“Eh — What’s up Michael?” A note from Mel Blanc

I knew his voice before I knew the man. Or I should say, I knew is voices!

I grew up watching Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, Porky Pig, Tweety Bird, Sylvester the Cat, Yosemite Sam, and the Tasmanian Devil every Saturday morning as a kid. I never knew, until I was a teenager, that Mel Blanc was the voice for all these cartoon characters that helped shape my life.

As I look back to those days sprawled out in front of the television (before I started watching Dark Shadows, of course), I realize that I learned a lot from the characters that Mel helped bring to life.  I get my cockiness from Bugs Bunny, my mischievousness from  Tweety Bird, my appetite from the Tasmanian Devil, and my persistence from Sylvester, that “bad ole putty tat.”

It was on this day (May 30) in 1908 that Mel Blanc, the man of 1,000 voices, was born. Wonder whether he heard these voices in his head as a youngster?

In the early 1980s, I wrote this legend and asked him the question I often asked in those days: “What advice would you give a young man just starting out in the world?”  Here’s what he said.

Screen Shot 2013-05-30 at 5.09.38 PM

“Be as honest, sincere, and natural as you can.

Be yourself and truthful at all times.

Never take a job unless you like it.”

Sincerely, Mel Blanc

I’ve done pretty well with his first two nuggets of truth. I should have listened a little more closely to the third.

Mel also sent this really cool portrait of himself surrounded by my childhood buddies.

“Eh — what’s up, Michael?” he inscribed.

It’s days like today that I really miss these old-timers.

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Mae Murray: Through the Eyes of Artists

Artists and illustrators over the years have tried to capture the essence and beauty of silent film actress Mae Murray.  In anticipation of the release of my new book, Mae Murray: The Girl with the Bee-Stung Lips, in the fall, I wanted to share with you some of the best examples of Mae Murray in art. Enjoy!

By Bob Harman

Bob Harman‘s caricature of Mae Murray is one of my all-time favorites.  He was truly the Artist of the Stars.

A 1920s caricature.

As seen through the eyes of artist Nell Brinkley.

Another Nell Brinkley sketch.

Mae in silhouette in an ad for Sans Souci (mid-1910s).

By James Montgomery Flagg.

Advertisements for Mae’s films were some of the most interesting depictions of the actress.

A. L. Ewine’s 1924 drawings of Mae in Mademoiselle Midnight.

A 1927 sketch for the Los Angeles Times.

1928

Mae advertises Pepsodent (1924).

Sketch for one of Mae’s gowns in The Merry Widow.

At the height of the Murray-Negri feud (1927).

A drawing from a 1941 article relating to Mae’s struggles. The quote underneath reads, “Throughout all her difficulties Mae’s glamour was like an umbrella protecting her and helping her survive the deluges of woe through the years.

An artist envisions Mae sleeping homeless on a park bench in Central Park.

A 1946 illustration that advertised Mae’s lecture series.

Mae graced the covers of the most popular movie magazines.

August 1920

March 1923

November 1924

Consulting the Stars — Madge Kennedy

Michael’s note: From time to time, I will dig through my archives and share some photos and correspondence I received many years ago.  When I was leaving my teens and going into my twenties, a few years before I started interviewing the remaining silent film stars, I frequently wrote to various personalities and asked them what advice they would give to a young man just starting out in the world.

In this blog entry, I feature film and stage actress Madge Kennedy.

Madge was a prominent stage personality when she entered films in 1917 as one of Samuel Goldwyn’s first group of top echelon actresses — she joined Geraldine Farrar, Mabel Normand, Maxine Elliott, Mae Marsh, and Pauline Frederick. She was the last survivor of this distinguished group of actresses.

Madge starred in 23 films for Goldwyn between 1917 and 1921. She then formed her own company and enjoyed success in several films before moving on to other companies. She left films in 1926.

In the mid-1950s, she played the judge in The Marrying Kind starring Judy Holliday.

Madge found a new career playing character parts in such films as The Catered AffairLet’s Make Love, and Day of the Locust. She was seen in such television series as Leave it to Beaver, Twilight Zone, The Odd Couple, and Alfred Hitchcock Presents. Her final film was The Marathon Man.

I wrote Madge in the fall of 1986 with the question, “What advice would you give a young man just starting out in the world.”

Always professionally minded, Madge gave words of wisdom for a newcomer in the theater: “Learn your lines and don’t bump into the furniture.”

Madge Kennedy’s words of widsom.

I suppose we could all benefit from that tidbit of advice in our real lives, wouldn’t you say?

Madge eventually entered the Motion Picture Country House and Hospital. She died there at age 96 on June 9, 1987.

Madge late in life.

Madge Kennedy, at the height of her fame.

Cinecon Film Festival on the Horizon

RARE AND RESTORED EARLY FILMS RETURN TO THE BIG SCREEN

AT HOLLYWOOD’S EGYPTIAN THEATER LABOR DAY WEEKEND

American Movies Unseen for Decades Highlight the 48th Annual Cinecon Classic Film Festival

 

HOLLYWOOD – July 16, 2012 – Film fans, archivists, and researchers from around the world will gather in Hollywood, California, to attend the 48th annual Cinecon Classic Film Festival this Labor Day Weekend, Aug. 30 through Sept. 3, 2012.

