Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Happy Birthday, Edna May!

Author's Note: The Yuma Daily Sun published this 2-part interview as a feature article in its Sunday, March 14, issue. Since then, various local community groups have approached Edna about speaking engagements. When "Happy Birthday, Edna May!" was posted at the Cafe in February, Edna began receiving requests for pictures and autographs from around the U.S., Canada and even Europe. The interview was reprinted in "Films of the Golden Age," Winter 2010/2011.
Part 2
Edna Green (formerly Edna May Wonacott) celebrated her 78th birthday on February 6. In her honor, we posted the first part of my recent interview with her on that day. Part 1 can be viewed by scrolling down the page.
Filming on Shadow of a Doubt began in August 1942 and took three months to complete. While in Hollywood during the school year, Edna May was tutored on the set on the days that she worked. On off-days, she attended classes at the studio's schoolhouse. She particularly remembers one fellow student, Sabu, who captivated the class with stories about the elephants of India. His stories gave Edna May the impression that in India elephants were as common as dogs in the U.S., and treated in much the same way.
Edna May became close to Pat Hitchcock, the director's daughter, and the two often played gin rummy on the set. Both girls had crushes on Joseph Cotten, and when he gave Edna May an autographed picture inscribed "with love," Edna remembers that Pat was a little disconcerted because Cotten hadn't signed his picture to her with the same sentiment.
The Hitchcocks often took Edna May to Hollywood's famous Brown Derby restaurant, and she spent many weekends as Pat's guest at the Hitchcock home. On most days, their meals would be ordered from the kitchen and sent up to Pat's room via a "dumb-waiter" built into the wall. One day, though, Pat told her there would be a formal dinner that evening and to "wear something nice." Edna May was flustered, not being familiar with the forks, spoons, knives, dishes and glasses used at formal dinners. She hoped to sit next to Pat and follow her lead. But Pat told her they'd be sitting across the table from each other and, when it came to the silverware, "just start from the outside and work your way in." It turned out that the evening's guests were Joseph Cotten, his wife and step-daughter - and Edna was seated next to him. She remembers being so smitten that she was trembling. And she'll never forget that he talked with her all through dinner.
Like so many kids of that era, Edna May had an autograph book. When it was Alfred Hitchcock's turn to sign, he did it as one might expect - with a twist. He signed the last page in the book and with his left hand (he was right-handed): "By hook or by crook, I'll be the last one to sign in this book."
At the end of the shoot, there was a goodbye party in San Francisco. Edna May received many gifts that she still cherishes, including an inscribed bracelet from Teresa Wright, a scarf with a "pigtail" motif from Joseph Cotten and a golden bow from Hitchcock inscribed "to Ann Newton from Alfred Hitchcock." Edna reports that Hitchcock never called her anything but Ann throughout the making of Shadow of a Doubt.
Edna May, of course, was a local celebrity in Santa Rosa (population 19,000 at the time). She recalls: "There was a lot of publicity and women would come into dad's store and want to touch the father of a movie star! I have lots of scrapbooks of the publicity and had quite a write-up in Life magazine and was in movie magazines. Little girls with pigtails and glasses suddenly started showing up on the street corners in town!"

When Shadow of a Doubt was released, it premiered in Santa Rosa and Pat Hitchcock came up from Hollywood and attended with Edna May. There was quite a hubbub in town over the film and its release signaled a war bond drive, with Edna May kicking it off at the courthouse in Santa Rosa. She also took a trip to sell war bonds in Salinas when the movie opened there.
Because she had recently signed a five-year contract with producer Jack Skirball, Edna May and her parents moved to Glendale following the release of Shadow of a Doubt. Her older brother, then in college, stayed in Santa Rosa and ran the family store until he went into the military and served in World War II.
Her first assignment for Skirball was to be It's in the Bag with Fred Allen, and Edna May was to have equal billing. But Allen balked at this and refused to work with her. Ultimately, her contract was broken, but when the film was eventually made without her, Edna May was paid in full.
At this point, she signed with an agent who exclusively handled child actors.
Edna May had small roles in several more films, and she has warm memories of working on Leo McCarey's The Bells of Saint Mary's (1945), a film nominated for eight Oscars and winner of one. She played Delphine, one of the girls about to graduate from St. Mary's, the one who smacks a baseball through a window in Mr. Bogardus' (Henry Travers) new building. Edna recalls that, like Shadow of a Doubt, the atmosphere on the set was "just like family." Ingrid Bergman was "a real sweetheart who said hello to everyone from the janitor on up when she came on the set." Edna also remembers that a member of the crew would play a little tune on an ocarina whenever Miss Bergman arrived. She adds, "We had a lot of fun with Bing Crosby - since there was a schoolyard set, he was always playing basketball with the kids."
Edna left acting at the beginning of the 1950s when she married.
Today, Edna Green feels fortunate to have been in Hollywood during the Golden Age.
"I have nothing but good memories of working in Hollywood. It was a different era than it is now and, being as young as I was, I didn't feel like an actress...I was just a kid who did what she was told to do."
Along with her memories, Edna has a treasure-trove of memorabilia from Shadow of a Doubt. From her scrapbooks, the issue of Life magazine and the prized goodbye gifts, to her original script with its cover signed by Hitchcock and the entire cast.
Edna is honored to have been a part of such an iconic film, one of Hitchcock's most celebrated, but is amazed that people are still interested in her. She remarked that some friends recently watched Shadow of a Doubt after Edna told them she was in it. They were quick to tell her: "You are just exactly like you were in that movie."
And I'll admit that at times during our conversation I could hear a little bit of Ann Newton as I talked with Edna Green.
Looking back, Edna considers that her entire life - her early days in Santa Rosa, the years in Hollywood, her 57-year marriage, raising three boys - has been filled with good times. Though she's lost her beloved dad (at age 90) and mom (at age 102) and, more recently, her brother and husband, Edna has her sons, her grandchildren and great-grandchildren, her friends and many wonderful memories of a good life and a very special childhood.
While doing research for a blog on Shadow of a Doubt, I located and contacted Edna Green. She kindly agreed to talk with me about her experiences on that film and her years in Hollywood. My sincere thanks to Edna for sharing her memories with us.


