At nineteen, aspiring model Mary Hartline was cast in a fifteen-minute radio series called Teen Town. Shortly after its start, the title was changed to Junior Junction. It featured the vivacious blond as the leader of a town inhabited my teenagers — eight boys and eight girls — along with the town’s mayor, played by future Bewitched star Dick York. During the show’s run, she married producer Harold Stokes, who was twenty years her senior.
In 1949, Mary was cast in the ABC television series Super Circus. Amid a cast of clowns and jugglers, Mary was groomed into a sex symbol to appeal to young boys. Super Circus moved production to New York from Chicago, and Mary was replaced… but not before she parlayed her popularity into a lucrative marketing deal. She lent her name and likeness to dozens of products including dolls, clothes and boots, making her one of the first TV stars to capitalize on their popularity and public appeal.
Mary was married four times, including 8 years to John Paul “Woolworth Donahue, heir to the Woolworth retail fortune and cousin of troubled philanthropist Barbara Hutton. Mary lived in Palm Beach, Florida after Donahue’s deatIh, where she was part of the “old money” society.
She lived out her last days in her hometown of Hillsboro, Illinois. Mary passed away in August 2020 at the age of 92.
Let me be there in your morning
Let me be there in your night
Let me change whatever’s wrong and make it right
Let me take you through that wonderland
That only two can share
All I ask you is let me be there
“Yours is not to question why; yours is to do as I say or die.”
— Dr. Zachary Smith to the Robot
Lost in Space
In early 1920, teenage Mary Philbin won a beauty contest in her native Chicago. The contest, sponsored by Universal Pictures, put Mary on the road to stardom. She was signed to a contract by famed producer-director Erich Von Stroheim, touting the young actress as “A Universal Super Jewel.”
Mary made her film debut in a supporting role in the 1921 melodrama The Blazing Trail. She made eight films that year. She worked constantly through the 20s, making several pictures per year. In 1925, she was cast opposite Lon Chaney in the classic horror film The Phantom of the Opera. She was the critics’ darling, often being compared to some of the great dramatic actresses of the stage. Later she was featured in The Man Who Laughs to great acclaim. However, in 1929, Mary called it a career, leaving the spotlight to care for her elderly parents. She did, however, dub her lines for a talkie re-release of The Phantom of the Opera.
Mary remained a recluse for the rest of her life. She rarely made public appearances, preferring to stay locked up in her Huntington Beach home. She never married, despite early relationships with Paul Kohner and cowboy star “Big Boy” Williams. Mary’s relationship with Kohner was broken up by her parents who were strict Catholics. They were appalled that their daughter had taken up with a Jewish man. (Kohner later married actress Lupita Tovar and was the father of actress Susan Kohner.)
In 1989, Mary attended the premier of the Los Angeles production of Andrew Lloyd Weber’s The Phantom of the Opera. It was her final public appearance. She passed away four years later from pneumonia at the age of 90.
Hopeful drama student Bridget Hanley worked as an office secretary while finding time to audition for acting roles. She landed a part in a Southern California touring company of Under The Yum Yum Tree. After four years, she was signed to a contract by Screen Gems Productions who billed the budding actress as “a young Maureen O’Hara.”
Bridget was featured in a slew of guest roles in Screen Gems properties, including including Gidget, The Farmer’s Daughter, Love on a Rooftop, Bewitched, I Dream of Jeannie and The Flying Nun. She became a favorite of prolific producer/director E. W. Swackhamer, who cast her as the female lead in his new series Here Come the Brides. During the run of the series, Bridget married Swackhamer.
After Here Come the Brides ended, Bridget continued to appear in sitcoms, Westerns and dramas. In 1980, she was cast opposite Barbara Eden in the sitcom Harper Valley PTA, when she played a member of a stuck-up family who constantly battled Eden’s character. As lesser-known Sherwood Schwartz creation, Harper Valley PTA lasted thirty episodes. She remained active in local theater and still performed in the occasional television production. She later did some teaching and lecturing on the college level.
Bridget was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, and passed away on December 15, 2021 at the age of 80.
