June Lang was an American movie star with a great natural beauty and natural talent whose most productive Hollywood years fell during the decade of the late 1930s into the late 1940s after appearing in a number of lead-up bit-parts during the early 1930s.
There is no major biography or autobiography written about or by June Lang. Most of what has come down to us is from studio press releases, movie publicity magazines of the day, and added-up comments over the years from friends or acquaintances. Although my interest in Lang has a personal twist to it in that she and my mother knew each other, albeit long before I was born, my sources for her history and personal background, other than what came to me through my grandmother, is really not much different than that of anybody else. That small space, however, that exists between 'no difference' and 'not much difference' is just enough for me to put a spin on Lang than what is usually found.
Lang was born Winifred June Vlasek in Minneapolis, Minnesota on May 5, 1917. She showed a talent in dance at an early age and was so good that in 1923 when Lang was seven years old she and her family moved to Hollywood. Almost immediately she began performing in a number of vaudville shows and dance revues. By the time she was 13, while still a student at Hollywood Professional School, Lang was working as a chorus girl at the Orpheum Theater in Los Angeles. She was able to convince the dance director she was 18 and in doing so she was cast in the musical production "Temptations of 1930."
Around that same time Lang (still as June Vlasek) began doing extra work at RKO and Universal, obtaining a number of jobs in a number of movies including Miracle Woman (1931) staring Barbara Stanwyck where in one sequence she sang in a church choir. She also interviewed at Fox and was hired as one of 20 girls (uncredited) for a swimming pool scene in She Wanted a Millionaire (1932) starring Spencer Tracy and Joan Bennett. She was noticed by the director and recommended to the studio production head, who inturn thought she had enough potential that he placed her under contract.
After receiving her contract at Fox Lang's film resume' began to grow. In 1931 she had roles in Daddy Long Legs, and Young Sinners (uncredited). The next year, 1932, Lang was in Chandu the Magician, in of which she received her first speaking role. 1933 she appeared in The Man Who Dared and I Loved You Wednesday. In 1934, still billed as June Vlasek she acted in First Year and She Learned About Sailors. She showed up in Love Time in 1934 and Now I'll Tell (uncredited) her first movie with Shirley Temple. Music in the Air, also in 1934, gave her her first lead. It was also the first movie she was billed as June Lang. In 1935 it was Bonnie Scotland with Laurel and Hardy and in 1936 her movies included The Road to Glory, Every Saturday Night, White Hunter, The Country Doctor, and Captain January, her second Shirley Temple movie. In 1937 was Wee Willie Winkie, her third Shirley Temple movie. Also in 1937 was Ali Baba Goes to Town and Nancy Steele Is Missing.
In 1938 things began to change --- unfortunately not for the best. Previously, where she had been on a slow but steady upward trajectory with an ever growing fan base and huge increases in fan mail, suddenly a number of setbacks occurred stalling her career. She did International Settlement in 1938 as well as Meet the Girls. Meet the Girls met with so much success and pulled in such good financial results and reviews that powers that be began thinking of it as a potential film series --- given the working title The Big Town Girls. As it was, instead of a series for her Fox terminated her contract. Film historian Gordon Hunter in "JUNE LANG: Meet the Girl", with interview notes from the files of Colin Briggs, sums up best what happened:
"The unraveling of her career began in 1938 when Fox production boss Darryl Zanuck sent her to England to make So This Is London. With the threat of war hanging over Europe, Americans were fleeing England, and Zanuck said she should leave the Dorchester Hotel and move to the country where it would be safer. Having completed wardrobe, makeup and hair tests at Pinewood Studio, filming was on track, but the war scare absolutely terrified June and she wanted to get out. Fox's British office informed her that if she left England her contract would be immediately terminated. However, her fear was so great, June, together with her mother, decided to return to the U.S."(source)
What would have been her part in the Big Town Girls series, reprising her role as Judy Davis, was recast with June Gale in the second and only installment, Pardon Our Nerve. If Lang would have reprised the same role she filled in the original, the series, if continued, could have made her career. With her Fox contract kaput and no one in the wings interested in picking her up, she struck out on her own doing independent contract work and from 1939 through 1947 garnered roles in thirteen movies --- all without an agent.
