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When 14-year-old ‘Woo Woo Kid’ Sonny Wisecarver got married in 1944, the scandal made national headlines

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14-year-old Woo Woo Kid gets married (1944)
Here’s one of the original stories about the first teen marriage of Ellsworth (Sonny) Wisecarver — aka “The Woo Woo Kid” — who went on to inspire the 1987 movie In the Mood, starring a young Patrick Dempsey.

Below, you will find an update and interview with the man from 1977 — nearly three decades before Wisecarver died of lung cancer in 2005, at the age of 76.

14-year-old Woo Woo Kid gets married Sonny Wisecarver 1944 (1)

No draft worries for schoolboy hubby, says wife

At least Ellsworth (Sonny) Wisecarver, 14-year-old schoolboy husband of Elaine Wisecarver, 21, doesn’t have to “worry about the draft.” That was the opinion of the bride as they awaited the arrival today of Los Angeles police.

The couple, held in Denver county jail, were married in Yuma, Arizona, April 29 — a marriage that prompted the youth’s mother, Mrs Mildred Wisecarver, to file a complaint of child-stealing against the bride.

They were taken into custody in Denver Thursday and since have avowed their mutual affection, Elaine saying: “If they annul this marriage, we’ll wait ’till Sonny is of age and show them we still love each other.”

And Ellsworth, declaring: “I think Elaine’s the kind of wife I want, because she likes to have a good time without getting drunk — she’s the first girl I was ever in love with.”

Elaine, mother of two daughters, one two years old, and the other six months, was puzzled at the complaint filed by her husband’s mother, asking “How can they say that? I wanted to wait four or five years, but Ellsworth said, ‘Why miss out on four years of our life?'”

In Los Angeles, Deputy District Attorney Roscoe Denny said whether they return Ellsworth to Los Angeles depends upon a conference with the boy’s mother.

It was in Compton, Calif. — a suburb of Los Angeles — that the romance began.

Custody of Ellsworth Wisecarver, child bridegroom who eloped with a mother of two, has been turned over to juvenile authorities, the United Press reported.

The 14-year-old boy’s mother relinquished her rights, saying she never had been able to manage him.

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Update to the story from 1977: Who, who is ‘Woo Woo’? Sonny “What a Man” Wisecarver

ALL LITTLE BOYS have idols when they are growing up: John Wayne, Roy Rogers, Mickey Mantle.

I was no different. I had a boyhood hero. But he wasn’t a movie star, a cowboy or a baseball player.

My hero was Ellsworth (Sonny) “What a Man” Wisecarver.

Ellsworth (Sonny) “What a Man” Wisecarver became a headline figure in the news during the 1940s when — starting at the age of 14 — he eloped with two married women. Both women had children. The newspapers tagged Wisecarver with the nickname “What a Man,” and called him the “Boy Lothario.” For a while, every move he made was a national event.

The Sonny Wisecarver story began in 1944 when Sonny, 14, eloped with Mrs. Elaine Monfredi, 21, of Compton, Calif., the mother of two children.

The couple met as Sonny walked by Mrs. Monfredi’s house after school one day.

“He whistled at me as I opened the door to look in the mailbox,” Mrs. Monfredi recalled.

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After that day, Sonny and Mrs. Monfredi saw each other after school and on holidays. Her husband was a metal worker in a war plant.

In May of 1944, Sonny and Mrs. Monfredi eloped to Colorado and were married.

“Sonny is an ideal husband,” Mrs. Monfredi said. ‘He doesn’t believe in hitting women.”

Sonny said: “Elaine’s the kind of wife I want because she likes to have a good time without getting drunk.”

Mrs. Monfredi’s husband, James, when informed of the incident, said, “She can choose between me and this boy. She can stay away or come back.”

However, Sonny’s mother, Mrs. Mildred Wisecarv- er, called the police and reported that Sonny had run off with Mrs. Monfredi. The mother said that “Sonny is a good boy, but large for his age.” .

— The couple was apprehended in Denver, and Mrs. Monfredi was charged with child-stealing. The marriage was annulled.

But a year later — in November of 1945 — Sonny eloped again, this time with Mrs. Eleanor Deveny, 25, of Los Angeles, whose husband was serving with the Armed Forces in Japan. Mrs. Deveny had two children whom she left behind. Sonny was now 16 years old.

“I thought I could be as happy with my husband as anyone could be,” said Mrs. Deveny. “Then I met Sonny. It was love at first sight. I couldn’t resist him. He’s a perfect lover. I love him more than I do my own husband. He’s the kind of guy every girl dreams about but very seldom finds.”

IT WAS AT this point that the press gave Wise the name Ellsworth (Sonny) “What a Man” Wisecarver — although some papers referred to the boy as “Woo Woo’ Wisecarver. In

headlines, where there was not room for the full name, Wisecarver was usually referred to simply as the ”Boy Lothario.”

14-year-old Woo Woo Kid gets married Sonny Wisecarver 1944 (2)

Mrs. Deveny said that she had met Sonny when she had gone to visit a sick friend at a house where Sonny was boarding. Sonny and Mrs. Deveny told friends they were going out for a sandwich, and then fled the State together.

“I knew how old he was,” Mrs. Deveny said, “‘but it didn’t make any difference. He’s more of a man at 16 than a lot of men are at 35.”

She said that she was not concerned about her husband in the Army.

“I don’t know if my husband knows, but I still love Sonny,” she said. She cashed one of her husband’s Army paychecks and gave the money to Sonny.

Police apprehended the two before they could get — married, and Sonny was taken to an Oroville, Calif., jail cell.

Mrs. Deveny said that she would like to join Sonny in his cell. “If Sonny still wants me, I’d like to divorce my husband,” she said.

Sonny, however, told jail guards that he “didn’t give a hoot” if he ever saw Mrs. Deveny again.