Paul 2 said...

Eve, to use baseball terms you "knocked this one out of the park". Thank you for this interview.

toto2 said...

Eve, I feel as if I have just visited with a dear friend. What a lovely interview! And how very kind of Edna May to share her memories with us. I think Mrs. Green has truly been blessed and been a blessing. Thank you!

Anonymous said...

my thanks to Eve for the great article she has written about me. It's the best that has ever been done and I feel honored that she chose me to write about. Thanks again from Edna May Wonacott Green

Dawn said...

Eve, What a wonderful interview. How neat it was that Hitchcock signed the last page in the book "By hook or by crook, I'll be the last one to sign in this book."

But most of all, I really enjoyed meeting Edna May Wonacott Green.

Anonymous said...

A fantastic interview.

Anonymous said...

Great Eve. Wonderful continuation to Part 1- but Edna's nod really says it all.


Aki said...

Eve, this is an excellent Part 2 post. You are an outstanding writer. I am so glad I read these posts and got to know Edna Green. Reading it certainly made my day brighter!!

Rick29 said...

Eve, sequels rarely compare well to the original…but part 2 of your interview with Edna Green is even better! I love Edna’s story about dining at the Hitchcocks and being seated beside Joseph Cotten. Ditto for the way that Hitch signed her autograph book (now there’s a priceless souvenir). The photos are perfect! As soon as I saw the one of Edna with Ingrid Bergman in THE BELLS OF ST. MARY’S, I remembered the character that she played. That’s pretty amazing to be able to work with Hitchcock, Joseph Cotten, Bing Crosby, and Ingrid Bergman. I really enjoyed this two-part piece and am thrilled to see that Ms. Green liked it, too!

jillianisaiahsmom said...

Eve, thank you so much for this wonderful history lesson for my daughter! Grandma sent us movies at Christmas time and I have watched but Jillian has not. We will make it a priority. I find it facinating and feel very blessed that God sent my daughter to spend her birthday with such a wonderful example of using all the blessings God gave you! Fabulous interview.

The Lady Eve said...

Getting to know Edna Green and writing these blogs has been the most sheer enjoyment I've had in a long time, so it's really gratifying to know that others like them so much. I'm especially happy that Edna took the time to comment, and so generously.
As some of you know, I posted alerts on TCM's Classic Film Union pages about these blogs. One member was very curious to know what Edna thought of Teresa Wright. Some of you may be curious, too. The blogs were done, but I emailed Edna and asked. She replied that Teresa Wright was "just like the older sister I never had. A very caring person." When I passed her answer on to the CFU member he was thrilled.
A family member of mine wondered (as some of you may) whether Edna actually wore glasses as a child or if that was Hitchcock's idea for Ann Newton's character. Since Edna didn't wear glasses in "The Bells of St. Mary's," it seemed like a good question - particularly considering that in the years following "Shadow of a Doubt," Hitchcock often featured bespectacled women and girls in supporting roles in his films. Again, I asked Edna. The fact is, she did wear glasses as a little girl and simply took them off for her role in "St. Mary's."
Edna, I hope the reaction to these blogs gives you some idea of the great affection and respect classic film fans have for you. Bless you - 'Eve'

Miles said...

