So, did you ever find any trace of "Helen Holden, Government Girl" after you wrote about the 1940s radio show in your column?
Enquiring Minds Everywhere
Regular readers of this column (there are regular readers, aren't there?) will recall that on Sept. 20, Answer Man addressed a question from Jack French, an old-time radio buff who lives in Fairfax.
Jack has just published "Private Eyelashes," a book that catalogues radio detective serials with female leads (see www.bearmanormedia.com for more info). He lamented the lack of information about "Helen Holden, Government Girl," the only national show that was produced in Washington.
Jack hoped readers might shed light on the show or its stars, including an actress named Nancy Ordway, who played the title role.
The column piqued the interest of Jerry McCoy, a librarian in the Washingtoniana Room of the main D.C. library and the Peabody Room of the Georgetown library, who tracked down the Colorado phone number of one Godwin Ordway III.
I called the Colorado number. Godwin III, Nancy Ordway's nephew, had passed away. His widow, Ute, had some surprising news: Nancy is alive and well and living in Key West, Fla. She turned 90 on Sept. 5.
"All I can really tell you about the show is that it was about a stupid young girl," Nancy said when I called her. "It was not a spectacular show. I don't think it had much personality."
The same can't be said for Nancy, who is one sharp nonagenarian. That she starred in a radio program at all is a bit of a miracle, given how much her Army officer father loathed the idea of her being an actress. (Washington's Ordway Street is named for Nancy's grandfather, Albert, a Civil War hero.)
Nancy's father didn't want her to end up like his sister, a music hall star in the Gay Nineties who shamed the family by allowing men to drink champagne from her slipper.
When Nancy landed her first stage role at the National Theatre -- in "Sailor, Beware," a play The Post described as a "lusty farce" -- her father called the stage manager and said he was taking her out of the cast.
"He said: 'Would you let your daughter do that?' " Nancy remembered. (As it turned out, the stage manager would, since his daughter filled in after Nancy backed out.)
Radio was somehow less threatening to Godwin Ordway, and Nancy became Helen Holden.
"I'm a ham at heart," she said.
Nancy was apologetic that she didn't have anything left from her "Helen Holden" days -- no scripts or recordings and only a single publicity photo. She thinks the show wasn't very good.
"I can't remember that we did anything mysterious. All I remember was romantic stuff."
Even that wasn't handled in a deft fashion. Nancy remembered one episode where Helen Holden and her boyfriend were meant to be having dinner at the very chic Blue Room in the Shoreham Hotel. They raised their glasses for a toast, but since the prop man used heavy beer mugs, there wasn't the demure tinkle of wine glasses. Said Nancy: "We went clank-clonk, and I burst into laughter."
Even though the show was on radio, not television, the producer eventually decided the lead actress needed to look more glamorous for publicity photos.
"They asked me would I pluck my eyebrows," said Nancy, "and I said: 'hell no.' " She was replaced after a year by Frances Brunt.
"It's no wonder I have an inferiority complex," she joked.
Nancy taught drama at Georgetown Visitation girls school for a while, then moved to New York after marrying her first husband. After he died, she moved to Chevy Chase and worked in public relations.
In 1974, she married a short-story writer named Colin Jameson and moved to Key West, where she's lived ever since.
"And that's my story, boring and sweet."
Jack French doesn't think it's boring. He sent Nancy a copy of his book and is looking forward to a long conversation with her, a living link to radio's past.
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