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Monday, April 2, 2007

A Life in Memorium

I want to preface this next post by saying that it's very humbling and disheartening to read about people's lives boiled down into a few sentences or paragraphs, and it gets to me every time I learn a new fact about one of the many players in this particular story: that at its heart, this journey is about people's lives, and we must tread carefully on their memory.

This post is about someone we've all chuckled about, wondered about, and taken for granted, the lovely miss Sonia Torgeson.

Sonia May Torgeson was born on September 6th, 1932 to Severine "Sev" Emil Torgeson, an attorney, and May Johnson, a school teacher, in Kimball County, Nebraska. Neither of her parents originated from the small three-town county (her mother hailed from Bevier, Missouri and her father from Beresford, South Dakota), but both would become pillars of their community.

Severine--Torg to his friends--was an important man in Kimball. He served as the first County Attorney for four years, Secretary for the Fire Department for ten years, served as City Attorney, and Attorney for the High School Board. He was also a member of the Shrine and Scottish Rite, and a charter member of the Rotary Club. He served as President of the Chamber of Commerce from 1959-60, and sat on the Advisory Board of the Boy Scouts. Besides that, he was a damned good lawyer.

Sonia's mother, May, was a member of the Matron Club, and a loyal member of the local Methodist church, where she was an avid participant in the choir.

Both were formidible role models, and Sonia always had a lot to live up to.

Sonia grew up at 409 Howard Street. She attended local Kimball High School, where she first became interested in theatre, participating in drama classes and after school plays. A former classmate recalls one junior year play where Sonia "played a supporting role but stole the show. She was just a delight in the play and everybody there thought so too. I really believe that's what got her attention and set her goals. " Recieving praise from classmates and teachers alike, Sonia quickly grew more serious about theater, and after only three and a half years, she finished high school to attend the drama school at the University of Denver. After graduating in 1953 with a BA in Theatre and a minor in Education and English, she took the next big step: to move to New York, destined for a career on Broadway.

It was a year later, in 1954, that Sonia finally hit the stage: a bit part in the play Ondine, starring Audrey Hepburn as the title character. The show was a hit, and won four Tony Awards, including Best Actress in a Leading Role for Hepburn. (A photo of Sonia in Ondine is in the mail from the New York Public Library, and when it arrives, I'll share it here.) However roles were scarce for Sonia, and soon she gave up dreams of the stage to pursue a different kind of acting; film and television in Los Angeles.

In 1956 Sonia got her first role on screen. It was a bit part in a an episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents, entitled "The Gentleman from America." Sonia appears as "Julie Hurstwood" in a flashback sequence, killed off-screen in a supposedly haunted room occupied by the episode's protagonist.

In 1957 Sonia filmed her first speaking role, that of memorable "Alice Woodward" in Teenagers from Outer Space (1959). The specifics of her casting is unknown, but many of the castmembers were recruited through local theaters and acting courses, so that avenue seems a likeliehood. Sonia proves her ability to steal a scene when she outshines established ingenue Dawn Bender in one of her two scenes. Unfortunately the film wasn't sold until 1959, so Sonia had to wait another year for her big screen debut.

In 1958's Daddy-O, a rock 'n' roll exploitation flick, Sonia plays "Peg Lawrence," a friend to the protagonist. The film wasn't very memorable, and Sonia's career never took off. She appeared only once more onscreen, in an episode of western "The Rebel," playing a character called "Nan" in episode "Jerkwater."

Sonia left Hollywood shortly afterwards. At age 29, Sonia's ingenue days were over before they could even begin. Disheartened by her inability to strike it hot in California, Sonia left the United States. She travelled some, eventually settling down to teach English in Spain for a number of years. But eventually home called, and Sonia returned in the late 60's to live with her aunt in Cheyenne, Wyoming.

Rumor has it that she became increasingly paranoid with age, and she lived a reclusive life in Cheyenne, though she moved back to 409 Howard for a few intermittant years. When her father died in 1988, it was said that Sonia challenged his will--which left virtually everything to the Masons and local charities. Her attempts failed, and she withdrew even further from society. Ironically, in Torg's Kimball obituary Sonia is listed as a working actress, dividing her time between New York and Los Angeles. Whether this misinformation was purposefully placed by Sonia or inferred from locals may never be known, but it marks the last reference to Sonia in public before her death five years later at age 60, on February 17, 1993.

In her last years, Sonia grew to embrace Christian Science, severing ties to her Methodist roots. She never married. Shortly before her death, she requested of friends and family that no obituary be sent to newspapers. However one friend, who was publisher of the local paper at the time, printed a short obituary anyway. He wanted to commemorate her life in print, even if just a brief mention to let the world know she had been there.

Just as I do now.

And I hope you'll remember Sonia's story, and share it, for what it's worth.

Thanks immensely to all the Kimball County residents and historians who helped to make this short biography possible, especially Kenneth Clinger, Marcia A. Buescher, Lindsey Tilton, and Robert Pinkerton.

3 gargon specimens:

Anonymous said...

Hello. I was Sonia's neighbor & friend for the last years of her life. Myself (Marianne) and another neighbor/friend, Carol are having dinner tonight and will be comparing notes to send you. We have alot of photos & anecdotes as we shared many holidays & birthdays.

Sean said...

Wow! What a great bio- nice research, L! And wow, anonymous! I can't wait to hear and see more about Sonia's life!

This blog continues to inspire me...

by the author said...

Marianna, thanks so much! Looking forward to your stories!

- L

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