Ready for her closeup: Amy Pierce confronts her troubling past life as a silent film actress

By Michael G. Ankerich

In my last blog, Lucille Ricksen, Reincarnation, and my Television Debut, I shared a bit more about my May adventure in Shadowland and introduced you to Amy Pierce and her mother, Theresa.  Amy and Theresa are featured in an upcoming episode of  Ghost Inside My Child, a Lifetime Movie Network series that airs August 23. The show explores Amy’s revelation that the spirit of silent film actress Lucille Ricksen lives inside her.

I spent some time with Amy and Theresa when we were in Los Angeles filming scenes for the show. My time with them and the Ghost Inside My Child crew turned out to be the highlight of my trip.

I’ve spent a lot of time in Hollywood researching days long past, the parade gone by. I dig beneath the surface to see old Hollywood among the current chaotic world that the modern day movie capital has become.  I love the bizarre and out of the ordinary, but I have to admit that it was a bit surreal to talk with a 17-year-old teen from Minnesota who insists that she once lived as Lucille Ricksen.

What would it be like to discover you had once lived another life, a life that ended tragically and mysteriously almost 90 years ago?

I asked Amy, who has the beauty and glamour of old Hollywood, to share her story.

Amy

Amy

 
Michael: How were you first introduced to Hollywood of the 1920s and how did you make the connection between your past life and Hollywood?  Did you first feel it was a connection to Hollywood or to Lucille Ricksen?
 
Amy: I grew up watching Shirley Temple films (like many little girls) and Hal Roach’s Little Rascals. I was drawn to the silent shorts of Our Gang.  I was obsessed with the finger waves, lipstick and such. At a very young age, I could tell my family how each and every Rascal died. To say the least, I was obsessed with the tragedy that took place upon some of the Rascals. Scotty Beckett being my favorite. One day, while browsing the internet, watching Shirley Temple videos, I came across a picture of Mary Pickford. I was drawn to her immediately and I started to branch out and find more silent stars.
 
My mother let me dress up and supported my new interest in silent films. At first, I thought it was only a fascination, not connected with my life in anyway. But as I started to watch more and more silent films, it dawned on me that I knew about the people — almost instinctively. I became in love with the shadow people of 1920s. I enjoyed Mary Pickford, Clara Bow, and all, but I was more interested in Olive Thomas and Martha Mansfield. The unknowns. When I was 12, I bought the Olive Thomas biography with my birthday money. This was when my life changed.
Olive and Jack

Olive and Jack

I had no idea who Jack Pickford was before reading this book, I only knew he was Mary’s brother. However, when I read the chapters including Jack, I felt angry. The accusations and bad talking him – I knew in my heart that all of it was not true. Something inside of me told me that he was a nice man, just misunderstood. I became mad at myself for all of these things that I had felt. I wanted to save Jacks name but didn’t know why. Why should I care about a man who has been dead since 1933? 
 
Michael: Tell me a bit about your childhood and how it came about that you discovered you had lived before.  
 
Amy:  I never talked. I did not speak until I was about 5 years old. I could — there was nothing wrong with me, I only chose not too. I let my mother speak for me when it was needed. I was a bit of a loner, and still am. I enjoyed being alone, playing dress up and playing with my dolls. But I was a very happy child! I realized that I had lived before while I was watching old films. I was familiar with the hairstyles, the language and all. It wasn’t odd to me like most other children would find it. I would miss a lot of school because of difficulty sleeping. I need and love my rest.
 
My mom understood this so missing school was a weekly thing for me. I’ve always needed alone time. I didn’t have very many friends and I don’t recall ever telling them that I’ve lived before. I remember though, one day some kids were talking about the The Little Rascals. I jumped in, of course, and started naming off a bunch of kids — Jackie Cooper, Wheezer, and so on. They had no idea what I was talking about. Every other kid had watched the 1990s film version of the Rascals. I watched the 1920s and 30s Rascals. That was the first time it hit me that I was different than most kids. I mainly just kept to myself all that I was dealing with. I didn’t want to sound crazy.
 
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Michael: How did your friends react?
 
Amy:  I mainly just kept to myself all that I was dealing with. I didn’t want to sound crazy.
 
