Yesterday's News

Five dollars of dance coupons launched area native to illustrious movie career

By FRANK BOYETT, Gleaner staff
September 18, 2005

Ola Cole had long since hung up her dancing slippers for some barber's clippers, but 25 years ago she reminisced about her days as a Hollywood starlet.

"It's not nearly as glamorous as people think it is," she told Judy Jenkins of The Gleaner. "Especially the dance sequences. What you see on screen looks so exciting, but in reality those scenes followed hours and hours of grueling work, with a director constantly popping us on the leg and saying, 'Keep that leg straight!' "

In 1980, Jenkins related in her column, Cole was working at her poodle-grooming business in a trailer on U.S. 60-West with customer Helen McGinnis, who couldn't figure out why Cole was so enthralled with a movie that was playing on the television set. It was just an old musical called "Sensations of 1945."

But then Cole began to squeal, "That's me! Right there!"

And, sure enough, McGinnis said, "You could certainly tell it was Ola Cole. She really hasn't changed all that much."

The Morganfield native was born Ola Ketchel, but her parents divorced and her mother remarried a California restaurateur, which is how she wound up in the Hollywood vicinity. The family was living in Long Beach when a dance studio representative came around selling coupons for dance lessons. Ola's mother bought $5 worth, and her show business career was launched.

At the age of 7 she was cast as Mustardseed in Max Reinhardt's spectacular outdoor production of Shakespeare's "A Midsummer Night's Dream," which opened in the Hollywood Bowl in September 1934. Mustardseed was one of the attendants of Titania, queen of the fairies.

An 18-year-old Olivia de Havilland played the role of Hermia in that production, which was the beginning of an illustrious acting career, and 14-year-old Mickey Rooney starred as Puck. "He was so much fun," Cole recalled. "One night he ripped the seat of his tights and wouldn't come down out of the tree he was perched in."

On the strength of that production, Warner Bros. signed Reinhardt to produce a movie version of the play; Rooney, de Havilland and Cole reprised their roles in the movie.

About that time Cole's mother began getting serious about her daughter's career, providing extensive lessons every day in such skills as elocution and acrobatics.

"She wasn't a stage mother -- nothing like Judy Garland's mother," Cole said. "She only wanted for me what I wanted for myself."

1941 was probably Cole's best year, when she appeared in two movies. One was "Babes on Broadway," a Busby Berkeley production that starred Rooney and Garland. The other was "Ziegfield Girl," which starred Garland, Jimmy Stewart, Hedy Lamarr and Lana Turner.

The latter actress was not a nice person, Cole revealed. "We came single file down some stairs. There was a girl in front of me, then me, then another girl and then Lana. She wanted to be first in the scene. When the director told her she couldn't be, she pulled off her spike heel and threw it at the camera man. She got him, too, right in the eye."

Rounding out the five movies she appeared in were "Sensations of 1945," which actually came out in 1944, and "If I'm Lucky." The former movie, which featured Eleanor Powell in her last starring role, also included appearances by W.C. Fields, Sophie Tucker, Cab Calloway, Woody Herman and Les Paul. The latter was a 1946 film starring Perry Como, Phil Silvers and Carmen Miranda.

Cole's first marriage marked the end of her movie career. "My husband didn't really want me to work," she explained. "By the time we realized the marriage wouldn't make it, I'd dropped a lot of my contacts in the business. I tried to get back in, but too many doors had closed."

100 years ago

Seven stockholders of the Henderson Telephone & Telegraph Co. filed suit against nine other stockholders in 1905, alleging they had illegally taken control of the company.

According to a story in The Gleaner, one faction of prominent businessmen, which owned the majority of the stock, alleged the other faction had colluded and conspired to defraud them of control of the company. The deception was carried out by some men, who had earlier signed proxies, delaying members of the other faction on the street while they were on their way to the stockholders' meeting. By the time the second group arrived at the meeting, the first group had already elected officers and left with the company records.

75 years ago

Dry cleaners Lambert & Craig bought the first Austin automobile seen in Henderson, according to a 1930 article in The Gleaner.

The article said the tiny delivery vehicle was "being talked of and looked over everywhere, its appearance on the streets never failing to draw attention."

Elmer Chancellor, who used to own a 1931 Austin, said the company began production in the spring of 1930, so the local car was one of its earliest models.

50 years ago

The ancient boiler in the Henderson County Courthouse was retired in 1955, according to an article in The Gleaner.

"The old courthouse boiler that has warmed countless administrations, if somewhat spasmodically, was loaded piece by piece aboard a truck and hauled to its final resting place. No one knows just what the old boy's age was, but some thought he should have been retired 30 years ago."


Contributed by Netta Mullin, HCH&GS
Copyright 2006 HCH&GS