Helen Brown Cerf-Wagner (Nichols)
|Also Known As:||"Phyllis Fraser"|
|Birthplace:||Kansas City, Jackson, Missouri, United States|
|Death:||Died in New York, New York, United States|
Daughter of Percy Brown and Verda Virginia Owens
|Managed by:||Private User|
Historical records matching Phyllis Fraser
About Phyllis Fraser
Phyllis Fraser Cerf Wagner (April 13, 1916 – November 25, 2006) was an American actress, journalist, and children's book publisher, and the co-founder of Beginner Books.
She was born as Helen Brown Nichols in Kansas City, Missouri. Her mother was Verda Virginia Owens, daughter of Walter and Saphrona (Ball) Owens, who were of Welsh ancestry. Her two maternal aunts were Jean Owens, wife of radio actor Vinton Hayworth (uncle of Rita Hayworth), and Lela (Owens) McMath, mother of Ginger Rogers. Not long after her birth, her mother moved to Oklahoma City, where Fraser resided until age 16.
At 16, she went to live with her aunt, Lela, and first cousin, Ginger, in California. There, Ginger, who would later be known as actress Ginger Rogers, thought up her new name and introduced her to the Hollywood scene. Between 1932 and 1939, Phyllis Fraser appeared in several movies, most notably Winds of the Wasteland (1936) with John Wayne, and Little Men (1934). In 1932 Fraser had a featured role, later deleted, in the RKO film Thirteen Women, a cult classic starring Irene Dunne and Myrna Loy. Thirteen Women was the only film of Theater Guild actress Peg Entwistle, whose suicide from the Hollywood Sign in September of that year helped begin the Sign's transformation from realestate billboard to a world-famous landmark.
In 1939, she abandoned Hollywood for New York City to pursue a career in advertising at McCann Erickson. Soon after her arrival, she was introduced by The New Yorker editor Harold Ross to publishing magnate and Random House co-founder (and future What's My Line? panelist) Bennett Cerf, whom she married on September 17, 1940. They had two sons, Christopher Cerf, an author and composer-lyricist who has contributed numerous songs to Sesame Street, and Jonathan Cerf, the author of Big Bird's Red Book and the 1980 world champion of Othello, the board game.
She wrote The ABC and Counting Book, a children's book, and co-founded Beginner Books, which is the Random House imprint for young children, along with Ted Geisel, more often known as Dr. Seuss, and his wife Helen Palmer Geisel.
After Cerf's death on August 27, 1971, she married the former New York City mayor Robert F. Wagner, Jr. on January 30, 1975. They remained married until Wagner died on February 12, 1991. She lived for the last half of the twentieth century, with each of her husbands, in a five-floor townhouse at 132 East 62nd Street. Despite an undistinguished façade, Denning & Fourcade did the décor. "It’s cozy and grand at the same time, but not elaborately fussy."
She died in Manhattan following a fall, aged 90.
Genealogical relationship to notables
Phyllis Fraser was the daughter of Verda Virginia, née Owens. She was the maternal granddaughter of Walter Winfield Owens and Saphronia Ball. She was the maternal great-granddaughter of Clinton Manross Ball (1817–1893) and Cynthia T. Dale (1823–1900).
Ginger Rogers (née Virginia Katherine McMath) was the daughter of William Eddins McMath and Lela Emogene Owens (1891–1977). She was the maternal granddaughter of Walter Winfield Owens and Saphronia Ball. She was the maternal great-granddaughter of Clinton Manross Ball (1817–1893) and Cynthia T. Dale (1823–1900)
Lucille Ball was the daughter of Henry Durrell Ball (1886–1915) and Desiree Evelyn Hunt (1892–1977). She was the granddaughter of Jasper Clinton Ball (1853–1933) and Nellie Durrell (1856-?). She was the maternal great-granddaughter of Clinton Manross Ball (1817–1893) and Cynthia T. Dale (1823–1900).
The common denominator for all three women was their great-grandparents Clinton Manross Ball and Cynthia T. Dale.
While not a direct relative, Ginger Rogers and Phyllis Fraser's maternal aunt Jean Owens, the daughter of Walter Winfield Owens and Saphronia Ball, married Vinton Hayworth. He was the uncle of Rita Hayworth (1918–1987).