Hairpins and Dead Ends: A review by Diane MacIntyre

Hairpins and Dead Ends: The Perilous Journeys of 25 Actresses Through Early Hollywood
By Michael G. Ankerich

Reviewed by Diane MacIntyre.
This is companion book to his Dangerous Curves ‘a top Hollywood Heels– The Lives and Careers and Misfortunes of 14 Hard-Luck Girls of the Silent Screen. It’s not hard to imagine Hollywood as a treacherous goldfields that stretch beyond the horizon. The miners are minors who have no inkling of what being a screen star is or refuse to believe there is no gold for them.

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Edwina Booth’s quest for fame almost killed her

Yes, some will hit a vein, nuggets here and there. Some will find the finest gold sand and powder that slip through their fingers so rapidly and finally only fools gold. There is a price to pay for every bit. What Hollywood gives with one hand it takes away with the other. Rabidly, painfully even deadly.

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Alma Rubens: Going, going . . .


The victims are of their own making from a deep burning fire in their bellies to succeed where only a tiny fraction do-for a time.


Youth is everything. Actress Belle Bennett was willing to call her sons her “brothers” and made them live that way (They were never to refer to her as “Mother”) to give more of an illusion of youth. How far would you go to realize you dream?


Among the 25 their are some famous names-Belle Bennett, Edwina Booth, Virginia Lee Corbin, Marjorie Daw, Jetta Goudal, Mary MacLaren, Lottie Pickford, Alma Rubens, Barbara La Marr, and Alice Lake. Mr Ankerich fleshes out their life stories to bitter middles and ends.

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Belle Bennett


Most all the rest with names like Lila Chester, Lolita Lee and Mona Lisa – nary a flicker. But they all had that unquenchable fire to shine not burn.

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Margaret Gibson, never far from trouble

My eyes burn with tears as I write this. I do not have the deep desire but every one of their stories is molded to draw out my emotions, for their agonies and ultimate defeats.

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Barbara La Marr in tears

What were the misfortunes of betrayals, the casting couches and the ultimate rejection, that caused enormous exhaustion breakdowns and the darkest of depression? These face about every screen performer. I would like to ask them all-Was it all worth it?

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A sad ending for Helen Lee Worthing

But I leave it to you to decide.


You won’t know until you read how well Mr. Ankerich opens our eyes and minds to a subject that is still a big problem over 100 years later. Congratulations for another finely polished book with dozens of illustrations and footnotes. I hope you find it as compelling and shattering as I did.

(Photos for this blog were selected by Ankerich)

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The Hairpins and Dead Ends Address Book

Old Hollywood still exists, but you have to look for it. While researching Hairpins and Dead Ends, I spent a lot of time in the rat race that is Los Angeles 2017 trying to understand what it was like in, say, 1912 or 1926.

As a biographer, it is important for me to visit the homes and graves of those actresses I write about. It helps me to better understand my subjects.

What follows are some of the addresses where the actresses lived, loved and died.  I have been to most of these places and I want to share them with you.

If you’re in the Los Angeles area, visit these for yourself. Arm yourself with a trusty map or GPS and a copy of Hairpins and Dead Ends. If not, the addresses and photographs take you on a personal tour through old Hollywood, where Hairpins and Dead Ends takes place.

We’re on the Hollywood Freeway heading south. Take the next exit, Highland Avenue. That puts you in the heart of Hollywood. Have fun!

 

Note: The addresses are in the Los Angeles area, unless otherwise noted.

Belle Bennett

2132 N. Highland (1924)

6180 Temple Hill Drive (late 1920s)

Belle Bennett’s Temple Hill Drive home

 

Valhalla Cemetery (final resting place)

Belle Bennett’s marker at Valhalla

 

 

Edwina Booth

 

1133 Fremont Avenue (1927)

Edwin Booth lived in this S. Pasadena house in 1927 (1133 Freemont Avenue)

 

5047 W. 21st Street (April 1930)

1948 Fletcher Avenue

Edwina Booth’s 1948 Fletcher Avenue home in the 1930s

140 Linden Avenue (last home)

1847 14th Street (Santa Monica) Woodlawn Cemetery (final resting place)

 

Lila Chester

306 West 20th Street, New York City (1935)

118-32 202nd, New York City (last home)

Lila Chester’s last home

 

61-40 Mount Olivet Crescent, Middle Village, New York (Fresh Pond Crematory, final resting place)

Virginia Lee Corbin

5154 Franklin Avenue (1917 – 1918)

1755 Ivar Avenue

Virginia Lee Corbin lived at 1755 Ivar Avenue in Hollywood

2028 Beachwood Drive (1920s)

Virginia Lee Corbin’s Hollywood home in the 1920s (2028 Beachwood Drive)

 

Marjorie Daw

7733 Maie Avenue (1917)

Marjorie Daw lived at 7753 Maie Avenue in 1917

 

8091 ½ Sunset Blvd. (1924) with Eddie Sutherland

9550 Wilshire Blvd. (Beverly Wilshire Hotel) (1930)

910 Benedict Canyon Drive (1930s) with Myron Selznick (site)

964 Palisades Beach Road, Santa Monica (1930s)

Marjorie Daw’s beach house at 964 Palisades Beach Road, Santa Monica

 

