Zula Fisher, Aspiring Film Actress
One of the most striking portraits in my family’s collection is that of my great-grandmother, Zula Lucrece (Fisher) Ley, holding her infant son, my grandpa, Robert Earl Ley, Jr.
The portrait is made more poignant, certainly, by knowing the rest of their story.
How Zula, at 24, would die of influenza while pregnant with her second child, a daughter. And grandpa grew up for a time in the care of Zula’s parents, John William and Addie May, before rejoining his father and stepmother’s household years later.
Zula’s beauty and youth are all the more touching and tragic, knowing more details of her character.
A New Philadelphia Daily Times story from when she was 20 captures her foray into national beauty contests designed to screen test potential movie stars.
Zula Fisher Cracks 1916’s Top 100
From the front page, Tuesday, May 9, 1916:
The beauty and brains contest, a nation wide enterprise, which, under the guidance of the World-Equitable Motion Picture Corporation, has been running for he past eight months in the Photoplay Magazine, is drawing to a close. Lillian Russell, one of the judges, has made the first selection.
Miss Zula Fisher of New Philadelphia, one of the original candidates, was selected by Miss Russell and is one of the hundred who will enter the final elimination. The elimination is now going forward to select the eleven successful candidates.
Miss Zula Fisher, when the contest originated, was prevalied upon to send her photograph with the result that when the eight thousand likenesses were gone over she was selected as one of the hundred most likely film subjects by Lillian Russell. The contest called for an equal amount of brains and beauty. It was essential for the candidate to write a letter in her own hand-writing, stating her reasons for desiring to become a film actress. The applicants, or candidates were then grouped as to the section of the country in which they lived and two candidates from five different sections will finally be chosen. Lillian Russell, Sophie Irene Loeb, a noted New York society writer, William A. Brady, the famous theatrical manager, are the judges. There will be ten winning candidates from the United States and one from Canada.
The eleven successful young ladies will be taken to New York, a month will be devoted to teaching them the value of various dramatic angles, and then those who show proper interest and sufficient ability, will become permanent members of the World and Equitable stock companies, and at goodly salaries appear in films.
Lectures, theatre parties, studio lessons and a number of events are carded for the successful candidates and it is very likely that Miss Fisher, will be one of the successful entrants.
Pretty neat, eh? Considering the obvious beauty of subsequent generations of Ley girls (and presumably, Fisher girls, too), and a connection to a certain modeling aunt of mine, Heather Ley, Zula’s youngest granddaughter.
Would have been nice — awesome, even — to lay eyes on her contest photo, or her entry write-up. Alas.
A quick search of Photoplay magazines from the period reveals what we (probably) already knew: Zula didn’t make the cut. Seems the contest was done and dusted as early as February that year, but the magazine and film corp kept the public in suspense. How might life have changed for Zula — and us, her descendants — had her film dreams played out?
Thursday, another fun fact — and mystery — from her life a year or so later.