Miss California 1933: Blanche McDonald -- second runner-up*
3rd in Evening Gown competition


 

The California state contest was a large affair with 36 regional contests leading up to the state competition for the winner of the Miss California title. Blanche was one of several contestants who entered the national Pageant with an eye on the RKO screen test prize, and although she came in third (many historical sources list her incorrectly as second), she did indeed become a movie actress and model prior to her 1935 marriage.


1930 McDonald Family census form -- Los Angeles
1930 census data, Los Angeles, CA:
1578 West 50th Street (10 miles SW of downtown LA)
John McDonald, 41, mechanic in automobile shop, born Maine
Mae McDonald, 32, wife (MA); Blanch 15 (ME), Ethel 14 (RI), Helen 12 (NY), Norma 10 (IL), Dorothy 8 (CA), Janice 5 (CA) and Beverly 3 (CA). Blanche McDonald was the oldest of 7+ daughters of John and Mae McDonald. Blanche was born in Maine in 1914, but by the next year the family had moved to Rhode Island, then to New York then to Illinois, and finally settled in California about 1921, based on the children's birthplaces. In 1933 the family lived at 1307 N Detroit St -- see article.)

Aug 6, 1933 article - Venus de Milo
Blanche chosen as Miss California
Blanche from the panorama picture - age 18
Blanche was first chosen by the American Progressive Chiropractic convention in Los Angeles for "most nearly approaching the proportions of the Roman Goddess" Venus de Milo in early August, 1933. Subsequently she competed in a large competition in Los Angeles, and won the Miss California title at the Rainbow Gardens, competing against girls from 36 cities in California, and was apparently chosen by theatrical producer, director, songwriter and composer Earl Carroll.

The California state contestants (see back)
Blanche was an early favorite at the Miss America pageant. On day one, she was one of the eight chosen as being most popular with the crowds: "Miss Ohio, Miss New York City, Miss New York State, Miss California, Miss Wisconsin, Miss West Virginia, Miss Washington State and Miss Missouri seemed to take with the crowds" - Atlantic City newspaper, Sep 6, 1933.

Her photo was on the front page of the newspaper report of the second day of contest: "Make Pageant Audiences Stare" "Miss California, Miss Maryland, Miss D.C., whose appearance in evening costumes at the American Beauty Ball, first formal function of the Pageant, won them big rounds of applause. They were reported outstanding among the beauties in the points scored with the judges" - Atlantic City newspaper, Sep 7, 1933.

Blanche on the far left with her third-place evening gown competition trophy
Blanche on far left, as Miss Connecticut is crowned
On the second day she was third in the evening costume competition: "Third prize was awarded to "Miss California," Blanche McDonald, 21 of Hollywood. She wore an elaborate shell pink crepe gown with feathered jacket." - Atlantic City newspaper, Sep 7, 1933 (Blanche was actually 18 at the time of the pageant, turning 19 the following month).

Her final standing in the competition was third* (second-runner-up): "While Miss Florence Meyers, representing New York, and Miss Blanche McDonald, New York's State's pride, [sic] looked on while Director General Nichols Saturday night crowned Miss Marion Bergeron, "Miss Connecticut," in the Pageant, as "Miss America," queen of the 21 beauties in the final judging. The other two girls were runners up." - Atlantic City newspaper: Sep 11, 1933. (Note: several reference sources list Blanche as first runner-up, including the Miss America Organization itself prior to 2005, as most of the newspaper sources did not specify the order, as in the Atlantic City newspapers quoted here. And there are some period newspapers from 1933 that state that Blanche was second. However, the Los Angeles Times article definitively mentions that Blanche was third. Perhaps part of the confusion may result from terminology; Blanche was apparently second runner-up, but third-place. Perhaps part of the confusion may result from the order in which Atlantic City reported that CA and NY were the runners-up with the picture. For more references, see footnote below.)

After the Miss America contest, both Blanche and Miss Missouri Marie Marks "happened to hear of the call sent out by Busby Berkeley, director of ensembles and dances for many a screen musical, just then visiting New York" (12/17 article); they joined 4500 other girls to hope to be chosen as having a "distinct screen peronality" -- both made the cut, and with four others, went to Hollywood.

"THE six girls picked by Busby Berkeley, famous New York dance director, have hung up a new Hollywood record. Six days after arriving in Hollywood, here is what they had accomplished: Blanche McDonald, who had won the title of "Miss California" in an Atlantic City beauty contest, had undergone an appendicitis operation, with resulting complications. Marie Marks, "Miss Missouri," developed appendicitis almost immediately after her arrival in Hollywood. Marjorie Murphy, still another of the "Lucky Six," had tonsillitis and was confined to her bed. Claire Augerot put in a couple of days work and then joined the invalids via the influenza route. The remaining two kept right on working in "Hi, Nellie."" -- from "Photoplay" (Jan-Jun 1934)

Curiously, the set they first saw in Hollywood was for the rowdy and raunchy movie called "Convention City" by Warner Brothers -- the set representing the lobby of an Atlantic City hotel -- the same Ritz Carlton as they had stayed in for the pageant! It is not certain if Marie and Blanche were in this production, or perhaps had uncredited roles in Dames -- a 1934 Warner Bros. musical comedy film directed by Ray Enright with dance numbers created by Busby Berkeley and George M. Cohan, whose production numbers and songs include "When You Were a Smile on Your Mother's Lips (and a Twinkle in Your Daddy's Eye)", "The Girl at the Ironing Board", "I Only Have Eyes for You", "Dames" and "Try to See It My Way". The film stars Ruby Keeler, Dick Powell, Joan Blondell, Guy Kibbee, Zasu Pitts, and Hugh Herbert.

