Thursday, March 26, 2009

The Williams Sisters - Hannah's Career

The Williams Sisters - The Vaudeville and Broadway Years (English) The Jazz Age (English) Hannah's Career (English) The Life of Dorothy (English) The Williams Sisters - De Periode van de Vaudeville en Broadway optredens (Nederlands) De Jazzjaren (Nederlands) Hannah's Carriere (Nederlands) Het leven van Dorothy (Nederlands)

THE WILLIAMS SISTERS Discografie - Hans Koert

Hannah's Career
Bill Schoerner

The Williams Sisters, Hannah Williams and Dorothy Williams, was one of those numerous vocal groups during the 1920s. Bill Schoerner made an in-depth investigation about this Pennsylvanian vocal duo. By late 1930, it seems that the sister act broke up when Hannah was hired for "Sweet and Low" a Broadway musical produced by Billy Rose and featuring his wife, Fanny Brice, George Jessel and Frank Barton. Hannah introduced the song "Cheerful Little Earful" which for the rest of her life was identified with her. In the third contribution titled Hannah's Career Bill tells about the rest of Hannah's life. Later he will reveal Dorothy's career.

On January 26, 1931, Hannah married Roger Wolfe Kahn at the Kahn estate at Cold Springs, Long Island. Roger's father, the banker Otto H. Kahn, would not allow his son to be married to a show girl so Billy Rose terminated her contract with "Sweet and Low" at the request of her new father-in-law. Hannah's sister, Dorothy, replaced her in "Sweet and Low."
The marriage was short and unhappy. Hannah wanted to return to the stage, while her husband insisted that she should stay at home. In May 1932, Hannah left Roger, and moved to Reno Nevada seeking a divorce. The divorce was issued on April 4, 1933. During this time in Reno, Hannah was seen and photographed with singer Russ Columbo, and there were rumors that they might be getting married. Years later, Jimmy McPartland said that Columbo had a romantic interest in Hannah but she didn't want to get married. In the Russ Columbo biography, "You Call It Madness," the author, Lenny Kaye devotes a chapter to Columbo's romance with Hannah.
Russ Columbo had a romantic interest in Hannah
On July 8, 1933, Hannah starred in a Vitaphone 9-minute movie short called, "The Audition" in which she dances and sings the song, "Get Happy." This is the only of her that is known to exist. Hannah enters the scene at about 2:45 into the film.

