The Grandmother I Never Knew

I would say talent runs in my family, but it always makes me think of that cartoon. A doctor asks his obviously overweight patient if obesity runs in the family. The patient responds, “nobody runs in my family!”

This past week was the anniversary of my grandmother’s birth. She would have been 112, but due to cancer she passed away at the age of 39. Her name was Adrienne Ames, and in her brief time she was an actress, a dancer, a radio star and an author, but that doesn’t mean she had an easy life.

Adrienne Ames, with W.C. Fields, on the set of the 1934 Paramount film, You’re Telling Me.

She was born in Fort Worth, but moved to Hollywood at an early age. She was married three times, the first when she was still a teenager and when she had my mom. She was a dancer in the Ziegfeld Follies and started acting in silent films, moved on to musicals and eventually as a star with Paramount Pictures, mainly in what we would call romantic comedies today.

I haven’t seen all of her films, but I do have many of them on videos, DVD’s and the like. My favorite so far is You’re Telling Me, where she shared the camera with the legendary comedian W.C. Fields. I also like listening to the Hands of Providence, a radio play she was in alongside Jimmy Cagney.

Through the years, she worked with many great actors like Humphrey Bogart, Cary Grant, Maurice Chevalier, Ralph Bellamy, Jimmy Durante, Bela Lugosi, Ginger Rogers, Carole Lombard, Andy Devine, Rudy Vallee, Alice Faye, Chester Morris, Maureen O’Sullivan, Otto Kruger and Joel McCrea.

Here, Adrienne was preparing for an appearance on CBS’s Lux Radio Theater 1936 adaptation of A Prince There Was.

To many of you reading this blog those names might sound unfamiliar, but they were stars in Hollywood’s golden age. And my grandmother was honored for her contribution with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. (It’s at 1612 Vine Street. Send me a photo if you’re in the area!)

After her third marriage ended, she moved to New York City and began a new career in radio and television, mixing movie reviews with Hollywood gossip. She also published a book, and continued broadcasting until two weeks before her death in 1947.

She’s not the only talented leaf on my family tree. My mom, Adrienne’s daughter, was an actress herself, and a gifted singer. My aunt was also a movie star, acting in more than 50 films of her own in the 40s and 50s. My dad was a talented architect, as was his father – who was also a renowned designer. I’ll try to share more about them in future posts.

There’s something about my grandmother though. Maybe it’s the era, the golden age – of radio as well as Hollywood. I’ve often wondered if I missed out. While I love what I do, I’ve often wondered what my life would have been like when radio was king.

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