Historic Pelham

Presenting the rich history of Pelham, NY in Westchester County: current historical research, descriptions of how to research Pelham history online and genealogy discussions of Pelham families.

Thursday, July 02, 2015

Small Town Girl Mona Freeman of Pelham Became Hollywood Movie Star

She was a fresh-faced small town girl dressed to the nines and ready for her screen test.  She lived with her parents, Mr. and Mrs. Stuart F. Freeman of 220 Carol Avenue in the Village of Pelham Manor. On July 8, 1943, she stared proudly, with a wide smile, from the pages of the local newspaper read by her family, friends and neighbors known as The Pelham Sun.  Her name was Mona Freeman.  Actually, her name was Monica Elizabeth Freeman, but she was known as Mona.  She and her stage mother were determined to make her a star.  Beneath her photograph, The Pelham Sun proudly reported that she and her mother would depart that week for Hollywood where she would "be given a screen test, and may be selected for a part in a forthcoming production."  

Miss Mona Freeman, who is under contract to
Howard Hughes, motion picture producer, will
depart for Hollywood this week, accompanied by
her mother.  She will be given a screen test, and
may be selected for a part in a forthcoming production.
She is the daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Stuart F. Freeman
of 220 Carol avenue, Pelham Manor."  Source:
The Pelham Sun, Jul. 8, 1943, p. 7, col. 3.  NOTE:
Click Image To Enlarge.

What a screen test Miss Freeman must have had!  Following her screen test, she became a Hollywood glamour girl and one of the most successful Hollywood movie actresses of the 1940s and 1950s.  

Mona Freeman in an Undated Studio Publicity Photograph.
NOTE:  Click Image to Enlarge.

Mona Freeman was born on June 9, 1926 in Baltimore.  Her father, Stuart F. Freeman, was a contractor.  As a young girl, she moved with her family to Pelham.  She and her family lived for a time in a house at 142 Third Avenue in the Village of North Pelham, but later moved to the home at 220 Carol Avenue in the Village of Pelham Manor.  She attended Colonial Elementary School where her first "big role" was in "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs," a Colonial and Siwanoy School play.  The elementary school play certainly received critical acclaim from the local newspaper which described the "Delightful Presentation Of 'Snow White' Offered By Pupils Of Schools" and noted that Mona Freeman played the "major role" of the Good Queen.  

According to her obituary that appeared in the June 9, 2014 issue of The New York Times:

"At 14, motivated by a desire to help put her older brother through Yale, she decided to take up modeling.  Enrolling at the Powers agency's school in Manhattan, she was asked for $300 in tuition -- the equivalent of about $5,000 today.  'Your school is Champagne, and I'm a gal hungry for bread and butter,' she was said to have retorted.  Tuition was waived."

Source:  Fox, Margalit, Mona Freeman, First 'Miss Subways,' Dies at 87, N.Y. Times, Jun. 9, 2014.  

Freeman began high school at Pelham Memorial High School.  While there, she wrote for the school newspaper.  She hoped to be a magazine illustrator, but was interested in "school dramatics" while in high school.  She participated in Sock N' Buskin and played the role of "Eva" in "Uncle Tom's Cabin" while at Pelham Memorial High School.  Freeman played to critical acclaim in "Uncle Tom's Cabin."  The local newspaper reported that "Mona Freeman showed splendid theatrical capabilities."

Blessed with stunning beauty, in May 1941, Mona Freeman was selected as New York City's first "Miss Subways" in a contest judged by the John Robert Powers modeling agency.  It was Mona Freeman's big break.  She became a sought-after professional teenage model.

The Contest That Started It All.  Subway Poster Reflecting
the Selection of "Lovely New Yorker Mona Freeman" as the
Winner of the "MEET MISS SUBWAYS" Contest of May, 1941.
Note the Prescient Acclamation:  "Broadway and Hollywood
Please Note!"  NOTE:  Click Image to Enlarge.

