Woman’s Experience of Show Business Documented in June Knight Papers

Knight at the Paramount Theatre, 1933

Actress, singer and dancer June Knight was born Margaret Rose Vallikett, January 22, 1913 in Los Angeles, California. An only child to parents Holley and Beryl Vallikett, Margaret Rose turned an early handicap into a very successful career. Due to health problems, she was almost forced into show business.

Margaret Rose was diagnosed with infantile paralysis soon after birth, then a whole list of other illnesses befell her. At the age of twenty months, she contracted the measles. The very next day she was diagnosed with scarlet fever and almost died. She slowly got better, but remained very weak. Soon after recovering from scarlet fever, she got diphtheria, and was not fully recovered from the diphtheria when she contracted a mastoid infection. She then developed pneumonia followed by whooping cough. Her parents and doctors did not expect her to live through one more night. Then at age four she got tuberculosis.

Margaret had been sick so long and was so weak that her father sent her and her mother to live in Arizona. After several months, they returned to L.A. She was then five years old and while her lungs were stronger, she was still unable to walk. Her legs were too frail to support the weight of her body, and even when sitting, her back had to be supported because it was so weak. At that point, doctors predicted Margaret had just two years to live. With her mother’s help, Margaret would try to drag herself around for a few minutes at a time. There began to be signs of improvement, and she was shown leg exercises that she could easily do in bed.

By the time she was six, Margaret was able to walk by herself but her legs were still very weak. A doctor told her mother that dancing would help strengthen them, so she enrolled Margaret in a dancing class. Gradually Margaret’s legs became stronger, and after only one year she was the star pupil of the dance school.

Margaret’s first job came at age nine, with a leading role in juvenile theater. Her slot in the children’s chorus of movie palace (Grauman’s Egyptian Theater) prologues to Son of the Sheik (starring Rudolph Valentino) and Al Jolson’s The Singing Fool among others propelled her into full-time stage work. At age 13 she got her first stage role as a dancer in Vaudeville and in 1927 became a member of “The Gingham Girls,” an act that eventually went on tour in Fanchon and Marco’s revue Pep Idea. She appeared in the dance chorus of Gold Diggers of Broadway and also worked with the Duncan Sisters in the prologue of their film Topsy & Eva. She became a member of the dancing stock company at Warner Bros. Studios in 1928, when musicals were in their heyday. Her performances in dance choruses in the late 1920s earned her $30 to $45 per week.

At age 15, she was dubbed a “headline girl” and adopted the stage name Marie Valli. Cecil B. DeMille heard her singing one day and immediately signed her. Her first bit part was in Warner Brothers’ 1929 film On With The Show, the first feature-length movie filmed entirely in color. After doing some work with Vitaphone in 1929, Marie had the opportunity to go to New York and appear in the well-known musical Fifty Million Frenchmen. At this time, however, her mother became very ill so Marie left the show and returned to Hollywood.

In 1930 Marie was signed for the dance stock of Babes in Toyland and was then given a bit part in DeMille’s Madame Satan, a film noted for the costume Marie wore which consisted of more than 2,000 yards of pink silk net. At age 17 she was invited to MGM studios to perform an oriental dance. She had never done this type of dance before, but made such an impression that she became Greta Garbo’s double in the dance scenes of the 1931 film Mata Hari. Marie also had a part in the 1930 musical touring company of Girl Crazy starring with Ethel Merman and Ginger Rogers.

In 1931 at the age of 18, Marie became the dance partner of Jack Holland, earning $200 per week. Jack and Marie were an exhibition dance team. They danced at the famous Cocoanut Grove where they were an instant success and soon became known as one of the most popular dance teams on the West Coast. Jack Holland gave Marie the stage name “June Knight,” the name of his previous dance partner. In April 1932, Marie Valli (Margaret Rose Vallikett) legally changed her name to June Knight. June later had to sue Jack Holland for the complete rights to her now legal name because after she left the partnership, he gave her replacement the same name.

