Doris Dudley, a biography

by Will Johnson, Professional Writer

(sHdc) The only detailed biography of Doris Dudley, actress available on the internet.


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"Doris Dudley, a biography" by Will Johnson,
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This is the only known comprehensive biography of Doris Dudley in existence.  All other biographies of Doris  Dudley are either quite tiny, or just snippets of his impact on others at some particular point in their lives, without giving a comprehensive view of his life.  This biography I hope will correct that.

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The only known detailed biography of Doris Dudley, actress

Doris Dudley with her son
Theodore Kurrus Jr in Jun 1937

In June 1932, she eloped with "Isadore" Kurrus of Kurrus Electrical Engineering Company in New York.  He is afterward referred to as Theodore Kurrus. At another point he is described as a jazz musician and at another point as the leader of the Westchester County orchestra. She was fourteen, he was twenty-three.

By Jan 1936 she had 'appeared in two Broadway plays, both closed within a week" and was "reported engaged to Sidney Kingsley, playwright."

In 1936, she asked for an annulment because he had "worked only once or twice" since their wedding, and asked custody of her two-year-old son, Theodore Kurrus Jr.  In "Men and Women of Hawaii 1972" we get the details "Theodore Dudley Kurrus, public relations specialist, born 20 Oct 1933 at Mt Kisco, NY, son of Theodore Hornby [Kurrus] and Doris Dudley"
Doris Dudley
Jan 1936
Click to Enlarge

17 Jan 1936, "Clinton County Weekly", "Star Dust Movie and Radio", by Virginia Vale
    "This is the sort of thing that happens in the movie world.  There is a young girl named Doris Dudley -- she's just eighteen, not exceptionally pretty, and with no record so far as talent is concerned.  She has been in one play that never reached New York, and recently opened in another one, "The Season Changes."
    "But -- RKO has signed her for four pictures, at $1500 a week for the first two, and $1750 a week for the next two.
    "She was married when she was fifteen, is getting a divorce, and has a young son.  Her father, one of New York's best-loved dramatic critics for many years, who writes plays and comments on other people's on the radio, is rather startled by the whole thing.  For Doris' career is of her own making.
    "And the answer to the question every one has asked -- "Why should this girl get such a contract?" is the fact that her agent is Leland Hayward, who is the agent (and either is or is not the husband) of Katherine Hepburn."

4 Mar 1936, "Broadway Nights", by Clark Kinnaird
    "Some persons say I look like Katherine Hepburn.  I don't.  I don't want to look like her," emphatically said yellow-curled, gray-eyed Doris Dudley who, though 18, has a two-year-old son.
    "Evidently Radio Pictures, Miss Hepburn's employer, doesn't think she resembles Kate either, for they've signed her up for five years as a result of her scintillating showing in the new Theater Guild offering, "End of Summer," by perhaps the most brilliant of current dramatists, S.N. Berhrman.
    "Her performance overshadows that of the feminine star, Ina Claire; a fact that may diminish Miss Claire's pleasure in being in another hit.  Any prima donna of the stage is pleased to see another talented young woman's star rising  provided she isn't in her show.  But both ladies must defer to Osgood Perkins, who dominates the proceedings with his sleight-of-hand as a psychiatrist who holds the mirror of their real selves up to guests in the household of a wealthy scatterbrained woman (Miss Claire) and then is denuded of his own pretense with his own technique, by her daughter (Miss Dudley)."

