From Rio to Broadway

by Jacob L. Bapst and Ivan M. Tribe

Today the name of Beryl Halley is largely forgotten. But in the decade remembered as the “Roaring Twenties,” she made a name for herself. Best known for three seasons as a “Ziegfeld Girl.”

Beryl Halley

Nannie (later changed to Nina) Beryl Halley was born in the tiny Ohio River hamlet of Bladen, Ohio on June 20, 1897, the middle child of Samuel and Melissa Porter Halley. She had an older sister Cecile and a younger brother.

Educational opportunities were limited in Gallia County, and the parents aspired for their children to get as much schooling as possible. As a result, the parents took charge of the Boarding Hall at Rio Grande College in the summer of 1909, a position they held until 1912. By that time, both Cecile and Beryl were firmly ensconced into the “Rio community” from whence both girls were graduated from the High School and Cecile obtained a bachelor’s degree in 1917. Beryl completed high school in 1916 and entered college.

Women were allowed to enlist in the navy during World War I, and Beryl enlisted as a yeomanette in Parkersburg on September 17, 1918, going to Norfolk, Virginia. Since the War ended a couple of months later, her naval career seems not to have lasted much beyond basic training and she was relieved of duty on August 5, 1919.

The next known episode in the Halley saga began on August 10, 1921, when the Broadway musical comedy and satire Tangerine opened. A mild hit, Tangerine ran for 361 performances until it closed on August 26, 1922. Although Beryl began as a chorus girl, at mid-point she moved to the speaking part of “Kulikuli,” replacing someone who had departed. More importantly, she began to establish herself as a name on Broadway.

The three seasons (1923, 1924, and 1925) of the Follies in which Halley appeared amassed some 616 shows. One of her appearances bore the title “Palm Beach Nights.” But perhaps her most noted part came from a skit titled “The Bunk of 1926” in which she appeared as Eve in the Garden of Eden, wearing little, if anything more than a fig leaf, and handing out apples to the audience.

Ms. Halley’s next known significant happening came on September 30, 1933, when she married World War Marine Veteran and insurance executive Chester O. Falkenhainer. The marriage endured for several years but proved to be a rocky one. The couple became parents of a son. Chester, Jr. on July 22, 1941, who remains better known as Chet.

In 1947, she and Falkenhainer divorced but remarried on January 3, 1948. They split again in May with Beryl taking Chester, Jr. in tow. Falkenhainer hired detectives to trace his estranged and soon to be ex-wife who moved around to several locales including Vancouver, Montreal, and eventually the Houston, Texas area. In the meantime, Beryl remarried a younger man named Jim McCormick, a union that also failed a few years later. McCormick, worked in the shipping business, and the threesome moved wherever his job took them until 1950 when they settled permanently in Houston.

Beryl Halley Photo

Ultimately, in November 1953, Beryl and Chester agreed to share their twelve-year-old son. Beryl reared the boy during the school year and Chester having custody during the holiday breaks and summer.

Beryl returned to the profession she apparently learned during her stint in the navy, that of stenographer. She became a legal secretary in the Houston law firm of Butler, Binion, Rice, Cook & Knapp.

Beryl Halley McCormick died in Fort Bend County, just south of Houston on January 2, 1988, at the age of ninety. Her remains were cremated and parts of them were later placed in Central Park, her favorite location in the “Big Apple,” except perhaps for the Broadway stage.

As her son wrote in an email of June 18th, 2017, to Kelsie Powell, a Rio Grande student preparing a speech about his mother “She was a free spirit and a trailblazer for other women after her. Everything she achieved was due to her determination and confidence in her ability to make it. I am immensely proud to be her son! Now that her story has been told in Rio, I hope she will be an inspiration to you and the other girls of Rio that NOTHING is impossible if you will just go for it with all your heart.”

Interested in learning more about Beryl Halley? Check out "Beryl Halley: The Life and Follies of a Ziegfeld Beauty, 1897-1988" on Amazon.