Her next engagement after Girl Crazy was with Florenz Ziegfeld, Jr. Mr. Ziegfeld had heard about June and signed her for his new show Hot-Cha! in 1932, along with Lupe Velez and Bert Lahr. Although she was signed to sing in this show, June wanted to dance. The day she signed the contract she had to be rushed to the hospital for an emergency appendectomy. While in the hospital she received a note from Mr. Ziegfeld that read, “Even if you are stubborn and want to dance, the Almighty says NO, you’ll sing.” So sing she did, for a salary of $300 per week. June was said to be the last girl “glorified” by the great Ziegfeld, who died in 1932.

In 1932 June also appeared on Broadway in Humpty Dumpty and in the stage version of Take A Chance, with Ethel Merman and Jack Haley. In 1933, she was offered a starring role in Paramount’s film version of the same play, making $1,000 per week.

Paramount Theatre, New York, New York, 1933

While appearing on Broadway, talent scouts from Universal Film Company saw June and offered her a screen test. She signed with Universal in March 1933 and starred in her first Universal Picture, Ladies Must Love. In 1934 she played roles in the films Cross Country Cruise and Wake Up And Dream with Russ Columbo. After making the film Gift of Gab, June quit Universal because she didn’t like the role she was given in Wake Up And Dream and wanted to free-lance. Universal released her out of her contract in September 1934.

In June 1934, June bought a walnut ranch in California and gave it to her parents. Her personal life was quite eventful about this same time also. The press said that she was, “Always reportedly engaged to someone.” She had been engaged once in 1932 to actor Jimmy Dunn (who co-starred in Take A Chance) but he called it off. She had also been seen with heavyweight boxing champ Max Baer. When she was in-between romantic engagements, June always wore a diamond ring on her left hand for good luck, given to her when she was a young girl by her father.

In March 1934, June met Paul Ames, a Palm Beach stockbroker. It was rumored that she had been forced to turn down three New York stage offers in order to keep Paul, who preferred to live in Hollywood. Paul and June were married November 30, 1934, and separated less than two weeks later. Their honeymoon was reportedly ruined by Paul’s insistence that their Best Man accompany them on the trip. They were divorced soon after in Florida.

In October 1934 June signed a contract with Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM) Studios. She sang and danced in the 1935 film Broadway Melody of 1936, which won an Academy Award for best production number that year. She then immediately returned to the New York stage for the lead in Cole Porter’s Jubilee. Cole Porter productions were June’s specialty. While starring in Jubilee, she earned the highest paid salary on Broadway at that time – $1,125 per week.

June broke her contract with MGM in 1936 to go to England because she didn’t like the movie parts that she was being offered. She became disillusioned because MGM producers wanted her to do dramatic roles instead of the musical comedy parts she desired. After Broadway Melody was finished and Jubilee ended, June went to England to appear on stage and reportedly took London by storm in a series of musicals and movies.

The 1936 stage revue Going Places brought June great individual success in England, but the show had a short run. She then made the British film The Lilac Domino. The London press dubbed June the “New ‘IT’ Girl” with “sex appeal to the nth degree.” She was an overnight, sensational success, earning $3,250 (US) per week. After The Lilac Domino she went immediately into rehearsal for the stage show And On We Go, which was another success for June personally, but also had a short run. After making the 1937 film Break The News, she left England and returned to the U.S. to star in Cole Porter’s Leave It To Me.

June walked away from Leave It To Me for another man, Arthur Cameron, a Texas oil millionaire she had only known for a few months. Cole Porter had written a number for her, which was to be followed by an innocent strip tease. Cameron objected to the strip tease and gave June an ultimatum. She was forced to make a choice between staying in the show or being with him, so she quit the show, opting for marriage and a family, and announced their engagement. June was replaced in Leave It To Me by a then unknown actress named Mary Martin, who went on to become a star in her own right. She did delay her wedding to Cameron to complete a role in the film Vacation From Love. They were married in 1938, a marriage that lasted five years. She was 25, he was 38.

