Silver screen star calls Yuma home
Silver screen star Doris Merrick appeared in dozens of movies during the Golden Age of Hollywood. At 100 years old, she now goes by Doris Hatfield, and she’s spending her golden years in Yuma, near two of her daughters.
Doris recently sat down with the Yuma Sun to share some of her memories from that time. Let’s start at the beginning ...
She was born as Doris Simpson on June 6, 1919, in Chicago, one of 10 kids. With blonde hair and hazel
eyes, from a young age Doris caught people’s eyes. She and her three sisters were all pretty and talented. She took acting and voice lessons and made her first public appearance singing with her sisters, according to www.glamourgirlsofthesilverscreen.com.
She became an NBC soloist, as well as a wife and mother. At the young age of 17, she married Chicago Golden Gloves champion Maximilian “Max” Marek. He earned a Notre Dame football scholarship in 1933, and the the same year he beat Joe Louis in the Golden Gloves finals in Boston, according to the website.
She had her first daughter, Doris “Dee,” with Marek. The marriage ended in divorce in 1944.
In 1941, Doris won a modeling contest and was whisked to Hollywood. She was adventurous and wasn’t afraid to go, she said.
Hollywood seemed just as ready for her. She signed a contract with Warner Brothers that same year and was given the stage name Beth Drake. She didn’t like the name much and about a year later she changed it to Doris Merrick.
A producer took her under his wing, and “they zoomed me right to the top,” she recalled.
“I was ready for it,” she said, adding that she came from a poor family and it was nice to have money. She moved into an apartment filled with beautiful things.
At first she appeared in bit parts, such as a walk-on in “The Male Animal,” and then as part of the supporting cast, such as in “Yankee Doodle Dandy.” She officially made her film debut in “Girl Trouble.” Her first featured role was in “The Hard Way.”
Bigger roles soon followed, in films such as “The Big Noise” (1944), “Time to Kill” (1942) and “The Adventures of Kit Carson” (1951). She also appeared in several TV series, including “The Cisco Kid” and “Death Valley Days”.
As part of the job, she was expected to make public appearances with other stars of the era. “I met everybody,” she said, naming Marilyn Monroe and Tyrone Power. John Wayne once stepped on her toes as they danced. “He was klutzy,’ she quipped.
She was photographed often and appeared in numerous publications. She was asked, “‘What do you do to protect your good looks?” The press reported her answer: “Stay out of nightclubs.” The press also reported that she had two ambitions: to be a great actress and have three children.
She and fellow Warner starlet Alice Talton are pictured collecting waste paper as part of their defense work. She’s also photographed wearing glasses. “But she makes sure that the frames are the newest and the most becoming style for her,” reported the press.
A newspaper photo showed her with four puppies, Higgle, Piggle, Wiggle and Squiggle, recent “costars” in one of her films. She promoted her upcoming part in “Jane Eyre” by presenting a new dress, “cut like a suit, but fashioned all in one piece.”
“Beth” was among the celebrities, including Greta Garbo, helping the war effort with the “Cavalcade of Stars.” The press reported that “the screen star’s husband and two brothers and three sisters are all in the service.” Her youngest brother, Robert, died in Italy.
As part of her effort to keep up morale among troops, she also appeared on the cover of “Yank, The Army Weekly.”
Doris met her second husband, John Knoll, while she was at a private party with somebody else. John Knoll lured her away. He was tall, dark and handsome, she recalled.
“She is dancing with Vince Orsatti when Knoll interrupts them to ask for a dance. Later he asks her if he can take her home, even though he is with Miss America and has to take her home first. They will be together from then on,” reports www.glamourgirlsofthesilverscreen.com.
Knoll had played football for UCLA and was well known in California. He became a rancher and contractor. “He was one hell of a guy,” Doris said.
They tied the knot in 1946 and had three daughters, Elizabeth Ann “Betsy,” Kathleen Susan “Kathe,” and Charla Michael, and one son, John Meagher.
The Knolls moved to a ranch, where they raised their kids and horses. “Dad loved horses,” Kathe Hewitt said.
The Knolls divorced in 1962. Two years later, Doris met and married Matthew Lawton Hatfield, of the Hatfields and McCoy fame. They were married until his death in 1986.
She and her daughter, Dee, moved to Rancho Mirage. Then she moved to Yuma County to be near her two other daughters. Betsy and Jim Provenzano farmed in Dome Valley for about 50 years. They’re now retired but still live on the land.
Kathe and Betsy are close, and Kathe moved to Yuma about four years ago to be near her sister.
Their mother is doing well. Doris suffers from congestive heart failure and sometimes she has trouble with her memory, but she has no other “old’ illnesses, Kathe said.
She has 13 grandchildren, 11 great-grandchildren and two great-great-grandchildren.
Doris left the movie business in 1955, but she still gets requests for autographs, mostly from Europe, where apparently her movies are still widely viewed. There’s even a “Doris Merrick” fan club, although she’s not personally involved with it.
Asked to name her favorite movie, Doris replied, “They were all fun.”
Her daughter, Kathe, pointed out that her mother’s movies were “sweet, not blood and guts. They were about falling in love.”
Occasionally, River Valley Estates Assisted Living, where she lives, screens one of her movies. A poster of her and her fellow cast members from “Yankee Doodle Dandy,” including James Cagney, hangs on the wall of her room.