Diminished legacy – Sallie Smith Bell: 1913 – 2007, Radio Drama Pioneer May 24, 2007Posted by William Spear in >> News, >> Out Basket, >> Radio Drama.
A fashion model in the early 1930s, Sallie Smith Bell soon became a sought-after voice for radio soap operas and plays
By Patricia Trebe
Special to the Chicago Tribune
(Source: http://www.chicagotribune.com/ )
Published May 15, 2007
During the 1930s, Sallie Smith Bell worked as a fashion model for Marshall Fields while she juggled a career as a blossoming radio star.
The former actress started her career for WGN doing commercials for Chicago’s Aragon Ballroom. Her career grew and eventually led to daily soap operas and plays.
Even during that time, Mrs. Bell knew she was part of entertainment history as the field of radio grew, said her family.
“Just thrilling for her.”
“She loved every minute of it,” said her daughter, Bonnie Bell Pacelli. “She thought Chicago was the pulse of radio and it was a burgeoning industry, and she felt she was at the heart of it. It was all just thrilling for her.”
Mrs. Bell, 93, of Wilmette and formerly of Winnetka, died of complications of strokes Thursday, May 3, in her home.
During those Depression years, Mrs. Bell took as much work as she could, from being a fashion model and actress to fashion show commentator for Evans Furs.
“Jobs were scarce, and she had a career in an era when women didn’t have a career. Everybody worked. It was a joint effort to keep things afloat at home and make ends meet,” her daughter said.
The oldest of three daughters and raised in Chicago’s Edgewater neighborhood, Mrs. Bell was 5 when her father died in the 1918-19 flu pandemic.
Acting encouragement from Sister Mary Leola
At Immaculata High School, she starred in plays and musicals, often in lead roles.
That work led to a scholarship for drama at Mundelein College. There a nun, Sister Mary Leola, encouraged her to become an actress.
She graduated in 1935 and started to land roles at WGN. One of her big breaks came when she was asked to co-host “Through the Looking Glass,” based on a column by Eleanor Nangle, a writer for the Chicago Tribune. When Nangle was overcome with stage fright, Mrs. Bell ad-libbed her way through.
Mrs. Bell went on to perform in the long-running “Painted Dreams,” “Backstage Wife” and “We Are Four.”
Her career jumped to NBC, where she preformed in “First Nighters,” a play performance in front of a live audience, and an evening series, “Grand Hotel.”
Radio work spawns work in film
By 1937, she was named State Street Queen, representing Marshall Fields in a contest that promoted the movie “The Golddiggers.” It led to screen tests with MGM and Warner Brothers.
“She was set to move and she looked around and realized that she had a family here that loved and needed her. She had already met my father and he adored her and the city of Chicago nourished her so she decided to stay in Chicago,” her daughter said.
The following year, she married Joseph E. Bell and the couple lived in Edgewater but settled in Winnetka in the early 1940s.
She immersed herself in charity work including the women’s auxiliary board for the Hadley School for the Blind, and Barat College in Lake Forest.
“She was wonderful … and very organized,” said her friend Nancy Kelly. “If any organization asked her to do anything, she immediately took charge, ran it and did a wonderful job. So everyone wanted her on their committees and organizations too.”
Mrs. Bell was an active member of Sts. Faith, Hope and Charity Catholic Church in Winnetka.
“She had a very strong faith,” said her grandson Jeb Trowbridge, new-products manger for Tribune Media Services. “That is one thing that came up consistently; that sense she had such a strong faith. … It was certainly the thing that guided her and provided her with peace.”
Mrs. Bell’s husband died in 1988. Other survivors include three more daughters, Sallie Bulley, Susan Trowbridge and Betsy Riley; nine grandchildren and six great-grandchildren. Services have been held.
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