Ann in KISMET, Tulane Summer Lyric Theatre, 1982

Tuesday, June 19, 2012


When I began this blog a year or so ago, I had high hopes of continuing my role as a teacher, a purveyor of knowledge to those who might be interested in reading my musings.  As I had immersed myself into family genealogy, my thoughts on paper seemed to focus on family members. . .that and my desire to preserve family stories for the younger generations in my family.  Nevertheless, while I am still addicted to genealogy, my memory has returned me to my original intent, which is to provide readers with interesting, extraneous information that will probably be useless in every sense except for the sheer fact of knowing it.  [NOTE: There will NOT be a test on this material!]

Recently, in an email to a friend, I was recalling a watershed event many years ago in my life and career, and in doing so,  I described a decision I made based on the event as being an inevitable one in which  my fate was sealed, my goose was cooked, my bed was made.  As I re-read my email, I laughed at myself, thinking how many more idioms and phrases I could come up with which would mean the same thing.  All of this to say that I have been inspired to write a post on this blog about some of the idioms we use in our language and how we got to some of them.

Years ago, I worked with a young American French teacher.  She was born in this country and educated in the schools of the USA.  However, she had a different way of speaking English.  I finally realized that she used NO English idioms.  I listened to her in casual conversation situations, and there was not one ever in anything I ever heard her say in English.  I cannot comment with any credibility on her French, as I do not speak the language.  But her English was as pure as the driven snow.

At this point, perhaps, I should give defining an idiom the old school try.   The Oxford Companion to the English Language defines an idiom "as an  expression, word, or phrase that has a figuative meaning that is comprehended in regard to a common use of that expression that is separate from the literal meaning or definition of the words of which it is made."  In other words, most of us know what to kick the bucket means. . .someone dies. This is the figurative meaning.  It does not mean literally that a person walks over and kicks a bucket and dies. (I'm sure there are some instances in life -- or death -- when that has happened, but that is for another lesson!)

For those of you who might remember comic strips in the Sunday newspapers, I call to your attention one entitled THE FAMILY CIRCUS.  Its story line always put a, seemingly, normal family of father, mother, and three kids, and a dog into average, family situations.  If you remember, the youngest child, a toddler, was non-verbal and his reactions to what was being said by his parents or siblings showed up "above his head" in word pictures while he had a puzzled look on his face.  Sometimes, the dog even had the same word picture understanding of an expression that the toddler had.  It was a great example of a novice of language hearing figurative expressions and picturing them literally. 

Although not an example of an idiom, but of misinterpretation of figurative and literal language, the above reminds me of my three-year-old great niece getting all excited about riding on the Mississippi River Canal Street Ferry when she and her mother were in New Orleans the other week. All my niece said was, "Would you like to ride the Ferry across the Mississippi River and back again?"  The little one was sooo excited; she almost couldn't contain herself.  However, she showed her displeasure when they walked onto the ferry boat.  Through her sobs, she told her mother that she thought they were going to ride over on the wings of a Fairy to the Westbank and back again.  Now, we all say Ferry Boat! But even that can confuse a three year old.

There are an estimated 25,000 idiomatic expressions in British, Australian, and American English.  I'm not sure who does the counting of items such as this, but even I'm impressed with numbers like that.  Which brings me back to my French teacher colleague.  With that many idioms in English, how was it possible to not use any idioms? That is almost impossible for an English speaking person.  However, years later I think I learned why my colleague did not use idioms or idiomatic expressions and didn't seem to understand the ones I used.  It seems she was an only child of naturalized American citizens from Italy.  Both parents spoke Italian at home.  My friend was educated in America in Catholic schools, taught by nuns.  She learned Italian at home; non-idiomatic English at a strict Catholic school; and French in text books and in classrooms in high school and college. 

I read an interesting bit of extraneous information the other day.  I had used the expression rack and ruin to describe my financial situation if I had to pay all of a certain bill at one time.  I decided to look up the origin of the expression.  According to Gary Martin in the website The Phrase Finder, rack is  a variant of the now defunct word wrack, more usually known to us now as wreck. The use of the two similar words 'rack' and 'ruin' is for the sake of emphasis. In that respect, the phrase follows the pattern beck and call, tit for tat, fair and square, etc.

The first record of use of the expression in English seems to have been in 1548 in a sermon by Ephraim Udall in which he stated "The flocke goeth to wrecke and vtterly perisheth."  In 1577, Henry Bull moved the phrase to wrack and ruin in his translation of Martin Luther's Commentarie upon the fiftene psalmes. 