Sidney Kingsley and Doris Dudley, Apr 1936
Click to Enlarge

30 Apr 1936, Oswego Palladium-Times, "Lovers Make Up After Shooting"
"Doris Dudley, 18-Year-Old Actress, Wounded in Chest at Playwright's Home"
    "New York - A lovers' quarrel between an 18-year-old actress, Doris Dudley, and Sidney Kingsley, the playwright, punctuated by a rifle shot that wounded her in the chest, was patched up today in a hospital room.
    "The shooting occurred in the apartment of the young creator of 'Dead End,' current Broadway hit.  Police said the wound was self-inflicted and reported finding a 'farewell' note she had written.  They withheld its contents.
    "Miss Dudley's father, Bide Dudley, the dramatic critic, however, said a physician assured him there was no evidence the young actress had attempted suicide.  He added
    " 'Mr. Kingsley possesses several rifles and the explanation of the accident is that they were examining some of the guns and the one in Doris' hands went off unexpectedly.'
    "The wound was superficial and within a few hours after the shooting, Miss Dudley and Kingsley were reunited at her room at York hospital.  It was said she will return to her role in 'End of Summer' in a few days.
    "Detective Charles Kieber reported the couple quarreled at dinner in a West side restaurant when the playwright reproved Miss Dudley for hesitating earlier about making a date.  Then, he said, they went to Kingsley's apartment where the quarrel fired up again.
    "Miss Dudley stepped into the bedroom to make a telephone call.  Kingsley insisted upon knowing whom she had called.
    "She reentered the bedroom, Detective Kieber said, wrote a note and then locked herself in the bathroom.  Kingsley said he heard a shot, and called out: 'What was that?'
    " 'It's the gun.  I just wanted to see if it works,' he quoted his fiance.
    "He said he and his secretary, Jack Small, broke into the room and found the girl wounded.
    "Miss Dudley's marriage at 14 to Theodore Kurrus of Mt. Kisco, NY was annulled last January.  They had one child, a son, now two years old."

She had been married to Theodore Kurrus, but obtained an annulment from him in 1936.  Her film debut was in the 1936 release "A Woman Rebels", in a bit part in this film which starring Katharine Hepburn, Herbert Marshall and Elizabeth Allan.

A Woman's Rebels (1936romance drama added 19 Jun 2011
    directed by Mark Sandrich, produced by Pandro S Berman
    starring Katharine Hepburn, Herbert Marshall, Elizabeth Allen, Donald Crisp
    Doris Dudley, David Manners, Lucille Watson, Van Heflin
        Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6, Part 7, Part 8, Part 9
Doris Dudley appears only in the last third of the movie, as the grown-up "Floss".

Doris Dudley, Sep 1936

7 Sep 1936 The Pittsburgh Press
"What is All This About an Eccentric, High-Hattin', Fractious Doris Dudley?" - "New Movie Actress Claims She's a Model of Docility", by Paul Harrison
    "Doris Dudley says that isn't true at all about her being temperamental or eccentric or 'Hollywood.'  Indeed, she can't imagine how the report got around.
    "The minute the announcement was made that Miss Dudley was coming to Hollywood from Broadway to appear in 'Portrait of a Rebel' with Katharine Hepburn, people began predicting that there would be some new and spectacular fireworks in talkietown.  And scarcely had she arrived than gossip began to go around that the actress was hep to all the Hepburn tricks; that she was inaccessible, dodged cameras, high-hatted everyone and was spending her time dashing around in an open Rolls-Royce, and she is trying to be gracious to everybody.
    " 'And I don't want to be likened to Miss Hepburn,' she protests.  'Of course, I admire her enormously.  But such comparisons are likely to be fatal to any young actress.  If she can't be just an individual, she might as well quit. '
    "Back in New York, of course, Miss Dudley did have a somewhat spectacular record of impulsiveness.  Began by getting married when she was 14.  Her father, when he heard about it, said it was all right.  But the marriage was annulled.  She has a two-year-old son, Theodore Kurrus, Jr.
    "And only last April, when she was 18, Miss Dudley suffered a minor wound from a .22 rifle while she was in the apartment of Sidney Kingsley, 30-year-old playright.  Police said a suicide note was found.  She said it was an accident.
    "Next day she and Kingsley confirmed a previous announcement that they were engaged to be married.
    "Kingsley is in Hollywood now, but the two rarely have been seen together, and it's supposed that the romance has been filed under 'Errors'.
    "Talking with Miss Dudley, you think of two worn adjectives -- piquant and vivacious.  She isn't beautiful, but her eyes are large, her smile engaging, and she has a mobility of expression which has greatly impressed Hollywood higher-ups.  She's lean and has a lot of nervous vitality.
    "While wearing shorts -- which she almost always wears, not overalls -- she twists around like an uneasy small boy -- now with a leg over a chair arm, next with a knee drawn up under her chin.  The nail on each big toe is lacquered scarlet.
    "She told of her brief acting career: 'Last year I was determined to do something, but I was too skinny to model.  So Dad gave me letters to a lot of producers  and I went around looking for a part in a play.  The letters took me into the offices all right, but nobody would hire me.
    " 'So I quit in the middle of the list, and went home and read 10 plays.  Then I went back to call on the producers I hadn't seen.  When they asked about experience I reeled off the names of those plays and said I had appeared in them in summer stock.'
    " 'Jake Shubert caught me up on that.  He asked if I knew Lawrence Langner and I said no.  He said that was very strange indeed, because two of the plays I mentioned had been produced by Langner at his playhouse in Westport.  Mr Shubert laughed and was nice about it, but he didn't give me a job.'
    " 'Eddie Dowling hired me, though.  His show didn't open on Broadway, but it gave me a start.  I had the lead in 'Stick in the Mud.'  I was in 'The Season Changes,' and finally the ingenue lead in 'End of Summer'.
    "By  this time Miss Dudley had an agent, and Hollywood talent scouts were angling for her.  Now she has an RKO contract.
    " 'I'm sorry I haven't anything startling to say,' resumed Miss Dudley.  'And I can't live up to my advance billings.  In restaurants people seem to expect me to throw plates and they act disappointed when I don't."

