Original Air Date
Original WKMS Program interview aired on
Sounds Good, WKMS.
Original WKMS story description
Our Women's History Month Series continues with a look at the incredible collection of Alney Alba, a woman who was born and died in Calloway County, but spent most of her career in Hollywood and Broadway. On Sounds Good, Matt Markgraf speaks with Sarah Hopley, Special Collections & Exhibits Librarian at Murray State's Pogue Library about Alba's extraordinary careers as an actress, a poet and an artist, and how her very meticulously-kept life story ended up in Pogue's archives.
Alney Allbritten Norell, known by her stage name as Alney Alba, was born in 1904. Her father passed away from typhoid before she was born. Her mother moved her and her brother to Bowling Green, then Indianapolis, finally settling in Denver, where Alney went to school and graduated.
She began her career as a child actor around 1912-1913 in local plays. The summer after she graduated, she worked at a local theatre in Denver before being hired to work as an actress in productions in St. Louis. Her career spawned over 200 movies, TV, radio and Broadway plays and later a poetry career.
Hopley says Alney Alba might best be recognized in the 1959 Hitchcock film North by Northwest. She was also in a made for TV movie on the Schlitz Playhouse of Stars,The Autobiography of Grandma Moses. On stage, he best known work was at Playhouse Theatre in New York in a production of Bernardine, which ran for seven months and was written by Mary Chase, who also wrote Harvey.
The collection at Pogue Library includes her acting resume, which lists the unions she was in, highlights from some of her plays, dialects (Irish, British, Western, Midwestern, Southern). She specialized in playing bankers wives, doctors wives, club members, comedy and documentary. She can drive a car and had a license in New York, can do voice overs, has good teeth (her own), an excellent wardrobe from apron to mink, and has a cat and a dog. She can also smoke and play golf.
Also in this collection are numerous headshots from when she was a child, from her late teens early 20s and in her 30s or 40s. There's another photograph of her later in life, possibly in her 60s, in her second career as a poet.
Alney Alba was also a talented artist, with numerous pen and ink drawings in the collection. Hopley mentioned a pencil drawing from 1922 and a watercolor of flowers from 1932. She says Alney seemed to do artwork for fun and not necessarily as a career choice.
The collection also includes several letters from friends, poems and thoughts on the writing process.
Alney was very interested in scrapbooking and genealogy. In the collection, she saved numerous mentions of her in publications. She took meticulous note of the things she did, often with commentary. Included among these scrapbooks is a photo of her as a young child with Buster Keaton, mentions of "worthless" stock certificates she was given in lieu of payment and dozens of photos with her husband, house, holidays and pets.
Alney eventually returned to Calloway County, due to her interest in genealogy. She became good friends through correspondence with Mrs. Pop Doyle while she was seeking a connection to the Daughters of the American Revolution. She moved to Clarksville, then Benton and finally Murray (where she and her husband are now buried).
She discovered her distant relationship to President Franklin Pierce on her father's side and Mary Todd Lincoln on her mother's side. Her father served in the Spanish American War (and she has a story about how there were no pensions for the veterans and how her mother fought to keep her husband's land. Eventually she was granted a pension of $12 a month).
Hopley says it's very rare to get a collection so well documented and complete. Alba died in 2000. Along with her collection, she left a $75-thousand-dollar bequest to Murray State specifically for Pogue Library.
WKMS, Sounds Good, Matt Markgraf
Markgraf, Matt; Hopley, Sarah; and WKMS, "The Incredible Life of Alney Alba, Calloway Co. Born Actress & Poet" (2016). Special Collections on WKMS. Paper 5.