The phrase finally became rack and ruin in 1599 when Oxford historian Thomas Fowler published  The History of Corpus Christi College.  Fowler wrote, "In the mean season the College shall goe to rack and ruin."  This was Fowler's prediction of the, then, 82 year old school. It was established in 1517, is the twelfth oldest of Oxford University's colleges, and is very famous for its historical significance of providing the translation of The King James Bible. Perhaps, Fowler should not have worried about the school's buildings decaying and becoming destroyed, because now after 411 years after his rack and ruin prediction, the college is still standing and being used as a busy Oxford college.  Please note the picture  of Corpus Christi College as it stands today.

For most of us, to speak a sentence, a paragraph, or a longer tome, we would be hard put to do so without idioms.  They are a part of our conversations and our lives.  However, sometimes our references are unknown to others and we must remember that even others who speak our own language might not know our own, particular idioms.  New Orleans, for example, seems to have a language of its own.  Try explaining neutral ground, makin' groceries, how's yo mama and dem, suckin' heads, etc. to English speaking people from other parts of our own country. It took our Saints winning the Superbowl for America and the rest of the world to understand that great, burning question on the lips of most New Orleanians. . .Who Dat?

Speaking without using idioms is like trying to eat a meal without condiments.  How boring  plain food can be.  How bland non-idiomatic language can be.  Whether we are between a rock and a hard place or up to our rear end in alligators; whether your advice and a dollar and a quarter will get someone on the street car or Confession is good for the soul; and whether or not we make a decision that brings us to the brink of rack and ruin, and we accept the inevitability of our decision as to our goose being cooked, our fate being sealed, our bed being made, the die being cast, the decision being written in stone. . .  You get the picture;  you fill in the rest!

Sunday, June 17, 2012


When I recently learned  that a long-time friend and colleague of mine, Robert Merritt (Bobby)  died after an agonizing, painful bout with cancer, my heart became very heavy. It is hard for me to accept that this funny, intelligent, droll man is no longer on this Earth. Bobby and his beloved wife, Anna-Merle helped me so much to make the transition from college graduate to teacher at Slidell High School. Their combined philosophies of life and education kept me in the field of education, which I very nearly abandoned that first year of teaching, 1966-1967.

Although most of our fellow faculty members at SHS, as well as students who knew us both, assumed that the first time we met was when I began that first year of teaching in 1966.  Bobby had been teaching at SHS for several years when I first arrived there. It was after a year or so and after sharing our pasts that we learned that we had met prior to our South Louisiana experience.

After my father died in 1952 in Hattiesburg, Mississippi, my thirty-year-old mother took a good look at her life, her sketchy education, her three young children, and made a decision: she would go back to college and earn a degree in teaching. She already had two years of college work, as well as two years of nurses’ training. Mother decided that the hours for an elementary education teacher would be more aligned with our hours as students than that of a nurse, so the decision was made. And as Mississippi Southern College (now the University of Southern Mississippi) was in Hattiesburg, that school was her goal. We owned a small three-bedroom house in Hattiesburg, but Mother felt that we would do better to try to move to the Veterans Village on campus and rent out our house for a sum that would help us. We did just that. We rented our home out for $40 a month and lived in a three bedroom campus housing apartment for $25 a month. We had already made a profit, if the tenants paid their rent!

Did I say "three bedroom campus housing"?  That's a euphemistic expression meaning WWII army barracks,  hurriedly partitioned into apartments to provide the "boot strappers" [WW II and Korean War Veterans] affordable housing while they took advantage of the education offered via the G.I. Bill. 

My mother, brothers, and I had one of the only three bedroom apartments in the Village.  One heard EVERYTHING through the partitioned walls of the next apartment.  And, DO NOT drop anything on the floor because if it was small enough, it fell through the cracks on the floor and onto the ground below.  Our group of apartments (we were #20), were placed right across the street from the Kappa Alpha and Pi Kappa Alpha fraternity houses on Fraternity Row.

Fraternity row was to me more interesting than the dramas going on in the apartments of Vets Village.  I can remember looking out the window of our end apartment at night and gazing at the frat boys and their dates at the parties held at their residential frat houses. I can still see in my mind's eye the beautiful girls in their exquisite strapless evening dresses with yards and yards of tulle in their skirts and petticoats.  They usually had floral corsages on their wrists, something I had not seen before in my movie-viewing.

The  guys were just as fascinating.  There were the usual number of men in white sport coats with their black tuxedo pants.  However, while we were there between 1954 and 1958, many of the guys wore something else as part of their evening attire:  black tuxedo Bermuda shorts with Madras-looking coats, cumberbuns, and ties.  Wow!  Now that was COOL.    One member of the Pi Kappa Alphas was even "cooler" than the others.  He would drive up in his convertible dressed in his Bermuda short, Madras coat tuxedo.  His car?  It was the ONLY Edsel I ever saw in "real life."  Boy, those were the days I dreamed of being part of! I would later attend MSC, which was USM when I got there in  1962.  The campus had changed.  Those post WWII frat houses and the Vets Village were gone; so were the styles, and what was an Edsel?

