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Local entertainers

Stars of Stage and Screen

Many stars of the stage and screen of the 19th and 20th centuries were natives of Crawfordsville. Read the brief biographies below to learn about the contributions of these former residents.


Frank Richard Allen — Actor

Frank Richard Allen (also known professionally as Frank Barnes) was a stage and film actor. Before leaving Crawfordsville, Allen worked as a clerk in the Joel clothing store downtown. Allen performed in stage productions such as “Mrs. Wiggs of the Cabbage Patch” and silent film productions, the most well known being The General with Buster Keaton in 1927. He performed for the troops with the YMCA during World War I. He returned to Crawfordsville several times to visit family and even testified in his sister’s divorce case at the Montgomery County Courthouse in 1917. Allen died in New York in 1940, but was buried in Oak Hill Cemetery in Crawfordsville.


E.M. Bonnell — Actor/Radio Personality

Edwin M. Bonnell gained fame with his Uncle Remus character on KHJ radio in the 1920s. The son of pioneer Crawfordsville residents, Mrs. and Mrs. John K. Bonnell, E.M. Bonnell was born in Crawfordsville in the 1860s and died at the age of 87 in 1954. Just two weeks before his death, Bonnell was still performing, doing a comedy routine for the March of Dimes. In addition to his radio career, Bonnell performed with the Pantages and Keith-Orpheum circuits.


Isabelle Coutant — Actress/Singer/Spiritualist

Before she became a media star as patroness Rose Dawn of the Mayan Order, Isabelle Coutant won a national reputation as an actress and singer. Known as the Star Girl, Rose Dawn educated listeners about self-improvement through the Mayan Order on the radio and sold literature. In an ad in Popular Science magazine, the Mayan Order was described as a “secret brotherhood which bases its teachings on the traditional wisdom of that mysterious race of astrologers and temple builders, the ancient Mayans of Mexico and Central America.” Born in Crawfordsville on Valentine’s Day 1897, Isabelle Coutant appeared as a child in photographs by local award-winning photographer, Nellie Coutant.


Stephen Crane — Actor/Restaurateur

Stephen Crane

Stephen Crane is notorious for his failed marriage to actress Lana Turner, but he was also an entertainer in his own right. Crane starred in three films produced by Columbia Pictures in 1944 and 1945. Realizing his talents were better suited in another field, Crane worked his way to the top and became a legend in the restaurant industry.

Reference Department librarian Emily Griffin Winfrey has been compiling information and remembrances of Crawfordsville native Joseph Stephen Crane. Crane was born in Crawfordsville, Indiana, on February 7, 1916 to Mr. and Mrs. William E. Crane. The Crane family lived at 205 West Pike Street and owned the Stephenson Crane Cigar Store on 107 S. Washington from the 1920s through the 1940s. Stephen Crane, who preferred to be called Joe in his youth, was voted Most Attractive his senior year at Crawfordsville High School and was active in drama and debates. He attended and graduated with a Bachelor’s degree in Business from Wabash College in 1937. At Wabash, Crane was a stage manager for the Scarlet Masque as well as an active member of the Sigma Chi fraternity.Stephen CraneA few years after graduation, Stephen Crane moved to California and gained fame after marrying glamorous movie star Lana Turner in 1942. An infamous annulment and remarriage to Turner caused Crane’s name to appear in newspapers with frequency. An attempt at a film career ended after three movies, but the Oscar-nominated “Tonight and Every Night” featured Crane alongside screen goddess Rita Hayworth. While many recall that Crane was the father of Turner’s only child, Cheryl, and locals fondly remember the week Lana Turner stayed in Crawfordsville to tour her husband’s hometown, much has been forgotten about Crane’s life after his marriage to Lana Turner ended.

Stephen Crane successfully transformed himself into a charming host and well-regarded owner of The Luau, Kon-Tiki, and Ports o’ Call restaurants in the early 1950s. Patronized by celebrities, the Luau became the hotspot of 1950s and 60s nightlife. Crane owned and operated all of his restaurants through his company, Stephen Crane Associates. He was known for his whimsical approach to the Polynesian restaurant theme and his close eye to detail in his designs.

A small town boy who cultivated himself into a respected restaurateur, Stephen Crane died on February 6, 1985 in Pauma Valley, California. Per his wishes, he was buried alongside his parents in Oak Hill Cemetery in Crawfordsville.

Listen!

