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Profile of:For Marjorie Lord Archer Hale Volk, her whole life’s like a roller coaster but it sure has been a fun ride.
By John L. Seitz – Courier Managing Editor
When you have worked professional actress since age 16, successfully raised two children (including a former Academy Award nominee), wrote an autobiography A Dance and a Hug, created you own internet website and been the spouse of one of LA’s most powerful business tycoons, one could hardly be blamed for finally enjoying a relaxing life in the beautiful Trousdale Estates’ abode she has called home the past 29 years.
For Marjorie Lord, however, taking it easy is not in her vocabulary. She is currently abuzz with last second preparations for Sunday’s 17th annual Scripter Awards which honors authors and screenwriters for the “Best Realization of a Book on Film” and benefits the Edward L. Doheny, Jr. Memorial Library at the University of Southern California.
“Glen Sonnenberg and I started this event in 1988 to salute the contributions the author and screenplay writers make toward making a successful feature film. It seems they get little or no recognition and yet, without them, no movie would exist—period,” she said.
Lord has joined a growing list of celebrities, past and present, who have established their own websites and self-published their memoirs to take advantage of a burgeoning phenomenon of early TV shows suddenly becoming “hot properties” and much in demand from a vast, entirely new audience born years or decades after the programs originally ran. Because of the internet, the popularity of these shows has surged. (For example, these TV re-releases represent the 3rd largest seller in the DVD category at Best Buy.)
This native San Franciscan is, in fact, a third generation Californian. Her grandfather was an editor of the San Francisco Examiner, having been personally selected for the job by William Randolph Hearst.
Lord got a first taste of the arts at age three when her mother brought her to a dance class and later on had her enroll in acting school. Of course that was after a full slate of piano and elocution lessons to abate her perceived shyness.
“Once playing the roles of Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz and Becky in The Little Princess, I knew it was going to be a career in the theater or as a ballerina for me but the doors didn’t really open until my family moved to New York for turned out to be just over a year.”
Her father had been a cosmetics executive in the Bay Area but was transferred to Manhattan. Once there, she began studying ballet with Vechesav Swaboda at the Chaliff School of Dance and acting with the husband-wife team of Clyde Fillmore and Lea Penman.
Having that pair of stage stars as mentors led to the mid-teen being cast in the Pulitzer Prize-winning play The Old Maid co-starring Dame Judith Anderson and Helen Menken, Humphrey Bogart’s first wife. She played the role on Broadway four months and on the road for another nine.
“I’m often asked, as are many stage actors, how does one overcome the monotony of repeating the same role over and over, night after night without going stale,” explained Lord. “You simply have to rev yourself up for each performance, whether you’ve had a bad day or not, and feed off the energy of the audience. After all, in most cases it’s a fresh experience for them so you owe them the best you’ve got but sometimes it isn’t easy.”
Once this tour was completed, she was back in New York and making rounds to secure another part—any part—but it became rejection after rejection. Having adopted the stage monicker of “Marjorie Lord” by utilizing the surname of one of her grandparents, she finally hooked on with a role in a new play about the life and times of Edgar Allen Poe. While in rehearsal, however, she was fired because the lead, actor Henry Hull, believed her to be “too pretty” and totally miscast.
“There I was—a ‘has-been’ at 17, alone in New York and down to my last $50. Fortunately, my family came to rescue and sent me a ticket to come back to California for Christmas.
“While there, my agents had arranged a screen test for me at Paramount but, naturally, another rejection. However, I went next door to RKO where producer Pandro Berman signed me to a contract,” stated Lord.
After a series of totally forgettable comedy bits there, her option is not renewed and she returned to the stage as the ingenue lead in the summer stock version of Springtime For Henry opposite RKO character actor Edward Everett Horton from the Astaire-Rogers musicals and her new pal, Vivian Vance, later to make a hit in TV’s I Love Lucy.
The show was booked for a run in San Francisco and Los Angeles but when Horton was called away to make a film, she filled in the time with the play The Male Animal where she met her first husband, actor John Archer. They married two months later
Her career began to gain some momentum as she was signed by director Henry Koster to a contract at Universal. According to most accounts, she was given roles in the studio’s serials, westerns, and “B” pictures (i.e. Sherlock Holmes in Washington) as a decorative, sweet-natured ingenue (and little else).
“I’m totally amazed I did so many films because I’d forgotten most of them. Then recently a movie critic from the South contacted me and sent me tapes of them so my past continues to haunt me,” laughed Lord.
Perhaps her best movie of the period was opposite James Cagney in Johnny Come Lately. Though the film was not a financial success, she treasures one particular bit of advice from Cagney after the initial take of their first scene together. “Quit acting”, he said to her which she claims to be one of the best pieces of direction she ever got.
Meanwhile, though he had originally been quite active in Hollywood, her husband’s career had gone stale and he decided to try the stage. Somewhat reluctantly, she surrendered up her movie life and moved back to New York with him.