Back to those earlier days. Now, not all of the time was taken up by the frat boys in partying.  There was one unseen Pike who, after everything was quiet and most people in the Vets Village and Frat Row were studying, including my mother, would pull out his trumpet and play the mournful song, TENDERLY.  Although the song was a popular love song by Nat King Cole, everytime I hear it, I still think about a lone trumpet playing it and those days at MSC in the mid-50's. And to me it conjurs up memories of charming, childhood days and dreams of future excitement and fulfillment. 

Most of the kids in Vets Village were infants and toddlers, so my brothers and I at ages 9, 8, and 5 were the oldest, and we used our advanced ages to our advantage. Everything was an adverture to us, and in spite of motherly warnings, we felt nothing was off-limits.  I hope the statute of limitations is over for our low crimes and misdemeanors, because I know we did some things my brothers and I would like to forget.

Money for luxuries like drinking an occasional soft drinks or going to the  movies was tight during those days, but we three were most resourceful.  I started a woven pot holder concern with my brother Giles as my designer and pot-holder-maker and my brother Tommy as my precious, little salesman no one could turn down.  I was the "brains" behind the endeavor.  After a kind "townspeople" family gave us a full set of Nancy Drew and Hardy Boy Mystery Books, I set up a lending library with hand-made cards, card-envelopes pasted in the backs of the books, and charged usury fines.  Unfortunately, my brothers were my only customers, and they didn't have any money!

Another of our money-making schemes was to retrieve metal coat hangers from the closets of the frat houses and dorms during term breaks, sand the rust from them, put them in bundles, and to sell them to the laundries and cleaners in Hattiesburg.  I would like to say that I conceived of this idea and at nine years old was a wunderkind business tycoon.  Ah, no.  Our wonderful next door neighbor in Vets Village was a combination Pied Piper and Fagin, and he got us involved in this project.  Although we dreamed of riches beyond imagining, our leader bought each of us a malted milk for our hard work!  We wuz robbed!!! To this day, NO metal coat hangers in my house!  Me and Joan Crawford!!!

One scheme which was all ours was "finding" the returnable bottles in the back of each frat house, gathering them, washing them, and returning them for the few cents each brought.  For years I felt so guilty that we were stealing the bottles, then I realized or rationalized that if the guys left town during break without returning them, somebody needed to do so!  What a service The Bryant Kids did for the environment AND the/our economy!

There are so many memories running through my aging brain right now.  I can remember my brothers dragging home (to #20) the most beautiful blue flocked Christmas tree I've every seen.  The Alpha Tau Omegas had thrown it out, and the boys rescued it.  It was still in its stand.  It was too big for our small living room, but we didn't care.  We didn't have anything with which to cut it down to size, so we stood it up and let the top bend over.  It was still gorgeous!  We didn't have much to put under it, but it didn't matter to us.  There was always something:  a family pass for a year to the movie house across the street from the campus, given by the people who owned it and whose son was a friend of our brother, Giles; a basketball from another family for us to share; a set of World Book Encyclopedia from our grandfather; a pot holder loom and materials.  These wonderful items we received approximately one per Christmas. Life was hard, but good.  We had the entire campus as our playground.  We knew the campus policemen, and they knew us! 

Although we also lived across the street from the Kappa Alpha house, my memories of the KA's seem to be warmer and fuzzier!  "Warmer" because of  an incident involving my brothers and a friend of theirs from school.  During quarter break at MSC, the boys went into the KA house (The frat houses were always left open during break.) and found a torn, single bed mattress upstairs.  They threw it out the window in the back of the house, ran down, and put fire crackers in it.  They seemed to get a kick out of lighting these fireworks and watching tufts of cotton shoot out of the mattress ticking. That is the "fuzzier" part!  They must not have had too many fire crackers, because their "fun" didn't last long.  They abandoned the mattress and left to find something else fun to do.  The next day, they must have found some more fire crackers, because they went back to have some more fun, blowing up the cotton in the mattress.  When they got there, much to their surprise, they found NO mattress. . .only a black, charred spot where something rectangular had been. . .like a single bed mattress.  I'm surprised they are not still hiding under beds, waiting for the camps cops to arrest them!