Mona Freeman began modeling clothing for teenagers.  Her photograph appeared in several catalogs.  She participated in Westchester County and Pelham fashion shows, modeling clothing on the runway with other young women of the area.  See, e.g., Fashion Crimes To Be Disclosed, The Pelham Sun, Mar. 20, 1942, p. 7, col. 4 (referencing "Mona Freeman of Pelham" as one of the models for the "Teen Age Group" at a fashion show hosted by the "Junior Advisory Committee of Arnold Constable, Westchester").

According to tradition, as Mona Freeman's modeling career bloomed, reclusive billionaire Howard Hughes saw a photograph of her and, based solely on that photograph, signed her to an acting contract without meeting her in person.  Thereafter, according to one account:

"Howard Hughes signed her to play the stepdaughter of Barbara Stanwyck in 'Double Indemnity,' but she was replaced when tests showed she looked too young.  The same thing happened when Mona was borrowed for a role in 'National Velvet,' at MGM.  The chain of bad breaks was broken, however, when she won the cute part of Irene Dunne's daughter in 'Together Again,' at Columbia.  She played Peggy Ann Garner's older sister in 'unior Miss' at 20th Century-Fox and went to Warner's for a role in 'Danger Signal."  In short, Mona Freeman began finding success playing so-called teenage ingenue roles.

Soon after signing Mona Freeman, Howard Hughes reportedly sold her contract to Paramount.  According to another account, Mona Freeman was able to cancel the contract with Howard Hughes and purportedly walked into the Paramount Studios and demanded a job.  In any event, Mona Freeman soon had a seven-year contract with the studio. 

Mona Freeman, Featured on the Cover of
the June 1945 Issue of Coronet Magazine.
NOTE:  Click Image To Enlarge.

In those early years, Mona Freeman's mother was her chaperone in Hollywood.  As they worked to further her acting career, they stayed together in the St. Frances Hotel on Hollywood Boulevard.  Pelham's local newspaper followed Freeman's early years in Hollywood and trumpeted each development in her career in a sort of "small town girl makes good" way.  At the time, young Mona Freeman worked to further her education, working each day in a classroom with two other students for three hours each day.  In those early years she seemed to miss Pelham and her friends.  According to one account:  "In a letter to one of her friends, Mona stated that she misses Pelham.  'Hollywood is a swell place to make money, but that is all."

Mona Freeman matured into an experienced Hollywood Star.  She played significant roles in a large number of films including:  Here Come the Waves (1944); Till We Meet Again (1944); Together Again (1944); Danger Signal (1945); Roughly Speaking (1945); Junior Miss (1945); Our Hearts Were Growing Up (1946); Black Beauty (1946); That Brennan Girl (1946); Variety Girl (1947); Mother Wore Tights (1947); Dear Ruth (1947); Isn't It Romantic? (1948); The Heiress (1949); Dear Wife (1949); Streets of Laredo (1949); Branded (1950); Copper Canyon (1950); I Was a Shoplifter (1950); Dear Brat (1951); The Lady from Texas (1951); Darling How Could You! (1951); Flesh and Fury (1952); Jumping Jacks (1952); Thunderbirds (1952); The Greatest Show on Earth (1952); Angel Face (1953); Before I Wake (1954); Battle Cry (1955); The Road to Denver (1955); Men Against Speed (1956); Huk (1956); The Way Out (1956); Shadow of Fear (1956); Shadow of Fear (1956); Dragoon Wells Massacre (1957); The World Was His Jury (1958); Welcome Home, Johnny Bristol (1971). She was active in the film industry from the 1940s until the early 1970s.

In addition, Ms. Freeman acted in more than eighty television shows. She acted in episodes of such television series as Wagon Train and Perry Mason.

Mona Freeman Featured in a Glamorous Max Factor
Cosmetics Advertisement.  NOTE:  Click Image to Enlarge.

In 1945, Mona Freeman married wealthy Hollywood automobile dealer Patrick W. Nerney.  She was nineteen.  He was twenty-five.  In 1947, Mona was pregnant while filming the movie "Mother Wore Tights."  Her daughter Mona Freeman, known as "Monie," was born in Los Angeles on October 25, 1947.  Monie also became an actress.  

