Putting the Mystery of Helen Monday to Rest

Several scholars have looked into Helen Monday's career after Stark Love and concluded, as some had about Karl Brown, that she vanished without a trace. For a column in 1979, The Knoxville News-Sentinel's Carson Brewer interviewed a woman purporting to be Helen Mundy. Following a tip from a reader, Brewer claimed to have located her living under the name Mrs. Donald Barringer in Galesburg, a tiny suburb of Kalamazoo, Mich.

Several years later, Professor J.W. Williamson, an English professor at Appalachian State in North Carolina, attempted to trace Brewer's sources for a chapter in his 1995 book, Hillbillyland, a funny and often scorching book about Appalachian stereotypes in the movies. The book helped pique our interest in Helen Mundy's brief career.

When Williamson contacted Mrs. Donald Barringer of Galesburg, Mich.—the only one listed under that uncommon name in that area—the woman claimed never to have heard of Helen Mundy.

We talked to her, too, and got the same response. Though she says she has lived in this small Kalamazoo suburb for decades, she never heard of any other Mrs. Donald Barringer, old movie star or not. "As far as I know, nobody's ever heard of her," she says. The existence of another Mrs. Donald Barringer in such a tiny town struck Williamson as highly unlikely.

Williamson concluded in Hillbillyland that Brewer's claim to have located Helen Mundy was "totally erroneous."

Recently, Knoxville librarian and film enthusiast Tom Mayer located an earlier article in the News-Sentinel which neither Brewer nor Williamson knew about. Written in 1969 by reporter Linda Kelley, the article also describes Helen Mundy as Mrs. Donald Barringer of Galesburg, Michigan. She told Kelley some of the same stories she'd tell Brewer a decade later. The big difference was that the 1969 article included a picture of Mrs. Donald Barringer, looking over a scrapbook. She's more than 40 years older and a little worse for the wear, but she looks a whole lot like the star of Stark Love.

Through local sources, we tracked down the family of Helen Mundy—or Monday, as they prefer. Her great nephew, Richards Hill, is a sales rep for Pinkerton Security in Nashville. He confirms that Helen Monday was indeed another Mrs. Donald Barringer of Galesburg.

Hill doesn't remember Aunt Helen well—she had moved to Michigan long before he was born, and was confined in a nursing home there the last several years of her life—but he knew Aunt Helen had a brief movie career.

Hill's grandmother, Janet Mundy Warters, the big sister who chaperoned Helen to several of the movie functions, died in Knoxville about 10 years ago. Hill remembers his grandmother talking about chaperoning her sister on these "risqué" film shoots, but few of the children paid much attention to her stories. "We thought, big deal, a silent film," he admits.

His family was not aware that scholars on both sides of the Atlantic were interested in Aunt Helen's fate.

© 2001 MetroPulse. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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