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Fred MacKaye
Violet Neitz
Alan James (Alvin James Neitz)


Another Hollywood Family


Special thanks to Lynn MacKaye Morgan for the photos and information on her Mother and Father, Violet May Neitz MacKaye and Frederic MacKaye. Lynn's "Uncle Al" was Alvin James Neitz, better known as B-western director and story and screenplay writer Alan James (1890-1952).

In the photo right are Lynn and Gene Autry during the filming of MULE TRAIN (Columbia, 1950) which was directed by John 'Jack' English. Writing credits for MULE TRAIN are shared by Gerald Geraghty and Alan James.

(Courtesy of Lynn MacKaye Morgan)


Here is an interesting family with ties to the old B-western and to Hollywood films of the silent and sound eras. Fred MacKaye's wife Violet May Neitz worked in silent films, and the Internet Movie Database (IMDb) lists her movie career beginning around 1913. During the 1920s, Violet and Fred were doing stage work together and they were married after a play rehearsal. Fred wound up doing some bit and supporting roles in westerns, most notably in the 1933-1934 Ken Maynard series at Universal. Violet even had some bit parts in those films. By the end of the 1930s, Fred was deeply involved in West Coast radio, and in 1943, he became the director of The Lux Radio Theater. There was another tie to the B-western - Violet's brother was Alvin J. Neitz, a silent film director and writer who, in the early 1930s, did a name change and became B-western and serial director Alan James.

Fred and Violet were the victims of lots of name variations and errors. Depending on the source, Fred's first and last names are spelled Fredric, Fredrick, Frederic, Frederick, McKay, McKaye, MacKaye, Mackaye. And in the text below, there's a comment about Violet Neitz having a last name of "Knights".

On with the story ...




(Courtesy of Lynn MacKaye Morgan)
Frederic 'Fred' MacKaye

Real name: Frederick McKim Kehr

1905 - 1988

Violet Neitz

Full name: Violet May Neitz

1894 or 1895 - 1973

(Courtesy of Lynn MacKaye Morgan)


Lynn was born on December 7, 1938, was an only child, and attended Hollywood High School. She arrived after her Mom and Dad had worked in the theater and in movies. Violet had worked in an unknown quantity of silents as well as a few sound films. And by the mid to late 1930s, Fred was performing on radio.

Lynn notes that from her mothers writings, her father was born in either Hotchkiss or Mahr (probably Maher), Colorado in 1905. Fred studied drama and participated in athletics and graduated from the University of Colorado. Lynn's Mom, Violet May Neitz MacKaye, was born in Anacortes, Washington in 1894 or 1895 (she was about ten years older than Fred).

Lynn provided some San Jose, California newspaper clippings which mention the marriage of Fred and Violet on April 11, 1927. The ceremony was a surprise and was held after the rehearsal of a play at the Mac's Playhouse. The headline of the article reads "Surprise Wedding Joins Stage Pair". The article also notes that:

"Mrs. MacKaye is a Hollywood girl and did her first dramatic work in motion pictures. She acted in several movies, playing with the late Wallace Reid for some time. Later she went on the stage and for some time was leading woman at the Empress Theater in Vancouver. She has been in San Jose as leading woman for Mac's Players for the past year ..."



(Courtesy of Lynn MacKaye Morgan)

Above - photo crop from the "surprise wedding" newspaper article.


From Lynn: "When they spent time in Honolulu the Hawaiians pronounced MacKay like "i" ... their y's are i's so he (Fred) liked the way it sounded and put an E on and pronounced MacKaye (or KAI) ... my mother had some problems with Neitz when she played Ramona at the pageant in Hemet (California) ... they still have her listed as Knights (not Neitz).".

Fred (and Violet) show up in the 1933-34 Maynard westerns at Universal. Old Corral webmaster conjecture: Violet's brother Alan James directed seven of the eight Maynard Universals, and the probability is good that he got them roles. Fred, trained in drama and having worked on stage and movies, had no problem fitting in. But doing B-westerns was tough work with long hours and small pay. MacKaye had a good speaking voice and probably found that radio work was cleaner and more financially lucrative. And he concentrated on that medium from about 1935 on. When he became director of the Lux Radio Theater, Fred became an employee of the J. Walter Thompson advertising agency. In addition to Lux, the J. Walter Thompson radio department produced other shows such as the popular KRAFT MUSIC HALL (which included hosts Bing Crosby and Al Jolson) and THE CHASE AND SANBORN HOUR (with ventriloquist Edgar Bergen and his dummy Charlie McCarthy).

Fred and Violet divorced in 1947 and Lynn lived with her mother. Violet passed away in 1973 from pancreatic cancer. After Lux, Fred left J. Walter Thompson and went to work for the Benton and Bowles advertising agency, and he retired from that company. Fred re-married and he and his wife Betty lived in Cathedral City, California. Fred passed away in 1988.

You may want to go to the In Search Of ... page on the Old Corral and then to the California Death Records database and Social Security Death Index (SSDI). There you will find records for:

Violet N. MacKaye, born 15 May 1894 (in Washington), passed away 13 June 1973 (Newport Beach, California). The California Death Records database shows Violet's birth year as 1895.

Fredric MacKaye, born 26 May 1905 (in Colorado), passed away 10 September 1988 (Cathedral City, California)


Fred MacKaye and radio:

The Handbook of Old-Time Radio, A Comprehensive Guide to Golden Age Radio Listening and Collecting by Jon D. Swartz and Robert C. Reinehr (Scarecrow Press, 1993) notes that Fred MacKaye was in the 1940 NBC serial drama CROSSROADS.

