Chase, Ilka (1905–1978)

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Chase, Ilka (1905–1978)

American actress and author. Born on April 8, 1905, in New York, New York; died on February 15, 1978, in Mexico City, Mexico; daughter of Francis Dane (a hotel manager) and Edna Woolman Chase (editor Vogue magazine; maiden name, Alloway); attended Mrs. Dow's School, Briarcliff Manor, New York; attended a private school at Groslay, near Paris, France; married Louis Calhern (an actor), in 1926 (divorced 1926); married William B. Murray (a radio executive), on July 13, 1935 (divorced 1946); married Norton Sager Brown (a physician), on December 7, 1946; no children.

Theater: made professional debut as Polly Carter in The Proud Princess (Cox Theater, Cincinnati, Ohio, 1924); made Broadway debut as Sister Francesca and the Maid in The Red Falcon (Broadhurst Theater, New York, October 1924); appeared as Mrs. Castro in Shall We Join the Ladies? (Empire Theater, New York, January 1925); with the Henry Miller Co., appeared in Embers, The Swan, and The Grand Duchess and the Waiter (San Francisco, California, April–May 1925); appeared as Lia in Antonia (Empire Theater, New York, October 1925), Madame Cleremont in Embers (Henry Miller Theater, New York, February 1926), Frances Drayton in Loose Ankles (Biltmore Theater, New York, August 1926), Consuelo Pratt in The Happy Husband (Empire Theater, New York, May 1928), Grace Macomber in The Animal Kingdom (Broadhurst Theater, New York, January 1932), Elinor Branch in Forsaking All Others (Times Square Theater, New York, March 1932), Lucy Hillman in Days without End (Henry Miller Theater, New York, January 1934), Marion Langdon in Wife Insurance (Ethel Barrymore Theater, New York, April 1934), Lady Cattering in While Parents Sleep (Playhouse Theater, New York, June 1934), Sylvia Temple in Small Miracle (John Golden Theater, New York, September 1934), Dona Isabella in Revenge with Music (New Amsterdam Theater, New York, November 1934), Eleanor Sloan in On to Fortune (Fulton Theater, New York, February 1935), Sylvia Farren in Co-Respondent Unknown (Ritz Theater, New York, February 1936), Sylvia Fowler in The Women (Ethel Barrymore Theater, New York, December 1936); appeared in Keep Off the Grass (Broadhurst Theater, New York, May 23, 1940), as Jean Harding in Beverly Hills (Fulton Theater, New York, November 1940); toured in Stock as Carlotta in Love in Our Time (Summer 1943), and as Marion Froude in Biography (Summer 1943); appeared as Devon Wainwright in In Bed We Cry (Belasco Theater, New York, November 1944), Susan in a stock production of Susan and God (Summer 1945); appeared in Laughter From a Cloud (Boston, Massachusetts, August 1947), in The First Lady (Empress Theater, St. Louis, Missouri, October 1952), in the Farewell Tribute to the Empire Theater (New York, May 1953); appeared as Mrs. Banks in Barefoot in the Park (Biltmore Theater, New York, May 1966).

Selected filmography:

Paris Bound (1929); Red Hot Rhythm (1929); The Careless Age (1929); South Sea Rose (1929); Why Leave Home (1929); On Your Back (1930); The Big Party (1930); Let's Go Places (1930); Rich People (1930); The Floradora Girl (1930); The Lady Consents (1936); Soak the Rich (1936); Stronger Than Desire (1939); Now, Voyager (1942); No Time for Love (1943); Miss Tatlock's Millions (1948); Johnny Dark (1954); It Should Happen to You (1954); The Big Knife (1955); Oceans (1960).

Selected writings: (novels) In Bed We Cry (1943), I Love Miss Tilli Bean (1946), New York 22: That District of the City which Lies Between Fiftieth and Sixtieth Streets, Fifth Avenue, and the East River (1951), The Island Players (1956), Three Men on the Left Hand (1960), The Sounds of Home (1971); (autobiography) Past Imperfect (1942), Free Admission (1948), (with mother, Edna Woolman Chase) Always in Vogue (1954); (travel) The Carthaginian Rose (1961), Elephants Arrive at Half-Past Five (1963), Second Spring and Two Potatoes (1965), Fresh from the Laundry (1967), The Varied Airs of Spring (1969), Around the World and Other Places (1971), Worlds Apart (1972); (other) The Care and Feeding of Friends (1973).

