A letter from Jim:
I'm related to her mother's family, there is one person I know of that is
related that still lives in that area, her name is Lois Mitchell and lives
in Rose Hill that might be interested. My Grandparents who passed away a few
years ago were living in Leon. Grandpa was a first cousin to Phyllis. Her
father's name was James Haver. By the way the Douglass Library has a
Scrapbook that was kept by one of her Aunt's with lots of good info in it. I
copied it all last time I was there.
I have a clip on my computer from one of her last TV appearances in the
1950's on a THis is your life show, it's about 12 meg. if you have a fast
internet connection I can upload it on a webpage and you can download it?
Here's some information that might be helpful.
From the Douglass Tribune, Butler County, Kansas, 1936:
JAMES HIRAM HAVER
James Hiram Haver was born near Centerville, Iowa, on September 25, 1872.
His father, Hiram Haver, and his mother, Sarah Clark Haver, were pioneers in
Kansas, coming from Iowa in 1876, and settling on a homestead 12 miles east
The son, James, grew to manhood in the Rock Creek community. He and his
father were prominent farmers and stock men. Later, James was interested
in overseeing the production of oil on his fathers farm. He was the kind of
man who made lasting friendships with the laborers as well as with the
He was married in November, 1897, to Minnie Shanks, of Douglass. One
daughter, Phyllis, was born to them. On October, 3, 1904, he married Rose
Gunter, who passed away October 9, 1920. He married Florence Ratliff, of
Wichita ,on August 7, 1923.
Ten years ago, he moved from the farm to Douglass, and built his home west
of the Haver home on Highway 77. He entered the real estate business, and
was at the time of his death making plans for a busy future. But he was
never so busy with his own work that he could not leave it and do a kindly
deed for someone else. Many a sorrowing heart has been brightened by his
kind words and sympathetic manner. Charity for others was his main
characteristic this trait he carried out to the last hour of his life. A
request for aid came to him, he heeded the call as usual, and he gave
regardless of his lack of strength. Then in the early morning hour of
Tuesday, March 24, 1936, he suffered the fatal attack.
The loved ones left to mourn are his wife; his daughter, Mrs. Phyllis Haver
Seaman, of New York City; his mother, Mrs. Sarah Haver; his two sisters.
Miss Maude Haver and Mrs. J. F. Bush; his neice, Patricia Ann Bush, and his
nephew, Frank Haver Bush; and many, many friends.
Funeral services were held at the Douglass Methodist church, Thursday
afternoon, March 25, conducted by Rev. George Watts, assisted by Elder L. L.
Robert and Rev. H. S. Scott. Very beautiful music was rendered by a quartet
composed of Miss Gladys Harter, Mrs. Thurston Grubb, Verne Harter, of
Caldwell, and Milo Durrett, with Mrs. C. A. Ogg at the organ. Burial was
in the Douglass cemetery Dunsford Funeral Home was in charge.
From the Douglass Tribune, Butler County, Kansas, Friday, November 27,
Married- At the parlors of the Metropolitan hotel in El Dorado, by Judge
W. E. Kilgore, on Tuesday the 24th inst., Mr. James H. Haver and Miss Minee
Shanks. The groom is the son of Hiram Haver, a well known stock man of his
locality. The bride is the daughter of the late Philip Shanks, her mother,
brothers and sisters residing here. The young couple are well known and very
popular. They begin their united lives upon their farm three miles east of
Douglass Tribune, Butler Co., Kansas - January 23, 1903:
Mrs. Minnie Haver was attacked by the dog supposed to have hydrophobia,
last Tuesday, but it was driven away by the yigorous use of her umbrella.
Douglass Tribune, Butler Co., Kansas - February 6, 1903:
Mrs. Minnie Haver and Mrs. Eva Lemon left last Monday for Kansas City, to
begin work in a Wholesale millinery house making preparations for their
spring work in this line.
Douglass Tribune, Butler Co., Kansas - April 3, 1903:
Mrs. Minnie Haver is trimming hats and is a saleslady for a millenery
firm in Blanchard, Iowa.
Douglass Tribune, Butler Co., Kansas - June 26, 1903:
Mrs. Minnie Haver, who has held a position in a millinery store at
Blanchard, Iowa, this spring, returned home last Friday.
Douglass Tribune, Butler Co., Kansas - July 17, 1903:
Will Shanks, of Hutchinson, was called from Hutchinson the first of the
week on account of the serious illness of his sister, Mrs. Minnie Haver, but
the latter had so improved that he was allowed to return home Tuesday
From the Douglass Tribune, Butler County, Kansas, Friday, September 18,
Mrs. Minnie Haver is home from Hutchinson for the holidays. She is a
student in a business college in Hutchinson.
Douglass Tribune, Butler Co., Kansas - August 5, 1904:
Mrs. Minnie Haver came in from Hutchinson, Wednesday for a visit and to
have a part in the gathering of the Barnes family.
Douglass Tribune, Butler Co., Kansas - December 30, 1904:
Mrs. Minnie Haver is here with her mother's family for the holidays. She
has a situation as a stenographer, with a large real estate firm at
MINNIE SHANKS MALONE DIES IN CONNECTICUT
Word came last week of the death of Mrs. Minnie Shanks Malone, which
occurred March 22 at Sharon, Connecticut. She has been ill for about six
Mrs. Malone was the mother of Phyllis Haver Seemen, of Lime Rock, Conn.,
who survives. She was the daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Phillip Shanks, early
settlers at Douglass and grew to womanhood here. She was the sister Edna
Dunn, Will and Bert Shanks and was the last of the family.
