Elsa Walden -- her life
May 24, 1922 - November 5, 2004


This is an ongoing project. Please send your Elsa stories and photos to anabeth at dollins dot org
Elsa wrote her own obit in 1990 in a writing class. The TRUTH is in brackets.

RENOWNED AUTHOR DIES
Elsa Walden Succumbs at 103 [She was 82 when she died.]

NYC...Elsa Walden, author of the best-sellers, NOT ALONE, and EVERY MAN I'VE EVER LOVED IS DEAD, died yesterday in her East Side apartment as she and her secretary-companion, James Wholesome, were discussing her next writing project. Her death is attributed to complications associated with her advanced age, although she had been in excellent health. [She died in Urbana, Illinois, from a head injury due to a fall.]

Walden's plays, TIES, THE FRIGHTENED YEARS, A HARVEST OF NETTLES, and SNOWFLAKE, her novel ALL THAT RAIN, and her many children's stories, have made her name a household word in the homes of the world. Her works have been translated into twenty languages. [Her name is a household word in the homes of her extended family and her many friends. All of her known works are in English.]

Walden was a "Wednesday's Child", born on Wednesday, May 24, 1922, near Bedford, Missouri, to Bessie (Gray) and Elbert Earl Walden. Two older brothers died in infancy. Following her father's death in a tragic accident in 1927, her mother moved with the three surviving children to Villa Grove, Illinois, to be closer to the mother's relatives. Walden's older sister and brother predeceased her. Although her father's and mother's ancestors were in this country prior to the Revolutionary War, Walden is survived by no relatives. [She means descendants. She is survived by lots of relatives.]

After graduating from the Villa Grove High School in 1940, Walden worked and lived in Washington DC, Chicago, New York City, California, Tennessee, Illinois (again), Florida, Pittsburgh, Illinois, and finally returned to New York City. She often said she had inherited her ancestors "itchy feet". [She never made it back to New York. Her last residence was Urbana, Illinois.]

She will be buried in the Villa Grove Cemetery next to her mother. On the back of her stone is inscribed, "See you later, alligator", and on that of her mother, "After while, Crocodile."

On the face of Walden's stone is inscribed, "The wave that does not reach the shore...", a quotation from Thomas Wolff. The stone was erected in the last century and certainly the quotation is no longer appropriate. [The quotation actually is 'Just As I Am.']

Walden died yesterday, October 17, 2025, the fiftieth anniversary of the death of her mother. [Walden died on November 5, 2004.]


This is Elsa's life, as compiled from her papers:

. . . . . The Missouri years 1922-1927
. . . . . The Illinois years 1927-1941
. . . . . Washington, DC 1941-1942
. . . . . The Chicago years 1942-1953
. . . . . New York 1953-1957
. . . . . California 1957-1958
. . . . . Back in New York 1958-1968
. . . . . Oak Ridge, Tennessee 1968-1971
. . . . . Illinois, again 1971-1977
. . . . . Florida 1977-1984
. . . . . Pittsburgh 1984-1989
. . . . . Illinois 1989-2004


Missouri, 1922-1927:
. . . . . May 24, 1922: born in Grand River Township, Livingston County, Missouri. Her father was a farmer.
. . . . . 1927 - Her father died and the family (mother with three kids) moved to central Illinois.

back to index


Illinois, 1927-1941:
. . . . . 1927 or 1928 - Mom bought a house in Villa Grove, Douglas County.
. . . . . September 1928 - started 1st grade in Villa Grove Grade School
. . . . . May 1936 - graduated from Junior High
. . . . . Sep 1936 - entered Villa Grove High School
. . . . . 1937 - acted in "Hobgoblin House," the homecoming play, as a sophomore
. . . . . 1937 - Gene Watkins and Elsa, sophomores, were inducted into the National Honor Society. (Photo at left)
. . . . . 1938-1940 - High School honors and activities:
. . . . . . . class salutatorian
. . . . . . . editor of school yearbook and school newspaper
. . . . . . . 120 words per minute shorthand pin
. . . . . . . received the Commercial Award
. . . . . . . received the D.A.R. Good Citizenship Certificate
. . . . . May 24, 1940 - graduated from Villa Grove High School (her 18th birthday!)
. . . . . . . That night went to Champaign with sister Wilma to work one month for ______ - where Wilma had worked.
. . . . . Sep 1940 to Apr 1941 - High School secretary in Villa Grove.

