Randall, May Vasta
Randall, May Vasta
Hollywood columnist and feature writer.
May Mann (1908-1995) was a society reporter and columnist in Hollywood between the 1930s and the 1980s.
Also A80-238, A84-50, A85-26, A85-44, A86-95.
Hollywood columnist and feature writer.
Hollywood columnist and feature writer.
May Vasta Randall, later known as May Mann, Hollywood's glamour girl reporter, began her journalism career in 1934 as a society columnist for her home-town newspaper, The Ogden Standard-Examiner in Ogden, Utah. Since May's family, the Randalls, were in a prominent position in the community, the newspaper's editor thought she could easily report society gatherings and offered her a job. Innovative young May wrote up the dull happenings of Ogden, Utah society as if it were exciting Hollywood news. However it was not long until May replaced her home-town and home-town people with Hollywood and its people in the articles she submitted to her editor; she was fascinated with Hollywood.
When May was a young girl, she had read movie magazines constantly. Her mother took her out of the third grade for three months to "see the world" and try to "get movie acting out of [her] head" (A Brief Autobiography, p. 13, box 3, fd. 2). To her mother's disappointment it did not work; May continued to bury herself in stories about the stars. Becoming an actress was considered improper by her strict family, but May could write about the stars instead. She dreamed of being an important columnist like her idols Sheila Graham, Heda Hopper, and Louella Parsons.
Less than a year after she started writing, May's society news column in the Standard- Examiner branched out into Hollywood news. May would go down to Ogden's Union Station and meet the stars that were passing through. It did not take long to make some contacts and these soon led to others. May wrote feature articles about a visit to Jean Arthur's movie set, lunch with Larry Buster Crabbe, or a day spent with Max Factor at his make-up studio. The movie studios sensed the value of such good publicity and gave May a free air pass on Western Air Express to fly back and forth between Hollywood and Ogden. In 1936 May named her daily column "Going Hollywood," which was soon syndicated to many newspapers in the Intermountain West and later across the nation through the General Features Syndicate.
May's early columns described trips to the Brown Derby, letters that she received from stars when back in Ogden, Hollywood parties, and visits to movie studios. She went to the glamorous spots in and around Hollywood and wrote up her adventures for the next day's column. As she began to get better acquainted with Hollywood and met more stars, her columns reported detailed news about specific personalities. She kept her readers up on the latest movie gossip.
May used the title "Going Hollywood" throughout her life. Between 1936 and 1981 she wrote "Going Hollywood" columns for fourteen different magazines and newspapers. In 1946, a few years after she stopped writing for her home-town paper, she registered the title as her trademark. In 1982, May was still submitting "Going Hollywood" columns to at least two publications.
The only formal journalism training May had was four months of summer school at the University of Southern California. For excitement May and her date--the lucky college boy who had $8.00 that week--would go to the Cocoanut Grove, sit at a back table, eat tuna fish sandwiches and watch the stars. On one of these dates, May met Lucius Beebe who later introduced her to New York society when she took her column to New York for a few months in 1939 during the World's Fair.
During her summer at college, May began to pursue an interview with Mae West. According to May this stunning star evaded the press in fine Garbo fashion. It was May's dream to actually go "up and see [her] some time," and write an exclusive on it. According to the editor of the Standard-Examiner, May got the interview "after two years of repeated effort. . .after considerable maneuvering, near appointments and finally by pulling all the `strings of power and pull' in Hollywood" (Mae West article, box 9, fd. 5, editor's note). Through her contact with Miss West's personal representative, May became one of the five women to have a personal interview with Mae West and the only woman, at that time, to interview her in her famed apartment atop the Beverly Hills Hotel.
May also met Clark Gable while she was at USC. She got her first interview with him by sitting in front of his dressing room door in a silver lame' dress. Gable nearly tripped over her. He was angry at first, but a studio publicity man calmed him down, and the King of Hollywood chatted with the fledgling reporter. They talked for over an hour about his struggle to "make good" in Hollywood. Starting with the story from this interview, May wrote exclusive stories about Gable for the rest of his life.
One of the most famous incidents between Clark and May was when he came to Brigham City, Utah, and took her out to lunch. May was soaking in a sudsy bubble bath when her phone rang. A voice said, "Hello, this is Clark Gable." At first May did not believe him, but he finally convinced her that he was not a prankster and really wanted her to meet him for lunch in downtown Brigham City. The whole town turned out to watch May and Clark munch hamburgers at a little cafe.
Wallace Beery was another frequent subject of May's early features. Beery was a devoted Utah fisherman and hunter and May wrote many articles about his trips to Utah. In 1937 when Beery's movie Bad Man of Brimstone was being filmed in Zion National Park, she covered the filming for the newspapers, as well as writing a magazine article, probably her first, which was published in the Mormon Church (Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, or LDS Church) monthly magazine, Improvement Era.
