Ilka was born April 8, 1905, to
Francis Dane and
Edna Woolman [Martin] Chase.
Her roots were in a Quaker family of Woolmans from
Burlington County, New Jersey.
Her grandmother, Laura, being the daughter of Joseph
Burr Woolman and
Anna Deacon Ivory.
She died February 15, 1978, in Mexico City, Mexico.
Ilka chase, who had a long career as an actress on stage and screen and who wrote more than a dozen books,
died of internal hemorrhaging in a hospital in Mexico City yesterday. She has been taken there from
Cuernevaca, where she and her husband, Dr. Norton S. Brown had a home. She was 72 years old.
As an actress, radio and television personality, playwright, novelist and urban sophisticate, Ilka Chase greatly
brightened her times. Referred to as a practical woman and a practiced wit, she appeared in 21 motion
pictures, and almost an equal number of plays; she wrote novels, travel books, a two-part autobiography, and
conducted a well remembered radio program, "Luncheon at the Waldorf."
For that program,she assembled a collection of tidbits, offered advice to women on careers and jobs,
interviewed the famous, all in a mixture she made her own. And with two of her ventures, in the role of
Sally Fowler in Clare Booth Luce's "The Women" and as author of a memoir, "Past Imperfect" she
became nationally famous. Yet it would be fair to say that she was as much a purveyor of her personality as
of her skills.
-Criticism Etched in Acid
Her reputation as an acidulous critic of her comtempories derived equally from the roles she played and
from the books she published. In the rile of Sally Fowler she had a part that was catty, biting, shallow and
self-centered- a woman she described incidentally as "a real monster, a dreadful woman." And in "The Big
Knife," her last motion picture, she played the role of a newspaper columinist with a foot thick.
that public image was strengthened with the publication in 1942 of "Past Imperfect," in which she took cool
aim at friends, other writers, socialites. She recalled being introduced to George Moore, the English writer
then at the height of his fame. To make conversation, she asked what he thought of Joseph Conrad. "I
don't know, my child," Miss Chase reported him as saying, " I don't read Polish."
Of Dorothy Thompson, she remarked that her gloom was gargantuan, her fighting spirit unquenchable, and
that id she didn't know as much as God, she certainly knew as much as God knew at her age. And of Clare
Boothe Luce, she said, "Clare is quick-witted on paper, but I would not say that in conversation she tossed
off witticisms at the rate of Dorothy Parker. I wouldn't say that of Dorothy Parker either."
-Refused a Society Role
But behind the apparent frivolity f those remarks was a woman who worked hard at her craft as a writer and
actor, who battled for the causes she believed in and refused to fall into the social round to which her
position in society entitled her.
Ilka (her name derived from that of a Hungarian friend of her mother) was born April 8, 1905, in New York
City, at 59th Street and First Avenue. She was proud in later years, when she lived on East 57th Street, to
say that she lived only tow blocks from where she was born.
Her mother, Edna Woolman Chase, was for almost forty years editor in chief of Vogue, the fashion
magazine. An ancestor was John Woolman, a famous Quaker of the Revolutionary War period. Miss
Chase' parents were divorced when she was still young and although the family was Quaker in outlook, she
was sent to a succession of convent schools. They were the only ones, she said later, that would take in a
child of 5.
-From Broadway to Hollywood.
At 16, she was offered a chance to go to school in France and she jumped at it, remaining a Francophile- in
spite of some disagreements- for the rest of her life. After two years she came back and was introduced into
society at the Cosmopolitan Club. But she determined to make a place for herself as an actress, an ambition
she had long nurtured.
After a season in stock with the Stuart Miller Company, she joined that of Henry Miller, whom she regarded
as one of the great actor-managers. With that company she appeared in "The Red Falcon," a costume
drama and in "embers." After the 1926 season and a divorce from Louis Calhern, the actor, she went to
Hollywood, where then and later she appeared in a succession of films.
In 1930, she appeared in "Fast and Loose" with a stellar cast that included Frank Morgan, Carole Lombard
and Miriam Hopkins. She joined Dorothy Mackain, John Halliday and George Brent in "Once a Sinner." a
movie that was directed by Guthrie McClintic. In 1932, she appeared with Ann Harding, Leslie Howard,
Myrna Loy and Neil Hamilton in a film adaptation of Philip Barry's "the Animal Kingdom." Perhaps her
best known film was "Now Voyager," with Bette Davis , Paul Henreid, Claude Rains and Gladys Cooper.
On Broadway, her credits were equally varied. She appeared in Eugene O'Neill's "days without End." a
tragic drama that was not a success. With Tallulah Bankhead, she was seen in "Forsaking All Other,"
which Thomas Mitchell directed, and she appeared, too, in Anthony Kimis's farce, "While Parents Sleep."
With Worthington Miner, Josephine Hull and Myron Mccormick she appeared in another light offering.
"On to Fortune," by Lawrence-Landner and Armina Marshall.
"Co-Respondent Unknown," a comedy about a divorce case provided roles for her, james Rennie, Peggy
Conklin and Phyllis Povah. She also tried her skills in two musicals, "Revenge With Music," with Libby
Holman and Charles Winninger, and "Keep Off the Grass," a lighthearted revue that had Jimmy Durante
and Ray Bolger as its chief performers.
In one venture, she served a triple function: that was in the adaptation of her own novel, "In Bed We Cry,"
in which she also took the main role. "this Actress," she wrote in the script, "should look and act exactly
like Ilka Chase."
There was, however, a serious side to Miss Chase that her many readers may have known little about. She
was active in the protection and preservation of wildlife, served frequently in fund drives for the United
Hospital Funds and during World War II, early on urged help for Britain and worked to assemble clothing
and other goods for the British. As a member of the Council of Actors Equity, she went to the defense of of
five other members after Frank Fay had accused them of being "the tool of Un-American organizations"
because they appeared at a rally for Spanish refugees. She also lent support to Phillip Loeb, the late actor
who suffered from blacklisting, after he had been denied a place on the regular ticket for Equity Council.
And toward the end of her life, she bemoaned what she felt was the homogenization of the American
After her divorce from Mr. Calhern, she married William B. Murray, a radio executive. That marriage too,
ended in divorce. She was married for a third time, in 1945, to Dr. Brown, who survives.
|Ilka's obituary, as it appeared in the New York Times,
February 16, 1978-
If you know a Woolman descendant that
should be on this page, email me!