In the best horror tradition, the people who put this record together are as pleasant and gentle a group a you’d like to have in for tea.Shock – Liner Notes – David Drew Zingg 1958
It’s probable that almost anyone that’s interested in the music produced by Creed Taylor has never heard of Toni Darnay? Heck, I’m guessing even if Creed remembers Toni, he doesn’t know her back story. Between her and Kenyon Hopkins, I’m not sure I’d have wanted them over for tea.
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Who Is Tony Darnay?
Toni is the woman pictured on the cover of Creed’s 1958 ABC Paramount album, ShockThe Creed Taylor Orchestra – Shock Music In Hi-Fi | Discogs. It turns out that Darnay’s story deserves a sound track and includes some pretty “shock”ing episodes itself. By the time Creed and then super-arranger and orchestra man Kenyon Hopkins came to record Shock and some of the follow-on AMPAR albums, Darnay had become a darling of radio drama and broadcasting. It’s worth remembering that in that pop-music didn’t really exist in 1958 and radio was still king!
Darnay was a stage name, her real name was Mercy Mustell. It’s unclear if this was a legal change or just an assumed name, it doesn’t matter at this point.
Mustell was born in Chicago in 1921, her mother, Aileen Gates Mustell Aileen Gates Mustell (1893-1980) – Find A Grave Memorial was a dancer/Actress from silent movies, her father, a doctor. Mustell’s maternal grandfather (Americus) Landon Gates owned a string of theaters at which her mother acted. His wife, Darnay’s maternal grandmother was Mercy Gates. This will become important later, much later.
By age-8, Mustell studied dancing, singing and acting at the Chicago Art Theatre, where her teacher was Madame Lazareth, at Hull House“My Life Simply Is Simply Perfect” – Radio Mirror, August 1952, P33, P71.
Mercy had many attempts at starting a career in dancing and singing, all of which her, father would come and take her home from. Before that though, her first brush with fame included a photograph in the Chicago Daily Tribune in 1933.
Yesterday the mystery was solved when Gooses, the pet gander of the seven children of Dr Robert Mustell, 1436 Astor street, made Its debut on the Mustell lawn.
The sacred geese that saved Rome had nothing on Astor street’s one and only goose. Mercy Mustell. 14 year-old. a student at St. Michael’s Central High school, holding fast to one end Gooses’ leash, related how the gander guards the Mustell home night and day and put to rout not only inquisitive cats and dogs but unwelcome strangers who ventured in the back gate.The Chicago Daily Tribune – May 16th, 1933 –
Mustell’s second brush with fame came later that year (1933) when she was again featured in the Chicago Daily Tribune, this time as one of dance troupe rehearsing for a Spartan Day performance in Grant Park, wearing Greek Classical robes. Age-13 she went on a vaudeville tour with her mom along as a chaperoneRadio Romances formerly Radio Mirror (Jul-Dec 1945).
Mustell continued to push for a career in stage and film, in 1937, aged 18, she again made the press, this time in syndicated news published across the country. This time it was a court case. The 18-year old Mercy Mustell had paid film director, E. R. John $50 for a part in a film. John hadn’t delivered, so what’s a gal’ to do? She sued for theft and won!
Darnay On Broadway
At age-19, after one year of night class at North Western University, Mercy Mustell changed her name to Toni Darnay and appeared in Winnie Hoveler’s “Dancing Darlings”, a long standing feature at Harry’s New Yorker night club on North Wabash in ChicagoChicago Tribune. Illinois, Chicago. January 14, 1940. p. 51. . Harrys was subject of a Life Magazine review of how the club makes, and spends it’s moneyhttps://books.google.com/books?id=0j8EAAAAMBAJ&printsec=frontcover. On page-82, the chorus line is pictured, it’s my opinion that Toni Darnay is third from the right, looking left.
Likely in August 1940, as Europe was at war with Germany, Toni Darnay packed up her bags and headed east to the real New York, either with, or following Winnie Hoveler. Hoveler had handed over the dancing darlings to her sister, Audrey, while venturing into theater. Hoveler had joined the Grand Detour Players and after a performance in “Lady Windermere’s Fan” was invited to come to New York. She, along with a number of the other players had been invited to play in the pre-view of “Post Script” and then on Broadway by playright Charles WashburnDixon Evening Telegraph (Dixon, Illinois) – 01 Aug 1940, Page 3Dixon Evening Telegraph (Dixon, Illinois) – 11 Jun 1940, Page 3.