Funeral services were held Thursday at 2:30 from the Kirk Funeral home at
Lakeside, Conn. Burial was in the east.
1900 Butler Co., Kansas Census has her date of birth as Oct 1879, age 21 at
THE WICHITA SUNDAY EAGLE AND THE WICHITA BEACON-FEATURE MAGAZINE OF WICHITA
AND THE SOUTHWEST
WICHITA, KANSAS, SUNDAY MORNING, DECEMBER 4, 1960
BY DOROTHY WOOD
PHYLLIS HAVER SUICIDE? 'NO' SAY AUNT OF FILM STAR, NATIVE OF DOUGLASS,
The name of Phyllis Haver means little to young Americans. "Who was she?
I don't remember her," said a fellow in his mid-20s, when the nation's
newspapers carried stories of Miss Haver's death in Limerock, Conn.,
His father and his grandfather, however, probably would have no trouble
at all remembering Phyllis Haver. Hers was one of the magic names of the
silent movies. She was one of the original Mack Sennett bathing beauties.
She starred in a series of top films. The beautiful blonde was the darling
of the nation during the teens and twenties of this century.
And Kansas was mighty proud, because Miss Haver was born southeast of
Wichita in Douglass, Kan., the daughter of the late Mr. and Mrs. James
Haver. Haver, who died in 1936 was a prominent farmer and oilman. Miss Haver
has a host of relatives, including Havers and Shanks (her mother's family)
still living in Douglass.
Her closest remaining relatives are two aunts, Mrs. Maude Haver Davis
of Douglass, and Mrs. Ruth Haver Bush, 640 N. Battin in Wichita, at 415 S.
"Phyllis was a beautiful, beautiful girl," says Mrs. Davis, "and a
lovely person too, with high moral standards. But you know she played some
of the orneriness girls! I remember when she was in "Chicago" (where Miss
Haver portrayed a shallow , heartless murderess) who wrote to her
grandmother and said (parts missing).
The girl who was to shine on the silent screen began life in Douglass,
Jan. 6, 1898. When she was eight years old her parents separated, and
Phyllis went to California with her mother. She grew up in the home of her
maternal grandmother, Mrs. Sarah Shanks, in Los Angeles.
She often returned to Kansas for visits, and she and her aunts had gay
times together. Mrs. Bush was only five years older and Mrs. Davis eight
years older than their niece.
"I remember Phyllis particularly seemed to enjoy picnics on the old
Haver ranch, when both the Haver and the Shanks families would go out for an
all-day outing," said Mrs. Davis. "Phyllis seemed to enjoy being out away
from everything, particularly after she started work in the movies."
Miss Haver was a high school girl in Los Angeles when she and a chum,
Marie Prevost, decided to ride across town to a movie studio where a certain
director, Mack Sennett, was hiring young girls to add beauty to his
Both were hired. And both became famous as they cavorted through the
popular films. In all, Sennett made about 700 comedies, most of them
including his curvaceous bathing girls. Miss Haver became one of the leading
girls, a featured comedienne.
Grieved for Sennett
Miss Haver had a special affection for Sennett, whom she called "Dad".
When he died, earlier last month, her housekeeper reported Miss Haver was
both grief-stricken and shocked.
"She did not know that Mr. Sennett was living in extreme poverty during
the last years," said Mrs. Graham. "She would have done anything to help him
if she had known."
The actress with the fluffy blonde hair and the beautiful figure tried
to break into other pictures. She had only small success, until she was
offered the relatively minor role of Shanghai Mabel in "What Price Glory".
She did so well, as the girl fought over by Victor McLaglen and Edmund Lowe,
that she zoomed to stardom.
She then appeared in a succession of top-ranking movies, including "The
Way of All Flesh", "Chicago", "Sal of Singapore," "The Battle of the Sexes,"
"The Shady Lady," and "Office Scandal."
By 1929, with talking pictures just around the corner, Miss Haver was
drawing a salary of around $5,000 a week.
She left both Hollywood and her career to marry, in April, 1929, a
multimillionaire playboy, William Seeman of New York City. The wedding was
the talk of the nation. Mayor James J. Walker of New York City, a close
friend of the groom, performed the ceremony in the home of cartoonist Rube
Goldberg (a brother-in-law of Seeman (parts missing) ally went to pieces,
although neither Miss Haver nor Seeman would make public comment on the
reasons. Friends, however, knew that Seeman's love of constant, all-night
partying was a terrible strain on his wife.
Gossip columnists laughed at a comment Miss Haver once made, that she
was at heart a simple homebody. But there is no doubt that, although she
worked in glamour and glitter, and lived surrounded with luxury and famous
names, she loved her home and her pets.
"Phyllis always had cats and dogs," said her aunt, Mrs. Davis. "She
She also loved creating beautiful homes. When she became a top
Hollywood star, she bought and furnished a big, English-style house.
Many of the lovely furnishings were moved to New York when she married.
The marriage ended in divorce in 1945. Seeman later married and
recently divorced, a younger woman. Miss Haver never remarried. After the
death of her mother in 1948 she lived alone in her luxurious home in
Connecticut, and her apartment in New York City, where she spent some of the
coldest winter months.
Had Many Friends
She was a gay, hospitable person, says Mrs. Davis, with many close
friends. Some were Mr. and Mrs. Rube Goldberg, Mr. and Mrs. Howard Chandler
Christy, Mr. and Mrs. Paul Whiteman, Randolph Hearst and Gloria Swanson.
