Hoarders (Not Quite) Anonymous!

By Michael G. Ankerich

Okay, I’m coming clean.  I am finally able to make a confession.

Several months ago, while packing the house to move across town, I began asking myself, “Do I have a problem with letting things go? Is it possible that I could be a hoarder?”

I was ready to admit that I had some sort of OCD when it came to books.  I packed 30 boxes of film biographies to go to my new library. That did not include film reference, signed first editions, classic literature, and modern day smut. I spent several agonizing days discarding some of my treasured biographies.

 

Books, books, and more books

Books, books, and more books

Who really needs 14 biographies of Elizabeth Taylor?  I got rid of three or four. Who needs one on Anna Nicole Smith?  Out it went.  I made some concessions, but I wouldn’t budge on my 15 Bette Davis bios. They all go with me!  End of discussion.

Not one Bette Davis biography was sacrificed in my recent move.

Not one Bette Davis biography was sacrificed in my recent move.

Moving forward, relocating to a new home, prompted me to look back over my life and the artifacts that I kept along the way. I found my ID badge from the 1970s when I was a bag boy at a grocery store. Keep it? Pay stubs from 1985 when I was a newspaper reporter fell from a folder. Those slips of paper went in the shredder. There are the neck ties that I wore back in the 1980s when I tried to be a fashion plate. They called me Mr. GQ in college. They were easy to let go.  What to do with the stubs from train tickets we used to cross Italy for the first time in 1995? What about the anniversary, birthday, and Valentine cards Charlie gave me over the past 23 years?

Underneath a big pile of clothes way back in the closet, I found my Greta Garbo tee-shirt from the early 1990s. Oh that memory! I was wearing that shirt the day Charlie and I were in line at an Atlanta art supply store. The elderly cashier smiled when she saw it. “They used to tell me I looked like Garbo.”  I didn’t see it.

What to do with the floppy disks which held files from my first book, Broken Silence: Conversations with 23 Silent Film Stars? They are the ones I grabbed when my apartment caught fire early one Saturday morning in 1991. Thirteen years later, what do you do with floppy computer disks?  Put them in the Smithsonian? Use them for coasters?

I discovered a box of my grandmother’s belongings.  I hadn’t looked at them in the 10 years since her death.  I found get well cards from the 1970s and a pair of false teeth.  What do I do with a pair of Mama Sue’s false teeth?

Through this ordeal, I kept thinking of Maxine Elliott Hicks, an actress I interviewed for Broken Silence, that day in Burbank when we had breakfast and went through her trucks full of stills and contracts and letters. She loaned me what I needed for the book, but needed them returned. “They’re all I have to prove who I was.” That’s kind of the way I felt throwing away my past.

In the middle of all this packing and sorting, I had to jet out to Los Angeles to film an episode of a television show (more details soon) and do a bit of research for Hairpins and Dead Ends, my new book.

I spent some time reflecting on all my stuff and whether I should classify myself as a hoarder.

In Venice Beach, taking  a rest from my bike ride

In Venice Beach, taking a rest from my bike ride

Cycling along the coast from Santa Monica to Hermosa Beach left me with nothing but a damned sunburn and irritation at two religious fanatics on the Santa Monica Peer shouting through megaphones that most of us passing by were going to hell.

“You liars are going to hell.” The other translated in Spanish.

“You gluttons are going to hell.”

“You adulterers are going to hell.”

“You drunkards are going to hell.

“You lesbians are going to hell.”

“You homosexuals are going to hell.”

“You fornicators are going to hell.”

“You covetnous are going to hell.”  Oh, hell, I wondered, does that include hoarders?

As I passed by, I couldn’t resist. “Well,” I said to one of them, “it looks like you’ve just about covered all of us.”

 

Hollywood Sign from Griffith Park

Hollywood Sign from Griffith Park

My life certainly felt uncluttered on my hikes in Griffith Park high above Hollywood or on my trek through Malibu Canyon.

Hiking in Malibu Canyon

Hiking in Malibu Canyon

 

Visited the site in Malibu Canyon where M*A*S*H was filmed.

Visited the site in Malibu Canyon where M*A*S*H was filmed.