Doris Dudley, John Barrymore, Elaine Barrie Barrymore
in 1940

1 Feb 1940 "The Milwaukee Sentinel, pg 14
"Barrymore's Leading Lady Will Be Fired -- for Elaine"
    "John Barrymore, as ardent and confused as a man who has been married four days instead of four times, rose with the dusk tonight at his cottage at Bayside, L.I., reached for a pick me up, smiled (yes, smiled) at a reporter, spoke favorably of his wife, his mother-in-law and his leading lady.  Then he said the leading lady would be fired.  He announced:
    Miss Doris Dudley will be replaced by Mrs. Barrymore in the next 10 days.  Doris has commitments on the West coast to make pictures, and I expect she will go there soon."
    "Taking the edge of this piece of nepotism, Barrymore said earnestly.
    " 'Doris is a charming, lovely and capable girl.  She has a great future.'
    "John, too, had a great future in store for him tonight.  He remarked.
    " 'I'm going to have dinner with my wife.  She is going to cook dinner for me in her suite at the Hotel Navarro, all by herself.'
    "The reporter mumbled something about the famous profile's suit for an accounting against his mother-in-law, who had charge of $300,000 of his money, according to the papers in the case.  Barrymore replied
    " 'Wonderful woman, she kept her youth remarkably well.'
    "Meanwhile the federation of other women who don't like the way things are going had a special emergency meeting and grand war council at a fashionable club in Fifty-second St.
    "Doris Dudley, Diana Barrymore Blythe, the daughter of whom John said 'She is the finest thing I've ever produced,' and Mrs Harrison Tweed (Michael Strange), who was John's second wife and Diana's mother, all agreed something should be done, but disagreed on what it should be.
    "Miss Blythe wanted 'daddy' back from the clutches of 'that person.'
    "Miss Dudley said :
    " 'She is his wife.  If he wants her in the show, it's O.K. with me.  I don't want to come between a man and his wife.'
    "Then she gritted her teeth and with a determined smile
    " 'In a way I do admire Elaine -- considering her background and lack of theatrical training.  I admire her commanding way.  She knows what she wants, and nothing can stop her.'
    "Miss Dudley had a closeup of that commanding way Wednesday night when Miss Barrie, single handed, broke up an after theater party which Miss Blythe was giving for her father and carried off the famous profile.
    "Asked if she thought this reconciliation would make Barrymore happy, Miss Dudley replied
    " 'Yes I think it might.  He's a very lonely man and he admires that sort of woman.  She can take care of him.  I hear she took very good care of him when they were together before.
    " 'Of course, she's tremendously ambitious and she knows how to get what she wants.
    " 'I'm in the peculiar position of trying to fight sex with talent.  But you've got to hand it to her.  She's got guts!  She'll stop at nothing.
    " 'I hope Miss Barrie is not doing all this just for publicity, because it will hurt John.  He needs somebody so badly.  John is the kind of person who can be easily influenced by people if he likes them.  All you have to do is cater to him and flatter him.  And did that woman flatter him the other night!  It was amazing to see a man of his intelligence fall for it."

