Friday, October 16, 2009

Dorothy Coonan Wellman (1913-2009)

'Dorothy Coonan was one of Busby Berkeley's principal chorus dancers who had performed in such films as Whoopee! (1930) and 42nd Street (1933) when she met the director William Wellman, who cast her as the female lead in his film Wild Boys of the Road (1933). She then became Wellman's fifth wife, and remained happily married to him for over 40 years until his death in 1975... Wellman cast Coonan as the female lead in his next film, Wild Boys of the Road (1933, titled Dangerous Days in the UK), a brilliantly effective drama of teenagers whose fathers have lost their jobs in the economic depression, hopping freight trains in their efforts to seek a better life. Coonan gave a superb performance as a tomboyish young girl who dons boys' clothing and a cap to ride the rails with a bunch of youths. Her appearance is uncannily similar to that of Louise Brooks in her earlier incarnation of a freight-hopper in Wellman's Beggars of Life (1928). Coonan also performs a lively tap routine near the film's end' (Full obituary in today's Independent)

The 1933 trailer for Wild Boys of the Night is great: 'the living truth about 500,000 wild boys... innocent girls... driven to vagrancy... crime... fates worse than death... Jolting facts about humanity's shame... the abandoned generation... as tender and human as it is startling and real... shocking enough to make the very earth tremble in terror' (Coonan is the character in the trailer who has her cap pulled off revealing she's a girl, also pictured left in the photo above)

There's a nice video put together by family members which includes some footage of her dancing:

Dorothy Coonan Wellman Memorial-The Last Busby Berkeley Dancer from Robert D. Lawe on Vimeo.

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