She was an RKO girl that you'll doubtless recall as one of the brilliant Astaire/Rogers team from "Top Hat" and "Swing Time". This hand-on-hip wise cracker set and perfected the template that would later be enjoyed by Eve Arden.
What you may not know is that before the pictures found her she had a long and successful career on the New York stage that went all the way back to 1907 as a Ziegfeld girl in the very first Follies. Not a bad start at all.
Another successful production of Helen's was being the mother of tough guy, Broderick Crawford:
Here's the big surprise though, Mom never wanted Brod to be an actor. Her idea? He should take a course in commercial advertising!
But inevitably one night in November of 1937, she found herself trudging the stairs backstage at the Music Box Theater to the same dressing room she had occupied four years earlier in "As Thousands Cheer" to congratulate her son on his career-making performance as Lennie in John Steinbeck's "Of Mice And Men".
|Claire Luce and Broderick Crawford, "Of Mice And Men"|
He found his payback one night, when Helen was at the peak of her career, while sitting in Walter Huston's dressing room. Broadway legend George M. Cohan walked in and Huston performed introductions. "This is Helen Broderick's son," he told Cohan. Cohan looked blank. "Helen who?" he said. "Helen Broderick." Cohan still looked blank. "Oh," he said. Crawford left the theater for Western Union and sent his mother a wire: "Get in touch with George M. Cohan immediately. He admires your work. Love, Brod."
Another legend of the Great White Way figured into both their lives.
While trying to smooth out some unruly dialog during the rehearsals for "The Band Wagon", George S. Kaufman looked up on stage and commented distractedly, "Helen your slip is showing." "George," replied Helen, "your show is slipping."
Fast forward five years. A few weeks into the run of "Mice" Broderick was feeling cocky and bored and started goofing around with his performance. He couldn't have picked a worse night - Kaufman was in the theater and promptly sent him a telegram backstage: "Am sitting in the back row. Wish you were here. George S. Kaufman."
|Adoring son, proud mother|