Stephen “Jack” Alexander talking about growing up with Stephen Crane
(6.07MB, 6m37s)

Oral Interview with Stephen J. “Jack” Alexander, 1996
RL 921 Alexander
Interviewer: Bob Wernle, Montgomery County Historical Society
Transcribed by Carol Servies, 2005
W: What about Joe Crane? You knew Joe Crane.
A. I grew up with Joe Crane from 1st grade on. And he was something else. He was a big time Charlie from the time he was in the 5th grade I think. Always trying to be a big shot all through high school. About the time he got in to, from the time he was a sophomore and junior in high school, he was always going around with college boys and he pledged for Sigma Chi fraternity when he was a junior in high school. And, I think the main reason Sigma Chi pledged him because he had a big car. His dad ran a cigar store down here, Stephenson and Crane, and he had a big seven-passenger Buick sedan. And at that time, practically no college boys had cars. That was just unheard of. Nobody had any money for cars, but Crane had access to his dad’s Buick sedan. And he would take the Sigma Chis down to DePauw for weekend parties that were always going on down there. That’s where the girls were, of course. And he had a young colored boy with him name of Chink Rice [?], and he got a real policeman’s cap, put it on Chink [?] and he would be his chauffeur. They would drive the boys to Greencastle in the seven-passenger car. And he was just something else, no question about that.
Another time later on he was always carrying a one hundred dollar bill, and back in the 30s, a hundred dollar bill was one of those things you only saw at banks as a rule. And there probably wasn’t a merchant in Crawfordsville that could change a hundred dollar bill at any one time. But Joe always carried a hundred dollar bill and that way he didn’t have to pay for much. Somebody else would always pick up the tab. At one time, a bunch of us were at a state dance in Indianapolis. A the time, it was called the Hotel Continental, I can’t remember, was on North Meridian out by the Athletic Club and we were there, and it was festivities, and none of us had dates and we knew that Crane was going to be there and we lay in wait for him. And a bunch of us had gotten together and we had gotten change for a one hundred dollar bill. And we went to a bar at the Continental and Crane was there and he very kindly said, “Come on boys and line up here.” “I’m going to buy the drinks.” Well, we all lined up and we ordered about the most expensive drink we could get. And I think he was a little worried about that. Then he pulls out his hundred dollar bill and the bartender…there was no bar in Indianapolis that could change a hundred dollar bill there in 1933 or 4. And so the bartender said, “I’m sorry. I can’t change that bill.” Then a group of us said, “Well here…we can.” Laughter. We got our resources pooled. He had to buy the drinks and they cost him $20 or there abouts, and in 1934, that was a lot of money. But he never pulled that hundred dollar bill thing again on the…in Crawfordsville.W: He went on to fame, didn’t he?
A: Oh yeah, he went on to fame. When he got out of school, he went to Steck Store and bought four or five suits, one of them was an Ice Cream, a white flannel suit, and he was decked out in full coat [?] with white shoes and socks, shirt, tie, the whole bit white suit. And he was a real dog. And he went to Chicago and from there he went to Hollywood. And he got some publicity and he always referred to himself as a Hoosier or Indiana Tobacco Heir. And, of course, the tobacco heir, his dad had a cigar store in [?] and that never appeared in the papers. And, oh gosh, I can’t remember all the funny…I can remember when we were in college, he would go to the Indiana Roof Ball Room, which was one of those big ballrooms where big bands around the country played. It was over the Indiana Theater. It was quite a nice place. It was not a honky tonk by any means. A lot of young people would go up there. And it went on four or five nights a week and on ever once in a while you would get up there and you would hear somebody En Meloda [?] and there was a big grand piano and you would hear body playing the first half a dozen chords of Rachmaninoff’s Prelude C Sharp Minor and you knew damned well that it was Crane because he knew the first five, six bars of that, and that’s all he knew. People, people would come around. And he’d play the first five or six bars and he’d get up and slam the lid shut over the keys and walk away. You know the girls would come up and say, “Play more. Play more.” “No, no, I’ve had enough. Too many people here.” He’d grab the first available girl and bring her out on the dance floor with him. He was something.

W: He came back after he married Lana Turner, didn’t he?
A: Yeah, I only saw him two or three times after that. I saw him in Hollywood during the war. We were out there I was stationed out west. We stopped at his restaurant; saw him one time in a place called Lucy’s. He was at the front door of the restaurant. I don’t think he owned it. I’m not sure, but I don’t think so. We saw him there. And the last time I saw him was in Chicago. At that time, he was running this Kon Tiki chain of restaurants. I saw him up there and I talked to him a few minutes. He calmed down a great deal as he got older. He was much less showy and more serious and had made quite a name for himself and was doing pretty well.

