Vincennes-area contemporaries of Red Skelton find fame
By Dann Norton
Except when speaking of Red Skelton, the Wabash Valley, and in particular Vincennes, is not usually thought of as a nursery bed for Hollywood. Yet, the Internet Movie Database (at www.imdb.com) lists nearly 30 individuals who acted, produced, directed, or worked somewhere behind the scenes of the silver screen. Many of these people were part of Hollywood’s emergence as a multi-million dollar entertainment industry.
Besides Skelton, who was born in Vincennes in 1913, three other people who had some success in Hollywood were born about the same time, right here in Vincennes, or nearby. Their names are Josephine Nichols, Jane Jarvis and John Draper.
TV star across the Wabash
Josephine Nichols was born on Nov. 11, 1913, across the Wabash in Lawrenceville, Illinois. According to the Internet Movie Database, Nichols was in three television dramas or movies. In 1964, she was in one episode of a serial drama called A Flame in the Wind. The show starred Kathleen Maguire as Kate Austen, a writer who created characters based on her neighbors.
Josephine Nichols’ biggest role came in 1982, in a made-for-television version of The Elephant Man.
In 1968, Nichols played the mother to Sarah in Riverrun. This television movie depicted the move of Sarah and husband, Dan, from the “horrors of city life” to a sheep farm in San Marino County, California.
Josephine Nichols’ biggest role came in 1982, in a made-for-television version of The Elephant Man in which she portrayed the countess. Glenn Close played the princess. Nichols died on Feb. 17, 1996, in New York City, at the age of 82.
Her Music Set the Mood
Jane Jarvis was not an actress, but she was a musician on one show in 1987 that gives her a profile on IMDB.com. She had a part as a musician in Woody Allen’s Radio Days. Jarvis was a musician—but where and how might surprise you!
Jane Jarvis was born under the name Luella Jane Nossette on Oct. 31, 1915, in Vincennes. Her parents were Charles and Luella Johnson Nossette. Charles and Luella had a daughter, Mary, born Feb. 7, 1914. The child only lived two days. Luella Jane surely brightened the young family’s hopes and dreams. Her father was a cashier for Vincennes State Bank, on the northeast corner of 5th and Main. The 1910 city directory shows the family lived at 1206 Ritterskamp Ave.. By 1912, they had moved to 821 N. Ninth St.
Besides working at the bank, the 1928 directory lists the Nossette Coffee Company, owner Charles S. Nossette, at 817 N. Seventh St.
Shortly after, the family moved to Gary, Indiana. Here, Charles S. Nossette became a “solicitor” or salesman for the Western & Southern Life Insurance Company. Tragically, Nossette’s life was cut short when he and his wife were killed in an accident on Nov. 5, 1929. Charles was the driver of an automobile that was struck by a railway train in Gary.
Jane Jarvis was a musician—but where and how might surprise you!
The 1930 census shows that Luella Jane was taken in by John and Clara Johnson Zehner. They lived at 623 Delaware St. in Gary. Clara was a first cousin, daughter of William L. and Adaline (Wheeler) Johnson, former residents of Vincennes. Her foster mother was a public school teacher — an occupation Clara had held earlier in Vincennes — and her foster father, John Zehner, was an insurance agent. Later he would become the comptroller for the City of Gary.
Luella Jane, just 14, was left an orphan. She returned to Vincennes to live with relatives, and turned to her music — jazz was her favorite. Luella Jane Nossette was playing music as a very young child — a prodigy at the age of 5. She graduated from Vincennes Lincoln High School in 1932.
Playing in Gary and Chicago, she also performed with the Indianapolis and Milwaukee symphony orchestras. In a 1971 interview for the Evansville Courier and Press, Jarvis stated she tried to make a living in New York, but it was too much for a girl from Indiana. She moved to Wisconsin, married and had two children. She took a staff job as a pianist for a radio station and worked at a television station.
Then, opportunity knocked. The then Boston Braves had just moved to Milwaukee. They were dissatisfied with the organist who played during their games. Jarvis applied, and although knowing nothing about baseball, got the job. And she got noticed!
She tried New York again, this time as organist for the New York Mets. She played for the Mets in the very first game at Shea Stadium in 1963. For her day job, she got a low-level entry position at the Muzak Corporation, eventually working her way to vice-president of programming and recording.
If you remember standing in elevators in the ‘70s, listening to Muzak, Vincennes native Jane Jarvis was setting the mood for you. She left Muzak in 1978.
Jarvis was featured in a June 7, 1971, Sports Illustrated article. Robert Cantwell, the writer, set off the story like this: “Organist Jane Jarvis brings both tact and taste to the once-dubious art of between-innings play. But best of all she gets the fans … IN THE MOOD — FOR BASEBALL.” The article estimated that, at that time, nearly 27 million paying customers had listened to Jarvis play the organ. That was in 1971. She stayed with the Mets until 1979.
Trivia at IMDB claims, “In the 1980s, she was a regular fixture at the Zinno … nightclub and restaurant in West Village, New York City.” New York City newspapers would announce the time when she would play.
If you remember standing in elevators in the ‘70s, listening to Muzak, Vincennes native Jane Jarvis was setting the mood for you.
Jane Jarvis died on Jan. 25, 2010, at the Lillian Booth Actors’ Home in Englewood, New Jersey. She was 94.
An online condolence at tributes.com (an obituary list site) after her passing shows she had real fans: “To me, the late Mrs. Jane Jarvis will be best remembered for her tenure as the organ player of the N.Y. Mets’ Shea Stadium home games during the 1960s and 1970s and her great playings of the ‘Star-Spangled Banner.’”
A stone in Fairview Cemetery, Vincennes, bears the name Jane Nossette Jarvis, but no death date. It stands between the tombstones for her parents, Charles and Luella, and her baby sister, Mary Annazu.
World War II Veteran and Actor
John B. Draper was born Feb. 12, 1918, in Vincennes. His father, a coal miner, was Roscoe Draper. His mother’s name was Mary Powers. Prior to his birth, the family lived on North 11th Street.
John B. Draper did not set out to be a movie star.
In 1918, the city directory lists them at 1423 Fairground Ave. Later the family moved to Benton, Illinois. Roscoe Draper died in 1959 in Terre Haute.
John B. Draper did not set out to be a movie star. He joined the U.S. Army Air Corp during World War II. In 1943, he had an uncredited part in the musical movie This is the Army which starred Ronald Reagan. Draper’s only other work came 46 years later, when he played the Lion in a video short titled “Toto’s Rescue.”
Draper lived in Evansville. He passed away on March 24, 2000. His wife, Mary Beth Couch Draper, passed away in 2013. They are buried at Sunset Memorial Gardens in Evansville.