I certainly didn’t feel shackled by stuff the day I went to Rosedale Cemetery to look for the graves of Louise Glaum, Marshall Neilan, Hattie McDaniel, and Evelyn Nelson, a victim of suicide in 1923 and a subject I’m researching for Hairpins and Dead Ends.

A selfie at Louise Glaum's grave.  Yes, I know I look like Jed Clampett. I am protecting my face from more sunburn.

A selfie at Louise Glaum’s grave. Yes, I know I look like Jed Clampett. I am protecting my face from more sunburn.

I sat sipping wine one afternoon in Duke’s, my favorite restaurant in Malibu.  As I recorded the events of day in my journal, I wondered who would ever read these memories.

Journaling at Duke's along the coast in Malibu

Journaling at Duke’s along the coast in Malibu

I had boxes of journals I had written during our travels over the years. Maybe I should go through and send them to the dump.  Then I remembered what  the beloved Mae West always said, “Keep a diary, and someday it’ll keep you.” I kept writing.

Back home in early June, I dove into the clutter and made some tough (for me) choices.  They say a man’s home is his castle, his kingdom. For me, home was my “hoardom.”

With everything I touched, I had to ask myself five questions. Do I:

Keep it?
Haul it to the street?
Put it in a yard sale?
Give it to Goodwill?

Friends, I must have made a million decisions since I began this grueling self examination. The good news is that we are settled in our new digs.

My new office

My new office

The office is in order and I’m back to writing. There are still boxes piled in what will one day be a spare bedroom. I am committed to tackling their contents and making rational decisions about what to keep and what to throw away.  Through all of this, I’ve decided I will no longer associate stuff I’ve stored away with me or my past. I don’t want any part of me to live in a closet or the bottom of a drawer. I am more than a box of old pay stubs or birthday cards going back half a century.

A close friend tried to console me. “Michael, you’re just sentimental,” she offered. “There’s nothing wrong with that!

I am sentimental, that’s true, but I also unconsciously collect things that don’t make a whole lot of sense. I confess, I am a hoarder, but a recovering one, committed to tackling my disorder one floppy disk, one dry ink pen, one old and yellowed magazine at a time.

Oh! For the record, I kept Mama Sue’s false choppers!

 

The world according to Fontaine La Rue and other upcoming Hollywood adventures

By Michael G. Ankerich

If you know me at all, you know that I have a thing for actress Fontaine La Rue. I can’t call her my favorite actress because I’ve never seen one of her films.  I like her as a personality and for so many other reasons.

Fontaine La Rue

Fontaine La Rue

When I began searching for her about two years ago, I had no idea she would be so hard to track down. I devoted a blog to her early last year, Where are you, Fontaine La Rue?, when my frustration over dead ends almost led me to the attic on a quest for my old Ouija board.

Just about the time I opened the door and was headed into the dark attic to connect with the supernatural, the most amazing thing happened. Fontaine’s family got in touch and told me all about their grandmother, their aunt, their great aunt. It turns out that Fontaine was even more interesting than I realized.

The mysterious Fontaine La Rue

The ever mysterious Fontaine La Rue

I’m dusting off my wings and revving my engines for a flight out to Hollywood this weekend. I will continue the research for my new book, Hairpins and Deadends: The Perilous Journeys of 20 Actresses Through Early Hollywood, and will type away on some chapters that are ready to be written.

My main focus is getting better acquainted with Fontaine. I’m not meeting her face-to-face or chatting with her over tea, of course, but I’m visiting her final resting spot (since 1964) at Calvary Cemetery and those places that were special to her: her mansion on North Van Ness Avenue in Hollywood and St. Vincent de Paul, the church where Fontaine exchanged wows with her first husband, the father of her three children.

I’m devoting a chapter to Fontaine’s life and film career in my new book — how could I not? — so I’m not telling everything I know. I can tell you that everything I thought I knew about her at first was wrong.  How did Matilda Fernandez, a young immigrant from Mexico, survive family tragedy in her native country to find her way into the studios of the 1910s as Dora Rogers (later Fontaine La Rue) and vamp her way into the hearts of movie fans over the world.  That’s the story I want to tell.

There’s more in store for me in Los Angeles than just Fontaine. I’m doing some hiking and biking. I’m pouring through the Los Angeles Examiner archives, visiting friends, and dining at my favorite Chinese and Italian restaurants. Did I also mention that I am filming a scene for a documentary about a silent film actress I’ve written about in the past? Yes, my first experience before the camera, but I can’t miss the opportunity to talk about an actress whose heartbreaking story still haunts me.  I’ll fill you in on the details when I can.