In spite of losing bedding and having to put up with three bratty kids, the KA's were always very nice to us.  Unlike the other frats, they had their Coke machine inside of their house.  From time to time, we would go over, knock on the door, give them our nickle or dime and ask if they could get us a cold Coke.  They always did so.  Some guys were friendlier than others and invited us to stand inside the foyer of the house rather than in the heat outside. I remember as my eyes adjusted to being away from the sun, I was amazed to see that it was like a big living room with furniture and a TV set.  Some guys might be sitting in front of the TV, others might be sitting at a table playing cards or studying.  They seemed to look like normal people. I had heard all of the KA jokes, although I didn't really understand them!

It would be another twelve or thirteen years before I would, again, meet one of those Kappa Alpha fraternity guys who would get us cold Cokes from their machine.  Bobby Merritt was one of those guys!

Bobby remembered the three kids who lived across the street from the KA House, and he admitted that he was often one of the guys who fetched the cold Cokes for us.  After our reunion, whenever I thought or think of any of those frat guys in their tuxes, their Bermuda short tuxes, even the face of the driver of the Edsel, I see the face of Bobby Merritt.  After I met him as a fellow faculty member at Slidell High School, he became the face of the male college student of the mid-1950's.

Anyone who knew Bobby Merritt has, at least, one Bobby Merritt Story that in the telling of it can reduce the listeners to gales of laughter!  Just since news of his death, I have heard many of these from friends, colleagues, and former students. 

It wasn't long ago when former SHS coach Dennis Cousin and I (former colleagues at SHS and at Xavier University) were talking about "the good old days."  Inevitably, we got around to a Bobby Merritt story.  I recalled the time Bobby slipped away from SHS with his sixth period biology class in tow to go to the baseball field at the Jr. High to watch Dennis' team play.  Mr. McGinty was fit to be tied when he learned of this "escape."  Bobby remained in the proverbial dog house for many months until it came time to sign our contracts for the next year.

Bobby was worried as Mr. Mac was late in offering Bobby his contract.  Finally, the contract was given to Bobby; he signed it and took home his copy. A couple of days later, Bobby told us that as soon as he got it home, one of his cats fouled it.  And as Bobby put it, "You know cats do not foul an area unless it has already been fouled," insisuating that our beloved principal, Mr. Mac, had shown his anger on Bobby's contract!  The ridiculous thought kept us all in stitches for the rest of the school year.

Elodie Gomez tells of the time that Bobby showed up in the teachers' lounge, went to the fridge, got out his lunch, sat down at the table, and started eating. When quizzed as to what he was doing, he replied with just a little bit of the attitude of "can't you see what I am doing?"  "I'm eating my lunch."  He was reminded that it was just the end of the second period and lunch was two hours away. He jumped up and put his lunch back in the fridge, and ran back to his classroom.  Somehow, he had lost two hours in his mind!

I remember Bobby, Ed Gilleon, and my being in the teachers' lounge.  We three were sitting around the table, smoking.  Bobby was also playing with an empty match cover, folding it mindlessly.  At one point, Ed Gilleon looked at what Bobby was doing and commented, "That looks like a Bronze Star Ribbon."  Bobby kind of looked at Ed sideways and asked a little flippantly, "And how many Bronze Stars do YOU have, Ed?"  Ed either replied one or two, but either number almost knocked Bobby on the floor.  That was when we learned that mild-mannered, business teacher Ed Gilleon had received a Bronze Star for his part in the Battle of Monte Casino in Italy during WW II. 

The first summer after my first year of teaching, I spent almost the entire summer with Bobby and Anna-Merle.  Bobby was in school in Natchitoches, LA,  and I went up there to spend time with Anna-Merle while Bobby was in class.  We three even drove to Six Flags Over Texas while I was up there.  We had a wonderful time.

I am ashamed to admit that I have not kept up too much with Bobby and Anna-Merle since I left SHS and Slidell.  I did meet them a couple of times when they came to New Orleans and were doing Cajun Dancing.  Bobby executed the line dancing as he did almost everything else he did. . .absent-mindedly-looking, but doing it well and, seemingly, without effort! But whenever we did see each other, we took up our conversations as if we had just stopped a few minutes before.

At the beginning of this, I stated that my staying in teaching at SHS could directly be credited to my friendship with The Merritts.  My learning that one could have fun, enjoy life, and still be a teacher was important for me to learn.  I guess I had seen too many versions of "Good Bye, Mr. Chips" to really understand and to enjoy the individualism and humanism of people who chose to teach.  Some might say, "Oh, heck, Merritts.  We could have gotten rid of her had it not been for you!"  Others, might add good thoughts to the  already fond feelings they had/have about Bobby and Anna-Merle to learn how instrumental they were in my morphing into a teacher.

