Lenore Shanewise was a distinguished graduate of the University of Northern Iowa. Over the course of her long life, she served as a member of the faculties of several colleges; as a talented actress and professional interpretative reader; as a director of drama both locally and nationally; as a renowned teacher of the dramatic arts; and as a performer in television and motion pictures.
Miss Shanewise's talents took her from her birthplace in Waterloo, Iowa, and her alma mater in Cedar Falls, Iowa, to California, where she worked with well-known actors and actresses for over forty years. This brief essay will concentrate on her early life, but it will also document at least the highlights of her long years of success in Hollywood.
The Shanewise Family
Lenore B. Shanewise was born October 12, 1887, in Denver, Iowa, a small town in Bremer County. She was the second child of John Bauman Shanewise and Alice Perry Shanewise. Her brother, Maurice Earl Shanewise, was born May 4, 1886. Her sister, Anna Barbara Shanewise, was born August 14, 1889. John Shanewise kept a small store in Denver, Iowa. When the children were still quite young, the family moved to Waterloo, Iowa, in order to give the children better educational opportunities.
Lenore Shanewise's father, John Bauman Shanewise, was born in Illinois on May 23, 1859. He was of German descent. John Shanewise's father, Friedrich Shanewise, was born on January 19, 1821, and died in Waterloo, Iowa, on July 26, 1891. John Shanewise's mother, Barbara Christine Bauman, was born on November 2, 1827, and died in Bremer County, Iowa, on September 25, 1898. Both of John Bauman Shanewise's parents, Friedrich Shanewise and Barbara Bauman, were from Karlsruhe, Baden-Württemberg, Germany. Given the naming customs of the time, it is quite possible that Lenore Shanewise's middle initial, "B", stood for her paternal grandmother's family name, Bauman.
The family of Lenore Shanewise's mother, Alice Perry, had been in the United States for at least five generations, extending back to 1757. They came from New England, New York, and Pennsylvania. Alice Perry's father, Marvin E. Perry, was born in New York on April 13, 1832. He moved to Illinois by 1850 and to Iowa by 1863. He died sometime between 1900 and 1910. Alice Perry's mother, Sarah Ann Johnson, was born in May 1841, in Pennsylvania. She died in January 1914.
The origin of the name Shanewise is subject to debate. However, given the birthplace of Lenore Shanewise's paternal grandparents, there is a clear possibility that "Shane" might be an anglicization of the German word "schön", meaning good or beautiful. And "wise" might relate to the German words "weis" (wise) or "Weiss" (white). How or why the two parts of the name might have been combined into a single name is unclear. But "schönweiss" (beautiful white) is certainly a reasonable compound noun, especially with the possibility of geographical associations such as mountains, rivers, fields, or towns.
Student Years at the Iowa State Normal School
At some point after the family's move to Waterloo, Iowa, Lenore Shanewise's father, John Bauman Shanewise, got into the real estate business in Waterloo, Iowa. It is not clear where the family lived during Lenore Shanewise's entire childhood, but by 1912 the family and business address was 915 Lafayette, Waterloo, Iowa. That was just a few blocks east of the downtown and courthouse area. A location such as that would have been convenient for someone in the real estate business. At some point, probably within the last thirty years, the house at that address was demolished. That address is now a vacant lot.
Lenore Shanewise enjoyed participating in dramatic productions at East Waterloo High School. She also attended the productions of traveling companies that stopped in Waterloo. But, as much as she enjoyed that work, when she graduated from East High, she decided that she needed to find a way to make a living. She did not think that the field of drama offered that possibility. So she enrolled at the Iowa State Normal School, now the University of Northern Iowa, for the fall 1905 term. At that time, the sole purpose of the school was the preparation of teachers. Consequently, Miss Shanewise took the professional education sequence of classes. The campus in those days was relatively small. It consisted of the Auditorium Building (now Lang Hall), Central Hall and Old Gilchrist Hall (now gone), the Library (now Seerley Hall), the Gymnasium (now Innovative Teaching and Technology Center), the Physics Building (now Begeman Hall), and some small service buildings. There were no residence halls. Bartlett Hall, the first residence hall for women, did not open until September 1915. Consequently, Miss Shanewise likely lived in one of the many rooming and boarding houses on College Hill. She occasionally went home to visit her parents in Waterloo, especially on weekends. About a thousand students were enrolled at that time. Many of them were transient; they enrolled for a term or two and then went out to teach.
After enrolling at the Normal School and showing both interest and talent in drama, Lenore Shanewise quickly fell under the influence of Professor Bertha Martin, head of dramatic work. Professor Martin was an extraordinary teacher. She showed Miss Shanewise how to study character and to bring that character to life in a public presentation. Under Professor Martin's direction, Lenore Shanewise realized that she could become both an actor and a teacher. Essentially, the course of her life was set.
