The Daily Mirror

Los Angeles history

« Previous Post | The Daily Mirror Home | Next Post »

Movie Mystery Photo

June 19, 2009 |  9:00 am
 


 
June 15, 2009, Mystery Photo
Los Angeles Times file photo

A solid majority wants to know the name of our mystery woman. She is Toni Gerry. Above, a 1958 publicity photo from "Broken Arrow."

Just a reminder on how this works: I post the mystery photo on Monday and reveal the answer on Friday ... or on Saturday if I have a hard time picking only five pictures -- sometimes it's difficult to choose. To keep the mystery photo from getting lost in the other entries, I move it from Monday to Tuesday to Wednesday, etc., adding a photo every day.

I have to approve all comments, so if your guess is posted immediately, that means you're wrong. (And if a wrong guess has already been submitted by someone else, there's no point in submitting it again.) If you're right, you will have to wait until Friday. There's no need to submit your guess five times. Once is enough. The only prize is bragging rights. 

The answer to last week's mystery star: Ana Bertha Lepe!

June 16, 1959, Mystery Photo
Los Angeles Times file photo

Update: Gerry in a publicity photo for "Boots Malone" with William Holden.

Here's another picture of our mystery guest!

June 17, 2009, Mystery Photo
Los Angeles Times file photo


Update: Gerry in a 1956 publicity photo for "Day of Triumph."

Here's another photo of our mystery woman. Please congratulate Lee Ann Bailey for correctly identifying her!

June 18, 2009, Mystery Photo
Los Angeles Times file photo

Update: Dorothy Ames, Gerry and Liberace in 1955. Gerry is wearing $1 million worth of jewelry as a publicity stunt for the premiere of the famous 1950s  TV show "The Millionaire." Here's to John Beresford Tipton!

Here's our mystery guest with some mystery companions.

June 19, 2009, Mystery Photo
Los Angeles Times file photo

Update: Gerry in a 1956 episode of George Sanders Mystery Theatre titled "The Call."

  

Memory Play

One-Woman Drama Tells of Love, the Holocaust and Survival in Biographical 'Hanna Speaks'

May 6, 1988

By MIKE WYMA, Mike Wyma is a frequent contributor to Valley View.


Toni Gerry; Veteran Actress Appeared in 150 TV Shows

August 1, 1991

Toni Gerry, an actress who once said "my credits read like a TV Guide for the 1950s," has died after a long struggle with bone cancer.

Her husband, Hal Stiller, said this week that Miss Gerry was 65 when she died July 25 in a Los Angeles hospital.

Born in Utah where she became stage-struck after playing "Snow White" in a high school play, she began her professional career when agent Paul Kohner discovered her in 1949 at the Pasadena Playhouse.

Her first credits came in the infancy of TV in such landmark series as "Hallmark Hall of Fame" and "Lux Video Theatre." In all she played leads or supporting parts in more than 150 shows, among them "The Millionaire," "The Loretta Young Show," "Schlitz Playhouse of Stars," "Wanted Dead or Alive," "National Velvet," "Mr. and Mrs. North," "Sea Hunt" and more.

Her dozen feature films include "Lust for Life" (as Johanna), "Boots Malone" and "Bullet for Joey."

Most recently she had been on stage locally in "Hanna Speaks," a one-woman show she also wrote based on the true story of two Jewish lovers separated by World War II.

Besides her husband, she is survived by her daughter, Lisa, and a sister.

When it comes to stories of love and heartbreak--and, miraculously, love once more--it's hard to match Hanna Kohner's. "I have been very lucky," she marvels. And yet, few people have endured so much misfortune.

Her story--separated from her first love by the rumblings of World War II, widowed from the second by the Holocaust, and nearly dying herself, only to be reunited with her first love--is told in "Hanna Speaks," a play running Sunday afternoons through May 29 at the Chamber Theatre in Studio City.

It is a one-woman show starring actress Toni Gerry, who also wrote the script. The director is Mike Road, who said the play's structure is unusual yet simple.

Gerry talks to the audience, Road explained, "but it's not an audience she's talking to, it's relatives and friends. Someone says, 'What happened to you in Europe 40 or 50 years ago?' so she tells them."

Hanna Bloch was 15 and Walter Kohner 20 when they met while ice skating in their native Czechoslovakia. The year was 1935, and the two gradually fell in love. By 1938 they were engaged, but as Jews they saw trouble ahead. Anti-Semitism was spreading throughout Europe.

Tried to Follow

Walter had a brother in the United States who would sponsor his immigration, and he left to start a new life. Hanna tried to follow, but she was stopped by Hitler's invasion of her homeland and, later, his invasion of Holland, where she had fled.

Separated from her family, sinking into poverty, Hanna kept up a correspondence with Walter. But by 1942, their letters grew less frequent. Occupied Amsterdam was rife with talk of deportation of Jews to concentration camps. In this climate of desperation Hanna fell in love with Carl Benjamin, a young German Jew, and married him.

