Saturday, April 24, 2010

"Blondie" - My Hollywood Connection

As a child I loved watching old comedies on TV. My favorites included the serials “Our Gang”, “Henry Aldrich”, "Andy Hardy" and “Blondie”. One day I was surprised and thrilled when my father said, “I’m related to the ‘Blondie’ director Frank Strayer.” We had a Hollywood connection! I asked my Dad some questions and soon discovered that he had no idea how he was related. This was a story told to him by his father John Earl Ribling.

I did not grow up surrounded by relatives. My Dad had a career in the USAF. We moved every few years. We lived for about 6 years in Illinois at Chanute AFB in Rantoul. My father’s parents lived in Beardstown. We visited them only a few times when I was very young. I never really got to know my grandparents but I was very close to my paternal grandfather and have fond memories of him.

Many years later when I was much older and already researching my ancestry I decided to investigate my “Hollywood Connection”. Surely, T thought, it would be easy to learn a lot about a Hollywood director especially one who had directed such a popular comedy series. How wrong I was.

A search for information on Frank Strayer was mostly a dead end. I could find Filmographys. I even discovered that his parents were Reuben Strayer and Elizabeth Ribling. At last I knew what the Ribling connection was but, who was Elizabeth Ribling and how was she related to my father?

RIBLING is an uncommon name. I knew from my father that his family was from Johnstown, PA. I began to search genealogy sites and surname boards. I discovered that at least two men named Henry Ribling had been German immigrants. I even found a German immigrant named Henry Ribling who fought in the Civil War. He had been drafted into the Union Army near the end of the war. I could not connect any of these men to my grandfather. I met, online, others who were also researching RIBLING or REIBLING or other variations but none of them knew about my family.

My father told me that his grandfather had owned a funeral parlor and a furniture store in Pennsylvania. One day, online, I received an e-mail from a woman whose elderly relative owned furniture that had been purchased from Henry Ribling in Clearfield Co., PA. Sadly, this contact was reluctant to correspond further and I heard nothing more from her.

I subscribed to some online libraries and that led to a history of Clearfield Co. In the book I found a sketch of Henry Ribling who was a noted PA muralist. He had painted murals in many public buildings. When he retired from painting he opened a funeral parlor and furniture store in Clearfield. The sketch included the names of Henry’s wife Susan Harmick and all of his children including Elizabeth Ribling Strayer and George Ribling. George Ribling was my grandfather’s father! Here at last was the family connection to Hollywood! Elizabeth and Frank Strayer were my grandfather’s aunt and uncle. A Family Tradition proved! I was probably about 6 years old when I first heard the tale. I was 59 when I had the answer.

Now I have a subscription to a newspaper archive and have learned even more about Frank Strayer. He was born in Altoona, PA. He attended Wilkinsburg High School in Wilkinsburg, PA, and he was a graduate in Engineering at Carnegie Technical Institute. He worked as an engineer for a short time and then went to Hollywood where he acted in at least one film before directing his first film at Columbia. He directed at twelve of the “Blondie” comedies including the first one in 1938. In 1942 a newspaper article about Daisy the dog stated that according to Frank Strayer who had directed the dog in all 10 “Blondie” pictures at that time, Daisy had never “blown” a scene.

NOTE: The photo is of my Grt-grandparents Annie (Thomas) and George Ribling. It was taken for their 50th wedding anniversary. They were the Aunt and Uncle of Director Frank Strayer.

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