In 1939 she was working on a movie titled Convicted Woman for Columbia Pictures that was released in 1940. Another player in the movie was an actress named Rochelle Hudson. During production the two struck up conversation in a friendly manner because both had worked on Shirley Temple movies, inspiring a sort of special "esprit de corps" between them. Like Lang's career would soon be, Hudson's film career would be interrupted as well, albeit for totally different reasons. In the years just prior to the war and into it's early years Hudson worked as a spy for the Naval Intelligence Service. She along with her husband, a Naval officer posing as a civilian she had just married, participated in espionage work primarily in Mexico, but also Central and South America. Together they posed as a vacationing couple to detect if there was any German activity in these areas. Hudson's career, like Lang's would never get back on track following the war. Although none of Lang's thirteen movies between 1939 and 1947 were of any note, in the 1943 movie Flesh and Fantasy which starred Charles Boyer and Barbara Stanwyck, it is reported that Boyer personally requested her for the role she played in the movie. It was those personal aspects such as those between she and Hudson and Boyer's request she relished the most.
ROCHELLE HUDSON, JUNE LANG, AND FRIEDA INESCORT
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In April 1939 what some consider the final "nail in the coffin" regarding her career happened, and, interestingly enough, was of her own making. It was also the second of two personal reasons I have regarding June Lang. You may recall from above my mother and June Lang knew each other as childhood friends, which, after I was told of their friendship years later by my grandmother, set into motion my original interest in Lang. The telling of Lang by my grandmother, who serendipitously followed her career, was born on necessity in that I never really knew my mother per se' in that she died when I was a very young age. However, the putting into place of my second interest regarding Lang developed because in later years the man she married in 1939, I met --- a meeting between he and I that came about because he and my Stepmother were friends, or at the very least, close business associates.
On April 1, 1939 the 22 year old Lang with 20 or more movies under her belt married 33 year old Johnny Roselli. Roselli, who was well known in Hollywood circles had passed himself off as an aspiring film producer, when in reality he was a major mover in the mob. Reports are that Lang was madly in love with Roselli BUT, like many on the periphery or slightly out of the loop, had no idea he was a mobster. Lang divorced him in March 1943 after she apparently had some kind of epiphany and became aware of the truth --- that and rumors of a potential and flowering interest by Roselli toward another actress by the name of Helen Greco. Gordon Hunter, refered to earlier in "JUNE LANG: Meet the Girl," writes the following regarding Roselli and any impact he may or maynot have had on Lang's career:
"Mafia historians claim Roselli was the Chicago mob's man in Las Vegas. Roselli also was a friend of producer Bryan Foy, and aspired to be a film producer himself. 'The experts' on Hollywood stars in the past have often declared that the reason for the termination of June's contract with Fox was because of her marriage to Roselli. Actually, her contract was 'torn up' the year before the marriage took place, when she quit England and the set of So This Is London. June applauded Colin Briggs when he wrote the truth on this matter back in 1992. She wrote, 'Thank you, thank you, thank you, my dear Colin, for setting the record straight at last.'"
Except for possibly admitting a so-called "epiphany" regarding Roselli later, Lang was steadfast in claiming she had no initial knowledge of his mob-related background. Although she did divorce Roselli within three years of their marriage, in the eyes of many the damage had been done and her career never really recovered. With film roles all but gone by the end of the 1940s she moved her acting efforts into television but never fully reached the status of an A-list celebrity.
Lang died May 16, 2005, eleven days after her 88th birthday in Valley Village, California, a community located northwest of Los Angeles in the San Fernando Valley. She was buried not far away in Forest Lawn Memorial Park Cemetery, Hollywood Hills.
Fundamentally, our experience as experienced is not different from the Zen master's. Where
we differ is that we place a fog, a particular kind of conceptual overlay onto that experience
and then make an emotional investment in that overlay, taking it to be "real" in and of itself.