"I visited her last in Connecticut in 1950," said Mrs. Davis. She
entertained a lot for me. She had such a lovely place. She loved the
outdoors, and the grounds of her home were just beautiful."
The former actress had suffered recurring periods of despondency in
recent years, particularly after the death of her mother. But she usually
snapped out of these black moods quickly. November was a particularly bad
month for her. That was the month she and Seeman divorced, and she still
grieved over the breakup. This November there was the additional grief of
She and the housekeeper had been out driving Thursday afternoon. Though
Miss Haver seemed depressed, she was in better spirits by the time Mrs.
Graham left after dinner.
In her movie days Miss Haver had learned the exacting art of makeup.
"She always said it took here 10 minutes to dress, but two hours to
make up her face," said Mrs. Davis. "It was really something to watch. When
she finished, she looked just beautiful-so natural, not artificial at all."
When the housekeeper came to awaken Miss Haver Friday morning. she was
lying quietly in bed. Her face had been beautifully made up. She was dead.
Did she know this was to be her last "appearance?" Police said death
resulted from an overdose of barbiturates. Her shocked relatives cannot
believe that this gay and tender-hearted woman, who "had everything," could
have taken her own life. Perhaps, they say, she took some sleeping tablets
and then suffered a heart attack during the night.
Mrs. Bush went to Connecticut for the quiet funeral which was held a few
days after Miss. Havers death.
Careful instructions were included in Miss. Havers will, The casket was
not to be opened and was to be covered with roses paid for by her estate.
So, under a blanket of beautiful flowers, the girl who was born in
Kansas and walked the path to fame, was quietly laid to rest.
Mrs. Davis had tears in her eyes as she told of Miss. Haver's words,
spoken when the actress returned to Douglass in 1936 for her father's
"'Oh, Maude,' she told me. 'Death is so final, Isn't it ?'"
From the Wichita Beacon, Monday, June 18, 1956
FORMER DOUGLASS, KAN., BEAUTY CLIMBED TO CINEMA FAME
Members of today's "rock "n" roll" set won't remember Phyllis Haver but most
of their parents will recall when the Douglass, Kan., beauty was a star of
Miss Haver, whose parents were Mr. and Mrs. James Haver pioneer residents of
Butler County, deserted Douglass in the early days of the silent cinema and
skyrocketed to fame in Mack Sennett two-real bathing beauty comedies.
Later she became a star in full length pictures. Her best remembered roles
were as Roxy Hart in "Chicago" and co-starring with Emil Jennings in "The
Way of All Flesh".
At the end of the silent movie era, she retired to marry William Seemen a
multi-millionaire food magnate. They were divorced in about 1945. Since then
she has lived quietly on the East Coast, spending her summers at her home in
Lime, Conn. and the winters in New York City.
A year ago last winter she appeared on one of Ralph Edwards "This is your
life" Television programs.
An aunt, Mrs. J.F. Bush, 640 N Battin, visited with her last February in New
The former movie beauty...still a handsome women...has many relatives in the
Douglass-Augusta area, including an aunt, Miss Maude Haver, who is active in
the state D.A.R. organization. She visited these relatives about 14 years
She was in Douglass in 1936 to attend funeral services for her father.
Her mother resided with her in New York City for several years before her
A story once was told - probably by an over-zealous publicity man, that the
star of the silent movie era, at the height of her career, had a concrete
sidewalk built form her parents home at the edge of Douglass, to the center
of town as a convenience in rainy weather.
The story wasn't exactly true, Mrs. Bush pointed out this week. The sidewalk
was laid all right but not by the movie star who was a native of Douglass.
Mrs Bush's father, Hiram Busch was responsible for the sidewalk.
NOTE--IN LETTER FROM LOIS "BARNES" MITCHELL TO ME.-- Feb. 18, 1998.
My folks bought the Haver house in 1930. The story about the sidewalk was
true. There was a sidewalk from the house clear to town. The folks sold the
house after we girls were married and left home. It was large two story
house. The Douglass High School now sits where the house was located. The
only time I ever saw Phyllis Haver was when she was back to Douglass to her
fathers funeral. She came out to where we lived to see the old Haver house,
and she said "that darling privy in the garden, I wish I had it on top of my
apartment in New York for a pent house". My dads reply was he would be glad
to ship it to her.
SILENT-ERA ACTRESS DIES AT 60
SHARON, Conn. UP--Phyllis Haver, actress in the era of silent films, has
been found dead in her home here, State police said Sunday it was a
The body of the 60-year-old actress, who appeared in such early film
classics as "What Price Glory?" and "The way of All Flesh" was found
Saturday by a housekeeper in the bedroom of her home.
An initial investigation indicated death was caused by barbiturate
poisoning, a medical examiner said.
State police said Miss Haver, who lived alone here since her divorce from
William Seemen, wealthy New Yorker, 15 years ago, had attempted suicide a
She played the role of Shanghai Mabel in "What Price Glory?" and of Roxie
Hart in the film "Chicago".
A native of Douglas, Kan., Miss Haver leaves no immediate survivors.
Appeared in a succession of top ranking movies.