Lenore Shanewise, known by the nickname Nora while in school, was one of the limited number of students who studied at the Normal School for several years and persisted to a degree or diploma. Those students got to know each other very well. Miss Shanewise must have distinguished herself quickly among the more permanent students as a smart, friendly, talented young woman. On September 14, 1906, she was elected to membership in the Alpha Literary Society. Literary societies had official curricular responsibilities to educate students in public speaking and civic life. They also provided social and recreational opportunities for students on a campus that was still somewhat isolated from town. All students were required to be members of a literary society. The Alpha society was founded in 1877, just a year after the Normal School opened. Although many other societies were formed after that date, Alpha remained the most prestigious women's society.
Pages from the Alpha Literary Society record book showing Lenore Shanewise as a new member.
Lenore Shanewise and the other newly-elected Alpha women in the fall fo 1906 had to go through some gentle hazing in order to become fully pledged members. On a Thursday in early October, they had to wear pink ribbons, carry older members' books, and refrain from speaking to anyone, except to say "A-L-P-H-A". That evening the Alphas enjoyed a moonlight picnic along Dry Run Creek. The new women were blindfolded and put through a bit more hazing. In the end, they pledged to be good Alphas and were accepted into full membership. The next evening the Alphas presented their traditional reception for the new members of their society. In the program for the reception, Lenore Shanewise presented a reading. Reports on the reception do not state what she read. But the brief note in the student newspaper, the Normal Eyte, provides early documentation of a talent that she would hone, practice, and develop into a profession. At the next Alpha meeting, Miss Shanewise made a presentation in keeping with the theme of Halloween.
In late November 1907, she and Warren Proctor gave a concert in Cresco. It is unclear what Lenore's contribution to this concert might have been, though it was likely a reading or recitation. Warren Proctor was a tenor, who already had a substantial local, state, and even regional reputation.
Mr. Proctor performed with the Normal School glee clubs, with local church choirs, and at special occasions around Iowa and also in surrounding states. While still a Normal School student, he served as an assistant in the school's Department of Music. He went on to a career as a professional vocalist. Occasions such as the Cresco concert gave Lenore Shanewise a taste for public performance in the company of talented performers. She and Warren Proctor repeated their concert in Cresco in January 1908.
In late February 1908, Lenore Shanewise took part in a concert presented by the Normal School's men's glee club, the Minnesingers. This group, the historical predecessors of the current UNI Varsity Men's Glee Club, put on extraordinary performances under the direction of Professor Charles A. Fullerton. Again, it is unclear exactly what Miss Shanewise contributed to the concert. She and her classmate George W. Samson, Jr., are noted simply as being there "to assist in entertaining the large audience which can always be expected."
Mr. Samson was a distinguisted musician who ultimately joined the Normal School music faculty and taught organ and piano from 1916 through 1954. Again, Lenore Shanewise was associated with, and considered to be an equal to, some of the school's most talented performers.
In April 1908, rehearsals began for the class play, "If I Were King". Warren Proctor played the male lead as François Villon. Lenore Shanewise played the female lead as Katharine de Vaucelles. The play, by Justin Huntley McCarthy, was a romantic drama set in fifteenth century France.
When the play was presented at the 1908 Commencement, it was so well received that two additional performances were scheduled for the summer of 1908. Reassembling the cast and making other arrangements for the performances were difficult. For Lenore Shanewise, home for the summer in nearby Waterloo, returning to campus was not a problem. And, after a great deal of work, even the many members of the cast who had left campus after Commencement found their way back to perform for two appreciative summer term audiences.
It is interesting to speculate whether or not Lenore Shanewise, long after she had moved on to Hollywood, ever thought of her role in this play when the well-known motion picture by that title came out in 1938. In the motion picture, Ronald Colman played the male lead and Frances Dee played the female lead.
Lenore Shanewise received her first diploma from the Normal School in June 1908. Her degree, the Master of Didactics, was a two or three year degree designed for those who planned to teach in high schools or larger town grade schools. Her areas of emphasis were advanced Latin and public speaking.
She returned to the Normal School the next fall to continue her studies. In November 1908, the Alpha literary society presented "Princess Kiku". This play was a romantic look at the battle between traditional and modern values in Japan. Bertha Martin, professor of elocution, directed the play. Lenore Shanewise played the lead role of Princess Kiku.
The critic in the student newspaper praised both the performance and the setting of the play. In an interesting sidelight, Lenore's sister Anna also played a role in the production. Anna had enrolled at the Normal School a year after her sister Lenore and was also a member of Alpha.
In January 1909, Lenore and a classmate Orlo Bangs traveled to Hubbard, Iowa, to present a recital.
In April 1909 her Bachelor of Arts classmates selected Lenore Shanewise to be their Commencement speaker. This selection was a tribute both to her talent as a public speaker and to her popularity among her classmates. Miss Shanewise's Commencement presentation was a great success. Instead of a traditional speech, she presented an interpretative and dramatic reading of Longfellow's "King Robert of Sicily". She gave a short introduction to inform the audience that she saw the reading as a Christian allegory of pride, fall, and repentance. Once she began the reading itself, a reviewer says that "without stage settings or costumes, she drew a splendid picture, and created such a strong atmosphere that all listeners were entranced." The reviewer goes on to pay a personal tribute to Lenore Shanewise: "Generous, modest, popular, a strong student, this school loses much in the graduation of Miss Shanewise."
