MARY JANE Bumby displays the autograph book she keeps in her bank’s safety deposit box. 		     Tim Lyke photo
MARY JANE Bumby displays the autograph book she keeps in her bank’s safety deposit box. Tim Lyke photo

     Imagine you owned  an autograph book containing the signatures of 2018’s five highest paid actresses: Scarlett Johansson, Angelina Jolie, Jennifer Aniston, Jennifer Lawrence and Reese Witherspoon.

     Also signing your booklet are Bradley Cooper, George Clooney, Will Smith, Tom Cruise and 30 other Hollywood types.

     Back up 79 years. Welcome to Mary Jane Bumby’s world.

     The Green Lake woman’s safety deposit box at a local bank contains a 4-inch by 6-inch autograph book with page after page of tinsel town’s glitterati ... from 1940.  

     This was the heyday of Hollywood, when MGM stars dominated the film screens. Just a year earlier, the studio’s epic blockbusters, “Gone With the Wind” and “The Wizard of Oz,” had been released.

     The Wizard himself (Frank Morgan), as well as Glinda (Billy Burke), the Good Witch of the East, signed the book owned by the then 10-year-old...

          Bumby’s father, former Ripon Mayor J. Harold Bumby, was hosting Ripon College buddy and debate teammate Spencer Tracy the weekend Tracy returned to Ripon to receive an honorary degree. This was 1940, 18 years after Tracy had left Ripon sans diploma to find fame in Hollywood.
Sharing a porch at Bumby’s Green Lake house that weekend were Tracy, older brother Carroll Tracy, Marcus Corp. founder Ben Marcus, Ripon Judge Roy Reed and MGM “chief of publicity/exploitation” Frank Whitbeck.

     Whitbeck offered to take 10-year-old Bumby’s autograph book to Hollywood to collect a few movie monikers. More than a year later, Bumby got her book back.

     Among its finer signers were all three Marx Brothers, complete with hand-drawn caricatures; Clark Gable and his third wife, Carole Lombard (just a year before she died in a plane crash at age 33); Mickey Rooney; and all five of the highest paid actresses at the time:  Joan Crawford, Norma Shearer, Greta Garbo, Myrna Loy and Jeanette MacDonald.

     Bumby’s autographs represent the creme de la creme of box-office talent of the time. ...

     To read the entire column, see the May 2, 2019 edition of The Ripon Commonwealth Press.