Michael: Do you remember the day that you came to the realization that you were once. Describe that day for me and the emotions you went through.
 
 Amy: I cannot remember the exact moment I realized I was Lucille. I wish I had an amazing story to tell, but I don’t. All I know is that I found a photo of her (when I learned of Lucille there were only two photos of her on the internet. It was before your amazing blog post of her) and I felt like my body was out of this world. I was so drawn to the photograph. I knew absolutely nothing about this girl, not even her name at that point, but I felt so connected.
 
I still have traits as I had when I was Lucille. I’m basically the same, only more shy. I was actually excited when I realized everything! It all clicked. I was obsessed with dying young and tragic child stars. It all made sense at that point. Jack Pickford! I worked with him in a film and was good friends with him. Of course, I wouldn’t like any bad talking about him. I knew him! The real him. And the never talking. I was a silent film star. I didn’t need words, just action.
Theresa and Amy

Theresa and Amy

 
Michael: How did your parents react over your revelation that the spirit of a silent film star lived in their daughter?  With your mother being psychic, perhaps they were 
a bit more understanding than other parents might have been.
 
Amy: When I told my mom, she did not say anything. I basically showed her a picture of Lucille and said, “Hey, see this girl? Her name is Lucille Ricksen and I believe that I was her in my last life. She was a famous actress in the 1920s. Her mom collapsed and died on top of her. She died when she was 14.” I left her with that. She didn’t have anything to say, really. Talking about it now with my mom, she says that she felt so sad and even a bit disturbed with the story. She didn’t want to believe that such a horrible thing could have happened. For her to think that it happened to her daughter — she was heartbroken. She didn’t really know how to act.
 
I’m not even sure when my father found out, to be honest. He’s not so much into past lives and such. He’s supportive. He’s never once doubted me; neither has my mother. They stand by me and I am thankful for that. One thing that I have to point out, even though my mother is a psychic, she has never once pushed me into that field. I have four siblings who have absolutely nothing to do with it. I found it on my own.
 
Michael: The crew from The Ghost Inside My Child came to Minnesota to film scenes in your home. Your niece played you as a young child and an actress portrayed you at age 
12.  Tell me about that experience.  Was it generally known in your neighborhood that the crew was coming?  Did your friends know?  
 
 
Amy: I was SO excited!! It was so much fun. They came on a Wednesday and I had to go to school that day. I had a French test which I probably failed. I was so excited thinking that a film crew was at my house. I got to skip school the next day and be there for the re-enactments.

The scene where Amy shows her mother a photo of Lucille Ricksen and tells her she once lived as the silent film actress

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Amy’s niece portrayed Amy as a five-year-old

I put pin curls in my niece’s hair and we watched Shirley Temple films. She had brought tap shoes and mimicked Shirley. It was so cute! They filmed her playing and watching Buster Keaton’s, The General. Mainly, she just got to play on camera! She did us all proud. The 12 year old, Sylvia, was fantastic! We filmed her getting dolled up and there was a Jack Pickford scene which I loved. The crew decorated my brothers room with a giant Jack poster with a bunch of little posters and pictures of him everywhere. It was a cute, sentimental scene. The neighborhood didn’t know about the filming. We did some filming outside and it was fun to see people’s reactions as they drove by. I felt like a huge movie star! It felt natural and normal. I like having the cameras, mics, and lights in my face. Only my close friends knew about the filming.
Amy comes to Hollywood

Amy comes to Hollywood

Michael: Was it generally known in your neighborhood that the crew was coming?

Amy: The neighborhood didn’t know about the filming. We did some filming outside and it was fun to see people’s reactions as they drove by. I felt like a huge movie star! It felt natural and normal. I like having the cameras, mics, and lights in my face.
 
Michael: Did your friends know?
Amy: Only my close friends knew about the filming.
 
Michael: The next week, you and your mom came to Hollywood to film you at Lucille’s final resting place at Forest Lawn and in front of Lucille’s home, the place where she died.  What 
were your general impressions of Hollywood? 
 
Amy:  I LOVED Hollywood! I had a blast. I miss it very much. It felt like home to me. 
Amy at Lucille's final resting place

Amy at Lucille’s final resting place

 
Michael: Tell me about visiting Lucille’s final resting place.  What feelings did you have when you visited the home where she died?
 