For the rest of my life whenever I think of Bobby Merritt, my memories of him at SHS will be pushed back by my thoughts of him as a college, fraternity guy being kind to three fatherless kids who were thrown into a strange situation of having to be around the "big boys and girls" on a college campus. My thoughts of him will be fraternity dances and 50's attire, music, and convertibles.  They will be of a lone trumpet playing, The evening breeze caressed the trees, Tenderly.  And my thoughts of Bobby as a young man on that college campus soon to meet and wed his beloved Anna-Merle will relieve my heavy heart and caress my memories, Tenderly!

I can only hope that it wasn't Bobby's mattress that my brothers blew up!

Ann Bryant Whittemore


This will be my first post about a subject other than my family.  Perhaps I've run out of material on my family; perhaps I am unwilling to share some of the previously unshared stories about my family; and/or perhaps I just want to interject other interesting, extraneous information from time to time.

This information about the handsome actor of the 1950's, Jeff Chandler, is some I just happened on accidentally.  I had read what was on the Internet Movie Database years ago, and there wasn't that much. However, I was looking for some information on wrongful deaths, and I came across a website entitled www.wronfuldeathattorneys.org and some interesting cases came up, including the life and death of 42 year old Jeff Chandler.  This is what makes life so interesting and serendipitous. . .one accidentally comes across interesting tidbits without actually looking for them.  Enjoy learning something extraneous! Your Queen of Extraneous Information!


In the 1950s during the waning years of true studio power, Universal-International boasted the strongest roster of contract players and Jeff Chandler, along with Tony Curtis and Rock Hudson, was an vital box office draw for the studio. Chandler made few A productions and basically toiled in routine program features. Yet Chandler was a very popular star as evidenced by the era’s fan magazines. With a head of premature curly silver hair, dimpled chin, warm eyes and fair looks, he was a heartthrob for the ladies and appeared in a number of women’s pictures. On the other hand, the actor was tall and rugged, spoke in a low voice and possessed a heroic quality that worked well in westerns and war pictures captivating to men. Like most contract players, Chandler suffered through poor scripts and was a better actor than given credit for.

Born Ira Gossel on December 15, 1918 in Brooklyn, he was a child of New York’s bad tenements. His parents divorced when he was young and his mother took him to live with her parents. An only child, young Ira was overprotected by his mother and received no relief from the situation until she remarried. Ira decided at an early age become an actor and wanted to participate in high school plays but his family’s poor financial circumstances prevented this. He found employment in a variety of after school jobs including Montgomery Wards, Radio City Music Hall and his grandmother’s candy store. His father, a former silk salesman, returned to New York to establish his absorb business and provided $500 toward fulfilling his son’s dream.

The money enabled Chandler to study drama at the Feagin School at Rockefeller Center alongside comedians Jack Carter and Sheila Stephens (later MacRae. From there, he went on to gain experience at the Millpon Playhouse on Long Island making his professional debut in “The Trojan Horse.” In 1941, Chandler and a friend pooled their resources and formed a shortlived stock company at Elgin, Illinois.

America entered World War II in 1942 and Chandler enlisted in the cavalry. A year later, he was a second lieutenant in army aircraft and spent two years stationed in the Aleutians. Following the war, hr completed his tour of duty at Fort Ord, California. In 1946, Chandler landed in Hollywood with a bankroll of $3000. He immediately spent $1000 on a wardrobe and the rest was depleted in a few months. He had known actress Marjorie Hoshelle in New York and they married that same year. The next major change came in 1946 and that was ridding himself of the awkward Ira Gossel. The Chandler was borrowed from Van Johnson’s character in “Easy to Wed” and the Jeff was suggested by friends.

Chandler appeared fifty times in small parts on “Lux Radio Theater” and starred in “Michael Shayne, Private Eye” and “Our Miss Brooks” as the pleasing teacher Eve Arden’s Miss Brooks moons over. The turning point in the struggling actor’s career occurred as a result of a part in an episode of “Rogue’s Gallery” starring Dick Powell. The major star-producer took a liking to the young man and recommended that he audition for Powell’s latest film for Columbia. Chandler won a small role in “Johnny O’Clock” (1947). Chandler once commented on his good fortune, “Dick’s been keeping his eye on me ever since. People are always doing things for me and I’m not that nice of a guy. They’re impressed with my size.”

Three itsy-bitsy parts in the Twentieth Century-Fox pictures “The Invisible Wall” (1947), “Roses are Red” (1947) and “Mr. Belvedere Goes to College” (1948). Meyer Mishkin, Chandler’s ever hustling agent, arranged a screen test at Universal-International for its upcoming characterize “Sword in the Desert.” He got the part and signed a ten-year contract with the studio.

