Girls of Summer: Dolores Donlon, Miss August 1957


Photographed by super-great Peter Gowland.

Direct from the convent, it’s the lovely and talented Dolores Donlon, Miss August 1957! Ms. Donlon (née Patricia Vaniver) hailed from Tarrytown, NY by way of Philadelphia and, according to sources, graduated from “a French convent” before embarking on her career as a model and actress.

My guess is she attended the Marymount Secondary School in Tarrytown, a school which was run by the order of RHSM. The Religious of the Sacred Heart of Mary were founded in 1849 in Murviel-les-Béziers, France. They are called RHSM in English-speaking countries and RSCM in French, Spanish, and Portugese. (The “c” stands for couer, corazon, and coração, respectively.)

Marymount Secondary School in Tarrytown is still a standing convent of the RHSM, but is now used as a Provincial Center and retirement home for elderly sisters of the order. The nearby Sacred Heart school in Yonkers has RHSM on staff; their order’s devotion to teaching has of course not been forgotten.

The crypt of the famous Marymount College foundress Mother Marie Joseph Butler, General Superior of the order from the tumultuous years of 1926-1940 and a major figure in the order’s history as well as parochial education in America, is at the Tarrytown convent, “down by the banks of the Hudson.”

Mother Butler, born Johanna Butler in 1860, came from County Kilkenny, Ireland. She took her vows at 16 in the RHSM order’s original center in France, then ministered in schools in Portugal until 1903, when she was sent to the United States.

During her tenure as General Superior of RHSM, Mother Butler not only extended the order to new countries and divided the order in to provinces to improve organization, she also founded the Marymount School and College at Tarrytown, and expanded establishment of RHSM schools around the country. This was very important during the Great Depression because the sisters in the new schools were called to take on, gratis, children as boarders who might otherwise have gone uneducated or spent their days at factories or in fields. This way, their parents had one less mouth to feed and could rest easily knowing the children were being taken care of with love, and, for their part, the children were given a foundation for future, more profitable careers, as well as given the chance to just be kids a little longer.

When I was growing up, there had been a Mother Butler school in San Jose and all we Catholic kids, even those like me who went to public school, called it “Ma Butts.” I think the whole city called it “Ma Butts,” really. It was an all-girls’ school and shared classes with the nearby once-all-boys-I-think-but-eventually-co-ed school Archbishop Mitty. Or maybe I’m thinking of St. Lawrence. I’ve no idea if any still exists now, nor if they have gone co-ed, but I can only imagine the shenanigans that were got up to back then. Ah. Catholicism is for lovers.

After leaving Marymount at Tarrytown, Ms. Donlon swung back through P-A, picking up the crown for “Miss Philadelphia” on the way. (An achievement that was nothing to sneeze at; between 1921 and 1940, three Miss Philadelphias were crowned Miss America. Then the Miss PA contest got off the ground a little better and Miss Phillies were no longer eligible to represent the whole state. But dang — three Miss Americas in 20 years? Philly in the house.)

Dolores became a Walter Thornton model in 1945 and moved to Upper Darby, Pennsylvania, a suburb of Center City (downtown Philadelphia) from which two highly noteable Funny Girls hail: SNL alumni Tina Fey and Cheri Oteri. She packed up a few months later and moved to New York City, where she modeled under the name Patricia Van Iver. In this name, she received the award of “Queen of the New York Press Photographers’ Ball.” But the accolades did not stop rolling in.

Super cool fact alert: In December of 1945, 300,000 GI’s voted Dolores’s pinup their Picture of the Year. Get it, girl! Way to keep those boys smiling. The only bummer is that I cannot track this picture down. If anyone has a scan — the name will likely be Patricia Vaniver or Patricia Van Iver, not Dolores Donlon — I’d love to be able to add it to this post. Thanks!

The late 40’s and early 50’s found Ms. Donlon migrating back and forth between NYC and Hollywood. She continued to be a successful model, winning awards and earning the title of the “Ideal Bride” of 1946 in a wedding fashion show. Her ultimate bridal role came in 1949, when she married Hollywood agent and producer Vic Orsatti. Mr. Orsatti’s first wife was the fairly popular actress Marie McDonald, and he quickly set about securing roles for Dolores: the name change was likely his idea. She was only cast in one film as Pat Van Iver, but by the time the post-production was done, she was re-listed as Dolores Donlon.

Some of the pictures in which Ms. Donlon was featured during this time include The Long Wait, Security Risk, Flight to Hong Kong, and Nude Odyssey. She also appeared on countless television shows. Standouts are Maverick, I Love Lucy, 77 Sunset Strip, and the Walter Winchell Files. Ms. Donlon also continued to model — and therein started some trouble.

In 1954, the Walter Thornton Agency brought a lawsuit of $120,000 to Dolores’s door, citing breach of contract. Ms. Donlon had signed a contract with them as Pat Van Iver (remember? back in her NYC modeling days?) and had not properly nor formally severed her contract with the agency before beginning to earn money elsewere. Under the terms of the contract, she was technically negligent in paying them owed portions of her income. Kind of a shady thing to do on both sides: for her part, she knew very well that she ought sever the contract or else pay up, ideally both; from the agency’s perspective why sneakily wait ’til your model/actress gets famous and then bring it up that she is still under contract? very unprofessional and predatory. So I can go either way on that one.

The Walter Thornton Agency was second only to John Roberts Powers in size of modeling agencies in this country during its heyday. But please consider that size of an agency is in no way indicative of quality. The titular Walter Thornton retired around the time of the lawsuit and died in 1990 of a stroke, neither of which, I’m sure, was related to the suit against Ms. Donlon, who I believe finally paid out about $20k to get them off her back. And I don’t know for certain, but I’m pretty close to positive that she made damned sure the contract was over, that time.

In 1954, a picture of Ms. Donlon taken by photographer Stew Sawyer was named Best Cheesecake Photo of the year by the United Press. Ms. Donlon and Mr. Orsatti separated in 1957 and divorced contentiously in 1958 (from what I know of Vic Orsatti’s marital histories, this was sadly par for the course). Ms. Donlon continued to act throughout the late 50’s and early 60’s. She married Robert de Pasquale, a concert violinist for the NY Philharmonic, in 1963 and retired from acting and modeling to raise her family.

Special thanks to Glamour Girls of the Silver Screen for the timeline of events in Ms. Donlon’s life from which a semi-biography could be culled. Super-great site!

edit: Ma Butts is now called the Harker School and is co-ed. Archbishop Mitty is still alive and kickin’ and is co-ed. St. Lawrence Girls’ High School consolidated with Mitty at some point and is history. That’s a shame. I am a strong proponent of the unpopular idea of all-girls’ secondary schools. Girls perform better when their competition is only other girls; they speak out better and more often about their opinions; they score more highly on tests and participate more actively in class discussion than a girl of comparable age and skill-set who performs in a class of mixed-gender peers. Facts are facts. Sure, there will be gossiping and bullying and catfights — but they would have done that in co-ed school, too. I say get those girls alone with just each other in a classroom and stand back while they kick Math’s ass. I think a young woman can really come in to her own during the critical years of adolescence and form with confidence a strong, true character to her best advantage in an environment made up of predominantly females.

In a perfect world we all see and treat one another as equals, but is high school even a remotely perfect world?? Of course not. I think young women often compromise themselves, both their intellectual growth and formation of morals, for young males. I think they’re better off separated so they can form their own personality rather than learning to cave and conceal their intellect. But I know and understand that my opinion is not a popular one.

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