AmyI tend to look at my life as Lucille in a positive way. I was a movie star who worked with wonderful people. I don’t like to focus on the last months. I ignore my mother’s death and dying. I remember it but I don’t like to think about it. It’s still painful for me.  I was excited to see the urn. But once I saw it, I was overwhelmed. I was already in a panic because we couldn’t find the urn. We even called you so you could help us, and once we found it, I was hit with a million emotions. I did not know that my father’s ashes were mixed in with mother’s and mine. I saw our names on the urn.
 
The thing that got me the most is that the urn was turned towards the window, facing the sun. It was morning while we were there and the sun was shining directly onto the urn. I wondered who had turned the urn. I still wonder. I only stared at it for a few minutes. I couldn’t manage to do anything else. Then I finally broke down and started crying. It brought back memories of my mother dying. The last few weeks alive without my mom were filled with horrible pain. How could anyone cope when something like that happens? It was tough but I’m glad I saw the urn. I let it all out and have since moved on.
The crew film Amy and Theresa in front of the house where Lucille died

The crew film Amy and Theresa in front of the house where Lucille died

We went to the house were Lucille died and that was an odd experience in itself. We were not allowed to go inside — although we tried (I couldn’t resist asking the house owner), but I walked around the house and tried to take it all in. It felt odd just walking around it. I felt like I needed to be inside. It was my house, I should be inside of it. 
Amy and Theresa get a closer look at the house where Lucille died

Amy and Theresa get a closer look at the house where Lucille died

 
Michael: What additional revelations did the trip to California open for you? Did the trip affirm anything for you?
 
AmyIt was an honor just to be able to go. I missed more school, which was fine by me, and was treated wonderfully by the crew. And I got to meet you! Which was incredible and a dream of mine. You shared some amazing photos of Lucille with me and I am very grateful for that. I enjoyed walking around and seeing all of the history of LA. It was a nice experience. 
 
Michael: Thanks, Amy!  I enjoyed meeting you and your mom. How has the whole experience changed you?
 
Amy: It has changed me for the better. Going to LA and talking to you, I now have answers to some questions I’ve always had regarding my last life as Lucille. Some questions I have can never be answered, I realize now. I guess I learned not to dwell on things anymore. Desperately seeking pictures, videos and documents on every bit of Lucille’s life, is okay to do, but only in moderation. Basically, I would try to go back and live in those moments again. Be with the ones I loved again. I didn’t really live my life as Amy, who I am now. I’ve learned to embrace the girl I was and not to let it dictate my whole life. I have a new chance at a better life and living it right. I should not mess it up by trying to change things that cannot be undone.
Michael and Amy after the filming of our scene

Michael and Amy after the filming of our scene

 
Michael: How do you feel that, in a few short weeks, your story will be out there for all to, see and hear?
 
Amy: I am very nervous but excited! I feel that I am ready to share my story with the world and I am also prepared for any negative feedback. People may not “get” it or agree with it, but it was something that I needed to do. So I did it. I also feel that it’s definitely time to share Lucille’s story! People need to know and understand what happened to her. She will live in the shadows no more. Hopefully it will open people’s eyes about what could happen to a young child in Hollywood. The way the press and media handle the whole thing with Lucille was awful. They milked her death for all it was worth! At least, that’s what I think looking back.
Lucille Ricksen

Lucille Ricksen

 
Michael: There is still mystery around Lucille’s death.  What actually killed the actress? Tell me about the events leading up to her death as you know them. 
 
Amy: Now, this is all what I believe happened to me/Lucille. As I remember it. I have no proof and will likely never get validation about what I believe but I stand by it. I do not want to reveal too much, but I believe that tuberculosis was not the cause of death. Exhaustion — yes, but so much more than that. I remember one man who was not so kind to me. A man who loved young girls. You know who it is, but I think I’ll leave people in suspense for a bit. It may be on the show. I talked about him and what happened while filming.
 