back to index


Washington, DC, 1941-1942:
. . . . . April 1941-June 1942 - civil service job with Treasury Department
. . . . . modeled for portrait painting class at Corcoran Gallery Art School

back to index


Chicago, Illinois, 1942-1953:
. . . . . June 1942-Sep 1953: stenographer, then legal correspondence clerk with US Treasury Dept.
. . . . . . . . . . worked on 17th Floor of Chicago Merchandise Mart with Bureau of Public Debt.
. . . . . took courses in composition and business and professional speech at Schurz Evening Jr. College
. . . . . took courses at Columbia College: writing, directing, acting, and production for TV and stage
. . . . . very active in Tall Girls' Club. Past-President, Chicago Tall Club, American Affiliation of Tall Clubs. Chaired three national conventions. "Our efforts in the '40s brought attention to need for tall clothing to manufacturers and retailers."
. . . . . October, 1951: contestant in the 891st broadcast of the "Morris B. Sachs Amateur Hour."
. . . . . 1953 - Herb Rogers' Tent House Theatres.

back to index


New York, 1953-1957:
. . . . . memberships: Actors' Equity, Screen Actors Guild, American Federation of TV and Radio Artists, associate member of Dramatists Guild of America
. . . . . studied acting at the American Theatre Wing
. . . . . 1954-1968 miscellaneous acting and writing-for-stage courses from H-B Studio
. . . . . Oct 1953-June 1955: worked as temporary secretary for Theater Guild people (e.g., Lawrence and Philip Langner), and for temporary steno agencies, part-time.
. . . . . appeared on TV shows: Kraft, US Steel Hour; appeared in off-Broadway, non-paying plays.

. . . . . July 1955-Aug 1955: actress at American Children's Theatre. Played Ma Crockett in a production of YOUNG DAVY CROCKETT which toured the summer stock theatres on the East Coast. Friend Bernie adds: "Elsa played the mother because she was tall. I played a child because I was short. The furniture was scaled up so that we 'kids' looked like kids."

. . . . . Sep 1955-Jan 1956: production secretary for TIME LIMIT! (starring Arthur Kennedy and Richard Kiley; Windsor Lewis, Director). "I worked on the script, set up auditions, read with the actors as they auditioned, handled all correspondence and phone calls. I sat in on all rehearsals and conferences. I took the author's and director's notes during performances."

. . . . . Jan 1956-May 1956: assistant to Lawrence Langner, producer, on AFFAIR OF HONOR, starring Dennis King and Betsy Palmer. Took notes and dictation from producer and author (Bill Hoffman); kept script up-to-date, sat in at all rehearsals and conferences and, when an actress left the show, took over her role for the brief run in New York.

. . . . . May 1956-Dec 1956: production secretary for Broadway production of BELLS ARE RINGING, by Betty Comden and Adolph Green; starring Judy Holiday and Sidney Chaplin.

. . . . . Dec 1956-Sep 1957: production secretary, assistant stage manager, and actress for TUNNEL OF LOVE, starring Tom Ewell. "I worked on the script with the author, typed all the re-writes, functioned as assistant stage manager, running the show during performances, i.e., cueing stagehands and performers. I did off-stage voices and understudied. I performed while one character made a movie and hence, the recommendation for the West Coast Company."

back to index


California, 1957-1958:
. . . . . Sep 1957-Jun 1958: actress and assistant stage manager for TUNNEL OF LOVE. Stayed in San Francisco, Fresno, Santa Barbara, Hollywood, and Van Nuys.
. . . . . while in San Francisco, studied French at Berlitz
. . . . . Jun 1958-Aug 1958: sought employment on West Coast until The Theater Guild requested her return to New York for another tour of TUNNEL.

