The Randolph Society Foundation Board is pleased to announce that Nora Lane, an actress who made her mark as a leading lady in Hollywood Westerns, will be inducted into the 2017 class of honorees.
Nora Schilling was born in 1905 in the small settlement of Cora, in the southernmost part of Randolph County. Her parents were from German immigrant families who lived and farmed the fertile land around Chester and Wine Hill. The family later moved to Willisville, where her father worked in the coal mines. After her mother’s early death, thirteen-year-old Nora was responsible for keeping house and watching her younger siblings.
As a young woman, Nora moved to St. Louis, where she worked as a model. During a 1925 trip to California to visit friends, she was convinced to do a Hollywood screen test. She began working as an extra in silent films, and she was soon signed to a contract with Paramount Pictures. As her star rose, she adopted a stage name: Nora Lane. Her early pictures were Westerns with popular cowboy star Fred Thomson. One, a biopic of the outlaw Jesse James, brought Nora extremely positive reviews.
Thomson’s sudden death in 1928 put a slight damper on Nora’s rising star, but she continued to work steadily in Westerns as well as in other film genres. She acted in films directed by the likes of Cecil B. DeMille and Frank Capra, and she starred alongside famous figures like Boris Karloff, Spencer Tracy, James Cagney, Bette Davis, Judy Garland, Jimmy Stewart, Mickey Rooney, and even Rin Tin Tin. While some actors struggled with the transition from silent to sound, Nora made the transition to talking pictures easily.
Nora’s career waned at the height of the Great Depression, although she continued to work in supporting roles and short films. A failed marriage to her business manager stalled her film career even further. After their divorce, she found success again as a leading lady in Westerns, especially films in the famous Hopalong Cassidy series.
Nora also found renewed happiness in her personal life, marrying Burdette Henney in 1941 and becoming stepmother to his two children, Tim and Jill. Her final film appearance was in 1944, and she began focusing more on her family life and charitable work. After Burdette’s sudden death from a heart attack in 1948, Nora found that she could not endure and ended her own life. Although her life came to a tragic end, her legacy endures, with more than eighty film credits and a career that spanned a fascinating and tumultuous period in film history. Nora saw a career in entertainment as her destiny; just after signing her first studio contract, she told a reporter, “I didn’t choose pictures for a career — they chose me.”