The five-day festival will revive dozens of rare and recently-restored films–some in limbo for decades–at the historic Grauman’s Egyptian Theater on Hollywood Boulevard. The event will also honor the film careers of several actors and filmmakers from Hollywood’s Golden Age.  Schedule updates and complete information may be found at http://www.cinecon.org

Among this year’s Cinecon honorees are Phyllis Coates, best-remembered as Lois Lane in the first season of TV’s Adventures of Superman and as Alice McDoakes in the long-running Joe McDoakes theatrical shorts; and Carleton Carpenter, who sang “Aba Daba Honeymoon” with Debbie Reynolds in Two Weeks With Love and went on to star in such films as The Whistle at Eaton Falls and Sky Full of Moon. Also being honored is director Richard L. Bare, who helmed the Joe McDoakes comedies and brought a zany touch to TV’s Green Acres.

Cinecon will also feature a movie memorabilia show at Loews Hollywood Hotel (formerly the Renaissance Hollywood Hotel) located at 1755 North Highland Avenue in Hollywood, near the Egyptian Theater. Attendees may purchase rare movie stills, posters, lobby cards and other film-related collectibles.

Among the films being scheduled for Cinecon 48 is director John Ford’s previously “lost” silent gem Upstream (1927), one of a number of American silent films repatriated from New Zealand by the National Film Preservation Foundation, and preserved through a collaboration of Twentieth Century Fox and the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. Other silent films slated for viewing include Clarence Brown’s The Goose Woman (1925); Ladies Night in a Turkish Bath (1928) starring pre-code favorite Dorothy Mackaill; the sly romantic comedy Blonde or Brunette (1927) with Hollywood’s best-dressed man, Adolphe Menjou; Sensation Seekers (1927) directed by Lois Weber, one Hollywood’s few women directors in the silent era; Harold Lloyd’s classic comedy Hot Water (1924); The Circus Man (1914) one of the earliest surviving films from the Jesse L. Lasky Feature Play Company—the forerunner to Paramount Pictures; and famed cowboy star William S. Hart’s screen bio of Wild Bill Hickok (1923). Silent films will be shown with live musical accompaniment.

This year’s stellar line-up of early sound films encompasses such diverse titles as She Wanted a Millionaire (1932) starring a young Spencer Tracy; Hello, Everybody! (1933) which features the only starring role of radio’s “Songbird of the South,” Kate Smith; Love Under Fire (1937) starring Don Ameche and Loretta Young in a story set against the backdrop of the Spanish Civil War; Dangerous to Know (1938) starring Chinese-American performer Anna May Wong; Always a Bridesmaid (1943), a swing-era musical outing starring the Andrews Sisters; and Way Out West (1937) with beloved screen comedy team Stan Laurel & Oliver Hardy.

A highlight of the festival will be a screening of Gentle Julia (1936), based on a novel by Pulitzer Prize winner, Booth Tarkington. Two of the film’s stars, Marsha Hunt and Jane Withers, are scheduled to attend this screening, 76 years after its original release.

Special programs will include the world premiere screenings of Palace of Silents, chronicling the fabled history of the Silent Movie Theater in Los Angeles, and Looking for Mabel focusing on the scandal–ridden life of silent screen legend Mabel Normand. A third documentary, Peter Ford: A Little Prince, a personal journey about growing up in Hollywood as the son of superstars Glenn Ford and Eleanor Powell, will also be screened.

“Cinecon offers an opportunity to see classic movies as they were intended to be seen – on the big screen, with an audience,” says Robert Birchard, president of Cinecon. “The festival provides a place to rediscover long-unseen gems of American film.”

All announced titles are subject to final film clearances.  Celebrity appearances are confirmed pending unforeseen circumstances.  Please check http://www.cinecon.org for schedule updates, details on how to register, and hotel information. Also check our Facebook page at http://www.facebook.com/pages/Friends-of-Cinecon-Classic-Film-Festival/318809389544

Cinecon is a non-profit film festival.

  • The Egyptian Theater is located at 6712 Hollywood Boulevard, Hollywood, CA 90028,
  • Loews Hollywood Hotel (formerly the Renaissance Hollywood Hotel) located at 1755 North Highland Avenue, Hollywood, CA 90028.

# # #

Cinecon president and film historian, Robert S. Birchard, is available for interviews. Birchard is the author of Cecil B. DeMille’s Hollywood, and has appeared in such movie-related documentaries as TCM’s Moguls and Movie Stars.

Photos will be available to the media upon request.

 

For more information:

Contact:

Roscoe Fraser

312.307.8470

fraserroscoe@gmail.com

Lucille Ricksen — Sacrificed to Hollywood

By Michael G. Ankerich

Of all the actresses I researched and wrote about in Dangerous Curves atop Hollywood Heels, none have stuck with me more than Lucille Ricksen.

Lucille Ricksen, a kid playing adult roles.

Her death in 1925, at the age of 14, still troubles me. I grieve for the loss of a teenager who became one of the first causalities of Hollywood. If ever there was anyone who was helplessly sacrificed to Hollywood, it was little Lucille, who, at 13, was dubbed the “Youngest Leading Lady” in moving pictures.

Lucille Ricksen signed this portrait for her father.

Our story begins in Chicago.

Under the direction of her mother, Ingeborg, Lucille’s career began almost from the time she could walk.

Lucille (R) and her brother, Marshall. Also, a lock of Lucille’s hair.

Lucille first worked as a professional model in Chicago.