Darnay lived out of the Rehearsal Club in New York, described as “just another starstruck girl”The Radio Mirror – September 1945 – P89 – She struggled in New York, doing stock theater where ever she could get work, including stock at Bridgehampton, Long Island, Dennis Playhouse at the Cape (where she appeared in “The Duenna” with Gregory Peck), and Cambridge.
Even in her less successful times, Darney gained valuable lessons and skills buying clothes at sales, when every pair of stockings a major investment, not knowing where her next meal was coming from. She would in a few years turn this into a regular Radio Mirror column called “Antiques for Everyone”.
She auditioned for, and gained the role of a dancer in the play “SADIE THOMPSON”. A role which would, in 1944 become one of her first performances on Broadway. With the encouragement of a friend, Wana Paul, she also auditioned for radio shows.
At the same time, Darnay had her big break, her agent called told her to try out for the lead in a new serial. CBS had launched the concept of 15-minute radio serials in the 1940’s, few of them became long running hits until “The Strange Romance of Evelyn Winters”. Darnay made her her Broadway debut and her radio debut within four days of each other, Broadway didn’t last long and she quit her role to concentrate on radio.
In 1944 terms, Darnay as Evelyn Winters had gone viral. Hundreds of newspaper reports and photographs, thousands of listings. Syndicated around the country by CBS Radio, Darney would become not just the voice and face of a daytime “soap” but sponsored by soap companies including by the Manhattan Soap Company for Sweatheart Soap. Later episodes were (of course?) sponsored by Philip Morris the tobacco company.
“Evelyn Winters” was the story of a medically discharged soldier who becomes the legal guardian of a 20-year old girl he has never seenTune-In magazine – Sept. 1945 P25. Darnay played the role of Evelyn Winters for at least 8-years. During the first few years She met (Elwood) Bill Hoffman an editor in the writing department at CBS; and in March 1947 they eloped and married in Elkhart Maryland. The birth of their first son, Darnay Hoffman was announced in December 1947Variety 1947-12-03: Vol 168 Issue 13, P54/P56.
In November 1945, Variety would report that “Toni Darnay makes it three of a kind in the family when she plays the part of a trapeze performer on “Mr. Keen, Tracer of Lost Persons.” Nov. 22nd, her sisters Lucretia and Aileen have been with Ringling Bros. for two years” Variety 1945-11-21: Vol 160 Iss 11.
While Toni Darnay would go on to do a great number of radio roles, and appear in theatre, TV and filmToni Darnay – IMDb. These would include NBC’s “Just Plain Bill”, “Nona from Nowhere”, “Affair of Honor” written by husband Bill Hoffman as well as “Life with Father,” “The Women,” as well as a musical “Molly,” “Molly,” and a Tennessee Williams drama. “Vieux Carre” and by the early 1950’s be recognized as one of the daytime serial queens of radio.TONI DARNAY, RADIO AND TV PERFORMER; HAD ‘EXORCIST’ ROLE – The New York Times (nytimes.com)
Enjoy this 15-minute episode of “Nona from Nowhere” featuring Toni Darnay as Nona. Interestingly, Keene Crockett who did special effects for the Creed Taylor SHOCK album, among others, was the NBC soundman at the time, and worked on Nona'Tune in tomorrow; or, How I found the right to happiness with Our gal Sunday, Stella Dallas, John’s other wife, and other sudsy radio serials by Higby, Mary Jane. Library of Congress Number … Continue reading.
This and more episodes of radio shows are available from the Old Time Radio Cataloghttps://www.otrcat.com/, including many episodes of “The Strange Romance of Evelyn Winters”Rare Soap Operas Collection | Old Time Radio (otrcat.com).
She was doing regular parts in daytime soaps including “The Secret Storm” (1954) and “As the World Turns” (1956) before she would enter the studio to record the album Shock with Creed Taylor.
Darnay would have roles in nine Hallmark shows including “Give Us Barabbas”, “Victoria”, and “Abe Lincoln” as well as tv series “The Edge of Nighty”, “As The World Turns,” “The Doctors”Variety 1983-01-12: Vol 309 Iss 11.
