Born July 10, 1925, Mildred Kornman is the little sister of Mary Kornman, one of the principal stars of Hal Roach’s Our Gang series during its silent period. Mildred appeared as a non-speaking extra in the series from 1926 through 1935 (ages 1-10). She aged out of the series at that point and appeared in three feature films: Hoosier Schoolboy (1937) with Mickey Rooney; Mr. Boggs Steps Out (1938) with Stuart Erwin, and Mad About Music (1938) with Deanna Durbin.
Mildred dropped out of the biz as a teenager to concentrate on her schooling and got married at 18. Most show biz stories would end there. But there is much more to the continuing story of Mildred Kornman, a story that continues to this day!
In the mid-1940s she became a 20th Century Fox contract player under her new professional name Ricki VanDusen. The reincarnated Ricki appeared in Up in Arms (1944), Atlantic City (1944), The Dolly Sisters (1945), Billy Rose’s Diamond Horseshoe (1945), Cinderella Jones (1946), I Wonder Who’s Kissing Her Now (1947) and T-Men (1947).
VanDusen was a bit player in all these films, but clearly gorgeous (in fact she was usually cast as runway models, fashion plates or chorines), allowing it to become a springboard to her next career. While her husband went to Europe to serve in World War Two, Ricki moved to New York and became a successful fashion model, working with such photographers as Irving Penn, Louise Dahl Wolfe, John Rawlings and Horst B. Horst, winding up on the covers of Vogue and Harpers Bazaar, and in ads for Revlon, Cutex, Helena Rubenstein and Elizabeth Arden. Somewhere in there she found the time (and the inclination) to play a walk-on role in Abbott and Costello Go to Mars (1953)!
After retiring from modelling, VanDusen took up photography, in emulation of her father, Gene Kornman, who had been the official studio still photographer at Hal Roach studios, which is how Mary and Mildred wound up in the Our Gang films. Gene Kornman was also Harold Lloyd’s personal photographer and close friend, hence Mildred’s first name — she was named after Lloyd’s wife Mildred Davis, who also became her Godmother.
Mildred/ Ricki is still with us today! Learn more about her at her official website here.
For more on Our Gang, please check out my 100th anniversary podcast episode here.
For more on screen comedy, including the Our Gang films, please see my book Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube