- Associated Press - Sunday, May 15, 2016

WINTERGREEN, Va. (AP) - Atop Wintergreen Mountain sits a three-story house with a patio and a steep driveway. Inside is a personal museum of collectibles ranging from beautiful dolls, porcelain breakables, dozens of photographs and themed tables set for the current holiday.

The home belongs to 94-year-old Julia Manherz, whose warm and energetic personality is as fierce as her fiery red hair. Manherz sits in her living room, catty-corner from a large portrait of her and her late husband, Jack Manherz.

“I’ve got pictures of Jack everywhere,” she said. “He was so gorgeous. He looked like William Holden. He was drop-dead gorgeous and so healthy looking.”

The two were married for 47 years, until he died of pancreatic cancer 15 years ago.

At her age, she still gets around, even driving a Cadillac to run all of her errands. She wears blue eye shadow and red lipstick and high heels. A petit woman, she has an elephant-sized memory that includes her career in the film industry as a supporting actress.

One of five children - one boy and four girls - Manherz was born in Manchester, New Hampshire, to parents of Greek heritage who immigrated to America to open a clothing store, Jim’s Oxford Shop. Manherz still speaks fluent Greek.

She longed to be a movie star but with strict parents, there were obstacles, she said.

At age 11, during a spat with her sister, Betty, she recalls singing and discovering her soprano voice.

“And after that, all growing up, all I wanted to do was be in show business,” she said.

She met her first husband, a pilot named Cecil “Dunk” Duncan, during an evening out at an officer’s club with Betty.

After he asked her to dance, he looked at her and said, “you’re just the kind of girl I’ve always wanted to marry,” Manherz recalled.

“I got so upset,” she said. “I said, ‘No, I don’t even kiss boys on the second date.’ He had some nerve, I wanted a career. I didn’t want to get married and have children.”

Dunk was 5 years older than her and, at age 23, he was heading to England in a week to fight in World War II.

They married anyway.

“I was so unhappy during that first week,” she said. “They say, ‘if you’re unhappy, you’ll either cry and cry and cry or laugh and can’t stop laughing.’ Well guess what? We were at the altar, the priest was about to marry us and I couldn’t stop laughing.”

Her parents didn’t speak to or forgive her until a year later, when the two welcomed their son, Tommy, into the world, she said. They also had a daughter, Debbie, who died of breast cancer about eight years ago.

She describes Dunk as a “wonderful human being” who never argued with her and gave her everything she ever wanted.

“He wrote beautiful love letters but never talked much. I’d say, ‘Say something’ and he would say, ‘Well what do you want me to say’ and I’d say, ‘Anything. Tell me how an onion grows,’” she said.

After 13 years of marriage, Dunk died in a car wreck.

While she was living in Inglewood, California, a talent agent took Manherz to see movie studios in Hollywood.

“20th Century Fox was the biggest and the best,” she said.

She had a screen test with one of the other actors to show how well she appeared onscreen. When she met with the manager of the studio, he told her she was a “natural-born actress,” Manherz said.

She signed a seven-year contract with 20th Century Fox and starred in western films and was featured on billboard ads under the name “Judy Duncan.”

She remembers working with film director and producer Harold Lloyd.

“He opened more doors for me, you would never believe.”

She knew stars like Vera Ellen, who she worked with on “Big Leaguer;” Gregory Peck, who she worked with on “Twelve O’Clock High;” and Frank Sinatra.

After acting, she went on to modeling in Norfolk and Virginia Beach and even opened her own modeling school called “American Beauty Charm and Modeling School.”

While she was still married to Dunk, Manherz met Jack, who she described as the love of her life. Though the two would only have dinner together once in a while, Jack always told Manherz he was “not the marrying kind.”

After Dunk died, the two began dating and Jack would visit her on the weekends but never told her he loved her.

After a jealous spat involving a doctor who was treating Manherz for a concussion, Jack showed up on her doorstep and told her he had decided to get married.

“I said, ‘Who is she?’ and he said, ‘It’s you,’” she recalled. “When he was dying, he said, ‘You’re the best woman I could have ever married and, just think, I didn’t want to get married.’”

She said she misses him every day and when other suitors came along asking to take her out, she said, “I’m waiting to join my darling in heaven.”

Now Manherz lives in the large house the couple designed from the ground up. The home is filled with memories and photographs on the walls of beauty shots from Hollywood and her co-stars as well as photos of family members.

Tommy Harvey, member of the Nelson County Board of Supervisors and owner of Afton Service Center, said he met both Manherz and her husband when they moved to the area. Harvey worked on their cars.

“She’s a wonderful person with so much knowledge and excitement in her life,” he said. “When you talk to her, to be 94 years old, she’s just like a 40-year-old. She has a very young soul.”

Bette Bowman, of Henrico, has been friends with Manherz since 2000.

“She is the most interesting and intriguing individual I’ve ever met in my life,” she said “She is entertaining and she has more life stories than most people would have in 100 lifetimes.”

Bowman said she is completely “enamored by her loveliness and charm,” calling her vibrant, healthy, beautiful, active and can do anything and everything.

Like Harvey said she said the 94 year old doesn’t look her age by at least 20 years. She doesn’t act or move like her age either.

She says Manherz is “remarkable” and is an “ageless beauty.”

“She is truly one of a kind,” Bowman said.

The secret to a long and happy life?

“Live life with a lot of love, understanding and happiness,” Manherz said. “Be active and caring. I’ve had a wonderful life. I’ve had my disappointments; I’ve had my happy moments. Stay busy and don’t think negative, just be with the Lord.”


Information from: The News & Advance, https://www.newsadvance.com/

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