Sal of Singapore (1928)
Way of All Flesh, The (1928) .... The Temptress
Chicago (1927) .... Roxie Hart
Fighting Eagle, The (1927) .... Countess de Launay
Rejuvenation of Aunt Mary, The (1927)
Fig Leaves (1926) .... Alice Atkins
Don Juan (1926) (uncredited) .... Imperia
Hard Boiled (1926) .... Justine Morton
Caveman, The (1926) .... Dolly Van Dream
Nervous Wreck, The (1926) .... Sally Morgan
Three Bad Men (1926) .... Prairie Beauty
What Price Glory? (1926) .... Shanghai Mabel
Golden Princess, The (1925) .... Kate Kent
After Business Hours (1925) .... Sylvia Vane
I Want My Man (1925) .... Drusilla
Her Husband's Secret (1925) .... Pansy La Rue
Fight to the Finish, A (1925) .... Mary Corbett
New Brooms (1925) .... Florence Levering
So Big (1924) .... Dallas O'Meara
Snob, The (1924) .... Dorothy Rensheimer
Breath of Scandal, The (1924) .... Clara Simmons
Foolish Virgin, The (1924) .... Jane Sanderson
Fighting Coward, The (1924) .... Elvira
Lilies of the Field (1924)
One Glorious Night (1924)
Temple of Venus, The (1923) .... Constance Lane
Bolted Door, The (1923) .... Natalie Judson
Balloonatic, The (1923)
Christian, The (1923) .... Polly Love
Common Law, The (1923) .... Rita Terris
Fleeting Fame by Roxie Olmstead
Footprints in the sands of time are not made by sitting down. Such is
the case of Phyllis Haver, a 1920s silent movie star. In 1929 at the height
of her career, she gave it all up to wed. Her fame faded away and, today,
few people ever heard of her. Media articles listing famous Kansas people
overlook Haver. I'm writing this with hope of correcting their omissions
and having her acknowledged in Butler County, Kansas, where she was born and
lived the first eight years of her life.
This writer, born and reared near Douglass, was only three years old when
Haver gave up her career. Silent movies were "out" and talkies "in" by the
time I remember attending movies. I knew her father, aunts, uncles, and
cousins and had heard of her; but, I didn't realize the magnitude of her
stardom until I discovered her personal scrapbook full of magazine and
newspaper clippings. It even contains her marriage license and unique
especially designed Christmas cards.. Haver once told a writer that her
mother started the scrapbook or she wouldn't have had the mementos.
Unfortunately, many of the clippings are not dated nor is the source given.
Phyllis Haver was born in Douglass, Kansas on January 6, 1899 to pioneer
residents James H. and Minnie (Shanks) Haver. Her father, born in Iowa on
September 25, 1872, came to Kansas in a covered wagon in 1876 with his
parents, Hiram Haver and Sarah (Clark) Haver. They settled on a homestead
twelve miles east of Douglass, Kansas where Jim, as he was called, grew to
manhood in what was known as the Rock Creek community. There, Jim and his
father were prominent farmers and stock men. Hiram Haver, over time,
acquired more acreage.
Jim married Minnie Shanks of Douglass, Kansas on November 24, 1896 and
the newlyweds lived on a farm three miles east of Douglass. Minnie was the
daughter of Philip E. and Sarah E. (Barnes) Shanks. Philip Shanks was
deceased at the time Jim and Minnie married. Both the Shanks and Barnes
families were early day Butler County pioneers.
The Douglass Tribune heralded Haver's birth as simply, "Born - To J.H.
Haver and wife on Friday, January 6th, a nine pound girl." Her parents
divorced and she and her mother moved in with her maternal grandmother, Mrs.
Sarah Shanks in Douglass. Her father remarried when she was five years of
By her own account Haver was an adventurous child. She had the most
terrible wanderlust as far back as she could remember. She remembered
tramps coming by the house before breakfast and chopping wood for a meal.
At the age of approximately five, she thought they were awfully romantic
sorts and one day she started out to be a tramp. She walked out of town
down the railroad track until it started getting dark. Then she got scared
and turned back. Instead of going home, she found an old chicken coop She
crawled into and spent the night and was discovered at three o'clock the
Soon afterward. Haver tried it again. She had always wanted to go to
Winfield, a town south of Douglass. She had heard so much about Winfield
and it sounded grand to her. Probably what she had heard about Winfield was
connected with their Chautauquas. For Winfield had them as early as 1887
and Douglass folks traveled by train and stayed in a hotel to attend this
popular entertainment. Haver managed to board a train which made a stop at
Douglass and rode to Winfield in the washroom. She got off and wandered
around a bit before running into her Uncle Bert Shanks. He was celebrating
something or other with a group of college kids. Of all the things he could
have said when he saw her, she never forgot him saying, "My God, where did
you get that hat." She thought he was mad at her for interrupting his
festivities. He took her to a hotel and the next day they sent for her from
home. After Haver escaped a few more times, they began tethering her to a
cherry tree when she went out to play.
In October 1907 Sarah Shanks, Haver's grandmother, sold her farm a half
mile north of Douglass. An ad in the November 1, 1907 edition of The
Douglass Tribune listed her residence located on Willow Street and personal
property for sale. The ad stated, "I am preparing to move away." The ad
ran weekly through December 6, 1907. Shortly afterwards, Shanks moved to
Los Angeles, California and eight-year-old Haver left Kansas to live with
her. They had visited California several times during the winters before
moving for good.
They hadn't been in Los Angeles but a few months when Haver's grandmother
was dangerously hurt in a street car accident. In a few weeks she was
reported out of danger and getting along well.
Haver's mother was still a Haver in November 1907 when she was seriously
ill with appendicitis and an operation saved her life. She married a L.A.
Malone, but I found no information regarding Mr. Malone or when or where
they were married. Apparently, he either died or they divorced, because
there is no mention of him in any of the numerous clippings in Haver's
scrapbook. At some point Haver's mother joined she and her grandmother and
her mother kept the name "Malone" for the rest of her life.
Back in Kansas the discovery of oil near Hiram Haver's Butler County land
in 1917 started what became known as the Fox-Bush oil field. The Haver land
became a part of that field and Havers shared in the wealth. Frank Haver
Bush, Hiram Haver's grandson of Douglass, Kansas, says his grandfather told
him oil was discovered on every piece of land he owned. Phyllis Haver's
father, Jim, oversaw the production of oil on his father's land. Phyllis
Haver attended public grammar school in Los Angeles and the Manual Arts High
School of that city. While at the Manual Arts High School she became
friends with Marie Prevost. Later, Prevost and Haver became Mack Sennett
bathing beauties and remained lifelong friends.
Mack Sennett created both the Keystone Kops and Mack Sennett's bathing
beauties. After Haver became known most people thought she got her
Hollywood start at Mack Sennett's studio making one and two-reel slapstick
comedies. But I found an interview on record in which she said she actually
got her start at Paramount Studio on Vine and Sunset Boulevard at $10.00 per
day before she went to Sennett. When Paramount offered her the $10.00, she
was skeptical and went home to discuss it with her mother. That was more
than she made in a week at a millinery shop and picture theater. She began
the next day. I found another interview which said that during a summer
vacation from Manual Arts High School, she met a young man who worked as an
extra on the Famous Players lot. He asked her if she would like to visit
the lot. A director at the lot took a quick look at Haver and asked her if
she wanted to do an occasional bit of acting. Haver said it was "just
heaven," especially when she got a check for $7.50 at the end of the day.
She was only fifteen at the time. This, too, may have been at Paramount
with a discrepancy in the wages.
Even before Paramount she had appeared before the public as a pianist in
a movie theater. In the days of silent movies a pianist or orchestra set
the mood for the scenes with music. Haver and her mother went to a movie
theater in Los Angeles. For some reason there was no music being played.
Haver went to the piano and began playing by ear. She was about thirteen at
the time. She was hired and held the job until her repertoire gave out.
She only knew about twenty appropriate compositions.
While working for Paramount she knew her friend Marie Prevost and Gloria
Swanson were becoming famous at Sennett. So, she went in search of a job.
In her interview with Sennett, "I don't know" was the only answer she could
make to the Irishman's gruff questioning. He finally shouted, "Can't you
say anything but 'I don't know?" She gulped and replied, "I don't know."
She got the job and became one of the most celebrated of Mack Sennett's
glorified bathing girls. She was described as blonde and adorable. Her
work with Sennett began in 1917 at $12.00 per week, which was a come down
from her daily $7.50 wage working as an extra. However, it was steady work
and if she worked after four o'clock she got $3.00 extra. That made it
average about $24.00 per week. She got up at six o'clock and rode an hour
and a half on a trolley across town to the Sennett studios. Later, she
signed a contract for $25.00 per week.
One day Haver was asked to call Mr. William Randolph Hearst, a publisher
who was also in motion picture producing. He offered her $750 a week for a
role they had for her. She, her mother, and her grandmother walked the
floor all night. The next day her mother talked to Sennett about the offer.
He pointed out that Haver didn't know a thing about acting and if he
released her from her $25.00 per week contract she would be a failure. He
said, "However, we'll make a new contract and give her $150 a week." Haver
recalls that Mr. Sennett was very kind in the matter and that he was
probably right about her acting experience. He pointed out he paid Ben
Turpin, his top man, only $650 a week. Haver became Turpin's leading lady
for a number of years and eventually got up to $600 per week.
By Hearst exerting his influence to get her to join his company, which he
never succeeded in doing, he spotlighted her career. In time she became a
much sought after property. Two years later Hearst offered her $1,250 a
week which she declined. After she turned down this offer, she became
associated with Christie Comedies.
Later she made movies for Fox. When Fox-Pathe split, Cecil D. DeMille
moved to Metro- Goldwyn -Mayer (MGM) and exercised his choice of two people
he could take with him. He took Haver and a designer.
Haver's grandmother Shanks returned to Kansas. After that. Haver and her
mother lived in Hollywood. After becoming successful she bought and
furnished a big English-style house. She wanted to have a housewarming
party, but the house wasn't large enough to entertain her large circle of
friends. She took over an entire apartment house for the party with the
apartment owner as co-host. There was quite a write-up about the party.
In 1918 Haver's grandmother Shanks became seriously ill while at a
daughter's home in Hutchinson. She recuperated enough to go to Los Angeles
in May, but died June 1, 1918 and her body was returned to Douglass, Kansas
for burial in the family plot.
Playing the part of Polly Love in Goldwyn's 1923 production of The
Christian brought her recognition as a dramatic actress. The Film Daily
critic wrote that she did a genuinely fine piece of dramatic portrayal in
the role of an unwed mother who kissed her baby good-bye and gave it into
the care of an orphanage before she died. "Miss Haver registers a real
'choke in the throat' in this scene," wrote the critic. One newspaper
reported, "For the past two years her progress has been steady and sure."
Another wrote, "Phyllis Haver earns for herself a permanent place among the
sincere dramatic actresses of motion pictures."
Only a few dramatic films preceded The Christian, but many followed. One
internet site lists forty-eight films she made from 1921-1929. Of course
this doesn't include the numerous short flicks made for Sennett nor those
made at Paramount and the Christie Comedies. Her most noted films were
Chicago,in which she played the part of Roxie Hart, and The Way of All Flesh
in which she starred with Emil Jennings.
