On the 30th anniversary of the World Wide Web, I went through an exhaustive exercise of exploring the Internet’s many failings, its virtues and the boundless opportunities it offers.
The exercise started with me finding a couple of images of “Author Betsy Beaton sitting in front of a typewriter”. The photographs were taken by Allan Grant and were part of the LIFE Picture Collection, which is on the Getty Images site. That’s the only information the caption offers – no date, no details about Ms Beaton. Oddly enough, in my initial searches I found great deal more about Mr Grant than I did about Ms Beaton. I say it’s odd because the subject of a LIFE photo is usually far better known than the “snapper” of said image. What’s more, when I searched back copies of LIFE magazine on Google Books, the photos of Ms Beaton did not appear, though she is mentioned in the December 6, 1948, edition, with regard to her short story “The Boy With Green Hair”, which at least set me down a path armed with some basic knowledge. Given what I now know, I’d date the photos of Ms Beaton sometime after the publication of her story in This Week on December 29, 1946, and during or after the making of a fantasy-drama film (with the same title) based on her story in 1948. In the meantime, Grant had photographed Howard Hughes in the flight of the Spruce Goose. Hughes, I was soon to find, had had a profound influence on the way Ms Beaton’s story was told on screen – but more on that latter. The original 10,000-word version of “The Boy With Green Hair” was published in This Week, a Sunday magazine supplement that was syndicated throughout the United States between 1935 and 1969 and was included in newspapers such as the Los Angeles Times (Betsy’s hometown paper), the Boston Herald and, I believe, the Cincinnati Examiner.
Until I press the “publish” button on this blog post, what can be found online about Betsy Beaton is next to zilch. And I can’t decide whether that’s surprising or not. I’m in two minds because although - from the mid-1930s until the late 1950s - Ms Beaton was quite famous as a writer, playwright, screenwriter, showgirl, actress and comedienne throughout the US, she started out life with an entirely different surname, for much of her time in the limelight she was known as “Betzi” Beaton, and she was married three times, first to a man who had two surnames, Stein and Stone, and three first names, Frederick, Wilfred and Heinrich. So for all her fame, pinning down her life story was exceeding difficult, and her lack of online “exposure” is perhaps a little understandable.
But, as I said, the initial searches under the keywords “Betsy Beaton” were almost completely futile. One can find mention of one of the stories she wrote, frustratingly brief biographies on the International Movie Database (which makes the mistake of listing her separately, as Betsy and Betzi Beaton), the passing reference in LIFE in 1948 and an inclusion on Richard Polt’s list of Writers and Their Typewriters on his Classic Typewriter Page (from which I was able to ascertain that the typewriter she has in front of her in Grant’s photographs is an Underwood standard 6; I would have clumsily guessed a 5, so thank goodness for Richard’s penchant for accuracy). Other than that, I would have to say my simple Google search for information about Ms Beaton was, initially, an almost complete waste of time.
What I can now reveal in this blog post is Betsy Beaton’s true, hitherto untold full life story. And what a story it is! After spending the best part of two days repeatedly trawling through hundreds of articles on newspapers.com and records on ancestry.com, Betsy has been revealed to me in her full typewriting glory.
Mary Barker Perry "Mamie" Modini-Wood
Charles Modini-WoodBetsy Ann Clark was born in Los Angeles on July 26, 1914. Her mother was Florence Perry Wood Clark (1892-1977), the daughter of opera singer Mary Barker Perry “Mamie” Modini-Wood (1862-1949) and her second husband, tenor Charles Modini-Wood (1855-1928), and grand-daughter of early Los Angeles pioneer and lumber millionaire William Hayes Perry (right, 1832-1906) and his wife Elizabeth Mary Dalton Perry (1840-1921). W.H. Perry owned the Los Angeles Theatre, which Charles Modini-Wood co-managed with H.C. Wyatt. Betsy’s younger cousin was the actor Robert Stack ((born Charles Langford Modini Stack, 1919-2003), of Untouchables fame. Stack’s mother, Elizabeth Modini Wood Stack (1891-1975), was Florence's older sister. Another of Mamie's daughters, Mona Chapman Wood, married Richard Bonelli, a famous baritone opera singer.
Joy Reichelt Clark in his Red Cross uniform before going to France
On September 1, 1913, Florence had married Joy (yes, Joy) Reichelt Clark (1886-1934), from Omaha, Nebraska, in what was described as one of the most brilliant society weddings ever seen in Los Angeles – remembered chiefly for its 12,000 gladiolus and 20,000 Easter lily blooms. Joseph Horsfall Johnson, the first Bishop of Los Angeles, officiated at Christ Church. The couple were to have two children, Betsy Ann and Perry Wood Clark, born March 17, 1916.
Florence Perry Wood in 1919
(Joy Clark died in Tampa, Florida, in 1934, having established the Tampa Beach development in 1925, as well as the Clark Steamship Company. He obviously had money, he just didn’t want to spend it supporting his wife and children.)
Kenneth Carrol Beaton in 1918Florence soon found herself a proper provider – widower Kenneth Carrol Beaton (1871-1956), the Canadian-born newspaperman who was nationally famous and respected as “K.C.B.”, the “conductor” of the popular syndicated “Ye Towne Gossip” column which ran from 1915-50 and a social commentator for the widespread Hearst group of newspapers. Florence and Beaton married on September 14, 1923. It is not known whether Beaton legally adopted Betsy and Perry, but the children dropped the surname Clark for Beaton and K.C. Beaton certainly regarded them both as his own children for the rest of his life.
K.C. Beaton was born on October 30, 1871, in Stayner, Ontario. After schooling at Orillia, he started in newspapers in 1889, setting type for the local paper owned by his father and grandfather. By the turn of the century he was editor of The Star in Seattle, Washington, then moved on to that city’s Post Intelligencer. His long life with Hearst started in 1915.
