For the last few years Kelly Kitchens Wickersham who manages the ‘Going to TCMFF’ FB page has arranged terrific speakers and presentations the night before the TCM Classic Film Festival starts. In 2015 we got a special visit from Cora Sue Collins and this year Meredith Ponedel presented, both thanks to Woolsey Ackerman who knows Cora Sue and Meredith and assisted with the presentations. While I was familiar with Cora Sue Collins’ name I had never heard of Meredith Ponedel other than on Kelly’s FB page. I also knew little about her presentation except that it had some connection to Judy Garland.
WELL! I stood front and center as Meredith told the story of her aunt, Dorothy Ponedel known to most during the golden age as Dottie or “Dot.” Dottie Ponedel was a pioneering make-up artist who many Hollywood stars in the early 1930s started calling a close friend. As Meredith recounted how Dot came to Hollywood, how she started her acting career and later transitioned to make-up I was mesmerized. But the gist of the presentation centered around Judy Garland with whom Dot had a long professional association and close friendship.
A native of Chicago, Dottie Ponedel moved to Los Angeles in 1920 due to weather-related health issues. It took her no time at all to be cast as an extra in the movies. She appeared in several other movies in more substantial roles throughout the 1920s. It was during the filming of Lloyd Corrigan’s Follow Thru (1930) at Paramount that Dottie’s career changed by a stroke of luck. Follow Thru stars Buddy Rogers and Nancy Carroll and out of the blue Dottie was asked to do Carroll’s make-up. Nancy loved Dottie’s work so much that she did everything in her power to ensure only Dottie did it from that moment forward.
Word spread quickly about Dottie Ponedel’s make-up skills and before long such stars as Marlene Dietrich, Mae West, Carole Lombard, Jean Arthur, Barbara Stanwyck, Helen Hayes, Paulette Goddard, Clara Bow and Joan Blondell were exclusive clients and friends. More importantly at the behest of Dietrich, West and some of the others Dorothy Ponedel became the first woman admitted into the make-up union. That’s not to say, however, that the male-dominated union accepted Dot with open arms or that members were happy she was there at all. On February 23, 1942 Dot was forced to send a letter to the Make-Up Artists Local Union 706 to ask that she be allowed to keep her job, which the membership protested simply because she was a woman. In the following video Meredith reads her aunt’s letter:
It was the day after the TCM Film Festival concluded that Meredith Ponedel met Annmarie Gatti and me for an extensive interview about her aunt and her father, Bernard Ponedel who was also a make-up artist. Bernard worked on such films as The Manchurian Candidate (1962) and with superstars like Frank Sinatra. The video of the letter included above was taped separately because we all felt it should be highlighted and it’s presented here today for the first time. The actual interview was conducted by Annmarie, who owns and manages Classic Movie Hub and was released in three parts on our YouTube show, “Classic Movies & More.” I’m including all three parts here for your enjoyment. The stories Meredith tells are unique, highly entertaining and offer a personal perspective on the people and a time we love. I’ve no doubt you’ll enjoy the entire series in tribute to groundbreaker, Dorothy Ponedel.
I must extend a huge thanks to Meredith who sent me the following picture of Dot, which I also used as the post’s featured image. This was one of Dot’s favorites.
This post is a contribution to “The Groundbreakers” topic that’s part of The Classic Movie History Project, which I am honored to co-cost with Fritzi of Movies Silently and Ruth of Silver Screenings. Be sure to stay tuned through August 10th as The Classic Movie History Project continues. For the complete roster take a look at the announcement post here.