Punkins Parker: From Polywood to Hollywood

She was born “Mary Frances Roberson” in Handley in 1918.

parker fanpix.netTwenty years later she was Poly High School’s answer to Central High School’s Ginger Rogers: She was in Hollywood, a film actress billed as “Punkins Parker.” She dated Howard Hughes. The Max Factor cosmetics company proclaimed her “the real Miss America.” Hollywood entertainment columnists dropped her name. And although her star never rose as high in the Hollywood heavens as Ginger Rogers’s did, Mary Frances Roberson appeared in some big-budget films top-billed by stars of the 1930s and 1940s: Ray Milland, Betty Grable, Bing Crosby, Jack Benny, Jimmy Durante, Lucille Ball, Victor Mature, Fred MacMurray, Lloyd Nolan, Donald O’Connor, Joan Bennett, Dorothy Lamour, Madeleine Carroll, Claudette Colbert, Don Ameche, June Allyson, Lana Turner, Jean Peters, Esther Williams, Walter Pidgeon, Gig Young, Red Skelton. (Photo from fanpix.net.)

poly panelMary Frances Roberson attended Poly High School (in the building that later housed Poly Elementary School) on Nashville Avenue in 1933-1935. She was in ROTC and on the yearbook staff.

meadowbrook 4609 2The Robersons lived at 4609 Meadowbrook Drive while Mary attended Poly High.

37 TCU freshmanThen Mary attended TCU. This is her 1937 yearbook photo. While at TCU Mary performed at Casa Manana in the Frontier Centennial in 1936 and 1937. Producer Billy Rose chose her to be a lead dancer. Then Mary headed to Hollywood and toured with Paul Whiteman, who had performed at the Frontier Centennial. While performing at the Paramount Theater in Los Angeles she was discovered by Paramount Studios and signed to a film contract. Mary made seventeen films between 1938 and 1954. Sometimes she was uncredited, sometimes she was billed as the second lead. She acted and danced.

with daniel 12-1-40 dmnMary’s dance partner in nightclubs, on Broadway, and in several films was Billy Daniel (1912-1962, born “William Baker”), also from Fort Worth. Photo is from the December 1, 1940 Dallas Morning News.

cocoanut_grove38Mary appreared in five films in her first year in Hollywood. Her first film was Cocoanut Grove in 1938 with Fred MacMurray.

artists and modelsAlso in 1938 she appeared in Artists and Models Abroad with Jack Benny.

Sing_You_SinnersShe also appeared in Sing, You Sinners, starring Bing Crosby, in 1938.

ProduceIn Sing, You Sinners, Mary cut a rug with Crosby.

9-19-38 dmnMary broke into the movies with the stage name “Punkins Parker” but soon became “Mary Parker.” Clip is from the September 19, 1938 Dallas Morning News.

3-5-39 dmnIn 1939 Hollywood columnist Fairfax Nisbet mentioned Mary in his writeup of St. Louis Blues. Clips is from the March 5 Dallas Morning News.

7-18-43 dmnIn 1943 Mary went over to MGM Studios. Hollywood columnist Sheilah Graham reported that MGM planned to emphasize Mary’s acting over her dancing. Clip is from the July 18, 1943 Dallas Morning News.

Lady_in_the_Dark_(1944)In 1944 Poly High’s Mary Roberson and Central High’s Ginger Rogers appeared in a film together—Lady in the Dark.

Music_for_Millions_FilmPosterIn 1944 Mary appeared in MGM’s Music for Millions, starring Margaret O’Brien and June Allyson. Early in 1944 Mary and Howard Hughes were seen together at nightclubs. But on May 9 she married Army Air Corps Lieutenant Richard Dixon of Fort Worth. MGM gave Mary two days off from filming Music for Millions to honeymoon. Mary and Dixon were married two years.

cigarett nyplMary’s sister Judy told Bill Fairley of the Star-Telegram in 1998: “When Punkins came home, she was just little Mary Frances again, in blue jeans and plaid shirts, playing with neighborhood kids.”

roberson 3-20-50About 1947 Mary left Hollywood and returned to Fort Worth to care for her ailing father, a local attorney. After he died in 1947 Mary hosted a pioneer children’s show on WBAP-TV in 1949-1950: “Mary Parker Playtime.” She also hosted “Dance Parade.” Clips are from the March 20 and 24, 1950 Dallas Morning News.

great-diamond-robbery-movie-poster-1954In the early 1950s Mary also appeared in four Hollywood movies but was uncredited. Her last film was The Great Diamond Robbery with Red Skelton in 1954.

studio 2408 fpbIn 1956 Mary opened Mary Parker School of Dance at 2408 Forest Park Boulevard. She gave lessons, and she and her dance partner, James Leito, performed locally. Mary later worked as an office manager for a physician.

benbrook 2815Mary lived at 2815 Benbrook Boulevard, just a few doors from Boyce House.

obit 3-3-98For Mary Frances Roberson, the girl who went from Polywood to Hollywood, “The End” came in her hometown on March 2, 1998.