7151 Little Harbor Drive, Huntington Beach, CA (last house)

17772 Beach Blvd. (Huntington InterCommunity Hospital) (death place)

 

Florence Deshon

6220 Delongpre Avenue (1920)

Florence Deshon lived here at 6224 De Longpre Avenue

Margaret Gibson

1337 5th Avenue (Santa Monica, 1915)

432 ½ Commercial Street (location of Margaret’s arrest, 1917)

432 1/2 Commercial Street, site of Margaret Gibson’s 1917 arrest

 

120 South Grand Avenue (1920)

2324 N. Beachwood Drive (1923)

525 North Gramercy Place (1930)

Margaret lived at 525 Gramercy Place in 1930

 

1434 Morningside Court (1937)

5161 Templeton (1942)

6135 Glen Oak (last residence, location of confession)

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6135 Glen Oak where Margaret Gibson confessed to the murder of William Desmond Taylor

 

Holy Cross Cemetery (final resting place)

Jetta Goudal

Ambassador Hotel (1920s) (site)

8320 Fountain Avenue (1930s)

875 Comstock Avenue (1972)

401 S. Burnside Avenue (1975)

1712 S. Glendale Avenue (Forest Lawn Great Mausoleum, Sanctuary of the Angels, Glendale) (final resting place)

Alice Lake

6624 ½ Hollywood Blvd. (1920) (site)

1622 Wilcox Avenue (1930)

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Alice Lake’s 1930 residence (Mark Twain hotel)

6767 Yucca Street (1935)

Alice Lake lived here in 1935 (6767 Yucca Street, Hollywood)

 

6015 Monterey Road (last residence)

Alice Lake’s final residence, 6015 Monterey Road

 

2415 South Western Avenue (place of death)

Valhalla Cemetery (North Hollywood)

 

Barbara La Marr

1329 ½ Figueroa Street (1913)

1507 W. Pico (Faust Apartments) (1914) with Lawrence Converse

1507 W. Pico Blvd.

 

2408 S. Grand Avenue (Rockwood Apartments) (1914)

2408 S. Grand Avenue

 

822 W. 12th Street, Medford, Oregon (parent’s home) (1916)

Medford, Oregon, home of Barbara La Marr’s parents

307 W. 98th Street (1916) with Robert Carville (New York City)

1234 Boston Avenue (death house)

404 Riverside Drive, NYC (1925)

6672 Whitley Terrace (1920s)

Hollywood Forever Cemetery (final resting place)

 

Fontaine La Rue

709 Ceres Avenue (1912)

1802 N. Van Ness Avenue (1920s)

Fontaine La Rue’s 1920s home at 1802 N. Van Ness Avenue in Hollywood

 

12722 Washington Blvd. (1930)

3803 W. 8th (1930s) with Wayne Hancock

318 W. 17th Street (1938) (site)

5439 Hollywood Blvd. (1940s – 60s)

1174 North Hobart (last home)

4201 Whittier Blvd. (Calvary Cemetery, final resting place)

M Rogers Hancock (Fontaine La Rue)

 

Lolita Lee

1382 N. Ridgewood Place (1927)

2100 N. 49th Street, Philadelphia (last residence)

Eglington Cemetery, Clarksboro, New Jersey (final resting place)

 

Mona Lisa

647 S. Grand Avenue (1907) (site)

145 South Beaudry (1909) (site)

1356 S. Bonnie Brae (1926)

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Mona Lisa lived in an apartment at

5101 Melrose Avenue (1932)

801 South Kingsley Drive (1940) (site)

5717 Camerford Avenue (1950)

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Mona Lisa lived at 5717 Camerford Avenue in 1950

10948 Morrison (North Hollywood) (death house)

Inglewood Park Cemetery (final resting place)

Katherine MacDonald

127 North Manhattan Place (1917) (site)

Corner of Pico and Georgia (her studio in 1921)

121 S. Rossmore (home of Katherine and mother Lillian)

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Katherine MacDonald built this house at 121 S. Rossmore in 1923

235 Hot Springs Road, Santa Barbara (1920s – 1956)

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Katherine MacDonald lived at 235 Hot Springs Road in Santa Barbara from the late 1920s to 1956

 

Mary MacLaren

6541 Hollywood Blvd. (1916)

6830 Whitley Terrace (1917)

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Mary McLaren lived at 6830 Whitley Terrace in 1917

127 North Manhattan Place (1917-1982) (site)

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Mary MacLaren (R) sits with a neighbor on the front porch of her dilapidated home at 127 N. Manhattan Place (about 1981)

975 North Virgil (last residence)

Forest Lawn (Glendale) (final resting place)

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Estrellita del Regil (the Lady in Black) weeps at the casket of Mary MacLaren at Forest Lawn in Glendale (1985)

 

Marion McDonald

2294 Alcyona Drive (1928-1930)

Marion McDonald lived in at 2294 Alcyona Drive high in the Hollywood Hills in the late 1920s

 

6561 Franklin Avenue (1940)

1443 W. 21st Street, Sunset Island, Miami Beach (last residence)

Woodlawn Cemetery, Miami, Florida (final resting place)

