(Photo: Special to the Democrat)
While Kathryn Reece Haun was not born here, she truly was a daughter of Tallahassee.
Struggling to make her own way from a family of nine children, she graduated from the Florida State College for Women, received scholarships to prestigious graduate schools, and found herself on Broadway and in films.
Kathryn Reece was born in Ramseur, North Carolina, in 1899, graduating high school in Alabama in 1916. Her father, John William “Foddy” Reece, who was in the textile business, moved to Tallahassee in 1919 to open a Shuddle Block Mill on W. Gaines St.
David Brand (Photo: Special to the Democrat)
Their home was located at 529 West College Avenue. In time, Foddy also purchased 75 acres of farmland on the east side of town where the Inglewood and Reece Park Lane neighborhoods are now.
So, how did a girl from a small Southern town get all the way to Hollywood? For Kathryn, the road was long with years of study seasoned with hard work.
The actor develops
Kathryn attended the Florida State College for Women from 1919 to 1921. In 1921 she was crowned College May Queen the same year that her sister, Lucille, was May Queen at Leon High School.
After receiving a degree in voice, her professor, Miss Emma Boyd, and the Dean of the School of Music, Miss Ella Opperman, arranged for a scholarship to the Cincinnati Conservatory of Music where she studied from 1921 to 1924. While in Cincinnati, she met Ewald Haun, a flutist, and they were married in Tallahassee in 1924 at her family’s home.
In October, 1925, Kathryn moved to New York to study at the famous Julliard School of Music on a two-year scholarship.
Practicing her talent
She made her Broadway debut at the Plymouth Theatre in April, 1926, as Phyllis in Gilbert and Sullivan’s “Lolantha.” The “Pirates of Penzance” followed in 1926 and the “Enchanted Isle” in 1927 where she was billed as the Grand Opera Star. Along the way, she performed in a series of Operettas in New York City.
In 1927, she starred with the Marx Brothers in “The Cocoanut” in Los Angeles. “The Cocoanut” story line took place in Florida so the accent that she had worked hard to lose came naturally. Jean Revell, her niece in Tallahassee, recalled her relating the wild experience of working with the Marx Brothers who were as unpredictable off-stage as on.
In 1928, she sailed from San Francisco to Australia to perform for a year in various productions before returning to the United States in 1930 to star in the movie “Animal Crackers” with the Marx Brothers. Her husband died in 1939 but she trouped on performing all over the country during World War II.
In 1946, Kathryn returned to Tallahassee and taught voice lessons at her home at 624 North Calhoun St. After entering the real estate business in 1948, she developed the San Luis Ridge and Reece Park neighborhoods.
In 1949, she once again returned to the smell of grease paint and the roar of the crowd by being a founding member of the Tallahassee Little Theatre where she served as vice-president in 1950.
Between 1949 and 1954 the fledgling Tallahassee Little Theatre actors presented performances in the former army movie theatre at Dale Mabry Field. In 1954 she moved into her parent’s home, at the old Reece farm, on Valley Road across the road from my paternal great-grandparent’s farm to care for her aging parents. Lynn Quinsey, her grandniece, remembers her in later years as an absolute goddess of grace and kindness.
When I was about 12, I mowed Ms. Haun’s expansive lawn on Valley Road. At the time, I thought that Ms. Haun was a piano or singing teacher. I had no idea that she was a famous actress that had traveled the world performing in the notable venues of the day and had been in movies.
Her backyard was filled with flower beds that circled a fountain that had been fashioned from an old black iron molasses/scalding cauldron. Being a typical 12 year old, I didn’t always get it done right but at least I was cheap. The backyard sloped down to a barn where livestock had been kept decades earlier.
It was a creepy place overgrown with vines and kudzu with a small pond close by. I spent time in that barn, with other neighborhood boys, shooting our .22 rifles in the direction of a nearby pond.
This dismayed Foddy who would occasionally watch unapprovingly from his wheelchair and stamp his cane on the ground in frustration. I thought he must have been 100 years old. As it turned out, he was only 99. I’m certain Kathryn thought me to be quite the scallywag.
Kathryn was not discovered in Schwab’s Drug Store in Hollywood like Lana Turner or had a fast-track due to connections. She achieved everything she accomplished through hard work, perseverance, and study. She truly was one of our Tallahassee pioneers.
David Brand is a retired police officer who works for a nonprofit that represents the interests of law enforcement. He lives in St. Teresa Beach, Florida.