(Courtesy of Les Adams)
(Old Corral collection)
Verna Hillie - 1934 and about 20 years old in a screen capture from John Wayne's THE TRAIL BEYOND (Lone Star/Monogram, 1934).
Michigan born Verna Hillie only did about fifteen films, and is best remembered as the leading lady to Ken Maynard in the cliffhanger MYSTERY MOUNTAIN (Mascot, 1934).
At the time of the 1920 and 1930 census, the Hillie family lived in Detroit, Michigan and father Edward worked for the auto industry. However, biographies on Verna have her birth place as Hancock, Michigan which is over 500 miles north of Detroit.
The story goes that her mother sent her photo to Paramount who was running a contest in search of a new face to portray the "Panther Woman" in ISLAND OF LOST SOULS (1932). Verna, along with three other starlet finalists, competed for the role (the others were Lona Andre, Gail Patrick and Kathleen Burke and Burke won the part). But Verna was placed under a Paramount contract:
From the February 27, 1933 Hollywood Reporter tradepaper: "Verna Hillie, finalist in the Paramount Panther Woman contest who was given a trial contract by the studio, gets a term ticket with the company." (term ticket meaning a term player contract.)
During her short stay at Paramount, she was the female lead in a couple westerns, UNDER THE TONTO RIM (Paramount, 1933) with Stuart Erwin and MAN OF THE FOREST (Paramount, 1933) with Randolph Scott and Harry Carey, Sr.
She freelanced after leaving Paramount. In addition to Maynard's MYSTERY MOUNTAIN (Mascot, 1934), she was the heroine in a pair of B oaters with John Wayne, THE TRAIL BEYOND (Lone Star/Monogram, 1934) and THE STAR PACKER (Lone Star/Monogram, 1934). Then came a brief contract period at Universal.
She tied the knot with radio performer/writer Frank Gill Jr. in 1933 and they married, divorced, re-married ... and the pairing lasted until 1951 or so. The Gills were in New York City circa 1935 and Verna did a Broadway play. In 1937, they were back in California and daughters Pamela (born 1937) and Kathreen (born 1940) were born. Some sources mention "Kelly" as the second daughter. That may be a nickname for Kathreen. First daughter Pamela (Gill) Lincoln did some 1960s and 1970s films and TV and was married to actor Darryl Hickman for over twenty years.
Verna retired from the movie business and concentrated on her family.
In 1952, she married television executive and director Richard Linkroum and was Vice President, Secretary and Treasurer of Linkroum's TV production company which was headquartered in New York City. They divorced in 1961 or 1962.
Buck Rainey, in his book Sweethearts of the Sage (McFarland, 1992), had details on Verna. Paramount did not renew her contract due to a medical problem - she had Bell's Palsy (facial paralysis) but that cleared after a few months. After her divorce from Linkroum, she did patient relations, recruitment and volunteer work at New York Medical College. And in the late 1970s - early 1980s, she was the U. S. representative for romance novelist Barbara Cartland.
Verna was a guest at the 1985 Memphis Film Festival.
Her brother Edward Hillie (1918-1975) was also involved in the entertainment industry, working mostly in television with Red Skelton, at Desilu, more.
83 year old Verna Hillie passed away October 6, 1997 in Fairfield, Connecticut.
Although some of the data is incomplete or inaccurate, the Internet Movie Database (IMDb) has information on Verna Hillie: http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0384978/
The Internet Broadway Database has one play listed for Verna Hillie - "Night of January 16" which ran from September, 1935 through April, 1936 at the Ambassador Theatre, New York City. There's some familiar names in the cast including Walter Pidgeon, Robert Shayne (Inspector Henderson on Superman), and B western character actress Sarah Padden: http://ibdb.com/person.php?id=45179
The Internet Movie Database (IMDb) has information on Pamela (Gill) Lincoln: http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0511131/
Jim Tipton's Find A Grave website has a page on Verna Hillie who passed away in Connecticut, but there is no information on her interment: http://www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=gr&GRid=6691656
Above is a 1962 organization chart with Verna as Vice President, Secretary and Treasurer of hubby Dick Linkroum's television production company which was headquartered in New York City. This is from the 1962 Radio Annual and Television Year Book (available at the Internet Archive). Similar organization charts with Verna are in the 1961 and 1963 Radio Annuals.
(Courtesy of Les Adams)
L-to-R are Syd Saylor, Ken Maynard and Verna Hillie in a scene from the cliffhanger MYSTERY MOUNTAIN (Mascot, 1934).
(From Old Corral image collection)
L-to-R are Syd Saylor, Verna Hillie, Hal Taliaferro (Wally Wales), Ken Maynard, Jack Cheatham, Al Bridge and Jack Rockwell in the chapterplay, MYSTERY MOUNTAIN (Mascot, 1934). Bridge is in his typical position - getting a stern warning from the hero. This is somewhat typical of scene stills which are staged for the photographer. Thus, a photo is often different than what appears in the film. And that's the case with this image. This occurs at the beginning of Chapter 6 and Al Bridge is killed with a dart from the Rattler. While Taliaferro and Cheatham are in this production still, they do not appear in the actual scene in chapter 6.
(Courtesy of Les Adams)
Above - John Wayne, Verna Hillie and Noah Beery, Jr. in a scene from Wayne's THE TRAIL BEYOND (Lone Star/Monogram, 1934).
On the trail of Verna Hillie and family.
Family Search (free), Ancestry.com (subscription), and trade/fan magazines have more on Verna Hillie and family. Am still unclear on the number of marriages to first husband Frank Gill.
More on Verna's brother, Edward M. Hillie (1918-1975):
The Internet Movie Database (IMDb) has more Verna's brother Edward Hillie and his television work in production management and assistant directing on episodes of I Spy, Joey Bishop Show, Andy Griffith show, Gomer Pyle, lots more: http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0384977
More on Verna's first husband, Frank Joseph Gill, Jr. (1907-1970):
In addition to extensive radio work, Frank Gill also wrote for movies and early television (the Gale Storm Show, Jackie Cooper's The People's Choice My Little Margie, more): http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0318602
More on Verna's second husband, Richard 'Dick' Linkroum (1915-2007):
Richard 'Dick' Linkroum (1915-2007), directed episodes of TV's The Jack Benny program and Alan Young show, more. He also produced the 1960 Peter Pan special that starred Mary Martin and Cyril Ritchard: http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0512955