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Richard Widmark: A Princeton legend

Connections — The Apollo Theater and Henri’s Bakery

Published: Friday, June 20, 2014 12:53 p.m. CDT • Updated: Friday, June 20, 2014 12:57 p.m. CDT

Editor’s note: This is the final part in a three-part series on Richard Widmark’s connections in Princeton.

Harris Brothers restaurant and bakery was at 514 S. Main St. in Princeton for 40 years in 1925. Fred A. and Edward E. Harris were bakers, and they also served meals along with the assortment of baked confections. They sold the business to Henry P. Nelson and Carl Henry Widmark in 1925. Widmark’s family joined him in Princeton and lived in the apartment upstairs. They quit serving meals, ran it as just a bakery, and it was called Henri’s Bakery. 

The name Henry was an obvious choice, and spelling it as Henri’s gave it a French twist. The bakery did a good business with many regular customers, but they moved to a new location in late 1928, at 450 S. Main St. where the Uthoff Bakery had been. The Uthoff Bakery moved to 936 N. Main St. Christian G. Heck and his wife, Beryl, opened Heck’s Rexall Store at the 514 S. Main St.

The building, at the new location for Henri’s Bakery, featured two large front windows with awnings, and a setback main entrance. It had Henri’s Bakery in script lettering in both front windows. Henry, Carl and Ethel Widmark ran the bakery. Henry was a baker.  He, Ethel, and her mother, Mary Barr, did the baking. Carl still traveled as a salesman also. 

Henri’s Bakery featured breads, cakes, pies, donuts, rolls, pastries and cookies of all kinds, and you could get a cup of coffee. The store had covered glass display cases with shelves and baskets for breads. The ceiling was imprint copper with ceiling fans. They had several local ladies and high school girls as help, besides son Richard Widmark.

The 450 S. Main St. address would be home to a string of different bakeries; Uthoff Bakery (192?-1927), Henri’s Bakery (1928-1931), Blue Ribbon Bakery (1932-1936), Quality Bakery (1937-1945 and 1949-1964), Henning & Son Bakery (south branch) (1946-1948), and McCaslin Bakery (1965-1983). McCaslin Bakery would be the last bakery at this address as it was one of five businesses to succumb to the South Main Street fire of 1983. 

When Henri’s Bakery opened there were two other bakeries in Princeton for many years. The Swedish Home Bakery was at 917 N. Main St. when Henri’s opened, and it became Thompson’s Bakery until 1939, then Edna’s Home Bakery (1940-1942). Henning & Son(s) Bakery (main branch) opened at the address in 1943 and was in business until 1961. It was Walker’s Bakery in 1962 and Willis Bakery in 1963, 1964 and 1965.  The Uthoff Bakery at 450 S. Main St., then at 936 and 934 N. Main St. was in business from the mid 1920s to the start of World War II in the early 1940s. There was a Snow White Bakery at 420 S. Main St. from 1985 to 1994.

The Hays sisters, Daisy and Elinore, were in high school before and after Richard Widmark. Daisy was the class of 1928 and Elinore was the class of 1933 at Princeton.  Richard was the class of 1932. The Hays sisters worked at Henri’s Bakery waiting on customers. Daisy worked during the week, as she was out of school, and Elinore worked mostly on the weekends. Richard knew them both, but Elinore a little better as she was just a year behind him. Richard worked after school and weekends at the bakery when he could. He had to juggle this with his homework, part of the year football practice, and working at The Apollo Theater.

The Hayes sisters got along great with him, enjoyed working at the bakery, and thought the Widmark family was very easy to work for.  Daisy Hays married soon after high school and had a daughter, Kay Piper, July 26, 1933. The marriage didn’t last, and Daisy later married Richard Gottlieb. They moved to Joliet, and Kay went to school there. Kay Piper took her mother’s maiden name and became the actress Kathryn Hays, starting her career in 1952 on the daytime soap opera “The Guiding Light.”

She worked in television with roles in numerous series and became a cast regular, Kim Sullivan Hughes, on “As The World Turns” from 1972 to 2010. She co-starred in several made for television movies, worked on Broadway, and was Gem in “The Empath” episode of the original television series “Star Trek” in 1968. She returned to Princeton as grand marshal of the Homestead Parade in 1983. Her first cousin is Ted Johnson (Elinore’s son) who worked as a writer for the BCR and started Johnson’s Carpet Shoppe with his wife, Dorothy. Richard Widmark and Kathryn Hays never worked together on screen, but he worked with her mother at Henri’s Bakery.

Henri’s Bakery could be a beehive of activity, especially on weekends. Like many small family businesses during the depression, the customer was the most important thing, and every nickel counted. Money was tight, and catering to your customer was very important if you wanted to stay in business. You had to know your customers. 

Ila Russell was a young 22-year-old wife and mother in 1930. Her first child was Patsy Russell. Ila, her husband, Robert, and 2-year-old daughter lived at 102 S. Church St., a short walk to the south end business district. Ila liked to stop at Henri’s Bakery; she knew the Widmarks and always patronized the store. If she had some other shopping to do, she could even leave daughter Patsy in her carriage at the bakery and shop at Frasiers Grocery, Spurgeon’s Mercantile, Ben Franklin or Heck’s Rexall. Richard Widmark got the job of babysitting her on more than one occasion. Ila Russell was my wife’s grandmother, and Patsy Russell was her aunt. I got to hear the story from Patsy many times while courting my wife, Connie.

The mid 1920s to mid 1930s saw many businesses come and go. The move of Henri’s Bakery from 514 S. Main St. to 450 S. Main St. in late 1928 was just about the start of the Great Depression and close to the end of Prohibition (1919-1933). The Roaring Twenties started out with the illusion of prosperity for all, with the use of automobiles tripling after World War I, radios, air conditioning and refrigerators. The decade grew silent when the stock market crashed Oct. 29, 1929. The turmoil and despair that followed into the Great Depression of the 1930s was common place. 

While trying to run the bakery and living in Princeton, the Widmark family moved practically every year from 1925 to 1932. Carl and Ethel Widmark separated in 1931, and Henri’s Bakery ceased business. They reconciled for a time, living at 2131 Ridge Road, Evanston, while Richard attended Lake Forest College. The marriage ended in 1941. Ethel’s mother, Mary Barr, died in 1938 in Sioux Falls, S.D., and Ethel Mae Widmark died in 1957. She and her son, Donald Widmark, who died in 1955, are buried in Hollywood Hills, Calif. Carl Henry Widmark died in 1968 in Louisiana.

You can still see movies at The Apollo Theater, and there has been a resurgence of businesses selling baked goods. Daddy-O’s Donuts, Myrtle’s Cafe and Pie and The Flour House will satisfy your craving for pie, donuts, pastries and a cup of coffee. They are not at the same addresses as those bakeries of the past, at the north end of Main Street, but not far off. The 450 S. Main St. address that was Henri’s, Blue Ribbon, McCaslin and other bakeries is vacant now, but at 420, where Snow White Bakery was, you can still find a homemade delight and coffee at the Four and Twenty Cafe.

I just can’t seem to find a niche for Richard Widmark though, the man I’ve illustrated and been writing about. Give me a call if you have a spot for him. I hope the stories are entertaining, but you’ll have to buy your own coffee and sugared dough. I’m going to stick around anyway and checkout his high school days and classmates next time before we get back to his movies.

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