Shirlie Alice Montgomery • June 9, 1918 – Nov 5, 2012

Shirlie always had her camera handy.
Shirlie Alice Montgomery was born on Chapman Street in San Jose on June 9, 1918. She was an only child. To her friends and neighbors she was a treasure trove of history. Shirlie remembered it all. She remembered the Great Depression as a child, the Second World War as a young woman, and eventually the transformation of the Santa Clara Valley from a moderately sized agricultural town to the hustle and bustle of modern Silicon Valley. The majority of her memories were supported by the thousands of photographs in her collection.
Young Shirlie Montgomery

Shirlie a few years ago from an article in the Rose Garden Resident.

She was the grandniece of San Jose’s forefather T.S. Montgomery. Shirlie lived a colorful life but professionally she photographed it with a 4X5 Speed Graphic in B&W. She was a celebrated photographer that shot Hollywood stars, U.S. Presidents and pro wrestlers. Although Shirlie did work for the S. F. Examiner and the San Jose Mercury her works remain some of the best representations of pro wrestling from the 40’s thru the 60’s. When asked about her penchant for shooting professional wrestlers she would answer “I always liked the big boys”. Such stories Shirlie had! She passed away quietly on November 5, 2012. She will never be forgotten. God rest her soul.

Obituary written by Shirlie's good friend and neighbor Joe Holt

Saturday, March 24, 2018

Nana Ruth Gollner ... friend of Shirlie

Nana Ruth Gollner (Jan 8th 1919 – Aug 30th 1980)

I was rummaging through some more of Shirlie’s old letters when I came across a couple from “Nana Ruth.” At first I thought this was someone of her parent’s generation … “Nana” usually being a nickname for “grandma.” But when I read one of the letters, Nana wrote: “Shirley (sic) you must keep this a secret but next summer I may go to Europe on a dancing concert tour. Of course we would play America first. I am going to be the solo dancer of a small ballet for Mr. Kasloff. Wouldn’t that be great? I’m wild to go.” I just had to follow up on this!

So I discovered who Nana Ruth Gollner was. She was a remarkable lady. Born in El Paso, Texas, in 1919, Gollner was stricken with infantile paralysis at age two. One leg was severely affected, and an El Paso doctor suggested that instead of an operation Nana should try walking in sand. As Nana got stronger, the doctor also thought that daily ballet lessons would help … little Nana took to the dancing lessons with glee. By the age of eight, most signs of her paralysis were gone.

In 1927 or 1928, the Gollners moved to Los Gatos, California. This is where Nana Ruth Gollner met Shirlie Alice Montgomery. The two hit it off right away. (I remember Shirlie mentioning Ruth in conversation.) They both took ballet lessons and in 1929, the two girls were cast as Blossom Princesses in the Saratoga Blossom Festival.
Shirlie & Ruth Blossom Festival - Oakland Tribune Mar 21, 1929
1929 Blossom Princesses ... Shirlie on the left ... Nana Ruth on the right
NOTE: Olivia de Havilland and Joan Fontaine were also in ballet classes in Saratoga at the same time … Shirlie remembers them well from taking dancing lessons with them. Did they also dance with Nana Ruth?

The first letter I have is dated Feb 25th 1928. Nana was but nine years old. She was on her way to San Francisco on the train on her way to see Queen Mary’s Dollhouse.

Have you heard of the queen’s doll house? If you have not here is the story. Queen Mary of England has a doll house, that was given to her by a man. It has the very best of arts. The little piano is so small that it has to be played by tooth picks but a tune can be played. It has real books. The doll house has fifteen rooms in all. I am going to see it today, and in my next letter I’ll let you know more about it. Queen Mary of England has named it Titiana’s Palace. It took the man twenty years to finish it. I guess it is a beauty.

Nana Ruth also mentions that she is writing short stories and she included one she wrote in the envelope for Shirlie.

Nana Ruth’s story (all grammar and spelling is as she wrote it):

Once open a time there was a king who had a Prince, and a queen who had a Princess. One day the king and queen married.

The princess who was very beautiful was then taken to the ball and so was the prince. At first sight of the Princess the Prince fell in love with her. At the ball there were three wise men who told the life of the Prince and Princess. They told the king that the Princess would bring them bad luck. So the king had the Princess put in prison.

One day when the Prince heard of this he went around the street telling poiple what had happened. Finally he had quit a large army. They marched up against the king and made him tell them where the Princess was. When he did this and they found her the king was put in her place.

The queen was so glat to see her Princess that even though she dident like the Prince she gave them permission to marry. This they did and lived happily ever after.

Both the letter and the story are exceptional for a nine year old to write.

