by Joan Champ
The following is the fifth installment in a series about Nan Dorland, a radio star from New York City who struggled to become a writer and a prospector in northern Saskatchewan. Follow at www.nandorland.blogsot.com or on Instagram @discoveringnan.
On October 15, 1936, Nan married Richard C. Morenus (1894-1968) in New York City. She was about to turn 25 and he was 42. It is likely they met during the early 1930s when Richard’s advertising agency was selling advertising spots for radio in the Windy City.
The marriage certificate reveals some interesting information. For example, Richard claimed that this was his second marriage, when in fact it was his fifth. Curiously, Nan, whose legal name was Annette Evangeline Danke, recorded her name on the certificate as her mother’s name, Evangeline Hield Danke.
Some of the best fishing in the State of New York was at Congers Lake on the west shore of the Hudson River, about 30 miles north of New York City. This is where Nan and Richard chose to spend their honeymoon.
The newlyweds rented a rowboat and went fishing for bass and pickerel. Unfortunately, the only photographs that survive from the Morenus’ honeymoon are ones of Richard taken by Nan (shown here). There are no photos of Nan in the collection I acquired, so I have to assume they were destroyed by Richard or by his sixth wife Nora.
(Some background: I wrote a letter to the editor of the Sioux Lookout Bulletin requesting information about Nan and Richard Morenus. After reading my letter, the current owners of the island on which the couple lived from 1941 to 1947 sent me a box containing hundreds of photographs of Richard Morenus from infancy to old age. The collection was heavily culled – likely by Richard or perhaps by Nora – as there are no photos of Nan or any of Richard’s other ex-wives.)
Nan’s love of the great outdoors may have started on her honeymoon with Richard. “Few girls are good fisherwomen,” an article in the Vermont newspaper The Landmark on August 18, 1938 states, “but Nan Dorland, who plays Kathleen in ‘Aunt Jenny’s Real Life Stories,’ is so good that she even insists on making her own trout flies and bass lures.” The article goes on to say that Nan “tried forty original dry flies for trout fishing last spring and her bass lures, or bugs, are so good she’s going to patent them.” (I have not yet found any record of Nan’s bass lure patent in the United States.)
Life in New York City
Nan and Richard were both working in radio at the time of their marriage – he in advertising then as a writer and Nan as a performer. At the time of their wedding, they lived at 33 West 51st Street, a block away from NBC studios at Rockefeller Centre. They soon moved into a 10-storey, 104-unit apartment building called Randolph House, 135 East 50th Street, about half a block off Lexington Avenue in the heart of Midtown Manhattan.
The couples’ salaries from NBC would not have been high. According to Robert Eichberg, in 1937 big radio stars like Kate Smith and Eddie Cantor were paid $7500 per episode, but staff performers made much less. Announcers might have been paid $50 to $90 per week, while singers made as little as $25 per week. “Staff script writers worked on a low weekly salary; only those turning out exclusive material or star get more.” [Source: Robert Eichberg, Radio Stars of Today, 1937.] Richard would have been paying alimony to at least some of his previous four wives and child support for his only son. Nan, on the other hand, may have been receiving income from her mother’s estate or other family sources. I have no evidence of this, however.
Still, the Morenuses had a comfortable lifestyle enhanced by a dog – a cocker spaniel named Nik – which they took for daily walks along Lexington Avenue. They also had a car – a coupe – into which they loaded Nik, a typewriter, and other belongings when they moved to northern Ontario in 1941.
Nan and Richard’s social life in New York City largely revolved around their work at NBC.In his article “From Broadway to Bush” for Maclean’s magazine (September 1, 1946), Richard describes himself and his wife as “two people instinctively gregarious, so dependent upon contacts with other human beings for livelihood.” Richard writes that, on their last night in New York before moving to northern Ontario in May 1, 1941, they “were partied, and had to listen to the head-shaking commiseration of our friends.”
It was not long before they were missing those friends. In a letter to his former boss Lewis H. Titterton, Manager of NBC’s Script Division, written from Sioux Lookout on May 15, 1941, Richard said, “I’m glad I left some friends, for I liked the people I was working with and wanted them for friends…it’s a warm feeling.” [Source: Wisconsin Historical Society, National Broadcasting Company Records, 1921-1976.]