"Her hair is a curly mass of golden corn silk. Her eyes are cerulean
blue. Her teeth are perfect pearls. Her coloring is a Fort Valley Peach
Festival," described a magazine writer of Haver. Other descriptions were,
"Phyllis Haver's smile is coquettish and charming," "5' 6", 125 Ibs.,"
"picture of health," /'skin like satin," and "her smile like peaches and
Clippings from German, Italian, and French magazines in her scrapbook
indicate her films were popular overseas, too. A French magazine's article
title was "Las Irresistibles: Phyllis Haver.
" Perhaps one of the more flattering and sincere descriptions came from a
studio electrician, "She doesn't get a swelled head. She isn't high at all.
She's just as interested in the extras as she is the directors. Remembers
everyone's names, and always has a good word for you. You don't see her
followin' no director all over the lot."
Haver earned the title, "A good little trouper." from her coworkers. She
had a reputation for not being temperamental, as some actresses, and got
along well with the entire film crew.
After moving from slapstick to drama Haver explained in an interview that
in comedy you had to think on the jump and work like a steam engine. But in
drama everything was toned down and you could take your work more easily.
When Haver had been a part of the film colony for ten years, a reporter
wrote that her name had never once been linked with scandal or gossip. She
had been much too busy scaling the ladder of success to allow herself to be
caught on any retarding rungs.
In her "heyday" Haver appeared on the covers of Screenland. Motion
Picture. Pathe Sun. Picture Play. and The Police Gazette. Possibly, there
were others. She graced the cover of the sheet music, Singapore Lil, theme
song for the Pathe motion picture production. Sal of Singapore, in which she
starred. She, also, adorned calendars, matchbook covers, and postcards.
Hal C. Herman compiled and edited a 1928 booklet published in Hollywood
titled, "How I Broke Into The Movies by 60 Screen stars." Each star was
represented by a full page photo with the opposite page explaining their
experience. Haver appeared in the booklet in good company. Among the sixty
stars were Greta Garbo, Clara Bow, Colleen Moore, Delores DelRio, Norma
Talmadge, Conrad Nagel, Gloria Swanson, Wallace Beery, Charlie Chaplin, Mary
Pickford, Douglas Fairbanks, Norma Sheerer and Lon Chaney. Haver's copy of
the booklet was inscribed, "To Phyllis Haver. May each succeeding role be
an added jewel in your crown of achievement. Sincerely, Hal Herman."
According to the booklet. Haver's name was originally O 'Haver, an Irish
name, and she cropped the "O" when she started making movies. That fact is
underlined in Haver's copy of the booklet with a notation, "Mistake."
Whether she added this embellishment to her story or it was done by the
compiler is not known. I found similar accounts in other articles, but they
could have acquired their information from this booklet. The Butler County
Havers did not have an "0" preceding their name.
"An expert Swimmer," "a splendid golfer," and "a charming dancer," were
descriptions given Haver in the press. Haver was an active person and posed
for photos at the beach, ready to hit a golf ball, and on a bicycle. The
photo on the bicycle carried a caption, "Beach bicycling seems to be the
latest, and Phyllis Haver demonstrates." It went on to explain it would
take an early riser to catch the stars indulging in the new exercise.
Real estate held Haver's interest. She made a modest, but respectable,
fortune out of this speculative sideline. One reporter noticed her carrying
something on the set and assumed it was a map for tours. He learned it was
a plat for a real estate addition in Los Angeles. She made the comment once
that she didn't have time for romance and was afraid of it until she got her
career really started and her mother taken care of financially.
Haver and her mother were close. Wherever you found Haver there, too,
you found her mother. It was written, "One is assured of an enjoyable hour
when they start to relate some of their experiences together." In her
mother's latter years she lived with Haver until her death in 1949 after a
six month illness.
She also had an interest in both cats and dogs as pets. She posed for
photos with her different cats. One caption read, "Phyllis Haver's
pedigreed cats are far famed, and with reason." Several professional photos
of her dogs were stuck loosely in her scrapbook.
In one interview Haver explained she found that happiness meant
discovering your work and sticking to it. She said, "I haven't had time for
romance." She also remarked that she wouldn't make a good wife because she
was too interested in herself and career. That all changed when she fell in
love with New York multimillionaire playboy William "Billy" Seeman, the son
of a wholesale grocery magnate and an active participant in his father's
business. She commented that he was the only man she ever loved. Most
unexpected was her 1929 announcement that she was marrying Billy and giving
At the time she was coming into an era promising greater professional
glory than she had ever known. Her contract had recently been taken over by
M.G.M. from Cecil D. DeMille. She had a new four-year contract with M.G.M.
but persuaded them to tear it up. Her last picture was Thunder with Lon
Chancy. It was reported that at the time of her retirement from movies she
was being paid $5,000 per week.
One writer said it all with, "A few girls who were mildly successful in
pictures have dropped out, but it was the pictures who gave them up; they
didn't give up pictures." In Haver's case she gave up pictures.
Billy's friend. New York City's Mayor Jimmie Walker, solemnized the rites
of matrimony for Haver and Billy on April 24, 1929 at the home of Rube
Goldberg, brother-in-law of the groom. The newlyweds immediately sailed for
a European honeymoon.