On July 23, 1980, Helen Mintiks, a one-time child prodigy who made her musical debut with the Seattle Symphony as a teenager, was sitting in as a freelance violinist with the orchestra at New York’s legendary Metropolitan Opera House. Just after the second part of the evening’s performance — Astor Piazzolla’s ballet Five Tangos — Helen and the rest of the orchestra took a 45-minute break. She rose, placed her violin on her seat and headed to the backstage area. She was not seen alive again.
At 9;30 pm, the orchestra returned to their seats to play Don Quixote, the next scheduled portion of the evening’s program. However Helen was nowhere to be found. The orchestra played with one empty seat, finishing up the night’s performance with Miss Julie by Ture Rangström at 11:30 pm. Helen’s husband, sculptor Janis Mintiks, was waiting outside for her, as he had done in the past. When she didn’t emerge from the building, he became worried and went to their apartment, thinking they had gotten their signals crossed. When Helen was not there either, Janis grew frantic and he returned to the Met. But authorities had already been contacted. A thorough search revealed that Helen’s street clothes were still in her locker and her beloved violin remained undisturbed where she left it before the orchestra break.
The Met was scoured from top to bottom by teams of investigators. At 8:30 the next morning, they made a gruesome discovery. Helen’s nude and bound body was found at the bottom of a ventilation shaft accessed from the roof. In the wake of the finding, detectives interviewed all 800 employees of the The Met over the next 24 hours. Meanwhile, the New York Medical Examiner’s autopsy determined that Helen’s death was the result of the fall — meaning that she was alive when she was thrown into the six-story shaft from the roof. Further investigation found that the knots used to tie Helen’s wrists and ankles where specific to those used by stagehands.
A witness told authorities that she saw Helen speaking with a stagehand — later identified as Craig Crimmins, hired by the Met despite a reputation as a drug and alcohol abuser — just after the orchestra members resigned for their break. Crimmins was questioned several times, eventually breaking down and confessing to his crime. He explained that he had been drinking. He entered a backstage elevator with Helen and was angered when she rebuffed his unwanted verbal and physical advances. Enraged, he forced her to the roof, tore her clothes, tied her up and kicked her down the ventilator shaft.
A trial in early 1981 found Crimmins guilty of attempted rape and murder. He was sentenced to 20 years to life. His parole has been denied every year that he was eligible.
As a child, Peter Robbins appeared in episodic television, from comedies to Westerns. At nine years old, he was cast as the voice of “Charlie Brown” in A Boy Named Charlie Brown, a documentary about the “Peanuts” comic strip. Peter went on the voice the beloved, yet hapless, character in six made-for-TV specials, including A Charlie Brown Christmas and It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown. His frustrated exclamation of “AUGH!!” (first heard in It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown) continued to be included in “Peanuts” specials long after Peter had aged out of the role.
Peter continued in on-screen roles during his time as a voice actor, including guest parts in The Munsters, Love on a Rooftop and F Troop. He landed the role of young “Alexander Bumstead” in a short-lived sitcom based on the Blondie comic strip. An appearance in a 1972 episode of My Three Sons was his final acting role.
With his acting career behind him, Peter went into the real estate business, however a life-long battle with bipolar disorder interfered. Peter fought mental demons, turning to alcohol and drugs in an effort to self-medicate when wrongly-prescribed treatment failed him. He often had run-ins with law enforcement, stemming from accusations of stalking, harassment and even death threats. Peter was arrested multiple times and served several prison sentences. In December 2015, Peter was sentenced to four years and eight months as part of a plea agreement for threatening the manager of the mobile home park in which he lived. He was released on parole in October 2019 on the condition that he stop drinking alcohol and stop using drugs.
In 2020, Peter appeared to be getting his life together. He was prescribed new medication and was making appearances at entertainment conventions where he signed autographs and mingled with fans. He was booked and confirmed to appear at the Mid-Atlantic Nostalgia Convention in September 2022, a gathering I have attended many times.
In January 2022, Peter’s family reported that the actor had taken his own life. He was 65 years old.