Life of the party
By Jesse Phelps
They say it isn't polite to ask
a lady her age and that perhaps that goes double for a lady of
"One thing about the theater that's different than anything
else on earth is that you never ask anyone their age," says
Frances Dewey Wormser. And she would know.
Wormser was a leading lady in vaudeville and on Broadway on the
early 1930s, playing the lead in Rogers and Hart's "The
Girlfriend" among other roles before retiring to travel
and paint. She starred next to Archie Leach (who later became
known as Cary Grant) and James Stewart, among other luminaries
of the silver screen.
On Monday, Wormser reached a milestone, her 100th birthday. When
a person reaches 100, age, more than ever, becomes a reason for
respect; especially when one has managed to do so in style.
Wormser, who resides at The Gables of Ojai, is a multitalented
woman and political thinker who has lived a life full of experience.
"Overpopulation and pollution are two issues she's very
passionate about," says her grand-nephew, Jason Dewey. Her
stories are the stuff of legend among her family.
There's the one where she talks about bowling with Babe Ruth.
"He was just a regular pain in the neck because he would
drink so much and was so competitive," she's known to have
Or there's the one where she traveled with her best friend, another
leading lady of her day, Imogene Coca, to Havana. The ladies,
the story goes, were lounging in a nightclub when a composer
recognized them and asked for their opinion on a piece he was
He played it to them to get their feedback. Turns out the composer
was Oscar Hammerstein, and the music, "My Fair Lady."
Wormser became a traveler extraordinaire, making "countless"
trips to Europe to paint, and flying cross-country in the first
airplane many people had ever seen and staying year after year
in picturesque Swiss villages.
She spent 25 years in Florida before moving to California fairly
recently. Wormser, who cultivated a love of tennis, once hosted
a young Martina Navratilova in her home when she'd first come
to the United States.
Today Wormser spends most of her time in Ojai but, at 100 years
old, she still gets behind the wheel to drive - something her
family isn't thrilled with. But Wormer's adventurous spirit isn't
easy to quell. "Of course I drive," she says. "Mostly
in Ojai but sometimes to Santa Paula," she says.
She channels her still-active creative spirit into paintings.
She paints on acrylic on canvas, mixing in other materials where
she sees fit. Her work subjects range from the flowery still
life to the figure drawings of beautiful women and the pieces
hang in galleries and homes across the country.
"My father was an artist," she says. In fact, he ran
a successful New York gallery until the Great Depression, when
he moved to California with the rest of the family.
Except Wormser, who stayed in New York to pursue her career on
Though Wormser has no children of her own, Johanna Bradley calls
herself an "adopted daughter" and speaks very highly
of a woman she calls "a unique person who always tells you
how she feels and isn't afraid to be herself. She's everyone's
best friend and she's extremely generous and charitable."
Wormser was joined Monday for a series of parties in her honor
by friends and family who traveled from all over the country.
The Ojai Valley News
to the news
|Frances Dewey Wormser
celebrated her 100th birthday Monday among friends at the Gables