by Joe Shea
American Reporter Correspondent
June 9, 2001
'PAT' CORNELL, STAR OF FAMILY AND STAGE, DEAD AT 75
LOS ANGELES, Calif. -- Patricia Jane Cornell, a gentle and glowing star of stage and family, went peacefully to her rest on Friday, June 8, 2001, in Santa Monica, Calif., at the age of 75.
With her sister Shirley, Pat was a star performer in the hugely popular Olsen and Johnson Show from the late 1930's until the advent of television, when she became the first female executive at J. Walter Thompson.
Her leadership was not surprising; Patricia had pioneer blood, and was a ninth-generation American. Her great-great-great grandfather, Jacques Kampeau, traveled with Samuel de Champlain up through the Lake Champlain Valley of New York and Vermont and eventually settled near the present-day Detroit. Pat's great grandmother, Eliza Leasia, in the early part of the 19th Century was the first to organize a Catholic Mass, well attended by the Chippewa tribe, in the territory around Saginaw, Mich.
Born in Detroit in 1925 to jeweler Michael Basso and postal worker Clara Leasia, everyone's "Aunt Pat" grew up during the Depression and helped support her mother when her father died during her childhood. A talented dancer and inventive comedienne from an early age, she teamed with her sister Shirley and attracted the attention of the country's most celebrated vaudeville comedy team, Olsen and Johnson, when she was still in her early teens.
Accepted into the troupe, the dancing Basso Sisters were hired one day in Detroit, rehearsed the show as they traveled by train to Chicago, and then opened for Olsen and Johnson the next day in the Windy City.
Sending money home to their mother, the sisters traveled from Chicago to Hollywood and back to New York, performing four times a day for a week in every town big and small on the Keith-Orpheum Circuit.
During the war, Pat tended their mother and Shirley traveled around the world with the U.S.O. Afterwards they teamed again for a celebrated Olsen and Johnson show at the Winter Garden in New York, and she appeared on the Milton Berle Show at the advent of live television. Working as a Roxyette dancer -- the forerunners of the Rockettes a few years later -- she studied shorthand and soon landed a job at the nation's largest advertising agency, J. Walter Thompson. Pat quickly put her strong intelligence to work and earned a spot as the first female producer with the famous Kraft Radio Theater and the Rudy Vallee and Edgar Bergen radio shows.
Pat's second starring role was with her beloved family. She married noted insurance lawyer M.A. Cornell of Pasadena and moved to a beautiful home on Hampton Road, where she raised her two proud boys, Peter and Christopher.
She flung her enormous energies into charitable work, joining the Junior League and the Assistance League and many other philanthropic groups. She and her husband came to be known as "Mr. & Mrs. Santa Claus" for their enormous generosity and their devotion to decorating their homes in Pasadena and Huntington Harbor at Christmas. The seaside home even had a special plug in the central foyer to accommodate a 40-ft. tree, decorated with ornate balls a foot in diameter! Pat was known for her superb gourmet cooking and a warm hospitality that quickly brought every visitor to feel like an old friend.
Patrica Cornell was always an anchor and harbor to her family, gentle and gracious, intuitive and insightful, centered and stable, inventive and loving. There is no measure to the sadness her beloved husband Peter, her sister Shirley, children Peter and Christopher, her niece Pati, her great grand-niece niece and her grandchildren feel, tempered only by the sure knowledge that throughout her life she lived it to the fullest and gave far more than she got. The family is planning private services for Thursday, June 14, at Pacific View Memorial Park in Newport Beach. The family is planning private services for Thursday, June 14 at Pacific View Memorial Park in Newport Beach.