Evelyn Nelson

6231 Delongpre Avenue (death house – site only)

The house where Evelyn Nelson committed suicide is now a parking lot for Southern California Hospital

 

1831 West Washington Blvd. (Rosedale Cemetery, final resting place, unmarked)

Based on cemetery records, Evelyn Nelson rests in this unmarked grave at Rosedale Cemetery (Hollywood)

 

 

Lottie Pickford

56 Fremont Place (1920)

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Lottie lived in this mansion at 56 Fremont Place with sister Mary and mother Charlotte

1001 Elden Avenue

6622 Iris Drive (1928) (scene of party)

Lottie’s Christmas Eve party house (1928)

 

6524 ½ Franklin Avenue (1928)

1428 North Crescent Heights (1933)

577 Burlington Avenue (death house)

 

Alma Rubens

1834 El Cerrito Place (1926)

1475 Havenhurst (Andalusia Apartments) 1928 (location for Alma’s wild parties)

Alma Rubens lived here, 1475 Havenhurst Drive in 1928

 

Intersection of N. Wilton Place to Hollywood Blvd. and in direction of Van Ness (path of Alma’s escape when she learned she was returning to the sanitarium)

Alma Rubens escaped from her home on N. Wilton when she was being committed to a sanitarium. She fled down N. Wilton and up Hollywood Blvd toward Van Ness.

 

1745 N. Wilton Place (1929) (site)

112 N. Manhattan (death house)

Alma Rubens died at 112 North Manhattan Place, Hollywood

 

 

Jean Sothern

Upper Octorara Cemetery, Parkesburg, PA (final resting place)

 

Valeska Suratt

 

Albany Apartments, 51st Street and Broadway, New York City (1916)

 

Marie Walcamp

6051 Sunset Blvd. (1914)

6113 Salem Place (1916)

1042 Sanborn Avenue (1917-1918)

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Marie Walcamp lived at 1042 Sanborn Avenue in 1917 – 1918

1014 North Vermont, Los Angeles (1919-1920)

4320 Melbourne Avenue (1930)

Marie Walcamp lived here in 1930 (4320 Melbourne Avenue)

 

6116 Scenic Avenue (death house)

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Marie Walcamp died here at 6116 Scenic Avenue

Helen Lee Worthing

Ambassador Hotel (1926)

3439 W. 60th Street (1927)

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Helen Lee Worthing’s residence in 1927 (3439 W. 60th Street)

2171 Vista Del Mar (1929) with Dr. Eugene Nelson

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Helen Lee Worthing lived at 2171 Vista Del Mar in 1929

Intersection of Sunset and Portia Street (Helen found here passed out, 1946)

Helen Lee Worthing was found passed out at this intersection (Sunset and Portia) in 1946

1062 North Serrano Avenue (death house)

Inglewood Park Cemetery (final resting place)

 

 

 

 

 

Hairpins and Dead Ends is Waiting! Are You Ready for the Journey?

You survived Dangerous Curves ‘atop Hollywood Heels, my 2011 book about ill-fated actresses of the silent screen . . .

. . . but are you ready for the companion book, Hairpins and Dead Ends: The Perilous Journeys of 25 Actresses Through Early Hollywood? Get ready!  It’s here.

 

My new book takes you on a hair-raising rollercoaster ride through a time when Hollywood was surrounded by orange groves, not concrete jungles, and into the intimate lives of 25 beauties, ambitious nobodies who wanted to be somebodies.

Several became twinkling stars, while others settled as serial queens, slapstick vamps, bathing beauties, western heroines, and everything in between. While many young hopefuls abandoned their quest for fame and returned home disappointed, here are the stories of women who stayed, often to a bitter and tragic end brought on by drugs, booze, and suicide.

Through my intensive research, which includes interviews with relatives of the actresses, I’ll take you into the dark side of Tinseltown, a world of dope rings, whorehouses, gin joints, and other gritty hellholes some called home.

Lavishly illustrated with over 160 photographs, many from family scrapbooks, Hairpins and Dead Ends uncovers a world that offered passion and imagination, but functioned on illicit love, domineering mothers, desperation, greed, abuse, and discrimination.

The screen images of these 25 dazzling beauties were fleeting shadows. Their personal passions and struggles in real life held more drama than any role they clamored to play. These ladies make up the ghosts of Hollywood’s past.

Ready?  Let’s go!

 

 

 

Author Joan Craig Shares Her Memories of Theda Bara in New Book

Theda Bara, My Mentor: Under the Wing of Hollywood’s First Femme Fatale by Joan Craig, with Beverly E. Stout, is the book that I have been waiting for. They don’t come along everyday, these intimate and personal recollections of someone who actually knew the silent film greats, but when they do, they have my attention.

I was delighted that Joan agreed to talk with me about her new book. Read on . . .

From the back cover of Theda Bara, My Mentor:

As movie patrons sat in darkened theaters in January 1914, they were mesmerized by an alluring temptress with long sable hair and kohl-rimmed eyes. Theda Bara—“the vamp,” as she would come to be known—would soon be one of the highest paid film stars of the 1910s, earning an unheard of $4,000 per week, before retiring from the screen in 1926.

