Hairpins and Dead Ends: The Dedication

When it came time to dedicate Hairpins and Dead Ends, I couldn’t settle on one, so I chose two important ladies in my life, two larger-than-life characters who had perilous journeys of their own: silent film actress Lina Basquette and Carol Ankerich, my mother.

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My mom has been gone over two years and the wound is still raw. She left a hole in my heart that no one will ever fill. I wrote about her illness and death in a blog, Losing Mom and Maebelle. 

Here are some glamour pix of mom and me.

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Here’s a glamour photograph of Lina. Now, there was a siren. My buddy, silent film historian Roi Uselton considered Lina his ideal movie vamp. She was smoldering.

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Lina was my first silent film interview. I featured her in my book, Broken Silence: Conversations With 23 Silent Film Stars. She was also one who remained in my life until her death. We spent a lot of time together. In some ways, she was like a grandma to me.

When she came through the South,we’d hook up. She was the first person I saw who traveled with a portable bar stocked with her favorite liquor. Lina loved her cocktails before dinner.

At my request, she drove to Atlanta one weekend to screen one of her films and to sign her memoir. I booked her across from the Fox Theatre. She called me from her hotel.

“Michael, this is Lina. I’ve just arrived. I’m here at this dreadful Days Inn. The rooms  remind me of my vaudeville days.”

“Oh, no,” I say.

“Can we find another hotel?” You bet!

We did.  She was happy at the Renaissance Inn.

After the screening and book signing, Roi and I went back to her room. Lina curled up in bed and nibbled on Pepperidge Farm cookies and gossiped about this one and that until the wee hours of the morning.

Well, the stories go on and on. Someday, I will write in more detail about Lina.

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Lina and Michael on a cold November morning at a Katherine’s Kitchen restaurant in Georgia.

My mother and Lina were as different as water and oil. While both were gorgeous women, Mom was very shy and reserved until she got to know you; Lina never met a stranger.

Both of these unforgettable women made a significant impression on me. I love and miss them!

 

Hoarders (Not Quite) Anonymous!

By Michael G. Ankerich

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

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

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

 

Books, books, and more books

Books, books, and more books

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In Venice Beach, taking  a rest from my bike ride

In Venice Beach, taking a rest from my bike ride

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

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

“You gluttons are going to hell.”

“You adulterers are going to hell.”

“You drunkards are going to hell.

“You lesbians are going to hell.”

“You homosexuals are going to hell.”

“You fornicators are going to hell.”

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

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

 

Hollywood Sign from Griffith Park

Hollywood Sign from Griffith Park

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

Hiking in Malibu Canyon

Hiking in Malibu Canyon

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Journaling at Duke's along the coast in Malibu

Journaling at Duke’s along the coast in Malibu

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

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

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

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

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

My new office

My new office

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

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

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

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

 

That crazy book man?

 

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

That was then …..

working on mae

 

This is now ….

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

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

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

Thirty boxes of biographies

Thirty boxes of biographies

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

My office is calmer days.

My office is calmer days.

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

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

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

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

 

Mae Murray’s 1960 Radio Interview

As I celebrate the publication of my new book, Mae Murray: The Girl with the Bee-Stung Lips, I wanted to share with you an interview Mae Murray gave in 1960 as she celebrated the release of her first biography by Jane Ardmore, The Self-Enchanted.

The interview can be found on YouTube in three parts.  Follow the links below.  Enjoy!  It is great to hear her voice!

Mae Murray Radio Interview — 1960 (Part I)

Mae Murray Radio Interview — 1960 (Part II)

Mae Murray Radio Interview — 1960 (Part III)

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(Spell) Bound in Morocco

Okay, so I’m going to tell you a bit about my recent adventures in Morocco. What, you ask, does this have to do with silent films? Here’s the connection.

Way back in 1918, Douglas Fairbanks and Pauline Curley appeared in Bound in Morocco. Pauline is about to be sold into the harem of an evil sultan and Doug is imprisoned when he tries to rescue her.