Blanche is found mentioned in several newspapers in early February 1934 as having been selected by Earl Carroll of the Vanities to play in a new Hollywood production, likely the 1934 Murder at the Vanities. Blanche also modeled in Los Angeles, with several Macy ads featuring her.

Oct 23, 1936 Fresno, CA article
Blanche married service station attendant and oil salesman William Herman on June 23, 1935 in San Diego and separated from him and filed for divorce in September 1936, after the birth of a son William. Her attorney Jay Chotiner "played the role of cupid" and effected a reconciliation, and the lawsuit was dropped; but court records show that the divorce was granted four years later on Sep 25, 1940. On the 1940 census Blanche is living in Los Angeles, married (but not living with her husband), has a 4-year-old son Albert (William Albert?), and works as a waitress in a cafe. Sometime after 1940 she married Joe Flever; it is unknown if she had more children.

Social Security Death Index: BLANCHE HERMAN, born: 03 Oct 1914, died: Sep 1982, last residence: 92504 (Riverside, Riverside, CA), last benefit: 92504 (Riverside, Riverside, CA), social security number: 566-44-1028, state where issued: California
No obituary found in LA or Riverside, CA.
-- tombstone
-- California Death Index: Name: Blanche Evangaline Flever [Blanche Evangaline McDonald] Social Security #: 566441028 Sex: FEMALE Birth Date: 3 Oct 1914 Birthplace: Maine Death Date: 5 Sep 1982 Death Place: Riverside Mother's Maiden Name: Picou FATHER'S SURNAME: McDonald
-- California Death Index: Name: Blanche E Herman [Blanche E McDonald] Social Security #: 566441028 Sex: FEMALE Birth Date: 3 Oct 1914 Birthplace: Maine Death Date: 5 Sep 1982 Death Place: Riverside Mother's Maiden Name: Picou FATHER'S SURNAME: McDonald
-- It appears she did not formally change her name on all documents as there are Social Security records and a death index record under Herman.

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*There has been much confusion over who was second (first runner-up) and who was third (second runner-up). The Atlantic City newspapers and many of the nationwide press releases simply mention that Misses California and New York State were the runners up, usually in that order (which suggests that California was second). Even the Miss America Organization itself has listed both Blanche McDonald and Florence Meyers as second. After locating several 1933 newspaper sources, the MAO historian Ric Ferentz affirmed NY was 2nd and CA 3rd, and corrected the MAO website in 2005 (although most other printed and online sources are still incorrect). Although there were some 1933 newspapers with incorrect information -- 1933 Massachusetts 9/12/1933 newspaper article, a 1936 Fresno, CA newspaper clipping, and a 1936 LA Times newspaper clipping specifying "the runner-up" -- and most newspapers simply specified that CA and NY were the runners up, there were several articles that specifically list NY as second and CA as third. Most notably, the 9/10/1933 Los Angeles Times article reported that New York was second, California third and Virginia fourth. It is more likely that the Los Angeles paper reported on their home-town home-state girl correctly than did a Massachusetts reporter; plus it should be noted that her finish was noted in the second headline as well as in the main article, supporting the idea of correct reporting on the home-town finish for their readers. There was also a nationally-syndicated newsclipping found in several papers that specifically states Miss New York State was second and Miss California third.

-- WILLIAM O HERMAN 23 Jul 1916 23 Nov 1998 (V) 91760 (Norco, Riverside, CA) (none specified) 564-10-8189 California
-- It is thought her husband is Joseph R. Flever (1929-1984) who is also buried at Forest Lawn Memorial Park. It is unknown if he is the same (or father to) Joe Flever who was President of Jen Air, a small airline service in Alaska, in 1981. It unknown if he is the same Joe Flever arrested in 1951 as a suspect in the Trombino-Brancato murders. Anthony Brancato (~1913 MO-8/6/1951) was a Kansas City gunman to various Mafia and syndicate organizations, and was suspected in the Bugsy Siegel slaying and others. He was arrested 45 times along with fellow KC-mobster Anthony Trombino, and their deaths were ordered by Jack Dragna (head of the LA mob) for robbing the Flamingo casino. Only when mobster Jimmy Fratianno, who was given the duty or arranging the hit, went into the Federal witness Protection Program 25 years later was the murder solved; Flever was not a person implicated. Wikipedia: "Tony Brancato and Tony Trombino, known as the "Two Tony's", were found shot to death in the front seat of an abandoned car in Los Angeles. Both Brancato and Trombino had been identified robbing a syndicate-controlled Nevada hotel."
-- In June 2010, I personally checked the Riverside, CA newspapers for obituaries, and found none (and even no death notice) for either Blanche Herman/Flever in 1982 or William Herman in 1998, checking on their deathdate and for the following 5 days. I did not check for an obitiuary of Joe Flever. I did try a phone for Joe Flever in Riverside (909-353-9750) but it was not working. LA and Orange County papers should also be checked; she is listed online as having lived in both Riverside and South Gate.
-- While it is possible that Forest Lawn Memorial Park in Cypress (Orange county, CA) may have more information, it is probably private.
-- In 2010 I spoke with descendants of Blanche McDonald Herman (by calling William Herman in Riverside), who declined to share personal information; it is uncertain if Blanche had more children. In 2022, the 1950 census data will be definitive about more children.