Biography – Page 2


 

The tour was planning one of its stops in Toronto, Canada, and due to the uncertain circumstances of war, everyone leaving or entering the United States was required to travel with proper citizenship documents. Never having found a need for them previously, Andrea asked Belle for her appropriate papers.

“Angel Street” souvenir program (c. 1942).

To Andrea’s dismay, Belle couldn’t come up with anything and offered a series of rather odd excuses. Belle quickly tried to persuade her old friend Alonzo Yates, now retired, to write a letter of support to serve as some sort of validation. But in the end, Andrea was forced to fake an illness for a few weeks, allowing her understudy to go to Canada in her place in order to avoid embarrassment at the border. When she confronted her mother about her undocumented past, Belle, in defense, repeated the story about her fearless fighter pilot husband, their hasty marriage, and his untimely death. But apparently there were no birth or death records for Georges André Barry, and curiously no marriage certificate either. Belle had rushed herself and her baby daughter out of France, trying desperately to see her dying father one last time, and in the process had neglected to file for, or receive, any legal traveling papers.

Then how, Andrea wondered, were they able to leave the country at all, let alone on such short notice? She came up with only one possible answer … Mr. Alonzo Colt Yates.

With no legal identity other than a questionable French birth certificate, Andrea began to speculate that Belle never received the necessary papers because they had never existed to begin with — and neither had her beloved, heroic, fighter-pilot father. Curiously, she had never seen a photograph of him. The only person on earth ever claiming to have laid eyes on the ethereal Georges André Barry besides her mother was Mr. Yates, despite Belle’s numerous attempts to contact other acquaintances connected with her during the Great War. Alonzo must have used his diplomatic influences to ensure Belle’s speedy and problem-free return to the United States.

Georgette McKee a.k.a. Andrea King (c. 1943).

For the moment, at least, it was a dead issue.

Shortly after the “Angel Street” tour ended, Nat received a shattering notice that he was to be shipped out immediately to an unknown destination in the South Pacific. Scared and grief-stricken, Andrea joined her husband for a rushed farewell in San Francisco, and then she made a momentous decision. She decided to turn to Hollywood to give her childhood dreams of becoming a movie star a try. She was lucky enough to have been signed by the Myron Selznick Agency in New York just after the tour ended, but even with the most powerful agency in the business behind her, it would be an uphill battle.

A few lonely months went by before she first interviewed unsuccessfully at Paramount. But luck was on her side with her second attempt at Warner Bros. when after several auditions and a successful screen test, she was signed to a seven-year contract on January 22, 1944.

During the next year, an amazing transformation took place. Georgette McKee was given the full, star-making treatment by one of Hollywood’s most powerful studios. Right away, Jack Warner changed her name to Georgia King, which she instantly disliked, thinking it sounded more like a burlesque Southern stripper than a serious actress. Thankfully and even surprisingly, she was able in little time to persuade Mr. Warner to change his mind before she ever received an on-screen credit. Instead, he ended up using her middle name of André to arrive at “Andrea King” for her first billed performance in 1944’s “The Very Thought of You.” Reviews for Andrea were outstanding, and thus began one of the fastest climbs to stardom in the studio’s history. In less than two months, she received her first leading role without so much as a screen test. It was star billing, in “Hotel Berlin,” playing the double-crossing Lisa Dorn, a role that Bette Davis had publicly campaigned for.

Andrea King starring as Lisa Dorn in “Hotel Berlin,” Warner Bros. (1945).

This unfortunate occurrence with Miss Davis, along with the fact that Andrea and Bette had been playfully pitted against each other in several of Hedda Hopper’s popular columns, made Andrea forever a professional adversary of the legendary actress. Andrea may have won the mutually coveted role of Lisa Dorn, incidentally Andrea’s favorite of all-time, but Bette Davis still had the power at Warner Bros. And when Andrea tested for, and again won, the pivotal role of student Bessie Watty in “The Corn Is Green,” Miss Davis, the film’s star, promptly had Andrea removed from the picture. If Andrea’s climb to the top was fast, it was not without sharp rocks and bumps along the way.

Eighteen long months after her husband Nat had been shipped overseas, Andrea received the news that he was coming home. Her initial excitement turned to doubt as she began to wonder if he would even recognize her after all they had been through. Back in San Francisco, Nat had hurriedly kissed his lovely brunette wife Georgette goodbye, and now, eighteen months later, he was returning from Guadalcanal to find his blonde, film-star wife named Andrea King, welcoming him home. Fortunately, the studio allowed their reunion to take place in San Francisco as planned and even granted them two weeks privacy before calling their new star back to work. This, of course, was under the condition that the studio send along a few reporters and photographers to publicize the homecoming. Andrea and Nat respectfully agreed.

The next six months under contract were filled with more roles fought for, won, and lost, and even another professional battle ensued with the strong-willed Bette Davis over “Ethan Frome.” Unfortunately in the end, Andrea was put on suspension in late 1946 after refusing to take a role in the film “Stallion Road” with Ronald Reagan. To her surprise and shock, she was unceremoniously dropped from her seven-year contract a few weeks later. Andrea may have had the prestige of being one of Warners’ fastest rising stars, but she was so new at the game that she’d gained no real power. This was magnified by the fact that Warners recently had been hit hard by one of its biggest stars, Olivia de Havilland. She had won her United States Supreme Court ruling against Warner Bros. and the contract system in general. Almost immediately, the studio began releasing many of its key players, and Andrea, along with Peter Lorre and a handful of others, were among the first to go.

When she was immediately summoned back to Warner Bros. as a last-minute replacement for Virginia Bruce as Lillian Russell in “My Wild Irish Rose,” Andrea’s mysterious past once again showed up to haunt her. The film was a Technicolor musical, and LeRoy Prinz had been assigned as its dance director. During a break from rehearsals, Andrea discovered to her delight that Mr. Prinz had been head mechanic for the Lafayette Escadrille during World War I. She immediately launched into the story of her father, whom she had been told since childhood was one of the famed squadron’s heroic members. She asked Mr. Prinz to tell her the truth, once and for all.

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