Read Stephen Crane’s biography in the Internet Movie Database (www.imdb.com/name/nm0186428/bio)

Read Stephen Crane’s biography in Wikipedia (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Joseph_Stephen_Crane)

Cry of the Werewolf

Stephen Crane had a brief film career in the early 1940s. In 1944, he starred in Cry of the Werewolf with costars Nina Foch and Osa Massen. Crane’s character, Bob, searches for his father’s killer and suspects that an animal may responsible. Bob’s investigation leads him to Celeste, a member of a gypsy tribe and secretly, the daughter of a werewolf. The film did not garner positive reviews from critics, but endures as a cult classic for collectors of early horror films. You can view a series of excerpts featuring Crane in this film.

Materials pertaining to the life of Joseph Stephen Crane can be located in the Local History department.

For more information…

Berry, Jeff. Beachbum Berry’s Sippin’ Safari: In Search of the Great “Lost” Tropical Drink Recipes…and the People behind them. San Jose, CA: SLG, 2007.

Carter, Duke. Tiki Quest: Collecting the Exotic Past. Chicago: Pegboard Press, 2003.

Crane, Cheryl. Detour: A Hollywood Story. NY: Avon Books, 1989.

Crane, Cheryl and Cindy De La Hoz. Lana: The Memories, The Myths, The Movies. Philadelphia: Running Press, 2008.

Kirsten, Sven A. The Book of Tiki: The Cult of Polynesian Pop in Fifties America. NY: Taschen, 2000.

Turner, Lana. Lana: The Lady, The Legend, The Truth. NY: Dutton, 1982.

Wilson, Jodie S, Winfrey, Emily G, and Rebecca McDole. Hidden History of Montgomery County, Indiana. Charleston, SC: History Press, 2012.


Sidney De Paris — Musician

Sidney De Paris was born in Crawfordsville in 1905. His parents were Sidney, an auctioneer, and Fannie Paris, and the family lived at 601 Illinois Street. Sidney became a famous jazz trumpeteer and worked with many jazz bands, including his own Blue Note Jazzmen and his brother Wilbur De Paris’ New New Orleans Jazz Band, throughout the years. He died in New York City in 1967.


Wilbur De Paris — Musician

Born in Crawfordsville in 1900, Wilbur De Paris was the older brother of Sidney De Paris. Wilbur played trombone and led jazz bands. Like Sidney, Wilbur played in many famed jazz groups, most notably his own touring band New New Orleans Jazz. Outliving his younger brother by 6 years, Wilbur died in 1973.


Fern Doubleday — Actress/Singer

Fern Doubleday was a 1904 graduate of Crawfordsville High School. She studied drama and music before moving to California to pursue her career. Doubleday would gain fame as a soprano singer and stage actress. She was a member of The Comedy Players, Victoria Players, Boyd-Nolan Players, and Western Repertory Stock Company of Denver. Doubleday died in Los Angeles in 1949, and still had relatives in Crawfordsville at that time.


Lew Graham — Circus Announcer

Nathan “Lew” Graham was a prominent entertainer in the circus world. Born in Crawfordsville to Mr. and Mrs. Nathan Graham, Lew joined the Barnum and Bailey circus band at the age of 14. He would continue as an announcer and sideshow manager for the Barnum & Bailey, Wallace & Hagenback, and Ringling Brothers shows for the rest of his life.


Ferris Hartman — Actor/Comedian/Director/Producer

Brother of actress Alethea Luce, Ferris Hartman was born in Crawfordsville in 1862. Hartman was adopted by his aunt and uncle after his mother’s death in 1871. Hartman returned to Crawfordsville to visit family and friends several times in the 1880s and 1890s. Although he was a national performer, Hartman found his greatest success in San Francisco, California. Before his death in 1931, Hartman produced, directed, and acted in plays, musicals, and silent films.

For a more detailed biography of Ferris Hartman, read the full chapter on him in Hidden History of Montgomery County, Indiana!


Lucille Hutton — Actress

Lucille Hutton was born Martha Lucille Hutton in Crawfordsville in 1898 to George W. and Mary Hutton. By 1910, the family had moved to Los Angeles. She starred in silent films such as After the Balled Up Ball (1917), Wine of Youth (1924), and Dick Turpin (1925). In 1917, local citizens were excited to view their local girl in the film A Limburger Cyclone at the Joy Theater in Crawfordsville.