back to index


New York, 1958-1968:
Elsa alternated between short-term employment and shorter-term unemployment.
. . . . . Sep 1958-Dec 1958: toured as actress and stage manager with TUNNEL OF LOVE touring company starring Eddie Bracken. Spent one (sometimes two) nights in towns in Indiana, Louisiana, Florida, Georgia, North Carolina, Virginia, Maryland, West Virginia, Ohio, Wisconsin, and Kentucky.
. . . . . Dec 1958-March 1959: Production Secretary for A MAJORITY OF ONE, starring Gertrude Berg and Sir Cedric Hardwicke, directed by Dore Schary.
. . . . . Mar 1959: unemployed
. . . . . Apr 1959: Assistant to producer of "a stage show comprised of segments from Broadway plays using integrated casts (including Broadway's most prominent stars) for viewing by professional authors, directors, and producers to demonstrate feasibility and desirability of increased integration on stage." Windsor Lewis, producer.
. . . . . May 1959-Aug 1959: unemployed
. . . . . August 1959-Nov 1959: Secretary and production assistant for THE HIGHEST TREE, written, directed, and co-produced by Dore Schary.
. . . . . Nov 1959-Jan 1960: unemployed

The high point of Elsa's life: the BYE BYE BIRDIE production
. . . . . Jan 1960-Apr 1961: Assistant Stage Manager for the Broadway musical BYE BYE BIRDIE, starring Dick Van Dyke. I "worked in producer's office during casting, typing contracts, etc.; worked with Gower Champion, Director, in pre-production activities. During rehearsals, I took the Director's notes, held stop watch, helped with temporary props, typed all script changes. When scenery and crew arrived, I directed the latter as they changed props and cued all scenery which moved on and off horizontally from stage left. I confirmed aarrival of performers at "half-hour" before each performance and their stage exits and entrances. It was a heavy musical." Salary: $138 per week.
. . . . . Apr 1961-Oct 1961: Stage Manager (supervising over 80 actors and stagehands) for BYE BYE BIRDIE. "I supervised the entire technical production of the musical during each performance: cued Master Flyman on all scenery that "flew" (travelled perpendicularly), cued Master Electrician for each light change (over 100 per performance), cued the Master Soundman for sound and other special effects, cued the orchestra conductor when to start the overture, and cued the movie projectionist when to start a film which preceded the first scend and synchronized into overture. If something went amiss, I had to be able to think how and give instructions to clear the foul-up withour interrupting performance." Salary: $165 per week. For additional information, see the
Internet Broadway Database.

. . . . . Nov 1961-May 1962: unemployed
. . . . . May 1962-Aug 1962: Assistant to director of feature film, LIGHT FANTASTIC, Bob McCarty, Director. Also acted one day.
. . . . . Aug 1962-Dec 1962: Secretary for Brown's Temporary Personnel of NY. "During my years in New York, I sometimes worked out of Brown's, doing temporary secretarial work. I found it interesting, kept my skills intact, and the experience was reassurinhg as, almost invariably, I was offered a permanent job. (Also - it paid the bills.)"
. . . . . Dec 1962-Mar 1963: Production assistant and secretary for the play DEAR ME, THE SKY IS FALLING. "I worked on the script with the author (Leonard Spigelgass), then the director, prepared the properties list, trained the Master Propertyman on changing of props during the running of the show, kept the script up-to-date, assisted the star, Gertrude Berg, during blackouts during running of the show, submitted completed script upon New York opening."
. . . . . Mar 1963-Jun 1963: Secretary to Dore Schary. "I sorted, compared with inventory, and prepared for shipment the contents of many filing cabinets which were Mr. Schary's papers donated to the Drama Department of the University of Wisconsin." (check this)
. . . . . Jun 1963-Sep 1963: Secretary during production of movie ACT ONE, produced by Dore Schary. "Dore Schary gave me a lighter engraved "Thank you 'Act One' "
. . . . . Sep 1963-Jan 1964: actress, assistant stage manager, production secretary for play LOVE AND KISSES.
. . . . . . . "On 12/18/1963 - Dore Schary gave me a heart-shaped paper weight to commemorate the opening of LOVE AND KISSES."
. . . . . Jan 1964-Apr 1964: unemployed
. . . . . Apr 1964-May 1964: stage manager during rehearsal and brief run of a revival of UNDER THE YUM YUM TREE.
. . . . . June 1964: unemployed
. . . . . August 13, 1964 (one day's work): Gold Medal Cake Flour commercial.
. . . . . Jul 1964-Sep 1964: production assistant and secretary to Howard Hoyt, producer. "We produced an industrial show in the New York Coliseum for Ford to introduce their 1965 line of cars to dealers flown in from all over the country for the show, cocktail hours, dinners, dancing -- all in the Coliseum. I set up and ran an office in the Coliseum which was the communications link for the entire web of activity. I typed, answerede phones, dealt in person with Wilding and Ford employees, guests, security guards, stagehands, performers, issued passes, calmed tempers, etc."
. . . . . Sep 1964-Nov 1965: administrative assistant to Leon Kreger, Wilding, Inc., producer of industrial shows. "Handled Mr. Kreger's correspondence, problems of our salesmen, production people, unions, clients, supply houses, allocated work among secretaries, office boy, receptionist, switchboard operator, attended sales meetings and production meetings, approved travel accounts, expense reports, petty cash expenditures, wrote for and appeared in presentations demonstrating a new live-animation device, Aniforms, and in a live show for our client, DuPont."
. . . . . Nov 1965-Feb 1966: unemployed
. . . . . Feb 1966-Oct 1967: production manager for Edward Nayor Productions, a producer of industrial shows.
. . . . . Nov 1967-May 1969: "I worked in my New York apartment as a free-lance writer. I have written three full-length plays for stage and two film scripts, plus shorter works. It was a vastly rewarding experience."
. . . . . 1968-1969: New York University courses in magazine feature article writing and writing for TV and films