Oh! Here’s another plea.  If you are a relative of actresses Vivian Prescott, Lolita Lee, Evelyn Gibson, or Lila Chester, please let me hear from you.  I have lots of clues, but I’ve reached a dead end on whatever became of them.  I’m also deep into research about Estelle Mardo. I want to know where she went after she disappeared and was never heard from again. Members of her family, equally perplexed, would also like to know.

There’s a lot of mystery about the early days of the film industry and those actresses who made their livings before the camera. It’s frustrating to someone who is researching and writing a hundred years after the fact.

That’s the way it is, my friends, with hairpins and dead ends.

 

Maurine Powers: How the actress became Zorro’s daughter

By Michael G. Ankerich
 
 
Maurine Powers
Born: March 10, 1899, in Illinois
Died: August 12, 1983, Palm Desert, California
 
Maurine Powers

Maurine Powers

To understand how actress Maurine Powers became the daughter of Zorro after her fleeting film career came to an end, we must start at the beginning, not with Don Diego de la Vega, but with a young woman in Illinois named Daisy.

She was born Daisy Louise Munsey in the early 1880s in Illinois to John D. and Marietta (Garner) Munsey. While she was talented in many areas and enjoyed several careers during her life, she excelled in marriage. Daisy made marriage a vocation.

In June 1898, the teenager married Frank May, a salesman. Little Maurine came along in March 1899. When the May marriage went on the rocks, Daisy became Mrs. Curtis W. Baker. The Bakers settled in Terre Haute, Indiana.

Curtis was a traveling salesman for Page Fence Company. While Curtis traveled, Daisy had the wandering eye. Her sights settled on Andrew W. Powers, a man active in local politics. At one time, he was the city chairman of the Democratic Party.  Curtis learned of the developing relationship and took his anger out on Daisy. He fired off two shots at his wife, hitting her once in the leg. He then turned the gun on himself. With one shot to the head, he was traveling to the Great Beyond.  By 1910, Powers was living with Daisy, 10-year-old Maurine, and Daisy’s mother in Terre Haute.

Screen Shot 2014-05-16 at 3.55.51 PM

Daisy, who possessed an entrepreneurial spirit, opened a women’s hat shop in Terre Haute. In July 1912, Daisy and Andrew Powers bound themselves in marriage. Maurine became Maurine Powers.

Maurine modeling one of Daisy's hats in a 1910 newspaper ad.

Maurine modeling one of Daisy’s hats in a 1910 newspaper ad.

As little Maurine became a teenager, it was clear she possessed a talent for drawing and painting. At the age of 15, the little artist, a sophomore at Wiley High School,  was commissioned to paint a 36 x 24 oil painting for local resident Florence Moir.  She committed herself to a serious study of art after she finished school.

After high school, however, Maurine and Daisy traveled to the Great White Way. In New York, Maurine Powers broke into the movies. By 1918, she had appeared in nine films for Metro. It was director William Nigh who brought Maurine to the limelight.

She played the part of an American girl who defeats the German Kaiser in To Hell with the Kaiser (1918), a comedy farce. She had the lead in Beware!, a documentary-style propaganda film.

Nigh, ecstatic over Maurine’s performance in Beware!, formed Democracy Photoplay Company to feature her in Democracy: The Vision Restored.

“Miss Maurine Powers, a western girl of exceptional beauty and charm, played the part of the blind girl to perfection,” noted the Exhibitor’s Trade Review. “If Mr. (William) Nigh had done no more than to bring out Miss Powers as a new star, he is entitled to great praise.”

Terre Haute took notice. Friends traveled to New York to congratulate Maurine and her mother on the opening of Democracy.  Margaret Pflaging gushed to her local paper about her adventure in New York. “Oh, it was so thrilling,” she said. “When it (the showing of Democracy) was over it took six policeman to get us to the machine because of the crowds trying to get a close look at Maurine — and just think, she wasn’t the least bit excited.”

Maurine and Leslie Austin in Democracy.

Maurine and Leslie Austin in Democracy.