1 Oct 1942 "Mad About Manhattan", by George Tucker
    "Doris Dudley, blonde actress daughter of a New York drama critic, has a theatrical reputation as being altogether irrepressible.  Ina Claire summed Doris up by saying, "She'll be a legend before her time."  However, Doris has puzzled the critics by alternately giving magnificent performances and others not so magnificent.  Currently, she is appearing in a film to be called "City Without Men," and when she went to Hollywood her employers said they hoped she would forget her screwball-ism.  Doris promised to be a good girl.
    "In one of the scenes of this film Miss Dudley was to be kissed by Michael Duane, but instead of waiting for Duane she seized the young man and did the embracing herself.  The director was angered. "Why do you do that when it is he who is supposed to kiss you?" shouted Sid Salkow.
    "Miss Dudley lowered her long lashes until they rested lightly on her cheeks. "Can I help it if I'm affectionate?"

Jack "Butch" Jenkins
Her son Jack "Butch" Jenkins, born in 1937 to her second husband Captain Jack Jenkins of the army ferry command in Africa (so said in 1943), had a brief film career in the 1940s as a child star.  He appeared in several movies including "National Velvet" with Elizabeth Taylor, as her pesky kid brother.  Jack's last film was made when he was eleven "The Bride Goes Wild" starring opposite Van Johnson, and June Allyson.  He appeared on a Western television series, a few years later, then quit acting entirely.  Butch married, had several children and operated a water-supply firm in Wills Point, Texas.  He died in 2001.

Doris married Richard Leahy about 1943, and later married Walter Wolfe, ad executive.  Her father Bide died on 4 Jan 1944 and was buried in Leavenworth, Kansas.  In 1949, she returned to work, signed by RKO for a role in 'Blind Spot'.  In 1950 'The Secret Fury' with Claudette Colbert, Robert Ryan.  In 1951 she was in an automobile accident, thrown from the car while pregnant and lost her baby.  She remarried Jack Jenkins and divorced him again in 1959.  In 1965 she is reported as "Former actress Doris Dudley, the mother of Butch Jenkins, one-time child star, is now a successful real estate developer in Dallas."

17 Aug 1985, "The Vindicator" (Greenville, Texas) (obit) "Doris Dudley Jenkins; madcap actress of '30s"
    "Doris Dudley Jenkins, who grabbed headlines as a madcap young New York actress in the 1930s died Wednesday of cancer.  She was 68
    "Ms. Jenkins began her acting career in a spectacular fashion when she crash-landed a friend's plane in Boston and still made it to the stage on time.  In the 1940s Ms Jenkins played small roles in movies starring Katharine Hepburn and Claudette Colbert.  Her father, Bide Dudley, was a widely-known drama critic for 'The Evening World' and radio station WOR in New York."

Seeing how Leland was her agent, and Leland was also a pilot with his own plane, I wonder if the "friend's plane" she crash-landed was Leland's!