back to index


Oak Ridge, Tennessee, 1968-1971:
. . . . . May 1969-Oct 1969: unemployed. "In May 1969 my sister suffered an inoperable aneurysm of the midbrain and I came to Oak Ridge to care for her and my elderly mother who lived with her . . . my sister died in December 1970."
. . . . . October 1969-Sep 1971: Office manager -- secretary, bookkeeper, receptionist -- for a pair of MDs
. . . . . studied creative writing at the Oak Ridge YWCA
. . . . . purchased first car
. . . . . played Mary Tyrone in LONG DAY'S JOURNEY INTO NIGHT

back to index


Champaign, Illinois, 1971-1977:
. . . . . Sep 1971-Jan 1972: unemployed. Moved mother from Tennessee to Rantoul.
. . . . . lived briefly at 211 Maple in Villa Grove, the house where she grew up, then Rantoul again, then Champaign.
. . . . . Jan 1972-Jun 1972: legal assistant, writer/editor for Urbana Municipal Government. Updated Urbana City Code Book under supervision of City Attorney, then worked with Mayor's office "gathering and formatting data for presentation as suggested financial fiscal budget."
. . . . . Jun 1972-Jun 1978: back on Civil Service -- worked for USArmy Corps of Engineers, Construction Engineering Research Laboratory -- as clerk-stenographer, then secretary, then General Services Supervisor, then Office Services Supervisor. Certificate of Appreciation dated 30 Jun 1978: "In recognition of the dedicated and excellent performance she provided the Laboratory from 1972-1978. Her rise from a secretary in the Technical Divisions to Supervisor of Administrative Support was admirable and is a model for a young woman seeking promotions in the Federal Service through competence and hard work. She initiated and organized the Federal Women's Program at CERL in January 1974 and was instrumental in making it the highly successful program which exists today. As Chief-SOA, she inspired members of her branch to distinguish themselves by superior performance in their normal duties and in particular the services of Printing and Xeroxing were outstanding. Her handling of short notice, brush-fire situations for laboratory personnel, and her long-term work of improving telephone communications at CERL was commendable."
. . . . . 1976: first woman member of Champaign McKinley Toastmasters Club; in 1978, was Educational Vice President; won two trophies in area and regional speech contests.