Early modeling photos of Lucille Ricksen.

From modeling,  Lucille worked on the legitimate stage for about a year. Then, Ingeborg took her five-year-old daughter to the Essanay Studios, where she signed her up for film work. She was cast as Baby Ericksen in The Millionaire Baby (1915).

A rather disturbing pose, perhaps the first attempt to make Lucille appear older than she was.

By the late 1910’s, Ingeborg’s marriage was on the rocks. Sensing her fortune lay in the Golden West, she moved Lucille and her brother, Marshall, from Chicago to Hollywood and put the family to work.

Ingeborg and Samuel Ricksen in happier days. The caption is written by Lucille.

In no time, producer Samuel Goldwyn signed Lucille to appear as the dainty sweetheart of Johnny Jones in Booth Tarkington’s Edgar comedy series.

For Lucille, it was like playtime all day. She could be mischievous and rambunctious in one scene or sweet and sentimental in the next.

Lucille in a scene from one of the Edgar comedies (1920).

Lucille loved her work. She wrote a letter of appreciation to her director, E. Mason Hopper, calling him the “most patient child’s director I have ever known.”

Lucille’s handwritten letter to director E. Mason Hopper.

In 1921, Lucille and Marshall, along with a number of the cast members of the Edgar series, were cast in The Old Nest, a film based on a short story by Rupert Hughes, Howard’s uncle. When the shooting was complete, Lucille was taken on a tour around the country to promote the Edgar series.

Lucille on the front steps of writer Booth Tarkington’s Indianapolis home. He is not home when she comes to visit on her publicity tour.

Although the schedule was grueling, Lucille had the time of her life. She diligently documented the summer in her scrapbook. She carefully pasted the newspaper clippings to the pages and wrote creative captions for each photograph.

Lucille and her mother on tour.

For the next year or so, Lucille continued to mature on the big screen. By the time she made The Married Flapper (1922) with Marie Prevost and Kenneth Harlan, the 12-year-old looked the part of an adult.

Lucille Ricksen, appearing grown-up as she stands with the crew on the set of  The Married Flapper.

The publicity machines went into high gear in 1923 when director Marshall Neilan chose Lucille to play the lead in The Rendezvous. Although not quite 13 years old, the studio and press declared her to be 16. She became “the youngest leading lady in movies.”

Lucille Ricksen with director Marshall Neilan.

In The Rendezvous, Lucille plays the unhappy wife of a Russian official. One visiting reporter to the set noted how strange it was to see Lucille in the leading lady role. “Those Edgar Comedies were Lucille’s only childhood–the only chance to play with children her own age. That is what makes her different. It is almost uncanny how different she is. It makes you sorry and it makes you glad.  You long to see those pigtails flying in the wind and the cheeks snapping with bright color, instead of the all-day session playing the abused wife of a “horrid” Russian, interpersed with reading about Bernhardt and talking with older men and women.”

Lucille Ricksen in a scene from The Rendezvous.

Equally disturbing — to me — is her revelation that Marshall Neilan (her director) and Sydney Chaplin, who was also in the film, were two of her new best friends. Disturbing, because of their reputations as Hollywood “bad boys” and skirt chasers.

Moreover, in December 1923, The Billboard noted that Lucille and Chaplin had recently married.

It is doubtful, given Lucille’s age and the watchful eye that Ingeborg hopefully kept on her daughter and breadwinner of the family.  My research failed to uncover any marriage certificate for the two in Los Angeles in 1923.

Through the first half of 1924, Lucille went from picture to picture at an alarming rate. She completed an astonishing 10 features in a little over seven months.

One can’t ignore the look of exhaustion on Lucille Ricksen’s face.

The grueling pace finally caught up with the teenager. That summer, while her films were being released, Lucille was fighting for her life. While the movie-going public was building her up, Lucille was secretly breaking down.

Ingeborg sent Lucille into seclusion, hoping that a few months of rest would make her good as new. Despite her best efforts, news about Lucille’s emotional breakdown leaked out.  Her mother offered little information.  “Nervous breakdown–that’s all. No, she can’t think of working now–not for four months at least. She must have rest–lots of it. After that, perhaps.”

News of Lucille Ricksen’s breakdown made headlines.

Lucille’s doctor was more candid. “Miss Ricksen is a high-strung enthusiastic girl, full of ambition and energy,” Dr. J. F. McKitrick said. “She crowded too much work into too short a time, and overtaxed her capacities. Other youthful stars have done the same thing.  The result is that she has had a complete physical and nervous collapse–so complete that she has not rallied from it as she should.”

With no money coming in, Marshall Ricksen quit school and found work to support his mother and sister.

Lucille and Marshall Ricksen in a Melbourne Spurr portrait.

One morning before daylight, Ingeborg thought she heard Lucille cry out for her. As she was speaking to Lucille and adjusting her covers, Ingeborg collapsed over her daughter’s bed. Lucille’s screams brought Marshall running into the bedroom. He tried to lift his mother from atop Lucille. It was no use. Their mother was breathing her last. “Take care of yourself, dear,” she said. Ingeborg died two days shy of her 45th birthday.

Lucille sank deeper into despair. Their Hollywood friends came to her aid. Paul Bern made sure Lucille had around-the-clock nurses. Actress Lois Wilson sat by her bed for hours at a time.

Lois Wilson signed this portrait to Lucille Ricksen.