German actor Emil Jennings chose Haver to play opposite him in 1927 in
his first American film. The Way of All Flesh. He never got over believing
Haver was America's finest actress and offered her any amount of money to
play the lead in another picture. When she refused Jennings chose Marlene
Dietrich to play the part he had planned for Haver and that part made
Dietrich a star. Others, as well, tried unsuccessfully to lure Haver back
into pictures, but she refused. "Frankly I haven't a remnant of ambition
beyond being just Mrs. William Seeman," said Haver.
The Seeman's frequently made the New York City newspaper society columns
and articles about Haver appeared occasionally in other publications.
"Silent film star still beautiful," and similar statements appeared in
articles as late as the 1950s, long after Haver gave up her career. One
article described the Seeman's eleven room and roof penthouse apartment on
Waverly Plaza in Greenwich Village, New York City as a FARM. As you Stepped
off the elevator a decorative panel proclaimed, "Sky Hye Farm." A willow
tree and a maple tree grew on the roof. Around one tree was a table seating
sixteen. Haver was quoted as saying she was happiest when she was up there
cultivating the soil.
Phyllis Haver never forgot her Butler County, Kansas roots. She once
autographed a newspaper photo of herself after penning "I am very proud to
say that Kansas is my native state. I can only hope that the pictures I
make will be good enough for the people of Kansas." Until their deaths she
stayed at the home of her paternal grandparents, Mr. & Mrs. Hiram Haver, on
her return trips to visit her father, grandparents and other relatives in
Douglass. Her aunt, Ruth (Haver) Bush was only five years older than she
and another aunt, Maude Haver, eight years older. She had good times with
them. Her return trips caused quite a stir in the small town.
When her grandmother Shanks became ill in 1918, Haver came back to
Douglass for a visit. Her father and his wife entertained her in their home
with twenty-five guests who knew her from her childhood. This visit was
when she was getting her start in acting, playing bit parts. Two weeks
later an item in The Douglass Tribune mentioned the local Star Theatre ran a
picture the previous week in which Phyllis Haver was one of the artists and
commented, "Had Douglass people known that she was to appear upon the screen
the attendance would have been much larger." The Star Theatre ad hadn't
even mentioned Haver.
There are still a few people living in and around Douglass who had
personal contact with Haver. Frank Haver Bush recalls his cousin as acting
just like everyone else even though you knew she had a lot of money. He
remembered that once her chauffeur drove she and a lady friend to Kansas in
a Cadillac. The car broke down and Haver and her friend flew back to New
York. The chauffeur stayed, had the car repaired in Wichita, and then drove
back. He especially recalls a visit in the late 1920s when Haver wanted to
bathe in Rock Creek. A group of them went out to a place Ernest Haver,
Price owned for her to bathe. There was a shack there and they had a fish
Lois (Barnes) Mitchell of Rose Hill, Kansas tells an amusing story of one
of Haver's visits to Douglass. Mitchell's family purchased the Haver place.
It was located about one mile east of Douglass and is now the location of
the high school. Haver's grandparents built the house and occupied it at
one time. Haver was visiting her father who lived a short distance from
Barnes and asked permission to have a nostalgic look around the home place.
Permission was granted. She spotted a back house out behind the barn which
was no longer in use. She called it "a darling privy," commenting she wish
she had it on top of her New York City penthouse. Mitchell recalls her
family discussing how they never thought of a back house as "darling" and
her dad telling Haver, "I can ship it to you."
John D. Shanks of El Dorado, Kansas was reared in Douglass by Haver's
Uncle Pete Shanks. John recalls a visit by Haver when he was about twelve
years of age. This probably would have been when she was back for her
father's funeral in 1936. At the time John was growing Bermuda onions for a
4-H project and they had grown quite large.Haver liked them so much that
John sent some back to New York City with her. After she returned home she
sent John a pair of fancy all-steel roller skates with fenders. John said
they probably cost over $30.00, which was quite a sum during the Great
Depression. Also, John remembers that stars referred to each other as
"Busters." He heard Haver say, "Grandma made a Buster out of me."
On one trip to Douglass after she became famous, word spread quickly
around Douglass that she was coming. All day long calls came in from the
neighbors. That evening there was a row of cars as far as you could see
outside her father's house. The reporter writing about this got carried
away and wrote, "Many of them were Rolls-Royces - for everyone in and around
Douglass is rich since they struck oil there more than ten years ago." That
would have been news to the majority of Douglass residents. It was true
there were some wealthy folks, but certainly not everyone in Douglass.
Haver's visit was a big event in Douglass social life. It was celebrated
with a bowl of grapefruit punch and Nabisco's. Haver's grandmother, aunts,
and uncles looked after the arrangements. Her father stood by Haver and
introduced her to the long line of guests. "They were all honeys,"
commented Haver when she returned to Hollywood and told about the event, "I
just loved every one of them. The simplicity and sweetness of the way they
welcomed me back was adorable."
I interviewed nonagenarian Evelyn House and octogenarian Olena Hilyard,
both of Douglass, Kansas. Although I interviewed them separately with no
prearranged plan, I found it interesting that their remarks were similar.
Hilyard remembered Haver visiting her Aunt Maude and Maude feted her with
parties to which Hilyard was invited. She described her as, "Beautiful,
well dressed, and nice to everyone." House, too, met her when she was
visiting her Aunt Maude. House and her husband had just built a new home in
the early 1940s. Haver came to see the home. House described her as,
"Attractive, pleasant to visit with, and she seemed like one of us."
Ironically, after giving up her career for Billy, they divorced in 1945.
