November 15, 1914
Miami, Florida, U.S.
June 20, 1989 (aged 74)|
Los Angeles, California, U.S.
Una Velon (or Una Villon)
|Occupation||Actress, singer, dancer|
|Spouse(s)||William Travilla (1944-1989) (her death)|
|Children||Nia Novella Travilla (1951-2002)|
Dona Drake (born Eunice Westmoreland; November 15, 1914 – June 20, 1989) was an American singer, dancer and film actress in the 1930s and 1940s. Of three-quarters black heritage, she presented herself as Mexican and went by the names Una Novella and Rita Novella, typically being cast in "ethnic" roles including Hispanics and Middle Easterners, though occasionally took the role of white characters. As Mexican "Rita Rio", she led a touring all-girl orchestra in the early 1940s, also known as "Dona Drake and her Girl Band", among other names for her musical and dance acts.
Drake was born Eunice Westmoreland in Miami, Florida in 1914, one of five children of Joseph Westmoreland and his wife, Novella (née Smith). U.S. Census reports on her family history show her grandparents were one black couple and one couple that was black/white.
She began performing in 1932, working under the name Una Villon as a chorus girl and in nightclubs. As Una Villon, she appeared in Earl Carroll's Vanities in 1933, prompting Paul Harrison to write in a review printed in The Indiana Gazette: "Most noteworthy newcomer is Miss Una Villon who sings, dances and looks like a 16-year-old incarnation of Ann Pennington. Only a couple of days before the premiere she was hired away from a Broadway night club and already has proved her right to a place in the big-time spotlight."
In 1934, columnist Walter Winchell wrote about her performance in a night club: "Una Villon's torso shifting serves to synchronize the tempos instead of Berren's directing — this young lady directs the tooters with her wiggling."
Rita Rio and Rita Shaw
She began using the name Rita Rio in 1935, when she was featured at the Paradise cabaret on Broadway. Besides singing and dancing, she sometimes played piano, trumpet, clarinet, saxophone and drums and occasionally led the orchestra. In 1936, she and another woman formed an orchestra. After the group had financial problems in 1940, she went to Hollywood, where she had screen tests using the name Rita Shaw.
She settled on the stage name Dona Drake in the early 1940s. Studio publicity during her heyday incorrectly stated that Drake was of Mexican origin and was born Rita Novella (borrowing her mother's first name as a new last)
Her striking, angular features and dark curly hair led her to being cast as an ethnic character, such as a Latina, Middle Easterner, Native American, or Gypsy. She is perhaps best known for playing the Native American maid of Bette Davis in Beyond the Forest. She also appeared as an Arab girl opposite Bob Hope and Bing Crosby in Road to Morocco in 1942. In 1944 she appeared as a lead role as a big band singer in a B-movie titled Hot Rhythm, which also featured Irene Ryan (Granny from The Beverly Hillbillies) as a ditsy secretary.
Drake had a notable "non-ethnic", non-musical role as the second female lead in the 1949 comedy The Girl from Jones Beach, playing opposite Eddie Bracken. The year before, she gave a memorable comic performance as the fortune-hunting sister in So This Is New York.
In 1936, Drake was questioned by the FBI about the murder of her then-boyfriend and known mobster, Louis Amberg. She claimed to only know him as "Mr. Cohen" and had no idea what he did for a living.
Drake married Oscar and Emmy award winning fashion designer William Travilla on August 19, 1944. They had one daughter, Nia (b. August 16, 1951 - d. October 1, 2002), and remained a couple until her death. Travilla appeared on the March 24, 1960, episode of "You Bet Your Life", hosted by Groucho Marx, and introduced his elegantly dressed wife to the audience.
|1935||Moonlight and Melody||Rita||credited as Rita Rio|
|1936||Strike Me Pink||Mademoiselle Fifi||credited as Rita Rio|
|1938||Sweet Shoe||Rita Rio||credited as Rita Rio|
|1938||Beautiful, But Dummies||Model||credited as Rita Ray|
|1939||Gals and Gallons||Orchestra Leader||credited as Rita Rio|
|1939||Rita Rio and Her Orchestra||Rita Rio||played self in this 10-minute short|
|1941||I Look at You||Rita Rio||With Alan Ladd.|
|1941||Fresh as a Freshman||Rita Rio|
|1941||Aloma of the South Seas||Nea||first film credit as Dona Drake|
|1942||Road to Morocco||Mihirmah||credited as Dona Drake|
|1943||Star Spangled Rhythm||herself||performs song "On the Swing Shift" with Marjorie Reynolds and Betty Jane Rhodes|
|1943||Salute for Three||Dona Drake and Her Girl Band||credited as Dona Drake|
|1943||Let's Face It||Muriel|
|1944||Hot Rhythm||Mary Adams|
|1946||Without Reservations||Dolores Ortega|
|1946||Dangerous Millions||Elena Valdez|
|1948||Another Part of the Forest||Laurette Sincee|
|1948||So This Is New York||Kate Goff|
|1949||The Doolins of Oklahoma||Cattle Annie|
|1949||The Girl from Jones Beach||Connie Martin|
|1949||Beyond the Forest||Jenny|
|1950||Fortunes of Captain Blood||Pepita Maria Rosados|
|1952||Kansas City Confidential||Teresa|
|1953||The Bandits of Corsica||Zelda|
|1953||Son of Belle Starr||Dolores|
|1953||Down Laredo Way||Narita|
|1953||Adventures of Superman||Joyce||episode 35 "The Dog Who Knew Superman" 9th episode of 1953; aired 14 November|
|1954||Superman Flies Again||Joyce||theatrical re-release of 3 episodes of the television series included episode 35|
|1954||Princess of the Nile||Mirva|
|1954||City Detective||Francesca||1 episode|
|1955||Soldiers of Fortune||Cheu||1 episode|
|1955||The Lone Wolf||Lee||1 episode|
- Dona Drake on IMDb
- Lowrance, Dee (September 13, 1942). "Triple Threat Trio From the Torrid Zone". The Montana Standard. Montana, Butte. Every Week Magazine. p. 28. Retrieved August 13, 2016 – via Newspapers.com.
- Wagner, Laura (Spring 2015). "Dona Drake: "Mexican" Tornado". Films of the Golden Age (80): 68–69.
- "Dona Drake - The Private Life and Times of Dona Drake. Dona Drake Pictures". Archived from the original on August 1, 2015. Retrieved 2014-05-01.
- Harrison, Paul (September 28, 1933). "There's Murder in the Airs at Carroll's New "Vanities"". The Indiana Gazette. Pennsylvania, Indiana. p. 13. Retrieved August 13, 2016 – via Newspapers.com.
- Winchell, Walter (May 24, 1934). "Walter Winchell". The Scranton Republican. Pennsylvania, Scranton. p. 13.
- Harrison, Paul (July 4, 1941). "This Little Drake No Ugly Duckling". The Sandusky Register. Ohio, Sandusky. Newspaper Enterprise Association. p. 4.
- "Dona Drake - The Private Life and Times of Dona Drake. Dona Drake Pictures". Archived from the original on 2015-08-01. Retrieved 2010-10-16.
- "Dona Drake IMDb Biography". Retrieved 2014-05-01.
- "Find a Grave: Dona Drake". Retrieved 2014-05-01.
- Rita Rio and Her Orchestra on IMDb
- "Superman Flies Again > Cast - AllMovie". Retrieved 2010-10-16.
- Superman Flies Again (1954) on IMDb