The On the Air, The Encyclopedia of Old Time Radio by John Dunning (Oxford Press, 1998), include the following radio show credits for MacKaye:

Jeff Wells had provided some details on B-western baddie Cy Kendall's work on the Lux Radio Theater, so I asked him to check his copy of the book Lux Presents Hollywood - A Show-by-Show History of the Lux Radio Theatre and the Lux Video Theatre, 1934-1957, by Connie Billips and Arthur Pierce (McFarland & Company, 1995). Jeff writes:

"Frederic (Fred) MacKaye appeared many times. Examples: during the commercials in episode 88, "The Legionnaire and the Lady", 06/01/1936; portraying "Jerry" in episode 230, "She Married Her Boss", 09/25/1939; Guest Host in episode 920, "Alexander Graham Bell", 04/26/1955. Lux Presents Hollywood lists Mr. MacKaye as director beginning with the January 3, 1944 episode and until, I believe, the June 26, 1950 episode."

Old Corral webmaster comments about the Lux Radio Theater: MacKaye must have been talented. The Lux Radio Theater was a prestigious and extremely popular radio program which was consistently ranked in the top 5 of the Hooper ratings and later, the Nielsen ratings. Big name Hollywood stars were happy to perform and many made a dozen or more appearances. The On the Air, The Encyclopedia of Old Time Radio book includes the following comment: "The Lux Radio Theater was the most important dramatic show in radio. It had the biggest stars, the highest budgets, the most acclaim. It had a full hour and, during its heyday, Hollywood's most prominent film director as host."



(Courtesy of Les Adams)

Above from the pressbook for the Buck Jones BLACK ACES (Universal, 1937). MacKaye was Fred MacKaye in the cast listing and Frederic Mackaye in the publicity blurb above.


Violet Neitz and her silent film career:

The above mentioned wedding announcement newspaper article noted that "Mrs. MacKaye is a Hollywood girl and did her first dramatic work in motion pictures. She acted in several movies, playing with the late Wallace Reid for some time."

Jack Tillmany adds some details on Violet's silent film career:

"She seems to have been a contract player with American Film Company, but never played leads, only supporting roles. They churned out one and two reelers at the rate of about one a week, and used the same players in all of them, so what you see on the Internet Movie Database is only the tip of the iceberg; documentation is sparse, to say the least. Wallace Reid starred in about a dozen and a half of these at the same time Violet was working there, so undoubtedly she appeared in some of them."


Links:

J. David Goldin's RadioGoldIndex website lists over 500 radio programs for MacKaye (most are directing Lux Radio Theater). The first radio show on the listing is the 39 episode syndicated Tarzan serial, "The Fires Of Tohr" from 1936, and MacKaye has the role of "Temur". When you get to the site, click "Start Here", then select "Search By Artist", then select M, then scroll down for Fred MacKaye radio credits: http://radiogoldindex.com/

The J. Walter Thompson Company Archives are housed at John W. Hartman Center for Sales, Advertising and Marketing History, Duke University, Durham, North Carolina: http://scriptorium.lib.duke.edu/hartman/jwt/, and there's a brief mention of their involvement in the Lux Radio Theater at: http://library.duke.edu/specialcollections/hartman/guides/jwt-history.html

There's several photos of Violet Neitz at the American Film Company (nicknamed the "Flying A") website which is maintained by the University of California at Santa Barbara. When you get to this webpage, do a search by last name and click on the letter N: http://www.filmandmedia.ucsb.edu/flyinga/people/index.html

More info on the silent era American Film Company (nicknamed the "Flying A") can be found at: http://www.sandiegohistory.org/journal/76fall/film.htm

  Although some of the data is incomplete or inaccurate, the Internet Movie Database (IMDb) has information on Fred MacKaye: http://us.imdb.com/name/nm0533216/
And Violet Knights/Neitz has about twenty films during the period from 1913-1935 (including Tim McCoy and Buffalo Bill Jr. oaters): http://us.imdb.com/name/nm0461161/

The Internet Broadway Database also has some listings for a Frederic/Frederick McKay as producer and manager. There's one play listed for 1937-1938 (appears to be reasonable) and four plays in the 1912-1918 period (that are suspect). All contain a notation of "The credits for this production have not yet been completed or verified." Jack Tillmany mentioned a Variety obituary on 8 March 1944 for "Frederick E. McKay", age 72, who may be the person involved in those early plays. Go to: http://www.ibdb.com/person.asp?ID=21949




(Courtesy of Lynn MacKaye Morgan)

Above is a very young Violet Neitz surrounded by two unidentified performers in an unidentified film - probably an American Film Company silent.

Dana Driskel, Department of Film Studies, UC Santa Barbara, came to the rescue. Dana writes: "The young man appears to be Jimmie Harrison and the fellow with the revolver is Jack Richardson, one of the most popular heavies of the 1910's. I also think I can identify the film as CALAMITY ANNE'S TRUST, one of the few Flying A's still around ... I've always wondered who the girl was since those types of roles were usually played by Jessalyn Van Trump."

Go to the American Film Company film listing and click on the letter C. Then scroll down to CALAMITY ANNE'S TRUST and you'll find a link to an image showing Violet and Jimmie Harrison. CALAMITY ANNE'S TRUST was released 4/26/1913: http://www.filmandmedia.ucsb.edu/flyinga/films/index.html




(Courtesy of Lynn MacKaye Morgan)

Above, Fred MacKaye vs. Cecilia 'Cissy' Parker in the Ken Maynard oater GUN JUSTICE (1933). About four years after this western was filmed, Cecilia Parker had graduated from playing serial and B-western heroines and began her most remembered screen role as Mickey Rooney's sister "Marian Hardy" in the Andy Hardy series at MGM. About ten years after doing this film, MacKaye was directing the popular Lux Radio Theater.



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