On September 26, 1952, Mona Freeman was divorced from Patrick Nerney.  Thereafter she dated entertainment lawyer Greg Bautzer, hotel heir Nicky Hilton, and singers Frank Sinatra and Vic Damone.  She later dated Bing Crosby after the death of his wife, Dixie Lee.  At about the same time, she also dated actor Robert Wagner.  In June 1961, however, Mona Freeman married Los Angeles businessman H. Jack Ellis.  

Her second husband, H. Jack Ellis, died a little more than 20 years ago.  At the time of her death at the age of 87 on May 23, 2014 at her home in Beverly Hills, California, Mona Freeman had a daughter from her first marriage, Mona Nerney Hubbell, as well as six children and two-great grandchildren.

Movie Poster in French Language for 1950 Movie "Branded"
Starring Alan Ladd and Mona Freeman.
NOTE:  Click Image to Enlarge.

1956 "Half Sheet" 22" x 58" Movie Poster
for Shadow of Fear Starring Mona Freeman.
NOTE:  Click Image to Enlarge.

*          *          *           *          *

I have written briefly about Mona Freeman of Pelham before.  See Wednesday, March 22, 2006 Mona Freeman, Glamour Girl of the Silver Screen, Lived in Pelham.  Below is the text of a number of articles that address Mona Freeman's time in the Town of Pelham.  Each is followed by a citation to its source.

"Delightful Presentation Of 'Snow White' Offered By Pupils Of Schools
Talented Young Cast Stages Well Known Fairy Tale in Auditorium of the Siwanoy School.

Pupils of Siwanoy and Colonial Schools successfully presented Rose Tyleman's version of 'Snow White' before an appreciative audience in the Siwanoy School auditorium last Friday night.  Snow White was delightfully portrayed by Margaret Collette; while Donald Roberts, Herbert Vaughan, Ernest Malnati, Norman Winter, Anthony Austin, James Page and Charles Cornell gave a realistic portrayal of the famous Seven Dwarfs.

Other major roles in the production, the cast of which numbered 78 pupils of the two schools, were played by Mona Freeman as the Good Queen and Joan Marvin as the Bad Queen; Robert Burrows, the Prince; Alan Seldner, the Page; John Glore, the King; Dorothy Burgess, the little Girl; Martha Brown, the Voice, and Robert Campbell, the Messenger.

Also included in the cast were Carol Conant, Helen V. Markey, Edith Cory, Nancy Lee Swift, Judith Freedman, Barbara Jai, Barbara Jean White, Ethel Alice Miller, Elizabeth Ann Blottman, Edna Pickard, Jean O'Neill, Vivian Deruka, Bessie Kellogg, Jacqueline Walker, Eleanor Coombs, Maureen McGee, Phyllis Derby, Nancy Messinger and John Henningsen.

Also, George Evert, Robert Alcivan, Sally Condon, Alevell Dugger, Deborah Drummond, Francis Dutch, Edward Gilmartin, Susan Hackers, Frances Janet Gore, Mary Jane Littell, Elaine Kennedy, Robert Luce, Anne Neilson, Suzanne Noble, Sally Stevens, Kimball Williams, Barbara Anderson, Martha Brown, Iola Case, Helene Derby, Ellen Glaser, Antoinette Fitzsimmons, Peter Hadley, Jeanne McConnochie, Sheila McGee, James McIlhenny, Caroline Powers, Hope Redington, Gerald Reilly, George Tully, Joyce Walker and Lillian Zernoske.

Malcolm McCoy was stage manager for the production assisted by Robert Jordon and Robert Bosworth.  Alan Zimmerman was electrician, assisted by Edwin Golding."

Source:  Delightful Presentation Of 'Snow White' Offered By Pupils Of Schools -- Talented Young Cast Stages Well Known Fairy Tale in Auditorium of the Siwanoy School, The Pelham Sun, May 13, 1938, p. 10, cols. 1-3.  See also Siwanoy and Colonial School Pupils Will Present 'Snow White' On Friday -- Talented Young Cast Will Offer Stage Version of Well Known Fairy Tale in School Auditorium, The Pelham Sun, Apr. 29, 1938, Vol. 29, No. 4, Second Section, p. 1, cols. 3-4.  

