Day 30 of Noirvember: A Tale of Two Brunettes
Sonia Darrin. Helene Stanton. Two actresses from Hollywood’s Golden Age who didn’t have blockbuster screen careers – in fact, I’ll wager that you’d be hard-pressed to find a half-dozen classic film fans who even recognize their names. But they have several characteristics in common – both actresses played small but memorable roles in first-rate noir offerings (with similar names, yet!), neither appeared in more than 10 feature films, both had a son who became famous in his own right, and both are still with us today. For today’s farewell salute to Noirvember, I’m happy to shine the spotlight on these two talented but unsung performers.
Darrin was born Sonia Paskowitz in Galveston, Texas, one of three children of Louis and Rose Paskowitz. According to Ron Schuler, author of the blog “Ron Schuler’s Parlour Tricks,” Louis operated a dry good store in Galveston, but it wasn’t a success. The family later moved to San Diego, where Louis supported his family working as a shoe salesman. As for the Paskowitz children, Dorian, the oldest son, went to Stanford and became a doctor, Adrian studied music and became a music teacher and violinist, and Sonia wound up in Hollywood. She only had a brief career in Hollywood, appearing in fewer than 10 films between 1941 and 1950, but among those 10 features was The Big Sleep (1946), where she played Agnes Lowzier, the “front girl” for the “bookstore” operated by Arthur Gwenn Geiger. As the feisty, hard-boiled Agnes, Darrin went toe-to-toe with the film’s star Humphrey Bogart – in the book Film Noir Reader 4 (edited by Alain Silver and James Ursini), Agnes is described as “the picture of unalloyed greed and underhandedness.”
In the early 1950s, Darrin left Hollywood and headed East, where she met and married Bill Reese, a one-time theater set designer who eventually ran his own marketing services company, specializing in 3-D design work. Bill and Sonia went on to have four children, one of which was titian-haired Mason Reese, who enjoyed a measure of childhood celebrity in the 1970s as the pitchman for a number of products (including Dunkin Donuts, Ivory Snow, and Underwood Deviled Ham, for which he charmed TV viewers with his mispronunciation of the word “smorgasbord”). He also worked for a time as a temporary co-host for Mike Douglas, worked on a prime-time show with Howard Cosell and, as an adult, went into the restaurant business.
Sonia resurfaced in a 2007 documentary called Surfwise, which focused on the unorthodox life of her bother, Dorian “Doc” Paskowitz, his wife, and their nine children. (Doc Paskowitz espoused a strict non-fat, non-sugar diet and led his family on an ongoing quest for freedom and health, moving from beach to beach in a 24-foot camper and eventually opening a surf camp in Southern California.)
Sonia was seen in the film discussing her brother’s stubborn nature and explaining that she once took in two of Dorian’s sons when they rebelled against their father’s regime. (It’s a fascinating documentary, by the way – check it out if you get the chance!)
Believed to be in her late 80s or early 90s, Darrin now lives in New York City.
Stanton was born Eleanor Mae Stansbury on November 4, 1925, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. She showed a natural affinity for performing, and was given ballet and voice lessons from an early age. By the time she was 18, she was performing in a number of local productions as well as with the Cosmopolitan Opera Company in Philadelphia.
Stanton took her singing talents to Hollywood in the late 1940s, where she met and married former silent film star Kenneth Harlan, who was more than 30 years her senior. Despite their age difference, the two wed in 1949 and Stanton became – depending on the source you consult – either his sixth, seventh or eighth wife (one of the group, incidentally, was pre-Code favorite Marie Prevost). The union wasn’t exactly made in heaven, though; the couple separated in 1952 and divorced in 1953 – and that’s when Stanton’s career took off. She was part of the opening act for Frank Sinatra at his inaugural performance at the Sands Hotel in Las Vegas. She also performed with the Ben Blue Orchestra in Las Vegas and at the Dunes Hotel.
Also around this time, Stanton made her big screen debut, appearing with Cleo Moore and Hugo Haas (who also wrote and directed) in One Girl’s Confession (1953). Two years later, Stanton was seen opposite Cornel Wilde in what was arguably her most memorable performance, in The Big Combo (1955). In this feature, she played Rita, a showgirl with a steely exterior but the proverbial heart of gold. In love with detective Cornel Wilde – who was in love with someone else – Stanton wound up with the short end of the stick when she was bumped off by thugs who thought they were shooting Wilde. (To his credit, Wilde was appropriately consumed with guilt and remorse, tearfully telling a pal, “I treated her like a pair of gloves. When I was cold, I called her up.”) Stanton also appeared in four other films that year, including The Phantom from 10,000 Leagues, a horror/sci-fi feature starring Kent Taylor, and a Johnny Weismuller vehicle, Jungle Moon Men.
In 1957, Stanton married for a second time, this time to Morton Pinsky, a doctor from Chicago. The couple would go on to have two children – the first, David Drew, grew up to be famed television and radio personality Dr. Drew. The programs on which Dr. Drew has starred in recent years include Celebrity Rehab with Dr. Drew and Dr. Drew’s Lifechangers. Dr. Drew, who is a practicing physician, He has also guested on a wide variety of shows, from The Dr. Oz Show to Entertainment Tonight, and has hosted the radio series “LoveLine” since 1984.
After wedding Pinsky, Stanton retired from the movies; her last performance was a small role in Four Girls in Town (1957), in a cast that included George Nader, Julie Adams, Grant Williams, and John Gavin. Now age 89, Stanton lives with her husband in Pasadena, California.
Darrin and Stanton may have only enjoyed brief stints in Tinseltown, but their noir performances earned both actresses a solid seat in the annals of film. Do yourself a favor and check out their performances in The Big Sleep and The Big Combo. You only owe it to yourself.
I hope you’ve enjoyed this month-long Noirvember celebration – it’s been a blast for me, and I look forward to making it an annual feature of Shadows and Satin.
Thanks so much for coming along for the ride!