Ex-showgirl, 94, leads charmed life

first_img AD Quality Auto 360p 720p 1080p Top articles1/5READ MOREWhy these photogenic dumplings are popping up in Los AngelesThelma comes from tough stock. Her grandfather owned the legendary Silver Dollar Bar in Colorado back in the late 19th century. Her father, Daril Caley, was captain of the USC football team in 1902. And Thelma was a 19-year-old siren – a dead ringer for Jean Harlow – in 1931 when an agent spotted her working in the cashier’s window at the Egyptian Theatre in Hollywood. “He said, `Pay me 10 percent, and I’ll make you a show girl.’ And he did. I was one of the tall girls wearing the big feathers in the back row behind the shorter girls who did most of the dancing.” She had a cameo in a handful of films, including a couple of 1933 hits, “42nd Street” and “Flying Down to Rio,” becoming friends with another young show girl named Lucille Ball. “We were making $15 a week during the Depression, and I was supporting my family on that,” Thelma says. “Lucy was going with Desi at the time, but he wasn’t working.” Thelma Wright lit another Pall Mall and offered me a beer – inviting me to pull up a stool at her vintage Polynesian bar in the den of her SOB home – south of the boulevard – that she bought 56 years ago for $8,250. She’s got a story to tell, she says. It’s about this crazy, wonderful, charmed life she’s lived – still going strong at 94. “My doctor found a pack of cigarettes in my purse last week, and asked me whose they were.” Thelma says. “I told him they were mine. He said, `Don’t quit.”‘ The former Goldwyn Girl, World War II flight school pilot and bookkeeper for all of Fox’s West Coast movie theaters back in the ’40s has no plans to quit anything. She’s having way too much fun. Lucy and Desi went on to stardom, while Thelma – after a three-year stint as a Goldwyn Girl – went on to a short, but colorful marriage. Her first husband was Lu Cook, who owned Cadet Air Academy, a flight school. “I met him on a blind date when I was 19,” Thelma says, lighting another cigarette. “One of my girlfriends was driving by the Egyptian and saw me working. She asked me if I’d go out with this guy because it was his birthday. “I ended up marrying him, but probably shouldn’t have. Lu taught me to fly, then I’d ferry the soldiers he was teaching up to San Francisco so they could leave for the Philippines. Everyone was short on pilots to fly Stateside back then. “I finally left him after five years. He didn’t have $3 to pay our overdue gas bill, but when a guy came to the door selling an airplane propeller, he whipped out $100 to buy it. “I said `OK, I get it,’ picked up my 11-month-old baby, and was long gone.” Thelma tapped her movie contacts for a job as a bookkeeper for Fox theaters in Hollywood, meeting Ken Wright along the way. “He was managing the small Filmont Theater at Hollywood and Vine, making $75 a week. I was making more, but I never told him. “Anyway, we got married, and one day he brought me out to this little piece of dirt in the Valley where they were building some new homes. When I found out they were planning to build an elementary school across the street, we bought it.” Today, the little house across the street from Nestle Avenue Elementary School in Tarzana is worth a small fortune. “Our mortgage was $40 a month, including taxes and insurance,” Thelma says, smiling. The Valley – before freeways – was a long trek from Hollywood, and Thelma was in no mood to make the drive so she opened a local beauty shop. “I was her manicurist, and when I left to open my own shop, I begged Thelma to come with me and do anything she wanted,” says Josie Cavalluzzi, who owns Michelango’s Hair House in Woodland Hills. Thelma accepted her friend’s offer and spent the next 30 years, until she turned 90, as the shop’s receptionist, bookkeeper, and teller of fascinating stories. “In the 94 years I’ve lived, I wouldn’t give up one day of it,” she said Monday, standing behind her Polynesian bar. “Now, how about that beer?” Dennis McCarthy’s column appears Tuesday, Thursday, Friday and Sunday. [email protected] (818) 713-3749160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set!last_img
Continue reading