Samuel Ricksen, their father, who lived nearby, reappeared to offer his support. Lucille and Marshall asked actor Conrad Nagel and Rupert Hughes to become their guardians.

Three weeks after her mother’s death, Lucille, surrounded by her brother and Lois Wilson, gave up her fight for life.

Lucille Ricksen died in her Hollywood home on Gardner Drive.

Following an Episcopal service, the ashes of Lucille and her mother were placed in a bronze urn and interned at Forest Lawn (Glendale).

Photos of Lucille’s urn at Forest Lawn.

Lucille’s death certificate gives pulmonary tuberculosis as the cause of her death. Newspaper accounts blamed a nervous breakdown brought on by overwork. Contemporary references have cited a botched abortion as the contributing factor.

Lucille Ricksen’s death certificate

The bright spot of the story centers around Lucille’s brother, Marshall. With the support of Conrad Nagel and Rupert Hughes, Marshall enrolled in the University of California. He majored in law and became a successful lawyer in the San Francisco area.

Marshall Ricksen lost both his mother and sister within a month.

His two twin boys also became attorneys. Their father never talked about the devastating losses of his mother and sister. The memories were too painful.

Little Lucille Ricksen crammed a lifetime of work and living into 14 short years. She was exploited by an industry that thrived on make believe. Her innocence was snatched before its time. In real life, she was rushed hurriedly through her childhood and bypassed the years one needs to become an adult.

A leading lady at 13.

As the breadwinner of her family, she was cast in adult roles in rather complicated adult situations, but she was still a kid at heart. Her mother, perhaps struck blind by the Klieg lights of fame, waited until it was too late to pull her little Lucille to safety.

Note:  Thanks to the Ricksen family for making Lucille’s scrapbooks accessible during my research.  Most of the images in this blog entry are from those treasures. 

True Story … Do we know the true story?

Mary MacLaren’s Twisted Heart

By Michael G. Ankerich

For several weeks, I’ve been trying to twist my mind around The Twisted Heart, a novel by silent film actress Mary MacLaren. Mary is one of the actresses I am including in my new book, Hairpins and Dead Ends: The Perilous Journeys of 20 Actresses Through Early Hollywood.

Mary MacLaren at the height of her film career.

As part of my research, I felt compelled to pick up a copy of The Twisted Heart. Picking up a copy in not quite how I’d put it, as the book had been published in 1952 and has been out of print for decades.

Mary MacLaren (L) and Tallulah Bankhead exchange books.

Unable to find a copy on my recent journey to Hollywood, I searched the net and found a copy in an online bookshop.

The Twisted Heart’s cover.

I could hardly wait to settle into Mary’s story about a woman, Barbara Moray, who finds love after the death of her husband and child.

Advance publicity hinted that Babs’ love affair was a shocker. The subtitle, The Revealing Story of a Strange Love, gave little away. The back jacket text rambled on about Babs finding all she wanted in Dee Richards: good looks, magnetic personality, lover of the outdoors.

After jumping between the covers of the book, we soon share Babs’ concerns as she discovers Dee’s lack of expertise under the sheets. She’s further rattled by his flirtations with everything on two legs.

Babs’ dilemma, Dee Richards, referred to as a “halfman”, isn’t all she thought she was getting in a companion. The man she’s given her heart to turns out to be homosexual. Not a topic of discussion in the days when father knew best and we loved Lucy.

MacLaren’s heroine tells her story in first person, and so, we follow her torment for over 200 hundred pages as if she were spilling her guts while sitting at our dining room table or swinging on the front porch.

Dee Richards, the man of her dreams, turns out to be the man of her obsession. She’s eager to test their budding relationship by taking a trip together. In an intimate moment, Dee confesses that an accident has robbed him of his ability to adequately satisfy her smoldering needs.

Babs goes blindly forward, checking on Dee’s every move, begging him not to leave her, then pining for him when he’s gone. She catches him exchanging odd glances with, what seems to be, every man he encounters, whether single or in the company of their wives.

We begin to wonder if poor Babs is simply imagining it all. Maybe she’s paranoid, or just plain crazy. The thought crosses Dee’s mind. As a deflection, he accuses Babs of being mentally imbalanced. “Either you’re crazy, or I am,” Babs counters. “But I have cause.  Look what I’ve got in life’s lottery.”

It isn’t until page 80 that Babs works up the courage to confront her man. “You’re a queer, aren’t you?” Dee slaps her; she hits back.  All she needs is Dee’s denial for her to reconnect her blinders and secure her rose-colored glasses.

To prove his devotion to her, Dee takes Babs on a road trip to the High Sierras, where they, alone in nature, can kindle their passion in the warm glow of a campfire.

Babs, almost wild-eyed with lust, comes close to forgetting her suspicions. A few days into the trip, however, Dee and Babs are fishing when, supposedly by chance, they run into one of Dee’s male friends. Babs is all eyes and ears. To hear her tell it, Dee falls into a trance as he and Tommy lock eyes. Then, Dee “obeys a given signal and follows him to the road.”

“My heart sank,” Babs laments. “Oh, God! I thought. I can’t go through this agony again. I waited with pounding heart and I saw them go up the hill and disappear from sight.”

Poor Babs. She does go through the agony again — and again. Finally, she sees a psychologist, who advises her to release Dee from her obsession and find herself a “normal man.”

Babs is inquisitive. “On what grounds do you psychologists condemn homosexuality?” she asks.