The second letter is the one that had caught my attention. It is undated, but probably early 1930s, as Nana Ruth started her professional career at the age of 14 (c1933). In the letter she says she in living in Hollywood and working at the studio … Kosloff Studio on Bronson & Franklin.

From Los Gatos by Peggy Conaway 2004 Arcadia Publishing
Nana Ruth Gollner went on to have a long and successful career, both as a ballerina and as a ballet teacher. During the 1940s she appeared alternately with the American Ballet Theatre, the Ballet Russe and the London-based International Ballet, becoming the first twentieth-century North American to gain prima ballerina roles in a European company. In 1952nshe moved to Belgium with her husband (Danish dancer Paul Eilif Petersen), where she lived until her death in Antwerp in 1980.

From an article in LIFE Magazine Feb 19, 1940
Shirlie led a truly interesting life and met some remarkable people along the way. Nana Ruth Gollner was another of those over-achievers that crossed paths with Shirlie.

Saturday, February 25, 2017

Shirlie ... Artist ... not just a Photographer

Through the years I learned that Shirlie was not just a photographer. She had a great eye for art, was a observer of people and an artist in so many ways. She was an author ... writing short stories and poetry. She was a lithographer ... see her linoleum block prints. She was an artist ... her drawings and graphic illustrations were integral parts of her scrapbooks. 

Then one day, not long ago, I came across this little weird looking bird! I almost got rid of it. Then I saw the mark on the bottom ... SM '35. This was Shirlie's! A little pottery bird made when Shirlie was 17 years old.

I remember her telling me about a class she took on making pottery. She threw some pots ... never found those. She never mentioned this little critter.

Friday, December 2, 2016

University of Santa Clara ROTC 1937-38

Shirlie had this awesome scrapbook of photos she rescued from the San Jose News morgue ... all of college kids and sports from 1937-1938. These photos are about the Reserve Officer's Training Corp at SCU. Back then, right up through the 1970s or so, ROTC was required for all frosh and sophomore men. (Of course "men" as SCU was a men's only college back then.) 

I remember the Wednesday march in review events very well from my days at SCU (Class of 1966). The old woolen uniforms. The spit polished shoes. The bright, shiny brass buttons. The classes in military history, tactics and strategies, rules and regulations. We even had to carry rifles (NOT "guns") but they were disabled. ROTC is a thing of the past for most Bay Area colleges and high schools ... not politically correct. Too bad.

This photo album was donated to the SCU Library Archives by Shirlie quite a few years ago.

Monday, September 19, 2016

Shirlie's Teddy Bear

Shirlie's Teddy Bear was very well-loved for ninety years! I showed you a photo of her with her Teddy a couple of days ago. Here is that photo again, plus one of her Teddy today. We donated her Teddy ... which she kept forever ... to the HSJ Shirley Montgomery Collection.

Shirlie with her Teddy Bear c1921

 Photo from our private Collection

Shirlie's Teddy which currently resides in the Shirlie Montgomery Collection at HSJ

  (Image from the 
Bob and Susan Bortfeld, Shirlie Montgomery Collection
 at History San Jose. Used with permission.)

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Shirlie Childhood Photos

Shirlie's friend Kirk once said ... and I am in firm agreement ... tha "the only thing Shirlie liked better than taking photos was having her photo taken!" So true. Even as a child, Shirlie liked to be in front of the camera. I put together a series of snapshots of young Shirlie from age one or so (1919) to age twelve (1931). See what you think.

These not only show Shirlie growing up, but give a glimpse into living in San Jose as a middle class family in the 1920s.

Kinda looks like the other famous "Shirley"

Miss Toddler Shirlie

Great hair Shirlie!

She loved to pose for the camera

Shirlie told me that the only place she loved as much as San Francisco was the beach at Santa Cruz ... she started early

Posing with a hoop

Shirlie absolutely LOVED her Teddy Bear ... She kept it all her life and it now resides with her collection at History San Jose

In her white bloomers

Back at the beach

Studio photo of Shirlie with a toy rabbit

Must have been the same day
Shirlie with her new friend

The spaniel has grown up ... Shirlie just a little bit

Shirlie in her "all together" ... hand-colored by Shirlie later

Shirlie being coy

Ahhh ... the actress in Shirlie is showing!

Blossom Festival in 1929

Shirlie (in the middle right) and friends

School play ... Shirlie on right

Shirlie loved the sailors in the 1940s ... looks like she liked the "look" c1930

Shirlie nearly a teenager at twelve in 1931
All photos are from our Private Collection

Monday, September 12, 2016

Boy's Wails Vie with King Lear's

“Oh, mamma, mamma, I'm dying, I'm dying. Take me out of here."