In February 1924, I believe, I became pregnant. In May, the baby was gone. I think everyone can come to a conclusion about how the baby became “gone”. It was a lot of different elements that contributed to the untimely demise.  I would have made it if mother did not die. When she was gone, so was I. As Amy, I still feel regret and sadness for the things I had done. I adored Paul Bern as Lucille. He was so nice, but I treated him not so kind after my mother’s death. I became mean to everyone! Eighty nine years later, I can see how life played out for all my friends.
 
Finding that Paul committed suicide is hard for me. I had been unkind to him at one moment in time. But he stuck with me until the end. Though I had been bratty the last few weeks, I truly felt bad for Marshall. I knew and had decided that I was going to die, he was on his own.
Amy as Marilyn

Amy as Marilyn

I’m still trying to come to a conclusion about what exactly killed me as Lucille. I don’t think I am meant to ever find out what truly happened. What I remember were horrible memories, and there could still be more horrible memories to surface. I don’t know if I could handle any more. I don’t mean to not share or be sneaky or anything, I just haven’t come to terms with things that I had done as Lucille yet. I need to figure it all out in my head before I try to analyze and share it with the world. I only know pieces of it. Some, I’ve shared, and some I did not.
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Michael: Have you ever given thought to who you might have been before Lucille?  
 
Amy: Yes! I’ve always thought that I must have been living in England and was a seamstress. I’ve always had a thing, as Lucille, and even now, for all things British. And I’ve always adored fashion and clothing! 
 
Michael: What are your future plans?
 
Amy: I’m currently working on a book about my life as Lucille. It’s coming along nicely but it is difficult to write. I hope to finish it soon. As for school, I will be a senior this year, and I am thinking about attending acting schools for college. Acting or literature. I can’t make up my mind! I would like to write biographies on my favorite film stars. I’ve been thinking about doing one on Jack Pickford. I don’t think anyone else will so it shall be me!
Amy reclines with Jack Pickford's star on Hollywood Boulevard

Amy reclines with Jack Pickford’s star on Hollywood Boulevard

 

Don’t miss this thought provoking episode of Ghost Inside My Child on Lifetime Television Network, Saturday, August 23.

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Lucille Ricksen, reincarnation, and my television debut

By Michael G. Ankerich

Destiny turns a dime, or so says the old Pam Tillis tune.

Three months ago, in early May, I thought my weeks ahead were inked into my calendar. I was busy working on my new book, Hairpins and Dead Ends , and packing the house for a move across town.

A phone call changed all that!  Welcome to Mi Vida Loca . . . and my television debut.

On the line was Sandra Alvarez, a producer for Ghost Inside My Child, a Lifetime Movie Network series. She talked about me coming to Los Angeles later in May to film a scene for an upcoming episode that would air in the fall.

I listened.

The company was developing a story around a 17-year-old teenager in Minnesota who, since the age of 12, believed that the spirit of silent film actress Lucille Ricksen lived within her. The crew had gone on location to Minnesota to film Amy and her mother and father in their home. The crew was then returning to Hollywood where Amy and Theresa, Amy’s mother, would visit some spots that might trigger memories.

Sandra was interested in filming a scene in Los Angeles where I meet Amy and Theresa and tell them about my research into the life and tragic death of Lucille Ricksen.

I devoted a chapter to Lucille in my book Dangerous Curves atop Hollywood Heels. I have also written about her in Lucille Ricksen: Sacrificed to Hollywood, this blog. The story of the teenage actress who became a leading woman overnight has stayed with me since I dove into the details of her short life and tragic death.

Lucille’s mother, Ingeborg, brought Lucille and brother Marshall to Hollywood to seek fame and fortune on the silver sheets around 1920. Lucille was 10 years old.  Success came to the youngster. She played a happy-go-lucky juvenile in the serial The Adventures of Edgar Pomeroy for Goldwyn.

Lucille around 1920

Lucille around 1920

In three short years, Lucille became trapped and exploited in the industry’s publicity machine. Overnight, she went from being a 13-year-old spunky kid doing what she loved to a 16-year-old leading lady, portraying all the struggles of adulthood.  Those dramas spilled over into her private life.

In one year, Lucille completed 10 feature films. Exhausted from her work, the actress disappeared behind closed doors in her Hollywood home. Ingeborg kept vigil. One morning, the emotionally drained mother collapsed and died across Lucille’s sick bed. Less than a month later, the broken-hearted actress joined her mother in death.

