The Wild Women (and men) of wongo


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Kenneth Vitulli

Kenneth and Joyce 2

Kenneth Vitulli and Joyce Nizzari in THE WILD WOMEN OF WONGO

 

Playing one of the handsome men of Goona was Kenneth Vitulli, born May 2, 1938 in New York. His parents were William and Rosaria “Sadie” Vitulli. Kenneth had two brothers, Willam S. and Clark J.

Kenneth and his family moved from New York to Palm Beach, Florida in 1946 and Kenneth attended Central Junior High School where he received an award for making a score of 92 out of 120 in Latin. He was also proclaimed “Boy of the Month” around this time (1951).

news clipping 1951

At Palm Beach High School in West Palm Beach he was elected Junior Class President in 1955 and got his first taste of acting when he appeared on-stage in the school’s production of CAROUSEL in 1956. After graduation he attended college and was runner-up in a Mr. Florida contest.

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After appearing in THE WILD WOMEN OF WONGO Kenneth appeared in at least two plays at The Lake Worth Playhouse in Lake Worth, Florida: ROOM SERVICE (in 1958) and COME BACK LITTLE SHEBA (in 1959). He then joined Cincinnati’s professional theatre group, Playhouse in the Park in 1960 after having auditioned for them in New York. While appearing there he lived in the Mt. Adams section of Cincinnati with roommates Dave Collard and David Rosnbaum, fellow actors at the Playhouse. The three appeared together in the Playhouse’s 1960 production of DEATH OF A SALESMAN. Vitulli also played Lentulas opposite John Hillerman’s Caesar in the theatre’s version of ANDROCLES AND THE LION.

That same year he was interviewed by the Cincinnati Enquirer where he mentions working on his first film: “I was studying pre-dentistry in college when I had a chance to go professional. It was in a movie, only a Grade-Z thriller, ‘Wild Women of Wong’, made in Miami. But once I found I could get paid $90 a day for doing what I liked I forgot all about being a dentist.

Additional quotes from the article:

This is a perfect place for actors. Picturesque, old, sort of a Greenwich Village. Mt. Adams residents take actors in stride. They aren’t disturbed even when we wear sunglasses on wintry days.

Actors have more emotions than anybody else or they wouldn’t be in the business

I like opening night best. Later performances may be more polished, but excitement comes when reviewers are there and you are wondering how things will go.

It’s a great feeling to create a part. When you know you’re doing pretty well there’s nothing like it.  You’re a step above life.”

In 1965 he starred as Steve in Boston’s North Shore Music Theater production of Show Boat which co-starred film actor Charles Watts as Captain Andy.

In the late 1980s Kenneth worked in the Home Improvement section of the Fort Lauderdale Sears while appearing occasionally as an actor on television shows like B.L. STYRKER and MIAMI VICE which were filmed in Florida. He later worked in the automobile industry.

Kenneth currently resides in Florida City, Florida.

 

Ken Vitulli Miami Vice Lost Madonna

Kenneth Vitulli (far right) in a scene from the TV show MIAMI VICE.

 

 

 

 


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Jo Elaine Wagner

jo elaine and varden maybe

Jo Elaine Wagner catches her mate, Varden Spencer, in WILD WOMEN OF WONGO

Jo Elaine Wagner, the cute, petite blonde of Wongo was the daughter of jockey Joe Wagner and the former Kathleen McNally. She was born in Baltimore, Maryland on June 2, 1940 and, as Jo Elaine Grant, she died on January 6, 1988 in Miami, Florida.

 

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Jo Elaine Wagner photo

 

Jo Elain Cande and Roberta

Jo Elaine Wagner, Cande Gerard, Mary Ann Webb, and unidentified actress in WILD WOMEN OF WONGO.

Little is know of Jo Elaine’s life outside of her appearance in WILD WOMEN OF WONGO. She graduated from Hialeah High in 1958, her nickname was “Pekinses,” and she worked as a model in Miami for a time. She married at least twice and was also known as Jo Elaine Reynolds circa 1968.

Jo Elaine Wagner's father's photo. Joe Wagner, jockey, he is first on the left

Jo Elaine’s father, Joe Wagner, seen in this publicity photo (holding hair dryer) with other jockeys at the Arlington Race Track in 1935.


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Whitey Hart

barbara and whitey

Goona woman Barbara Lee Babbitt and Wongo man Whitey Hart meet, and it is love at first sight.