“We condemn it because it has no survival values,” he says, “because of its uselessness, its utter unproductiveness. Of what good are a lot of keys without locks? It is the fitting of the keys into the locks which opens the door to life . . . which makes both the key and the lock functional.”

The professional assures Babs she will not be able to “solve the problem of homosexuality in its entirety.”

“I simply wish to solve my problem with one homosexual man,” she replies.

Her agony continues to the final pages. She loves Dee; she hates Dee. She can’t live with him and her suspicions; she can’t live without him.

Babs finally gets some relief when an old flame reconnects with news that he is being released from the Army and is headed her way with romance on his mind. (Let’s hope that he, too, was not working out his sexuality at her expense.)

What became of Dee?  MacLaren makes sure that Babs’ tormentor suffers for his “sins”. Dee is found sprawled, naked and mutilated, across the bed of a hotel room in a sleazy auto court.  Babs was not surprised. “I sensed the end would be something like this.”

So, the loose ends are tied up; the story is finished; the bad guy gets what is coming to him. Isn’t that how most stories ended in the day?

While The Twisted Heart shed light on homosexuality in the mainstream in a time when the subject was taboo, the book did nothing to widen the narrow understanding and acceptance of gay men in the early 1950s. MacLaren’s timing could not have been more perfect. Her book was released during the national hysteria spurred on by the shameful McCarthy witch hunt into Communist sympathizers.  Gay men, too, were demonized, and became yet another part of society to be investigated, ostracized, and marginalized.

The obvious question I had, after reading the book, is where is Mary MacLaren in this story? Is it purely fiction or was she working out part of her own story, grinding her own ax? There are many parallels between MacLaren and Babs Moray. Both shared a love for animals; both married men with military careers; both ran boarding houses.

Mary MacLaren’s bio on the back cover of The Twisted Heart.

MacLaren’s niece, the daughter of silent film actress Katherine MacDonald, had little light to shed on her aunt’s story. While she remembers reading The Twisted Heart years before and recalling that it was quite controversial when it was released, she never heard, through family history, that any of Mary’s husbands were gay. There was no talk, either, of Mary being a lesbian.

Mary MacLaren’s work of fiction is only a tiny piece of her story. While reading it was an important part of my research for Hairpins and Dead Ends, the true and tragic story of Mary MacLaren’s own life and career makes The Twisted Heart seem like a tame story from The Reader’s Digest.

Truth, with all its guaranteed twists and turns, is, my friends, stranger than fiction!

Who’s That Girl?

One of the questions I get most often has to do with the cover of Dangerous Curves atop Hollywood Heels.  Who’s that girl?

Who’s on the cover?

I selected this photograph of actress Gladys Walton for the cover of Dangerous Curves. My publisher agreed. It was the perfect image to represent a group of actresses whose lives and careers took a variety of twists and turns–I called them dangerous curves–in their journeys through Hollywood.

It is also my favorite Gladys Walton photograph. Gladys gave me the photo when I spent an afternoon with her in Morro Bay in the early 1990s. My interview with her is featured in my first book, Broken Silence: Conversations with 23 Silent Film Stars.

The original photo used for the cover of Dangerous Curves.

She called her home Glad’s Castle. “You can’t miss it,” she told me before I left Los Angeles for Morro Bay. It was one of the oldest waterfront homes in the seaside village. Inside her domain, there was no doubt that Gladys reigned in Glad’s Castle.

Gladys designed and made the door that welcomed guests into Glad’s Castle.

There were wall-to-wall antiques from her travels around the world, sea shells, memorabilia, and exotic birds, one of which called her name over and over. She was even raising a brood of  baby chicks in one corner of the living room. Let’s have a look.

Gladys with her feathered friend.

Gladys’ other feathered friends.

A vast collection of treasures suggested that the woman of the house had lived a rich and full life.

With so much to talk about, it took a while to get around to talking about her stint in the movies, which only lasted from 1919 to 1925 and consisted of almost 40 films.

Unlike many of her contemporaries, Gladys was proud of her work in Hollywood. She poses with a screen she had made from some of her portraits.

Gladys with framed ads from her films.

Gladys and her mother were visiting relatives in Los Angeles in the summer of 1919. During their stay, Gladys’  uncle asked the 16-year-old if she would like to tour a movie studio. They visited the William S. Hart studio. Then a talent agent asked Gladys, who had no particular interest in the movies,  if she would like to make some films while she was in town. Gladys’ mother gave her approval.

A classic Gladys Walton pose.

She was taken to Fox Studios, where she was given a screen test. From there, she appeared in a couple of Sunshine Comedies with Slim Summerville. When not working, she would slip over to Theda Bara’s set and watch the vamp at work.

During one of her visits to the Bara set, Gladys met cinematographer and director Harry B. Harris. He’d had his eye on her during the summer. Would she be interested in going to Universal Studios, where they were preparing to birth a new star. Although it was the end of summer, and the Waltons would soon be returning home to Oregon, Gladys’ mom agreed for her teenager to stay in Los Angeles and see how she progressed in the movies.

As it turned out, a star was born. Gladys never returned to Oregon — or the classroom.

Gladys received star billing almost from the start.

Gladys was as green as they came. “I have never understood why they made me a star,” Gladys told me. “I had no experience at all. They made a big deal over me, but I was still a little girl.”

Gladys runs wild.