"School Production Of 'Uncle Tom's Cabin' Proves Delightful Performance

Truly one of the most delightful performances to be staged in the Pelhams by a theatrical group was the production of 'Uncle Tom's Cabin' staged in the auditorium of Pelham Memorial High School on Friday night by the talented members of Sock & Buskin, school dramatic society.  The play was presented in a manner typical of such a performance given in the year 1875, and the young members of the cast appeared to be fully mindful of the tradition which was theirs to uphold and the performance was a credit to themselves and to their director W. Francis Scott.

In the old favorite roles, 'Uncle Tom' and 'Little Eva,' Harry Jackson and Mona Freeman showed splendid theatrical capabilities.  Louise Fischer as the distressed 'Eliza,' James Leahy as Phineas Fletcher, her white champion, and John Pugh as the generous-hearted St. Clair dendeared themselves to the audience in a proper manner.  Miriam Holzheimer as the straight-laced 'Ophelia' was amusing and properly tender-hearted when pity for the slave 'Topsy' required it.

As 'Topsy,' Frances Ingalls ran away with the show if any one did, as could be expected.  Miss Ingalls showed a full appreciation of her roleand was a delight every moment she was on the stage.  This performance, particularly attracted the younger audience which viewed the production in an afternoon matinee last Thursday.

There were some real rogues in the roles of the villainous 'Simon' (Edward Cudmore), and 'Haley' (Clinton Kenney), and throughout the cast the high school students gave an excellent performance, which was augmented by chorus singing under the leadership of Albert J. Fregans, head of the Music Department of the school.

Even the ever-looked for mechanics of the production, Eliza crossing the ice and the ascent of Little Eva into Heaven, were accomplished in fitting style.  True it is that the Great Danes wo were pressed into the roles of the bloodhounds failed to show a proper appreciation of the need for speed in chasing Eliza across the ice, and it is said that 'Eva' had difficulties in making her ascent at a dress rehearsal.  These only added to the enjoyment of the play.  

Other members of the cast included:  David Cole, Albert Jeffcoat, Weston Roberts, John Graziadei, Stephen Lee, Fred Landenberger, Murray Lifschitz, Robert Schuster Jr., John Kreuter, Jerome Conkling, William Burrows, William Hawley, Herbert McLear, Irving Lyon, Kenneth Moore, Bruce Parker, Peter Haackes, Richard Tomset.

Also, Marilyn Lange, Gloria Sisti, Gretchen Fuller, Mary Hurley, June Bevan and Betty Lou Scott.  

Even the program followed the old type theatre bill, and it described the high school auditorium as the 'Pelham Opera House,' Messrs. Brown and Fairclough, owners and managers.  The audience was requested to follow its natural inclinations, 'To applaud Virtue in distress and to reward villainy at appropriate moments in the drama.'  With great glee the audience followed the suggestion and never was a villain hissed so generously as 'Simon Legree.'  

Included in the choral group were Toni Hemmenway, M'Liss Mentley, Betty Ridout, Lorraine Doyle, Gretchen Fuller, Anna Mastrangelo, Catherine Deck, Jean Deck, Claire Cudmore, Ellen Bristol, Elaine Ackley, Nancy Gay Robb, Helen Seibert, Beverly Nash, Priscilla Peters, Gertrude Gill, Sarah Babcock, Helen Stone, Jane Dickerson, Shirley Hawthorne and Ann Smillie."

Source:  School Production Of "Uncle Tom's Cabin" Proves Delightful PerformanceThe Pelham Sun, Apr. 11, 1941, p. 11, cols. 5-6.  See also SELECT CAST FOR SCHOOL SHOWING OF FAMOUS PLAY -- Many Talented Young Thespians Will be Seen in Production of 'Uncle Tom's Cabin' at High SchoolThe Pelham Sun, Mar. 14, 1941, p. 7, col. 2; "UNCLE TOM" TO BE PRESENTED IN OLD TIME STYLE -- High School Dramatic Society Will Present Historic Old Play Thursday Afternoon and Friday Night, The Pelham Sun, Mar. 28, 1941, p. 8, col. 5.  

