Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Spade Cooley

Ella Mae Auditions

At about the time of Cooley's first big hit with "Shame on You," a blonde-haired, brown-eyed musician named Ella Mae Evans caught the wandering eye of the bandleader.

Evans, just 21, apparently had been hired to play clarinet for a gig.    

Like most everyone else in southern California, she'd come from somewhere else. Born on a Missouri farm, she and her parents, Elmer and Ethel, had traveled the Depression trail west.

Cooley prevailed upon Evans to audition for him as the featured girl singer after Carolina Cotton left.

"She had no voice," Bobby Bennett, Cooley's longtime band manager, told Kienzle.

But she was petite and pretty — five-foot, four-inches and barely 100 pounds.

Spade had the only vote. Ella Mae won the audition.

One thing then led to another, and Cooley soon divorced his first wife, Anna. Their son, John, was 11 years old.

Spade and Ella Mae in happier days
Spade and Ella Mae in happier days

On stage, Cooley liked to introduce his new wife as "the purtiest little filly in California."

Cooley wrote an instrumental entitled "Spadella" — from Spade and Ella — in her honor. It was a peculiar musical gift. The quick-paced tune was in a minor key and was dominated by Pedro DePaul's accordion. It sounded more like anxiety-inducing klezmer than a romantic western ode for newlyweds.

Ella Mae's singing career, such as it was, was cut short by motherhood. Cooley insisted that she stay home to care for their children, Melody, born in 1946, and Donnell Jr., born in 1948.

Early in their marriage, the Cooleys lived in a mansion on Ventura Boulevard. But Spade thought it was a good idea for the children to grow up in the country.

He bought a large tract of land and built a second home at the edge of the Mojave Desert in Willow Springs, an hour's drive north of Los Angeles.

Over time, Cooley developed the habit of sleeping in the Ventura house and leaving Ella Mae and the children in isolated Willow Springs.

And as his fame increased, Cooley is said to have sampled scores of the romantic opportunities that presented themselves in the fleshy forms of fans, girl singers, female musicians and various wannabe starlets looking for a leg up in Hollywood.

His Los Angeles mansion proved to be a convenient love shack for the entertainer billed as "the little man with a big talent."

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