Professionally, Maurine was presented as a teenager, the “15-year-old Dainty Sunbeam,” or the “child actress who promises to be a second Mary Pickford.” In reality, she was already 23.

Screen Shot 2014-05-14 at 5.12.42 PM

Maurine was allowed to mature in her roles in Skinning Skinners, Why Girls Leave Home, and Notoriety, which explored the temptations and risks with the limelight.

Screen Shot 2014-05-15 at 4.58.34 PM

After Notoriety, Maurine disappeared from the screen. She made only more film, Free Kisses (1926).

Back in Terre Haute, Andrew Powers, who served as Vigo County (Indiana) clerk was tired of living life as a bachelor. In 1925, he filed for divorce, claiming that Daisy had deserted him to pursue fame and fortune for her daughter. After the divorce became public — and final, Maurine and Daisy seemed to drop from the face of the earth.  When Powers died in 1931, no mention was made in his obituary of his ex-wife or step daughter.

Screen Shot 2014-05-14 at 5.32.17 PM

In truth, Daisy and Maurine had finally struck gold. After her divorce from Powers, Daisy married author Johnston McCulley, the creator of the character Zorro. Maurine, as she had done in the past when her mother changed husbands, took a new name.  She became Maurine McCulley. Daisy took the name Louris, perhaps a variation of Louise. Maurine later used the name Beatrix as her first name.

Maurine in 1930

Maurine in 1930

By 1930, the McCulleys were living on Tower Road in Beverly Hills. Maurine later lived in Strawberry Flats, California.  While she did some radio work, her  passion was painting and serving in the arts community.

Maurine McCulley lived at 1117 Tower Road in 1930.

Maurine McCulley lived at 1117 Tower Road in 1930.

Daisy passed away in 1956. Johnston died in 1958. Their ashes are entombed at Forest Lawn (Glendale).

Screen Shot 2014-05-17 at 7.18.54 AM

In 1961, Maurine sued Walt Disney for $2 million for “conspiracy to defraud” over the use of the Zorro character in films and television.

Beatrix Maurine McCulley settled in Palm Desert with close friend Mildred Seamster.

Screen Shot 2014-05-15 at 5.24.26 PM

She was active there in the Palm Springs Desert Art Center. She became known for her portraits and floral still life painting. Her work was in mostly a traditional style but with elements of modernism and attention to color.

A Beatrix Maurine McCulley floral painting

A Beatrix Maurine McCulley floral painting

She was also a member of the Laguna Beach Art Association, California Art Club, National Miniature Society, and Painters of the Southwest.

Beatrix Maurine McCulley, formerly Maurine Powers of the silent screen, died at her home in Palm Desert on August 12, 1983, of heart disease.

Maurine's Palm Desert home

Maurine’s Palm Desert home

Her death certificate erroneously lists Johnston McCulley as her father. Her mother is listed as “Unknown Munsey.”  How could anyone have ever forgotten Daisy?

Screen Shot 2014-05-17 at 7.50.02 AM

Screen Shot 2014-05-17 at 7.44.14 AM

That crazy book man?

 

What has happened to my peaceful office where Maebelle and Tallulah napped while I typed away on a new book or spent hours researching the whereabouts of a lost silent film siren?

That was then …..

working on mae

 

This is now ….

Screen Shot 2014-05-04 at 4.02.53 PM

Maebelle and Tallulah are no where to be found this afternoon. Ms. Taylor, our other poodle puppy is almost 16 and sleeps most of the day on the sofa.  Tallulah walks by occasionally and peeps in before moving on, her tail tucked low as if she is dusting the floor. They know something is going on in our little family.

Charlie, Maebelle, Ms. Taylor, Tallulah, and I are moving across town in less than a month. On this Sunday afternoon, I’m asking myself, “How the hell did two people accumulate so much in the 14 years we’ve been in this house?”

I’ve spent the past three days packing books, biographies to be exact.  By the time I got from Mary Astor to Florenz Ziegfeld, I had packed and taped 30 boxes.  Those are only the biographies. There’s still hundreds of reference books and countless clipping and biographical files packed away in two filing cabinets.

Thirty boxes of biographies

Thirty boxes of biographies

It’s not the best of times to be moving.  I’m on a roll in my research, I’m writing the companion volume to Dangerous Curves atop Hollywood Heels, and I’m leaving for LA in a couple of weeks to tape a show for Lifetime. Yeah, my dust is really stirred up.