She made several films with the circus as their settings. In some movies, it seemed she was running from some situation in life and taking refuge to change its course.

A lobby card from one of Gladys Walton’s first films, Pink Tights.

While she made friends with the likes of Lon Chaney and Priscilla Dean, she never fit into the Hollywood crowd.  She was rather direct and usually spoke her mind. One day, a man wearing a straw hat and “potbelly” walked onto her set just as she was getting into a rather emotional scene.  Her mood music wasn’t doing much for her. She asked the director to please ask the man to leave. He was distracting her.

“Do you know who the man was?” Gladys asked me.  “It was William Randolph Hearst. He never forgave me, and I never was invited to the Hearst Castle. Other stars were, but not Gladys.”

By 1923, she had grown tired of the monotonous work and the lack of creativity being given her films. She felt overworked and was bitter over being denied a vacation. When The Untameable wrapped, Gladys took her vacation. She sailed to Hawaii and enjoyed three glorious weeks in paradise.

When she returned to Hollywood, the studio had docked her pay. Gladys turned on her heel and walked out of the studio and her contract. She sent word to a man she had been courting that she was ready to settle down. She married Henry Herbel, a district sales manager for the studio, in 1923.

She made some independent films in the mid-1920s, but realized the role she most wanted to play was that of a mother. She retired for good without ever making a talkie.

Gladys became a mother six times over the years. She led a happy and fulfilling life.

Gladys with one of her paintings, her rendition of Glad’s Castle.

She studied portrait art at the Chicago Art Institute and sculpting at UCLA. When I spoke with her, she was out dancing four times a week and spending time with friends. It was all much more dazzling that her few years in films.

The ever-glamorous Gladys Walton.

“They [the studio] worked me too hard, and it was not very glamorous,” Gladys said. “People thought it was, but it wasn’t.”

Gladys Walton’s 1993 obituary from the New York Times.

The Artwork of Joyce Compton

After Joyce Compton’s contact with First National ended in 1927, she freelanced for a variety of studios.

Joyce Compton, late 1920s.

Freelancing meant sticking close to home and waiting for the phone to ring. During those lean times, the Comptons began breeding and selling Belgian Griffons.

“I also discovered I had some art talent, and while being home bound and waiting for the phone to ring, I did some pretty good oil paintings.  Also, using monks cloth and thinned-downed oils, I painted some wall hangings,” Joyce wrote in The Real Joyce Compton: Behind the Dumb Blonde Movie Image .

Joyce’s artistic flair came to life while still a teenager in Tulsa. She envisioned herself a Sennett Bathing Beauty.

In this blog post, I share with you some of Joyce’s art work from the late 1920s and early 1930s. Her media was mostly oils, but she did some nice charcoal self portraits.

Joyce with one of her monks cloth paintings.

Today, the painting hangs in a spare bedroom in my home.  It is one of my treasures.

Joyce’s painting on display.

Joyce loved working in charcoal. Most of her drawings were self portraits.

A Joyce Compton self portrait (1930s).

A self portrait from the early 1930s.

My personal favorites are her oil paintings.

“Azalea Garden,” Middleton Plantation, Charleston, South Carolina. By Joyce Compton.

Landscape by Joyce Compton.

“Senorita” by Joyce Compton.

In the mid-1930s, Joyce drew the plans for the house she built with her parents on Davana Street in Sherman Oaks. Money was always tight for the Comptons. When Joyce would get a film role, they would hire workers and do a portion of the construction.

A classic Joyce Compton pose from the 1930s.

When money ran out, work stopped. A role would come along and work on their house would go forward.  She called the finished home, Joyce’s Hodge-Podge Lodge. She lived in her beloved home until the early 1990s.

In later years, when answering fan mail, Joyce would enclose a handmade bookmark, most often with a favorite Bible verse.

One of Joyce’s bookmarks

Read more about Joyce’s 30-year career in films in her autobiography, The Real Joyce Compton: Behind the Dumb Blonde Movie Image.

 

Discovering Old Hollywood Among the New – My 2012 Tinseltown Adventure

Almost 30 years since I made my first to Tinseltown, Hollywood still has a pull over me. There’s a line in an Eagles song that goes something like, “You can check out any time you like, but you can never leave.” Although I’ve come and gone countless times over the past three decades, flying in and out of LAX, I don’t think I’ve ever really left.

Officially, my trip to LA last week was a research venture for my new book, Hairpins and Dead-Ends: The Perilous Journeys of 20 Actresses Through Early Hollywood, which is a companion volume to Dangerous Curves atop Hollywood Heels. I spent four full days at the Academy’s Margaret Herrick Library, going through their vast collection and researching the lives and careers of the actresses I want to include in the new book: Evelyn Nelson, Belle Bennett, Corliss Palmer, Mary Miles Minter, Alma Rubens, Mary MacLaren, Florence Deshon, Margaret Gibson, Edwina Booth, Lottie Pickford, Valeska Suratt, Lilyan Tashman, Jetta Goudal, Katherine MacDonald, Marie Walcamp, and several others.

Before checking in at the library every morning, I drove around the neighborhood of Hollywood in search of the homes where these luminaries of the silver screen live, loved, and died (sometimes). I located the house where poor Alma Rubens died in 1931 after a hard fought battle with drugs.

Alma Rubens died in this house in 1931.