In June 1909, Lenore Shanewise received her Bachelor of Arts degree with the rest of her classmates in the Class of 1909. With the change of the school name from the Iowa State Normal School to the Iowa State Teachers College shortly after Commencement, the Class of 1909 was the last graduating class of the Iowa State Normal School.
University of Chicago
The Normal School student newspaper from June 12, 1909, reported on the plans for some of the Class of 1909. For Lenore Shanewise, the article states:
Lenore Shanewise, who received a B. A., goes to Chicago University for further preparation
in the special line for which she is especially gifted. Those who have heard her here a
number of times, and especially those who were here at her impersonation of "Paola and
Francesca", entertain high hopes for her success.
Professor Martin had suggested that Miss Shanewise study in Chicago. Her parents supported her decision. Before she left for Chicago, Lenore Shanewise returned to campus for a visit in September 1909. In addition, Professor Sara M. Riggs, head of the history faculty and something of a mentor to Miss Shanewise, visited her at her Waterloo home just before she left for the University of Chicago in late September 1909.
The University of Chicago had opened in October 1892. The relatively new institution, funded in part by John D. Rockefeller, was an institution devoted to serious scholarly work and study. However, its admissions policies recognized strong students, no matter where they had taken earlier work--even from a state normal school. Consequently, as early as 1895, a small but steady stream of Iowa State Normal School students, as well as Normal School faculty who needed to upgrade their academic credentials, studied at the University of Chicago.
It came as no surprise to faculty and friends on campus when, in December 1909, the Teachers College student newspaper reported that Miss Shanewise had been elected to the Dramatic Club at the University of Chicago. This was a distinct honor for a student who had been at the university for just several months.
However, there was considerable and important background to this bit of personal news. That same newspaper also reported the following, which is worth quoting in its entirety:
Prof. Barnes, dean of the graduate school of Chicago University, spent last evening (Dec.7)
in this city conferring with the president of the Teachers College relative to making an
agreement, whereby the graduates of the Teachers College may be admitted to the graduate
school of Chicago University. Prof. Barnes frankly says that they have had some students
from the Teachers College enrolled in Chicago University and their work has been of such a
high degree that the faculty have about decided to grant them a great many more privileges
than those heretofore given the graduates of the Cedar Falls school. Prof. Barnes reports
that Miss Lenore Shanewise, who graduated last June from the college in this city is at
present studying in Chicago University, that she has made such a record during the fall
session that she was recently elected a member of the Dramatic Club of the university, an
honor which is conferred upon but few students.
That is a remarkable statement and tribute from the dean of the graduate school at a research university. To put things into context and to give them proper weight, Professor Barnes did not travel to Cedar Falls to talk with President Seerley specifically and only about Lenore Shanewise. Rather, he wished to talk about broader matters. Since taking office in 1886, Normal School President Homer Seerley had developed a strong academic program in Cedar Falls. Other institutions recognized this and understood that Seerley's graduates had sound academic preparation for graduate study. Professor Barnes probably had in mind a long line of Normal School graduates and faculty who had succeeded at the University of Chicago. But again, Lenore Shanewise was the outstanding Normal School graduate whom he chose to mention. She must have made an extraordinary impression on him and his faculty. It is unclear exactly how the University of Chicago modified its admissions standards as a result of this consultation with President Seerley, but significant numbers of Normal School, and, after 1909, Iowa State Teachers College, Bachelor of Arts graduates continued to attend that university throughout the Seerley administration. Considering that normal schools and teachers colleges, with their limited curricular scope, were not generally thought to be academically rigorous, this was a remarkable testament to the strength of the Cedar Falls school.
During their spring vacation weeks in 1910, Lenore Shanewise and her sister, Anna Shanewise, exchanged visits. First, Anna visited Lenore in Chicago. Then, since Lenore's spring vacation occurred in the following week, they came back to Cedar Falls together. Lenore Shanewise kept up contact with the Teachers College in other ways. For example, when the Alumni Association held a reunion in Chicago in May 1910, she joined the assembled alumni and faculty for a dinner and reception at the Grand Pacific Hotel.
Lenore Shanewise likely came home for the summer of 1910. After visiting friends on College Hill, she returned to the University of Chicago to continue her studies in September. She studied most closely with Professor Solomon H. Clark, head of the public speaking department at that university and a well-known teacher of dramatic interpretation. There was no further news about her in the college newspaper until April 1911, when she travelled from Chicago to the State Normal School in Winona, Minnesota, to give a reading of Booth Tarkington's "Monsieur Beaucaire". This reading must have served as something like a job interview for her. Shortly thereafter, she was elected head of elocution at the Winona school. She would begin work in September 1911. What is more, she also secured a position at the Northwestern Normal School in Kalamazoo, Michigan, for the 1911 summer session. President Seerley later reported that her work was so successful at the summer session in Kalamazoo that she would have been offered a regular position there if she had not already contracted to teach at the Minnesota school.