Those were the cries of little Montgomery Reynolds during a performance of King Lear at the Van Ness Theater in 1908.  What!? It happened and was reported in the San Francisco Call on Wednesday, May 20th 1908.

Here's the story. Shirlie's grand-uncle was T. S. Montgomery. His daughter Coralie Montgomery Reynolds was visiting the City that May of 1908. She and her four year old son Montgomery went to the Van Ness Theater to see a performance of Shakespeare's King Lear ... Taking a four year old to see King Lear has to be a questionable choice! ... The youngster was apparently not impressed.

Here's the story, as reported in The Call:


“Oh, mamma, mamma, I'm dying, I'm dying. Take me out of here."

The audience at the Van Ness theater started in its seats last night when these shrill cries resounded through the orchestra. Robert Mantell, as sad old, mad old King Lear, was just in the act of bemoaning “how sharper than a serpent's tooth it is to have a thankless child" when the outcry came. Mantell paused in the midst of his simulated misery and the audience craned its neck.

Up and out ran aisle ran a frightened woman, leading by the hand a small boy in a Buster Brown suit. Outside the wails of the "dying" boy attracted Patrolman Frederickson."^' An automobile was at the curb. The officer seized the all but moribund youth and tossed him into the big machine. In hopped the woman and down the streets they went whizzing to the central emergency hospital.

The boy was Master Montgomery Reynolds, aged 12 (
actually age 4). The woman was his mother (Coralie Montgomery Reynolds). They live in southern California, but are visiting at 1235 Laguna street.

At the hospital Dr. Pinkham informed Master Montgomery that he was suffering from a neuralgic attack of the muscles of his juvenile chest. He advised Mrs. Reynolds to place a hot water bag upon the offending muscles at bedtime, and mother and son hiked back to the Van Ness and the woes of Lear.

Forty-five minutes later Master Montgomery emitted another yelp of agony and mother and son again sought the central emergency.

Dr. Pinkham gazed feelingly upon Master Montgomery and advised his mother to resort to the ancient cure of "the laying on of hands," specifying the portion of the boyish anatomy most likely to be affected beneficially. Then mother and son walked out into the night, but not back to the Van Ness.

I do like the second prescription ordered by the wise doctor ... 

Here is a copy of the actual article:


Tuesday, July 19, 2016

T. S. Montgomery ... a San Jose Legend ... and a Poet

Thomas Seymour Montgomery (1885 - 1944) is frequently called the “father of downtown San Jose” and was a very influential real estate developer, community leader and a visionary. His achievements in San Jose included both the Vendome, Montgomery and St. Claire Hotels, the Naglee Park subdivision in San Jose and La Paloma Terrace neighborhood in Saratoga (where Lillian Fontaine and her two daughters once lived).  It was his vision ... and determination ... that created what is now the modern San Jose footprint back at the turn of the last century.  He was also a director on both the Southern Pacific and Western Pacific Railroads, as well as the chairman of the board of the California Prune and Apricot Growers association.

T. S. Montgomery is a native son of the Santa Clara Valley. At 13 he was a newsboy and at 16 he became entirely self-dependent. His parents settled in Santa Clara County in 1853 ... his father is a Virginian by birth and his mother is a native of Ohio.

His first big home was on North First Street in San Jose in 1887.

San Jose Residence ( Artotype No. 28, with "S. F. News Letter," Sept. 30, 1887)

Later, in 1900 he built a home in Saratoga on the Saratoga-Los Gatos Road (where Fatima Villa is today). The brick wall there is a remnant of his old estate.

Saratoga Residence c1900 (Photo courtesy of the Saratoga Historical Society Newsletter Jan 2013 )

In 1929 he and his wife Louise moved into their mansion on Branciforte Creek in Santa Cruz ... La Casa de Montgomery. 

Gates to the La Casa de Montgomery ... that's Ginger out front.
La Casa de Montgomery aerial view.

Thomas Seymour Montgomery passed away in 1944.
T. S. Montgomery's Obituary as published in the Santa Cruz Sentinal (March 26, 1944)
Thanks to Shirlie, we have quite a bit of historical archives about her grand-uncle Tom. Aside from the photos (two of which are below, other items are in the History San Jose collection), he left behind some writings ... essays and poetry. He was also a scrapbooker!
That's T. S. in the suit along with his wife Louise and Shirlie's parents Rea and Mantie ... and Shirlie on the left.
T. S. with his wife Louise and Shirlie's mom Mantie ... and Shirlie too.

Below is a small self-published booklet of selections about his home on Branciforte Creek and his canine pal "Ginger."

Click on the image to see a larger and more readable copy.

Unless otherwise credited, images and content are from the Bob & Susan Bortfeld Private Collection. Copyright protected.