Unfortunately, the house on DeLongpre Avenue where Evelyn Nelson committed suicide in 1923 is no longer there. It was razed to make room for a medical facility. Almost directly across the street, however, the house where Florence Deshon lived during her time in Hollywood was still standing.

The mysterious Florence Deshon will be included in my new book.

If I had any time to spare in the morning before barricading myself in the library, I would wander among the graves and tombs at Hollywood Memorial Cemetery.  (Yeah, I know the name has been officially been changed to Hollywood Forever, but it will forever remain Hollywood Memorial Cemetery.) That cemetery is absolutely one of my favorite spots on God’s green earth.  You don’t have to worry about a parking place or traffic and no one is going to honk at you to get out of their way — unless it’s the geese.

A flock of geese live in and around the pond at Hollywood Memorial Cemetery.

The pond and the Hollywood Sign.

This trip, a mother goose was sitting on her nest, which was nestled into the top of a cast iron pot on the steps leading down to Douglas Fairbanks’ tomb.  Daddy goose waddled after me and hissed until I got the message and walked in another direction.

Mother Goose

Minutes after I fled papa goose, I went to another part of the cemetery to look for Mae Murray’s brother. I stumbled upon a peacock that was discouraged me from getting a closer look. By the time I raise my camera, this bird was fluttering its feathers and edging closer and closer. I was sure this creature was the reincarnation of dear Mae Murray and she was doing her dance from Peacock Alley.

That peacock got close ……

… and closer!

I sought refuge from the birds of the cemetery inside the mausoleum, where I paid my respects to Rudolph Valentino, William Desmond Taylor, and Barbara La Marr. There are always fresh flowers and lipstick prints around Miss La Marr’s crypt.

Barbara La Marr’s final resting spot

I had to wonder whether someone was leaving those lip prints on the marble, or was Barbara trying to give me a kiss from the great beyond?

I couldn’t leave town without paying my respects to Mae Murray at Valhalla Cemetery. One afternoon, I drove out to North Hollywood and spent some time with Eve Southern, Belle Bennett, and Miss Murray.  I tried setting up the camera so I might get a shot of me and Mae’s grave marker. The shot looked more like an ant looking up at me from the grass.

An ant’s eye view of me at Mae Murray’s grave site.

This is the best I could do.

Michael’s shadow over Mae’s marker

This trip was also about making connections. I spent several hours in Santa Barbara with the daughter of silent film actress Katherine MacDonald. She gave me an insightful interview about her mother and their struggles together. It will be included in Hairpins and Dead-Ends. I had lunch one afternoon in Studio City with relatives of silent film actress Evelyn Nelson. They supplied me with number of stills to use in the book.

Evelyn Nelson frequently played opposite Jack Hoxie in the early 1920s.

Brandee Cox also gave me a fascinating tour of the Pickford Center. Astounding!

I reconnected with fellow writers Jim Parish, Tony Slide, and André Soares. At an Italian cafe in Santa Monica, André and I talked non-stop for three hours without ever taking a breath, much less a bite of the pizza we ordered. We had to box it up to go. Have you read André’s bio of Ramon Novarro?  If not, it is a must!

A favorite book from my collection.

Speaking of books, I spent some time at Larry Edmunds and Iliad. Alas, I didn’t bring back a suitcase full of loot this time, but I found some interesting items. I finally found a copy of Jim Kirkwood’s There Must Be a Pony, a novel based his parents, Lila Lee and James Kirkwood.

Check out his dedication…..

I also found a signed copy of a book by Carole Landis.  Not exactly a signed book.  A fan, Jimmy Jarnisch, apparently met her and got her autograph in the 1940s. He pasted it into a book Carole wrote, Four Jills in a Jeep, about entertaining the troops during World War II. I like Carole Landis, so I couldn’t resist.

This trip was also one of firsts.  After almost 20 years of searching, I finally found the garage where Thelma Todd breathed her last. I had been to her home on the Pacific Coast Highway many times.

Thelma’s beach home

When I climbed into the hills behind the house, however, I could never locate the garage where Thelma died. This time, I took a street off of Sunset and worked my way around until I made the discovery.  Apparently, she died in the garage on the right.

Thelma’s garage

This trip was also the first time I used GPS.  I had always depended on my trusty 1994 Thomas Brothers maps to get me around the city.

Don’t get wrong, I still used these maps, but I introduced Hazel into the fun.  Hazel is my name for GPS. Charlie and I named it Hazel several years back when we were traveling from Heidelberg to Munich. Hazel and I have a love/hate relationship. She got us to the hotel, but she waited until it was almost too late to direct us to the turnoff.

This time, as I left the car rental agency at LAX, I typed in the address of the hotel. Rather than taking me up the 405 to 10 towards Los Angeles, Hazel decides to direct me to back streets I had never heard of.

“Oh, come on, Hazel,” I yelled out at this little box on the seat next to me. “This is your first trip here.  I’ve been coming to Hollywood for almost 30 years.” She kept quiet!

Flying Towards Hollywood: Books, Autographs, and Patsy Ruth Miller

This time tomorrow morning, I will be on my way to sunny Los Angeles for a week of research and interviews for my new book, Hairpins and Dead Ends: The Perilous Journeys of 20 Actresses Through Early Hollywood.  I’ll also be doing a bit of publicity for Mae Murray: The Girl with the Bee-Stung Lips, to be released this fall.

