Cary O’dell at the Library’s National Recording Registry runs our ever-popular Mystery Photo contest. He most recently wrote about the photo identification of actress Wendy Phillips, the “most mysterious woman in the world.“
If this were an old Sam Spade mystery, it would open with, “She haunted me.”
Photo #20 was one of those left in my pile of “unknowns.” Tough-guy gumshoes and Library photo detectives have at least one thing in common — we can’t let cold cases lie. This is one of those noir classics. Before I go on, can I get some black-and-white cinematography, misting rain, a trench coat and a streetlamp on a dark street? Highlighting a woman’s silhouette by a sleek Packard? Thank you.
Now. As you know, we’ve been solving the unidentified pictures in a large donation of entertainment-industry stills that came to the Library a few years ago. Readers (that’s you guys) have helped us solve a lot of these, including our most recent identification of someone I had dubbed “the most mysterious woman in the world.” That actress, who alert reader James Owen identified as Wendy Phillips, was one of those that I couldn’t get out of my head.
Another was an unknown from the silent movie era. All I knew was that the photo was taken at New York’s legendary White Studios, an early creator of the showbiz “head shot.” The subject sported a look popular at the time. With her bee-stung lips and dark eyeliner, she looked like every flapper who ever flapped. (Why isn’t this script in development? It’s writing itself!)
A couple years into the case, I got a tip. Someone mentioned it might be a Ziegfeld chorus girl, name of Florence McFadden. So I kicked over a barstool and ran it down. Turned out to be a solid lead.
McFadden was indeed a Ziegfeld dancer and an actress. A Pennsylvania native, she went into show biz as a teen. She was half of a vaudeville act, “McFadden and Haley,” and got married at 19 to her stage partner. His name was Jack Haley.
Lucky for me, Haley is a legend. He played the Tin Man in the 1939 classic “The Wizard of Oz.” There’s lot of info out there on him, so I dug in. Internet searches. Cold-called his biographer. Another tipster — look, this is my line — directed me to a Facebook fan page. Trivia: It’s shared between Haley, the Tin Man, and Ray Bolger, the Scarecrow. (Bert Lahr, the Lion? Goes his own way. Judy Garland, Dorothy? Get outta here.)
Once on the fan page, I appealed to all: Anyone have photos of Florence, aka Mrs. Haley? In her youth? They did. Not only that, some of the fan page members were Haley’s grandchildren. They caught my drift. They talked.
Flo and Jack, who got hitched so young, stayed married all their lives. While he did films, radio and television, she ran a beauty parlor that catered to celebrities. One of their kids, Jack Haley Jr., grew up to be a big-shot producer of TV specials. He was married for a while to Liza Minelli, daughter of Judy Garland. So, in your Hollywood scoring, that’s “The Tin Man’s kid marries Dorothy’s kid.” Funny world, Tinseltown. Jack died in 1979; Flo, in 1996. They’re buried next to one another in Culver City.
Among the many things the Haley kids told me, after looking at my mystery picture? “That blue-eyed lady is our grandmother!”
So. Mystery solved. Case closed.
Fade to black. (I told you this thing was writing itself!)
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