In 1946, the author met Bara-then 61-at her Beverly Hills home and the actress became her mentor. This memoir is the story of their friendship.

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Michael: First of all, tell me a little about yourself.

Joan: I attended Westlake School for Girls (now Harvard-Westlake School) in Holmby Hills. I graduated from Marymount High School, West Los Angeles. I attended Marymount-Loyola and UCLA. I raised my daughter in Newport Beach, California. We moved to New York City while my daughter attended The Professional Children’s School. I am currently retired and living with my husband Kurt Ruch.

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Joan Craig

Michael: Set the stage for us. Tell me about your childhood and how you got to Beverly Hills.

Joan: I was the only child of my parents’ marriage. I was born during World War II. My father was starting his own oil company on the West Coast at that time. My father had built one of the first gas stations in Las Vegas. During that time I grew up in the back seat of a car and staying at the finest hotels such as El Rancho Vegas, Mark Hopkins, Fairmount, Bel-Air Hotel, The Beverly Hills Hotel and others. My parents settled in Beverly Hills, when my father decided to build the largest gas station in the world with 24 pumps on Wilshire Boulevard in Miracle Mile in 1946.

Michael: How did you come to live on  Alpine Drive, Theda’s street?

Joan: My parents first rented a house owned by Adolf Spreckels II, the sugar king heir, located at 729 North Alpine Drive across the street from Theda. I was on my way to my first day at school with my nanny, when Charles Brabin (Theda’s husband) cut a rose from his garden to take to my teacher that day.

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Theda’s home in earlier days

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Theda’s home today. Joan lived in the house across the street. In this photo, Joan’s house is just above the stop sign.

Michael: What was the address of her house?

Joan: Theda’s house was 632 North Alpine Drive. Ours was 702 North Alpine Drive, Beverly Hills, which was directly across the street from Theda.

Michael: Who were some of your other neighbors? Anyone we might know?

Joan: Ben Hecht who was known as the Shakespeare of Hollywood lived directly behind us. Harold Adamson, a song writer, who was known for writing Around the World for Eighty DaysI Love Lucy, Frank Sinatra’s first Academy Award nomination I Couldn’t Sleep a Wink Last Night and others.  Dean Martin moved into 729 N. Alpine Drive after we vacated it, then Jerry Lewis. The dance team Veloz and Yolanda lived in a house in the middle of the block behind us on Foothill Drive. Across the way from that house lived Thurston Hall who played Antony in Cleopatra. In the 600 block on North Alpine lived Norma Talmadge.

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Theda and her crystal ball

Michael: Do you remember the first time you met Theda.  Tell me about it.

Joan:  I was on my way to school and in passing Mr. Brabin in his garden, I was told that the lady in the house would like to meet me. Upon entering the house I was ushered into the living room. Theda Bara entered the room and asked me to sit down. She sat on a sofa with a crystal ball covered with a cloth in front of her on the table. She asked me many questions while she looked under the cloth at the crystal ball. After meeting her, I felt that I had met someone with a very special gift! She told me to be very good because she could see everything.

Michael: What did you call her? Mrs. Brabin? 

Joan: No, I called her Aunt Theda.

Michael: Incidentally, how do you remember her name being pronounced? Like “Theeda”? 

Joan: Some called her that but she preferred like “Thayda”.

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Michael:  What was her physical appearance like? She actually kept her hair rather long, didn’t she? We think of Theda with white face powder and black kohl  around her eyes.

Joan: Yes, she kept her hair long. Theda processed her makeup in her kitchen. However, at that time in her life, she did not wear very much makeup.

Michael: As I understand it, she became a gourmet cook.  Did you ever dine with her?

Joan: I dined with Theda many times. She liked to cook. She also had a British cook.

Michael: Did she talk about her days in silent film and making movies?

Joan:  Yes. Sometimes we would go to the location where a film had been made. She and Charles would re-enact a special scene from that film as I read the story.

Michael: What were her general impressions of her image and work in Hollywood?

Joan: One of Theda’s favorite subjects was psychology. She was proud of her films since many of them exposed character personalities that may be devious. She felt the insight was beneficial to the public at that time.

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Theda in later years

Michael: How did that impact her work in films, do you believe? 

Joan: Theda was so good at portraying her characters, people really believed that that likeness was her in real life. This was a sensitive issue for Theda. She was not anything like the characters that she portrayed.

Michael:  We think of Theda as very dramatic, over the top, perhaps a Norma Desmond type. Did she come across as being eccentric or egotistical?

Joan: Theda was neither eccentric nor egotistical. She liked having many of the props from her movies around her in her house. Some of them were unusual. She had many friends, mostly celebrities. She loved to entertain and had many parties. She was very sweet, always concerned about the other person.

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Theda and Charles Brabin

Michael: Tell me about Charles Brabin, her director husband.

Joan: Charles Brabin was a highly principled man. He and Theda had a very happy marriage. They shared much of the film industry together.

Michael: Do you remember what he called Theda? 

Joan: They called each other “Moody”.

Michael: You gave me a insightful anecdote about Theda and Mae Murray for my biography on Mae.  Do you remember seeing others visit her from her era?  Who were they?