My office is calmer days.

My office is calmer days.

I’ve been buying books since the 1970s. Perhaps it has become an obsession over the years. I’ve hauled suitcases full of books back from those (almost) extinct used bookstores in New York, San Francisco, and Los Angeles. I’ve always been of the opinion that there’s always room for one more. Now, I’m not so sure there is.

We’ve all heard about those crazy cat ladies, and I’ve known a few along the way. When things are back to normal, when I’m back from LA, when we’re settled into the new house and I’m back to writing my new book, I’m going ponder the nagging question, “Am I really that crazy book man that Charlie always said I was?” Now, however, I’m too busy; I won’t even go there.

Michael (L) and writer Jim Parish in a bookstore in Los Angeles in the early 1990s

Michael (L) and writer Jim Parish in a Los Angeles bookstore in the early 1990s

 

Close Ups on Fade Outs: Frances Burnham

I’m starting a new series within this blog, Close Ups on Fade Outs. I love writing books about early Hollywood and sharing my experiences with you through this blog.  In all honesty, however, I have to say that the research into my work is what keeps me stimulated. In recent years, I have dedicated a lot of time to tracking down those early actresses who seem to have slipped away from film historians and enthusiasts.  They have disappeared into the dusty past.  There are questions marks where their death dates should be. What became of these ladies after their careers were over and where and how they spent their last days is what keeps me interested in what I do. Call it a fascination with necrology or an obsession with tying up the loose ends of someone’s life. Whatever it is, the yearning keeps me returning to dusty paths that lead back to the early days of filmmaking.  Come with me!

Frances Burnham

Born: April 19, 1895, Los Angeles, CA

Died: July 10, 1924, Monrovia, CA

Screen Shot 2014-04-26 at 3.28.18 PM

What became of actress Frances “Frankie” Burnham was a mystery for a long time. Her family could offer no help. They were even unsure what happened to Susie Burnham, her mother, who left her rural Missouri home and never returned.

Hollywood asked the same questions. Her opportunity for a big splash came when she landed the lead in Lorelei of the Sea (1917). Her reviews were mixed, but her big splash on the silver sheet turned out to be nothing more than a ripple. She vanished in 1919.

What became of Frankie Burnham?

Frances Burnham

Frances Burnham

The actress with golden hair and big bright eyes was born in Los Angeles on April 19, 1895, to Frank and Susanna (Carr) Burnham. The mysterious Frank Burnham came from either Massachusetts or Maine, no one knows at this point. Susanna, or Susie, hailed from Missouri. She lived there long enough to grow up and get out.

Susie spent the Gay Nineties wearing wedding dresses. Her first husband was Oscar Louis. This union produced Dean, born in Kansas in 1891. Susie made her way west and had a quickie marriage to Frank. Little Frances came into the world. In 1897, Susie became Mrs. Ernst Vogel and soon the mother of two more children, Ernest and Violet, born in 1899 and 1906.

Screen Shot 2014-04-26 at 3.58.47 PM

In 1915, about the time Frances was breaking into films, Susie was breaking in a new husband, Everette Scates. Frances had been in films a few years when she was tapped to play the lead with Tyrone Power Sr. in Lorelei of the Sea (1917).

Screen Shot 2014-03-26 at 5.37.56 PM

The cast and crew shot the film in Kalem’s old studio in Hollywood and in the islands off Santa Barbara.  Lorelei (Frances) lives by the sea. As a child, she was taken in by Paul (Power) and raised as his own daughter. The drama comes when Peitro (John Oaker) and Dorian (Jay Belasco), who washes up on shore, vie for Lorelei’s affections.

Reviews of Frances’s work as Lorelei were mixed. She was everything between a “poor excuse of a star” to carrying her role “with a true dramatic touch.”

Screen Shot 2014-04-26 at 3.24.27 PM

Frances had a leading role with George Walsh in On the Jump (1918), a World War I comedy. After a Western and two Lois Wilson films, Frances disappeared from the screen.

Frances Burnham

Frances Burnham

 

On July 10, 1920, Frances married Noble Sheldon, an Ohio hardware salesman.

