By Michael G. Ankerich
Destiny turns a dime, or so says the old Pam Tillis tune.
Three months ago, in early May, I thought my weeks ahead were inked into my calendar. I was busy working on my new book, Hairpins and Dead Ends , and packing the house for a move across town.
A phone call changed all that! Welcome to Mi Vida Loca . . . and my television debut.
On the line was Sandra Alvarez, a producer for Ghost Inside My Child, a Lifetime Movie Network series. She talked about me coming to Los Angeles later in May to film a scene for an upcoming episode that would air in the fall.
The company was developing a story around a 17-year-old teenager in Minnesota who, since the age of 12, believed that the spirit of silent film actress Lucille Ricksen lived within her. The crew had gone on location to Minnesota to film Amy and her mother and father in their home. The crew was then returning to Hollywood where Amy and Theresa, Amy’s mother, would visit some spots that might trigger memories.
Sandra was interested in filming a scene in Los Angeles where I meet Amy and Theresa and tell them about my research into the life and tragic death of Lucille Ricksen.
I devoted a chapter to Lucille in my book Dangerous Curves atop Hollywood Heels. I have also written about her in Lucille Ricksen: Sacrificed to Hollywood, this blog. The story of the teenage actress who became a leading woman overnight has stayed with me since I dove into the details of her short life and tragic death.
Lucille’s mother, Ingeborg, brought Lucille and brother Marshall to Hollywood to seek fame and fortune on the silver sheets around 1920. Lucille was 10 years old. Success came to the youngster. She played a happy-go-lucky juvenile in the serial The Adventures of Edgar Pomeroy for Goldwyn.
In three short years, Lucille became trapped and exploited in the industry’s publicity machine. Overnight, she went from being a 13-year-old spunky kid doing what she loved to a 16-year-old leading lady, portraying all the struggles of adulthood. Those dramas spilled over into her private life.
In one year, Lucille completed 10 feature films. Exhausted from her work, the actress disappeared behind closed doors in her Hollywood home. Ingeborg kept vigil. One morning, the emotionally drained mother collapsed and died across Lucille’s sick bed. Less than a month later, the broken-hearted actress joined her mother in death.
After all these years, the lingering question has not been answered. How did the young actress really die? Tuberculosis? Exhaustion? Botched abortion?
The invitation to meet Amy and to appear on the show had all the elements that intrigued me: a walk into the supernatural; a look back at early Hollywood; and contact with someone intensely interested in old Hollywood. But reincarnation? I had given little thought to the subject over the years. I, too, feel pulled to Hollywood, especially the Hollywood of the 1920s. For some unexplainable reason, it feels like home to me when I am out there in the middle of all of it. Does a spirit who lived there in that time now reside in me? If I were to even ask the question, my Baptist roots would wrap around me and yank me down the backslidden trail. Now, as an Episcopalian, I have room for exploration and wonder.
In the end, I decided to venture out to Hollywood and meet Amy and her mother. (Click here to read more about my most recent Hollywood adventure). I even filmed a scene for the show. Sandra, the producer, asked where I thought we could shoot our scene. I suggested the old Biltmore Hotel in downtown Los Angeles. Built in 1923, the grand hotel is steeped in Hollywood history. It provided the perfect setting for our meeting.
Sandra insisted that I not meet the Pierces until we filmed our scene. That way, our conversation would be fresh and spontaneous. As the cameras rolled, Amy and Theresa walked in and we introduced ourselves. CUT! The action then moved to a table where, for the next 30 minutes or so (it seemed like days), I told Amy about my research. I asked her questions; she asked me questions. It was everything Lucille!
When our work was done at the Biltmore, the crew took us to a deli for lunch. In the afternoon, we drove into Hollywood, to the home where Lucille died in 1925. The crew filmed Amy and her mother walking down the street, across the yard, and onto the front porch.
Amy was overwhelmed. She said she had definitely been in the house. It was in the front left room where she insisted she died almost 90 years before.
Meeting Amy and her mother was the highlight of my 2014 adventure to Hollywood. Amy has the glamour and look of old Hollywood. Her mother was fun to be around, down to earth, and engaging.
Does the spirit of Lucille Ricksen, who died so tragically from mistreatment in a profession she loved, live on in a 17-year-old teenager living quietly in Minnesota. That is a question, my friends, that I can’t answer. Decide for yourself.
Mark your calendars for August 23, only weeks away. Tune in to see this haunting episode of Ghost Inside My Child on Lifetime Movie Network, hear Amy tell her story, see my television debut (that is, if I don’t end up a face on the cutting room floor). Visit the show’s website and read my revealing interview with Amy in an upcoming blog entry.