ON THE RAZOR'S
As to the subject of donations, for those who may be so interested as it applies to the gratefulness of my works, I invariably suggest any funds be directed toward THE WOUNDED WARRIOR PROJECT and/or THE AMERICAN RED CROSS.
My mother and sister, from their pre-teens to their very early teens, danced with a traveling vaudeville troup that primarily followed the Pantages Circuit and billed as the DOUGLAS DANCERS, doing such performances or scenes as Nine Tiny Tots In Fairyland and others as listed below. It was during that period June Lang was working as a dancer at the Orpheum Theater in Los Angeles and somewhere in there for circumstances unknown to me my mother and June Lang crossed paths. I am not privy to the depth or extent of any friendship or relationship that may have developed between the two, only that my grandmother, who seemed to have a photographic memory when it came to June Lang, over the years remembered her fondly and spoke as though she and my mother were close, at least during their childhood dancing years. My mother was three or four years older than Lang. Lang at the time had been passing herself off as being three or four years older than she actually was so she may have made friendship with my mother as a cover.
The Sunday Oregonian dated July 18, 1920, in the newspaper's Sunday 'Dramatic Section,' makes mention of the Douglas Dancers appearing at the Pantages in Portland. The photograph with the article shows ten young female performers of which the two youngest in the photo are thought to be my mother and aunt, with the girl seated on the far left my mom and the girl on the right leaning on her chin with her hands my aunt.
The Douglas Dancers were under the auspices of Hamilton Douglas Jr and his wife, an accomplished dancer in her own right. (see)
The text in the article accompanying the photograph reads:
"The second feature will be the Douglas dancers, presented by Mr. and Mrs. Hamilton Douglas Jr. This is an offering that will be of particular interest to the little folk. There are four scenes in the offering, 'Artists in Miniature,' 'Shipwrecked Mariners,' 'The Enchanted Forest,' and 'A Lotus in Fairyland.' The production has been gorgeously staged and the scenery in each setting is exceptionally rich. The company has 10 people and the various dances are most artistically arranged."
Please note the full text of the page and photograph as it appears at The Sunday Oregonian link above is expandable.
Hollywood Professional School was a school dedicated to the needs of the "professional child," i.e., kids trying to make it in show business or already in show business and needing to meet the mandatory state requirements of attending school. Classes ran from nursery school through to the 12th grade with each grade numbering about 40 students. Although the children attending the school were in the entertainment business there was no special classes aimed toward drama, dance or music. The only thing offered was basic college-prep courses with no sports, newspaper, cafeteria, or extracurricular activities.
HOLLYWOOD PROFESSIONAL SCHOOL
Just at the outbreak of World War II the IVth Interceptor Command, as found through research done by authors John R. Monett, Lester Cole and Jack C. Cleland and presented in their book Harbor Defenses of Los Angeles in World War II, state that in December 1941 several enemy planes were believed to be hidden near the desert communities of Indio and Brawley in the Imperial Valley of California and that an air attack by German airmen from across the border where additional planes were under cover, was emmanent. At 12:32 PM in the afternoon of December 31, 1941, the Federal Bureau of Investigation relayed the following message:
"There is a plan for air and sea attack against San Diego, San Pedro and San Francisco, to take place about dawn either New Year's Day or the following Sunday. It is possible the attack will be made against San Diego and San Pedro first. Expecting cooperation from aliens ashore. The air attack will be by German airmen from across the border where planes are now under cover, taking off before dawn and coming over flying high. If air forces are alert, this can be broken up before they reach their objectives. Am sending you this information for want of better channels to advise. Remember Pearl Harbor."(see)
All units of the harbor defenses were put on alert and ready for action, however, as everybody knows, the attack never came off. The primary reason that aerial attack by German pilots from across the border never came off at the scheduled time, or not at all, was because of Rochelle Hudson --- and the reason why she is famous in the espionage world as a success. Hudson, along with her Naval officer husband, on one of their vacations uncovered a supply of high octane aviation fuel stashed by German agents in Baja California. After the discovery the stash was dealt with appropriately and without the necessary fuel to implement the planned attack, it was scrapped.
Her other major espionage coup d' tat was the discovery of the La Palma Secret Base, a hidden submarine base hewn out deep in the jungle-like estuaries of the southern Mexico state of Chiapas along the Pacific coast just north of the Guatemalan border. Unlike the immediate results of the discovery of the high octane aviation fuel, nothing ever seemed to come of the discovery of the secret base. There are reports of it still being in operation up until the end of the war, but mostly not, because Japan had ceased all serious submarine operations in the eastern Pacific in 1943-44 except for one, the huge trans oceanic I-12 Ghost Submarine and the German U-196.(see)
After Hudson's discovery and then destruction of the aviation fuel in Baja, according to what is reported in The Radar Dilemma the window was pretty much closed to the enemy for any sort of a repeat because of the operational radar coverage that had been put into place up and down the coast from Los Angeles south into Mexico and both sides of the Baja.
The thing is, along the way, well before the war even, the Germans had become excessively over obsessed with the destruction of Hoover Dam, and all the radar that had been fast-tracked into place, in a large part because of Hudson, virtually eliminated access to the dam by air across the 300 mile breadth of California from the Pacific or up it's underbelly via Baja.
That coverage of the dam, or non-coverage as the case may be, left only two highly questionable access routes open to destroy it. One, by water up the Colorado River, and two, by air coming through the backside over Arizona and New Mexico, both thought by the powers to be impossible to implement. The by-water route via the Colorado River using a submersible is covered quite thoroughly in The German Submarine Attack on Hoover Dam.(see) The by-air route through the backdoor is less generally covered but can be found by going to:
THE NAZI PLOT TO BLOW UP HOOVER DAM
When I was around eight or ten years old my stepmother went to visit a man she knew in a hospital in Santa Barbara and I went along. She told me he was a longtime friend and was recuperating after having been in the army. I am not sure what the nature of the business with the man was, but I remember he was introduced as Johnny. Years later I found out "Johnny" was Johnny Roselli, and while it is true he had been in the army, having gone in on December 4, 1942 at age 37, he only served until he was arrested on federal charges March 19, 1943. On December 30, 1943 he was found guilty and sentenced to ten years in federal prison. On Aug. 13, 1947, after serving roughly three and a half years Roselli was paroled. So when my stepmother and I saw him in the hospital he may have been recuperating alright, but not from the army, but prison.
When I turned 21 I bought my first brand new car. Since I was 21 and had a brand new car I decided to go to Las Vegas for the first time on my own. On the way I stopped by my now ex-stepmother's hovel in the desert to see how she was and slip her a few bucks like I often did since I graduated from high school and got a job. When she learned I was going to Vegas she asked if I remembered our trip to Santa Barbara and the man in the hospital. When I told her yes she scribbled a few things on a piece of paper, put it in an envelope and told me to look him up and give him the note. She told me his name was Johnny Roselli and most likely at the Desert Inn.
When I got to Vegas I found someone who pointed out Roselli to me. When I started to go up to his table a man with folded arms stepped in front of me blocking me from going any further. I told him I had a note I was asked to deliver to Mr. Roselli. The man took the envelope and told me to wait. Roselli opened the envelope, looked at the note, and told the man who had stopped me to have me come to his booth. The man frisked me then let me by. I told Roselli who I was, that we had met once before and that my stepmother had asked me to deliver the note to him. He motioned me to sit down, asked how my mother was doing. I filled him in as best I could, telling him I do what I can for her, it is just that she is unwilling to accept any help. Roselli asked where I was staying. When I told him he picked up a phone on the table, dialed a number, told them he was Johnny Roselli, talked a few more minutes, then hung up. He told me he had "comped" my room for me, moved me up to a suite, and that during my stay, except for gambling, everything was on the house. He said if there was any problem tell them to call him. Then he told me to make sure I looked him up before I left as he wanted to return something to my mother. Just as I was getting up he made one last comment saying "Ride any trains lately?," a highly complicated and cryptic response that included June Lang herself. I just pointed at him and we both laughed.(see)
When I went back to the Desert Inn I didn't see Roselli but there was a large manilla envelope waiting for me with one of my stepmother's old aliases written on it. On the way home I stopped by her place and gave her the envelope. When she opened it inside was $5000 in cash.