19 Aug 1985, The Leader-Post (Regina)
"Former Actress Dies After Cancer Fight"
    "Doris Dudley Jenkins, who grabbed headlines as a madcap New York actress in the 1930s, has died at the age of 68.
    "Jenkins, a real estate developer and well known for sheltering hundreds of stray dogs, was diagnosed as having bone cancer a year ago.  She died at her home in Greenville.
    "Born in Scarsdale, NY, in 1917, she grew up in New York City where her father, Bide Dudley, was a well-known drama critic for the Evening World and radio station WOR.
    "At 13, she eloped with jazz musician Theodore Kurrus, but the marriage was later annulled.
    "After a brief stint as a fashion model in the 1930s, Jenkins turned to the stage.
    "Known on the stage as Doris Dudley, her Broadway roles included Stick-in-the-Mud and The Season Changes in 1935, End of Summer, written by S N Behrman, in 1936, Philip Barry's Here Come the Clowns in 1938 and Rose Burke in 1942.
    "When John Barrymore fired his wife from My Dear Children in 1939, he hired Jenkins.  The part was short-lived -- Barrymore soon rehired his wife -- but the brouhaha garnered plenty of publicity for the little-known actress.
    "In the 1940s, she played small roles in movies starring Katharine Hepburn and Claudette Colbert.
    "By the early 1950s she had married, divorced and remarried and given up Hollywood for Dallas.  In later years, she housed, fed and found homes for thousands of stray dogs.
    "She had given away all but six dogs and two old horses, and had those put to death earlier this month, her son Ted Kurrus said."

22 Aug 1985, Toledo Blade "Writer Has Cher, Turner In Mind For Prison Spoof", by Harry Haun
"The Girl Next Door"
    "This is an item I got from my mother, normally not a carrier of tall tales.  Across the dirt road from my grandfolks' place in Jacobia, Tex. (population: 21), for many years lived the local lady of mystery.  She took in all the stray dogs in the area but held the humans at bay.  By country standards, she was a bit standoffish -- and that, of course, made her the object of much local wonderment.  The natives didn't know what her story was until she died last week at age 68 and the obit identified her as Doris Dudley.
    "It is easier to imagine a Martian in Jacobia than it is this glamorous gadfly who was once the darling of gossip columns.  Doris was the daughter of Bide Dudley, drama critic for the New York Evening World and WOR Radio, and, at 14, she was the bride of orchestra leader Ted Kurrus.  In 1935 she made her Broadway debut in S N Behrman's 'End of Summer,' and one impetuous critic called her another Katharine Hepburn.  She costarred with Katharine Cornell and Jean-Pierre Aumont in 'The Smiling Visitor,' appeared with Miriam Hopkins in the first play by Tennessee Williams (the ill-fated 'Battle of Angels'), and was leading lady to John Barrymore in his last stage outing ('My Dear Children').
    "But always, her real worth as an actress was upstaged by the life she led.  It was one of those free-spirited, open-air kind of lives.  She shot herself at the apartment of Sidney Kingsley after a lovers' spat, and it was all ruled an accident -- despite the suicide note.  She crashed a plane in Boston and still go to the theater on time.  She pilfered a memento when she met FDR -- a memo from his desk that tellingly read 'Phone Eleanor - Philadelphia? Los Angeles?'  She grew two mink coats in Katonah, raised white-face steers in Arizona, bought the ghost town of Gualala, Calif.
    "But her best real-life role was that of the stage mother who didn't push.  A scout for MGM spotted her son playing at the Santa Monica beach,  and Jackie "Butch" Jenkins was put into William Saroyan's 'The Human Comedy,' where director Clarence Brown shrewdly manipulated a winning performance (albeit, via tricks like shooting off a gun behind the boy's back to assure Butch's startled reaction when a store mannequin winked.)  During the next five years, Butch was kid brother to Elizabeth Taylor ("National Velvet"), Peter Lawford ("My Brother Talks to Horses"), and Mickey Rooney ("Summer Holiday") -- but the pressures of stardom produced a permanent stutter.  Doris stopped the merry-go-round, and they settled in Dallas and never looked back.
    "All of this Doris Dudley Kurrus Jenkins Leahy might have told the good people of Jacobia and didn't.
    " 'I have never regretted leaving the picture business and am very grateful to my mother for taking me away from it,' Butch once said.  'There may be a better way to live than on a lake with a couple of cows, a wife, and children -- but being a movie star is not one.'  He is now a real estate man in North Carolina, and yesterday he turned 48."