The Law of Contact

Nelly Was A Lady (1947)

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Nelly Was A Lady
 

Released in 1947: The songs and life of Stephen Foster

Produced by J. Richard Westen

Directed by J. Richard Westen

The Actors: Donn Reed (Stephen Foster), Milton Shockley (Ezekiel, janitor), John Stanley (Dunning Foster, Stephen's brother), Joy Gwynell (Mary Marshall), Charles McAvoy (Colonel Benning), Mary Worth (Mrs. Eliza Clayland Tomlinson-Foster), Fred Fox (Mr. William Barclay Foster), The King's Men (singers), Ken Darby (music director, founder of The King's Men), Rad Robinson (singer, member of The King's Men), John Dodson (singer, member of The King's Men), Bud Linn (singer, member of The King's Men)

 

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Who Knows? . . . Maybe YOU?

One of my greatest pleasures is to research and share fascinating but little-known facts about a movie and its actors. I could find no information about the movie or most of the cast, and I asked my learned fans for help. Mystery and intrigue follow not only the movie itself but the man that it was about.

Stephen Collins Foster is regarded as the father of American music. He wrote songs about the old South, even though he was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and lived there and in New York City. He wrote many songs about ‘Temperance’ – the lifestyle that avoids all forms of alcohol, yet rumors exist that he was very addicted to alcohol.

At the age of 37, in 1864, Stephen Foster was found in his New York apartment naked and bleeding, and he died three days later in Bellevue Hospital. It has been claimed that his family destroyed many of the documents and other items that might tell us about the kind of man that he was. All that is left of his brief time on earth are the songs that he wrote. Songs that made him the most famous songwriter in the world during the 1800’s.

Now, about the movie itself. I asked the fans of this web site to help dig up any information that they might have for this movie, and I got responses literally from around the world. In addition to U.S. movie experts I heard from Australia, Denmark, England, Canada, and more. Here is what we now know about this film:

A movie expert in Denmark believes that the original film was shot in color, but it seems that no color versions survive. The opening title screen proclaims that ‘Martin Hersh’ was the executive producer. That stumped me until a fan sent me links to Sam Hersh and how he got possession of this movie. Sam Hersh used several screen names including S.M. Hershey, among others. Sam was a Jewish entrepreneur who was always looking for a good business opportunity. One day a fellow who owed him a large sum of money approached him and told him that he could never repay the money. He did however own thirteen short films with songs and biography of Stephen Foster. This man was probably the producer, J. Richard Westen. Sam Hersh edited the thirteen shorts into one movie story and traveled the South distributing the movie to theaters. Sam Hersh went on to found a movie production and distribution company called Family Films, promoting patriotic, inspirational and family friendly movies. After his death in 1969 his sons Melvin and Stanley tried to run the movie business, but eventually sold it to Concordia Publishing.

The leading man, Donn Reed, was not a career actor, but rather a long time radio news reporter in Los Angeles. After serving in World War Two as a navigator on a B-17 Bomber, he returned to radio and in 1954 created possibly the first 'reality' radio program when he rode with Culver City police every night recording the crimes that they encountered. I found copies of his radio program and wrote more about him on my radio site: Nightwatch Radio Program on Jimbo Radio —»

The King’s Men singers, who accompanied the leading man singing the songs, was a group of friends led by Academy Award winning composer Ken Darby. He formed the group in 1928 and they sang together and were personal friends all their lives. They sang with the Paul Whiteman swing orchestra, the Fibber and McGee and Molly radio comedy show, and many cowboy movies, including several Hopalong Cassidy movies.

The actor playing the part of Stephen Foster's wife is Joy Gwynell, who had a few bit parts in movies, and was part of Ken Burns' Vaudeville stage revue in Hollywood during the World War II years. The movie credit screen identifies her as Rose Coghlan, and we don't know yet why Joy might use a different stage name for this particular film.

That is what we know so far. Do YOU know anything or anyone with additional information about this film? Let me know so that the information will remain as part of the legacy of this movie. Pop a big bowl of white kernel popcorn with plenty of warm melted butter drizzled over it and enjoy the show.

Donn Reed
Donn Reed
Donn Reed and Milton Shockley
Donn Reed and Milton Shockley
Donn Reed
Donn Reed
Donn Reed
Donn Reed
Fred Fox
Fred Fox

Fred Fox and Mary Worth
John Stanley and Rose Coghlan
John Stanley and Rose Coghlan
John Stanley
John Stanley
Mary Worth and Fred Fox
Mary Worth and Fred Fox
Mary Worth
Mary Worth
Milton Shockley
Milton Shockley
Rose Coghlan
Rose Coghlan, aka Joy Gwynell
Rose Coghlan
Rose Coghlan, aka Joy Gwynell
Rose Coghlan
Rose Coghlan, aka Joy Gwynell
Joy Gwynell
Joy Gwynell publicity photo
The King's Men
The King's Men
The King's Men
The King's Men