After completing her work at the University of Chicago in June 1911, Lenore Shanewise began her professional career.
Back in Cedar Falls
President Seerley kept track of his school's star graduates. Lenore Shanewise was doing excellent work as a professor of reading and elocution at Winona. He likely monitored her work there for several years, and, when the opportunity arose, he called her back to Cedar Falls. The administration at Winona wished to keep her and offered an increase in salary. But the more substantial reputation of President Seerley's school, and, probably, the attraction of returning to her alma mater and her hometown, led her to accept the Teachers College offer. At the meeting of the State Board of Education, September 11, 1913, Lenore Shanewise was elected assistant professor in the English department of the Iowa State Teachers College. She would concentrate her teaching on elocution and interpretative reading. She would also assist with the management of the literary societies.
Lenore Shanewise fit back into the campus and town scenes easily. In December 1913 her department made her a guest of honor at a humorous dinner party. In that same month she presented a reading to the Waterloo Women's Club. In an exceptionally favorable review of that performance, a Waterloo newspaper said:
Her voice is flexible and sympathetic and with her remarkable character delineation, Miss Shanewise presents a most finished rendition. Through it all she retains her quiet dignity and simplicity of manner which only emphasize her charm and effect.
Lenore Shanewise missed some class in January 1914, when her maternal grandmother, Sarah Ann Johnson Perry, died. But that same month she helped to judge a declamatory contest and gave three readings at the local P. E. O. chapter meeting. Within the next month or so she judged declamatory contests in Independence and Eagle Grove and gave readings in Ames and Clarksville. But she also continued her interest and participation in drama. In March she assisted Professor Bertha Martin with a dinner party for the cast of the mid-winter play. She also assisted in the production of that play as well as the senior class play, "Milestones".
In reviewing "Milestones", Professor S. A. Lynch called special attention to the "consciousness of the development that these young people have shown during their college career." Professor Lynch believed that the play provided excellent entertainment for the audience, but, more important, the directors of the play made the production an educational experience for the cast. With Hazel Strayer in the female lead role and Bertha Martin and Lenore Shanewise directing, this play brought together a talented trio that would influence drama at the University of Northern Iowa for decades to come.
Activities such as these, as well as entertaining friends and students at the Shanewise home in Waterloo, made for a very busy 1913-1914 school year. Lenore Shanewise seemed to have garnered a great deal of affection from students, colleagues, and people in the community in the process. The 1914 student yearbook, the Old Gold, even felt free to make a mild joke about something she said in class:
In ELOCUTION I.--Miss Shanewise calls on Jacobsen to read and then changes her mind. "No, I will hold you a while, Mr. Jacobsen." (Lucky Jake!)
In late October 1914, Lenore Shanewise visited Chicago to see a production of "Hamlet" and to visit friends. She was busy in the 1914-1915 school year with her usual round of readings. A reading of the play "Within the Law" in Waterloo produced this effusive praise:
Her character delineation was so clear, her powers of interpretation so keen and resourceful,
that everyone who heard her felt the tense atmosphere of the drama and saw it enacted
before them as vividly as if it had been played upon a well-equipped stage by a full cast of
star performers. To say what phase of Miss Shanewise's work is best would be impossible.
The young reader has a musical, flexible speaking voice, a wonderful expresive face and a
depth of understanding both of characters and events, which combine to make her readings
effective and delightful. Her work is well-balanced, finished. Waterloo people will look
forward to further opportunity of hearing Miss Shanewise.
She repeated this performance at the Presbyterian Church in Cedar Falls to similar praise.
At the English Club's last meeting of the school year, the subject was elocution. Lenore Shanewise gave the principal address at that meeting and was elected vice-president for the upcoming year. Bertha Martin and Lenore Shanewise directed the 1915 Commencement play, "Nathan Hale". With war already underway in Europe, a patriotic and military theme was appropriate.
The fall 1915 term featured the annual declamatory contest. In previous years, all contestants, even in preliminary rounds, received elocution coaching from Bertha Martin and Lenore Shanewise. But with as many as forty students entering the competition, Professor Martin explained that there was simply not enough time to continue this practice. So, in the initial round, students were on their own. Once they advanced into later rounds, they received coaching. Ruth Imlay was the unanimous choice for the $25 first prize.
In November Miss Shanewise made a presentation on campus of one of her best pieces, Booth Tarkington's "Monsieur Beaucaire". The notice of her reading said that "she is one of the best known and most popular members of the faculty." That is strong praise for a person who had completed only her second year on the faculty. In an informal review of the performance in the student newspaper, a critic wrote that Miss Shanewise took the audience into the world of her reading and held that audience in rapt attention until she was done. Over the Thanksgiving holiday, she took a short break to visit her sister Anna, who was teaching in Chicago.
