Thursday, September 14, 2017

1919-1934 Carole's Early Years

Carole at age eight

Carole's early days were filled with heartache and dreams of stardom. She was born in the small town of Fairchild, Wisconsin on January 1, 1919. Her birth name was Frances Lillian Ridste. She was named after her German grandmother Francis Sentek. Her father Alfred Ridste was a railroad worker and her mother Clara Sentek Ridste was a housewife. Carole had four older siblings - Lawrence, Lewis, Jerome, and Dorothy. Sadly her brother Jerome had died in 1917 after being burned by boiling water. In the Spring of 1919 the family moved to Denton, Montana. Clara began having a relationship with Charles Fenner, a longtime family friend. She filed for divorce and Alfred sued Charles for alienation of affection. The divorce became so messy that Carole and her siblings were put in Foster care for a short time.

Lewis, Lawrence, Carole, Clara Ridste, and Dorothy                                                                                

There is speculation that Charles Fenner may be Carole's biological father. Clara married Charles in December of 1919 but the marriage only lasted eighteen months, Then she took the children to San Diego, California where she reunited with Alfred. In 1923 the entire family relocated to San Bernardino and moved into a tiny home at 175 Bryant Street. A few years later Alfred walked out on Clara leaving her to raise the children alone. They were very poor and Carole's older sister Dorothy often watched her while their mother worked. Carole was a beautiful child with blonde hair and blue eyes. Everyone called her "Baby Doll". According to family sources Carole was sexually molested by a relative during her childhood. Tragically in 1925 her ten year old brother Lewis died after he was accidentally shot with gun. 

    Lewis, Dorothy. Alfred Ridste, Carole, and Lawrence                                         

From a young age Carole dreamed about becoming a movie star. She loved watching The Gish sisters and covered her walls with photos of Kay Francis and Mary Astor. When Carole was nine she impulsively ran onstage during a local talent show and started singing. Soon after she won her first talent contest by singing "Yes Sir That's My Baby" and dancing the Charleston. She started taking dance lessons and performed with her sister in clubs throughout California. By the time Carole was twelve she was winning beauty contests. She attended Sturges junior high school where she was a decent student but often skipped her classes. Carole said "I always seemed so much older than the other kids my age - they seemed like tots."

Helen Ridste, Dorothy, Clara Ridste, and Carole                                                                       

She enjoyed playing sports especially baseball and volleyball. Carole even tried to start an all girl football team! She was raised a Catholic and attended church every Sunday. Her philosophy was "Pass the good deed along". Carole blossomed into a voluptuous teenager who was "boy crazy". In the Fall of 1933 she met twenty year old Irving Kay Wheeler, a civilian conservation corps worker, from Benning, California. They eloped on January 14, 1934 in Yuma, Arizona. Because Carole was only fifteen she lied about her age on the marriage license. When her mother found out she had the marriage annulled and Irving was arrested. In August of 1934 the couple got Alfred Ridste's consent and were married again.

   Carole, Irving Wheeler, and Dorothy                                                                      

Carole and Irving moved into a one room apartment with no refrigerator. After three weeks of marriage she walked out on her husband. She dropped out of school and got a job working at a restaurant where she earned $2 a day plus tips. Carole started saving money so she could move away and become an actress. Years later her father Alfred said "When she was five years old we knew she had unusual talents. Without any professional training whatever she learned to sing an dance beautifully - and we were confident she would achieve her goal to become an actress.". Unfortunately Carole and her father remained estranged for most of her adult life. The last time they saw each other was in 1942. Alfred Ridste died in 1973 at the age of eighty-one.

Clara Ridste and Carole in 1923                                                                                     Carole at age seven

Carole with her grandparents                                                                  Dorothy, Lawrence, and Carole   

Carole's childhood home in 2012                                                                Carole's 1934 wedding license