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Richard Widmark: A Princeton legacy

Classmates — Becoming Richard Widmark

Published: Friday, Aug. 15, 2014 12:36 p.m. CDT • Updated: Friday, Aug. 15, 2014 12:40 p.m. CDT

It was during his senior high school year that Richard Widmark purchased his first automobile. Leslie Monroe had his Chevrolet dealership on the corner of Main and Peru streets, across from the post office. There was actually a gas station on the corner, and the dealership was just to the east of it, but it did run right over the roof of the station, as the land had a definite drop in elevation on that corner.

The gas station was the first story, and the west end of the dealership was the second story on the corner. Leslie Monroe was also a notary republic, and so you could buy a car and get a stamped certificate to drive a car all in the same place, as long as you could show him you knew how. It’s not that simple today. It is just another lost convenience, maybe for the better, to more and bigger government. 

When May Win was in the early part of her teaching career, this same kind of common sense convenience was at work and would certainly cause an uproar today. 

The paths that Richard Widmark and Mary Win Skinner followed in their careers were somewhat similar. Their personal lives had similarities also. Richard Widmark was studying acting at Lake Forest College, after graduating high school, while  Mary Win Skinner studied art at the University of Chicago and the University of Illinois. Widmark headed east after college (following his future wife to New York City) and two years of teaching at his alma mater. He watched every silent movie at the New York City Museum of Modern Art to hone his acting skills while doing radio and Broadway, and then he was on theater tour in Chicago. 

Richard Widmark married Ora Jean Hazelwood, April 5, 1942, in Evanston, Ill. Mary Win also went east and then back to Chicago, furthering her skills with the Art Students League in New York City and the Academy of Fine Art in Chicago. She earned her master’s degree from Northern Illinois University at DeKalb. She first taught art in Arthur, Ill., and then at Logan Junior High School in Princeton. Mary Winifred Skinner married Eugene Walter in 1943, at the Church on The Hill, east of Princeton. Eugene’s grandfather performed the ceremony.

They lived in Florida for two years, while Eugene was in the U.S. Army, and after the war, she started teaching at Princeton Township High School in 1947, the same year Richard started his career in the movies in “Kiss of Death.” Eugene was working at Anderson Mosshart, while Mary Win was teaching. Mary Win and Eugene adopted a baby girl, Sara, born Jan. 19, 1949. She would have to give up her teaching to take care of her new daughter unless something could be worked out. O.V. Shaffer was the principal, and something was worked out. It was a convenience for all involved; the school, the students, baby Sara and Mary Win Walter. Mary Win and husband, Eugene, lived on the family land, at Greenwood Cottage, that she inherited from her great aunt, Lottie Taylor, and where she would basically spend the rest of her life. As it was then larger and just a stone’s throw from the high school property, O.V. had it set up for the students to walk to Mary Win’s home, in the kitchen, where desks were set up to get their art lessons. It was a win-win situation for all that just wouldn’t fly today; there would be an uproar.

Mary Win and Eugene Walter would have just the one daughter, Sara. Richard and Jean Widmark would have just the one daughter, Anne, July 25, 1945. Mary Win remarried a close friend of the family, Don Norris, in 1982, after the death of her first husband, Eugene, in 1972. Richard remarried a close friend of the family, Susan Blanchard, in 1999, after the death of Jean in 1997.

Richard Widmark was an avid and lifelong reader, as was Mary Win. Richard Widmark loved to travel, many times for different roles in his movies: Austria, England, Germany, Mexico, Scotland and Switzerland are just a few of the countries. Mary Win traveled extensively after she retired: To Russia with her stepsister Kate (Skinner) Graham, Ireland, a white water rafting trip with Bindy Walter, out west, and a climb to the top of Machu Picchu, the Inca site in the Cusco Region of Peru, South America. 

Richard Widmark took up painting as a way to relax and usually had something on his easel. He dabbled at it. He said, “... we have a little guest house in our garden. I enjoy going out there to read and study, away from the interruptions in the house. That’s where I do my painting. I’m so terrible at it; I don’t want anyone peeking over my shoulder.” Widmark  was very modest about the definite flair for painting he developed.  It relaxed him, and some of his canvases, in fact, were exhibited. Mary Win never took up acting, but as I know, as an artist, you are always on stage when promoting your work, or just having it hang for the public to see. Richard Widmark entertained the world in his movies, and Mary Win taught her students to entertain themselves and friends with art. 

We’ll never know if Mary Win Skinner had anything to do with the detailing of Richard Widmark. Maybe it worked both ways. I think they each picked up a little from each other. Richard Widmark passed away March 24, 2008, and his daughter, Anne, lives in the Santa Fe, N.M. area. Mary Win (Skinner) Walter Norris passed away June 27, 2014. Her first cousin, Clay H. Skinner, lives on South Euclid Avenue in a Skinner family home, where Richard Widmark and family lived in 1926. Her daughter, Sara (Walter) Madl, passed away Feb. 28, 2012. Mary Win has a great-granddaughter, Nicole (Niki) Zahn, in Milwaukee, Wis., who is also going to be a teacher. Richard Widmark and Mary Win Skinner, two of the classics from the Class of 1932.  Thanks for a little assist from Bonnie (Monroe) Schutt.

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