Neither Seeman or Haver would make public comments on the reason for the
divorce. One rumor was that he left her for a younger woman. He did
remarry a younger woman and that marriage, too, ended in divorce. Friends
recognized that Seeman's love of constant all-night partying was a terrible
strain on his wife. One problem was thought to be that she wanted children,
but Billy didn't. It was rumored that Billy drank too much and became mean
to Haver. Haver never remarried.
Frank Haver Bush described both Seeman and Haver as "generous." Bush
remembered that on more than one occasion Haver bought clothes for John D.
Shanks. The Seemans offered to send Bush's sister. Pat, to college if she
would come and live with them. When Haver was back for her Grandma Haver's
funeral in 1942 during World War II, Bush was in the service. She told him
if he ever came through New York City there would always be a place in their
home where he could stay.
Haver wintered in her New York City apartment and kept a summer home in
Connecticut. She eventually built a home near Lime Rock. After she built
the home she spent more time in Connecticut. She had many friends among
whom were Mr. & Mrs. Rube Goldberg, Mr. & Mrs. Howard Chandler Christy, Mr.
& Mrs. Paul Whiteman, Randolph Hearst, and Gloria Swanson.
In 1954 Haver made a guest: appearance on Ralph Edward's This Is Your
Life TV program when Mack Sennett's life was portrayed. As a result. Haver
received a lot of mail from old time admirers and friends telling her how
attractive and well she looked on the show. The Douglass folks enjoyed
seeing their home town girl on the show.
On November 19, 1960 a housekeeper found Haver in the bedroom of her
Falls Village, Connecticut home lying quietly in her bed. She had died in
the night. Her face had been made up beautifully, an exact art she had
learned in her movie days. She once told her Aunt Maude it took only ten
minutes to dress, but two hours to make up.
Death was caused by barbiturate poisoning and police suspected suicide.
The police said she had tried to commit suicide the previous year. November
was a particularly bad month for her. That was the month of her divorce and
she still grieved over the breakup. Also, this November she grieved over
Mack Sennett's death earlier in the month and was particularly upset when
she learned he had been living in extreme poverty during his last years.
She would have helped him if she had known. She called him "Dad." Her
Kansas aunts did not accept the suicide theory and thought, perhaps, she
took some sleeping tablets and then suffered a heart attack during the
Careful instructions for the memorial service and disposal of her body
were included in her will. The casket was not to be opened and was to be
covered with roses, paid by her estate. The body was to be cremated and her
ashes spread over New York City harbor. Her wishes were carried out.
At the time of her death, her closest living relatives were her aunts,
Ruth (Haver) Bush of Wichita, Kansas and Maude (Haver) Davis (Maude married
late in life) of Douglass, Kansas. She was the only niece of these aunts
and they attended her memorial service. Her Aunt Maude recalled Haver's
exact words when she returned to Douglass for her father's funeral in 1936,
"Oh, Maude, death is so final isn't it?"
Phyllis Haver's fame really was fleeting. With so many of her fellow
actors and actresses going on to be successful in talkies, one can't help
but wonder how far she would have gone had she not retired at such an early
In the book, 399 Kansas Characters, twenty-three movie actors and
actresses are listed, including some who worked in silent films. Some of
them weren't born in Kansas, but touched it at some time or other. Joseph
"Buster" Keaton was born in Kansas only because his parents were traveling
through Kansas with a tent show and then they moved on. Yet, Keaton was
listed as a Kansan. Haver is not listed in the book.
Since Haver was not only born in Kansas, but spent her first eight years
here and kept her Kansas ties, we should be ashamed that she was not
promoted as a Kansan. Let us Butler Countians not forget her for what she
was, a native of Butler County, Kansas and a famous silent screen star.
Bush, Frank Haver. Personal Interviews. 12 Jan 1999 and 17 May 1999. Bush,
Frank Haver. Telephone Interview. 21Feb2000. The Douglass Tribune.
Clippings. Undated. Haver, Phyllis. Personal Scrapbook Hilyard, Olena.
Telephone Interview. 6 Mar 2000. House, Evelyn. Telephone Interview. 6 Mar
2000. How I Broke Into The Movies by 60 Screenstars. Hal C. Herman, editor
and compiler.1928. Kenney.JohnD. Telephone Interview. 19 Feb 2000. Marriage
Records. Butler Co. Courthouse
Vol 24. No 44. I Nov 1907. Pg. 4.
Vol 25. No 3. 17 Jan 1908.
Vol 25. No 13. 27 Mar 1908. Pg. 4.
Vol 25. No 16. 17 Apr 1908. Pg. 4.
Vol 35. No 14. 5 Apr 1918. Pg. 4.
Vol 35. No 15. 12 Apr 1918. Pg. 7.
Vol 35. No 17. 26 Apr 1918. Pg. 6.
Vol 35. No 23. 7Junl918. Pg. 7.
Vol 35. No 25. 21 Jun 1918. Pg. 6.
Vol 53. No 13. 27 Mar 1936. Pg. 3.
Vol76. No 47. 23Nov l960. Front Page.
Microfilm: The El Dorado Republic. VoIXLI. No 7. 28 Nov l924.
Mitchell,Lois(Bames). Personal Interview. 15 Apr l999. Webb, Dave. 399
Kansas Characters. Kansas Heritage Center, Dodge City, KS. 1992. The Wichita
Evening Eagle. 13 Oct 1952. The Wichita Sunday Eagle and The Wichita Beacon
Magazine. 4 Dec. 1960. Pgs. 6, II.