They were together two years, much of it in detention camps, before being sent separately to Auschwitz, where Benjamin was killed. Hanna survived, in part because friends performed an abortion on her. They knew that as part of the "final solution," the Nazis gave the extermination of pregnant Jews a high priority.

Walter, meanwhile, was a U.S. soldier stationed in Luxembourg. He still yearned for Hanna and, through a combination of persistence and luck, found her in 1945. They married, moved to Los Angeles and had a daughter. Today the couple lives in Bel-Air. Hanna is 68, Walter is 73. They attended a recent performance of "Hanna Speaks."

Feelings Return

Hanna said that watching the play brought back all the feelings of the war years.

"The time that's passed doesn't make any difference," she said. "It's always been my life and it always will be. I remember it very well."

Director Road said the play differs from other one-person shows, such as Hal Holbrook's portrayal of Mark Twain, James Whitmore's Harry Truman or Henry Fonda's Clarence Darrow.

"This is a narrative," Road said. "This is a memory piece. To take something that's memory and present it as drama is a very different kind of form."

Both Road and Gerry acted on television in the 1950s and early '60s. After appearing in "77 Sunset Strip," "The Roaring '20s," and other shows, Road branched into voice-over work in cartoons and commercials.

"I was directing all the time in theater," he said, adding that the stage is his first love.

Gerry, who said her credits "read like a TV Guide for the '50s," appeared in "Schlitz Playhouse of Stars," "Wanted Dead or Alive," "Perry Mason" and others.

"When my daughter was born in 1962, I decided to become a full-time mother," Gerry said. "Then when she was old enough, I wanted to act again. But at my age good parts are hard to come by. I was looking for a project, and I thought of Hanna's story."

The common thread in the lives of Toni Gerry and Hanna Kohner was Hanna's brother-in-law, Paul Kohner, one of Hollywood's most successful agents. Over the years his Kohner Agency represented Ingmar Bergman, Max Von Sydow, Charles Bronson, Debra Winger, Liv Ullmann and others.

Paul Kohner came to Los Angeles from Czechoslovakia in 1921 to work for Carl Laemmle, then president of Universal Pictures. The two had met at a Czech health spa, where Laemmle was a guest and Kohner a cub reporter for a Czech entertainment newspaper.

Kohner provided the sponsorship affidavit needed by his brother Walter in 1938 to immigrate to the United States. He also was Gerry's first agent, signing her after seeing her perform at the Pasadena Playhouse in 1949. Paul Kohner died this year at 85.

'Hanna and Walter'

A third Kohner brother, Frederick, author of the books that led to the "Gidget" movies, also figures in the story. Before his death in 1986, Frederick helped Hanna and Walter write an account of their turbulent war years. It was that book, "Hanna and Walter," published by 1984 and translated into a half-dozen European languages, that Gerry thought of when she needed an acting project.

"I adapted it to the stage," she said. "A lot of it is sections of Hanna talking that I took straight from the book."

"Hanna Speaks" runs 53 minutes, not including the intermission. A production of the Meridian Theatre and Academy, the play opened in the 37-seat Chamber Theatre on April 3. Audience response, said Gerry, has been emotionally charged.

"We emphasize the love story, but it's still a Holocaust story. Some of it--like when Hanna is sitting alone in an attic in Holland, wearing the sealskin coat her mother gave her and wondering how all this separation came to pass--it's really quite powerful."

Labor Camps

Hanna said that in addition to her first husband, family members killed at Auschwitz included her mother, father and several aunts and uncles. Hanna spent only one month in the infamous death camp but was imprisoned at other sites, called transit or labor camps, for much of the war.

She said she might have avoided the ordeal if she and Walter had married in 1938, when he had the papers necessary to leave Czechoslovakia and she did not.

"We talked about it, of course, but for him to go to America with a new wife and no job and not a penny to his name, it seemed too much. At that time he was an actor. What prospects does an actor have? We thought I could get out later. We all were blind to a certain extent. By the time we realized it, it was too late."

Jews desperate to leave Europe before and during World War II faced two obstacles--immigration quotas imposed by nations such as the United States, and the frequent refusal of German occupying forces to grant exit permits. There was a randomness, a "craziness," said Hanna, to the fate of people like herself.

A stroke forced Walter Kohner to retire last year from his job as an agent at his brother's business. Although the stroke did not impair him physically, it affected his ability to put thoughts into words. He said he does speech therapy exercises daily and is improving.

While the play is about Hanna, and much of the suffering was hers, Walter is responsible for the storybook ending. Although Hanna had given up any thought that they would be together, Walter had not. When he found her in Amsterdam in April, 1945, after the Germans had withdrawn, seven years had passed.

Asked why he hadn't married someone else in the meantime, Walter shrugged.

"I dated other girls," he said, "but it just wasn't the same."










Comments 

Advertisement










Video