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After all these years, the lingering question has not been answered.  How did the young actress really die?  Tuberculosis? Exhaustion? Botched abortion?

The invitation to meet Amy and to appear on the show had all the elements that intrigued me: a walk into the supernatural; a look back at early Hollywood; and contact with someone intensely interested in old Hollywood. But reincarnation?  I had given little thought to the subject over the years. I, too, feel pulled to Hollywood, especially the Hollywood of the 1920s. For some unexplainable reason, it feels like home to me when I am out there in the middle of all of it. Does a spirit who lived there in that time now reside in me?  If I were to even ask the question, my Baptist roots would wrap around me and yank me down the backslidden trail. Now, as an Episcopalian, I have room for exploration and wonder.

In the end, I decided to venture out to Hollywood and meet Amy and her mother. (Click here to read more about my most recent Hollywood adventure). I even filmed a scene for the show. Sandra, the producer, asked where I thought we could shoot our scene. I suggested the old Biltmore Hotel in downtown Los Angeles. Built in 1923, the grand hotel is steeped in Hollywood history. It provided the perfect setting for our meeting.

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The grandeur of the Biltmore Hotel, Los Angeles

 

Sandra insisted that I not meet the Pierces until we filmed our scene. That way, our conversation would be fresh and spontaneous. As the cameras rolled, Amy and Theresa walked in and we introduced ourselves. CUT!  The action then moved to a table where, for the next 30 minutes or so (it seemed like days), I told Amy about my research.  I asked her questions; she asked me questions. It was everything Lucille!

 

Michael, Theresa, and Amy

Michael, Theresa, and Amy

When our work was done at the Biltmore, the crew took us to a deli for lunch. In the afternoon, we drove into Hollywood, to the home where Lucille died in 1925. The crew filmed Amy and her mother walking down the street, across the yard, and onto the front porch.

Amy and her mother get their first look at the house where Lucille died in 1925

Amy and her mother get their first look at the house where Lucille died in 1925

Amy was overwhelmed. She said she had definitely been in the house. It was in the front left room where she insisted she died almost 90 years before.

Meeting Amy and her mother was the highlight of my 2014 adventure to Hollywood. Amy has the glamour and look of old Hollywood. Her mother was fun to be around, down to earth, and engaging.

Does the spirit of Lucille Ricksen, who died so tragically from mistreatment in a profession she loved, live on in a 17-year-old teenager living quietly in Minnesota.  That is a question, my friends, that I can’t answer.  Decide for yourself.

Mark your calendars for August 23, only weeks away. Tune in to see this haunting episode of Ghost Inside My Child on Lifetime Movie Network, hear Amy tell her story, see my television debut (that is, if I don’t end up a face on the cutting room floor). Visit the show’s website and read my revealing interview with Amy in an upcoming blog entry.

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Author Michelle Morgan talks Thelma, Carole, Marilyn, and a whole lot of Hollywood scandal

 

Michelle Morgan’s schedule has cleared long enough to talk with me about her new book,  The Mammoth Book of Hollywood Scandals. As a writer, I can’t see how she keeps it all together. She has two or three books going at the same time, in addition to being a wife and mother. As you will see, Michelle’s eager to talk about all of it. Fasten your seat belts!

Michael: I’m out of breath trying to keep up with you.  Is it Marilyn, Carole, or Thelma you’re working on these days?  Catch me up.

Michelle: Ha!  Yes I get out of breath with it all too.  I’ve never been so busy in all my life, but I’m so grateful and happy.  Who needs sleep anyway?!  Well, let me set you straight about what I’m up to at the moment….  I’m working on a new Marilyn book with a lady called Astrid Franse.  She has an archive of items from the Blue Book Model Agency, which is where Marilyn was signed to when she was a young model.  We have come together and will create a book about Marilyn’s modelling career, and the friendship she had with the agency boss, Emmeline Snively.  The book will cover the years 1945-1950 mainly, but will also explore what happened to Miss Snively after Marilyn became famous.  There is a lot of information out there about Marilyn’s modelling career, and I’m hopeful that we can put together a great book.  All being well, it will be out in 2015.