Judge A. A. Scott of the California Superior Court — who had presided over the Sonny Wisecarver case at the time of his first elopement at 14 — said, “He’s done this before and he’ll do it again.”

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Sonny’s mother said that the first time her son had run away with a married woman she had thought he had been seduced, but now she was convinced that Sonny was the aggressor in his romantic adventures.

The judge asked Sonny’s mother to sign a complaint against Mrs. Deveny for contributing to the delinquency of a minor.

In court, Sonny’s mother said, “I can’t go through life signing complaints against girls who run away with my son.”

“Don’t do it, mother,” Sonny whispered.

But she signed the complaint anyway. Sonny was charged with ‘leading or in danger of leading an idle, dissolute, lewd or immoral life,” and of being “persistently and habitually beyond the control of his parents.” He was sentenced to a term in a youth detention camp.

The judge said, “If Ellsworth gets into any more of these jams, he will be the most sought-after man in the United States, especially if these floozies keep making lurid statements to the press.”

“Why can’t I live my own life, without people always telling me what to do?” Sonny said. 

He went to the youth detention camp, but escaped in 1946 because he wasn’t allowed to smoke.

When news of his escape was reported, the Los Angeles police department was besieged with telephone calls from women wanting to know if Sonny was still at large.

He found work as a busboy and a baby-sitter, and sold magazines door-to-door in the northwest, using the name “Johnny Donovan.” At one point he tried to join the Army, but was rejected because of his juvenile delinquency record.

MEANWHILE, Mrs. Deveny’s husband, Cpl. John Deveny, read the news about his wife and Sonny in the Japan edition of Stars and Stripes, the Armed Forces newspaper. He said he was “shocked.” He came back to the United States and said, “It’s a husband’s duty to stand by his wife. I’m going to stand by her.”

Mrs. Deveny said she would probably resume her marriage, “because John has been sport enough to – forgive me.”

In 1947, at the age of 17, Sonny Wisecarver married Betty Zoe Roeber, also 17, of Las Vegas.

Betty had been an usherette in a Las Vegas movie theater, and had met Sonny while showing him a seat.

“I’ve been through a lot, and I don’t want my wife to suffer any embarrassment from my past,” Sonny said. “If folks will only forget the mistakes I made as a kid, now that I’m really and honestly married, I’ll prove that all this talk about me is untrue. I just want to live a normal married life with Betty.”

The two set up housekeeping in a trailer home. But a year later, Betty left Sonny, saying that he “couldn’t make a home for me.”

So Sonny hopped a freight train for Salt Lake City to look for a job.

Today, the Boy Lothario is a bus driver in Las Vegas, and describes himself as “just an average 48-year-old man with a little potbelly.”

Wisecarver says women do not even give him a second glance today.

“That whole thing was just a crock,” Wisecarver said. “Just a crock.”

Wisecarver — who says that he always detested the “What a Man” and “Woo Woo” nicknames — said that when he began eloping with married women, he was merely a victim of circumstances.

“Opportunity just presents itself, and you answer it,” he said. “It was World War II. All the husbands were gone. The women wanted attention. I gave it to them. Wouldn’t you take advantage of the same circumstances?”

He said that his enormous fame in the ’40s was more a result of the newspapers needing bright feature stories to write than of any real power over women held by him.

“The papers were full of stories about the war,” Wisecarver said. “They needed to write something different. So the newspaper writers heard about me, and they wrote a lot of crap.”

Of the two married women he eloped with, Wisecarver said: “I never hear from them anymore. don’t know what happened to either of them.”

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14-year-old Woo Woo Kid gets married Sonny Wisecarver 1944 (3)
Sonny and his 1947 bride, Betty Zoe Roeber, also 17, a Las Vegas usherette, set up housekeeping in a trailer in Las Vegas. She left him a year later.

What of his wife, Betty, who left him in the late 1940s?

“We got back together after that, but by that time, the newspapers had forgotten about me,” Wisecarver said. “Our marriage lasted for 23 years. Then we were divorced.”

Wisecarver is married again. He and his new wife Elaine, 30, have a 19-month-old son, Michael.

“I drive a tour bus for Transportation Unlimited here in Las Vegas,” Wisecarver said. “I met my present wife on the job. She was a hostess on the bus company’s nightclub tour. She used to ride with me.”

Asked to explain his reputation as a young Romeo, Wisecarver said:

“I have no idea. All it was was luck, that’s all. Women ride my bus every day now and don’t even give me a second glance.”

But his wife, the new Mrs. Wisecarver, said:

“T think the women fell for Sonny because he is a very nice person. Other than being a very nice person, I don’t think there’s anything. I mean, I don’t think he has any special magnetism or anything like that. Women do like a very nice person with an honest and open personality. That’s an admirable quality in any person.”

Wisecarver is devoted to his mother, now 77.

“My mother still lives in California,” Wisecarver said. “She’s forgiven me. She loves me. That’s a woman’s place in life, isn’t it?”

Reminded that a judge once warned, “If Ellsworth gets into any more of these jams, he will be the most sought-after man in America,” Wisecarver said:

“It never happened. I wear a bus driver’s uniform with the company emblem, but my name’s not on display in the bus, so no one ever notices me. (He refused to be photographed.)

“I’m just an average, run-of-the-mill bus driver who goes home to his family. We live in Las Vegas, but we never go to the Strip. I try to raise my little boy, make my house payments and just get by.”

Asked why he decided to run away with married women when he was such a young boy, Wisecarver said:

“Oh, every boy does that.”

Asked if he had a good time back when he was the Boy Lothario, he said:

“I suppose I had a good time. Wouldn’t you?”

And then Ellsworth (Sonny) “What a Man” Wisecarver laughed out loud.

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