Monday, June 11, 2012


              Turn of the Century Pittsburgh was a bustling steel metropolis, a major player in the industrial revolution, millionaires filled the city and surrounding parts, names like Carnegie, Thaw, White, Vanderbilt, Hearst, Pulitzer were running not only Pittsburgh but New York, Chicago  and San Francisco.  This was a busy and hectic time for the country, America was finally growing up, after the infant stages after the revolution, and the almost destruction of the not so long ago Civil War, America was finally finding some peace time and it’s people were looking for entertainment after their long and busy days of work.   Baseball was beginning its climb to become America’s pastime, and a little thing called motion pictures was just around the corner, trains were making America seem not so big, and in a little house just outside of downtown Pittsburgh, Katie and James Morehead were expecting their second child.  The child arrived on July 27, 1901, a daughter named Nathalian Morehead,  she was the second daughter of the family, the first was Regina, born in 1898.  The family with their new born daughter lived in a nice new house just outside of down town Pittsburgh, were James worked for the United States Steel Corporation.   Soon little Nathalian became Natalie, and not your average little girl of the time, she was much more of a tomboy, Natalie didn’t play with dolls, she could usually be found with a gang of boys playing marbles, or planning some adventure, she became very popular with the kids she was given the nickname “King of the kids”, she was very proud of that title, but that didn’t stop her from getting into fights with the others.  She never went to mom after the fights, she always went to her father for advise, one day a boy gave her a black eye, she went and told her father, he told her to return the favor, her mother would tremble when she saw how her plans to bring Natalie up a charming debutante were turning out.  Sadly the good life was to change when Natalie was about 10 years old, when her father died.  Katie and her two daughters, Regina and Natalie were forced to sell the nice house and move to a smaller house.  Natalie would soon start her education at the St John’s school and studied music, and would attend Peabody High School, but school was never Natalie’s strong point, unlike her sister who would attend Stanford and Berkley.  Natalie  was always playing hooky, she would race off to the country club with her friends for swimming, dancing, and sometimes movies.  At this point she had intentions of being a movie star, she was just a spectator, it was the stage she was mad about.   Natalie’s love for the theater came from her father, her family had a box at a local theater, where she and her father would go and enjoy the opera.    During the First World War, a lot of the society girls in Pittsburgh were getting a new thrill working for the government, Natalie then enrolled in Miss Connelly’s business school to study shorthand and typewriting.  Natalie again didn’t care for school, and it was around this time she started thinking about a career in the theater.  As the story goes Natalie went to New York with two friends to see a Football game, while making the rounds of Fifth Ave shops, a man came up to her and asked if she was an actress, and he offered her a job in the Broadway play “Abie’s Irish Rose”.  Natalie agreed on the spot to a $25 a week role as a bridesmaid, when Natalie wired her mother she  was not happy, she sent Natalie some clothes and told her she never wanted to she her again.  Natalie mother, like so many others at the time thought actors were a bad set, smoking, drinking, not a place for a lady, after a few months, the show closed and she was tired of it all and went back home.  Soon Natalie was able to entice her mother to let her go to New York and enroll  at Sargent’s Dramatic School, and then onto Plainfield, New Jersey to work in Charlie Brian’s stock company.  By this time Mrs. Moorhead was a bit more accepting of her daughters career choice, but still made Natalie promise not to drink, smoke or go out dancing all night.  Natalie mom soon became very interested in her career and followed her back to New York where Natalie was given a featured role in the play “The Baby Cyclone”.   The play was big for two reasons, Natalie hair style became all the rage, and her costar was a young Spencer Tracy.  The play got good reviews and soon attracted the attention of a film director who said she was the type who could step out of a Rolls Royce as though she owned it, and with that Natalie was off to Hollywood.