The Noble Sheldons lived at this house at 4537 Prospect Avenue in the Los Feliz area of Los Angeles.

The Noble Sheldons lived in this house at 4537 Prospect Avenue in the Los Feliz area of Los Angeles.

 

In early 1924, Frances became ill with pulmonary tuberculosis. She went for treatment at Pottenger’s Sanatorium in Monrovia, where she died from the disease on July 10, 1924.  She was only 29 years old.

Frances Burnham rests at Forest Lawn (Glendale).

Pottenger Sanatorium

Pottenger Sanatorium

 

Screen Shot 2014-04-27 at 4.39.45 PM

 

Screen Shot 2014-04-27 at 8.45.56 AM

Close Ups on Fade Outs: Christine Mayo

I’m starting a new series within this blog, Close Ups on Fade Outs. I love writing books about early Hollywood and sharing my experiences with you through this blog.  In all honesty, however, I have to say that the research into my work is what keeps me stimulated. In recent years, I have dedicated a lot of time to tracking down those early actresses who seem to have slipped away from film historians and enthusiasts.  They have disappeared into the dusty past.  There are questions marks where their death dates should be. What became of these ladies after their careers were over and where and how they spent their last days is what keeps me interested in what I do. Call it a fascination with necrology or an obsession with tying up the loose ends of someone’s life. Whatever it is, the yearning keeps me returning to dusty paths that lead back to the early days of filmmaking.  Come with me!

Christine Mayo

Born: December 25, 1883, Jersey City, NJ

Died: January 9, 1961, New York City

Screen Shot 2014-04-19 at 7.15.12 AM

The early screen vamp was born Christine Maier on December 25, 1883, in Jersey City, New Jersey, to Gottlieb Ludwig Maier and Christine M. Stumpff, both Germany immigrants. She was the first of three daughters. Ann was born in 1885 and Barbara Louise came along two years later.

Christine had the talent for show business.  She was trained as a singer, but went on the stage after losing her singing voice. Her first theatrical experiences were in Excuse Me and Seven Keys to Baldpate.


Screen Shot 2014-04-19 at 5.05.45 PM

The actress became  an early proponent for a fund to support fellow actors.  In 1914, she introduced a plan that would endow beds in hospitals across the country for those in her profession stricken with illness far away from home.

“I do not know just how many deaths occurred in the profession last season from pneumonia alone,” Christine said, “but from newspaper accounts I should judge there were at least 50. With few exceptions the sufferers were compelled to go to New York for treatment, and exposure en route was the reason given for their deaths.”

Screen Shot 2014-04-19 at 5.07.32 PM

 

Christine made her film debut for Ramo Film Company. She was billed as Miss Mayo in The War of Wars: Or, The Franco-German Invasion (1914), the first film released in the United States that concerned World War I.

Christine then worked for Ivan Film Productions, where she starred in A Mother’s Confession (1915), using the name Chrystine Mayo. Ivan Abramson knew he had his Maxine when casting A Fool’s Paradise (1916). Christine plays a conniving gold digger on the prowl for a rich husband. Motography noted that Christine’s Maxine was a “character role most difficult to conceive.”

Christine Mayo in Who's Your Neighbor?

Christine Mayo in A Fool’s Paradise

In Who’s Your Neighbor?, Christine plays a prostitute, who, during a reform movement, is forced from the red light district to the better parts of the city.

Screen Shot 2014-04-19 at 5.22.00 PM

By 1917, Christine was credited with making the expression “vamp” a “colloqual slang in the English language.”

Off screen, she was anything but an evil seductress. While promoting her films on a tour of 30 American cities, Christine recruited troops for service in World War I and sold Liberty Bonds. Her service did not go unnoticed.  She received a gold medal representing the American flag from the hospital corps and was one of the first women of the stage to be awarded the right to wear the button of the Liberty Legion.

Screen Shot 2014-03-30 at 4.52.10 PM

Christine’s film career, which consisted of roughly 30 films, extended into the mid-1920s. She had good roles and she did good work for such companies as Fox,  Metro, and World Film Corporation.  She appeared with John Barrymore in Raffles (1917) and Lon Chaney in The Shock (1923), in which she played Chaney’s underworld boss, Queen Ann.

