The Saga of Helen and Montgomery Chumbley

by Gail Chumbley

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Helen Thompson

Helen Chaddock Thompson hailed from a show business family. Her father, Floyd Chaddock Thompson, was a showman who joined the rapidly growing popularity of mass entertainment.  At various times, Floyd managed Steeple Chase Park in New York, Wonderland Park in Boston, and promoted acts such as Buffalo Bill Cody and Harry Houdini. 

While managing Wonderland on Revere Beach, Floyd leaped from an air balloon wearing a parachute for publicity.  The stunt nearly killed him when he slipped from the chute, hung on for dear life, only to land on busy railroad tracks.

Beginning early, around age five, daughter Helen started dancing. In particular, she trained for the ballet, along with her sister, in Jackson Heights, Queens.  Encouraged by her parents, the girl expanded her repertoire to include tap - soon adding gymnastic flourishes, establishing a signature style. The girl clearly worked hard, continuing her training, even after her debut as a professional dancer. For Helen there was always some new technique or new style to perfect.

With disciplined determination, Helen broadened her offerings to include vocal training and performances on the silver screen. She appeared in a handful of Hollywood films, "Women of All Nations," as a harem girl, and in three other films, including the original "Scarface," as an extra in the chorus.

Whether performing on Vaudeville stages, executing classical ballet, or singing with an orchestra in Argentina, Helen gave her best--a perennial and consummate professional. 

She died before I knew my husband, and I never had the opportunity to meet or speak with Helen. Still, an examination of the things she left behind: letters, mementos, playbills and photos, I came to understand a willing, hard working, sweet-tempered, loyal, and riotously fun girl.

 

 

 

 

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