Douglas Fairbanks (C) and Pauline Curley in Bound in Morocco.

Ninety-plus years later, during the last half of October, I found myself very much bound in Morocco. Actually, spellbound might be a better term.

I want to briefly tell you about our adventures there. Not much commentary, you understand. Too many details about someone else’s vacation can get boring — fast! The gorgeous scenery and hospitable people we encountered tell the story.

Charlie and I had been talking about Morocco for over five years. It was never high on his list. It was at the top of time. Early this year, Charlie came around, and we put plans in place.  Here is the primitive map I drew for my journal. It shows our route.

Loaded with travel books, plans, and ideas, we flew to Rabat (the nation’s capital). Not directly from the States. We had a layover in Paris.

Rabat’s main drag was bustling with activity.

We found our riad with the help of a driver who met us at the airport.

Entrance to our Rabat riad.

Benoit, the man of the house, welcomed us with tea.

Our riad in Rabat, looking up from the courtyard.

Shortly, he took us up to the terrace. Our room awaited us.

Our terrace suite in Rabat, Morocco.

After catching our breathe, we went sightseeing. Before we got too far from the riad, we had to determine a landmark so we would remember how to find our way home.  I chose a shop where three dress mannequins from the 1950s held guard.  It was obvious they’d seen better days. If only those girls could talk!

Michael’s and Charlie’s angels. They pointed the way home.

By the time we hit the streets, the sun was beginning to set. Not much time for sightseeing  The Kasbah was magnificent and stunning in the setting sun.

Rabat’s Kasbah.

The sunset over the Atlantic closes out our half day in Rabat.

Early the next morning, we hauled ourselves to the train station for a three hour train ride to Fes.  The sun rose to greet us on our way.

Sunrise in Rabat.

Never, in all my years of travel, have I experienced anything quite like Fes. All of my five senses were thrown into high gear. Visiting the medina (old city) in Fes, with its estimated 9,000 narrow streets and alleys, is like stepping back to the Middle Ages.

Fes as seen from a nearby fortress. The structure with the green-tiled roof is the medersa (mosque, cathedral, and school) and the center point of the old city.

Take a look at some of the streets.  Did we get lost?  You bet we did!  I pride myself on my sense of direction, but the city was too much for my radar. It was only through the kindness of strangers that we made it back to our riad.

While many of the alleys were deserted, the souks were bustling with activity.

While we were in Morocco, Muslims were preparing to celebrate Aid el-Kebir, or Aid el-Adha.  The holiday is as big as Christmas is to Christians. Eid Al-Adha commemorates Prophet Abraham’s willingness to obey God when he envisioned that he was to sacrifice his son. Muslims observe this day by slaughtering an animal (usually a sheep) and then offering much of its meat in charity to the poor. The sacrifice symbolizes obedience to Allah and its distribution to others is an expression of generosity, one of the five pillars of Islam.

Fes was buzzing with the approaching holiday, which was just over a week away. Families were buying their sheep and all the necessities that come with preparing for the celebration: charcoal for cooking the meat, vegetables, spices, and such.

Vendors were selling charcoal in preparation for the upcoming festival.

Even the kittens who roamed the alleys were attentive to the possibility of getting a handout from a vendor cutting up chicken.

After several days in Fes, we met our driver, Ahmed, who drove us over the Middle Atlas to the Sahara. The terrain changed before our eyes.

Just south of the Ziz Gorge.

A palm grove and oasis.

Charlie and I pretend to take flight.

We made it to Merzouga just as the sun was setting.

Sunset over the Sahara.

The next morning, I couldn’t wait to wander out onto the dunes.  No, I was not like Marlene Dietrich in Morocco.  I came back!

 

After breakfast, we drove into Rissani and dove into the chaos of their big market day.  While I’m used to seeing people on TV pushing and shoving at Walmart the day after Thanksgiving, I was not prepared for the determination to find that perfect sheep for the upcoming festival.

 

The donkey sale was much calmer.

 

Late that afternoon, we hopped on our camels and trekked our way into the desert, where we camped for the night. Have you ever ridden a camel?  I love camels. My friend, Ann, loves them more than I do.  When they walk along on level sand, the ride is tolerable.  When they trot or walk downhill, they can quickly change your manhood into womanhood.

My view from the back of a camel. Notice my white knuckles.

The last time Charlie and I were on camels was in Egypt. This time, we were in a caravan into the Sahara.

 

Charlie and I are on the last two camels.

I slept  under the stars until my cold feet told me to retreat to the warm covers of our tent.

The next morning, our guide roused us in time to see the sunrise.  Priceless!

Sunrise over the Sahara.

Over the next couple of days, we worked our way south. Todra Gorge, Tinehir, Ouarzazate, and Taroudannt. We picked up rosewater and saffron along the way.

We also made a new friend — I will call him Rashid.  He works as a desk clerk at one of our riads. Being a young gay man in a Muslim country is almost intolerable. He says there is no one he can talk openly with about himself. When he was 21, a group of classmates were reacting negatively to a story about same-sex marriage in the States.  Hearing enough of their criticism, he said, “Well, I am one of them.”

To be gay in Morocco, said Rashid, is considered worse that pedophilia.  A man can sleep with a thousand women and his status is still higher than that of a gay man.

This vibrant 24-year-old man has much give, but he fears he will never find a partner to share his life with.  If he does, he is sure they will never be accepted by his family, his friends, his religion, and his country. I fear he may be right.

Essaouira

The seaside city of Essaouria was perhaps the highlight my time in Morocco. It’s an artists’ haven, a mecca for hippies in the 1970s.  It’s the only place I have never been offered hashish as an appetizer. Oh, to be retired!

Essaouira

 

As a people watcher, Essaouira is my kind of town. From my table at lunch one afternoon, I was mesmerized by those passing by. Here are some of my favorites.


 The big festival came on the day we arrived in Marrakech. Most everything was closed. The main square, Place Jemaa el-Fna, was a virtual ghost town.

We saw children roasting sheep heads over open fires outside homes. A bit odd to us Westerners, but it was fascinating to see the buildup to the festivities. The next day, men went door to door collecting sheep skins.

A cart full of skins.

 

After 14 days in Morocco, Charlie and I were a bit tired of tagines.  We went looking for McDonald’s.

We also eased our tired, aching feet by buying a ticket for the hop-on, hop-off bus. At this stage in the trip, these two weary travelers called it the “hobble-on, hobble-off.”

 

So, which direction are these travelers headed next?

 

You can never tell about Charlie and me.  One thing is for sure, I’m always looking for the open road.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Spending time with a president and Miss Jan

It’s always a treat to travel into Plains, Georgia, and join the congregation at Maranatha Baptist Church, where former President Jimmy Carter still teaches Sunday School when he’s in  town.

Yesterday, the Dooleys, our new neighbors, and I ventured to Plains to get up close and personal with a former president.  They’d never been to his Sunday School class, and traveling to the little town in middle Georgia is a must for anyone passing through the state on a Sunday morning.

You will remember from my recent post that I am longtime admirer of the Carter family.  To me, President Carter is a modern-day prophet, challenging us to never forget the importance of human rights for everyone and to remember that we are not only citizens of the United States, but citizens of the world and connected through our humanity, no matter where we were born or live our lives.

After hearing President Carter’s lesson yesterday, I leaned over to Larry and said, “He gets it.  He really gets what it’s all about.”

Those who come to the service are asked to arrive early so they can go through the Secret Service check and get instructions from Miss Jan, a longtime friend of the Carter family. Miss Jan’s monologue is one of my favorite things about visiting Maranatha Baptist.  Under her commanding voice (I didn’t say bark!), the visitors get to feel like kids again.

Here’s a sampling:

“You can call him President Carter, but not Mr. President, because there’s only one sitting president in the White House. You might call him Mr. Jimmy or Mr. Carter, but certainly not Jimmy, unless you really know him and he’s a close friend.”