I’ve just finished working on the first part of a secret project which I’m not allowed to talk about yet (and which is really killing me because I love to talk!).  It is a terrific project and is one of the hardest, but most enjoyable things I’ve ever worked on.

Carole Lombard

Carole Lombard

I’m also working on a book about Carole Lombard which I am hoping to see published as a glossy hardback, sometime in the future.  I’ve done all of the research and written around 20,000 words, so I’m certainly getting there, but I’ve had to put that project on hold for a little while because of the book  I’m writing about Thelma Todd!

Michael: Talk a little about the book you’re writing about Thelma Todd. 

Michelle: Yes, I’m very excited to say that I’ve just been commissioned by Chicago Review Press to write a book about Thelma Todd.  This book means the world to me because I’ve wanted to write it for four years, and now I finally can.  I have to have it finished by September 2014 and it will be published in December 2015, in time for the 80th anniversary of Thelma’s death.

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Thelma Todd

Michael: Tell me a bit about your interest in Thelma.  Can you share any tidbits about your theory surrounding her mysterious death?

Michelle: My interest in Thelma started when I was working on the paperback revised edition of my Marilyn Monroe biography, Marilyn Monroe: Private and Confidential.  I came across the name Pat Di Cicco who was associated with Marilyn in the early days of her career.  She received a letter from director Elia Kazan, telling her to stop hanging around him, and I was intrigued as to why he would say that.  I started to do some research and, of course, came up with the name of Thelma Todd, because he was once been married to her.  I had heard of Thelma before but knew nothing at all about her, so to find out that she died in her garage, under mysterious circumstances, was something of a revelation and I was completely hooked on her story.

I started researching her while still working on the Marilyn  book, and found all sorts of documents that were really interesting in my quest to discover the truth about how and why she died.  I also found a gentleman who had done a lot of research into her life and death in the 1980s, and he helped me a lot with rare photographs and information.

I do have a theory about how Thelma passed away, and why it happened.  But it’s a secret, so I’m not allowed to tell you!  You’ll find out when the book is released though.  Only two years to wait! Ha ha!

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Michael:  The Mammoth Book of Hollywood Scandals is being released in the United States this month (early December). It’s a whopping 512 pages. You cover everyone from Fatty Arbuckle to Michael Jackson. I guess I learned about some of the early Hollywood scandals reading Hollywood Babylon, which we know is riddled with inaccuracies.  How  were you first introduced to scandals?

Michelle: I was definitely introduced to old Hollywood actors and actresses through my grandpa, who was a big film buff.  He could watch a movie and tell you every actor or actress who was in it.  He really was amazing and I still miss his insights into the good old days of Hollywood.  I became a Marilyn fan in 1985 and, of course, some of her life (and certainly her death) involved scandal, so I guess you could say I was properly introduced to it that way.  Then there is Madonna, who I have loved since 1984.  She is no shrinking violet in the scandal department, so I learned a lot from her, too!

I think being a Marilyn fan leads you to other stars and therefore other scandals.  I first learned about Jean Harlow because of Marilyn (she was a fan of Jean’s), and many other stars’ stories, too.

Michael: Reading Hollywood Scandals reminds me why I often feel like I am running into ghosts when I’m out in Hollywood.  The town holds a lot of tragedy, doesn’t it?  What do you feel are its most well kept secrets?

Michelle: I think there are probably many secrets that we still don’t know, because the studios went out of their way to protect their stars, and cover up all indiscretions and naughty behaviour.  Look at Clark Gable and Loretta Young.  They had a child together, and yet while it was the talk of the industry, it never reached the press at all.  The child was sent to an orphanage, and Loretta then pretended to adopt her, therefore making herself a hero, rather than an unwed mother.  Gable didn’t have anything much to do with the child at all, and only met her once or twice; never once telling her the truth about her parentage.  This story is unbelievable and yet it happened and it was successfully covered up.

I truly believe that there are hundreds – maybe even thousands – of scandals and secrets we still haven’t heard about.  For instance, the case of Patricia Douglas, who was raped in the parking lot of an MGM event, was swept under the carpet for years, until biographer David Stenn found out about it and brought it to the masses; giving Patricia a chance to clear her name and tell her story.  That story is in my Hollywood Scandals book, and it is one of the most heart-breaking and infuriating stories in there.  The poor girl.  The whole experience of what happened to her during and after the event moulded her entire life.  What an absolute tragedy.

