Rock Island, Ill.
New York City
Silent Film Roles
|Rock Island, Illinois||
Visitor since 9/20/03
Author's Note: This biography is a work in progress. I have a lot of notes, and am in the process of compiling them. I am still trying to fill in the gaps, of which there is a lot of them.
Helen in her 1st role at the age of 10 ("Success", 1923)
Helen was born November 13th, 1913 in Rock Island, Illinois to William and Regina McDougall. Helen's mother was from Hungary and her father from Illinois.
Regina McDougall was originally from Grabacz, Hungary. She was born August 26th, 1891 and came to the United States with her father when she was 16. She landed in the United States on October 27th, 1907. At that time she was going by the name of Elisabeth. Regina may be her middle name.
What is not known, at this point, is how Regina met William McDougall and when they married. Presumably they were married in 1911 or 1912. We don't know if the two met in New York City or Rock Island, Illinois. We don't know where they were married. Presumably it was in Rock Island.
Work in Progress
Helen attended the Professional Children's School, located in New York City, from September 1921 to November 1929. She was enrolled in the 3rd grade two months prior to her 8th birthday.
The school was started in 1914 by two women, Jane Harris Hall and Jean Greer Robinson. The school was created to address the educational needs of stage (or "Professional") children whose schedules couldn't be accommodated by public or private schools. The school is still around, 89 years after it started. Some of the better know alumni include Sarah Michelle Gellar ("Buffy the Vampire Slayer") and Holly Marie Combs ("Charmed").
What, to me, is fascinating is that Helen attended the school early in its life. Not only did she attend for eight years, but she also was one of the schools' successful graduates. During her time as a student, she was cast in silent movies, vaudeville revues, and in Broadway plays. She attended during a period of change - as the entertainment industry moved from Silents to Talking Pictures, Vaudeville started to die out, and Broadway was blossoming. Helen was in the middle of it all, and she probably didn't even realize it at the time.
It is obvious, from her varied and successful career, that she learned well what she was taught. Her presence and acting ability in "Melody Cruise", a 1933 RKO picture, separated her from the other scenery actresses that appeared in the film. And, she was only 20 years of age. I think that the Professional Children's School was well represented by Helen, especially in her more significant roles.
It is important to note that when she graduated (or at least left the school) was when she turned 16. Her first film role, as an adult actress was not until she was 18, in 1931. Another thing that is obvious is that Helen's parents must have recognized Helen's creative abilities, or why else would they have enrolled her in this particular school instead of a public school?
I need to thank Amanda Bastian, the Assistant Director of Development with the Professional Children's School for her willingness to answer my e-mail and providing me with valuable information.
Hooray for Hollywood!
In August 1931, Helen was acting in a George M. Cohan play in New York City. During a performance, Winfield Sheehan, Fox Pictures' General Manager and Vice President happened to be in the audience and was completely enamored by Helen's appearance.
"Who is that girl?" he asked. "She looks like Clara Bow." He answered himself by looking at the program and immediately went backstage and asked Helen if she'd like to go into the movies.
"I have been in the movies," she told him. "I was in pictures when I was knee-high to a grasshopper. I played Zaza and Under the Red Robe." Winfield asked "Well, would you like to play a return engagement?", to which Helen replied, "I certainly would." No sooner said than done. She was signed to a contract.
And that, folks, was how Helen's silver screen career got started.
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