As I sit at my desk, I’m dusting off my wings, revving my engines, and cleaning out my suitcases.  Not for clothes, you must understand, but for the armload of books I hope to pick up along the way and drag home for bookshelves that are already full to capacity. In this office of mine, there’s hardly room for me, much less another book. A book to me is like a stray cat to my mom: there’s always room for one more.  Or, in my case, there HAS to be room for one more suitcase full.

A trip to Tinseltown would be rather disappointing if I didn’t hit all the bookshops in town. There are those used bookshops in the Valley–Iliad Books comes to mind. Jim Parish used to take me to out-of-the-way shops in Glendale. Sadly, they closed their doors years ago.  There’s also my favorite place to browse, Larry Edmunds, right on Hollywood Boulevard, an institution for lovers of cinema books.

Some friends of mine say, “Can’t you just order them from Amazon or other online sites like Alibris Books? Why risk throwing out your back dragging all those books around?” Yes, I could — and I have! When I have an opportunity, however, I like to seek out the dusty bookshops, disappear from the hectic world outside, and take up residence for a couple of hours between the shelves. Like my mom’s love for her cats, I’m always willing to give a cinema biography a new home.

There are some real treasures to be found hidden away in old bookshops.

Last year, while in Los Angeles, I stumbled upon a book I had wanted for years.  When I least expected it, my fingers brushed across the spine of That Flannigan Girl, the 1939 novel penned by silent film actress Patsy Ruth Miller. When I interviewed Patsy Ruth in the 1980s, I asked her about the book. She hadn’t thought of her novel in years and doubted I would never find a copy.

I pulled the book from the shelf and thumbed through its pages to make sure it was not my imagination.

When I opened the cover, I was stunned to see it was an autographed copy. The inscription read, “To Harry Joe & Sally Eilers Brown, from that Miller girl – Patsy Ruth, 1940.” Not only had I stumbled upon Patsy Ruth’s book, but one that she had signed for her friends, producer Harry Joe Brown and actress Sally Eilers.  My discovery would not have been nearly as exciting if I had simply “Googled” the title and found the copy on Alibris Books.  There’s something about that quest!

Patsy Ruth Miller's inscription in That Flannigan Girl

I’m an autograph collector. I love the art of handwriting and how creative we can be when signing our names.  It says a lot about who we are. I have my favorite signatures among the silent film set.  Theda Bara is one, Corinne Griffith is another. Then, there is Patsy Ruth Miller. I love the backward slant and the way she crosses her “T’s” in the opposite direction. What about the precision in her writing that looks like she used a ruler to keep her handwriting on a straight line?

I had trouble getting a real Patsy Ruth Miller autograph when I first wrote to her in the early 1980s.  That was before I was seeking out the remaining silent film players and recording their memories. When I wrote to Patsy Ruth, I was told she was difficult in the mail. She didn’t like signing autographs. I found out for myself when I sent her two photographs and asked for her signature. Here is what she sent back.

Signatures made with a stamp

Before I could pull the second photo from the envelope, I knew I’d been duped. Her “signature” was made with the dreaded autograph stamp. Those time savers were used frequently in the silent film days to keep up with fan mail, but 50-plus years after her career had ended?

Several years later, I was writing a column for Classic Images magazine. When Patsy Ruth penned her memoirs, My Hollywood: When Both of Us Were Young, in the late 1980s, I asked her for an interview. She responded almost immediately.

We had a nice conversation by phone and the article was a success.  I devoted a chapter to my interview with Patsy Ruth in my first book, Broken Silence: Conversation with 23 Silent Film Stars.

The next year, I think it was, when I was on the West Coast, Patsy Ruth invited me and my traveling companions to Palm Desert for a visit. We each took our books to be autographed. She was completely charming and engaging in conversation. When we asked her to autograph our books, she obliged, but with some hesitation. She flexed her fingers, admitting that handwriting caused pain in her joints. When she sat to inscribe the books, she indeed pulled out a ruler to guide her writing. Turns out, she had always used a ruler when signing her name.

Patsy Ruth Miller's inscription in my copy of My Hollywood.

Several years later, when I was traveling through the area, Patsy Ruth asked me to stop by for a visit. On our way to lunch at the clubhouse, she chastised me for the Coca Cola can in the center console. She told of an accident she had been involved in years before when the driver diverted his attention to take a swig of a drink.  (I venture to guess she wouldn’t be a fan of texting while driving).

At lunch, Patsy Ruth took out a cigarette and waited for me to light her up. I asked her about fan mail and why she rarely answered requests for autographs in the mail. She confessed to being annoyed when “fans” wrote saying she was their favorite star of all time, when she hadn’t made a film in years. She doubted most had ever seen her in a silent film.

Patsy Ruth nabbed a golfer to snap our photo in front of her condo.

If you ever see My Hollywood: When Both of Us Were Young among the shelves of a used bookshop, grab it up. It’s one of my favorite Hollywood memoirs. It reads like you’re sitting with the author as she recalls her journey through Hollywood.  It’s conversational in tone and she’s a great name dropper. The photos alone, most from her collection, are worth the price you’ll pay.

A few days from now, I’ll be in Los Angeles on a quest for books I somehow missed over the years.  If you see a guy sitting on the floor in the cinema section of the bookstore, it’ll be me.  I’ll be looking for a new biography to fill my suitcase. Come up and say hello!

Patsy Ruth Miller signed this portrait to actress Lucille Ricksen when she played her sister in Remembrance (1922).