Christine in The Shock

Christine in The Shock

After her work in films, Christine did some theatrical work. For a time, she lived in Boston, where she managed the Scandia Jourde and Slattery’s beauty salons.  There is no indication the former actress ever married. She remained close and devoted to her  sisters.

Later in her life, Christine returned to New York City. She lived in a Gramercy Park apartment at 242 East 19th Street with her sister, Louise.

She died on January 9, 1961, at University Hospital of natural causes. Louise died the following year.

 

Screen Shot 2014-04-19 at 7.38.11 AM

 

Screen Shot 2014-04-19 at 5.12.18 PM

 

 

Viora Daniel: The untold story of a film comedienne, world traveler, and ‘bank sitter’

By Michael G. Ankerich

Maude Cheatham, writing for Shadowland in 1920, predicted stardom for the actress she had just interviewed on the Lasky lot.

“With her beauty, her vivid imagination, her sweet, girlish enthusiasms, and hopes, Viora Daniel promises to become a favorite twinkler,” wrote Cheatham.

Screen Shot 2014-03-22 at 8.32.07 AM

The day Cheatham arrived on the set, Viora was in the middle of a scene with Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle.  They were filming Arbuckle’s latest film, The Life of the Party (1920).

“I saw a slip of a girl whose vivid, sparkling face was framed  in dark curls which were caught up in a huge bow. The frilly skirts just touched the round, bare knees, while pink socks and Mary Janes completed her ‘little girl’ costume.”

When lunch was called, a nervous Viora hurried over the Maude. She was being interviewed for the first time. Viora Daniel was living the dream.

Screen Shot 2014-03-23 at 3.06.55 PM

Viora, who sometimes spelled her name with an “e” (Veora), was a California girl, born to Roques and Alfie (Stiner) Daniel in San Simeon on January 24, 1902. She was the second of three children. Wildy was born in 1899; Roques Jr. came along in 1904.

The Daniel marriage went on the rocks in 1906 when Alfie filed for divorce, accusing Roques, a farm laborer turned saloon keeper, of desertion. Viora went with her mother; Wildy and Roques stayed with their father and his mother, Guadalupe, an immigrant from Mexico.

In April 1912, frustration over a doctor bill he received sent Roques into the late night. He confronted Dr. Henry N. Freiman in his San Luis Obispo office. The two argued. Roques pulled out a revolver and fired. Dr. Freiman was killed instantly. Roques then turned the gun on himself and fired a bullet through his brain. He was a corpse by morning.

Screen Shot 2014-03-23 at 3.37.23 PM

It’s not clear where Viora spent her teenage years or how she came to Los Angeles. Early publicity suggests that she grew up and went to college in Idaho. There she met Lorrie Larsen, a young woman from Norway. The two became fast friends and, in time, found their way to Hollywood.

Screen Shot 2014-01-06 at 5.47.04 PM

Viora and Lorrie Larsen lived in this apartment house at 680 Witmer Street when they first came to Hollywood.

While Viora was away on a visit, Lorrie found work as a movie extra. When Viora returned, she met casting director Louis Goodstadt. He gave her the break she needed.

Screen Shot 2014-01-06 at 5.56.29 PM

Famous Players-Lasky took her on and used her in small, supporting roles with Ethel Clayton and Harrison Ford (Young Mrs. Winthrop), Robert Warwick and Lois Wilson (Thou Art the Man), and Bryant Washburn and Margaret Loomis (The Sins of St. Anthony).  Her big opportunity came when she was cast as Millie Hollister in The Life of the Party, a feature film starring Fatty Arbuckle.

Arbuckle put his slapstick on hold to play a respected attorney who runs for office as a reform candidate against local machine politicians. Millie, lowly secretary for a local charity organization, joins him in his fight. In the final reel, Arbuckle wins both the election and Millie.

Viora and Fatty Arbuckle in The Life of the Party

Viora and Fatty Arbuckle in The Life of the Party

Viora and the comedian had a good rapport from the start. “Roscoe is so funny, and a darling. In fact, the whole company are such fun, and they all help me in every way they can,” Viora said. “I don’t always know what to do, and Roscoe will say, ‘Now, just what is it you want Miss Daniel to do in this scene?’ and the director will explain it all over again.”

