Published: February 06, 2008
FRANCES DEWEY WORMSER
“If we could glimpse the world through Frances’s eyes we would know the secret to life”
Vaudeville and Broadway performer Frances Dewey Wormser died of natural causes on January 28, 2008 at her home in Santa Paula, CA. She was 104 years old. Frances was born in New York City on June 23, 1903.
As Frances Dewey she spent more than a decade in show business in the 1920s and 30s, touring in lead roles of shows including Sally, Irene & Mary (1925 revival) and The Girl Friend (1926). Her success in the latter prompted producer Lew Fields to create the “Dewey and Gold Revue” expressly for her and her professional partner, Al Gold: they toured with it on the Pantages Circuit in 1927/28. Late 1928 found the duo in the out-of-town tryout of Boom Boom, in which Archie Leach (AKA Cary Grant) also appeared as the “Spanish looking villain of the play.” She toured in Good Boy in 1929. In 1931 she was in Heywood Broun’s “co-op” revue Shoot the Works on Broadway, and was one of the New Faces of 1934, the first of Leonard Sillman’s “New Faces” franchise. Henry Fonda was also in that first Broadway show, as was her lifelong friend, Imogene Coca. Early in her career Frances met Leo Lerman who later became editor of Vogue magazine and editor-in- chief of Vanity Fair. Lerman is considered by many to have been the center of NYC social life. Frances and Leo considered themselves “soul mates” until his death in 1994.
Frances married stockbroker Orin Zoline in the late 1930’s and retired from show business; she subsequently became a buyer for Jane Engel, a leading ladies wear chain of the era. During this time she also studied at the Art League in NYC. Widowed and remarried in the 1950’s to her second husband Morton Wormser, a passionate tennis player. Young Martina Navratilova lived with the couple when she first came to America in the early 1970’s. Frances was also a talented painter, she was the daughter of noted California artist Alfred James Dewey (1874-1958) the “dean” of the Sierra Madre, California early art colony. Painting was a lifelong passion that continued until very recently.
Frances was an open history book. She remembered tagging along with her mother in NYC while she gathered signatures for the women’s right to vote. As a teen she stood in cold foyers with Imogene Coca and Leo Lerman to see any stage play they could for one dollar. She told stories of bowling on a league with Babe Ruth, whispering secret passwords at speakeasy “bars” during the prohibition, visiting the first exhibit of Van Gogh against her father’s wishes, and an impromptu singing invitation for the mayor of New York City in Times Square New Years Eve celebration.
Frances had a passion for travel. She sketched and painted many countries of the world. Her first “around the world” trip was on her honeymoon with Morton. She traveled extensively until she was 100 years old. Her last trip was to Maui to meet friends and enjoy the warm tropical climate which reminded her of Sarasota, Florida where she lived for over 25 years. Her adventuresome spirit found her in private planes in the mid 1930’s with her beloved brother, Jim Dewey of Santa Paula and lifelong pilot and friend Bob Phelps also of Santa Paula. One of her favorite stories was flying with Bob in 1939 from NYC to California in a small private plane piloted by 19 year old Bob. Frances was known to hop a train, bus, helicopter, or an airplane at a moments notice. Frances was a major contributor to the Aviation Museum of Santa Paula, not only to honor her brother, Jim, but also to make sure aviation history in Ventura County is preserved for future generations She was always ready to go and to have a good time! In her last days she went out to lunch and stated that she needed to go get new clothes to wear. One of her best quotes was, “Age is not an issue, Enjoy Life!”
Frances had a liberal social conscience and was excited about the upcoming presidential election. She considered herself a liberal democrat. She was opinionated and said exactly what she thought about politics, sports and religion. Frances was up-to-date about world politics and concerned about the environment. Her friends and family remember many very lively “discussions”! She was a diehard Dodgers fan and followed every tennis match. She kept her mind active by playing Bridge and Solitaire every day and would not go to bed unless she finished her crossword puzzle. She felt exercise was important and was walking two miles a day with her friend, Ken Glenn at the Palms in Ventura until 6 months ago. More than any other description of Frances was she was the “Life of the Party”. Her sense of humor and generosity is legendary and her joy at meeting with friends was the spark that kept everyone smiling
Frances family includes her nephews, nieces and dear friends. She is survived by Mike and Linda Dewey of Santa Paula, Calif , Richard and Noreen Dewey of Portland, Oregon, Susan and Dan Harding of Santa Paula, and John and Sara Schram of San Francisco. She adored her nieces and nephews, great nieces and nephews, and great, great nieces and nephews! Friends were as important as family to Frances. Madaline Ricards of Santa Paula was a dear friend and fellow artist. Bob and Sally Phelps of Santa Paula were always there for her until her passing. Donna Harding of Ojai was a wonderful friend and companion over the last 11 years. Korinna Cardinali of Ojai, friend and hairstylist always lifted her spirits. Frances was working on her memoirs with writer and actress, Jill Dolan of Ojai. This experience with Jill kept Frances engaged for months and her wonderful memories will be shared when her book is completed.
The family is overwhelmed with the support of wonderful friends by Frances’ side during her last days. Just one day before she died, actors Nadine and Johnny Littlefield (co-host of Extreme Home Makeover) sat by her side reminding her of wonderful theatre friends and stories. Phone calls came in from Europe, Florida, and NYC. The family would like to sincerely thank the caregivers who not only spent valuable time with Frances but also became her close friends. Mary Leal of Santa Paula supplied the leadership, compassion and inspiration that Frances required during her last difficult months. Velonika Puamau, Mary Carmen Bamford, Eliza Magpayo, Christine Cabildo ,Rosemary Medrano, Gloria Lechauga and Pauline Villsenore were sensational in their compassion and professionalism. Thank you to Dr, Mike Tushla, Joanne Stroud RN, Hospice and Visiting Angels for their unwavering support. “If I can ease one life of the aching or cool one pain … I shall not live in vain.” Emily Dickenson
In lieu of flowers the family would appreciate donations to The Aviation Museum of Santa Paula in Frances Dewey Wormser’s name