Friday, August 22, 2008

Person of interest: Rena Borzage

Born June 7, 1900 in Chicago, Rena Rogers made her way out west to try her hand at acting and landed roles in silent movies with the likes of Tom Mix, Ben Turpin, Stan Laurel and Tyrone Power Sr. She scaled back and soon left acting after marrying director Frank Borzage on June 7, 1916 and went to work at the job of having fun. She became a 'first-class' photographer, obtained a pilot's license, was a polo fanatic ("she wields a deadly stick") and at one point owned two 'smart' dress shops in Honolulu.

And boy, did Rena like to entertain! In early 1932 Rena (without Frank) took a cruise on Matson Line's (then brand new) Mariposa ship and stopped in Honolulu, Pago Pago, Fiji Islands, Samoa, Auckland, Sydney, Java, Shanghai and Manila. Inspired by what she'd seen on her travels the Polynesian parties began in earnest and she would often hire an 'authentic' hula dancer to entertain along with party mainstay Jeffrie Gill, a popular tenor. Her knack for entertaining no doubt led her to open Hawaiian Paradise on Melrose. She and partner William 'Bill' Calhoun ran the restaurant/nightclub together until (it seems) selling out to Calhoun in 1939.

On June 7, 1940 during the requisite party for Rena's birthday (and Rena & Frank's 24th wedding anniversary), Frank walked out (supposedly) without a word. He moved into the Hollywood Athletic Club and filed for divorce shortly thereafter. Not to be outdone Rena filed a cross-complaint for separate maintenance. Frank countered with the fact that for the last 20 years he had been turning over all of his earnings (which in August 1940 was $3250 a week!) to Rena who had been managing their business affairs. After filing for divorce and requesting an audit of their financial affairs, Frank was shocked to find out he was $155,622 in debt.

Rena soon began being seen around town with tenor Jeffrie Gill....