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Violet Stallcup Wightman's fiery spirit and unwavering determination to succeed propelled her to great heights in life. Born in Globe, Ariz., in on August 6, 1901, to parents, Etta and Beaufort B. Stallcup, Violet was the favorite of her father, who spoiled his only daughter, the middle of three children. Beaufort would canopy Violet's bed with mosquito netting, surrendering to her repeated pleas to catch and remove yet another mosquito and to bring her just one more glass of water before settling for the night.
Violet yearned for a piano, which she spied with envy in the Sears-Roebuck catalog the family used as toilet paper in the five-hole outhouse her father built for the family. As a young girl, Violet spent hours perusing the catalog and dreaming. Once again, her adoring father relented to Violet's wishes. Beaufort purchased a piano for her when she was 6. During the winters in Arizona, she would sit on her fingers to keep them warm so that she could practice. Even at that young age, she had already established a strong work ethic. Violet would later tell her family, "I was able to accomplish all I did in life because I worked at it. Being successful is 90 percent hard work and 10 percent talent."
In childhood, Violet discovered her two loves: writing and music. It was not until age 11, however, that Violet's musical talent was noticed by her mother's private piano teacher. Not long after, she began performing in crowded auditoriums and winning prestigious music awards. Violet won several pivotal competitions during her early years.
Violet became a student of the "huge, gentle Russian" Alexis Kall, a famous composer and pianist from the St. Petersburg Conservatoire. While at St. Petersburg, Kall was the pupil of Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov, considered "the main architect" of what the classical music public considers the Russian style of composition. Kall moved to Los Angeles in 1919 to open the Institute of Musical Art, a school devoted to nurturing the talents of young, predominantly female, pianists.
Then, in 1919, Violet became the youngest graduate at that time of the prestigious Cincinnati Conservatory of Music in Ohio. She graduated with honors. While at the conservatory, Violet joined the fraternity of music and dramatic art, Phi Beta. She remained active with that organization for many years.
In 1921, she won a piano scholarship to attend the Fontainebleau School of Music in Paris. And on March 29, 1923, Violet won first place in the Arizona National Federation of Music Clubs contest in Tucson. In 1924, she won first prize in the Young Artists' contest at the Hollywood Bowl Symphony Orchestra under the baton of Alfred Hertz, a German-born conductor who presided over the Hollywood Bowl's opening season in 1922. She performed to an audience of 25,000.
She continued to tour the West and Midwest with major symphonies and shared the stage with some of the era's most distinguished musical talents. She performed the works of legendary classical Russian composer, Sergei Rachmaninoff. Rachmaninoff even rewrote one of his polkas for young Violet so that the dainty fingers of his "little princess," as he called her, could reach the piano keys.
Violet continued to perform in concerts at the Hollywood Bowl in subsequent years. She also performed with the Los Angeles and San Francisco Symphony Orchestras.
In the summer of 1928, Violet traveled to Europe to tour and continued her piano studies with various artists. In Paris, she studied with Isador Phillipp; then on her return studied composition with Mary Carr Moore in Los Angeles. Later, in 1936, Moore recounted in an interview with a member of Phi Beta that "Violet's songs are beautiful. Violet just shrugs and replies, ‘Oh, they are nothing at all!'"
The family travelled extensively throughout the West and Midwest, often spending summers in Los Angeles where Beaufort built homes. Violet lived in Globe until she was in the fourth grade. Intermittently, from the fifth to eighth grades, she attended school in Southern California, including Fremont Elementary School in Pasadena and Van Nuys Public School. Her family returned to Arizona, and she graduated from Globe High School on June 6, 1918. It was during her teenage years that Lynn expressed an interest in Violet, and soon they began dating.
In September 1930, Violet married her childhood sweetheart, Frank Lynn Wightman. Lynn, as she called him, had been smitten from the start. He once confided that he had "loved Violet ever since she had long curls tied with a big blue ribbon." Violet was equally enamored. She said that "even though other men interested her at times, she knew in her heart that Lynn was the only one." The couple settled in Beverly Hills, during which time Violet continued touring while her husband worked as a dentist to the Hollywood elite. This cemented the family as fixtures in the entertainment and music industry. Violet forged lasting friendships with notables like silent film star Mary Pickford, actor and singer Bing Crosby and actress Joan Crawford, to name a few.
Violet began teaching at the Orton School of Music for Girls in Los Angeles and Pasadena in 1928. As head of the schools, she had two assistants and 150 pupils under her charge.
