Friday, January 28, 2011

Mystery Solved!

Those who dive into The Underworld on a regular basis are familiar with my post not too long ago about a mystery woman, a film and television extra who seemed to be in every other film or Hollywood TV show from the late '50s to the '80s! She seemed always to be positioned near the stars of the film and/or dressed in attention-getting colors even though she rarely, if ever, spoke or had a character name.

I could not figure out this woman's name or learn a thing about her despite seeing her continually! I posted several photos of her and asked for help in identifying her. When I watched The Poseidon Adventure on New Years Day this January for the first time on my new 55" HDTV, I was utterly stunned to realize that she was in that film, too! She was (very rare for her) in a wig, a disheveled brown one, and played a capsizement survivor with an injured wrist, being attended to by priest Arthur O'Connell as he discusses posssible methods of survival with Gene Hackman.
When I was watching The Mod Squad on DVD and saw a scene in which Peggy Lipton went undercover at a computer dating service, there she was, sitting in the reception area filling out a form so that she, too, could get a date!! It seemed like I could hardly watch any movie or old TV series without her familiar face reflecting back at me, taunting me.

I did a post about the movie Airport recently, examing the costumes of the film. Naturally, as I watched parts of the movie again, there she was, sitting on the dais of a charity banquet, looking on as Dana Wynter delivered a speech during one of the flashbacks concerning that character! The mystery remained and I continued to see her all over the place. Not to mention the jealousy factor! She appeared in Airport, The Poseidon Adventure, The Towering Inferno, Airplane II and who knows what else!

Just yesterday, I visited another blog (the wonderful site called Stirred, Straight Up, with a Twist) and there was a clip from the Shirley MacLaine extravaganza What a Way to Go. Watching the clip, I was stunned and flummoxed to see this woman YET AGAIN standing between Robert Mitchum and Shirley MacLaine in a party scene and later greeting them in the middle of an elaborate ballroom, a male companion at her side. It seemed like I was in danger of going out of my mind with what had, by now, become an obsession.

Finally, I caught a break. A visitor to The Underworld named Panalex has solved the mystery for me and for my friends here who had also had their curiosity piqued. I will paste the information as it was relayed via Panalex:

"I was particularly taken with your ‘extra’ obsession and set out on a quest that may have proved fruitful. I humbly believe your haunting lady is Mrs. Leoda (aka Leota) Richards, possibly the world champion of uncredited film and TV appearances, born on March 15, 1907, who died of natural causes in California on February 07, 1998."

Indeed this is the woman! A quick trip to confirmed that Leoda Richards is this mystery woman. I still know very little about her, but she certainly led a busy life as an extra and met virtually any and every Hollywood star of the big and small screens.

What a relief to have an answer. Panalex, my minions are busy at this very hour, forging a statue out of bronze that will forever be on display in a place of honor in The Underworld, located not far from one of me! I am in your debt and sincerely appreciate your help and your thoughtfulness. Thank you!!


Pantheon Zeus said...

Thanks to the informative and generous Panalux - we can all scream " MADAME LEOTA!!" at our screens no matter where we are - day or night. I am beyond thrilled that this mystery is solved! Thank you!!!!

panalex said...

I am really proud and moved to have a whole blog entry (not to mention a bronze statue!) dedicated to my contribution. I enjoyed it immensely! Thanks in turn, and always at your service, o Master of the Underworld!

Anonymous said...

Wow - that's awesome! I cannot believe how many key moments that woman managed to appear in the background of. And I wouldn't have recognized her as the brown-haired, semi-catatonic woman in Poseidon Adventure.

Topaz said...

Amazing! Now maybe you'll hear from a family member or someone who'll describe how she got to be so prominent as an extra.

Labuanbajo said...

I've been a background extra in a few pictures but I'm usually invisible in the final cuts. Just wondering how Leota managed to get so much screen time. Star quality, the director's third-grade teacher, or do you suppose....?

As I said, just wondering!

Topaz said...

I think you've hit upon it, Labuanbajo. She and Nancy Reagan had something in common.

FelixInHollywood said...

Here's a little more (you've got me like a dog with a bone!):

I definitely seems like Leoda is the one, Leota seems to be another person. According to her birthname was Leoda C. Knapp. And according to imdb (the Vivian Vance page, of all places) there was a Leoda Knapp waaaay down in the cast list of the 1934 broadway hit "Anything Goes"! She passed away in Laguna Nigel, a lovely and wealthy area south of LA.

Let's keep going folks we can get a group biography together on her yet!

JR said...

I've just found your fascinating blog and I too am a "Leoda spotter". In fact, I am the one who added her to the Internet Movie Database. Let me fill in some information that I have gathered... She was born Leoda Carole Knapp in Columbus, Ohio in 1907. Somewhere in the 1920s she and her parents moved to New York where her father managed a restaurant. She appeared in a least 3 Broadway shows between 1927 and 1935. She married a man named Charles Richards (16 years her senior) in 1928 and they had at least one daughter. Richards was in the dress business. I've yet to find when exactly they went west, but I've narrowed it down to somewhere between 1936 and 1945. She may have started her extra work that early, but I've yet to find any credits from the late 1940s. She may have not started film work until after her husband died in December 1950. Bess Flowers is generally regarded as the "Queen of the Hollywood Extras", but by the early 1960s she was working less and less and retired by 1965. Leoda on the other hand was working more and more and essentially became the most recognizable female extra from the mid-1950s to the mid-1980s. Eventually she retired to an upscale community in Laguna Niguel, California where she died in 1998, only about five weeks before her 91st birthday. She was often partnered with Harold Miller and later Arthur Tovey when doing extra work. Let's see if we can keep adding up the Leoda credits and give her her due !!!

Poseidon3 said...

JR, thank you very, VERY much for all this information. It's awesome! If I can help in any way (such as providing the specific episodes of the TV shows and movies I've displayed on this blog) in expanding her info, I'd be happy to! It's such a relief to not have to be wondering so much about her anymore when I see her so often. I'm still fascinated by the many, many stars she must have met along the way.

USA Ronin said...
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USA Ronin said...
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