Joan: Most Hollywood stars came to her, too many to list here! Her close friends were from her era. Marion Davies adored Theda. They would have lots of laughs together.

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Theda and Mae Murray

Michael: Theda took a real interest in you as a child. What was her relationship to other children in the neighborhood? 

Joan: She seemed to like children very much, but didn’t have any of her own. Very interesting! Neither did her sister have children. I think that I was the only child allowed in her house. She and I had a very special relationship. I wanted to move into their house and told them that I could eat across the street so that I wouldn’t cost very much.

Michael: You mention she was a mentor. How was that?

Joan: Theda oversaw most of my lessons. She attended my school functions. I learned math quite quickly. She told me that I could read my fortune in the newspaper providing I could add up my numbers correctly! Both Theda and Charles taught me that it was important to have obtainable goals and good principles.

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From the collection of Michael G. Ankerich

Michael: Did she have a lot of photographs of herself around the house?

Joan: A few photos that were more portrait type.

Michael: Did she give you any autographed photographs of herself? 

Joan: No, she gave me her personal photo album and some of her costumes.

Michael: Is it true that Theda didn’t like candid photographs taken?

Joan: Candid photos of Theda were not allowed. During the forties and fifties, celebrities only allowed professional photos of themselves. If photos were taken they were torn up so that they could not be used in an unfavorable manner.

Michael: You mother didn’t mind that we went over to the Brabin house, but she didn’t want you to have your photograph taken with Theda.

Even in the late forties, some people shunned Theda Bara. Women were still afraid that she might take their husband! My mother told me that a photo with Theda Bara might affect my future life.

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Theda and her prey

Michael: From what I gather, she was someone who lived in the present, interested in present day events, not one to live in the past. Am I correct? 

Joan: Yes. While they didn’t live in the past, Theda and Charles enjoyed sharing their life experiences with me.

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An older Theda Bara

Michael: Do you remember the last time you saw her? Was she ill at that point?

Joan: The last time that I saw her was a few days before she died.

Michael: Did you ever meet Theda’s mother. I believe her name was Pauline.   

Joan: Yes, I meet her many times. She was an elegant appearing woman. She declined to learn English. She spoke several other languages. She and Theda would speak conversational Latin with me at the dining room table. Her native language was Francoprovencal French. This was a native dialect of Switzerland.

Michael: She outlived Theda by two years.

Joan: After Theda passed away, she moved into Westwood, in West Los Angeles, with her daughter Lori. She developed Alzheimers and soon passed away.

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An autographed photograph of Theda Bara. Collection of Michael G. Ankerich

Michael: Did you see much of Charles Brabin after Theda’s death?

Joan: My Mother and I oversaw the care and burial arrangements of Theda’s mother and Lori, her sister. We frequently looked after Charles Brabin and made his funeral and burial arrangements. This left me with a deep sorrow in my heart. The loss still brings me tears.

Michael: What do you want readers of your book to come away with?

Joan: An understanding of Theda in her personal life. Although she was retired, she was very much a part of Hollywood all during her life.

For more information, refer to Theda Bara: My Mentor and the McFarland website.

Bob Harned Remembers His Mother, Actress Sally Phipps

If you ever wondered what became of silent film actress Sally Phipps, you’re in luck.  Bob Harned has written a thorough and revealing biography of one of the cutest flappers to ever grace the silent screen. Bob is not just any writer; he just happens to be her son!

Sally Philips

Sally Phipps

A little about Sally and then I will introduce you to Bob and bring you into the conversation we had about his book, Sally Phipps: Silent Film Star.

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Her real name was not Sally Phipps, but Nellie Bernice Bogdon. When she came to Hollywood and signed with Fox Studios, she became Sally Phipps, a name that seemed to fit a care-free Jazz baby.

Sally was born in 1911 in Oakland, California. A brother, Lane, came along in 1913. Her father, Albert E. Bogdon, was a professional magician and quite easy on the eye (He later became a lawyer). Her mother, Edithe, a commercial artist, later worked at First National Studios coloring black and white photographs.

Sally's father, Albert E. Bogdon

Sally’s father, Albert E. Bogdon

When Albert and Edithe’s marriage fell apart, Sally went to live with her maternal grandmother, Nellie Lane. When she was not quite two, Sally was placed with a foster family, Warren and Eva Sawyer. Warren and Eva were employees at Essanay Film Corporation in Niles, California.

Sally’s career began as Bernice Sawyer at age four when she made three Broncho Billy films at Essanay: Broncho Billy and the Baby, The Western Way, The Outlaw’s Awakening, all 1915 releases.

Sally in about 1915

Sally in about 1915

A stagecoach accident ended Sally’s career at Essanay and sent her back to Nellie, her grandmother.

Edithe, Sally’s mother, began a new life in the 1920s and wanted Sally and Lane to be part of it. Edithe married Albert Beutler in 1922. In 1924, The family moved to Los Angeles.

Danny Borzage, a family friend, saw potential in 14-year-old Sally. Danny’s brother Frank, a director at Fox, gave Sally a screen test and the rest, as they say, is history.

Sally and Danny Borzage

Sally and Danny Borzage

After several uncredited roles, Sally began playing leads. The studio considered her image as that of a happy-go-lucky flapper and used her in comedies, often opposite Nick Stuart.

