RANCHO BERNARDO ---- Eleanor Stewart Greiner modeled on the pages of magazines and Sears catalogues. On the big screen, she rode alongside Hopalong Cassidy and other stars of Hollywood westerns. She retired to raise a daughter and devote herself to community service, and at age 70, the former Lake Michigan lifeguard enjoyed bodysurfing in Del Mar with her two granddaughters. A resident of Rancho Bernardo and Poway for 32 years, Stewart died July 4 of complications from Alzheimer's disease, her daughter, Karen Kritzer said. She was 94. Born in Chicago and raised in the city's suburbs, Eleanor Stewart studied drama and communications at Northwestern University until the Great Depression bankrupted her father, an oilman, and forced her into the workplace, Kritzer said. The slender and attractive Stewart soon found work as a print advertising model. Stewart's image represented American Airlines when the company began to employ what then was a new kind of employee: the stewardess. Kritzer said her mother modeled regularly for Sears and also for a product called Jell-Well, the predecessor of Jell-O. She found a career in acting ---- or it found her ---- at a talent contest held by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, Inc. She won the contest, a trip to Hollywood and an acting contract. In MGM's studios, Stewart appeared in more than 20 westerns, some of them with William Boyd (Hopalong Cassidy), Tex Ritter and Bob Steele. She retired from the screen in 1944 when she suspected that horseback riding could have been to blame for a miscarried pregnancy, her daughter said. Stewart and her first husband, MGM executive Leslie Petersen, had their only child ---- Karen ---- and Stewart dedicated herself to motherhood and volunteer work. During World War II, she served as a "Gray Lady" volunteer at the Veterans Administration hospital in Los Angeles. Later, in Orange County, she was president of both the Children's Theatre Guild and the South Coast Child Guidance Center. In the mid 1980s, after divorcing Petersen, Stewart moved to Rancho Bernardo to be close to her daughter and two granddaughters. She immersed herself in volunteerism through her church and studied to become a Laubach Literacy teacher. She and other church members taught English to a fast-growing community of Cambodian refugees. She was a member of the Press Club of North San Diego County, president of the Rancho Bernardo-Poway Kappa Kappa Gamma Alumnae club, and handled publicity for the Rancho Bernardo Symphony and the Interfaith Community Services fundraising arm. She published a book on the pilgrims, "A Fair Vision," that portrayed them as brave people and not the Puritans with whom they often are associated. In 1991, she reconnected with a longtime family friend, Maurice Greiner, and the two of them soon were married. They traveled often, including visits to Hawaii, Israel and Europe. Her daughter said Mr. Greiner cared lovingly for his wife as Alzheimer's disease tightened its grip. "She was able to do more things and be more active than she would have under any other circumstances," Kritzer said. Contact staff writer Adam Kaye at (760) 901-4074 or [email protected]
Comment at nctimes.com
Published by North County Times from Jul. 18 to Jul. 20, 2007.