In “Sword of the Desert” (1949), Chandler supported Dana Andrews and Marta Toren as a Hebrew underground leader guiding refugees to Palestine. The studio next cast him as a police chief in “Abandoned,” a 1949 dud finding Dennis O’Keefe and Gale Storm stumbling onto an illegal baby market racket. The breakthrough to stardom came in “Broken Arrow’ (1950). Universal-International loaned Chandler to Twentieth Century-Fox for the film with the stipulation that he receive star billing. This was a wise move as Chandler returned to his home studio as a star.

“Twentieth was looking for a guy big enough physically to play the section,” Chandler explained about his role as Cochise, “and weird enough to movie audiences to lend authenticity to the part. I seemed to fit the bill.” “Broken Arrow” was not only and engrossing action filled western but a rare picture for its time in attempting to depict Indians as intellectual equals to white men. However, critics dismissed the film as patronizing and serving no justice to Indians. Even James Stewart’s performance as an ex-army man drew criticism. Chandler played Cochise with a dignity earning praise from all quarters. He was rewards with an Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actor of 1950 and lost to George Sanders for “All About Eve.” Twentieth Century-Fox also used Chandler in “Two Flags West” (1950) a Civil War drama with Linda Darnell and the 1951 remake of “Bird of Paradise.” Back at Universal-International, it was a return to mediocrity in “Deported” (1950).

The Chandlers separated in 1951 and he was linked to a number of actresses including a supposed fling with Susan Hayward. Chandler and his wife had two daughters, Dana and Jamie, the last named after Katharine Hepburn’s character in “Without Love.” The couple reconciled in 1955 and eventually divorced in 1959.

The actor captured top billing for the first time in “Smuggler’s Island” (1951). Universal’s 1937 picture “Some Blondes are Dangerous” was remade as “Iron Man” (1951) and “Flame of Araby” (1951) was a mediocre costume epic with Maureen O’Hara. For a second time Chandler played Cochise only this time “The Battle at Apache Pass” (1952) fell short on quality. He led a predominately male cast in “Red Ball Express” (1952), battled pirates in “Yankee Buccaneer” (1952) and was second fiddle to Loretta Young in “Because of You” (1952).

Chandler entertained a desire to sing and made his musical debut on “The Peggy Lee Show” in 1952. He discovered that being a famous name provided an easy means to enter the music business. Decca Records signed him to a contract and the Chandler Music Company was created. Several records were released including “I Should Care” and “Lamplight” and he penned the lyrics for the title song to “Six Bridges to Cross” (1955), a Tony Curtis vehicle about the Brinks Robbery. Chandler also thrilled his fans with nightclub appearances in Las Vegas.

There were more battles with rampaging Indians in “The Great Sioux Uprising” (1953) and “War Arrow” (1953), more island natives in “East of Sumatra” (1953) and more pirates in “Yankee Pasha” (1954). He played Attila the Hun in “Sign of the Pagan” (1954). Universal-International developed Chandler’s romantic image by casting him in pictures designed to appeal to female audiences. He was a mining engineer whose dedicated work habits disturb wife Jane Russell in “Foxfire” (1955). Joan Crawford married him and then feared he was trying to destroy her in “Female on the Beach” (1955).

The studio cast him in two more remakes. Rex Beach’s tale of Yukon gold miners, “The Spoilers,” was filmed for a fifth time in 1955 but the cast of Anne Baxter, Rory Calhoun and Chandler were tepid compared to the 1942 cast of Marlene Dietrich, John Wayne and Randolph Scott. “Mad About Music,” a 1938 Deanna Durbin feature, became “The Toy Tiger” (1956). “Pillars of the Sky” (1956) once again pitted Chandler against Indians and he was a demanding and hated captain in the war narrate “Away All Boats” (1956). “The Tattered Dress” (1957) was a seamy sage of crime and deception with Chandler as a criminal attorney. He co-starred with Orson Welles in 1957’s “Man in the Shadow.”

During his contract years at Universal-International, Chandler was deprived of good parts offered by other studios as his home studio its popular star busy in program pictures. Twentieth Century-Fox had proposed roles in “Lydia Bailey,” “The Day the Earth Stood Still,” “The Secret of Convict Lake” and “Les Miserables” to the actor. Chandler displayed little injure. “I can’t argue with the people at U-I,” he said, “because they have put me in money making films that built my popularity.”