Sally was named a Wampas Baby Star in 1927, along with Patricia Avery, Rita Carewe, Helene Costello, Barbara Kent, Natalie Kingston, Frances Lee, Mary McAlister, Gladys McConnell, Sally Rand, Martha Sleeper, Iris Stuart, and Adamae Vaughn.

Wampas Baby Stars of 1927. Sally is pictured second from the left. How many others can you name?

In 1928, while filming None But The Brave with Charles Morton, , Sally developed the dreaded Klieg Eye, a eye irritation caused by the powerful lights used on studio sets.

A scene from None But The Brave with Charles Morton (R) and Billy Butts

A scene from None But The Brave with Charles Morton (R)

After her recovery, Sally went on vacation. She was away from the cameras for nine months, an eternity in filmdom.

Nick Stuart was soon making films and making out with Sue Carol. The actress grabbed onto Nick and wouldn’t let go. They were married in 1929.

Sue Carol and Nick Stuart (Michael G. Ankerich Collection)

Sue Carol and Nick Stuart (Michael G. Ankerich Collection)

In March 1929, 17-year-old Sally sued her mother and stepfather for the misuse of her money — she was earning $225 a week.

Soon after, Fox dropped Sally from its rolls. She tried Broadway, appearing as a starlet in the Moss Hart-George S. Kaufman hit Once in a Lifetime.

Sally onboard the Ile De France in 1933

Sally onboard the Ile De France in 1933

I will save the rest of her life for your reading pleasure. In short, she was briefly married to a Gimbel department store. By the mid-1930s, Sally was living in a one-room apartment in Manhattan and making $25 a week as a secretary.

She lived in India for a time and studied Eastern religions.  At a séance, she met Alfred Harned, whom she married in 1941. A daughter, Maryanna, was born in 1942, followed by Bob in 1944.

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It would be another 17 years before Bob saw his mother. Sally moved to New York and worked as a secretary. After Bob moved to the East Coast in 1967, the two saw each other at least twice a year.

Sally Phipps died of cancer in 1978.

After I read Bob’s fascinating book, you know me, I had questions.

Michael: So many film actresses from the 1910s and 1920s came from families where the father was absent.  This was Sally’s case. Her father, a magician and vaudevillian, was pretty much out the picture, as was her mother, who was a commercial artist. What impact did this have on her life, do you think?

Bob: Although Sally’s biological parents were frequently absent from her life, Sally lived full-time with her widowed grandmother, Nellie C. Lane from age three to age eleven. Nellie, whom Sally adored, was an intensely active civic leader during all the time Sally lived with her, and drove her own car as early as 1911. Nellie was the major stabilizing force in Sally’s life, was as a strong role model, and, although not a father, served as a good             parental substitute during Sally’s critical growing years.

Sally (L) and mother Edithe in January 1928, New York City

Sally (L) and mother Edithe in January 1928, New York City

 

Michael: Sally and her mother moved to Hollywood in 1924. Given that Sally had worked in the Broncho Billy films in the mid-1910s and performed in plays in school, it seems she was destined to become a film actress, doesn’t it?

Bob: According to interviews Sally gave, all she ever wanted to do was become a lawyer just like her father. However, Sally’s destiny was that she was too beautiful to live a normal life. When a family friend set up a screen test for her at Fox, which proved successful, Fox rushed to capitalize on her beauty and youth by immediately putting her under contract.

A Sally Phipps glamour portrait

A Sally Phipps glamour portrait

Michael: Tell me a little about your mother’s lifestyle after she went under contract to Fox and became a star.

Bob: According to Sally, it was all work, work, work. In a quote from a newspaper article, she said, “Hollywood is one of the most peaceful towns I have ever seen. Why, if wild parties and other things go on there, I’ve missed something. Most of us in the movies are too busy to think of anything but our work.”

Sally inscribed a photograph to Dorothy, her best friend, and explains her new name.

Sally inscribed a photograph to Dorothy, her best friend, and explained her new name, Sally Phipps

Michael: Sally became a Wampas Baby Star at age 15, I believe.  She must have been one of the youngest to receive this honor. Do you have any sense, based on your research and conversation with your mother, that she thought it was too much too soon?

Bob: Not at all. She loved every minute of it.

 

Sue Carol (Michael G. Ankerich Collection)

Sue Carol (Michael G. Ankerich Collection)

Michael: Nick Stuart was Sally’s frequent co-star at Fox.  Do you know whether there was a romance between them?

 

Bob: Sally was aware quite early that Nick and Sue Carol were smitten with each other and that a romance with him would be definitely out of the question.

Nick Stuart (Michael G. Ankerich Collection)

Nick Stuart (Michael G. Ankerich Collection)

Michael: Sally’s career in films was basically over by 1930, when she was only 19 or so. Did she have any sense of why her career ended? Was it the coming of sound?  Was it that Sue Carol came to Fox and played many of roles that Sally specialized in? Was it the lingering grief over her father’s murder in 1927? (Read the book to learn more).

Bob: Sally was always interested in giving the theater a try and found that the current upheaval in Hollywood gave her a chance to make a graceful exit. In the end, she triumphed by walking into a plum role in the 1930-1931 Broadway Kaufman & Hart spoof of     Hollywood, Once In A Lifetime.