“When he comes into the sanctuary, you are not to rise to your feet and you are not to applaud. He hates that. Got it?”

“When he comes to your section and asks you where you are from, do not repeat your state, if someone has already called it out.  If you do, President Carter will make that correction, and you don’t want to be reprimanded by a former president. Now, let’s practice that!”

We got through the exercise. Miss Jan nodded. “You are my star pupils.”

Miss Jan

Then, there’s detailed instructions about how to act in front of a former president during “picture time.”  The Carters always meet their visitors on the lawn after church for those who want their photographs.

The guidelines go something like this.  “You get in line, and when it is your time, you walk up and stand beside the Carters.  They will be in the middle holding hands.  DO NOT try to separate them.  DO NOT invite them to lunch. DO NOT say something about being his fifth cousin on his father’s side twice removed. DO NOT put your arm around him.  If you’re female and stand beside the president, however, he might put his arm around you!”

In other words, don’t get up there and make a fool out of yourself!

Wouldn’t you know, the man right before our turn did just that.  He walked up, grabbed the president’s hand and gushed on and on about what a fine man he was and that he’d been an admirer since he was this tall to a grasshopper. The picture-taker, another member of the church, hurried him up and out of the way before the Secret Service man in the dark glasses intervened.

When it was our turn to stand with the president, we behaved ourselves like good little children going up to speak to Santa Claus.  President Carter gave us that famous smile and told us to come back again. Oh! Sure enough, he put his hand around Donna for the Kodak moment.

Here we are with President Carter in our Sunday best and our best behavior.

I’m on the right. The Dooleys (Ian, Donna, Larry, and Patrick) are on either side of President Carter.

I always look forward to seeing Rosalynn when I go to Maranatha. So I was a bit disappointed when President Carter announced that he would be on the lawn after church, but that Mrs. Carter would have leave after Sunday School.

Oh, yes, I almost forgot.  We got a lesson from Miss Jan on how to pronounce the First Lady’s first name.  Most people get it wrong. Does anyone know the correct pronunciation? Jan asked the visitors.

Someone said, “Roz-uh-lynn.”  Miss Jan shook her head.  “That’s how most people pronounce it.  The correct pronunciation is ‘Rose-uh-lynn.'”

After church, we had lunch at Gladys’ Cafe in Americus, then it was back to Plains to wander Main Street and see where President Carter launched his campaign and had his headquarters.

On our way out of Plains, we passed the gatehouse to the Carter compound.  No worries, my friends. We didn’t drive up and tell the Secret Service agent we were long lost relatives who wanted to come in and sit a spell with Jimmy and Rosalynn.  We were still stuffed from our lunch. Plus, we remembered Miss Jan’s lesson.  We were her star pupils!

Remembering Kitty Carlisle and the Jewels of a Jewel

By Michael G. Ankerich

Some of the treasures Kitty Carlisle collected over the years were auctioned yesterday through Sothebys.   The auction house reported today that Kitty’s jewels doubled their overall low estimate. Her Art Deco diamond sautoir brought $146,500 (est. $60/80,000).

Some of Kitty’s treasures. No, my bid didn’t come close!

For me, an old fan of Kitty Carlisle, it’s kind of sad to see her favorite pieces being divided and sold to the highest bidder. Oh, the stories those little baubles could tell!

I guess it reminds me that Kitty is no longer with us.  Seems hard to imagine that delightful spirit of hers could have been mortal.

The glamorous Kitty Carlisle

 

 

One of my favorite childhood memories was To Tell The Truth.  Not really the show itself, but I was mesmerized when Kitty made her entrance every evening.  To put it simply, no one could make an entrance like Kitty Carlisle.  She would step from backstage , give Garry Moore a peck on the cheek, then glide across the stage in chiffon, feathers, or furs, not a hair out of place. She flashed that famous smile to the audience and camera as she made her way to the panel.  Of course, I thought Kitty was greeting me — only me.