Her 1976 performance in “The Heiress”, was rated in Variety as “excellent”. “She projects energy and on opening night received deserved applause on her exit.”Variety 1976-04-28: Vol 282 Iss 12. For her performance, she received a nomination for “Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Featured Actress in a Play”Drama Desk Award – 1976 | Winners & Nominees (archive.org).
Toni also appeared as Roosevelt’s secretary, Malvina Thompson, in the drama television drama, “Eleanor and Franklin: The White House Years”(1977). Toni Darnay received positive reviews for her appearance in a revival of Rogers & Hammerstein’s “The Sound of Music” as the Von Trapp family housekeeper in 1980, at the cavernous outdoor Jones Beach Theatre in Wantagh, Long IslandVariety 1980-07-02: Vol 299 Iss 9. She continued to act in theatre until 1982.
Death and The Exorcist Connection
In 1983 when Toni Darnay died of cancer, many of her obituaries would include a reference to one of her smallest roles, that was uncredited at the time of release just 9-years before her death, of a violent psychotic patient in “The Exorcist”.
I’ve watched through the Exorcist, this is Toni Darnay, she appears about 37-mins in. It is an non-speaking role. The scene was shot at Bellevue Hospital on First Ave. in New York City. Bellevue Hospital – Wikipedia Most of the actors and actresses in the film, outside of the main characters are uncredited, even in the 25th Anniversary DVD remaster.
It is indeed a shame that a life long career, dedicated to dancing and acting would come down to such a trivial role.
What Happened Next ?
After Toni Darnay passed away in January of 1983, her family story didn’t end. In fact, it got more and more interesting. Darnay was survived by her husband, father and three children. Eventually I’ll get onto her son Darnay Hoffman, but first, I’m going to liberally quote from and extract from ‘Haunted’ 1 house in 3-ring circus by Willis David Hoover, that appeared in The Des Moines Register (Des Moines, Iowa) on March 6th, 1983, on page-12.
It promised to be one of the most “shocking” trials of the century. Press releases issued across the country in recent days implied that the Ringling brothers were locked in an ‘Intense-‘ battle to gain ownership of a “national landmark” in Fort Madison haunted by Betsy Ross – famed seamstress of the Stars and Stripes.The Des Moines Register (Des Moines, Iowa) on March 6th, 1983, on page-12.
Remember right back at the start, I told you to remember Landon Gates, Mercy Mustell aka Toni Darnay’s maternal grandfather?
This is where it gets complicated. As was family tradition, and this is where it gets confusing, remember Darnay Hoffman has mums assumed surname as his first name, and dads actually family name; It turns out that (Americus) Landon Gates daughter, Aileen Gates Mustell, inherited 716 Avenue F in Fort Madison, Iowa. Aileen Gates Mustell is Toni Darnay’s mother. When Darnay’s mother died in 1980, Darnay inherited her mothers entire estate, valued at $230,000, including the “Albright ‘Betsy Ross’ House”.
The Albright “Betsy Ross” House
The 1858-built house had been one time home of Rachel Wilson Albright. Albright was granddaughter of Betsy Ross. Betsy Ross who was supposed to have made the famed first Stars and Stripes. Historians disagree about Ross and the first flagRoss’ descendents lived, died in Fort Madison | News | mississippivalleypublishing.comThe Mysterious Origins of the American Flag – HISTORY, but it is undisputed that Rachel Albright did make flags at 716 Avenue F. and the house is on the National Register of Historic placeshttps://npgallery.nps.gov/NRHP/GetAsset/NRHP/78001233_textAlbright House (Fort Madison, Iowa) – Wikipedia and has been under restorationAlbright ‘Betsy Ross’ House Restoration Website (fmiowa.com)Restoration Details and Photographs:http://fmiowa.com/albright/albright_house_pics.pdf.
The house was built as a duplex #716 and #718 Avenue F. #716 was owned by the Albright family until 1923, and used as a rental propery from 1916-1923. It was purchased by Americus Landon Gates and Mercy Gates in 1923, and after Landon Gates died in 1940, owned by his widow, Mercy Gates until it was inherited by their daughter, Toni Darnay’s mother, Aileen Gates Mustell in 1961.
