Helene Stanley, actress from Gary, found Walt Disney film fame – Chicago Tribune

In the past three decades I’ve been writing my newspaper stories and columns, readers have shared their own tips and fun facts about famous names with roots and connections in Northwest Indiana.

Still, somehow, the Hollywood name “Helene Stanley” has escaped me until recently, when my Post-Tribune byline colleague Tim Zorn mentioned her as a long-forgotten local Hollywood claim-to-fame.

Zorn wrote to me: “Phil — You have written about several entertainers’ connections to Northwest Indiana, so I wonder if you’d heard of Helene Stanley. Her name came up on a recent Chicago TV station report, I forget which station, but the story might have been about former Disney stars and it said she was born in Gary. The little I’ve seen on the internet says she was born in Gary, as Dolores Freymouth. No mention of re-schooling. Her main claim-to-fame is that she was the live model for several Disney characters, including Cinderella. She also was married briefly to (first husband) Johnny Stompanato, who later was stabbed to death by Lana Turner’s daughter. She retired from the movie business after marrying her second husband, and died in 1990. Looking forward to seeing what you come up with. — Tim”

Thank you Tim for helping plant this fascinating seed which grew into lots of fun research and digging into newspaper archives of yesteryear.

Stanley died young, at age 61, living her final years retired from show business and quietly residing in her condo in Beverly Hills while married to her second husband, Dr. David Niemetz, a physician from Beverly Hills she married in 1959. The couple had a son, David Niemetz Jr., in 1961. In a March 1986 telephone interview from her home in Beverly Hills with reporter Sherryl Connelly for a cover story in the New York Daily News, Stanley said she opted to retire from show business in 1962, the year after her son was born.

The reason it is so difficult to find much about Helene’s youth in Gary is because she and her family moved away soon after she was born. In a newspaper interview with John L. Scott for the cover the Arts and Entertainment section of the Los Angeles Times published in October 1952, Helene, at age 22, underplays her association with Walt Disney Studios, following her work as the live model used for the animation for the feature film fairytale “Cinderella” released in 1950.

In her Los Angeles Times interview, Helene explains she started at age 10 with an uncredited role in the Bing Crosby musical “Rhythm on the River,” opposite other luminaries like Mary Martin, Basil Rathbone and Oscar Levant. She also discusses why she “severed relations amicably,” opting not to renew her contract with 20th Century Fox, and instead, was hopeful of a New York Broadway career with a final round of auditions to replace Helen Gallagher in a the run of “Pal Joey.”

“When I was previously under contract at MGM, I faced might tough competition from such established singers and dancers as Vera-Ellen, Jane Powell and others,” Helene stated.

“And at 20th Century Fox, there’s already Betty Grable and Mitzi Gaynor in line for the plum musical roles. So when the chance to return to Broadway came along, I jumped at it.”

Helene also explained her show business talents were inherited from her parents, Michel and Gerty Freymouth, who shortened the family last name to “Frere” for better marquee play, since the couple originally lived in France and worked in theater and acrobatics. Father Michel was one of “The Seven Michels” of European acrobatic fame before he and Helene’s mother came to the United States and briefly lived in Gary.

“I was born Dolores Diane Freymouth or Frerer in Gary, but I spent most of my childhood in Southern California,” she said.

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A small published item in the Oct. 20, 1934 edition of the Chicago Tribune reported: “Miss Dolores Diane Freymouth, 1354 Roosevelt Court of Gary, Ind. was declared the winner last night in the finals of the World’s Fair Contests of Contests. Miss Freymouth, age 4, is an acrobatic dancer and was awarded $25.”

Rather than pursue Broadway, Helene remained in Hollywood and appeared in such noted films as “Mr. Soft Touch” (1949) with Glenn Ford, Evelyn Keyes and Beulah Bondi, “The Asphalt Jungle,” (1950) opposite newcomer Marilyn Monroe starring with Sterling Hayden and Jean Hagen; and also “Dreamboat” (1952) starring opposite Clifton Webb and Ginger Rogers; “The Snows of Kilimanjaro” (1952) starring Gregory Peck, Ava Gardner and Susan Hayward as “We’re Not Married” (1952) with an all-star cast of Fred Allen, Zsa Zsa Gabor, Eve Arden, Paul Douglas, David Wayne, and reuniting her with previous film cast mates Ginger Rogers and Marilyn Monore.

It should be noted that in her above filmography, Helene co-starred with some of our other famous Hollywood Hoosiers, such as Bondi, Webb and Hagen.

However, as hinted to earlier, most of Helene’s Hollywood resume “stardust” comes from her association with Walt Disney Studios.

In addition to her live action modeling for the role of “Cinderella,” she did the same modeling duty for the animated likeness of Princess Aurora in Disney’s “Sleeping Beauty” (1959) and also for the character of Anita, the frazzled mother in Disney’s “One Hundred and One Dalmatians” (1961). She also played the role of Davy Crocket’s wife Polly Crockett for the live action 1955 Walt Disney film “Davy Crockett: King of the Wild Frontier.”

In 1956, Helene guest starred as herself on a TV episode of Disney’s “Mickey Mouse Club,” thrilling the Mousketeers by explaining her experience as the live action model inspiration for acting out Cinderella’s scenes for the feature film so Disney animators could sketch her in motion performing the scripted scenes.

Philip Potempa is a journalist, published author and the director of marketing at Theater at the Center. He can be reached at pmpotempa@comhs.org

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