In February 1916, Miss Shanewise accompanied Bertha Martin and other members of the faculty to Des Moines to see a performance of "Hamlet", with the famed Shakespearean actor Johnston Forbes-Robertson in the lead. She then got busy coaching the dramatic declamatory contestants for their competition and assisting with the production of the next play. Toward the end of the spring term, she presented a short talk on pioneers at the school chapel gathering.
Miss Shanewise was granted a leave of absence for the 1916-1917 school year in order to study at Columbia University. Hazel Strayer would serve as her replacement for the year. Under Bertha Martin, Miss Strayer had been a star student and an outstanding dramatic performer at the Teachers College. Following graduation, she had done fine work at the Independence (Iowa) High School. She was a perfect fit for the position.
However, Miss Shanewise does not seem to have gone to Columbia. In October 1916 the student newspaper reported that she was in Colorado, where, she wrote, she was "trying to get fat". That is apparently a euphemism for trying to put on a little weight and recover from some sort of illness. The next information about her comes from a letter that she wrote to her Teachers College department head, Professor S. A. Lynch. She wrote:
I believe that I derived much good from the Manitou waters and climate during the three
months I was in Colorado. At the end of that time my parents who were in California
sent for me to join them, for they thought the balmy weather of southern California would
At present we are in San Diego where we shall be until after Christmas, when we shall go
to Los Angeles, engage an apartment, and remain during the winter.
Perhaps the California climate and the presence of her parents refreshed Miss Shanewise. She certainly did not remain idle during her months in California. Newsclippings from the Los Angeles Evening Express note that she joined the drama section of the Schubert Club and performed Tarkington's "Monsieur Beaucaire" in Los Angeles and San Francisco. Reviewers praised her dramatic talent and charming personality.
In the spring of 1917 she wrote to Bertha Martin that she would spend the summer months in Colorado, but that she would return to campus for the fall term. It is interesting to speculate on the nature of Miss Shanewise's health problems. She certainly lived an active and busy life during her three years of teaching at the Teachers College. Classwork, elocution coaching, literary society advising, play production, and public readings might just have worn her out. But the two three-month stays in Colorado at least suggest that she might have had tuberculosis or another respiratory disease. In the note to Professor Lynch quoted above, Miss Shanewise mentions the "Manitou waters". This is likely a reference to Manitou Springs, Colorado, an area well-known as a destination for those with respiratory problems. People with those conditions seemed to find that the dry climate and lower atmospheric pressure provided relief from their symptoms. Included among letters of recommendation in Miss Shanewise's papers is a note from E. G. Jordan, manager of the New Mansions Hotel in Manitou Springs. Mr. Jordan states that Miss Shanewise had presented an excellent interpretative reading at his hotel. He says that the reading "was much appreciated and applauded by a large number of the Mansions guests." So, again, even while recovering her health, Miss Shanewise continued to perform.
Conclusions about Miss Shanewise's health must remain speculative. Whatever her problems might have been, she seems to have recovered completely. However, her year away from campus does suggest at least one other thing. Her leave without pay, her lengthy stays in Colorado, and her family's overwinter residence in California suggest that Shanewise family finances must have been in sound condition.
Miss Shanewise returned to a full range of activities for the 1917 fall term. She did extension work in Humboldt, Corning, Afton, and Ottumwa, Iowa. She led a chapel program in October. But there had been a significant change on campus during her absence. She had returned to a campus that was doing its best to help win what would become known as World War I. Even those who taught and participated in drama were part of the mobilization of public support. As part of the war effort, Bertha Martin put together a play, the comedy "The Real Thing", whose cast would be made up of her former Teachers College students. Proceeds from the play would go toward sending Christmas boxes to Teachers College students who were in military service. The play was a success. It was presented again to an audience of soldiers in the Y. M. C. A. building at Camp Dodge in February 1918. At the prompting of Miss Shanewise, Axel Justesen, a former Teachers College student who was then in military service at Camp Dodge, wrote a humorous review of the performance from a soldier's point of view.
Despite the less than optimal conditions at Camp Dodge, the play went well. In March 1918, Miss Shanewise directed a program of scenes from Shakespeare. Finalists in the spring dramatic oratory contest performed those scenes. In recognition of her strong work, Lenore Shanewise was promoted from Assistant Professor to the rank of Professor in 1918.
In the fall of 1918, in the issue of the student newspaper that commemorated Armistice Day, there was also a long article on the fall declamatory contest. The article praised the work of the student contestants, but saved special praise for the work of Miss Shanewise:
A word should be said in regard to the efficiency of Miss Shanewise, who coached the
contestants and made the arrangements for the two preliminary contests and for the final
contest. Her own enthusiasm and artistic ideals were communicated intuitively to these
young women and all of them undoubtedly received from this experience a greater benefit
than can be expressed in words.
She then again supervised and coached the spring 1919 declamatory and forensic competition. She apparently was not affected by that spring's influenza epidemic and was able to keep up with extension assignments around the state. She also gave a reading at the campus memorial service for former President Theodore Roosevelt in January 1919.