Hannah Marries Jack Dempsey

Hannah Williams and heavyweight boxer, Jack Dempsey in 1933
On July 18, 1933, Hannah married former heavyweight boxer, Jack Dempsey in Elko Nevada. Hannah announced to the reporters that she was "through with the stage" and that she promised to be a "good wife to Jack." Hannah had two daughters, Joan in 1934 and Barbara in 1936. At first, the marriage seemed ideal. Although Jack had retired from boxing he had become a successful business man owning a restaurant in New York and a Hotel in Los Angeles. After Hannah's second child was born, she became restless and was eager to return to the stage but she only received mild support from her husband.
In 1937, Hannah was selected for the Broadway musical "Hooray for What!" composed by Harold Arlen and Skip Harburg. During rehearsal, there was much unrest with the cast and production team. Several performers and choreographer, Agnes DeMille were replaced. Hannah was not happy with her songs and lines and threatened to quit the show. Harold Arlen wrote the song "Buds won't Bud" for Hannah to sing, but both she and the song were dropped before the show opened on Broadway. It's also possible that Jack Dempsey's presence on the set produced additional tension. Later news reports suggested that Hannah quit the show to return to her family.
In November 8th, 1938, Hannah was a musical guest of the Benny Goodman radio program "Camel Caravan" on CBS Radio Network. She sang "Stay on the Right Side, Sister." with the Goodman Quartet, featuring Benny on the clarinet, Lionel Hampton on vibes, Teddy Wilson at the piano and Harry James on ..... tuba. In 1940 there was a second attempt to return to the musical stage and there were rumors of Hannah receiving offers from Billy Rose in his "Aquacade" musical show, as well as engagements in New York and Boston cabarets. In fact she was so adamant in performing under her own name, one of her contracts stipulated that she not use Dempsey's name. Her marriage was failing and on May 20, 1940, their attorney announced that Hannah and Jack had separated. Jack tried to achieve a reconciliation but friends said Hannah's desire to return to the theatre was the underlying cause of the separation. In 1941 they did reconcile for a short time and it did seem that the couple had resolved their differences. They even bought a new home in Scarsdale, away from Manhattan, to try to enjoy the country life. But this did not save the marriage because in December 1942, Hannah filed for divorce from her husband. As the trial date approached both sides revealed their formal accusations, which were both unfortunate and scandalous. Jack accused Hannah of infidelity and Hannah accused Jack of physical cruelty. It's not my purpose to cover the details of the trial.... the reader can easily get this information elsewhere. Sadly for Hannah, the court sided with Dempsey.
On June 7, 1943, Jack Dempsey was granted a divorce and Hannah's counter-suit was dismissed, and to make it even worse, Jack was granted custody of their two daughters. It should be remembered that Dempsey was an American hero and he was enormously popular, so public opinion also sided with Jack.
Hannah was unsuccessful in restarting her singing and acting career. She did achieve a few singing engagements at night clubs and cabarets. In 1946, she was invited back to Jack's home for a brief visit, and the newspapers hinted there might be a reconciliation. But Jack insisted there was no romantic intentions, but it was for the sake of the children.
In 1950 Hannah married actor Thomas Monaghan, but she was divorced a year later. In March 1953 Hannah was hospitalized from burns suffered from a hotel fire in Los Angeles. Her condition was reported as "not serious." Her daughter, Joan, was married in 1954 and daughter Barbara was married in 1954, but Hannah was not noted as being in attendance. In August 1955, Hannah was hospitalized at the Le Roy Sanitarium in Manhattan for an undisclosed illness. In October of 1956 she met with her ex-husband concerning the film, "The Jack Dempsey Story" and she consented to have her name used in the story and agreed that a "very pretty girl with a beautiful singing voice will play Hannah."
Thanks to these contributions, I have recently received some additional details kindly provided by David McCain who commented on the first chapter of the Williams Sister story. David has spoken with Marian McPartland on the phone who was married to Jimmy McPartland. Marian got him in contact with Sergio Gomez who was Dorothy's son by her third marriage. From that acquaintance, he learned that Hannah died January 11, 1973 and Dorothy died September 2, 1976. David also spoke with Hannah's Daughter, Joan Dempsey McNeal (Hannah and Jack's daughter) in early 1994, and David gave Sergio her (Joan's) phone number since they had been out of contact for many years. Sadly, it was too late as Joan died February 13, 1994. Hannah's other daughter, Barbara Judith Dempsey Leonard, died March 4, 1993. David has since lost contact with Sergio Gomez.
The Williams Sisters entered the scene as child performers on the vaudeville stage, then progressed to the Broadway Stage. They also participated in the early excitement of the Jazz Age in the 1920's and met and performed with some of the biggest jazz legends and actors of the stage and music industry. Sadly, their careers peaked in their early twenties. Even though Hannah married wealthy men, they did not encourage her career in show business, so we may never know what she could have achieved. It's a story with an exciting beginning but an unhappy ending. (to be continued)
Bill Schoerner -
Bill Schoerner is an American living in Arizona. He was a research engineer but now retired. He has been a collector of vintage records for more than 40 years and has always been interested in the names on the record label, the musicians, the song writers and the instruments. His interests range from Gershwin to Jobim, but he is also a fan of opera. He is particularly interested in the history of American popular music and jazz from the first half of the twentieth century, musical casts, songs, composers and popular recordings.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

The Williams sisters. Fascinating lives. I love the Sam, the Accordian Man clip and the Get Happy movie short. So cute! Had to laugh at the end. The new generation thinks they invented break dancing, but those two guys were doing it in 1933! I got the link to this on Donna's Facebook page and look forward to using it on Saturday to see the rest of Dorothy's life. Thank you for your dedication.


7:13 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thank you for the great read. I have been studying Fud Livingston and saw that he sadi he was involved with Hannah when they were together in Ben Pollack's Band...he said they were married also..
Any information on Fud??

2:37 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

To Anonymous:

I know that Fud Livingston was with the Pollack Band in late 1926, in fact he's playing tenor sax on "He's the Last Word" recording behind the Williams Sisters vocal. I have no knowledge of a marriage with Hannah, after all, she was only 16 years old at the time. I would sure like to know the source of your information.

Bill S

8:58 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

My mother was a classmate of Joan Dempsey at Flintridge Sacred Heart Academy in Pasadena, CA and shares many happy tales of growing up with her. In 1965 when she and my dad and sister visited New York we stopped by Jack Dempsey's Restaurant and had our picture taken with him in front. He was a very big and very gracious man that my mom remembers fondly as well. ~ Pacifica, CA

1:16 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This is all so amazing to read! I am Jack Dempsey's great granddaughter. I rarely ever read about my grandmother Joan. She was an amazing lady and I wish I had been able to meet Jack. He passed away when I was only a year old =( I am so excited to read all this great stuff of my family's past.

5:37 AM  
Anonymous Hans said...

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9:11 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hello' Dempsey's Great Grand Daughter: I am a Great nephew of Jack Dempsey's I am looking to connect with other Reletives. Please call me @ 520-269-5437. My name in John Dempsey. EMAIL is

2:03 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I believe Hannah was a cousin to my father, Tom Allen of Scranton, PA. He was a semi- professional boxer who was friends with Jack Dempsey.

4:02 AM  

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