T. Whitey Hart (know professional as Whitey Hart) was a professional diver and acrobat who started out as a member of the teenage troupe The Aquazines who, in the early 1940s, would perform diving and comedy routines at Astoria Pool as well as other New York area pools.

Whitey hart and the Aquazines

Whitey Hart (left with foot on other boy) was amember of The Aquazines as a teenager.

 

Later he joined gymnast Dick Gutting (aka Dick Gooding) and they created a professional trampoline act called Two Flips and a Flop, later simply called Dick Gooding and Whitey Hart. This partnership lasted for 20 years.

 

Whitey Hart, Dick Gutting and Jack Palance on the set of Greatest Show On Earth

Whitey Hart and Dick Gutting visit  Jack Palance on he set of the television show THE GREATEST SHOW ON EARTH.

 

Whitey also appeared with Johnny Weissmuller in the “aqua-vaudville” combo Watercade of 1950 which opened in Cincinnati Garden.

Whitey Hart Watercade of 1950

 

In WILD WOMEN OF WONGO Whitey plays one of he not-so-handsome men of Wongo, whose beautiful women have ditched them for greener pastures.

 

barbara whitey and burt

Barbara Lee Babbitt, Whitey Hart, and Burt Parker in WILD WOMEN OF WONGO


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Varden Lee Spencer

jo elaine and varden maybe 2

Varden Spencer and Jo Elaine Wagner in WILD WOMEN OF WONGO

Varden Lee Spencer was born on February 2, 1935 in Los Angeles, California. He and his older sister Miriam grew up in Santa Monica where they lived at 2818 Colorado Ave.

Varden’s father, Chester Leroy Spencer, who worked as an architectural and boat designer, retired in 1965 and started the Hi-Desert Studio Guild in Yucca Valley, which taught art to children. He was also a member of the Shadow Mountain Palette Club and the Desert Art Center of Palm Springs, as well as the founder of the Yucca Valley Art Association.

Varden’s mom was the former Angelina (Angela) Giallombardo. She was widowed in 1968. Like her late husband she was also a part of the desert art scene, and announced her engagement to Wilton McCoy in December of 1975. It would appear that Varden’s sister Miriam passed away at an early age, as she was not mentioned in their father’s obituary.

Varden Spencer scouting

 

Littlie is know about Varden’s life before or after his appearance as one of the hunky Goona men, but he was a Boy Scout (as the clipping above shows) and later a Sargent in the US. Army serving in Korea. In 1955 he took the exam to become a candidate for one of the military academies in West Point, Annapolis, or Colorado Springs, but I could find no record that he was accepted. He died on December 22, 1995 in San Francisco and is buried at San Joaquin Valley Cemetery.

 

headstone


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Iris Rautenberg

Iris 2

Helene Iris Rautenberg was born October 7, 1934 to Herman and Anna Rautenberg. and she was raised in New York City on East 15th St. along with her sister Carol. Iris was cast as one of the women of Goona likely because she had some experience locally in radio and television. While attending the University of Miami she was a member of the Radio Guild in 1953 and 1954 and she was a member of the Alpha Epsilon Rho Radio and Television fraternity there. Ross Skipper, who later appeared on the classic vampire soap opera DARK SHADOWS was also a member at that time. Iris acted in several radio and television broadcasts produced by the school and in fact The Radio Guild held their own version of the Academy Awards each year, and Iris was nominated for her performance in the school produced televised broadcast of THE LITTLEST CHRISTMAS TREE 1953.

Iris Rautenberg 4

Iris (front row, second from the left) with University of Miami Radio and Television Guild members

In 1961 she was working at radio station MCKR as an actress. One of the radio plays she performed in was part of a program called THEATRE X which also featured fellow Wongo actress Lillian Malek. The play was titled CARLITA and was about a young man who one day walks a young woman home. When he calls on her the next day he finds that she has been dead for five years. Alan Douglas also starred. It aired on Sunday, January 15, 1961.

 

iris and lillian

Iris and Lillian Malek as two of the Goona women in WILD WOMEN OF WONGO. Iris and Lillian would late work in radio together in Miami.

alpha Epsilon Rho photo

University of Miami’s Alpha Epsilon Rho members in 1954. Iris is the lone female in he back row. The tall young man on her left is Ross Skipper, later of DARK SHADOWS fame.

Iris married a William E. Benway in Dade, Florida on July 1966 and divorced in May of 1967 and her life after that is a mystery, though it appears she had been living in Tampa, Florida before she passed away in November of 1977 in New York City.