In another one of her early magazine articles, "Up in the Air with Wally," May described her adventurous airplane ride with the flying actor. May went out to the airport in Glendale, California, to see Beery's new plane and ended up flying with him to Utah for a Pioneer Days rodeo. Throughout the three hour flight Beery performed aeronautical tricks that shook May up a bit. She got so sick on the flight to Utah that she lost her breakfast into a big chiffon bow that she had on her dress. When they landed, she took the bow off and alighted ready to greet the dignitaries that were on hand to welcome them.
May did not start writing for movie magazines in earnest until Nelson Eddy, a close friend of May's, urged her to take advantage of what she knew about her famous friend. Her first fan magazine article was a story about Eddy that was published in 1937. After she got started, May wrote hundreds of articles for many movie magazines. Movie Mirror, Silver Screen, Movie Teen, and Screenland all ran features by May Mann. Along with features for magazines, she began using pen names. In the December, 1945 issue of Screen Stars, for example, she had a "Going Hollywood" column, an article about Clark Gable with her own byline, and another article about Penny Singleton with her Frances Lane byline, the pen name she used most often. In the March, 1945 issue of Miss America, she had her "Hollywood's Younger Set" column, an "As Told to May Mann" article about Jane Withers, an article about Lon McCallister, and a "Dear Betty Ann" advice column.
May also wrote for many different magazines at the same time. For example, in 1944 she wrote "Going Hollywood" for Screen Stars and Movie Fan. "Dear Betty Ann" and "Hollywood's Younger Set" for Miss America, along with magazine articles and exclusives for King Features. To get all this writing done, May would go to parties, meet stars for interviews, and visit studio sets in the day and early evening. Then, late into the night, she would sit in bed with her typewriter on a bed table over her lap and work on upcoming columns and articles.
Fan magazines were not the only publication that May's work appeared in. She had a few early stories in the Mormon Church magazines, The Children's Friend and The Improvement Era. She also wrote a couple of articles for Sports Afield. When she went sword fishing with Warren William and fishing with Noah Beery, the sports magazine scooped up the articles she wrote about her experiences.
In 1940 May started writing for King Features Syndicate. These features, mostly about stars, appeared in Sunday magazines in newspapers across the country as full page features. She wrote so many articles that her byline was often replaced with a pseudonym to--as May claims-- keep her from getting too popular or pervasive. During World War II, she occasionally wrote morale-boosting articles about stars entertaining enlisted men, war heroes, or love problems that came with the war. She even had one article about a nurse who had been held prisoner by the Japanese. Of course these features, although about the war, still centered on May's home ground, Hollywood.
One of her most famous magazine articles, "I Want to Get Married," appeared in Life Story 's May, 1944 issue. In response to this piece and the stunning picture of May that appeared with it, she received hundreds of marriage proposals by mail (not, however extant in her collection) and a lot of good publicity in the newspapers.
May quit writing for King Features when she married Al Leon in 1945. Al Leon, a former concert singer from San Francisco, and May planned to get married in a year or when the war was over. Soon after their private decision, Louella Parsons dropped the news to Hollywood when she wrote, "May Mann, movie syndicate writer, will become Mrs. Al Leon any day now" (Louella Parsons column, box 1, fd. 13). All of the couple's friends began planning the wedding and before Al and May knew it, an August date was set. They had wanted to wait so that they could buy a house, since war time conditions made them scarce, but after Louella's announcement, waiting was out of the question. May had a small apartment that they could make do with for a while.
The actuality of May's position and popularity in Hollywood is evidenced by the huge wedding the stars threw for her. Juan Romero, owner of Rudolph Valentino's home, Falcon Lair, insisted that the ceremony and reception be held there. When the date grew nearer, Louella followed up her first announcement with a detailed agenda of events. In fact, she wrote about May's upcoming wedding in two columns, displaying a picture of May in each. To have her picture next to Louella's thrilled May as the older columnist had been her idol since she was a child.
Society columnist Cobina Wright, Sr. issued the invitations. Some reports say 200 invitations were sent, another says 700 guests were present, and still another claimed 250 guests were there. The guest list contained about one hundred names. One columnist summed it up by saying, "Everybody who was anybody was invited and some of them made it" (unidentified newspaper clipping, box 1, fd. 13).
Cobina also stage-managed the wedding, acted as hostess, and matron of honor. Juan Romero was the host and the best man. Comedian Joe E. Brown gave the bride away. Popular movie stars Maria Montez and Kay Williams were bridesmaids. Rudy Vallee, Illona Massey, and Cobina all sang. Bernie Williams who wrote "Somebody Stole My Gal," composed a special theme song entitled "I'll Make My Vows."
The ceremony which was broadcast to the guests over a public address system was performed by a Mormon bishop. After the ceremony, the guests danced to a live orchestra in the garden and enjoyed an elaborate reception. As a wedding gift, Art Carter, a friend, took candid color movies of the ceremony. The film reportedly began with two butlers bringing champagne up from the pantry and ended with the same butlers helping guests into their cars. Louella Parsons had the last word, calling the event a "motion picture wedding with all the trimmings."
May might have had a dream wedding, as one newspaper described it, but her marriage was far from an afternoon fantasy. She and her husband were divorced early in 1948.