As an actress, Ilka Chase performed in over 20 Broadway plays, 30 movies, and was a radio and television personality; as a writer, she penned a half-dozen or so novels, two biographies, seven travel books, and an entertainment guide. Once, during a lull in her social calendar, she embarked on a lecture tour, speaking on the philosophy of being a woman. With the publication of her autobiography Past Imperfect (1942), Chase took aim at the sophisticated New York society in which she traveled. Described by one critic as "just about pulling the skin off many of her contemporaries," the book, along with her second autobiography Free Admission (1948), provides clear-cut examples of Chase's wit and cynicism.

The only child of longtime Vogue editor Edna Woolman Chase and her first husband Francis Dane, Ilka Chase was born in New York City on April 8, 1905, and was named for a Hungarian friend of her mother's. In love with the theater from an early age, she made her stage debut at eight in a convent-school production of Puss in Boots. Later, at Mrs. Dow's in Briarcliff Manor, New York, she appeared in her first classic drama, as Malvolio in Twelfth Night. At 16, Chase chose to attend school in France (Groslay, outside of Paris), rather than a college in the States, and although the theater was forgotten amid the glamour of her first trip abroad, her passion was rekindled when she saw Vera Sergine play the lead role in a production of Rostand's L'Aiglon.

Returning to New York, Chase put her career plans on hold in order to make her society debut, but after three months of awkward partygoing she joined the Stuart Walker stock company. For the next few years, she endured a series of bit parts—mostly maids—with Walker, then with companies headed by Henry Miller and George Cukor. While touring in Rochester with Cukor, she met and fell in love with the elegant actor Louis Calhern. They were married in 1926 but

divorced less than a year later, after which Calhern remarried his ex-wife Julia Hoyt . (Purportedly, Chase sent Hoyt a box of her unused calling cards, elegantly engraved "Mrs. Louis Calhern," with a note saying, "I hope these reach you in time.") Following the divorce, Chase stayed in London with her mother, trying, without success, to find work on the English stage.

Returning to the United States, Chase went to Hollywood, where she launched her movie career with a role in the Pathé production Paris Bound (1929). She ultimately appeared in some 30 movies—notably Fast and Loose (1930) and The Animal Kingdom (1942)—but she did not take to the California climate and felt out of place in the Hollywood milieu. It was there, however, that she met her future husband, William Murray, an advertising executive. After a five-year courtship, during which he obtained a divorce from his first wife, they married in July 1935 and settled into a posh New York apartment.

Memorable among Chase's numerous stage roles was that of Sylvia Fowler in Clare Boothe Luce 's vitriolic play The Women (1936), which Chase described as having "the fetid atmosphere of a badly ventilated women's washroom." Among the 33 females in the cast, Chase was praised by critic Brooks Atkinson as "the mother of all the vultures." After the show closed in 1938, Chase embarked on a radio program, "Luncheon at the Waldorf," which was conceived as the educated woman's alternative to soap operas. Within an interview format, Chase conversed with various luminaries, ranging from the Harvard anthropologist Dr. Earnest A. Hooton to cosmetic maven Elizabeth Arden . Encountering censorship and sponsor problems, the show was eventually given a night slot as "Penthouse Party" and lasted until 1945. Chase went on to a short-lived television program of her own and made frequent guest appearances.


Block, Maxine, ed. Current Biography 1942. NY: H.W. Wilson, 1942.

Mainiero, Lina, ed. American Women Writers. NY: Frederick Ungar, 1979.

McGill, Raymond D., ed. Notable Names in the American Theater. Clifton, NJ: James T. White, 1976.

Moritz, Charles, ed. Current Biography 1978. NY: H.W. Wilson, 1978.

Barbara Morgan , Melrose, Massachusetts