After the introductions, I would stick around to see the show, or I would go to my room and finish my homework.  I had seen her entrance.  That’s all that mattered.

Kitty Carlisle doing what she did best.

 

To joggle your memory, check out this video compilation of her entrances.  Bring back memories?

When actor William Janney came to Atlanta in the early 1990s to give me a week-long interview for The Sound of Silence, he left with me a 1932 photo of Moss Hart and friends relaxing at the Santa Monica Beach Club.  It was signed to Bill Janney by one Lester Sweyd, who is sprawled in the sand beside Hart. Vivian Gaye is lounging beside Hart, and Richard Hemingway, Randolph Scott, and William Janney are kneeling behind.

Moss Hart and friends at the Santa Monica Beach Club, 1932.

 

Not knowing whether Kitty, Hart’s widow, had the photograph in her collection, I made a copy and mailed it to her Manhattan apartment.  I asked about the others in the photo and complimented her on her autobiography, which I had recently read.

Kitty’s book

 

About a week later, Kitty’s note arrived in the mail.

 

It read, “Dear Mr. Ankerich – Many thanks for your letter and the photograph. You must read Moss’ autobiography, ‘Act I.’ The best autobiography (not by me, but by everyone else!) You will learn all about Lester Sweyd .  I have no idea who Richard Hemingway is — probably an actor. Thank you so much for your kind words about my book.  I’m thrilled you like it. But wait till you read ‘Act I.’ You have a real treat in store. Again all my thanks and warm regards, Kitty Hart.

Almost 15 years passed.

One Sunday morning in 2005, as I was making my way through the New York Times, I came across a recent photograph of Kitty. Still lovely, still smiling, still stunning.  I guess she would have been about 95, and here she was doing her own one-woman show.

Kitty in 2005. What an inspiration!

I wrote Kitty another letter, telling her that it was uplifting to see her active and still enjoying life. Yeah, I told her she hadn’t changed any since those unforgettable entrances on To Tell The Truth.

The next week, this letter appeared in my mailbox.

 

A little over a year later, in 1997, Kitty left us at the age of 96.

Maybe I’m getting old(er), but in this world of instant celebrity–here today, gone tomorrow–they just don’t make them like Kitty Carlisle anymore.  Sad, but true, today’s celebrities aren’t even cheap imitations of my childhood favorites.

Although I’m not keen on getting old, I’m really glad I came along when I did!

Kitty and Moss in Times Square, another favorite photo.

 

 

Miss Lillian and the First Lady Offer Advice

Yeah, yeah, I know this blog is supposed to be about silent film personalities, but I did warn you in the beginning to expect me to occasionally stray from the path. This is one of those times, the week of the Democratic Convention.

In keeping with the festivities going on in Charlotte, North Carolina, I wanted to share some of my treasures from a First Family.

When I was a budding teenager, I wrote letters to scores of personalities asking them for advice that they would give to a young man just starting out in the world.  Over the years, I have thought of the notes I received from former First Lady Rosalyn Carter and Miss Lillian, the President’s mother.  I must have read them a thousand times.  Now, as a middle-aged gent, I can say the words they offered were (and are) sound advice.

Here’s what the First Lady had to say …..

 

 

Here I am with Ms. Carter in the late 1990s in Plains.

The First Lady and Michael

 

Here’s what Miss Lillian sent my way …

 

 

Here’s a little something I received from Amy while the Carters were in the White House …

 

 

And, of course, the President himself.  I’ve been in his Sunday School class in Plains at least three times over the years.  His wisdom and generosity over the years continue to amaze me.

Here’s photo he signed when working on a Habitat for Humanity House.

 

 

Who’s Queen Elizabeth? It’s Queen Barbara!

By Michael G. Ankerich

I admit to being glued to the  tube several weeks ago during the Diamond Jubilee celebrating Queen Elizabeth’s 60 years on the throne. I fell in love with Her Royal Highness all over again. Someone offered to give me a copy of Kitty Kelley’s The Royals, but I wasn’t interested in reading a butchering of a real class act.