The next few years were a hectic series of ups and downs plus long separations for the acting Archers which had grown to become a family of four with the arrival of son Gregg (who became a Navy pilot and now a captain with Delta Airlines) and daughter Anne (acclaimed actress of Fatal Attraction fame and wife of TV sports producer Terry Jastrow).
This first marriage eventually ended in divorce and Lord threw herself into the dual challenge of being a working mother with two youngsters to support. Though she still made an occasional feature film such as playing an uncharacteristic villainess in the independently produced The Strange Mrs. Crane, her work was largely overlooked. She paid the bills by getting into the early days of TV including a recurring role in the Big Town series.
During its hiatus, she takes the lead opposite Howard Duff in a Moss Hart production of Anniversary Waltz at the La Jolla Playhouse. The reviews of her performance are so outstanding, she is soon called to New York to replace Hart’s wife, Kitty Carlisle, in the Broadway version of the play with her co-star this time being Macdonald Carey.
“The Anniversary Waltz turned out to be the seminal event in giving a major jump-start to my life and career,” claims Lord. “All because of this play, I met my second husband, Randolph Hale, and came to the attention of producers Louis Edelman and Sheldon Leonard.”
She had originally met Hale, a scion of the San Francisco department store (i.e. Broadway-Hale) clan, when he tried to convince her to recreate her New York role in Anniversary Waltz at his Alcazar Theater in the city by the bay. While that appearance finally did occur several months later, the show ran for more than a year.
Shortly after opening the same play in Los Angeles, the TV producing team of Edelman and Leonard brought their star of Make Room For Daddy, Beverly Hills-own Danny Thomas, to see her perform. They immediately sign her for a four week trial on the series first as a nurse, which was to lead to a budding romance and a seven year TV “marriage” and sparring partnership with the comedian on what was then renamed The Danny Thomas Show.
After the original show had run its course and was cancelled, she returned five years later for a revival called Make Room for Granddaddy which lasted another two.
“Besides having such a long run with Danny in the two series, we also had the pleasure to work with a ‘who’s who’ of guest stars like Bob Hope, Sid Caesar, Jack Benny, Dinah Shore, Tony Bennett, Milton Berle, Lucille Ball, Desi Arnaz, Dean Martin, Jimmy Durante, Frank Sinatra and many others,” said Lord.
“Of course, my career had experienced a major identity crisis as I was now firmly typecast in the public’s and producers’ minds as Danny Thomas’ TV ‘wife’. Though I did a feature with Bob Hope and Phyllis Diller, it was back to dinner theatre productions and occasional TV movie guest spots, one of which happened to be in a Harold Robbins’ saga The Pirate with my daughter, Anne.
“Meanwhile, my husband Randy Hale had developed the Valley Music Theater and was producing musicals like Oklahoma, South Pacific and Call Me Madam with Ethel Merman and plays in the round including one for me, Mary, Mary with my old pal Howard Duff.”
After its successful first years, however, the theater’s business eventually dwindled due to the intense competition from the grand opening of the Los Angeles Music Center. Hale’s health deteriorates shortly thereafter and he passes away from lung cancer.
“This was a terrible blow because Randy had been my ‘rock’ and totally supportive of my turbulent life as an actress.
“About a year later at the Beverly Wilshire, Hernando Courtright introduced me to Harry Volk. He knew and cared absolutely nothing about the entertainment industry but was one of Los Angeles’ premier business leaders as CEO of Union Bank.”
Since taking over management of the bank, Volk had built it into a powerhouse with some 60 regional offices. His board consisted of such names as Henry Singleton of Teledyne, Simon Ramo of TRW, Terry Drinkwater of Western Airlines, Walter O’Malley of the LA Dodgers, Paula Kent Meehan of Redken Laboratories, and many others.
After retiring from Union Bank, he became CEO of the Weingart Foundation. He died in 2000.
“Living in Harry’s ‘world’ was a total change for me. My career was definitely on the back burner and I devoted my time to his business and getting involved in volunteer activities,” stated Lord.
For instance, she served on the board of the Joffrey Ballet, thereby reviving her passion for that form of art. She was also appointed to the boards of the Music Center “Blue Ribbon” committee, the Hollywood Entertainment Museum, and The Friends of the Library at USC.
“I have been blessed professionally, personally and spiritually. I love to write and feel I have several screenplays in me or perhaps a novel,” she exclaimed.
v“Right now I’m busy doing booksignings for A Dance and a Hug, expanding my website, enjoying my extended family which consists—in addition to Gregg and Anne and their spouses—of five grandchildren, six great-grandchildren, and so many stepchildren thanks to Harry, Randy and John, I can’t even begin to count.”
For Marjorie Lord Archer Hale Volk, her whole life’s is like a roller coaster but it sure has been a fun ride.
LIKE MOTHER, LIKE DAUGHTER—Marjorie Lord (left) of Beverly Hills is pictured with her actress daughter, Anne Archer Jastrow.
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