She may not have been as prolific as Hollywood’s “Queen of the Extras” Bess Flowers, but once you’ve discovered Ethelreda Leopold, you’ll find the blonde beauty popping up everywhere, mainly in uncredited roles. Three Stooges fans certainly know of her work, as she appeared in eleven of their Columbia shorts, but there’s a whole lot more Ethelreda out there in classic film land!
The girl with the unique name (‘Ethelreda’ is from Olde English, meaning ‘of noble strength’) was born in Chicago on July 7, 1914. She was working as a teenage model, and doing very well, when she was discovered by a Warner Brothers talent scout and brought out to Hollywood. Ethelreda made her debut as one of the chorus girls in Busby Berkeley’s 1934 extravaganza DAMES, and became one of Busby’s busiest girls. She can be seen in the chorus in GOLD DIGGERS OF 1935, STAGE STRUCK, VARSITY SHOW, HOLLYWOOD HOTEL, SWEETHEARTS, and GOLD DIGGERS OF PARIS.
The latter film found Ethelreda voted “Most Popular” Berkeley Girl (out of 109!), and the studio sent her on a promotional tour that included a stop in New York, where the writer H. Allen Smith made a nervous attempt to take her measurements (it’s a funny story and can be found by following this link!).
Ethelreda can be spotted in many classic films of the day, mostly uncredited: MY MAN GODFREY, MARKED WOMAN, THE WIZARD OF OZ (helping groom Bert Lahr’s Cowardly Lion!), DANCING CO-ED, THE RAGE OF PARIS, CITY FOR CONQUEST, HE STAYED FOR BREAKFAST, ANGELS OVER BROADWAY, BALL OF FIRE, SABOTEUR , WORDS AND MUSIC, ALL ABOUT EVE, and many more. She had a bigger role (billed as ‘Ethel’ Leopold) in the 1938 exploitation film RACE SUICIDE, dealing with an illegal abortion racket and produced by Willis Kent, who made a bunch of these type of things (THE PACE THAT KILLS, THE ROAD TO RUIN, SMASHING THE VICE TRUST, CONFESSIONS OF A VICE BARON, and the immortal COCAINE FIENDS!).
Besides choruses and background beauty, Ethelreda made her mark in comedy, working with all the great comedians, including Abbott & Costello , Charlie Chaplin (THE GREAT DICTATOR), Andy Clyde, W.C. Fields (YOU CAN’T CHEAT AN HONEST MAN), Bob Hope , Harry Langdon, Laurel & Hardy , The Marx Brothers (A NIGHT IN CASABLANCA), Olsen & Johnson (HELLZAPOPPIN’, CRAZY HOUSE), and The Ritz Brothers . But it’s her work with The Three Stooges she’s fondly remembered for by Knuckleheads everywhere! Her first was 1936’s A PAIN IN THE PULLMAN, where she’s one of the chorus girls on a train kept awake by The Stooges’ madcap antics.
In HALF SHOT SHOOTERS (’36) she’s just a (pretty) face in the crowd, and GOOFS AND SADDLES (1937) finds Ethelreda as a saloon girl out West, encountering Wild Bill Hiccup (Moe), Just Plain Bill (Larry), and Buffalo Billious (Curly). In BACK TO THE WOODS (’37) she’s a Colonial maiden, WEE WEE MONSIEUR (1938) casts her as a harem girl, CALLING ALL CURS (1939) a nurse to the boy’s wacky veterinarians, NUTTY BUT NICE (1940) as a waitress, ALL THE WORLD’S A STOOGE (1941) a party guest (with the boys hired to dress and act like children – not a stretch!), MATRI-PHONY (1942) she’s Miss Syracuse in Ancient Rome.
Her two biggest Stooge appearences are among the team’s best shorts. IN THE SWEET PIE AND PIE (1941) has Ethereda as Baska, who along with her sisters Tiska (Dorothy Appleby) and Taska (Mary Ainslee) get married to three condemned convicts in order to claim an inheritance. The plan backfires when the boys are pardoned, and the girls do whatever it takes to get divorced – namely insisting they become high society gentlemen! The craziness culminates in a wild pie fight (The Stooges’ first!) and Ethelreda here was more than willing to take one for the team – a pie, that is! G.I. WANNA HOME (1946) finds The Stooges returning from WWII to their sweeties Bessie (Doris Houck), Tessie (Judy Malcolm), and Jessie (Ethelreda) and attempting to build a home for them all to live in, with the expected disastrous results!
After a 1953 appearance on TV’s THE ABBOTT & COSTELLO SHOW, Ethelreda disappeared from screens both large and small. She seems to have slipped into a life a domesticity with husband Joseph Pine, a hotel executive, and son Victor. It wasn’t until ten years later that she returned to acting – with a vengeance! Ethelreda’s list of TV credits reads like a Television Hall of Fame: HAZEL, BONANZA, BATMAN , THE MONKEES , THAT GIRL, THE ANDY GRIFFITH SHOW , IT TAKES A THIEF, BEWITCHED, MARY TYLER MOORE , THE PARTRIDGE FAMILY (4 episodes), RHODA, THE A-TEAM, HART TO HART, DYNASTY (6 episodes). Older but still attractive, Ethelreda graced many a film during this time as well: THE KILLERS (Ronald Reagan’s last movie), TWO ON A GUILLOTINE , HARUM SCARUM, MARRIAGE ON THE ROCKS, THE OSCAR, I LOVE YOU ALICE B. TOKLAS, HELLFIGHTERS, MYRA BRECKINRIDGE, THE MEPHISTO WALTZ, YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN . Wherever there was a need for a sophisticated older woman, Ethelreda was there!
Her last acting credit was an episode of MARRIED WITH CHILDREN in 1989, with Al Bundy and his lowbrow brood having a night out at a swanky restaurant! A year later, Ethelreda made a personal appearance as guest of honor at a Three Stooges Convention in Philadelphia, where she was a big hit with fandom and treated like a star. She died of pneumonia in 1998, but her legacy lives on; just watch any classic movie or TV show, and there’s a good chance Ethelreda Leopold will pop up! I don’t even think IMDB has all her complete credits listed, so keep a sharp eye out for that beautiful young blonde or elegant older woman in the background. Now that you know about Ethelreda, happy hunting!