charlie-oscar2A weekly feature in which my four-year-old son is let loose on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, one of the most popular tourist attractions in Los Angeles, and chooses a star from among the more than 2,500 honorees. His “random” picks sometimes reveal unexplained connections such as the summer day in 2012 when he sat down on the star of actress Celeste Holm and refused to budge. We later learned that the Oscar-winning actress had died only hours earlier.

This week on our Sunday morning outing to Hollywood, Charlie made a beeline for an actress who is largely forgotten today but who was once poised for major stardom. Despite a very promising beginning, Evelyn Venable made only a few notable films in her short movie career as well as one special appearance that will live on forever.

venable-cigaretteEvelyn Venable was born on October 18, 1913, in Cincinnati, Ohio. Her father and her grandfather, noted author William Henry Venable, taught English at the same high school in Ohio that Evelyn later attended. She grew up with a knowledge of the classics as well as an interest in acting and was still a teenager when she began touring the country in various Shakespeare plays. She got the national media’s attention for her outstanding performance as Ophelia in a production of “Hamlet” starring Walter Hampden. Venable became a protégé of Hampden’s, and appeared with him in several plays. She eventually caught the eye of Hollywood talent scouts, and, after some initial refusals, signed a contract with Paramount in 1932. (Hampden himself would follow Venable to Hollywood and make well-known appearances in films such as The Hunchback of Notre-Dame, All About Eve and Sabrina.)

The actress had no interest in the trappings of a starlet’s life and managed to put it into her contract that she did not have to cut her hair if she didn’t want to or pose for cheesecake publicity shots. Her biggest splash in films came  early in her career when she played beautiful Grazia opposite Fredric March’s “Death” in the beloved Paramount classic Death Takes a Holiday directed by Mitchell Leisen. The film was a major hit but around this time, a rumor spread, based on comments Venable made in an interview, that she had a “no kissing” clause in her contract. What seemed funny at first became a liability in terms of the public’s (and possibly the film industry’s) perception of her, but no matter how often she denied it, the rumor stuck. “Whoever heard of anyone getting to be a great actress without playing love scenes,” she demanded with exasperation in a newspaper article. She deemed the whole episode “pretty silly” and said she didn’t want to hear any more about it.


Venable appeared in only a few more films of note after that including Norman Taurog’s Mrs. Wiggs and the Cabbage Patch with W.C. Fields, Zasu Pitts, Pauline Lord and Virginia Weidler; George Stevens’ Alice Adams starring Katharine Hepburn; and as Shirley Temple’s mother in David Butler’s The Little Colonel with Lionel Barrymore and Hattie McDaniel. Her career languished a bit after that but she achieved movie immortality when Walt Disney chose her as the voice and model for the Blue Fairy in the 1940 animated classic Pinocchio.


After a few more small roles, Venable made the decision to retire from films at the ripe old age of 30. A few years earlier, she had married Hal Mohr (whose career as a cinematographer included films such as The Jazz Singer, Captain Bood, Destry Rides Again and The Wild One, and who was the only cinematographer in history who won an Oscar from a write-in campaign — in 1935 for A Midsummer Night’s Dream). The couple had two daughters and were a rare Hollywood success story, remaining married until Mohr’s death in 1974.

As for Evelyn, she never lost her family’s love of education and after leaving Hollywood enrolled at UCLA, eventually becoming a respected professor there, teaching Greek and Latin for many years and putting on Greek plays within the Classics department. “My students have no idea who Evelyn Venable is,” she told a reporter in the 1970s who had inquired about her long-ago movie career.

Evelyn Venable died on November 15, 1993 at the age of 80.