If you’re new to Mystery Dancer, welcome! The best place to start is at the beginning and go from there.
AS URSULA AND ELIZABETH settled into Honolulu life, they began to socialize with other young women who lived and worked in the city—both newcomers like themselves, as well as at least one longtime Honolulu resident who was a “frequent flyer” in the local newspapers’ “Society” pages.
On the evening of July 12, 1928, Ursula and Elizabeth traveled several blocks from their apartment to visit the home of their new friends Betty Schlarb, Marie Harbor and Anita Osberg for a bridge party. The trio had decorated their two-bedroom Haulani Court cottage—one of a group of 14 rental properties right on Waikiki Beach—in a color scheme of orange and green for the occasion. The hosts and their 18 guests, all women, vied for game prizes reserved for the highest scorers.
Originally from Washington State, Betty, Marie and Anita had sailed from Seattle to Honolulu in mid-April of that year. It’s not clear if Betty and Marie, who were Beta Phi Alpha sorority sisters at the University of Washington, knew Anita beforehand or had become friends with her on the cruise ship.
Exactly six months after the bridge party, their cozy cottage would be the site of another festive party: Betty’s wedding, with Marie serving as maid of honor, and Anita as a bridesmaid. Betty, who worked as a stenographer at the Radio Corporation of America, would marry a U.S. Air Corps lieutenant who was stationed at Luke Field in Pearl Harbor. Ursula would not be able to attend the wedding, however, as she would leave Hawaii a week earlier.
Later in 1929, Marie, who worked as a stenographer for a real estate company, would also get hitched in Honolulu, to a basketball player with the commercial team The Hawaiian Pines. Anita, who never married, worked back then as an advertising clerk for the company that published The Honolulu Advertiser, and later for many years as a classified advertising salesperson for the Honolulu Star-Bulletin. All three women would spend much of their adult lives as residents of Hawaii. I wonder if Ursula stayed in touch with any of them?
Two days after the evening bridge party, Ursula and Elizabeth attended another bridge party with a whole different set of acquaintances, in a more elegant setting: afternoon tea at The Royal Hawaiian Hotel. Their new friend Rita Reynolds, who was born in South Africa and raised in Honolulu, had invited more than 30 guests to make up eight tables of players.
Ursula and Rita had a lot in common. Like Ursula, Rita, who was a few years younger, came from a socially prominent family; by age seven, her name started appearing in the Honolulu “Society” pages. Around the same age that Ursula was studying acting, singing and dancing at the Egan School in Los Angeles, Rita attended Madam Lester’s dancing academy in Honolulu. She would go on to perform in pageants, plays and other productions throughout her youth and early adulthood, as reported in news articles and photo features.
As a young woman, Rita was a noted guest at many social events in the city, and began modeling clothing for local shops, including Liberty House. (This once-thriving Hawaiian department store has a fascinating history, which you can read about in the really cool online Department Store Museum.)
Rita’s father, Arthur, an esteemed architect, had died in 1925, when Rita was around 20. In 1928, when she invited Ursula to her bridge party, Rita was living with her mother and working as a secretary to the manager of the General Motors Acceptance Corporation, an automobile financing company. Rita would eventually marry and leave Honolulu for Philadelphia.
Bridge events—teas, luncheons and evening parties—were popular affairs in the 1920s, but Honolulu was not all fun and games back then, as Ursula would soon learn.
[Sources used for this post include The Honolulu Advertiser, Honolulu Star-Bulletin, the 1928-1929 Directory of Honolulu and the Territory of Hawaii, and U.S. Census records.]