Lucille Ricksen signed this portrait for her father.

Lucille Ricksen signed this portrait for her father.

Michael:  That is a haunting story. When I wrote Dangerous Curves atop Hollywood Heels, I had trouble letting go of poor Lucille Ricksen, whom you write about in Hollywood Scandals. I felt that she was so abused by the motion picture industry. After writing Hollywood Scandals, is there one story that sticks with you as being particularly troublesome or sad?

Michelle: I agree about Lucille.  It was your wonderful book that made me want to learn more and write about her in my own book.  I find it very disturbing that she was just in her early teens when she died, and yet she had been in movies playing adults for such a long time.  And the photos she posed for; aged just five and six, with nothing but a little scarf protecting her dignity.  Good grief, the girl was a baby. How on earth was this allowed to happen?  It is a very, very upsetting story in every single way.

In terms of sad and troublesome stories that I researched; well Lucille was one for sure, but Roscoe ‘Fatty’ Arbuckle really did upset me.  The poor man was innocent and yet forced to go through three trials to prove it.  In the end, the jury apologised to him because they were so disgusted that it had happened at all.  He lost his career and his reputation, while Virginia Rappe (the girl at the centre of the scandal) lost her life and has had the most awful rumours made up about her since.  The whole thing was just terribly sad and disturbing.  I finished writing the book a year ago, but poor Roscoe has stuck with me for a long time, as his story is just so tragic and upsetting.

Michael: I’m curious why you didn’t include a chapter on the William Desmond Taylor murder?

Michelle: I really wanted to include him, and actually had him on my list of people that I wanted to talk about.  However, after doing Roscoe ‘Fatty’ Arbuckle, and realising just how huge that chapter was, I knew that the Taylor murder would be even bigger, so I had to leave it out.  My publisher was very firm in saying that I had to write about modern day stars, too, so I had to make sure I had a good selection, and two huge 1920s scandals would have probably been too much.  The Taylor murder is definitely one I am fascinated by, however, and I have a number of books about it in my collection.  Maybe if I do a sequel, I can include Taylor in that one!

Michael:  I am fascinated by locations around Hollywood that go back to the early days of filmmaking.  You write a interesting chapter about the “Suicide Apartments,” where two entertainment personalities ended their lives. The location was 1735 N.Wilcox Avenue.  Are the apartments still there or have they gone the way of the wrecking ball?

Michelle: Well looking at Google maps (I’m addicted to that site!), I’m not sure.  There are many apartment blocks on that street, but whether or not they are from that era is a bit of a mystery.  I have always been intrigued with locations, too, and whenever I’ve been to Los Angeles, I’ve always gone in search of Marilyn sights, and many others.  It’s fascinating to me, but also depressing when you discover that something as important as the Taylor house is now a car park.  That really upsets me.

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Michael:  Your first book, as I recall, was a book about locales involving Marilyn Monroe. You also did a biography on her life.  What is it about Monroe that still fascinates us?

Michelle: I think about this a lot. To be honest, I think there’s no correct answer.  She is different things to different people, so no-one will have the same answer.  For me personally, she fascinates me in many ways, but it is her natural personality – the person she was under the character of Marilyn Monroe – that really interests me.  She played the part of Marilyn, the glamorous movie star with the bright red lips, but in real life, she was most happy wearing a pair of slacks and a top; no make-up and her hair un-styled.  I love this aspect of her and I don’t think that her true personality gets enough attention.  That’s why I wrote Marilyn Monroe: Private and Confidential, because I wanted to show people who the real Marilyn was.  I loved writing that book and most people get what I was trying to do with it.  There are a few who would rather I just talked about the Kennedys, death conspiracies, etc.,  but that’s their problem.  I have no interest in embellishing her life.  She was interesting enough without that.

Michael:  Tell me about your background. Were you born in the United Kingdom? With your interest in old Hollywood, have you ever considered moving to California?

