Bonnie Bonnell: Lady Stooge

A few fleeting fragments on the equally fleeting career of Bonnie (sometimes Bonny) Bonnell (Marion Wright Bonnell, 1905-1964).

Bonnell is best (I think we can get away with saying exclusively) known as a member of Ted Healy’s act, technically one of his stooges, although with (obviously) quite a different role than Moe, Larry, Curly, Shemp, or Fred Sanborn. Hers was generally more of a straight part in the chorus girl/ burlesque sketch tradition. She was a looker who sang and danced and usually came on stage half-dressed. I’ve seen writers speak disparagingly of her talent, but I think she is generally on the money in the role she plays within the team. She was basically with them during that year or so they were at MGM. She’s only got 7 movie credits: Nertsery Rhymes, Beer and Pretzels, Hello Pop, Plane Nuts, and Myrt and Marge (all 1933) and Hollywood on Parade No. B-9 and The Big Idea (1934). A breakdown on these films and Bonnell’s roles in them can be found here. You can also watch most of them for yourself on Youtube.

Then Healy and Howard-Fine-Howard parted ways, and Bonnell seems to have been a casualty of the development. Most say she was also Healy’s paramour, and there is evidence of some sort of relationship, for on Christmas of the following year (1935) he was put in jail for a few hours for setting fire to her Santa Monica apartment, although she ultimately didn’t press charges. This was widely reported at the time. In 1936 she married and subsequently retired from show business.

Bonnell was was from Thomasville, Georgia, which is very far south in the state, much closer to Tallahassee than it is to Macon, Augusta, Columbua, Savannah or Atlanta. She had a stage/vaudeville background prior to becoming part of Healy’s act. I found a reference to her in the chorus of a show in 1924 (when she would have been 19) in the Atlanta Constitution. In 1925 she was in a show called Tell Me More that attracted the attentions of a salesman named T.F. McGoey, who married her the following year. On Broadway she appeared in The Ramblers (1926-27) with Clark and McCullough; The Five O’Clock Girl (1927-28) with Mary Eaton, Oscar Shaw, and Pert Kelton; Here’s Howe (1928) with William Frawley, Fuzzy Knight, Ben Bernie, and Eric Blore; and Sweet and Low (1930-31) with Fanny Brice, George Jessel, James Barton, and Borrah Minevich. Her association with Healy began with Billy Rose’s Crazy Quilt (1931) also with Brice as well as her brother Lew, and Phil Baker.

Bonnell’s second marriage was to an auto parts salesman. It was during the depths of the Depression when she dropped out of show business, and one can only imagine that she was seeking security. By all accounts, she was a severe alcoholic during her last years, contributing to her early death at age 58.

For more on vaudeville history, please see No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, and for more on classic comedy read  Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube.