No shrinking violet this one, but despite her talent, vivacity and sheer drive, lovely and alluring blonde Evelyn Keyes would remain typed as a "B" girl on the silver screen. Furthermore, despite her ripe contributions to such superior pictures as Here Comes Mr. Jordan (1941), The Jolson Story (1946), Mrs. Mike (1949), The Prowler (1951) and 99 River Street (1953), she received no significant awards during her career and would remain indelibly etched in the minds of film-goers not for one of these exceptional co-starring parts, but for her bit role as Scarlett O'Hara's kid sister in Gone with the Wind (1939), arguably American's most beloved epic film of all time. A real live wire, Evelyn also kept Hollywood alive and kicking with two sensationalistic memoirs that chronicled her four dicey marriages, numerous affairs with the rich and famous, and negative take on the Hollywood studio system.
Evelyn Louise Keyes was born in Port Arthur, Texas, on November 20, 1916 (for decades she would deceive the public as to her real age). Her father died when she was 2, and she and her only brother and three sisters grew up living with her mother and her grandmother in Atlanta, Georgia. Taking voice, dance and piano lessons, she was hopeful in becoming a ballerina. Instead she entered a beauty pageant or two and worked as a chorus girl before relocating to California at age 20. Shortly after her arrival in Los Angeles, a chance meeting with the legendary 'Cecil B. Demille' led to a Paramount contract. Stories differ as to how she met DeMille. Hollywood folklore has it that she was "discovered" by a talent scout in true Lana Turner fashion while eating at a restaurant; another more believable story has it that she connected with one of DeMille's former writers, which led to an introduction.
Nevertheless she was groomed as a starlet and initially placed in bit and/or unbilled roles. DeMille first gave her a small part in his pirate epic The Buccaneer (1938), then placed her rather obscurely in his sprawling railroad saga Union Pacific (1939). It was David O. Selznick who gave her the bit part of whiny, bratty Suellen O'Hara, who loses her beau to the more calculating Scarlett in Gone with the Wind (1939). This casting led directly to her signing with Columbia Studios. In 1938, just prior to the filming of GWTW, she married businessman Barton Bainbridge, her first of four. The marriage soured quickly within a year or so, however, after latching onto Budapest-born director Charles Vidor, who directed three of Evelyn's pictures, The Lady in Question (1940) (her first picture at Columbia), Ladies in Retirement (1941) and The Desperadoes (1943). This second marriage lasted about as long as the first (1943-1945) supposedly due to Vidor's infidelities.
At Columbia Evelyn hit pin-up status and sparked a number of war-era pictures. She played Boris Karloff's daughter in the crime horror Before I Hang (1940) and a blind woman who befriends the hideously scarred Peter Lorre in the excellent The Face Behind the Mask (1941). Still, she could not rise above her secondary status. For every one nifty "B" picture that could propel her into the higher ranks, such as Dangerous Blondes (1943), there was always a low caliber western (Beyond the Sacramento (1940)), adventure (A Thousand and One Nights (1945)) or musical (The Thrill of Brazil (1946)) lurking about to keep her humble.
In the post-war years, a third tempestuous but highly adventurous marriage (1946-1950) to Hollywood titan John Huston made the tabloid papers practically on a weekly basis. They divorced after four years. She managed some of her best filming during this period, particularly as the wife of Al Jolson opposite Larry Parks' splendid impersonation. She also showed she had a strong range in movies and earned snappy notices alongside Dick Powell in the film noir Johnny O'Clock (1947) as well as the title comedy character in The Mating of Millie (1948) co-starring Glenn Ford.
Her last (and just as questionable) marriage was to another "father figure" type, musician Artie Shaw, a womanizer if ever there was one and who had already had been discarded by trophy wives Ava Gardner and Lana Turner (and five others) by the time he and Evelyn married in 1957. Evelyn had pretty much put her career on the back burner by this point. Surprisingly, this marriage lasted longer than any of their previous ones. The couple separated in the 1970s but did not divorce until 1985.
Evelyn returned to the acting fold every once in while. Scarcely on stage (she once played Sally Bowles in a theatrical production of "I Am a Camera" in 1953), she joined up with Don Ameche in a 1972 tour of the musical "No, No, Nanette". She also would show up on a "Love Boat" or "Murder, She Wrote" episode on occasion. She remained childless (there was one adopted child, Pedro, by Huston, but they were estranged). Very much the traveler, she lived sporadically all over the world, including France, England and Mexico and spoke Spanish and French fluently. She was also a writer and published a Hollywood-themed novel in later years. Her GWTW association and tell-all memoirs in 1977 and 1991 kept her a point of interest right up until the end. She passed away at age 91 of uterine cancer at an assisted-living Montecito, California home on the 4th of July, 2008.
|Artie Shaw||(1957 - 1985) (divorced)|
|John Huston||(23 July 1946 - 10 February 1950) (divorced) 1 child|
|Charles Vidor||(18 March 1944 - 18 May 1945) (divorced)|
|Barton Leon Bainbridge,||(1939 - 19 July 1940) (his death)|
Best-known for her role as "Suellen O'Hara" in Gone with the Wind (1939).
Companion of Michael Todd (1953-1956).
Ex-daughter-in-law of Walter Huston.
She has one son, Pablo, from her marriage to John Huston. In Huston's autobiography, he writes of how he found the boy while making a movie in Mexico. After finding out the boy was homeless and an orphan, he adopted him and brought him back to the USA, unbeknownst to his wife. He met Evelyn at the airport and shocked her by introducing her to their new son. Evelyn, who ' was not going to spend her life raising other lives', was not pleased. Most of her marriages ended because of her lack of desire to start a family, although that would have meant adopting (she could not have children of her own). (However, according to Evelyn's autobiography, her father-in-law Walter Huston had already spilled the beans before the boy arrived.) Pablo eventually married an Irish girl, had three children, and then deserted his family and became a used car dealer.
Her death wasn't announced until 11 July 2008 because attorneys were waiting for the death certificate to be filed.
Was best-known for playing Scarlett O'Hara's younger sister in Gone with the Wind (1939).
Her marriage in 1946 to John Huston was eccentric, to say the least. Just one of the examples she recalled involved Huston returning home from the film We Were Strangers (1949) with a gift from actress Jennifer Jones, a pet chimpanzee.
She became involved with flamboyant producer Michael Todd for three years during his preparation and filming of Around the World in Eighty Days (1956). She even played a cameo role in the movie and helped on publicity. During the filming, he broke things off after falling in love with Elizabeth Taylor, whom he later married. The positive thing that came out of it for her was that she had invested most of her money in the picture and was financial set for life as a result.
She wrote a novel entitled "I Am a Billboard" which told the story of a Southern girl who becomes an overnight star in Hollywood and the trials and tribulations she endures as a result. The storyline obviously paralleled her own life in many ways.
Among the many Hollywood affairs she recounts in her 1977 memoir "Scarlett O'Hara's Younger Sister" were those to producer Michael Todd, who left Evelyn for Elizabeth Taylor, Anthony Quinn, David Niven and Kirk Douglas.
Her first husband (1938-1940) was businessman Barton Bainbridge. Evelyn left him after a short period of time for the Budapest-born director Charles Vidor, and Bainbridge committed suicide (by gunshot) during the final separation period.
Had an abortion just before Gone with the Wind (1939) was to begin filming.
In 2005, she sued Artie Shaw's estate, claiming that she was entitled to one-half of Shaw's estate pursuant to a contract to make a will between them. Shaw died in 2004. In July 2006, a Ventura, California jury unanimously held that Keyes was entitled to almost one-half of Shaw's estate, or $1,420,000.
Was Max Factor's Star of the Year, 1943.
I was always interested in the man of the moment - and there were so many such moments.
The big studios were each headed by a Big Daddy who reigned supreme.
I have often wondered what my life would have been like if I had needed a size thirty-eight bra instead of a modest thirty-four.
I always took up with the man of the moment...and there were many such moments.
I got to star in my own movies. I even had my name above the title in some cases. But what am I known for? My bit part. It's very funny. -- EK, referring to her role as "Suellen O'Hara" in Gone with the Wind (1939).
I'm the first to admit that I never achieved my potential as an actress.
(December 2007) Resided in Santa Barbara, California.
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