Thursday, May 28, 2009

Cool and often overcast

The GW Bridge. 6:45 PM. Photo: JH.
May 28, 2009. Cool and often overcast, slightly damp Wednesday, was yesterday in New York. Quiet. The mood is quiet.

A neighbor of mine, Joan Stanton,
died last Thursday at 94. I was surprised to learn of her great age for although I hadn’t seen her in the past couple of years, I would have taken her for a couple of decades younger.

We met seventeen years ago when I was first back in New York and staying with a friend who had an apartment at 10 Gracie Square where Joan lived. She’d been a well known New York radio and stage actress in her younger years which were the 1940s and 1950s when New York dominated much of American entertainment with radio, television and the Broadway stage. She was great company to this writer who is always fascinated with the history of New York and theatre and culture as seen through the eyes of the players. Joan had that “thee-ate-uh” quality to her presence and her speech. It was a soft, but strong voice and like all good actresses of yore she was trained for the un-miked stage. You had to be able to hear her in the second balcony. She enunciated so that no matter how softly she spoke, you could still hear and understand every word.

She was a widow when I met her. Her late husband Arthur Stanton and his brother brought Volkswagen to America as distributor, and he made a fortune.
Joan Alexander Stanton
The Stantons were very much a part of the New York theatre/social scene – something that really doesn’t exist anymore. Joan and her husband were famous for their cocktail parties in their farflung apartment overlooking the East River (the view that is often recorded by my camera for the NYSD). Joan was a warm hostess and she and her husband prized talent above all else. Mike Nichols, Neil Simon, Leonard Bernstein, Harold Clurman, Betty Comden and Adolph Green, Lauren Bacall, Alan and Hannah Pakula, Sidney Lumet were only a few of the list of great talent often present at the Stantons both in New York and at their house in East Hampton. The author Peter Stone wrote the book for the musical “1776” in the Stanton house in East Hampton.

Joan could recite Shakespeare by the yard, as her daughter, novelist Jane Stanton Hitchcock put it; and of course considered her radio days secondary to her work on stage. She replaced Pat Jussel in “Witness For the Prosecution” on Broadway. She received good notices playing opposite Alan Bates and Gene Hackman in “Poor Richard” on Broadway. She had her own television show, The Name's the Same.  When her husband died in the late 1980s, she inherited a fortune of $70 million. In the last two or three years she learned that her financial adviser closest confidant, whom she had known since before her husband’s death, had managed to “lose” almost all of it. The case is now going to court.

The obituary from the Telegraph of London, date 5/26/09:

Joan Alexander, the actress, who died on May 21 aged 94, was best known for playing Lois Lane, the intrepid reporter repeatedly rescued from danger by Superman, in the 1940s American radio serial The Adventures of Superman.

She also portrayed the loyal secretary Della Street in the original radio version of Perry Mason, which was broadcast as a daily 15-minute serial.

As the third woman to play Lane, a reporter for the fictitious Daily Planet newspaper, Joan Alexander made her debut in the seventh radio episode opposite the actor Bud Collyer as Superman, the Man of Steel from planet Krypton who saved her from wartime enemy agents and from assorted other adversaries threatening the American way of life. She remained in the part for some 1,600 episodes.

During the Second World War, in addition to their radio work, she and Collyer provided voice-overs for 17 animated Superman film shorts.

In the late 1960s the pair reunited to supply voice-overs for the television cartoon The New Adventures of Superman.

She subsequently became a celebrated hostess, having married her third husband, Arthur Stanton, a successful car distributor who helped introduce the Volkswagen Beetle to America. The couple were known for throwing lavish parties at their homes in New York and at East Hampton, Long Island.

Joan Alexander was born Louise Abrass in St Paul, Minnesota, on April 16 1915, to Lebanese-American parents. Her father died when she was three, and her stepfather sent her to a convent school on Long Island.

As a young woman she modelled and then turned to acting, borrowing a new first name from the actress Joan Crawford. During the 1930s she studied in Europe with Benno Schneider, a director best known for his work in Yiddish theatre, and toured widely on the continent.

In 1944 she married John Sylvester White, a television actor. But this marriage, and a second one to a surgeon, Robert T Crowley, ended in divorce. She was married to Arthur Stanton from 1955 until his death in 1987, when he reportedly left her $70 million in his will.

Last year she filed a lawsuit accusing her financial advisers of fraud and professional malpractice and alleging that they lost or stole much of her fortune. The case is continuing.

Joan Alexander is survived by the novelist Jane Stanton Hitchcock, the daughter of her second marriage, whom Stanton adopted, and by a son Tim from her third. Another son from that marriage died in 1993.

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