Mom and Dad – 1940 Courtship

Here’s one of my favorite photographs — a picture of my Mom and Dad (Suzette Schwiers and Bill Whittemore) in 1940 before they married that December.  For me it’s an eerie sight because I am watching a moment that will lead, with other moments, to my birth on 3 November 1941, a month before Pearl Harbor.  They were courting each other, yes?  Elsewhere on this blog you’ll see a PARADE story about life with my mom on the home front while Dad was off to war.  Here they are, on the brink:

They're in the backyard patio of my paternal grandparents' house on Virginia Place in Larchmont, New York.

My dad had grown up in the Manor section of Larchmont in a house with two other families, each with a child.  One of the kids was Dad’s first cousin Claire Wemlinger, who would go on to become the great film actress and movie star Claire Trevor, known above all for her work in Stagecoach and Key Largo.

With John Wayne in "Stagecoach" (1939)

Claire died at age ninety in 2000.  She was a sweetheart of a gal, full of warmth and spunk as well as talent.  Her birthday was March 8th and I plan to post up a blog with a little personal stuff about her on that date coming up.

And here’s another photo…

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Published in: on February 28, 2011 at 17:10  Comments (3)  
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  1. As a piece of film history, Claire Trevor’s character was the first that conveyed credit for fallible humanity to a lowly prostitute, whom she portrayed very movingly as a female source of healing in ‘Stagecoach’. Akira Kurosawa especially admired John Ford among American directors and adopted his stark black and white morality-play approach depicting man in the shadow of fate. Parenthetically John Wayne went from bit parts to the big leagues in this film. He did not fix on the larger-than-life tough-guy persona until after the Korean War, when he consciously imitated Ted Williams, the abrupt independent baseball phenom who was also a crack jet pilot, originally trained at the end of WW II and pointedly drafted by the Navy to set an example for young America, so that more would join up in what became a tragically dubious cause. Williams served loyally for about forty missions and once jumped a burning wreck he had managed to land. Wayne wore the uniform too–in the same sense that Ronald Reagan did–for Hollywood promotional films in Burbank. My compliments to Hank’s second cousin Claire. She could act as someone else and be herself too. Not all Hollywood personnel could do that and there were world-changing consequences. Otto Preminger explicitly accepted responsibility for Reagan’s running for Governor and President. He stated, “If we had only given him a job, none of this would have happened.”

    Another chapter of History from the piss-ant point of view from your correspondent way out West, William Ray

    • Thanks, William Ray. When I decided to interview Claire for Parade magazine, we made a date for me to come to her place in NYC, and I showed up right on time. She then lectured me about the need to call the person before arriving — something I had neglected to do — and so I thought, well, this won’t go too well. In the next moment, however, and this is now about noon, we were in the kitchen while she made us Bloody Marys. The interview was fine.
      Claire was a great friend of Wayne and also Bogart, maybe Bogart most of all, but also, later, with Rock Hudson, right up to the time of his death.
      Well, I could go on, but —
      Thanks again.

      • She was the sleeper in Key Largo. With all those powerhouse actors, Claire Trevor got the Oscar. Best singing voice in film until Meryl Streep came along in Silkwood and Ironweed, a generation later.

        The movies were my Greek pantheon and subconscious Royalty. That was before civilizations fell and the stars were all torn down, i.e., when the Dodgers left Brooklyn.

        A final artifact of the bygone Age yet living on film: your Dad’s two-tone wing-tips. The linen suit and cummerbund are also gone. We’ll not see their like again.


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