Springfield, Illinois:
. . . . . Jul 1978-Jan 1983: Administrative Assistant, US Department of Agriculture, Federal Crop Insurance Corporation
. . . . . 1978: broke ankle
. . . . . Sep 1979: began attending creative writing classes with Jacki Jackson at Sangamon State University
. . . . . May 1980: acted as one of three sisters in THE PRISONER OF SECOND AVENUE by Neil Simon -- Springfield Theater Guild
. . . . . August 1980: spent three weeks traveling through England, Scotland, and France.
. . . . . Two-Way Mirrors Nov 9, Crow's Mill School on Toronto Road, Elsa Walden, short story writer, was on the program.

back to index


Bradenton, Florida, 1977-1984:

. . . . . March 1984: actress, BLISS STREET, by Marcia Haufrecht, Siesta Key Actors Theatre in Sarasota
. . . . . acted in ANOTHER PART OF THE FOREST
. . . . . 1984: actress in Tel-Med commercial for Memorial Hospital in Sarasota, directed by Bernice Pepke.
. . . . . 1984: awarded Honorable Mention in Scripts category of 1984 Writer's Digest Magazine Writing Competition.
. . . . . May 31, 1984: left Florida. Sent everything she owned by UPS to nephew in Pittsburgh.

back to index


Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, 1984-1989:
. . . . . 1985: Pizza Hut commercial for Calzones. Never aired.
. . . . . 28 April 1985-28 May 1985: acted in TALKING WITH . . . , by Jane Martin, at City Theatre, Shirley Tannenbaum, director
. . . . . Fall 1985 - : member of Mad Women in the Attic, a creative writing group at Carlow College
. . . . . played Moma Fox in EXTRAS, produced by ART at Eddy Theatre
. . . . . acted as Mrs. Murphy in Mike Farrell's movie DOMINICK AND EUGENE. Her scene was cut -- she never made it into the final version of the movie.
. . . . . 30 Sep 1987-1 Nov 1987; acted in DANGER: MEMORY! by Arthur Miller at New City Theatre, Marc Masterson, director
. . . . . her play, A HARVEST OF NETTLES, was read at Hemingway's.
. . . . . photo taken for Sealy Mattress ad.
. . . . . read for Radio Information Service, a group that reads newspapers over the radio to visually impaired people.

back to index


Illinois, 1989-2004:

Rantoul, Illinois:
. . . . . Moved back to Illinois to be with "people who knew me before I was 60."
. . . . . Bought a house -- the only one she ever owned.

Urbana, Illinois:

. . . . . 1996: "Elsa Walden, Urbana, received an honorable mention award in the 1996 writing contest for senior citizens, "Tales from Two Rivers 17," sponsored by the Two Rivers Arts Council, Macomb. She received the award for her story, "The Library."

. . . . . 1998: "Thanks for the generosity of another donor the Camargo Township District Library has improved its offerings to the public. Elsa Walden of Urbana, Illinois, a former resident of Villa Grove and a graduate of Villa Grove High School, donated the money to purchase a reader printer" for the Genealogy Department. April 9, 1998, Villa Grove News.

. . . . . Joined ElderScript.

. . . . . attained DAR membership

. . . . . Traveled to Europe, South America, and across the US.

. . . . . May 2004: met with Dick Van Dyke in Danville, Illinois, when he visited his high school's performance of BYE BYE BIRDIE.

    Noelle McGee's May 3 article in the News-Gazette Online has this to say:
    "His hometown may have been the last place Van Dyke would have expected to see a familiar face from Broadway. But at Friday night's reception, Elsa Walden of Urbana stood in line to visit with the actor she hadn't seen in person since they both worked on "Bye Bye Birdie" in 1959.
    For 16 years, Walden, who moved to Urbana six years ago, was a stage manager for more than nine Broadway shows, including "Birdie," when she first met Van Dyke.
    "How can you possibly not like that face?" said Walden of the first time she met Van Dyke. "The whole cast loved him dearly."
    Walden enjoyed the few minutes she had to reminisce with Van Dyke, who was pleasantly surprised, even shocked, to see the face of the lady who gave more than 200 cues for "Birdie," including his own cues to go on stage."
    Also, see Brandi Hopper's article in the Danville Commercial-News.
. . . . . November 4, 2004: fell in parking lot of her apartment building. Hit her head on pavement.

. . . . . November 5, 2004: died without regaining consciousness.

. . . . . November 9, 2004: buried in Villa Grove Cemetery.


back to the Walden genealogy page. . . . . back to Anabeth's genealogy page
Send comments/corrections/additions to: anabeth at dollins dot org