"Miss Freeman To Act As Model In Fashion Display

Miss Mona Freeman of Carol avenue will act as one of the 'junior miss' models at the fashion show sponsored by the Junior Consumer Advisory Committee for Arnold Constable this afternoon at 3:45 o'clock.

'Crimes in Fashion' is the title of the novel fashion display which is to be presented at Locust Arms restaurant, Locust avenue, New Rochelle.  The clothes selected have been chosen by team members who will explain the reasons for their choice and will act as commentators.  The audience will try to find the 'fashion crime', glaring or subtle, in each case.

Mrs. Anne Albee, fashion director of Arnold Constable will be the judge."

Source:  Miss Freeman To Act As Model In Fashion Display, The Pelham Sun, Mar. 20, 1942, p. 4, col. 4.  

"Tales of Three VILLAGES. . . 

Should be Bridled.

We are in favor of muzzling or rationing some publicity agents.  Currently we have been besieged with inquiries as to why we have not published the story about Miss Mona Freeman of Pelham Manor, who, to quote the press agents, 'walked into a producer's office in Hollywood, asked for a job and was engaged right away.'  That type of publicity gives an entirely false impression to a lot of Hollywood adolescent aspirants and might cause some of them to try and do likewise.  Miss Freeman's good looks had caused her to be in demand by illustrators as a model for some time prior to her departure for Hollywood.  She was under contract to Howard Hughes when she went to the Coast last August, and it was not until she was able to cancel the Hughes contract that Paramount gave her a job.  We gleaned that information from a letter received from her by a Pelham friend.  Hollywood is full of good lookers, but the producers require something more -- an aptitude for hard work, sustained effort and a willingness to learn."

Source:  Tales of Three VILLAGES . . . Should be Bridled, The Pelham Sun, Nov. 11, 1943, Vol. 33, No. 32, p. 2, cols. 3-4.  

By Aline Collins, 9-B

Not long ago the startling news that Mona Freeman was in Hollywood reached the ears of her Westchester friends.  The residents of Pelham, particularly the students of Pelham High, were filled with pride to think that one of their former members was now signed to a seven-year contract with Paramount.

Mona had attended Colonial School and her first big role was in 'Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs,' a Colonial and Siwanian [sic] school play.  After graduating from Colonial, Mona entered Pelham High where she played the part of 'Eva' in 'Uncle Tom's Cabin.'  In May, 1941, she started modeling for John Powers, and in the same month she was chosen as 'Miss Subway,' of New York.  Miss Freeman has done photographic work only, modeling teenage clothes for several catalogs.  

She was in a picture with Barbara Stanwyck, but after a few weeks the studio decided that she looked too young to play as rival opposite Miss Stanwyck.  However, Mona now has a small part in 'Tomorrow's Harvest.'

Mrs. Freeman is also in Hollywood acting as Mona's chaperone, and they are staying at the St. Frances Hotel on Hollywood Boulevard.  Mona is back in school; being one of the three people in the class, and only for three hours a day.

In a letter to one of her friends, Mona stated that she misses Pelham.  'Hollywood is a swell place to make money, but that is all.'"

Source: Collins, Aline, MONA FREEMAN GETS HOLLYWOOD CONTRACT, The Pelham Sun, Nov. 23, 1943, Vol. 33, No. 34, p. 2, col. 2.  

"Tales of Three VILLAGES
On Way to Stardom

Mona Freeman, who is under contract to a motion picture concern in Hollywood, is doing very well.  The Pelham girl, according to Richard Berger, producer for RKO, is a great success in her first picture, which will be on this market within a short time.  Mrs. Berger, the former Sherry Pelham, writes to her parents, Mr. and Mrs. T. M. Kennett of Linden Avenue, that Mona has stardom 'potentialities.'