When I was a kid, I read nothing but celebrity biographies. By the time I reached puberty, I could tell you how many times Zsa Zsa had been down the aisle and could spit out all of the last names Elizabeth Taylor had acquired over the years. Thanks to one of my favorite childhood books, Flesh and Fantasy, I could even tell you how Zsa Zsa and Elizabeth were related by marriage.

One of my favorite books as a child.

Rona Barrett seemed  like an old family friend.

You get the picture; I was infatuated with old Hollywood.

I was rusty about English history and it was only in my early teens that I realized Elizabeth II was the Head of State of the United Kingdom and 15 other Commonwealth realms. She was the real Queen.

From my earliest years, I had thought it was Barbara Cartland who ruled the kingdom.  She fit my image of a queen.  From photographs I’d seem of her, she appeared to live in a royal palace. This beauty never went out among her public unless she looked like a million bucks.

I put two-and-two together one summer when I saw the lovely Miss Cartland on the back of one of my Aunt Omie’s romance novels.   My Aunt Omie was really my great aunt, and I only saw her a few weeks a year during the summer when she’d visit my grandparent’s farm.

I never knew this elegant blonde beauty was the author of the Harlequin romances and the most prolific romance writer of our time.

Barbara Cartland’s books were never laying around the house.  My mother couldn’t be bothered with old-fashioned parlor romance. Are you kidding? She went in for the hardcore writers of sleaze — Harold Robbins and Jacqueline Susann come to mind as several of mom’s favorites.

As it turns out, one of my Aunt Omie’s books slipped behind the bed on one of her visits, and she left it behind.  The photo on the back of that paperback was stunning. I found it hard to convince myself that Barbara Cartland was not THE queen.

Knowing my auntie would probably never miss the book, I carefully cut the photo from the back of the book and wrote to Miss Cartland at an address I found on the copyright page. I asked her politely to autograph the photo and to write a few words of wisdom on a piece of stationary I sent with it. (As a teenager, I kept the U.S. Postal Service in business by writing to celebrities and asking them what advice they would give to a young man just starting out in life).

Here’s what came in the mail one morning about a month later.

 

Miss Cartland’s autograph on the photo I sent her.

Her few words of wisdom … “You are what you eat, you become what you think.”

I looked at her letter for days.

I felt a tug at my heart when I saw her obituary in the paper many years later. She was quite a classy lady.

May, 2000.

What became of Aunt Omie’s romance novel that was missing the back cover photo?  I have no idea.  I am ashamed to say I never read it.  I was deep into Looking for Mr. Goodbar!

My Visit with Barbara La Marr

My visits with Barbara La Marr happen every time I venture out to Hollywood.  They are rather one-sided, you understand.  I visit her at her final resting spot, a crypt in the Great Mausoleum at the Hollywood Memorial Cemetery (Hollywood Forever). I have never been to Hollywood that I didn’t spend a little time with the siren known as “The Girl Who Was Too Beautiful.”

My 2011 visit with Barbara La Marr.

Last month, when I spent a few minutes with Barbara, there were lip prints on the marble above her name.  Someone either left them there for her, or perhaps she was trying to bring me a kiss from the Great Beyond.

Crimson prints from Barbara La Marr

I do have a thing for Barbara La Marr. She fascinates me, just as she did millions of movie fans in the 1920s. There is a sense of mystery about her that has never been explained.  When I read about her, I want to know more.  If I am asked about those I wished I could have interviewed, Barbara La Marr is always at the top of the list.

It is her soulful eyes that draw me to her.  There’s an undeniable sadness that peers out from a troubled soul.

Things didn’t always so bleak in Barbara La Marr’s troubled personal life.

In mid-1922, life started looking brighter for this butterfly of the night. She quietly gave birth to Marvin Carville La Marr in July. Being unwed, she sent little Marvin to live with family friends until she could hatch a plan to orchestrate an adoption. Marvin was officially adopted by Barbara in February 1923.