She kept in close touch with many of her former students. For example, Sophus Jacobsen wrote her a long letter about his experience as part of the American Army that was on occupation duty in Europe. Miss Shanewise arranged to have that letter published in the student newspaper. In March 1919 she played the lead in "Her Husband's Wife", a comedy production of the Waterloo Dramatic Club. She also directed the Commencement play, "Little Women". There was some difficulty in securing the playscript for "Little Women", so rehearsals started a bit late. However, Miss Shanewise persisted and put the show together.
The 1919-1920 school year was just as busy as the previous year. Miss Shanewise made her usual round of extension work and supervision of literary society programs. The Society Day programming in 1919 was considered to be especially strong. She spent a great deal of time in selecting the fall play and also presented a reading at the Thanksgiving vespers service. She and Bertha Martin directed the midwinter play, a comedy titled "Oh, Doctor, Doctor!" Large audiences enjoyed the production. She presented a reading to the Waterloo P. E. O. chapter, judged a declamatory contest in Cedar Falls, and directed the Commencement play, "He and She".
Much to the surprise and disappointment of students and colleagues, Lenore Shanewise resigned her position on the faculty of the Iowa State Teachers College following the 1919-1920 school year. In the July 1, 1920, Alumni Newsletter, President Seerley wrote:
Lenore Shanewise . . . a very successful and acceptable teacher of Dramatic Art, resigned
at the end of the Spring Term to go to New York City for additional study, preparation, and
experience in her specialty as an educator.
There is no reason to take President Seerley's announcement of the resignation at anything other than face value. With the exception of the year during which she had been ill, Miss Shanewise had been an extraordinarily active member of the Teachers College faculty since 1913. She had been a tireless worker both on and off campus. She performed, directed, and coached a wide range of activities that brought favorable attention and affection from students, faculty colleagues, and people in the community. Before her health forced her to take a year off, she had planned to study at Columbia during a leave of absence. Perhaps, after more years of hard work, she was again thinking about additional academic or professional study. Perhaps she thought that she had done all that she was likely to be able to do at the Teachers College. Perhaps she believed that she needed a larger stage on which to perform. She herself later said that the move to New York was completely of her own volition.
In any case, after teaching extension courses for the Teachers College in the summer of 1920, Lenore Shanewise moved on to New York City. Students returning for study in the fall of 1920 were disappointed to learn that Miss Shanewise would no longer be present to offer classes in public speaking.
After Cedar Falls
Documentation in the University of Northern Iowa Archives relating to Lenore Shanewise after she left the Iowa State Teachers College faculty is thin. Theresa Wild, an instructor in music at the Teachers College, was on leave to study at Columbia University shortly after Miss Shanewise resigned. In April 1921, she wrote to friends in Cedar Falls that she got together often with the "colony" of Teachers College acquaintances who were in the New York City area, including Lenore Shanewise. Miss Wild's brief note does not state exactly what Miss Shanewise was doing at that point. However, other evidence shows that Miss Shanewise was not attending Columbia University, but, rather, was pursuing a professional career in drama.
Part of Miss Shanewise's work in New York City involved watching actors and directors prepare and rehearse for performance. She took a particular interest in observing preparations for the play Iphigenia in Aulis. This play, a late work by the classical Greek dramatist Euripides, was a major production that included features such as a chorus and interpretative dance. Margaret Anglin, one of the leading stage actresses of the day, played the lead role. Maurice Browne directed the play.
Miss Shanewise secured a small part in the play. As both a participant and an observer, Miss Shanewise was deeply impressed by what she learned. She believed that she had learned enough to direct a production of the play herself. Consequently, she conferred with Teachers College drama director Bertha Martin and agreed to return to the Teachers College campus to stage Iphegenia in Aulis as the 1921 Commencement play. This was a daunting prospect. The New York City production had been staged by a large, experienced, professional cast and technical staff. Could Lenore Shanewise and Bertha Martin do something similar on the relatively small Auditorium stage with amateur college players and technicians? Recruiting a cast of seventy would be a significant challenge in itself.
Miss Shanewise returned to Cedar Falls in the spring of 1921 to begin work on the production. She brought along at least one professional from New York City, Solveig Hornbeck, to assist with arranging the dance work. She may also have brought in another coach to assist with the direction of the chorus. Rehearsals progressed through May 1921. Some local critics said that the play was too "heavy" for college students to present. Such thoughts apparently inspired and energized Miss Shanewise, the actors, and the staff. The play, presented to a full house on May 28, 1921, was a resounding success. Professor S. A. Lynch, head of the Teachers College Department of English, said that "it was the finest production of its kind ever given at this college." A local reviewer shared that opinion: he praised Miss Shanewise for her "untiring efforts, her personality that enables her to get the most out of her cast." He also praised the cast:
Without exception, which indeed is unusual for a college play, they portrayed their roles
to perfection. No improvement could be expected and at times it seemed their playing
bordered on the phenomonal.