Incidentally, Sherry Berger will be home from Hollywood for Christmas."

Source:  Tales of Three VILLAGES -- On Way to Stardom, The Pelham Sun, Nov. 22, 1944, Vol. 35, No. 32, p. 2, cols. 3-4.  

"Tales of Three VILLAGES

She Went Through The Air -- 

Ammouncement of the wedding of Mona Freeman, former resident of Pelham but now a Hollywood star, was made at the Peltowners Pub one day last week and it moved Richey Unger to stretch his right arm aloft and exclaim dramatically:  'No more will Mona have to be pulled up to heaven on a wire.'  He was referring to Mona's earliest dramatics at Memorial High School when she played the part of Little Eva in Uncle Tom's Cabin and was hoisted heavenward on wires."

Source:  Tales of Three VILLAGES -- She Went Through The Air, The Pelham Sun, Oct. 11, 1945, Vol. 36, No. 26, p. 2, col. 3.  

"Mona Freeman's Movie Star, Now Ascendant, Predicted As One Of Five Great Stars Of Tomorrow

Charles Samuels in his 'Stars of Tomorrow,' published recently, chooses five personalities as most likely to head the movie bills of the next decade.

Mona Freeman, Pelham High School graduate and star of school plays, is one of the five.  He writes of her as follows:

'Tiny Mona Freeman who is as pretty as a Christmas postcard -- and almost as small -- is just beginning to get the breaks she deserves.  Mona is 19 years old and comes from a nice family, but her people lost everything in the depression.

'She was a Powers model four years ago when Howard Hughes signed her to play the stepdaughter of Barbara Stanwyck in 'Double Indemnity,' but she was replaced when tests showed she looked too young.  The same thing happened when Mona was borrowed for a role in 'National Velvet,' at MGM.  

'The chain of bad breaks was broken, however, when she won the cute part of Irene Dunne's daughter in 'Together Again,' at Columbia.  She played Peggy Ann Garner's older sister in 'unior Miss' at 20th Century-Fox and went to Warner's for a role in 'Danger Signal.

'At Paramount she is known as the 'loan-out kid.'  About the only thing she's done on her home lot so far is a small bit as a college vamp in 'Our Hears Were Growing Up.'

'Mona is so very little and young-looking that you can't help being astonished at the maturity of her approach to a Hollywood career.

'I pointed out to Mona that sometimes being borrowed by other studios is a quicker path to stardom than being used at one's own studio because other studios only pick players when they are perfectly suited for parts.

'Mona nodded her head with gravity.

'Nevertheless, I'd like to play on the home grounds once in a while.  That may have its good side, but you get no publicity.  The other studios won't give you a buildup because you're not their actress, and your home lot doesn't because you're not in one of their pictures.'

'I asked her what she expected to get out of stardom?

'Money, first of all,' said Mona, 'but there is something far more important that one finds in Hollywood.  It's an education.  You learn to understand people, learn how to work and live with them.  Then you have a chance to meet the top people in many professions -- writers, artists, actors and craftsmen.  

''I was scared when I came out here, but this is a business, and I intend to know it before I'm finished in Hollywood.  That, most of all, is what one has to learn to understand to succeed in Hollywood -- that you are in a business, not in some wonderful never-never land of dreams.'

'For some reason Mona remainds me of the late, great Carole Lombard.  Carole also was scared when she came to Hollywood, but she learned to live and to act superbly.  I think Mona will too.

'Wally Westmore, who heads Paramount's make-up department, is one of Mona's most enthusiastic supporters.

''You can bet on that little kid,' he told me.  'She has freshness and a wonderful personality.  In my opinion, she'll become a star because she has a deep understanding, young as she is, of human emotions.  She'll always know what she's doing.  She knows that right now, and she's only in her teens.  With her looks, talent and good sense, how can she fail?'"

Source:  Mona Freeman's Movie Star, Now Ascendant, Predicted As One Of Five Great Stars Of Tomorrow, The Pelham Sun, Nov. 8, 1945, Vol. 36, No. 30, p. 3, cols. 4-5.  

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