               Natalie arrived in Hollywood in 1929 and signed with Fox Studios for the movie “Thru Different Eyes” playing a sophisticated vamp and introducing her hair style to the screen.  She would appear in three more movies that year, “Trusting Wives”, “The Unholy Night” and “The Girl From Havana”.   Although the roles weren’t big, she must have made a slight impact, because just as she arrived in Hollywood she made an enemy with a big name.  Lilyan Tashman was trying to run her out of town, although they never met, she did make “Thru Different Eyes” with her husband Edmund Lowe.  Was it the similar hair styles, are the similar roles, Lilyan was known to play the mean woman, now the up and comer was taking her roles.  Either way Natalie never knew why Lilyan disliked her, Natalie felt sorry because she had been a fan of Lilyan’s movies.  The next two years would find Natalie extremely busy making over 20 movies all for major studios.  She would also meet her first husband director Alan Crosland who directed her in “The Furies” and “Captain Thunder”, and were married in a cottage in Yosemite National Park before a log fire.  1930 would be Natalie busiest years and find her is many roles of various sizes from bit parts to featured roles, working with such names like William Powell, Mary Astor, Claudette Colbert, Buster Keaton, and Lewis Stone.  She would play the other woman in many of these pictures, like “The Office Wife” as Lewis Stone’s wife he leaves for the great Dorothy Mackaill, or tiny bit parts in “Show Girl in Hollywood” and “Captain Thunder” and sometimes just the friend of the main star like Claudette Colbert  in “Manslaughter”.  She would also play a few villain roles, in Mary Astor’s “The Runaway Bride” and in the Woolsey and Wheeler comedy “Hook, Line and Sinker”.  1931 would find Natalie working with two giants of the silent screen, John Gilbert in one of his few talkies “The Phantom of Paris” and a very funny Buster Keaton picture “Parlor, Bedroom and Bath”.  1932 started off good for Natalie with some pictures with big studios but as the year went on she would find her self in poverty row outfits like Chesterfield, and Allied.  In one of her bigger parts in Columbia’s “The Menace” she would upset a young starlet named Bette Davis, who claimed she tried to up stage her and give the kid a hard time.   Natalie may have found her self in small independent studios, but she also found bigger roles like the second lead in  “Love Bound” and “The King Murder”.  1933 was much of the same, small parts in big studio movies like “The Minder Reader” for First National and “Private Detective 62” for Warner Bros, but back to poverty row.  1934 would see Natalie finally get to be in a major hit, but no one knew it at the time and she would have big role, but only a few minutes of screen time.   The picture would be MGM masterpiece “The Thin Man” in which she plays the not so trusty secretary who’s murder starts the craziness that is this brilliant movie staring William Powell and Myrna Loy.  Made with a smaller budget, and thought to be a throwaway film, it became a smash hit and spawn numerous sequels, is now considered a classic and is sadly the only movie Natalie is still known for, and she’s dead before it really begins.  For whatever reason Natalie would not make a movie in 1935, but she was still busy, as her marriage to Alan Crosland was coming to an end.  Natalie would file for divorce charging Alan with cruelty and Natalie would receive half of Alan’s weekly salary of $650 for temporary alimony.  While married, the Crosland’s had a few run ins with debt collectors, and even with the alimony Natalie was forced to file for bankruptcy.  Natalie would be forced to return to pictures, this time back with the major studios but in much smaller roles.  She would also attempt a major image makeover, changing her trademark tight blond hair to a more fuller brunet, and in the ultimate irony her first picture as a brunet would be in the fantastic “Adventurous Blonde”.  “Adventurous Blonde” gave Natalie a fairly big role, again as a villain, staring with the always great Glenda Farrell in the best movie of her Torchy Blaine series.   Natalie would have a few more leads like in the poverty row picture “What Becomes of the Children”,  with William “Hopalong Cassidy” Boyd in “Heart of Arizona” and with Bonita Granville (of Nancy Drew fame) in Warner Bros “The Beloved Brat”.  Things were looking up for Natalie, but that would be it, has her roles got smaller and smaller to the point were she us listed as woman in solon in the 1939 Joan Crawford/Norma Shearer hit “The Women”.  Natalie’s last picture would be in 1940 in Universal’s “Margie“, Natalie career was over with an impressive 64 pictures in only ten years.
            What happened between 1940 and 1942 are unclear, but in 1942 she married Chicago Parks Commissioner Robert J. Dunham, they would remained married until his death in 1949.   Again it is unclear what she did or where she lived from 1949 to 1957, but in 1957 she married former soccer star and Spanish actor Juan Garchitorena(Torena).   They met in the 30’s at the home of Doris Kenyon, and work together at various studios, they somehow got together in the 50’s and were married in Beverly Hills.  They traveled and lived in Europe for a time then returned to California and settled in Montecito, a suburb of Santa Barbara.  They would remained married until 1983 when Juan Torena died, and Natalie Moorhead would pass away on October 6, 1992, still in Montecito.

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