There was great demand for a second presentation of the play. Since the initial presentation had been associated with Commencement, some of the cast and crew had left Cedar Falls shortly thereafter. However, with substitutions in minor roles, the play was successfully staged again to another full house on June 7, 1921. Summer school students, as well as members of the community who had witnessed the initial production, were deeply impressed. Some thought that the lead actors showed greater confidence in repeating their roles.
After this triumph, Lenore Shanewise moved to Los Angeles, California, where she spent the remainder of her professional career. It is not clearly stated why Miss Shanewise moved to California at that point, though it is possible to make good guesses. California was an attractive location for a number of reasons. First, Miss Shanewise had some familiarity with the drama and entertainment scene there. When she had been ill and on leave from the Teachers College faculty in 1916-1917, she had spent part of her time with her parents, who were in California for the winter. While there, she had had some success with her interpretative readings. Second, there may have been family considerations. By 1914, her father, John Shanewise, was no longer listed in the real estate section of the Waterloo city directory. Her father and mother remained listed in the directories as residents through 1920, but they do not appear at all after that date. It seems likely that her parents retired and moved to California around 1921 and, thus, could provide a home base there for their daughter. Third, there may also have been financial and professional considerations. Miss Shanewise likely sensed that a good part of the entertainment industry was developing in Los Angeles. She might have seen a market for her considerable talents as a performer and a teacher of drama there. Finally, in speculating about why Miss Shanewise moved to California, one should not underestimate the sheer physical beauty and temperate climate of the state at that time. Those were powerful motivations for many Iowan residents to move to California in the early twentieth century.
Miss Shanewise quickly became part of the entertainment scene in the Los Angeles area. Shortly after arriving, she took courses in with the Summer Arts Colony, which was associated with the Pasadena Players. In the spring of 1922, she worked up a presentation based on Zona Gale's very successful novel and play, Miss Lulu Bett. Miss Shanewise's interpretation of the play won a wide and appreciative audience in southern California and farther afield as well. An audience of fifteen hundred attended a performance at the University of California, Southern Branch. Fanny Butcher, the well-known critic for the Chicago Tribune, had this to say about Miss Shanewise's readings:
In an interesting sidelight to this note, Fanny Butcher and Lenore Shanewise had attended the University of Chicago at the same time. It seems quite likely that they would have been acquainted with each other there.
Miss Shanewise's Miss Lulu Bett interpretation must have been an impressive. Zona Gale, the author herself, wrote the following:
Later that year, as a leading member of the Pasadena Community Players, she received strong reviews for her performance in a September 1922 production of "Green Stockings".
She also offered interpretative readings under the professional management of the France Goldwater artist agency. A brochure lists seventeen recitations for which she could be booked.
A few years later Miss Shanewise added lectures on community play production and an analysis of modern theater to her repertoire.
In July 1923 Miss Shanewise visited Bertha Martin in Cedar Falls. She shared the news with Miss Martin that she was now an assistant director at the Community Playhouse in Pasadena, California. She returned to campus again in September 1923, under the auspices of the theater honor society,Theta Alpha Phi, to perform her highly-praised interpretation of Miss Lulu Bett. The reviewer in the student newspaper praised her "careful approach . . . keen intellectual and dramatic appreciation, and a consistent and well rounded presentation."
The Pasadena Community Playhouse would be the center of Miss Shanewise's professional career for forty years. Gilmor Brown was the director of the Playhouse, but, with a number of productions under way simultaneously, the day-to-day work was usually in the hands of assistant or associate directors such as Lenore Shanewise. Strong community support led to the construction of a new theater building shortly after Miss Shanewise's arrival. The community supported Miss Shanewise in a personal way, too. In 1927 her friends and admirers raised a purse of $1100 for her use on a trip to Europe.
In 1928, Bertha Martin, Miss Shanewise's Teachers College colleague and mentor, spent some of her winter term studying at the Playhouse. Professor Martin even had the opportunity to perform with Miss Shanewise in a Playhouse production of Miss Lulu Bett. However, Miss Martin's busy travel and study schedule did not permit that to take place.
Miss Shanewise prospered in that environment. Saturday Night, a Los Angeles magazine, interviewed her in 1938. The article stated that she had "helped place more actors in Hollywood than any other woman." The interviewer found her dressed simply and without make-up. Despite her own personal achievements as an actor and director in Pasadena, she was more inclined to talk about the talents and work of others. On directing the work of young actors, she had the following philosophy:
It is to bring out the best in them. Don't let them imitate and don't let them try to create an "impression". And keep the successful Hamlet of 19 from becoming a fathead at 20!
The interviewer also cited a situation that occurred during the preparations for Miss Shanewise's well-known and very successful production of Hamlet.
Members of the cast sat at a round table and merely read the lines, until they became so vital and exciting the players simply had to jump out of their seats and act Then they were ready to rehearse in dead earnest.