Eve, It was a terrific article. Your knowledge and talents continue to amaze me. Wouldn't it be great if TCM and Robert Osborne could have a Hitchcock tribute and bring in people like Edna and others who worked with Hitchcock to discuss their experiences? I'm sure that you and other Hitchcock fans would enjoy it. I'm sure beyond a "Shadow Of A Doubt".

Tracy Green said...

Thank you for the kind words about my mother. Yes I am the reason that you no longer see her in the movies I was born in 1953 and am the oldest of her three sons. I have been told many times ” that was no business to raise children in”. This saint has never stopped her self sacrifice for her children, ailing mother that lived to be over 100, and my father who battled cancer with her by his side and recently lost that battle. I am tickeled to hear the spark in her voice when she calls me to update me on your blog articles about her. You have given a wonderful person recognition to be proud of after all these years.I am sure she thought she was forgotten.For this I am gratefull and can't thank you enough.
I am proud to be her son and will never fill her shoes no matter how hard I try.

The Lady Eve said...

Tracy, Edna must be very proud of you, too. Thank you for sharing your thoughts and feelings about her with us.

Jacqueline T. Lynch said...

Thanks for such a wonderful interview.

Joia said...

Eve! I finally got a chance to read your interview with Edna Green. I have to say that you did such a wonderful job. I loved reading all about her experiences on the set and the people she worked with. Congrats on scoring such an awesome interview.

Anonymous said...

Eve, Thank you for the wonderful interview of my friend Edna Green. She is a very special person, and everyone in WNNC (ladies club) here in Yuma, AZ love her to pieces. Sorry to be so late with my comment, but the 2nd part of the interview just showed in The Yuma Sun yesterday, 03/14/2010. When I read Tracy's comment, it brought tears to my eyes. Once again, a great interview - I will be on the look-out for more interviews and stories you do. You are great!

The Lady Eve said...

Thanks again to all who read and especially those who posted comments on Edna's story...

Anonymous said...

I just got back to reading the comments on the wonderful stories that Eve has done on me. She just posted an update and as usual did a great job. It really gives me a feeling of having accomplished something by bringing so much delight to people by my role in Shadow of a Doubt. Thanks again to Eve for making this possible. God Bless you all and thanks for the wonderful comments.
Edna May Wonacott Green

Madeline said...

I was preparing to list some newspapers for sale on ebay when I came across The Santa Rosa Press Democrat Feb 6, 1943 edition with a full page ad for the opening premiere of Shadow of Doubt. Edna May Wonacott and Pat Hitchcok were to be guests of honor. I decided to google Edna May and found this site. I also decided not sell these papers for now as they seemed too precious. There's a picture of Edna May on the front page with a stern face. Known as "Cinderella Girl" she was picked off Santa Rosa's streets for a motion -picture career. There was also an article in the paper the next day about the "to-do". Great stuff!

The Lady Eve said...

Madeline - Thanks for stopping by. You've contributed a nice bit of information to Edna's story. I'll let her know there is a new comment here, I'm sure she'll want to read it. She may also have a copy of that paper among her mementos but I'm sure she'll be thrilled that you do, too.

Megan and Haley Meyer said...

Is there a way to write Edna May a fan letter? Would love to contact her and tell her what a wonderful role she played in Shadow of a Doubt. Loved reading your interview. It was great reading about her life and experience while filming Shadow of a Doubt.

Megan and Haley Meyer

The Lady Eve said...

Hi Megan and Haley,

I checked in with Edna - she would be happy to hear from you and asked me to give you her home address...

13420 East 44th St.
Yuma, AZ 85367

- The Lady Eve

Megan and Haley Meyer said...

Oh my goodness!!! Thanks for the reply. We just checked in with this and was thrilled that you responded! That was so sweet of Edna to give us an address to send her a letter. Thanks for checking with her.

Megan & Haley Meyer
Meyer Twins

ramalingam said...

just yesterday i saw the movie "shadow of a doubt" and wondering about Ann, i came to know about this interview through the imdb forum. A pleasant surprise. This is telepathic as in that film.

Gerry Demaris said...

For some strange reason, I had Edna May Wonacott on my mind today. I knew her as May Green and I used to baby sit her three boys, Tracy, Brian and, I believe, Kevin, when we lived in West Covina, CA. I remember when the boys were in bed, I was allowed to look through her scrap books, which I loved to do. Her husband, Bob, worked for Mother's cookies, so there was usually some cookies to snack on. She was a lovely lady and I believe we all lost track of each other when they moved to Paradise, CA and my family moved to San Diego, CA. I was Gerry Bennett
back then.
Whenever I see Shadow of a Doubt or Bells of St. Mary's I think of her.

LawandMorality said...

I saw the movie last night and said to my husband, "The little girl is the best actor in the movie." I just looked around to find her name and see what I could learn about Edna May Wonacott. This is quite a find.

Great interview.