Screen Shot 2014-03-22 at 8.30.36 AM

To appear with Arbuckle was a dream come true for the struggling actress. “I remember I used to go and see Roscoe’s films,” Viora said at the time, “and how I did enjoy them, but, of course, I never once dreamed that I would ever be playing with him. It is all so wonderful — sometimes I wonder if I’ll wake up and find it isn’t true.”

Viora’s time with Famous Players-Lasky was short. After The Easy Road (1921), she left the studio.

She appeared in a Max Linder short, Be My Wife, then signed with Christie Comedies. The studio was intent on molding her into a film comedienne.

Screen Shot 2014-03-23 at 3.11.57 PM

The glamorous Viora Daniel

Her work at Christie was steady, but not very challenging. The plots bored her. Viora wanted more depth in her roles. In one, That Son of Sheik (1922), she is a starstruck teen who becomes obsessed with her film idol, Ruleoff Vassalino. Her boyfriend, Neal Burns, plots with her father to bring her back to earth.

An ad for A Pair of Sexes

An ad for A Pair of Sexes with Neal Burns

In her private life, reality set in. In September 1921, she toyed with the idea of marrying and leaving her profession.  It’s one or the other, she said. Her best friend, Lorrie Larsen, had married actor Harris Gordon in late 1920 and moved on.

Screen Shot 2014-01-06 at 5.55.08 PM

Viora left films in 1922 to tour in vaudeville. In the mid-1920s, she married bank cashier Wayne Casady, the son of a bank president. She flirted with a return to films.  After making three films in 1927 for independent studios, Viora fulfilled a life-long dream. She set sail and traveled with world.

Since childhood, Viora held a fascination for the Orient. Her dressing room at Famous Players-Lasky was adorned with treasures from lands beyond the Pacific.

“I’m crazy about the Orient,” she told a visiting reporter, “and I love every one of these things. My greatest joy is to prowl about the curio shops, and I know if I ever get to Japan or China, I’ll become light-fingered and probably be put in jail, for I’ll never be able to control myself with all those lovely things about. “

Viora toured Orient in 1928 and set up residence in Hawaii. Somewhere along the way, her marriage fell apart. When she arrived in Los Angeles in 1929, cameras were there to click for her. Snuggling with her miniature pooch, Viora, draped in fur and looking like a million bucks, posed for photographs. Since her acting days, she gushed, she had sailed  the world, exploring little known countries. She’d just wrapped up a trip into the interiors of China and Japan and was soon returning home to Hawaii.

Screen Shot 2014-03-23 at 8.49.36 AM

Viora returns to Los Angeles

Several years later, Viora was back in Los Angeles and not as chipper as before. Sailing the high seas had apparently drained her finances. To keep herself afloat, she reconnected with Wayne Casady, her ex, reminding him that he still owed her over $3,000 in back alimony.

When private and discreet attempts to collect from Casady failed, Viora took her squabble to the press — and to Casady’s place of work. She found herself a seat in the lobby of the Wilshire National Bank, where Casady worked as a bank officer.

She filed suit against her former husband in September 1932. She won the case but had little luck collecting the money.  Viora was back in the bank lobby in February 1933. For four days, the former actress sat. The bank declared her a nuisance and secured an injunction to bar her “sit in.” A week later, her “bank sitting siege” ended by court order.

Rather than continue her fight, Viora opted for marriage and more world travel.  She married Scottish shipping manager Harold Gourlie. The Gourlies lived in Scotland and the Philippines and made frequent trips to the United States. Friends had trouble keeping up with her.

When Gourlie died in London in 1958, Viora returned to Los Angeles. She was married briefly to Silas B. Adams in 1972. Viora settled into an apartment at 11063 Ophir Drive in the early 1970s.

Screen Shot 2014-01-06 at 5.37.14 PM

Viora Daniel lived at 11063 Ophir Drive when she died in 1980.

 

The former actress fought breast cancer for six years. The disease eventually spread to her liver.  She died at home on May 9, 1980. Her final resting place is Forest Lawn Memorial Park (Glendale).

Screen Shot 2014-03-23 at 3.28.41 PM

 

Viora’s time on the silver sheet was short. Maude Cheatham’s predictions that Viora would become a “favorite twinkler” fell short. Sadly, the fast strides the young actress made early in her career fizzled all too soon.

Screen Shot 2014-02-21 at 5.02.04 PM