Who Am I?–North Carolina Azalea Festival Edition

Azalea blossomsWilmington’s 61st annual North Carolina Azalea Festival kicks off next week (April 9-13). Hugh Morton played an integral role in the event’s founding: while only in his twenties, he was selected to serve as president of the inaugural festival in 1948. (A letter from Morton on the festival’s website explains that when he missed a committee meeting, they responded by electing him president). As Susan Taylor Block writes in “Clan MacRae,” an article in the 4/2007 issue of Wrightsville Beach magazine, Morton deserves credit not only for Wilmington’s Azalea Festival, but also many of its azalea plants:

Morton had worked diligently since 1946 to make the 1948 Azalea Festival debut a success. He encouraged Wilmingtonians to plant azaleas, persuaded the local government to plant an additional 175,000 azaleas at Greenfield Lake and recruited garden clubs to transplant azaleas from their own private gardens to public spaces. Morton encouraged the festival fathers to be careful stewards of the event’s ticket take, seek out quality in celebrity guests and make the azalea itself the guest of honor. He knew that if the first festival ended up in the red, it would be the last.

North Carolina Azalea Festival negatives in the Morton collection are numerous and mostly in good shape, but not well-documented. The early years of the festival (from 1948 to about 1958) are best represented, but little identifying information is provided other than the year (if that). Fortunately, we have at least one good source to work from—historian Block’s 2004 book Belles & Blooms, heavily illustrated by Morton’s photos. Block’s time line will help us pin down some of the major details, like who was queen in what year, what celebrities attended, etc.
In the meantime, though, we’re asking you to help us put names to faces in some of these early shots.
Unidentified celebrities at the Azalea Festival, Wilmington, NC, ca. early 1950s
Judging from the enormous fur coat and all the cameras pointed at them, I’m guessing that these people are famous. But who are they?
Azalea Festival group at the airport, Wilmington, NC, 1950
The image above was taken at the 1950 Azalea Festival. I can’t read any of the name tags, but I do see that the man on the far right (in the headdress) has a program from “Unto These Hills” (an outdoor drama performed at Cherokee, North Carolina) in his pocket.
Grady Cole (L) and unidentified woman holding up an X-ray, Wilmington, NC, ca. early 1950s
The man in this photo is Grady Cole, talk radio celebrity with WBT Radio in Charlotte, North Carolina (and frequent Morton photo subject in the early 1950s). But who is the woman—and is she the same woman from the previous photo? Most importantly, why are they holding up what looks like an x-ray of somebody’s spine?!

23 thoughts on “Who Am I?–North Carolina Azalea Festival Edition”

  1. And you know what? I think YOU might be right. Andy WAS here in 1958, but that same year there was a fellow here named John Bromfield. Both are pictured together on page 50 of my book Belles and Blooms that I think is in the NC Collection. As I look at it through a loop, I think it is Bromfield.

  2. The bottom photo looks like it was taken on Chestnut Street, looking west towards the Cape Fear River. The woman may be Ella Raines, Azalea Queen for the 1954 festival.
    The 1950 Azalea queen was Gregg Sherwood, a stunning blond. So I’m not sure who the girl is in the 1950 photo is. The older man holding his hat is Wilmington Mayor E. L. White.

  3. Elizabeth:
    I don’t have any positive identifications for the people in the bottom two pictures, but I can offer some ideas for your consideration. The couple in the center of the second photograph could be Mr. and Mrs. Doak Walker. Doak Walker was an All America football star at SMU at the same time Charlie Justice was at UNC. They were good friends and both attended the 1950 Festival. Look on page 112 of the 1958 book by Bob Quincy and Julian Scheer, “Choo Choo: The Charlie Justice Story.” There is a Morton picture of the 1950 Azalea Festival Parade with Doak and his wife Norma and Charlie and Sarah Justice. (Note Doak’s tie in both shots).
    In the same picture, the gentleman on the left with dark rimmed glasses could be famous ABC sports announcer Harry Wismer. It would be logical for him to be with Doak Walker. I don’t know if Wismer was at the Festival in 1950, but according to a 1952 Azalea Festival promotional brochure, he was there in ’52.
    In the bottom photograph, the young woman with Grady Cole could be Miss Dot Massy of Kinston. She was May Queen at Salem College in 1950 and attended the Festival that year. Look at the Morton photograph on page 3 of “The State” magazine for April 15. 1950. Miss Massy is on the far right. (Again, look at Doak’s tie).
    I wish I could be of more help, but I really enjoy looking and guessing.

  4. It looks to me like Grady Cole and the unidentified woman in the bottom picture are holding up a chest X-ray. I would venture a guess that a mobile tuberculosis-screening unit (a bus fitted with X-ray and staffed with technicians) was passing through and that the woman (celebrity?) might be there to encourage citizens to take part.