With agent Meyer Mishkin, Chandler formed Earlmar Productions which resulted in the sole venture “Drango” (1957) for Columbia. Also at Columbia, he starred opposite Kim Novak in the biopic “Jeanne Eagals” (1957). Chandler supported three major female stars in “The Lady Takes a Flyer” (1958) with Lana Turner, “Raw Wind in Eden” (1958) with Esther Williams and “Stranger in My Arms” (1959) with June Allyson. He chose not to resign with Universal-International and went to Paramount to make two westerns. In “Deliver in the Sun” (1959), he led a wagon notify of French Basques including Susan Hayward and after years of playing western heroes, Chandler received the opportunity to act nasty as a archaic Confederate officer waging a private war in “The Jayhawkers” (1959).

Jack Palance and he vied for the affections of French star Martine Carol in “Ten Seconds to Hell” (1959). The actor composed coveted the understanding of owning his own production company and in 1959, formed a new company titled August Productions. “The Plunderers” (1960) was the debut effort and Chandler’s final western. For ABC television, Chandler common the fragment of King David in “The Story of David” (1960)filmed on location in Israel.

Twentieth Century-Fox’s sequel to the highly successful “Peyton Place,” “Return to Peyton Place” (1961) turned out lesser film with Jose Ferrer directing Chandler as love interest for Carol Lynley. “Merrill’s Marauders” (1962) was released following Chandler’s death. Critics praised Samuel Fuller’s direction and Chandler’s performance as Brigadier General Frank Merrill who led 3000 troops through the Burma jungle during World War II.

The Hollywood community and his fans were stunned by Chandler’s sudden death at age 42 and further shocked to learn his death may have been attributed to negligent hospital care. Nothing was ever proven but those medically responsible for Chandler’s care behaved in a suspicious manner throughout the well publicized controversy.

The actor’s ailments began in early 1961 when suffering a back injury while filming “Merrill’s Marauders” in the Philippines. The hurt proved so intense that Chandler was forced to enter a Manilla hospital to receive pain shots to deaden nerves and benefit tension and pressure in order to continue filming. Following the film’s completion, Chandler returned to Los Angeles and entered Culver City Hospital to undergo an operation for a ruptured spinal disc on May 13th. Five days later, his progress was halted by internal hemorrhaging requiring a marathon seven and a half hour operation and a 55 pint blood transfusion.

With a public hungry for information concerning the actor’s condition, his surgeon, Dr. Marvin Corbin, surprisingly refused to discuss any details except to portray his patient was “gaining strength steadily.” Chandler’s secretary later reported a ruptured artery was the cause of the second operation. Less than two weeks later on May 27th, Chandler again underwent surgery for internal hemorrhaging and again, the hospital would not release any information to the public. On June 9th, the actor was reported to be battling infections and June 17th brought the announcement of death attributed to shock and peripheral vascular collapse.

The hospital continued its policy of refusing to release reports and planned to deal with the Chandler estate through insurance companies. Ex-wife Marjorie immediately brought in an attorney on behalf of the estate and their children to investigate the circumstances of his death. Responding for the hospital, Dr. David M. Brotman expressed confidence that Chandler had received excellent treatment and issues a five hundred page report of the actor’s medical data. This report only served to heat up controversy as it was found incomplete and illegible in parts which prompted court approval for an inquiry into malpractice. Marjorie’s attorney wasted little time in filing a $1.8 million lawsuit that charged malpractice, breach of warranty, assault and battery and wrongful death.

The newspapers splashed every novel disclosure across headlines. Chandler’s death certificate revealed the details of an undisclosed fourth operation for a gall bladder inflammation. A fifth operation, a tracheotomy, was never confirmed and a private autopsy was performed on the body.

The Screen Actors Guild caused further publicity through an actors’ petition led by Clint Walker demanding an official investigation and the California State Bureau of Hospitals obliged. The investigation absolved the hospital of any charges of negligence and dereliction in Chandler’s treatment but discovered 27 counts of non-compliance with the California hospital licensing program.

The final damning bit of news was that the case never reached the courts as victory went to the Chandler estate. The hospital paid $233,358.42 in a settlement to avoid additional publicity and bad press.

Chandler’s will left $600,000 to his daughters and Marjorie sued to claim part of the legacy. During their divorce, she had attempted to be granted a substantial alimony. She had no success in either case.

With an undiminishing popularity and apparently lovely business sense, Jeff Chandler would probably have continued his successful career.

Post Script by Ann Whittemore:  Esther Williams, in her autobiography, described an affair with Jeff Chandler.  She also indicated he was a cross-dresser, telling him once that he (at 6'4") was too big for polka dots!  Later, she admitted she just made all of the cross dressing up to create interest in the buying public for her book.  Oh, Esther!  How could you do that to so many of us who loved you both?  My arms still hurt from trying to swim backwards for all of those years!