Sally and Nick Stuart during the filming of The News Parade (1928)

Sally and Nick Stuart during the filming of The News Parade (1928)

 

Michael: One misconception I had about Sally was that, after her marriage to Ben Gimbel of Gimbels department store fame, she lived on “easy street” for the rest of her life.  That was not the case, was it? Without giving away a lot of the story, what direction did her life take after her divorce from Gimbel?

Sally in India

Sally in India

Bob: Sally moved on with her life after the divorce, having chosen to receive no settlement or alimony. She appeared in another Broadway show, did Shakespeare with a travelling company, joined WPA’s Federal Theatre Project, travelled around the world, lived in India for a year, and married again, giving birth to two children, including me.

Michael: One of the most unfortunate parts of Sally’s story was when she vanished from you and your sister’s lives in 1950 when you were youngsters. It’s interesting that Sally, as a child, was shifted back and forth between foster parents, her mother, and her grandmother.  Do you think her own childhood experience affected her idea of what it meant to be a parent?

Bob: It certainly seems possible.

Sally and Bob in Hawaii

Sally and Bob in Hawaii

Michael: Were you ever able to learn why she suddenly left you and your sister to grow up without their mother? Did she ever talk about it?

Bob: My sister and I were fortunate in that my father and my grandmother never imparted to us any blame or anger toward my mother. We always knew where she was and could keep in touch. Why she left and what precipitated it was never important to us. As for me, the time she spent with me as an adult was very precious.

Michael: Your sister had a bad experience when she was reunited with Sally, but you actually developed a friendship when you and Sally met again in the 1960s. Was it more of a friendship or was it a real mother and son connection?  How did growing up without your mother impact your life?

Bob: I was born into a show-biz family with bohemian attitudes. My father, who brought us up, was a musician, former vaudevillian, orchestrator, and composer. I grew up loving all            aspects of entertainment. Both my sister and I sang, danced, and acted. Meeting my mother later in life and hearing her stories about her own show-biz life was an incredible experience for a son like me to hear and enjoy. She and I became really good friends, and we spent many happy hours together, which I will always treasure.

Sally and Bob, May 1968 (Brooklyn, NY, atop St. George Hotel)

Sally and Bob, May 1968 (Brooklyn, NY, atop St. George Hotel)

 

Michael: Roi Uselton and I were very close friends when I lived in Atlanta in the 1990s.  He made contact with Sally in the late 1960s while researching the Wampas girls. Marion Shilling, another actress who had disappeared into obscurity, credited Roi as her “Christopher Columbus.”  Did Sally feel the same way about Roi, that he rediscovered her? She welcomed the attention, didn’t she?

Roi Uselton, actor William Janney, and Michael G. Ankerich, 1991

Roi Uselton, actor William Janney, and Michael G. Ankerich, 1991 (Michael G. Ankerich Collection)

Bob: I remember well the Roi Uselton period in Sally’s life in the late 60s and early 70s. Sally was very excited about being re-discovered by him and with his including her in his upcoming articles in “Films In Review” magazine. I have preserved all the letters from Roi in the Sally Phipps Archive, which I maintain.

Sally and Bob, October 1977, the night Sally was honored with a Rosemary Award

Sally and Bob, October 1977, the night Sally was honored with a Rosemary Award

Michael: How many of her films are available for viewing? Do you have a favorite Sally Phipps film?

Bob: All of Sally’s films were made at Fox except for the first and last listed (below). All are silent except the final, which is a Vitaphone talkie. I particularly enjoy the Fox comedy short Girls, because she has a chance to show off her comedic talents in physical comedy.

Broncho Billy And The Baby – Essanay – 1915 (drama short)

Light Wines And Bearded Ladies – 1926 (comedy short)

Girls – 1927 (comedy short)

The Cradle Snatchers – 1927 (feature)

Sunrise – 1927 (feature)

A Midsummer Night’s Steam – 1927 (comedy short)

The News Parade – 1928 (feature)

Why Sailors Go Wrong – 1928 (feature)

Where Men Are Men – Vitaphone — 1931 (comedy short

Sally with David Rollins in High School Hero (1928)

Sally with David Rollins in High School Hero (1928)

Michael: Is there an outstanding question that you would ask your mother if you could talk with her again? What would it be?

Bob: I feel that I got all of my questions answered during the time we spent together between the years 1967 and 1978.

Sally in Hawaii, 1941

Sally in Hawaii, 1941

 

All photos, unless otherwise noted, are courtesy of Bob L. Harned.

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 ….

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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

 

Hair Pins and Dead Ends, Ankerich’s new book, on the horizon

Relax, friends, I have not pulled a Howard Hughes or Doris Duke on you and slipped into seclusion on some exotic island in the Pacific. If I ever became a recluse, it would be in Manarola, Italy, but that’s another story.

Michael in Manarola

Michael in Manarola, 2013

I am hunkered down and working on my next book, Hair Pins and Dead Ends: The Perilous Journeys of 20 Actresses Through Early Hollywood. This book is a companion volume to Dangerous Curves atop Hollywood Heels, which was released in 2010.

