The cover photo shows a cool sophisticated blond, dripping with class but just a hint of mystery in the eyes, ready to step out into the film noir streets of 1940s L.A.
Meet Kordula Polenek, one of Hollywood’s true legends, Kordee, as everyone calls her, retired from 20th Century Fox after 58 years – longer than anyone, having started during World War II in 1944. Kordee also happens to be a longstanding member whose wisdom has had a profound effect on the way we do things here at First Entertainment.
Her story reads like a screenplay.
She was born in Topeka, Kansas. Like most girls her age, she had on her bedroom wall framed pictures of her favorite movie stars: Mae West and, of course, Clark Gable. But while others would only dream of Hollywood, Kordee would live it.
Early on, she showed a knack for business and management. By the time Kordee was a young woman, before the journey to Hollywood, Kordee was employed by the largest savings and loan in Kansas, where she came to appreciate the value of a personal and understanding financial institution.
In 1944, Kordee made her way west and began her career at Fox. Her path took many turns – each of them upwards. Kordee started in the Screen Test Department, then Makeup and Hairstyling, head of Wardrobe, then to Facilities Division as Administrator of the Department from which she retired in 2002. Until her retirement, Kordee kept track of the comings and goings of everybody and was responsible for a billion square feet of office space at the studio and in New York City.
With such a visible position at a major studio, Kordee mingled with all the greats. Golf as a guest of Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall, chatting at her desk with Victor Mature, posing with Lucille Ball, schmoozing with Judy Garland, passing gardening tips to Doris Day, having a young Marlon Brando offer a stick of gum.
She recalls May 19, 1962, the day Marilyn Monroe was rushed into the studio quite unexpectedly, excited to get her hair and makeup done to board the helicopter landing in afield on the lot (no helipad then) to take her to the airport to attend President Kennedy’s birthday party, where she would sing him “Happy Birthday” and create one of the most lasting images of our time.
While she was at Fox, Kordee performed in dramatic and musical presentations on the lot, appearing alongside Marilyn Monroe in “Strictly for Kicks.” An outside arena was built instead of using the stage on the lot because Darryl Zanuck would be attending.
Her involvement with credit unions began as soon as she started at Fox. Kordee had heard that the Fox Credit Union Board was looking for someone to take the minutes of the meetings. That’s where she started –as Secretary on the Executive Board. In those days, females definitely had their place in business; she was one of only two females on the Board. But as time went on Kordee rewrote the rules. She climbed to Vice President, then became the first woman Chairman of the Board. And by that time, the majority of the Board were qualified women.
In 1978, Kordee was elected President of the newly established Women’s Council (for assertiveness training) at Fox. Later it became known as The Fox Force when men were encouraged to join.
In 1979, the Vice Presidents of Fox were asked to nominate women in the company who had made an exceptional contribution. Kordee was selected for the Woman of Achievement Award.
In 1995, Kordee finally left the Fox Credit Union, only to join First Entertainment’s Supervisory Committee, where she served from 1996-2004. Her years of experience and her profound understanding of “show” people were an enormous help. Her ideas still resonate in everything we do.
It’s an incredible record: 35 years volunteering to help others make the most of their money. But credit unions are just one of her favorite volunteer projects. She was an early volunteer at the UCLA Hospital Emergency Room and Gift Shop, and served as President of Volunteers at L.A. County Psychiatric Hospital.
She is truly one of a kind. Army Archard, in his Daily Variety column of August 19, 1999, mentioned Kordee’s 55th Anniversary with Fox when the studio hung a banner across the front entrance of the lot to congratulate her. Rupert Murdoch himself took the time to thank Kordee and wish her well.
Kordee, all of us at First Entertainment would like to share those sentiments. With your star quality of insight and wisdom, you have left a lasting imprint on our credit union.