Thursday, June 14, 2012

My Native American Heritage Redux

   In light of the current Massachusetts senatorial candidate who has been questioned as to her use of "reported" Native American family ties, I am re-posting my blog of  Friday, May 6, 2011.


For most of my life, I have heard the stories that through the Bryant Line of my heritage, I had a great, great, great grandmother who was "an Indian Princess." Notice I write "Indian Princess" and not "Indian Squaw" or "Average Indian Tribal Citizen." If there is one thing I have learned through doing genealogical research, it is that hardly anybody is ever related to anybody "average." We all seem to have been descended from lords and ladies and even kings and queens. And this is most certainly the case in the Leigh Line of my heritage . . . is the King of Scotland of 1005 royal enough? Well, back to the Bryants. For most of my life, I would point to my high cheekbones and say with confidence, " It seems that my great great great Bryant grandfather married an Indian Princess." In retrospect, I think I got a good deal of social mileage out of that information, if not the financial opportunity to the largesse of legalized gambling, and I NEVER would have sought special treatment in trying to earn my place in the schools and work places of America based solely on family lore!

Well, as I really got into the research of the Bryant side of my family, I learned the truth. My cheekbones must have looked high due to my fluctuating weight. . . So far, NO Native Americans in my Bryant background. As the newscaster Paul Harvey used to say, "And here is the rest of the story."

In 1830, the U.S. entered into a treaty with the Choctaw Nation, trading 11 million acres (in now Mississippi) for 15 million acres of Indian lands (in what is now Oklahoma). This treaty, which became known as The Treaty of Dancing Rabbit Creek, opened up the Territory of Mississippi to hundreds of white settlers, many from Virginia and the Carolinas. Both sides of my family came to Mississippi prior to and as a result of the Treaty from "The Delta" to south Mississippi and some on to Alabama and then back to Mississippi.

My ancestor, Lewis Bryant, emigrated from England to America in 1773 at the age of 22. He arrived in Virginia and eventually ended up in South Carolina. He married and had a son, John Lewis Bryant. I am still trying to find John Lewis' birthdate, but I do know he married Cynthia Peacock in Charleston, South Carolina, in 1810. He and Cynthia had several children, the youngest of whom was born in 1822.

John Lewis Bryants made the journey from South Carolina to Mississippi, escourting family members as well as others to the newly-opened territory before the Treaty of Dancing Rabbit Creek. In 1822, John Lewis (an Indian Agent) and his family went to Covington County, MS where he obviously encountered some Indians he couldn't convince as to his peaceful nature, and he was attacked by the Indians who kicked him and "jumped on him" until he was rescued by other travelers. However, it was too late; John Lewis died of his injuries, and he was buried on the the bank of the Tallahala Creek near what is now Runnelstown, MS. Another traveler, Charles Phillips, lost his wife on the journey to S. Mississippi. He and Cynthia eventually married each other and ended up in Covington County, MS with three additional daughters of their own.

Family lore has it that Cynthia Peacock Bryant Phillips began tending to the sick and downtrodden Choctaw Indians in the Mississippi Territory. She became so well loved and well known that the Choctaws gave her a Choctaw name. Some family oral reports claim that she was even present at the signing of the Treaty of Rabbit Creek and is mentioned in the Treaty, which is part of the archives of the United States and Mississippi. So far, I have been unable to find written evidence of this latter claim.

Thus, I surmise that this is the basis of the story of our having an Indian Princess in our family. Our kinswoman, Cynthia, was made an honorary "Indian Princess." Cynthia Peacock's father, Levi Peacock, was born in the Rhine River Valley in Germany, and emigrated to South Carolina in America before American Independence. His daughter, Cynthia Serisitta Peacock, was born in Orangeburg, S.C. in 1783.

Cynthia Peacock Bryant Phillips died in 1876, and is buried in Sanford (Covington County), MS in the Jesse Bryant Cemetery. Her grave is marked. Her second husband, Charles Phillips, is buried on the banks of Covington County's Bowie Creek in an unmarked grave that " is abandoned to civilization," as a kinsman wrote. So, I guess we Bryants are not related to Native Americans. So much for Native American cheekbones. Jetzt finde ich heraus!  [Translation: Now I find out! ]

However, my mother used to tell me that my paternal grandmother, as she was dying of cancer in 1944 (before my birth), had her hair in two long braids, and her face was thin with chiseled cheeks. This grandmother was Nettie Belle Giles Bryant of Hattiesburg, MS. Mama said that with her hair in the braids and her big brown eyes, my grandmother looked just like an "Indian Princess"! Here I go again -- this time I have to look for my Native American roots in the Giles Family!!!  Still looking. 

Ann Bryant Whittemore (New Orleans, LA)
June 14, 2012