On the Street (or is it Lane?) Where You Live

by Susie Hodgson

Between Verdugo and Clark on one side, and Pass and Clybourn on the other, lies a pretty tree-lined Burbank street called Priscilla Lane. Not far from it you’ll find Rosemary Lane. (Sorry, no Penny Lane!) Million-dollar homes built in the 1940s near the studios in a good Burbank school district. What more could you ask for... besides a smaller mortgage perhaps. Maybe you live on one of these streets, or maybe you know someone who does. But did you know who these streets were named for?

They were called the Lane Sisters and they were Hollywood stars in the 1930s/1940s. Raised in Iowa, there were actually five sisters. One of them never stepped into show biz, another wasn’t accepted by Hollywood and three of them hit the big time: Lola, Rosemary and Priscilla Lane. (No, we don’t have a Lola Lane in Burbank, but Santa Clarita does!)

The mother of the girls, Cora, was a frustrated starlet wannabe. Raised by very strict Methodists, Cora ached to sing and dance but she was never allowed. So she married a successful dentist and had a bevy of daughters that she groomed and pushed to be entertainers. She let each girl move to New York to try to make it on Broadway - even the youngest who was still a teenager, little Priscilla. Priscilla wrote home about her auditions, stating that she saw other struggling actresses including one who “was a strange-looking girl with her hair slicked back in a sort of bun. Her name is said to be Catherine (sic) Hepburn. Not very pretty I thought, but [the talent agent said] she has something.”

The years in New York paid off when a very famous bandleader and all-round celebrity by the name of Fred Waring heard the sisters singing together and thought they’d be a great addition to his band. His band not only travelled the country but also had a weekly radio show. And if his name sounds familiar, it might be because Fred provided the original financing and promotion for a kitchen appliance called a blender – yep, a Waring blender!

Hollywood came calling and the entire Fred Waring band, including the girls, got to be in a Dick Powell musical! That would be the same Dick Powell who co-starred in 42nd Street” and went on to do steamy and seamy film noir pictures and ultimately become a director. Meanwhile, Warner Brothers offered the Lane Sisters contracts of their own and everyone moved to the San Fernando Valley – even Mom! (Bye, Dad!)

Over the years, Lola Lane tended to be typecast as a tough chick. Rosemary and Priscilla were considered sweeter. Priscilla seemed to be the most popular and got the most parts, including Brother Rat which also starred Ronald Reagan and his first wife Jane Wyman, plus The Roaring Twenties with James Cagney and the classic Arsenic and Old Lace with Cary Grant.

But the sisters were united in a series of movies co-starring John Garfield. First up was Four Daughters and when that hit big, Warners did what all good studios do – make sequels. It was followed by Four Wives and Four Mothers. But wait! Four? Who was the fourth sister? Warner Brothers didn’t want their real other sister and instead got a studio actress named Gale Page to play the fourth sister. For the rest of Gale’s career, she was known as the fourth Lane.

Other twists in the Lane Sisters’ story:

Frequent co-star John Garfield died young. His family blamed the stress he underwent for refusing to name names during the Red Scare. He had a heart attack at the tender age of 39... in the arms of “another woman,” as in not his wife.

One of Rosemary’s husbands was make-up artist Bud Westmore, a vindictive man who headed up make-up at Universal. The Westmore family is famous in Hollywood for make-up. Westmore after Westmore after Westmore made a name in Hollywood make-up. The patriarch of the Westmore family and Bud’s father, George, was the one who “invented” Mary Pickford’s trademark curls, which were replicated on Shirley Temple. But George’s six sons started to do better than their own Dad and George got jealous. Filled with envy, George ended up killing himself by ingesting mercury which, let’s just say, is an extremely slow and painful way to die. Bud and Rosemary had a VERY ugly divorce.

Priscilla eloped with a screenwriter named Oren Haglund, who would later be the Production Manager of scores of TV shows, including Cheyenne, Maverick, 77 Sunset Strip and many more. Their marriage lasted only ONE day and was annulled. No one knows why they split up. Neither party ever talked.

Lola married five times. One of her marriages was to actor Lew Ayres, who played the original Dr. Kildare on film. Another husband, Roland West, was said to have been a top suspect in the unsolved murder of his then-girlfriend Thelma Todd. People still talk about her mysterious death.

The Superman character of Clark’s love interest, Lois Lane, was named after Lola Lane.

Rosemary’s last movie was in 1945. After that, she sold real estate in Pacific Palisades.

Dick Powell ended up directing a film (The Conqueror, 1956) in St. George, Utah that starred John Wayne and Susan Hayward. A HUGE number of people in the film, both behind the cameras and in front of, ended up dying of cancer, including Wayne, Hayward, Powell and 90 other people on the set. So did an inordinate number of residents in the area. They blamed the nuclear bomb testing (100+ tests!) that took place in that area earlier.

Lola died at age 75 of arterial disease. Rosemary died at the Motion Picture Home in Woodland Hills at the age of 61. She had a cerebral blood clot, brought on by diabetes and a chronic pulmonary obstruction.

Priscilla remarried, happily, and with her Army lieutenant husband, raised four children in New England. She avoided show business and loved to garden and volunteer. She died at the age of 79 from lung cancer.

So next time you’re near Priscilla or Rosemary Lane, remember: Now you know the REST of the story! (Sorry, no Penny Lane!)

Want to learn more about Burbank? Come visit us!

The Burbank Historical Society/Gordon R. Howard Museum
Located in George Izay Park, right next to the Creative Arts Center
Phone: (818) 841-6333
Web site: www.burbankhistoricalsoc.org
Email: ghowardmuseum@sbcglobal.net

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