As it continues, there is actually more to the above story that even includes the onetime Los Angeles madam, Brenda Allen, mob owned slot machines and more, all of which can be found on the previously cited Johnny Roselli page, the Brenda Allen page, and the Phyllis Davis page. For those of you who may be so interested please see:
JOHNNY ROSELLI, SLOT MACHINES, AND THE FBI
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There is an interesting twist to the Roselli/Lang marriage, divorce, relationship stuff.
A year after her divorce from Roselli, Lang married again. Right in the middle of that marriage, when I was around ten years old or so, as I write in Riding the Cab Forwards, I lived on-and-off, along with my brothers, first cousin and a number of other kids, on a ranch in the Mojave Desert owned by my stepmother. One end of the ranch property butted right up along the Southern Pacific mainline. Just up the tracks from the end of the property was a water tower along a siding that the steam engines of the day invariably stopped to take on water.
My older brother and cousin began hopping trains at the stop, riding them north just for the adventure. After a few times they got fairly adept at it going farther and farther before returning the same day.
One day though, they didn't return. By the time my Uncle, who, along with my godfather oversaw us, discovered they were actually gone and not off on the ranch somewhere --- and me beginning to worry about them myself --- he got out of me what they had been doing. Before he could do anything he got the dreaded middle-of-the-night phone call. It was a reverse-charge call from my cousin. He and my brother were 500 miles away being held in a switch-tower in the Sacramento yards.
In that there were threats by a railroad bull of potential bodily harm befalling the boys plus a wisp of extortion in the air my stepmother made arrangements to fly my uncle to Sacramento in a private plane to ensure their overall well being and get them home as quick as possible. In the process I went along. At the sametime, concerned with the level of the threats, she called Roselli, who she knew, to see if he could work his magic with local Sacramento associates to ensure the boys would be safe. Apparently in exchange for his assist he requested a person of some importance to him be flown from Reno, just over the mountains from Sacramento, to Las Vegas with a minimum amount knowledge to outsiders, a request she agreed to.
There has been some speculation as to who the mysterious woman was that had the need to be transported covertly and without fanfare under the cover of darkness from Reno to Vegas. To me, although I was personally never able to see her clearly she carried a certain ambience about her that reeked of being a movie star. In those days, since I was still a kid, except for possibly western movie star Dale Evans --- and maybe Veronica Lake for reasons unknown --- my knowledge of female movie stars ran kind of thin. However, while I may not have known female movie stars per se' I did know comic book characters, and one of the ones I remembered was Lana Lang, the female lead in Superboy comics and the protagonist to Lois Lane in Superman comics.
Why is it important? Because I can still remember overhearing the response my uncle gave the pilot when the pilot asked him who the mysterious all wrapped up in dark clothes and sunglasses in the middle of the night woman was. He told the pilot she looked like June Lang. Apparently satisfied with the answer and apparently knowing who June Lang was the pilot let it drop. Now I had no clue who June Lang was, but I knew who Lana Lang was, so putting the two together was enough for me to remember his answer right into adulthood. See:
The whole June Lang thing rests on one thing, the accuracy of my uncle's perception regarding any resemblances he may garnererd between the woman being transported and June Lang herself. Neither I nor the pilot ever saw the woman other than being basically covered tip to toe, and then only in the middle of the night out in the darkend windswept desert or possibly a little more from the glow of the muted lights of the cockpit dials. My uncle though, was the one that arranged for the actual transportation to occur, so somewhere in Reno when all of that was being set up he may have seen the woman up close and more clearly, maybe even introduced.
