Elyse Knox was an American actor, model, and fashion designer. She studied art in school and fashion designing later. She stepped into the world of acting by chance. Elyse grew up with a keen interest in oil paintings. She was at the start of a career as a fashion designer when a model’s absence brought her a huge modeling opportunity. Elyse modeled for 'Vogue,' which paved her path to Hollywood. She even changed her name and surname to suit her profession. Elyse mostly did supporting and character roles in B-grade movies. However, there were a few notable movies under her belt. Elyse had a leading role in the classic horror 'The Mummy's Tomb.' She later became part of the 'Joe Palooka' franchise. Elyse was part of five of the 11 sequels of the series and worked with actor-golfer Joe Kirkwood, Jr., who played the titular role. Her modeling credits also include campaigns for the premier cosmetic giant 'Maybelline.' Elyse’s love story with football star Tom Harmon was no less than a Hollywood romance. They got engaged but broke up soon. However, they married each other after Elyse divorced her first husband. She had three children with Tom. All of them made successful careers in the entertainment industry.
Childhood & Early Life
Elyse was born Elsie Lillian Kornbrath, on December 14, 1917, in Hartford, the capital of Connecticut, to Austrian immigrant couple Hermine Sophie and Frederick Kornbrath. She had an older brother named Frederic, who was a high-rank officer at 'Lockheed Aircraft Company.'
Elyse studied art in school and then attended the 'Traphagen School of Fashion' in Manhattan, New York, to study fashion designing. In 1937, she bagged a contract with '20th Century Fox’ after getting some of her fashion designing projects featured in 'Vogue' magazine.
Elyse was roped in for a modeling assignment for ‘Vivian Donner’ wedding dresses in 1937 after the contracted model failed to show up. The campaign caught the attention of producer and studio executive Darryl F Zanuck, and she was called for a screen test in New York. She had also worked as a commercial artist, earning $15 a week. Elyse then modeled for 'Vogue’s John Powers.
After Elyse began her journey as an actor, she changed her name and surname, as her birth name was too long to fit in the marquees. Her mother and brother, too, changed their surname. After the release of her first film in 1937, she spent the next 3 years grooming under '20th Century Fox.' Elyse returned on screen in 1940, appearing in seven films that year.
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Elyse began her career playing a nurse in the 1937 'Fox’ musical 'Wake Up and Live.' However, her role was uncredited. Later in her career, she appeared in a few more uncredited roles in films such as 'Yesterday's Heroes' (1940), 'Star Dust' (1940), 'All-American Co-Ed' (1941), and 'Arabian Nights' (1942). In 1941, she was featured as ‘Mary Carson’ in the western 'Sheriff of Tombstone.'
In the initial years of her career, Elyse was mostly seen in brief or character roles. She got her first leading role in the 1942 horror movie 'The Mummy's Tomb.' Elyse was cast as ‘Isobel Evans,’ the girlfriend of the lead character, ‘Steve Banning,’ played by Dick Foran. In 1944, she played herself in the multi-starrer musical 'Follow the Boys' (also known as 'Three Cheers for the Boys'), a morale-booster 'Universal Pictures' project for World War II soldiers and their families.
Around the same time, Elyse was featured in the US military journal 'Yank, the Army Weekly.' Toward the end of 1945, Elyse signed a contract with 'Monogram Pictures' and was cast as ‘Anne Howe,’ girlfriend of fictional comic-strip boxer ‘Joe Palooka.’ She first essayed the character on screen in the 1946 release 'Joe Palooka, Champ.' She soon became an integral part of the 'Joe Palooka' series and later appeared in five sequels, namely, ‘Gentleman Joe Palooka’ (1946), 'Joe Palooka in the Knockout' (1947), 'Joe Palooka in Winner Take All' (1948), 'Joe Palooka in Fighting Mad' (1948), and 'Joe Palooka in the Counterpunch' (1949).
Elyse made her final on-screen appearances in 1949, in the musical film ‘There's a Girl in My Heart’ and the drama 'Forgotten Women.' She then quit acting to take care of her children and husband. Elyse, however, was seen in archive footages twice: in the 1953 drama, 'I Was a Burlesque Queen' and the 1999 video 'Mummy Dearest: A Horror Tradition Unearthed.'
Family & Personal Life
Elyse was engaged to all-American halfback Tom Harmon, whom she had met during the ‘Bing Crosby' radio show. Some sources suggest they had first met at an 'East–West College All-Star' game in 1941. They broke the engagement after Tom joined the ‘US Army Air Forces.' Elyse then married fashion photographer Paul Hesse at the 'Presbyterian Church' in Coronado. The two first met during a photo shoot. Elyse participated in several modeling campaigns for Paul.
The marriage was short-lived, and in 1943, Elyse filed for divorce in Los Angeles, citing domestic violence as the reason. She once revealed that Paul would often turn on the radio at a high volume, so that their neighbors were not able to hear their nasty fights. Around the same time, Elyse dated actor John Payne. However, they broke up later and John married actor Gloria DeHaven.
After Elyse divorced Paul, Tom returned from World War II. The two rekindled their romance and got married in 1944 at 'St. Mary Student Parish' on the campus of the 'University of Michigan,' Ann Arbor, Michigan. Elyse’s wedding gown was made of the silk used in the parachute that had saved Tom during a plane crash. They had three children: Sharon Kristin, who later became an actor and painter; Kelly Jean, a model-turned-interior designer; and Thomas Mark, an actor and a quarterback at the ‘University of California, Los Angeles’ (UCLA.)
On February 16, 2012, Elyse was pronounced dead at her home in Los Angeles. She was 94 at the time of her death.