Thursday, September 12, 2013

A Ten Minute Stop: Evelyn Crandall's Character Sketches

By Kristine Schmucker, HCHM Curator

Evelyn B. Crandall may have spent most of her life in Newton, Kansas, but she touched the lives of people from Hollywood to New York through her work as an editor.  Crandall was born in Newton in 1889 and graduated from Newton High School.  Following graduation, Evelyn taught school for a number of years and was considered "one of the most successful teachers in the rural schools of the county."  She then moved to Iowa for a brief time where she became involved with a newspaper as the society editor. In 1928, she returned to Newton to be with her family and help her parents.

Courtesy Crandall Family Album
John Whitlock

On September 1, 1928, she embarked on a career with the Evening Kansan Republican that she enjoyed for the rest of her life. She served as society and local news reporter, but "one of her favorite diversions  . . . was interviewing prominent people passing thru the city on the Santa Fe railroad."  These interviews were published in the paper as "Character Sketches".  In this role she met movie stars, a commander of the U.S. Navy and many other interesting people.

Train travel was the most efficient way to get across the country in the 1930s  and the rich and famous traveled in luxury in the "Chief" that stopped for about ten minutes in Newton, Kansas for supplies.  Just enough time to visit with Evelyn Crandall.

Lili Damita
"It was of her husband, Errol Flynn, that Lili Damita wished to talk as we paced the station platform this week during the ten minute stop."
Damita was on her way to New York with "her tall blonde Irish giant of a husband" who had "just started in pictures." 

Billie Burke
"As Billie Burke lay in her berth in a compartment on The Chief . . . enroute east, she looked so young and refreshing it was difficult to believe that she was a star away back in silent movie days.  Billie Burke has the essence of eternal youth. . . . she looked like a little girl as she lay snuggled in soft blankets, and white silk pajamas reading a book. . . .tiny red sneakers tucked beneath the berth, indicated that Miss Burke did not spend her entire time in bed."  (Evening Kansan Republican, 21 May 1935.)
Billie Burke would go on to play Glenda, the Good Witch of the North in the 1939 movie, The Wizard of Oz

Sylvia Sidney

Of Sylvia Sidney, Crandall noted;
Sidney, "more beautiful off the screen than on, received me rather ungraciously in the state room on The Chief Wednesday afternoon. . . This young actress has always been an enigma to me.  I have tried to analyze her work on the screen.  She speaks in monosyllables, in a low, rather flat and melancholy tone. . . . While I do not admire her acting, or am not attracted to her personality, I do pay tribute to her beauty and ambition, which have made her one of the most successful young screen actresses of the day. . . . As she lay in her state room, smoking a cigarette, and reading "Lords of Creation", by Allen, I thought she didn't need to talk to be attractive." 

The Trail of the Lonesome Pine- 1936 Poster.png

When Crandall interviewed Sidney, she had just completed "The Trail of the Lonesome Pine" (1936) with Henry Fonda.  This full length feature film was the first shot in three-strip Technicolor and outdoors.  By this time Sidney already had acquired a reputation of being difficult to work with.

Carol Stone

Other encounters with movie stars were much more pleasant and fun. She met the actress Carol Stone when Stone "jumped off The Chief here Saturday night to get some magazines."  Crandall reminded her readers that Stone was the heroine in "Freckles" a 1935 movie. 

"She is much prettier off the screen than on.  The camera man did something to her in "Freckles", which put ten years on her age and three inches to the length of her face."
Evelyn struck up a conversation with the young star who was on her way to New York to perform on Broadway.
"As she stood talking to me I noticed an absence of make-up. "I use mild soap and water", she said in explaining her lovely complexion."
The porter called, "All Aboard," and the star was "off to conquer new worlds."

Lois Moran

Sometimes Evelyn was able to get her picture taken with those she interviewed.  The below photograph was taken at the Newton station with actress Lois Moran.
Crandall Family Album
Courtesy John Whitlock

For several months in 1937, Evelyn had been feeling badly and on the advice of her doctor she took some time off to rest.  Even with rest, she continued to feel ill. After an operation for goiter, she seemed to be improving and "gathering strength".  On Sunday evening it seemed that she was recovering and her mother felt comfortable enough to leave the hospital for the first time in three weeks. At 1:00, the morning of July 5, 1937, Evelyn suffered a heart attack and died soon after.

Her obituary noted that she "had a world of friends because of her contacts in her work, and her sincere, sympathetic,  understanding disposition and personality. . . . her passing will be keenly felt."  Evelyn Crandall was 48.

  • Crandall Family Album courtesy John Whitlock.
  • "Character Sketches" u.d. clippings in the Crandall Family Album, includes Character Sketches for Carol Stone, Sylvia Sidney and Lili Damita.
  • Evening Kansan Republican, 22 November 1934, "Character Sketches: Grace Moore"
  • Evening Kansan Republican, 3 December 1934, "Character Sketches: Admiral Reeves"
  • Evening Kansan Republican, 21 May 1935, "Character Sketches: Billie Burke"
  • Evening Kansan Republican, 6 July 1937, "Evelyn B. Crandall" Obituary.
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