Michelle: Yes, I was born in the UK and still live here, very happily.  I think maybe I flirted with the idea of moving to California when I was a teenager, but not anymore.  I don’t like to be far from my family, but if anyone would like to buy me a house there, I’m sure we would very happily move there for the summer!

I live with my husband, Richard, and daughter, Daisy, who are incredibly supportive of my writing and projects.  We also have a dog, Betty, who is a little less supportive, as she insists on interrupting my writing time to try and bribe treats out of me!

I had the best childhood you could ever hope to have; my parents were very happy; I had a younger brother who I adored (and still do!); and very loving grandparents.  When I was a teenager, I thought I wanted to be an actress and used to go on all kinds of auditions and courses.  My hubby (who was my boyfriend at the time) used to go all over the country with me on my quest to become an actress, but when I was 21, I realised that, while I loved writing the application letters, I hated actually auditioning, so it kind of clicked that writing was what I really needed to be doing.

When I look back, I have no idea how I didn’t know it sooner.  I spent my entire childhood writing books and binding them together with string or staples; I used to write fictitious news articles; and would read for hours.  I was a writer from the day I was born, but I was an adult by the time I realised it!

When I did realise that I wanted to be a full-time writer, I was working in a boring office job, with very little support from some of the people I worked with.  I was desperate to leave but I was far too stubborn.  I didn’t want to leave to go to another office job. I wanted to be able to say I was going to work on my writing career.  After seventeen years of working there, my daughter was born and that changed everything.  I wanted her to be proud of me and her arrival was a huge catalyst.  I knew that I’d have to go after my dreams in a big way, so to help, I trained to be a children’s yoga teacher and then was able to leave the day job to run my business and pursue my writing.

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Michelle at a recent book signing.

That was nine years ago and I’ve never looked back.  I don’t teach yoga any more (except for one class for my daughter and her friends) and instead I spend my days doing exactly what I want to do.  It has taken a long time to get here, but not a day goes by when I don’t thank God I’ve been able to do it.  I am glad that I had to work so hard though, because now I appreciate each and every minute of my work and I’m honoured to be doing it.  I just hope and pray that I’m able to do it for the rest of my life.

Michael: What types of books do you like to read when you’re not writing?

Michelle: I love many kinds of books, but adore biographies about golden age celebrities most of all.  I loved your Mae Murray book!  I bought it as soon as it came out, and it is still sitting next to my bed!  As well as biographies, I also love Jackie Collins, and ‘chick-lit’ authors such as Jane Green, Lisa Jewell and Marian Keyes.

One of my own Bette Davis treasures.

One of my own Bette Davis treasures.

Michael:  An admiration for Bette Davis is one we have in common.  I think she is Hollywood’s finest actress. You collect items that once belong to her.  Can you tell us about those treasures?  Photos? You must have a cigarette holder, a tube of lipstick, or something like that!

Michelle: Oh, I adore Bette.  I have loved her since I was a teenager and discovered I was born on her birthday.  When she died, I remember crying my eyes out because I felt such a connection to her and a real admiration that has grown even more so as I’ve become older.  I love her so much, in fact, that my daughter’s middle name is Elizabeth, in honour of Bette.  I tell her all the time that she was named after Bette Davis, and she seems quite proud of the fact, even though she doesn’t know much about her at this point in her life.

I started collecting items that belonged to Bette purely by accident.  It started off with me buying a signed book as a present for myself, after the success of my Marilyn book.  Then I somehow got in touch with a man who knew one of Bette’s cousins.  He told me that she had some of Bette’s own books and would be willing to sell them to me.  I snapped them up and they came complete with Bette’s handwriting in one and her bookplates in all of them.  Whenever I need to feel brave, I always go and pick up one of her books.  It sounds silly, but I feel as though her energy is still on those volumes, and it gives me strength too.  I hope to be able to collect more items she owned, one of these days.

Michael: Thanks, Michelle, for spending some time talking about your books and writing interests.  Let me know how your Thelma Todd book progresses. I’d like to talk with you again after its release.

Michelle: I’d like to thank you very much indeed for giving me the opportunity to talk with you.  Your blog is one of my favourites, and I’m honoured to be part of it.

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In the meantime, read more about Michelle through her blog.

Michelle and her parents at a recent book signing.

Michelle and her parents at a recent book signing.

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?