Hair Pins and Dead Ends tells the stories of 20 young women from all walks of life who, despite the odds against them, rose above thousands of other hopefuls to enjoy various level of success in films.

 

Cover3

Like Dangerous Curves, I selected the names for this book because I wanted to know more about their struggles in Hollywood. Some were well known and it was fairly easy to research their lives. Others existed only in fragments, a mention in Variety here, a photo in Motion Picture Classic there. Family members and public documents brought these women back to life.

I wrote extensively about Barbara La Marr  in Dangerous Curves, from her birth in 1896 to her death in 1926. She lived life so fast that I thought we should slow the action down and focus on her formative years, her life before  films.

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In Hair Pins and Dead Ends, I piece together those years using La Marr’s own diary and the unpublished memoirs of Robert Carville, an early lover. I discovered that the “girl who was too beautiful” was really the girl who was too unhappy.

 

Mona Lisa

Mona Lisa

Mona Lisa was equally as mysterious on the silver sheet as she was on canvas. Like Barbara La Marr, this shadowy figure from silent films lived fast. Her publicity campaigns and brushes with the law made her private life more interesting than any films she made.

 

Gibson1

Margaret Gibson’s 1965 deathbed confession brought her name back to life. A neighbor who had been with Margaret as she lay dying recalls her confessing to the murder of director William Desmond Taylor. While playing virginal maidens on the screen, Margaret drifted into Hollywood’s underworld.

 

Marjorie Daw

Marjorie Daw

Both Marjorie Daw and Virginia Lee Corbin had mothers who brought their families to Hollywood in search of fame in the flickers. Marjorie’s mother died in 1917, leaving the 15-year-old  to raise her teenage brother.

 

 

Virginia Lee Corbin

Virginia Lee Corbin

By the time Virginia could crawl, her starstruck mother was pushing her into the spotlight. Virginia married young to escape her mother’s talons, but found it difficult to let go of her career.

 

Alice Lake

Alice Lake

 

Alice Lake, Helen Lee Worthing, and Lottie Pickford drowned their broken dreams of Hollywood in booze. Alice clung to a career long gone.

Helen Lee Worthing

Helen Lee Worthing

Helen rebounded from mental illness and suicide attempts, but her major sin in life was falling in love with the wrong man.

Lottie Pickford

Lottie Pickford

Lottie never gave a damn about much, preferring to party life away in the shadow of her sister, Mary, America’s Sweetheart.

 

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Sisters Katherine McDonald and Mary MacLaren were the Olivia de Havilland and Joan Fontaine of silent films. They were as different as night and day. Early tension in their lives led to a rift that never healed. Katherine struggled with alcoholism.

Mary MacLaren

Mary MacLaren

Mary, referred to (by some) as a crazy cat lady, spent her last days in her dilapidated home in the heart of Hollywood.

 

Fontaine La Rue

Fontaine La Rue

After a tragedy in their native land, Fontaine La Rue and her mother came to the United States. Fontaine soon married and became the mother of three children. Defying the odds against her, she found her place in the motion picture industry as a comedienne and vamp. I devoted a post to Fontaine when I was searching for her story.  I knew bits and pieces, but lacked the critical piece needed to put her life together.  Her family got in touch and filled me in. Her remarkable story is ready to be told.

 

Belle Bennett

Belle Bennett

Belle Bennett became a teenage mother while appearing in her family’s traveling circus. Once in Hollywood, she denied her motherhood, passing her son off as her brother. Ironically, an accident took the boy’s life, just as Belle was preparing for the mother-of-all roles in Stella Dallas (1925). Belle was stricken with cancer and died at the dawn of talkies.

 

Edwina Booth

Edwina Booth

While Edwina Booth survived the mysterious illness she contracted in the wilds of Africa while on location for Trader Horn, the beautiful blonde was never the same. She disappeared from public view. For years, the world believed she had succumbed to her illness. Edwina, comfortable in her seclusion, never came forward to prove them wrong. Her family sheds light on her illness and later life.

 

Marie Walcamp

Marie Walcamp

Florence Deshon

Florence Deshon

 

Evelyn Nelson

Evelyn Nelson

Marie Walcamp, Florence Deshon, and Evelyn Nelson escaped illness, heartbreak, and disappointment by bringing down the curtain on their own lives. Suicide, it seemed, was the only way to set themselves free.

 

Jetta Goudal

Jetta Goudal

Valeska Surrat

Valeska Suratt

Jetta Goudal and Valeska Suratt committed professional suicide through out-of-control temperament and typecasting.

 

Peggy Shannon

Peggy Shannon

Peggy Shannon came to Hollywood as a successor to Clara Bow, The It Girl, who had broken down from too much “It.” In time, Peggy lost her own way. Hollywood was particularly cruel to this former showgirl and helped her realize that, while she might have been a replacement for Clara, she was a poor imitation.

 

Lolita Lee

Lolita Lee

Lolita Lee, a struggling dancer and movie extra, was hired to replace Barbara La Marr in the film Barbara was making when she finally burned out. Being an imitation of or replacement for anyone never guaranteed success. Lolita soon vanished.

Look for further information about the release of Hair Pins and Dead Ends.