The thing is, looking like June Lang and being June Lang are two different things. So said, I have no proof one way or the other who the mysterious woman was except overhearing my uncle's response. He may have been under a gag order not to reveal who she was, so he could have just shrugged his shoulders when asked. Instead, out of respect to the pilot he gave a verbal answer, albeit ambiguous, saying she 'looked like' June Lang. By putting together the dots since then there is some circumstantial evidence that leans in the direction of his reply possibly being on target, however weak in solid proof it may seem.
Years later in my initial research I thought if the woman was Lang she may have been in Reno for a quickie divorce. In 1944 she married an Army lieutenant using her real name Winifred June Vlasek and it was weeks before it was discovered by the press. So I thought there was a chance she may have been in Reno incognito. However, although she did divorce the lieutenant eventually, it wasn't until several years after the events we are talking about here.
If you remember my stepmother contacted Roselli to put muscle on the railroad bull to ensure neither my brother or cousin was harmed in any way. As presented previously, Roselli married Lang in April 1939 and they were divorced in March 1943. On December 4, 1942, just three days short of one full year following the attack on Pearl Harbor --- and while still married to Lang --- at age 37, for reasons not clear, Roselli either joined or was inducted into the U.S. Army. On March 18, 1943, while still serving in the Army, he was arrested on federal labor racketeering charges. The trial began on October 5, 1943 and on December 22, 1943 he was found guilty of conspiracy of extortion against the motion picture industry. Roselli received a prison term of 10 years and a $10,000 fine. After serving roughly three and a half years he was paroled.
JOHNNY ROSELLI IN UNIFORM CIRCA 1943
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Almost down to the day of his arrest he was divorced from Lang and almost down to the day of the start of his sentencing Lang remarried. It was not long after Roselli's release from prison than all this Reno stuff went down. It could be on my stepmother's request Roselli decided to intervene personally, so he may have gone to Sacramento OR he may just happened to have been in Reno in some sort of secret post divorce rendezvous with Lang. In that the mob often had ties to unions in those days Roselli may have requested the cab forward engineer to come forward and ask my uncle for the person to be flown to Las Vegas on the QT, totally leaving Roselli out of the picture or any with connection to the mysterious traveler.
Lana Lang, Superboy's friend from childhood into adolescence and then into adult life was the first person to suspect Clark Kent and Superboy was one and the same person. Her first appearance was in the September-October 1950 issue of SUPERBOY NO.10 in "The Girl in Superboy's Life." Afterwards in SUPERMAN 78/3 from September-October 1952, as an adult woman, she moves to Metropolis and works at the Daily Planet with Clark Kent, and even for a few days, lives in Lois Lane's apartment. Lana Lang as adult, is Lois Lane's chief rival for Superman's love in several adventures. In 1965 she becomes a TV reporter (SUPERMAN 177/2). In the post-Crisis version by John Byrne, Lana Lang is Clark Kent's close friend, being the first person who knows his secret identity as Superman.(see)
As can be determined from the above history of Lana Lang, you can see, as a comic book character in Superman and Superboy comics, she did not show up for the first time until Superboy No. 10 with a cover date of September-October 1950, some two years AFTER the event with the cab-forwards and the flight out of the dirt airstrip south of Reno. As I have written it, it seems as though I put the two Langs together at that moment at that same time. It was after I became aware of Lana Lang that I was able to recall backwards that the woman was June Lang. The fact the woman may have been June Lang on the plane was brought up to my grandmother by my uncle early on, he knowing, as mentioned previously above, that my mother and June Lang had danced together as children professionally. Between my grandmother, uncle and I, the whole June Lang thing was kept alive on-and-off long enough for me to make the connection with Lana Lang on my own sometime in the 1950s, the 12 year old boy or so that I was, and from there I extrapolated it clear up to the point I felt I knew about the connection my whole life.
A click through link to Lana Lang's first appearance in the comic book story "The Girl in Superboy's Life" as published in the September-October 1950 issue of SUPERBOY NO.10 can be found in it's complete and original format by clicking the Superboy cover graphic on the left below. By clicking the story's first page shown on the right will open a full size expanded version of that page:
THE LOWDOWN ON LANA LANG
ANALOGIES IN TIME AND PLACE
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