Nearly a year after she divorced Leon, May married ex-boxer Buddy Baer. They were married by a circuit court judge in Arlington County, Virginia on May 26, 1949.
While they were married, May wrote for General Features, but most of her time was spent promoting her husband's new singing and entertaining career. She got him singing engagements, new arrangements, and even a part in the film Quo Vadis. Maybe May was too ambitious for the boxer-turned-singer, because, according to May, once he achieved a little fame, he became impossible to work or live with. After five years, May filed for divorce. Baer filed counter charges and a stormy divorce hearing dragged on, eagerly reported by the press, for two years before a divorce was finally granted in 1956.
Years later reflecting on her life as a single career woman and her marriages, May wrote, "If `Mr. Right' came along, I'd drop the career in a minute and get married," which she did for both Leon and Baer. But she continues, "`Mr. Wrong' was always the one," ("A Brief Autobiography," p. 22, box 2, fd. 7).
After she left Baer, May lived in New York and wrote a column for the New York Herald-Tribune . In keeping with the how-to emphasis of the Tribune 's lifestyle section, May's column often ran serial pieces such as her "How to Make a Good Husband" articles. For this particular five-part feature, May interviewed five couples--from Lucille Ball and Desi Arnez to the mayor of New York and his wife--and printed their tips on how to make a happy marriage.
After a little over a year with the New York paper, May quit her job with them and went back to her home in Hollywood. During this phase of her career, May wrote almost exclusively for magazines, writing features and columns.
It was about this time that May became heavily involved in charity work. She had worked with charities earlier, but she began to devote more and more hours to helping organize balls and luncheons, inviting stars to be special guests, and attending a vast array of club meetings and luncheons. Most of her activities centered around the Ida B. Mayer Cummings Auxiliary, a Jewish group devoted to caring for the Jewish aged. May was invaluable to them because, since she had hundreds of connections, she could procure big name stars to enhance their balls and banquets.
May's work for the Auxiliary did not go unacknowledged. In 1966, the Junior Auxiliary established the "May Mann Award" in her honor. Ida Mayer Cummings told newspapers that the award was named in honor of May because she was held in high esteem among the auxiliary members for the devoted service and support May rendered: "May's devotion to our cause is so great that she always gives priority in scheduling her busy activities to help enhance our many events" ( B'Nai B'Rith Messenger, 1966, February 4).
The award was given annually at the Auxiliary's Charity Ball to the actor or actress who had served the cause of humanity. May presented the first award to Rudy Vallee at the February ball.
In 1973 the Auxiliary further honored May by presenting her with their annual Humanitarian Award. In a letter to May telling her about the award, the Auxiliary President wrote, "You and I both know in large part you were responsible for giving our Auxiliary such a prestigious image. Certainly the older mothers and fathers of the Home ate well and slept more peacefully because of your great twin contributions of time and talent" (1973, box 17, fd. 6).
One of May's closest friends in Hollywood during the 1960's was the actress Jayne Mansfield. May threw baby showers for Jayne and wrote several features about her. The day before Jayne was killed in an automobile crash, she sent a quick note to May about an article May had just written about her. A few years after Jayne's death, May felt prompted to write a biography about her deceased friend, Jayne Mansfield: A Biography, published in 1973.
May's next book, a biography about Elvis Presley, was published in 1975. May interviewed and wrote about Presley often during his career and developed a close friendship with him.
Princess Pussycat Mann, May's famous pink point Siamese cat, was the subject of May's next book. Princess rode in many parades, raised thousands of dollars for charities by mewing into microphones and even appeared in films. May took Princess into her home as a scrawny stray kitten. The amazing feline grew into a huge, beautiful cat and became an integral part of May's life. Princess died in July of 1982.
May Mann went from a small town Mormon girl to a glamorous reporter in fast-paced Hollywood. She was friends with people like Wallace Beery, Clark Gable, Joan Crawford, and Mary Pickford. Often knowing pain and heartache, May Mann knew success as well and was always in the company of exciting people. She spent her life writing about those exciting people. They knew May well, trusted her, and appreciated the favorable coverage she gave them. Expressing his confidence in her that so many of the stars felt, Clark Gable penned on a typescript he had just okayed for publication, "May, I knew you had it in you," (n.d., box 8, fd. 7). Jayne Mansfield summed up Hollywood's sentiments toward their glamour girl reporter. She wrote, "A great story! Once again you've proven yourself not only as a great writer but a wonderful friend," (1967 June 28, box 8, fd. 7).
Further biographical information may be found in the drafts of May's autobiography, "Who's in My Bed," especially the earlier ones; the shorter histories that she wrote for the collection; and the taped interviews with James D'Arc. These provide information about her childhood, private life, and colorful accounts of her interviews with the stars.
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Reporters and reporting--Photographs
Motion picture actors and actresses--Biography
Newspapers--Sections, columns, etc.--Arts
Arts, Humanities, and Social Sciences
American literature--Mormon authors
Motion picture actors and actresses--Photographs
Hollywood (Los Angeles, Calif.)