took the tactful nudging of my friend Bob Satterfield to get her to finally attend a meeting. She had been asked before by other fans, but the invitation never extended to her beloved husband Red.

It is rather ironic that two of my good friends each played a part of bringing Anita back 'into the public' - each of you working independently of one another.

But it is because of both of you that people like me were able to meet her. My encounters with her were at the Sons conventions in 1980 and 1982, and then a private meeting with her in 1988 while she was living at the Motion Picture Home.

Ironically, news of Anita's passing reached Sons during the 1994 convention in New York, where I first met you Bill - and I heard the news from Bob.

Anonymous said...

Nice story, Bill. Maybe twenty years ago I had given a few letters and photos of and from Anita to a collector named Steve Randisi (sic?) of southern New Jersey. Don't know whatever happened to him, but we'll never forget Anita. Thanks for your story.

Anonymous said...

Hay Bill ,thanks for all your hard work .....My great grandmother would be so happy that people still appriciate her humor and beauty....and from what I remember she was one of the most sweetest ladies ive ever meet and im not jus saying that....thanks

Anita said...

I am Anita Frances Stevenson-Tucker, Anita Garvin's grand-daughter. I have been attempting to reach out to fans of my grandmother's to see if they would be interested in purchasing photo's of her that are now in my possession. I took her to Hal Roach's 100th Birthday party, she was so happy to be able to attend. If you know who to contact, I'd greatly appreciate it.

Bill Cappello said...

Hi Anita,
Thanks for your comment. I'd like to put you in contact with some people who may be interested in the photos you mentioned, but you did not leave your email.
Please write to me at bill@billcappello.com and give me the info, and I'll pass it along.
Thanks again for reading my blog about your grandmother, Anita Garvin.