June’s next film was House Across the Bay in 1940. In 1943 she divorced Arthur Cameron and emerged from retirement in 1944 to star on the New York stage in Dream With Music, at a salary of $650 per week. She quit the show after only four weeks due to dissatisfaction with her role. 1944 also saw June on the stage in Glad To See You.

Next, June would appear in a series of Army/Air Force War Bond Shows entitled Shot From the Skies. Cole Porter gave June permission to rewrite his song, “Love For Sale,” into the bond-selling song, “Bonds For Sale.” The shows were done to help boost war loan drives. June also participated in the Boston Port Security program – a broadcast campaign to safeguard war information.

Now approaching the end of her theatrical career, June played on stage in the 1945 play The Overtons (Or Married Alive). In 1946 she co-starred in what was supposed to be her final Broadway show, The Would-Be Gentleman, with Bobby Clark but she toured with him one last time in 1947 in Sweethearts.

In 1949 June retired from stage and screen for good when she married Carl B. Squier. Squier, a top executive of Lockheed Aircraft, had the distinction of being the 13th licensed pilot in the United States. The marriage lasted 18 years, until his death in 1967. Two years after Squier’s death June married Jack Buehler, another Lockheed executive and close friend of her and her late husband. She was married to him from 1969 until her death.

In addition to her acting, singing and dancing career, June had many other hobbies and talents to occupy her spare time. One of her favorite activities was sketching and painting. She would sketch or paint her friends and co-stars, fashion illustrations, and works of pure fantasy. Her art would occasionally be shown and sometimes sold. Another favorite activity was needlework. June could be found backstage between scenes knitting or doing embroidery to pass the time. She was also a writer and wrote for various motion picture magazines about beauty secrets, including hair and makeup tips, and wrote an article about her experiences working with actor Robert Taylor. June designed her own clothes and actually designed all her costumes for the London stage play Going Places.

Perhaps the most surprising of all June’s hobbies was that of being an inventor. In 1936 she designed the “Widow’s Peak Coiffure Clip,” a fashion accessory that fastened on the hair at the forehead, decorated with plain and baguette diamonds. In 1945 she proposed a new perfume line called “Embraceable,” and also the “Tip Toes” or “Mad Money” garter. The garter was made from lace with a small, inch square change purse attached, decorated with a lace rosette and red satin ribbon. The garter was to be worn just above the knee, pretty enough to be seen if the wind caught a girl’s skirt. The change purse was large enough to hold taxi fare home if needed after an “eventful” date. Girls used to carry money for this reason in their shoes, and June thought a garter would be much more comfortable.

In 1946 June invented the “June Chic” collapsible camp toilet. The idea came to her after she was invited to go on a camping trip with friends. June was wary of finding the necessary “facilities” out in the woods, so she invented a type of “portable powder room.” A friend of June’s, Carl Bruno, drew up plans for the “June Chic” and also for the “Magic Wonder Automatic Climbing Stilts” along with marketing plans and patent searches.

June Knight Buehler died June 16, 1987, of complications from a stroke that she had suffered several weeks earlier. She was 74. Honored on Hollywood’s famous “Walk of Fame,” June’s star is at 6247 Hollywood Blvd., on the north side of the street between Vine Street and the Pantages Theater.

Former AHC archivist, Ronda Frazier, processed the Knight Papers in 2002.  The finding aid for the collection contains detailed information about its contents.

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2 Responses to Woman’s Experience of Show Business Documented in June Knight Papers

  1. Jim Carmichael says:

    I met June and Carl when I was a child in Marietta, Georgia (my father was associated with Lockheed). They stopped by the house for drinks–this must have been about 1954. She Had a jeweled gold music-box cigarette lighter that I remember very well. She sent me an autographed photo of herself and secured another of Jane Russell who was a favorite of mine. A very kind lady to an eight-year old!

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