  5. Wow, thanks to all for the input. Some additional thoughts:
    Re the top photo, I guess we have to rule it a mystery for now. Andy Griffith is ruled out, and I actually don’t think it’s John Bromfield either (after looking at some other pics of him). Great suggestions, though! Just shows how subjective photo ID can be.
    We’re doing better with photo #2. Susan helped us with Mayor E. L. White. I think Jack is on the money with the Harry Wismer and Doak Walker IDs. And, I now suspect the man on the far right may be McKinley Ross, who was then Vice Chief of the Eastern Band of Cherokee. “Unto These Hills” premiered July 1, 1950, only a few months after this photo was taken, and Ross was heavily involved in promoting the new outdoor drama.
    Last photo: I think Patrick is probably right about the TB screening — good call! I looked at “The State” photo, and while I don’t think the woman is Dot Massy, I do think Jack is on the right track as far as beauty queens. Could this be a Miss NC? Those pretty brunettes are very hard to tell apart.

  6. Thank you, Elizabeth, for the link to Waterfalls of the Carolinas.. Some fantastic photos there.
    A few more comments about the Azalea Festival post of April 1st. I think you and Ron Holland are correct in identifying Kathryn Grayson, the 1957 Azalea Festival Queen. Check out photos at this link for comparison.
    As you suggest, Margaret Sheridan and Martha Hyer are good possibilities for the lady with Grady Cole.
    Sheridan photos at: http://www.flixster.com/actor/margaret-sheridan/photos?p=9329249
    There are 2 great Morton photos of Martha Hyer in “The State” magazine issue of April 16, 1949, on page 5. (You know, an interesting sidebar to your research would be to determine how many “State” magazine covers Hugh Morton has to his credit).
    Other possibilities for the lady with Grady Cole… Miss North Carolina 1950, Carolyn Edwards of Leaksville. She is pictured on “The State” magazine cover for July 15, 1950. Miss North Carolina 1952, Barbara Anne Harris, is pictured on “The State” cover of August 2, 1952.
    Finally, I ran across an interesting picture on page 111 of Susan Taylor Block’s 2004 book, “Belles & Blooms: Cape Fear Garden Club and the North Carolina Azalea Festival.” The small Morton photo shows Mr. & Mrs. Ted Malone with the 1948 Queen. Ted Malone was an ABC Radio personality who visited the Festival several times. Does his wife (pictured on the left) look like the lady with Grady Cole?

  7. A few more updates on the top photo with Kathryn Grayson. First, I’m happy to announce that our own Bill Richards (of the library’s Digital Production Center) positively ID’d our big-haired gentleman as cowboy actor Dale Robertson. Thanks, Bill!
    Is that Debbie Reynolds next to him, as Cecelia suspects? I’m not sure. It does look a lot like her, but when I look at other pictures from the same period (e.g., this one), her hair looks a lot darker. Does anyone know if Reynolds attended the AZ Fest?

  8. The man standing to the left of the lady who appears to be Kathryn Grayson could be motion picture and TV star, Dale Robertson.

  9. I also believe that the blonde is another actress by the name of Sally Forest. Someone might want to do some checking and see if iam not right.

  10. Could the following two images from the McCauley Collection relate in any way to the 3rd image in this post?
    Technician and woman talk as x – ray is prepared (Tuberculosis screening mobile station), 1950
    1 of 2
    Technician and woman talk as x – ray is prepared (Tuberculosis screening mobile station), 1950
    2 of 2

  11. Blonde actress mystery solved — it is definitely Diane Jergens. I found another photo of her at the 1957 Festival, and this time it was labeled! Kudos to Tim Mason for figuring it out.

  12. I give up! I was sure the lady in the fur coat was Katherine Grayson. How quickly we forget! I do not remember Debbie Reynolds ever coming to the Festival, but there were many, many festivals. I do remember that Doak and Norma and Charlie and Sarah stayed with Hugh and me. The Festival didn’t have as much available money back in those days, and they were our friends. Charlie told us later that Norma was offended when we took them to an oyster roast on the Sound. She thought it was a put down. I remember my first oyster roast, and I can understand how she might have misjudged our efforts at hospitality. Hardly downtown Dallas. Doak beat Charlie out for the Hiesman (sp?)Trophy that year. Even more significant since he weas too young to have been in the service and played service ball like Charlie had. Great ball player, but it was a different game back in those days, they tell me.

  13. Just a bit of additional information about image #2. I was doing some research today on a Doak Walker profile for the College Football Historical Society. In the “Dallas Morning News” issue of March 18, 1950, I found the wedding announcement for Doak Walker and Norma Peterson who were married on Friday night, March 17, 1950. The article says, they will “leave for Canada early next week.” Then adds, “the newlyweds will take another trip to North Carolina soon after they return.” That second trip must be the 1950 Azalea Festival which was held March 29 to April 1, 1950.

  14. yes the lady in the bottom photo is Miss America, Neva Jane Langley. She was from Georgia. She just passed away this past year.

  15. In the top photo, there is no question but that the tall man in in the dark suit is the Western actor, Dale Robertson, of Wells Fargo fame. I watch the show now on Encore and it is him, smile, dimples and all. Why he was on the East Coast is a bit of a mystery to me, as his usual stomping grounds were in the West. Good-lookin’, though!

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