By the mid-1930s, the Pasadena Playhouse took on greater responsibilities as a school of drama. Many well-known actors either began their training or enhanced their skills at the Playhouse. Included among those who studied and acted at the Playhouse are Dana Andrews, Eve Arden, Charles Bronson, Raymond Burr, Jamie Farr, Gene Hackman, Dustin Hoffman, Victor Mature, Joyce Meadows, Leonard Nimoy, Lloyd Nolan, Nick Nolte, George Reeves, Sally Struthers, Harry Dean Stanton, and Robert Young.
Miss Shanewise became a close personal friend and special mentor to Raymond Burr. Mr. Burr appeared in many motion pictures, but he is probably best known as the star of the long-running television program, Perry Mason. Mr. Burr valued Miss Shanewise's abilities very highly. According to one Burr biographer, Mr. Burr said that Miss Shanewise made a mistake by leaving New York, where she could have become a major star. He was protective of her and included her in his circle of close friends.
In her years at the Pasadena Playhouse, Lenore Shanewise directed or performed in hundreds of dramatic productions.
Lenore Shanewise was into her seventies and even into her eighties when she gained a wider audience for her dramatic capabilities. She was featured in starring roles twice on NBC's Matinee Theater: "Whiteoak" (1955) and "The Heart of Mary Lincoln" (1956). In the 1960s, Miss Shanewise found additional work in television, where she usually played roles of elderly women.
Raymond Burr included her as part of the cast in two Perry Mason episodes: "The Case of the Fiery Fingers" (1958) and "The Case of the Reckless Rockhound" (1964). He also cast her on two occasions in his later series, Ironside: "Why the Tuesday Afternoon Bridge Club Met on Thursday" (1969) and "Little Dog, Gone" (1970). Miss Shanewise also appeared in a memorable episode of Rod Serling's The Twilight Zone: "Kick the Can" (1962).
After retiring from the Pasadena Playhouse in the late 1967, Lenore Shanewise moved to Laguna Beach, California. Before moving, she sold most of her antiques and works of art to Raymond Burr. Miss Shanewise died in a San Diego nursing home on December 22, 1980, at the age of ninety-three. She had never married. She had no children. Her sister was her only close surviving relative.
Under the terms of her will, she created a scholarship endowment of $24,746, in memory of her friend and colleague Bertha Martin, for junior and senior theater majors at the University of Northern Iowa. The scholarship was first offered in the fall of 1982.
Lenore Shanewise was a student from Waterloo, Iowa, who chose to take her college training at the Iowa State Normal School in the adjacent city of Cedar Falls, Iowa. She entered school with the notion of preparing to teach. She studied Latin as a curriculum that would likely lead to a job. But she also studied public speaking and drama as, perhaps, a way of strengthening her credentials. She was fortunate to come under the influence of Professor Bertha Martin, who had developed a strong program in drama and elocution at the Normal School.
At the Normal School, Lenore Shanewise's talents blossomed in all areas related to the dramatic arts: she excelled at interpretative reading, oratory, and drama. Both her fellow students and her professors respected and admired her performance abilities. They also appreciated her hard work, personal charm, and lack of affectation. Her body of work at the Normal School led her to graduate study at the University of Chicago. Gaining recognition at that university was a remarkable achievement for an alumna of a school whose sole purpose was the preparation of teachers for public schools.
Her success at the University of Chicago led her to a decade of fine work on the faculties of two collegiate institutions. But she found even greater success and recognition after she left her faculty position at the Iowa State Teachers College and moved to California. There she pursued a career in the dramatic arts that lasted over forty years. In her association with the Pasadena Playhouse, she acted in and directed hundreds of productions. She was recognized as a fine actor as well as an extraordinary director and teacher of drama, who influenced the careers of many well-known Hollywood stars. In her understated and common sense approach to teaching, she likely drew upon techniques that she learned back in her days as a Normal School student in Cedar Falls.
Lenore Shanewise was an unusual Normal School student. Hundreds of students from her era studied the pedagogy of subjects such as mathematics, English, reading, or science. Most of them attended the Normal School for only a term or two. Most of them went on to successful and productive teaching positions in small Iowa schools, where they taught generations of schoolchildren. Or, perhaps, they became good, educated parents of strong Iowa families. But Lenore Shanewise decided that there were other stages on which she would perform both personally and also vicariously in the work of her students. After a decade of teaching college students, she chose to direct and educate more mature students, whose aspirations aimed at professional public entertainment. She deserves special credit for the success of many of those whom she taught.
Lenore Shanewise is a person of whom the University of Northern Iowa can be justifiably proud. She was able, independent, and willing to pursue a difficult career. She used her education to bring out the best in her students. And, in the end, she remembered her roots with a generous scholarship for students studying in the field in which she had excelled.
Essay by University Archivist Gerald L. Peterson, with scanning by Library Assistant Joy Lynn and historical consultation by Registrar staff member Irene Elbert, May-June 2014; last updated, February 18, 2016 (GP).