(Michael Mitchell, who contributed to this post, has Mary Parker websites at





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It’s Wildflower Wednesday

More spring flora seen along the Trinity River:
pink 3white 2puffonion 2grassbluebonnet 1

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Beatitudes in Brick

For a Sunday, some church windows seen around town.  

window broadwayBroadway Baptist Church (Hedrick and Stanley, 1952).

window hemp presby 1Hope Works Fellowship (built as Hemphill Presbyterian Church, Sanguinet and Staats, 1925).

window first christian 2First Christian Church (Van Slyke and Woodruff, 1914).

windows first united three windows verticalFirst United Methodist Church (Clarkson, 1930).

window st jamesGreater St. James Baptist Church (1913). Stained glass protected by clear glass.

window temple beth-elTemple Beth-El (1920). Stained glass protected by clear glass.

Posted in Architecture, Bricks and Martyr, Downtown, Downtown, All Around, Going to Great Panes, South Side | Leave a comment

Playing Peek-a-Boo with the Past

jpr surviving wing

These brick walls have a story behind them. In fact, these brick walls have a story on all sides of them.

jps mugWe can begin the story in 1877, when civic leader John Peter Smith donated five acres of land for a city hospital. The land was located well south of the city at the time, and the city did not make use of the land for years, even though in 1883 Fort Worth’s first hospital—St. Joseph Infirmary—opened across South Main Street to serve, initially, the Missouri Pacific railroad.

jps 94 medical school july 26 94 gazIn 1894 Fort Worth University (founded 1881) opened its Fort Worth Medical College. Among the college’s doctors were William A. Duringer, William Paxton Burts (first mayor of Fort Worth), Julian Theodore Feild (son of pioneer Julian Feild), and Bacon Saunders (who built the Flatiron Building in 1907). Clip is from the July 27, 1894 Fort Worth Gazette.

jps 1896 cdThe medical college originally was at Commerce and 7th streets. Nearby Hell’s Half Acre kept medical students supplied with patients on whom to practice suturing knife wounds, excising bullets, treating drug overdoses, etc. Clip is from the 1896 city directory.

jps 1907 greater fort worthBut by 1906 the medical college was located at East 5th and Calhoun streets. It included a hospital where students trained.

jps city-county 1914Fort Worth University closed in 1911, and TCU took over the medical college. In 1914 the medical college began using the new City-County Hospital just across the alley at East 4th and Jones streets, designed by Sanguinet and Staats. Among the hospital’s early challenges was the flu epidemic of 1918. But that same year the medical college left TCU and became part of Baylor University in Dallas.

jps 4-26-14 spreadThe 1914 building continued to house City-County Hospital until 1939, when a new City-County Hospital finally was built on South Main on the land that John Peter Smith had donated in 1877. In 1943 the 1914 City-County building was headquarters for military police stationed here. In the early 1950s it was a polio treatment center. The building is now Maddox-Muse Center, part of the Bass Hall complex. Star-Telegram clip is from April 26, 1914. Note that the nurse was drawn by Plang.

jps 38 opening dmn 11-7.jpgThe new City-County Hospital opened in July 1939. Among its early challenges was the polio epidemic of the late 1940s and early 1950s. The hospital was renamed for John Peter Smith in 1954. Clip is from the November 7, 1938 Dallas Morning News.

jps smith and pattersonThe new hospital was yet another beautiful building designed by the prolific Wiley Clarkson. Top photo by W. D. Smith. Bottom photo courtesy of Jim Patterson.

JPS 52 aerialThis aerial photo was taken in 1952. The original building already had been expanded.

jps googleExpansion—including an eleven-story tower—continued in the 1960s and 1970s as the 1939 building was swallowed. I have outlined in yellow the part of the 1939 building still visible from the air. (Some of Fort Worth’s original school buildings likewise are hidden inside decades of expansion.)

elevator insetInset is an enlargement of the Patterson photo showing just the top story of the original building. Want a closer look?