She was involved in many civic endeavors, including her work with the largest woman's club in the world at that time, the Ebell Club in Los Angeles. While there, she acted as president and curator of the Art and Travel Department. As curator, Violet invited Amelia Earhart to be the guest speaker at one of the Ebell meetings. At that meeting, Earhart spoke about aviation safety following her first failed attempt to travel around the world. This is an excerpt of Earhart's speech taken from the Los Angeles Examiner, April 9, 1937:
"'A margin of safety is always maintained in regularly scheduled air transportation,' she said. ‘On the other hand, my plane was loaded with far more fuel than its ordinary capacity.
‘For that reason little blame could be attached to the plane at Honolulu if it burst a few rivets and declared a sit-down strike. It's no fairer to compare my trip with scheduled flying than to compare automobile racing with ordinary safe driving.'
Her own accident was a "heart-breaking disappointment," Earhart revealed, more because of the injury to the plane than because it spoiled her around-the-world plans.'"
A photograph that ran alongside the article shows a smiling Earhart, holding a bouquet of flowers, with Violet. Shortly after the meeting, Earhart departed on her doomed trip around the world, never to return. Violet embarked on a voyage aboard the S.S. Normandie with her husband to attend the Coronation of King George VI and Queen Elizabeth.
Violet helped to raise money to build the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion in downtown Los Angeles, home to the Los Angeles Philharmonic. She also founded the International Committee of the Los Angeles Philharmonic, which supported the philharmonic.
She and Lynn had four children; Elaine in 1932; Janet in 1936; Donald in 1938 and Linda in 1940. A phone call home changed the focus of Violet's life. She had tearfully missed Elaine's first birthday. She longed to be home with her husband and baby. So shortly thereafter, Violet decided to stop touring and devote time to her family.
Violet also loved telling stories. The first prize she won was for a story she wrote was in elementary school in Globe. As an award, her teacher gave her a wriggling, hissing paper bag with explicit instructions to not open it until she got home. Violet resisted the temptation to open the bag, which had become soggy and stinky, on the walk home. Violet's prize fell out of the bag bottom the moment she stepped inside the house. It was a beautiful white kitten. Her mother protested, but not for long. After all, Violet argued tactfully, the kitten was a prize. Violet named the cat Snowball. Snowball suffered the great misfortune of falling into one of the outhouse holes, where she mewed until Violet's younger brother, Leonard, was sent, quite resentfully, by his mother to fish the cat out. The cat's coat never returned to its previous snowy glamour. And it stank to high heaven. Violet used her mother's prized perfume in an attempt to remedy the stink. It didn't work. The cat was forever relegated to the outdoors. One day it disappeared. A teary-eyed, heartbroken Violet wrote a story in which her cat met a romantic, handsome skunk who mistook Snowball for the most beautiful and alluringly fragrant skunk. They fell hopelessly in love. The two slinked off, blissfully, into the sunset, never to be seen.
In 1951, the family suffered a tremendous loss. Violet and the children had been accompanying Lynn, as he toured Europe, giving speeches to the medical community about dental treatments and medical innovations he pioneered. On a small country road just outside of Lyon, France, the family's car swerved to avoid hitting a truck that had veered into their lane. Their vehicle plummeted off the road, ramming head on into a giant tree. The steering wheel plunged into Lynn's chest. He later died at a hospital. Violet and the four children all sustained major injuries, but they eventually recovered following months of hospitalization.
After Lynn's death, Violet returned to Beverly Hills. She spent some time grieving at the Las Vegas home of her close friend, Bing Crosby.
Violet and her husband had invested in real estate, purchasing homes in the Los Angeles area, which she later sold following Lynn's death. Some of that money went toward the purchase of the Hillcrest Village Apartments in Fullerton. She lived on that property, just down the street from her son and his wife and their eight children. She owned the apartments that Donald helped to manage.
At the age of 91, Violet returned to school to pursue another passion: writing. She enrolled in Freelance Article Writing with Julie Davey as the school's oldest student. At the same time Violet attended school, her granddaughter, Vivianne Wightman, then 22, was the managing editor of the Hornet newspaper and editor-in-chief of the Torch magazine. While Violet focused on finishing her memoirs, Vivianne was just a few doors down in the 500 building putting the newspaper to bed. At age 96, Violet discovered she had developed breast cancer. As her health continued to deteriorate, her sense of urgency heightened. She wanted to see her words in print, her stories and remembrances were gifts she wanted to leave her family. Violet's book of poems, "Sitting on a Cloud," was published shortly before her death. She was the first and only student to have a book published through the Fullerton College Printing Department. She died at home on December 3, 1998.
Born: August 6, 1901 in Globe, Arizona
Died: December 3, 1998 in Fullerton, California
Attended Fullerton College from 1992 to 1997. Book of poetry, “Sitting on a Cloud,” was published by the FC Print Department in 1998.