#718 was sold in 1906, and used variously as a rental property, American Legion hall and Lee County Offices. It was purchased by Aileen Gates Mustell in 1965, presumably with money from her husbands estate. As far as I’ve been able to establish, #718 was left vacant and #716 continued to be a rental property until the Mustell/Ringling family moved there in the late 1970’shttp://www.fortmadison-ia.com/documentcenter/view/363. I spoke with a member of the North Lee Historical society who confirmed the ownership details and that the building remained empty after it was sold at auction to cover unpaid property taxes until Robert (Bob) and Carol Davis purchased the building and started the renovating it.
According to what can be pieced together from court documents and other sources. Aileen Gates Mustell and her husband, Robert, lived most of their lives in Chicago and had seven children. One daughter, Mercy
Morrison, later became an actress in New York and changed her name to Toni Darnay
The use of the name Morrison only came after Darnay married her second husband theatrical columnist and Variety theater critic Hobe Morrison, and they remained married until Toni Darnay’s death.
Sisters – It’s Complicated
Darnay’s sister, Aileen Christina Mustell, married a man called Jim Ringling from Chicago. The Ringlings moved to Fort Madison and took up residence in a home once belonging to fountain pen magnate, W.A. Sheaffer. Many locals believed that the Ringlings were linked to the circus and kept lions and leopards in their house. Jimmie Day, the self claimed Ringlings housekeeper, denied the animal story, and said that Jim Ringling was “only a distant cousin” of the famous circus brothers.
Three of her children, including Aileen Christina Mustell Ringling, filed lawsuits challenging the will and Morrison/Darnay’s ownership of the house. Then, in January of 1983, Mercy Morrison aka Toni Darnay died, further complicating the matter. Not only that, but Robert Mustell Sr. (Toni’s father) and another daughter, Lucretia C. Moore, were alleged to have been living at the “Betsy Ross” house. No one had seen anything inside the house for days.
Sadly William Hoover and the Des Moines Register didn’t do a follow up, so we don’t know what happened.
Her sister, Aileen is buried along with her husband in a rather more grand mausoleum at All Saints Catholic Cemetery and Mausoleum, Des Plaines, Cook County, Illinois.
In contrast to the Des Moines Register Story, Aileen Christina Mustell was “an aerialist and performed equestrian acts in several circuses, including Pollack Brothers, Ringling Brothers and Shrine Circus. She worked as a Rockette dancer at Radio City Music Hall in New York.”Aileen Christina Mustell Ringling (1923-2010) – Find A Grave Memorialhttps://www.newspapers.com/clip/87342604/obituary-for-james-conway-ringing-aged/.
Her husband, James Conway Ringling, “worked for Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey Circus. He began as a ticket office clerk and by 1963, when he retired, he was vice president, scheduling dates and seasons for the show. He was the third generation of the Ringling Brother Circus family, the grandson of Charles Edward Ringling, one of the founding brothers.”James Conway Ringling (1925-2004) – Find A Grave Memorial and this is confirmed by a NY Times obituary of the wife of on of the founders of the Ringling Brothers Circus in her 1953 obit’.TimesMachine: September 24, 1953 – NYTimes.com and his own obituary from 2004https://www.newspapers.com/clip/87342604/obituary-for-james-conway-ringing-aged/.
Doctor In The House, The Father
Darnay’s father, Robert Mustell Sr. died 3-years after her, in 1986Dr Robert R Mustell (1893-1986) – Find A Grave Memorialhttps://www.newspapers.com/clip/87340923/dr-robert-r-mustell-obituary/.
Mustell Sr. is interred in the Hillcrest Cemetery in Fort Madison, as is Darnay’s mother. Dr Mustell was no stranger to publicity. In 1959, he was listed in a press report about an alleged argument over a $10 attending fee to a car accident, in which a woman diedhttps://www.newspapers.com/clip/87343783/dr-robert-mustell-and-the-medical-fee-de/. In 1978, Dr Mustell was featured in a Chicago Tribune article about “six Chicagoans well past the usual retirement age of 65 but still workinghttps://www.newspapers.com/clip/87343939/dr-robert-mustell-60-years-and-doc/https://www.newspapers.com/clip/87344056/dr-robert-mustell/.
