from Shortridge H.S. in Indpls. Her grandfather was Abram C.
Shortridge, for whom the
school was named. Worked for a short time at Charles
Mayer and Company and L.S. Ayres in Indianapolis. In 1935 her mother
took her to Florida on vacation where she entered a beauty contest
at the last minute and won. Her transformation from model and beauty
queen to actress occurred with little
career planning when she was given a
contract with Universal Studios, which led to
her role in Flash Gordon. She appeared in 20 movies, mostly
"B", from 1935 to 1939. Many of her appearances were uncredited. HOWEVER she did play "Princess Aura" in the Flash
Gordon series in 1936. Unfortunately she was under MGM contract
during "Conquers The Universe" in 1940.
PRISCILLA LAWSON: MYSTERIOUS PRINCESS OF MONGO
by Roy Kinnard
Greta Garbo may have been
publicized as a "mystery woman" by Hollywood, but to fans
of classic movies -- and especially to fans of classic serials --
few actresses have been more mysterious, and elusive, than Priscilla
Lawson. Although she is widely known and fondly remembered by film
buffs for her portrayal of Princess Aura, daughter of Ming the
Merciless, in the classic 13-chapter serial Flash Gordon (Universal,
1936), little factual information has been available on her, until
A statuesque brunette, Priscilla
Lawson was born Priscilla Shortridge in Indianapolis, Indiana on
March 8, 1914. She was the daughter of Elmer Shortridge and Minnie
Hess Shortridge, both also Indiana natives. According to one 1930s
Hollywood film industry source, Priscilla was a professional model
by her early twenties, and was crowned Miss Miami Beach in 1935. A
Universal Pictures movie contract followed, and she appeared in His
Night Out (1935) and the aforementioned Flash Gordon at that studio.
Moving on to Paramount, Priscilla
had supporting roles in Rose Bowl (1936) in which Flash Gordon
co-star Buster Crabbe also appeared, The Big Broadcast of 1937
(1936), and College Holiday (1936). She was then signed by MGM and
had small parts in Double Wedding (1937), The Girl of the Golden
West (1938), and Test Pilot (1938). She capped her brief film career
with a role in the Republic Pictures oater Heroes of the Hills in
1938. She made several unbilled appearances in other films.
Priscilla married "B"
movie actor Alan Curtis (1909-1953), whose real name was Harry
Ueberroth, and joined the armed forces under her married name in
World War II. Although there is no factual verification, Priscilla's
Flash Gordon co-star, the late Jean Rogers, stated in a series of
1980s interviews with this writer that she believed Priscilla had
lost a leg in a war accident -- possibly a jeep wreck -- and upon
leaving the military had managed a stationary shop in Los Angeles
after the war.
What is known for sure is that
after the war Priscilla divorced Alan Curtis, and lived for a while
in her own home on Loma Avenue in Monrovia, California. She died an
untimely death in the Veterans' Administration hospital at Wilshire
and Sawtelle Blvd.s, in West Los Angeles, on August 27, 1958, at the
age of 44. Her cause of death was listed as upper gastro-intestinal
bleeding due to a duodenal ulcer. She was also afflicted with
Laennec's Cirrhosis, although this was not related to the cause of
death. Burial was in Live Oak Memorial Park in Monrovia.
Aside from her memorable work in
Flash Gordon, Priscilla Lawson's film career was unremarkable, and
for reasons unknown, all too brief. But in that one film, Flash
Gordon (recently added to the National Film Registry), she
immortalized and endeared herself to generations of movie fans, who,
after seeing her, have wanted to know more about her. Although there
are still a few questions, now, at least, we have a few more answers
than we had before.
Sincerest thanks are given to Tom
H. Sand and Tony Crnkovich for their invaluable contributions to
Kinnard is the author of
the recent book "Science Fiction
Serials," published by
McFarland & Co.
Priscilla Lawson Photo