Betsy Beaton entered the Hollywood School for Girls in 1927 and within two years was mixing it with the smart movie set at swimming parties at her family’s homes. At 15 she was rubbing shoulders with the like of Gary Cooper, John Farrow, Ronald Colman, the Fairbankses and Mary Astor. Betsy first came to prominence on stage for her performances in the Pasadena Community Theatre and in 1934 she appeared, alongside Henry Fonda, Imogene Coca and Frances Dewey, as a comedy act in the original of Leonard Sillman’s New Faces, a show she would continue to support for another 10 years. She was regarded as one of three actors to gain lasting prominence from the show – apart from Fonda, another was Tyrone Power. Betsy was aged a month short of 20 when she first appeared on Broadway, and 1934 was certainly a very big year for her. She also appeared in Fools Rush In and The Only Girl as well as the Ziegfeld Follies. By this time she was calling herself Betzi Beaton. And away from the theatre she was romantically linked to Sillman, dancer Ray Bradley and later to Jake Shubert, for whom she worked as a “Ziegfeld girl”.
Betsy Beaton in 1934The “one who got away” – and perhaps fortunately – was Jean Paul Getty (1892-1976), the petrol industrialist. Betsy and Getty dated frequently in Hollywood, but then she had moved east to New York City ahead of him. By 1935 Getty had already been divorced four times. Business took him to NYC, where he called up Betsy for a date. Forewarned is forearmed, and Betsy took with her her closest friend, Louise Dudley "Teddy" Lynch (1913-2017). Lynch was in 1939 to become Mrs Getty No 5. The marriage lasted a remarkable 19 years.
Betsy Beaton in 1935Long before the Getty-Lynch nuptials, Betsy had found her own first husband, also an industrialist, but in Betsy’s case a chemical manufacturer. Swiss-born Frederick Cleverly Stein (1906-41, also known as Wilfred [on their honeymoon cruise to the Savoy in London] and Heinrich [when he arrived in the US as a baby] and later Frederick Stone) was a Princeton graduate who lured Betsy down the aisle by bequeathing her $6000 in his will, two weeks before the wedding in September 1935. As events transpired, however, Betsy got a lot more when Stein/Stone died, aged 34, in April 1941, after less than six years of marriage, leaving her with a three-year-old daughter, Wendy (1938- , later Mrs Wendy Stone Lindsay). Betsy declined the $6000 legacy and with Surrogacy Court judge James A. Delehanty’s approval, elected to take $15,300 of Stein’s estate worth $63,941.28. This was one-third of what was left after debts and funeral costs, and Wendy got two-thirds, $21,320.
Betsy Beaton, circled, in the movie The More the Merrier.
The marriage didn’t last long and in 1946, inspired by her stepfather’s work, Betsy sat down one Sunday morning to write a story about tolerance for her daughter Wendy, then seven. That night Betsy had completed the story, at 10,000 words (hardly the “one-page fantasy”, as one critic later dismissed it). While on vacation in Palm Springs in the summer of 1947, Dore Schary, then production chief for RKO-Radio Pictures, came across the story and decided to turn it into a movie. But for the rights, according to LIFE magazine, Betsy was paid far less than the $10,000 eden abbez (lower case "e" and "a") got for his movie theme song Nature Boy (later a massive first hit for Nat King Cole).
Schary had Betsy and two screenwriters, Ben Barzman and Alfred Lewis Levitt, work on The Boy With Green Hair for seven months, and in February 1948 production began at the McKinley Home for Boys near the new Perry-Wood family home in Van Nuys, LA. It starred Pat O'Brien, Robert Ryan, Barbara Hale and Dean Stockwell as the hero, Peter Fry.
With the Joseph Losey-directed movie complete and due for release, Howard Hughes, opposed to making movies of social significance, gained control of the studio and ordered The Boy With Green Hair to be re-edited, with the tolerance theme toned down. It was too late for a complete re-edit, but Betsy’s original stand against racism was melded into a parable against war. Schary quit to go to M-G-M in protest, but The Boy With Green Hair, filmed in Technicolor, was released in the US almost exactly two years after Betsy's story had appeared in This Week. Variety said it was “absorbing, [a] sensitive story of tolerance and child understanding”. Following the movie’s critical success Betsy produced an adaption for a Decca recording of the screenplay.
LIFE, December 6, 1948
The New York Times reviewThese triumphs encouraged Betsy to concentrate on writing rather than acting. Soon after The Boy With Green Hair came out, Betsy announced she was working on a novel called Watch Over Me. But it took her four years to revise the work before it was published as Another Man’s Shoes. The book received sincere and warm praise from reviewers across the country, and with the benefit of hindsight it seems surprisingly it, too, wasn’t made into a movie. The plot is ideally suited – a sort of gentler version of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. As well as Another Man’s Shoes appearing in 1953, that same year Betsy co-wrote with English comic Eric Blore and Charles Howard Hunter the stage play The Scribblers Three. In 1957 Betsy worked on another novel, Two-Headed Coin, but this does not appear to have been completed. In 1959 Betsy married for a third time, to Charles Sanford Lamb (1907-63), a direct descendant of Charles Quincy Adams, son of President John Adams. Betsy declared she was giving up show business for good. Lamb, who worked in the electronics department of the Pacific Telephone and Telegraph Company, died in 1963.
Betsy Ann Beaton died on July 14, 1977, in Los Angeles, 12 days shy of her 63rd birthday. Her mother, Florence Beaton, had died exactly six months earlier, aged 84. Betsy’s brother, Perry Beaton, a career navy man, died in 1983, aged 67. For more than half a century, Betsy Beaton was gone from the public eye and forgotten. But no longer, dear reader!