Darnay Hoffman – Squaring The Circle
If you’ve read this far, you probably remember that Toni Darnay met and married a CBS Writers Room editor and they eloped and married in March 1947. In December that year, Variety announced the birth of their son, Darnay Hoffman.
Darnay Hoffman’s life seemed to be lifted straight from the tabloids. Divorced from the woman known as the Mayflower Madam, he was a lawyer for the man known as the Subway Vigilante, as well as for a notorious child killer. He also played a minor role in the case of JonBenet Ramsey, the 6-year-old beauty pageant winner who was killed in 1996.
Mr. Hoffman died after stabbing himself in the chest on May 2, the city medical examiner’s office said. He was 63. In recent years, Mr. Hoffman had struggled with diabetes and with his finances, his ex-wife, Sydney Biddle Barrows, said Thursday. She said he died in her apartment.“Darnay Hoffman Dies at 63; Lawyer With Notorious Clients” – Darnay Hoffman obituary, New York Times,
Prior to the Goetz case, Hoffman was best known when his third wife, Sydney Biddle Barrows and her three business locations were busted for prostitution. The New York Daily News of March 1994 had the background to their meeting and relationship in an article headlined “Madam, I believe you smell a winner!”Daily News (New York, New York)29 Mar 1994, Page 133
In only his second trial, Hoffman is remembered though for turning on his own client, Bernard Goetz in a 1996 civil trial. This happened nine years after Goetz was found not guilty in a criminal trial of shooting four black teenagers. In defending Goetz, Hoffman admitted that Goetz’s own testimony “damned him tremendously” and was later call Goetz “a nerd, a geek, a peckerwood, a cracker”Citizens’ Voice (Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania) – 24 Apr 1996 – Page 16.
In 2001, Hoffman successfully sued to let the former housekeeper for the parents of JonBenet Ramsey, publish a book about her grand jury testimony and her time with the familyThe Courier (Waterloo, Iowa) – 06 Jul 2001 – Page 2. JonBenet was found murdered here in Boulder, Colorado in 1996.
In 2004, Hoffman was again working for a child killer, listed as the civil attorney for Joel Steinberg. Steinberg was being released after being found guilty in a vicious 1987 murder of a 6-year old daughter, Lisa in a Greenwhich Village brownstone, in which Mark Twain once residedStar-Phoenix (Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada)29 Jun 2004 – Page 33.
Darnay Hoffman hadn’t it it easy though. Back in March 1989, described as a paralegal, Hoffman was sued for divorce by his first wife, Jennifer Shepard, on the basis of Hoffman’ smell. She successfully claimed that
Hubby Darnay “has stopped washing his upper body and has stopped changing his clothes, wearing them for weeks at a time … the odor permeated the entire apartment, including the carpets and the furniture.”
The judge agreed, and Shepard was granted sole custody of the apartment. Darnay was said to be living with his sister.Daily News (New York, New York) – 30 Mar 1989 – Page 4
Hoffman’s loss was listed in a syndicated Loser’s corner which appeared in newspapers across the country.
The Creed Taylor / Kenyon Hopkins Orchestra album “Shock” was released 63-years ago in October 1958. For more on the actual album, see the 2020 Halloween entry and also The ABC of Specialty Recordings.
When Toni Darnay is quoted in the Radio Mirror in September 1945 saying “The Barrymores had nothing on the Darnays” – I’m sure she meant it historically, she clearly did her part to keep end of that truism.
It’s clear from research that other members of the Mustell/Darnay family are still alive. If there are any corrections to this narrative, or any additional details you’d like to see added, please get in touch via the “contact us” page. I’m also happy to share the digital copies of the reference material.
If you need proof that user generated content can be a complete mess, lookup Aileen Christina Mustell on Find-A-Grave. The text for her life includes different parents than her entry is linked to. “Confused? You will be after this episode of SOAP!”
20th October, 2021 11:30am – added audio for Nona from Nowhere plus associated text/links. Minor text edits etc.
20th October, 2021 2:30pm – added detail about 1980 Sound of Music performance
20th October, 2021 4pm – added Drama Desk award, plus reorganized text around TV/film performances; IMDB link.
21st October, 2021 12pm moved references section, clarified text around Darnay’s mothers estate.