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!)
Subscribe to the blog— it’s free! — and the largest library in world history will send cool stories straight to your inbox.
Me encanta todo sobre los misterios fotos antiguas y demás es como el programa de tv que me fascina CASOS NO RESUELTOS
Thank you for a terrific start to my week. Now I’m going to listen to Ella Fitzgerald’s HAROLD ARLEN SONGBOOK. Ella’s rendition of “Ding, Dong, the Witch is Dead” is fantastic!
The Ella Fitzgerald Charitable Foundation
Los Angeles, California
Neely Tucker, you brought such a treat into my coronavirus lockdown silo. I was captivated by your writing style—loose, playful. I can identify with your quest since I, myself, have spent a lifetime running down obscure facts about the Wright brothers. Thank you for all you do.
As a side note, I want to thank all of you at the LOC. I traveled to the Library in 2011 to meet Dr. Leonard Bruno (Manuscripts) and Beverly Brannan (Photographic Materials). I knew I would not be allowed to view the glass plate negative of the First Flight photo, but it was important for me to acknowledge the work the LOC does to catalog and preserve America’s historical treasures. My consolation prize: Dr. Bruno spent over two hours showing me the most precious artifacts from the Wrights’ development of the airplane, including the Wrights’ journals, notebooks, and flight logs. That day is what scholarship and education is all about!
Thanks so much for writing! Please note, though, I just manage the blog — Cary O’Dell does the “Mystery Photo” research and stories!
Wow! And you get paid to have this much fun?! Keep it coming.
(Shhhh, don’t tell anybody!)
I know I that I have several books in the Library of Congress. However, I am uncertain as to how many !
Thx for the excellent write. Really enjoyed it.
Thank you for the story that wrote itself. If you had not already identified the mystery woman as Florence McFadden, I would have guessed Mary Pickford.
Can you find a picture of Ms. Pickford and compare it to the one of Ms. McFadden?
That would be fun to see.
What fun! Any information on how long, or in what years Florence was a dancer on the Follies? Many thanks
The Library has several nice photos of Mary Pickford. To see some, I suggest staring here: //www.loc.gov/photos/?q=%22mary+pickford%22 .
What a great story! I was so intrigued… Thank you for sharing:)