Barbara and son

Marvin, now Tom Gallery, told me the story of his life in an interview for Dangerous Curves atop Hollywood Heels. With her multiple failed marriages, heavy drinking, busy work schedule, one wonders how motherhood fit into her life plan.

“Barbara finally found out she couldn’t find a man she could love,” her son told me. “She thought, ‘I can love Marvin and he will love me unconditionally,’ and that’s something she didn’t get from the men she married.”

Barbara and Marvin settled down in her spacious home high above Hollywood on Whitley Terrace. She invited friend and writer Grace Kingsley for a visit. Photos of her luxurious dwelling were published in fan magazines and gave her loyal following a glimpse of how their favorite vamp lived. Let’s have a peek.

The caption in Motion Picture Classic read, “Above is the lovely chatelaine and her adopted baby, who is king of the house, naturally.”

“Above is the exterior in its lovely grove of shade trees. It also clings to the California tradition of brown stucco and red-tiled roof.”

“The little sun porch where Barbara and the baby spend their leisure hours, kept cool by the breezes blowing thru the Cahuenga Pass.”

“The spacious living room of the La Marr home.”

“The far end of Miss La Marr’s interesting living room, with its harmonious blending of Spanish and Italian.”

“Barbara’s bedroom, which is done in an odd, tho effective color scheme of pale blue and green.”

Many years later, her son returned to the house on Whitley Terrace to see if he had any recollections of living there. He came into a hall and approached a blank wall. He asked what had been there. The owners said it had once been a escape hatch, as the kidnapping of celebrity’s children was always a threat.

From the street, you can see the chimney and roof of Barbara’s home. The Hollywood Sign is visible in the distance.

Barbara married her fifth husband, actor Jack Daugherty, in 1923. Her family was now complete.

Mr. and Mrs. Jack Daugherty

Later that year, they honeymooned in Paris, before going to Rome, where Barbara filmed The Eternal City.

Barbara and Jack’s passport photos

Despite her hopes and dreams, Barbara’s life unraveled in 1924. Her health, ravaged by years of alcohol abuse and constant dieting, began to show on her famous face and figure. She faced numerous legal entanglements and her films were under constant threat of being banned. By the fall, her marriage was on the rocks.

Sadly, the La Marr – Daugherty marriage failed.

While filming a scene for The Girl from Montmartre, Barbara La Marr, seriously ill with tuberculosis, collapsed and had to be carried from the set. She went into seclusion at her Altadena home and battled for her life. On one of her good days, she called friend ZaSu Pitts to her bedside.

“If I don’t make it, would you raise my little boy?” she asked Pitts. According to Barbara’s son, his mother gave Pitts $100,000 for his care.

In late January 1926, Barbara slipped into a coma. She died January 30. “Broken nerves and complications” were to blame, according to initial reports from the press.

Little Marvin was adopted by ZaSu Pitts and her husband, Tom Gallery. His name was changed to Don Gallery. “ZaSu never called me her adopted son,” said Don. “I was always part of the family.”

Poet Margaret Sangster wrote a poem in tribute to the screen siren.

Somewhere, back of the sunset,

Where loveliness never dies —

She dwells in a land of glory,

With dreams in her lifted eyes.

And laughter lives all about her,

And music always in the air;

She is far from all thoughts of sadness,

Of passion, and doubt, and care!

The flowers of vanished April,

The lost gold of summer’s mirth,

Are wrapped, like a cloak, about her,

Who hurried, too soon, from earth.

And we who have known her splendor —

A beauty that brought swift tears;

Will cherish her vision, always,

To brighten the drifting years!

Barbara, who crammed five lifetimes into a mere 29 years, had a fear of being forgotten. When she signed her photographs, she added, “Lest you forget.”

Lest we forget?  Not a chance!

Actress Sherri Snyder (who has portrayed Barbara on stage), Don Gallery (Barbara’s son), and Michael G. Ankerich