1938-31938-1These closeup photos of the exterior of the top story of the original building show Clarkson’s attention to art deco styling. (Closeup photos from Jill “J. R.” Labbe, vice president, communications and community affairs, JPS Health Network.)

jpr surviving wingThe end of the north wing is the only part of the original building still visible from street level. Apparently between 1948 and 1952 a bay (for a stairwell or elevator?) was added to the north wing, which today plays peek-a-boo with us from the past.

Bonus Hospital Peek-a-Boo with the Past

Here’s another Fort Worth hospital whose original building is largely enclosed by expansion.

bonus harris The top photo, a recent Google aerial, shows the Texas Health Harris Methodist Hospital Fort Worth campus stretching from Pennsylvania Avenue south to Terrell Street and from 6th Avenue east to Henderson Street. The bottom aerial photo, from 1952, shows that area when the original Harris Hospital building (left side of photo), also designed by Wiley Clarkson in 1924, was the only Harris building. From the sky you can see that the building has what architects call a “radial” footprint. It looks like an H doing jumping jacks. The original building’s address in 1924 was 1300 West Cannon Street. With expansion to a “campus,” the hospital ate part of Cannon Street and a chunk of Pruitt Street. Now the hospital’s address is 1301 Pennsylvania Avenue.

Posted in Architecture, Art Decow, Downtown, Downtown, All Around, Life in the Past Lane, South Side | 1 Comment

The Year Was 1948: Fakes, Bakes, and Shakes

Harry Truman was president. America was between wars. Cleveland Indians shortstop/manager Lou Boudreau was the overwhelming choice for American League MVP. Gentleman’s Agreement won an Oscar for best picture. Stevie Nicks was born. Among Billboard magazine’s number 1 songs was “Twelfth Street Rag” by Fort Worth’s Euday Bowman.

And in 1948 readers of the Fort Worth Press were reading these ads:

fakesFakes Furniture Store was the original occupant of the lower part of the Fort Worth Club Building (Sanguinet and Staats, 1926). Fakes sold the Thor brand of washing machines.

The Fakes company had been selling furniture and coffins downtown since at least 1876. Fakes also offered an undertaking service, competing with George Gause. In 1881 Louis P. Robertson bought the Fakes undertaking service and established L. P. Robertson Undertaker. That company evolved into today’s Robertson Harper Mueller funeral home. (Fakes ad at bottom from 1878 city directory.)

fort worth club cox ad 48 fwpIn 1946 R. E. Cox moved into the lower part of the Fort Worth Club Building and stayed until 1955.

bourlandsIf you didn’t like the Thor brand, Vergal Bourland’s home appliance store on the West Side sold Bendix washers and ironers. Vergal Bourland later was manager of Colonial Country Club. (Did Johnnie Roventini, the Philip Morris bellboy, moonlight for Bourland’s?)

bairds 1948 fwpBy 1948 Ninnie Baird and family had moved their bakery to Summit Avenue from West Terrell Avenue.

rocket ad 1948 fwpAt the Rocket Club on Jacksboro Highway you could hear Denny Beckner and His Mad Cap Merrymakers, who recorded for Savoy Records. And you could see Trudine the quiver queen—a mover and shaker in the world of burlesque.

everybodys grand 1everybodys grand 2Everybody’s Department Store, opened in 1931 by the Leonard brothers, expanded in 1948 to a city block just as adjacent Leonard’s Department Store also was expanding.

pinwheel leonard's ad 1948 fwpIn the boys’ department in Leonards’s you could buy an atomic twirler. Science fiction author and cartoonist Ray Nelson claimed to have invented the propeller beanie while still in high shool in the 1940s. The headgear was also called a “helicopter hat.” The ad promises: “You look and feel like you’re about to ‘take off.’” Boys could probably get the same feeling by watching Trudine at the Rocket Club.

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Cowtown in Motion: Stampede! A Herd of Turtles

Turtles—both hard-shell and soft-shell—seen on the Clear Fork. YouTube video at http://youtu.be/K2gajgXy95E. (Viewable in 1080HD.)


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Hello, Yellow: Spring Returns to the Trinity

The banks of the Trinity River are getting some color in their cheeks. Here is one of those colors.yellow 5

yellow 4yellow 3yellow 2yellow 1

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