Joe Kelly — Singer/Announcer/Television and Radio Host

Joe Kelly

Born May 31, 1901, Joe Kelly was known as the Irish Nightingale when he left Crawfordsville as a boy to pursue a singing career. He would gain greater fame in the 1930s as a WLS radio personality and in the 1940s, as host of the Quiz Kids. In 1914, Kelly sang with the Doyle Stock Company at the Princess Theater in Crawfordsville and the Crawfordsville Daily Journal reported that “Joe smiled down at the home folks and sang two encores, making a big hit with the crowd. Joe is thirteen years old and is a Crawfordsville boy. He left here two years ago, joining the Doyle company.”

Kelly died of heart disease in Chicago in 1959.


Alethea Luce — Actress/Playwright

Born Alethea Hartman in Crawfordsville in 1869 to painter David W. Hartman and Julia Wade Hartman, Alethea was adopted by A.P. and Sarah Wade Luse after her mother’s death in 1871. Alethea returned to Crawfordsville in 1895 to star in the play, “Sowing the Wind” at the Music Hall. During her stay, she granted the Argus News an interview and told of her Crawfordsville ties:

How did I come to go on the stage? I don’t know. It just came to me naturally. I laugh and tell papa I get my histrionic talent from him. You see papa used to take part in home talent entertainments here in Crawfordsville years ago, long before I was born and so it’s in the family I suppose to want to act…When I was one year old mama died and according to a promise made papa give me and my brother, Fred, to Mr. and Mrs. A.P. Luse. When Fred got to be a big boy, he ran off and went west. Now he is manager of an opera house in San Francisco. He is not only manager but leading opera singer and gets $250 a week. Pretty good, isn’t it?…I made my home with Mr. Luse and know we left here a few years ago and went to Chicago…I began studying for the stage in Chicago and then spent a year in California with my brother, and say, it’s a secret but I was on the state out there many nights…I would love to stay here a few days and visit old friends but can’t just now.

Details about Luce’s final years and death date are unknown.


Margaret “Margie” Murphy Peacock — Dancer/Chorus Girl

Margaret Murphy

Margie Murphy was not born in Montgomery County, but she did spend the majority of her life in Crawfordsville. Murphy moved to our town after marrying her husband, Darlington native and Crawfordsville dentist, Fred Peacock. Before she retired as Dr. Peacock’s housewife, Margie Murphy was a talented dancer and chorus girl who performed with Ziegfeld Follies and George White’s Scandals. Murphy was also one of the original Coca Cola models, appearing in ads, calendars, trays, and other pieces of memorabilia. Margie Murphy lived in Crawfordsville until her death in 1989.

A large collection of Margie Murphy Peacock photographs, generously donated for digitization by the Peacock family, is available in our image database.


Tiny Ruffner — Singer/Television and Radio Host

Tiny Ruffner

Edmund “Tiny” Ruffner was born in Crawfordsville in November 1899. At the age of nine months, Ruffner won third prize in Crawfordsville’s Beautiful Baby Contest. The family moved to Seattle a few years later and by the 1920s, Ruffner gained fame as a singer and radio announcer. He hosted radio programs, the most popular being the variety program Show Boat, through the 1930s and 1940s. In the 1950s, Ruffner hosted popular television programs and game shows. He died in Michigan in 1983.

The library has an original photograph of Tiny Ruffner in our image database.


Maude Snyder — Actor

Maude Snyder

Born on December 17, 1893, Maude Snyder performed in Crawfordsville High School drama productions before embarking on an acting career. In 1915, Snyder joined Walter Whiteside’s troupe and enjoyed theatrical success-even costaring with actor William Powell (of The Thin Man fame) in one production! Snyder retired from acting after marrige and the birth of her daughter, but gained fame in the literary world in the 1940s. Of course, Maude Snyder is better known as Janet Lambert, the celebrated author of young adult novels.

For more details about Maude Snyder’s life and career, check out the full chapter on her in Hidden History of Montgomery County, Indiana!


Dick Van Dyke — Actor

Dick Van Dyke

The star of the Dick Van Dyke Show and Diagnosis: Murder, Dick Van Dyke briefly lived in Crawfordsville. He spent his freshman year at Crawfordsville High School and lived for a year in an apartment across from Wabash College. According to his autobiography, Van Dyke came into his own and developed his personality, after gaining confidence and finding success on the CHS track team, in Crawfordsville.