Friday, November 18, 2011

The Unconquered: Four Faces from the Fifties

Thanks to two local historians and Google, the mystery of the two unknown women on the Helen Keller postcard has been solved. The photograph depicts Helen Keller's last visit to her Ivy Green home on Friday, May 7, 1954. The visit was occasioned by the premiere of a feature documentary of her life debuting in Birmingham the next day.

On the viewers' far left is Nancy Hamilton. Hamilton was a well-known New York song writer and stage actress who produced the documentary The Unconquered. Hamilton will always be best known for her songs How High the Moon and The Old Soft Shoe, but it was the documentary of Keller's life that won her an Oscar in 1955. Hamilton died in New York in 1981.

Second from left is legendary actress Katharine Cornell. The acclaimed actress was one of Keller's closest friends and narrated Hamilton's film. While she appeared in only one motion picture, her stage performances were numerous, and many critics felt it was Cornell's narration that secured the Academy Award for Hamilton's documentary on the woman who became known as America's First Lady of Courage. Katharine Cornell died thirty years after her Tuscumbia visit in 1984.

Third from left is Polly Thompson, Keller's constant companion
and translator. Thompson entered Keller's employ in 1914 as a housekeeper and later succeeded Anne Sullivan as Helen's companion and translator, The native of Scotland suffered a stroke just three years after her visit to Keller's birthplace and died in 1960.

Helen Keller herself, shown here at the far right, never returned to the place of her birth again, but died in her Connecticut home in 1968. The May 1954 visit lasted less than half a day, and Keller and her party traveled on to Birmingham later that Friday night.

Today the film is available on DVD and is sometimes called Helen
Keller in her Story. The following is an Amazon review of the documentary:

While there is nothing fancy about this Academy Award 1955 documentary, HELEN KELLER IN HER STORY is a fascinating opportunity to both hear and see Helen Keller and her remarkable teacher, Anne Sullivan. Using newsreel footage; scenes from a 1919 silent film, DELIVERANCE (that both appeared in); and newly recorded footage, this documentary will give the viewer a rare opportunity to better understand the achievements of two very remarkable women. This is the perfect companion to the 1962 feature film, THE MIRACLE WORKER with Patty Duke and Anne Bancroft. These two films, along with Helen Keller's own book, THE STORY OF MY LIFE, will give you a marvelous insight into one of the most inspiring true stories ever recorded. HELEN KELLER IN HER STORY also give you a chance to walk with Helen Keller at her own home and meet some of the world famous people that she influenced. A VERY VALUABLE RECORD!

Thanks to my good friend and her friend for their work on this postcard's background.