Hairpins and Dead Ends: A review by Diane MacIntyre

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

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

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Edwina Booth’s quest for fame almost killed her

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

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Alma Rubens: Going, going . . .


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


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


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

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Belle Bennett


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

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Margaret Gibson, never far from trouble

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

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Barbara La Marr in tears

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

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A sad ending for Helen Lee Worthing

But I leave it to you to decide.


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

(Photos for this blog were selected by Ankerich)

Fontaine La Rue: Her story told in Hairpins and Dead Ends

Fontaine La Rue fascinated me for years, but she was elusive. I wanted to know what became of her and what her life was like before and after she left films. She was Dora Rogers, the Keystone Vamp, in the 1910s, and Fontaine La Rue in the 1920s. That I knew, but what became of her?

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Dora Rogers

I hit a number of dead ends. But, I was on the right track. Just before pulling out the old Ouija board from the attic and calling the spirit world, I did a blog on her, Fontaine La Rue, where are you?  Fontaine didn’t get in touch, but her family did!

You can now read her story in Hairpins and Dead Ends!

They adored their grandmother and great-grandmother and were eager to tell what they remembered about her. They filled in all the missing pieces and I provided some information they didn’t know.

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Fontaine La Rue

One thing I learned, Fontaine was short. Just over five feet. Fontaine La Rue, I concluded, was a small woman with a big name.

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She was also into the paranormal; she used a Ouija board. I located her big home in Hollywood, the one built with her “picture” money. I visited her final resting spot in Calvary Cemetery.

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Fontaine’s final resting place in Calvary Cemetery

As grateful as I am to her family for telling me about their mysterious relative, I have often wondered what would have happened had I dusted off my old Ouija board and tried to contact Fontaine myself?

Hairpins and Dead Ends — Barbara La Marr’s Early Years

I featured Barbara La Marr’s life and career in Dangerous Curves.  I came away convinced that her teen years were more interesting than any film she made in Hollywood in the 1920s. At least, those troubled years set Barbara on a course of self-destruction that would end her life in 1926.

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A teenage Barbara La Marr

When I began working on  Hairpins and Dead Ends, I knew the beautiful Barbara would make a reappearance. Unlike many sirens of the silent screen, Barbara was raised by two  seemingly stable parents and her siblings play an important part in her story. I spend a lot of time in her chapter piecing together her family tree and identifying those wild branches that seemed to have delved into blackmailing and extorting wealthy paramours.

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Reatha Watson (Barbara La Marr), left, and her wild and unruly half sister, Violet June (right)

Much of the chapter is constructed using Barbara’s diary from 1916 and Robert Carville’s unpublished account of his romance with the budding dancer.

You will come away feeling as though you were looking over La Marr’s shoulder as she fought with her family, abandoned sleep for the nightlife, battled tooth disease, took money from men in exchange for her company, and drank her way from one nightclub to another. I would recommend that you take a break — and a nap —  after you’ve finished this chapter.

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The first page of Barbara La Marr’s diary in her own handwriting

If you thought you knew everything about the “girl who was too beautiful,” get a copy of Hairpins and Dead Ends and find out the rest of the story.

 

The Hairpins and Dead Ends Address Book

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

Belle Bennett

2132 N. Highland (1924)

6180 Temple Hill Drive (late 1920s)

Belle Bennett’s Temple Hill Drive home

 

Valhalla Cemetery (final resting place)

Belle Bennett’s marker at Valhalla

 

 

Edwina Booth

 

1133 Fremont Avenue (1927)

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

 

5047 W. 21st Street (April 1930)

1948 Fletcher Avenue

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

140 Linden Avenue (last home)

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

 

Lila Chester

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

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

Lila Chester’s last home

 

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

Virginia Lee Corbin

5154 Franklin Avenue (1917 – 1918)

1755 Ivar Avenue

Virginia Lee Corbin lived at 1755 Ivar Avenue in Hollywood

2028 Beachwood Drive (1920s)

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

 

Marjorie Daw

7733 Maie Avenue (1917)

Marjorie Daw lived at 7753 Maie Avenue in 1917

 

8091 ½ Sunset Blvd. (1924) with Eddie Sutherland

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

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

964 Palisades Beach Road, Santa Monica (1930s)

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

 

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

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

 

Florence Deshon

6220 Delongpre Avenue (1920)

Florence Deshon lived here at 6224 De Longpre Avenue

Margaret Gibson

1337 5th Avenue (Santa Monica, 1915)

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

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

 

120 South Grand Avenue (1920)

2324 N. Beachwood Drive (1923)

525 North Gramercy Place (1930)

Margaret lived at 525 Gramercy Place in 1930

 

1434 Morningside Court (1937)

5161 Templeton (1942)

6135 Glen Oak (last residence, location of confession)

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

 

Holy Cross Cemetery (final resting place)

Jetta Goudal

Ambassador Hotel (1920s) (site)

8320 Fountain Avenue (1930s)

875 Comstock Avenue (1972)

401 S. Burnside Avenue (1975)

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

Alice Lake

6624 ½ Hollywood Blvd. (1920) (site)

1622 Wilcox Avenue (1930)

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Alice Lake’s 1930 residence (Mark Twain hotel)

6767 Yucca Street (1935)

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

 

6015 Monterey Road (last residence)

Alice Lake’s final residence, 6015 Monterey Road

 

2415 South Western Avenue (place of death)

Valhalla Cemetery (North Hollywood)

 

Barbara La Marr

1329 ½ Figueroa Street (1913)

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

1507 W. Pico Blvd.

 

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

2408 S. Grand Avenue

 

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

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

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

1234 Boston Avenue (death house)

404 Riverside Drive, NYC (1925)

6672 Whitley Terrace (1920s)

Hollywood Forever Cemetery (final resting place)

 

Fontaine La Rue

709 Ceres Avenue (1912)

1802 N. Van Ness Avenue (1920s)

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

 

12722 Washington Blvd. (1930)

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

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

5439 Hollywood Blvd. (1940s – 60s)

1174 North Hobart (last home)

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

M Rogers Hancock (Fontaine La Rue)

 

Lolita Lee

1382 N. Ridgewood Place (1927)

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

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

 

Mona Lisa

647 S. Grand Avenue (1907) (site)

145 South Beaudry (1909) (site)

1356 S. Bonnie Brae (1926)

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Mona Lisa lived in an apartment at

5101 Melrose Avenue (1932)

801 South Kingsley Drive (1940) (site)

5717 Camerford Avenue (1950)

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Mona Lisa lived at 5717 Camerford Avenue in 1950

10948 Morrison (North Hollywood) (death house)

Inglewood Park Cemetery (final resting place)

Katherine MacDonald

127 North Manhattan Place (1917) (site)

Corner of Pico and Georgia (her studio in 1921)

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

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

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

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

 

Mary MacLaren

6541 Hollywood Blvd. (1916)

6830 Whitley Terrace (1917)

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Mary McLaren lived at 6830 Whitley Terrace in 1917

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

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

975 North Virgil (last residence)

Forest Lawn (Glendale) (final resting place)

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

 

Marion McDonald

2294 Alcyona Drive (1928-1930)

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

 

6561 Franklin Avenue (1940)

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

Woodlawn Cemetery, Miami, Florida (final resting place)

Evelyn Nelson

6231 Delongpre Avenue (death house – site only)

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

 

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

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

 

 

Lottie Pickford

56 Fremont Place (1920)

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

1001 Elden Avenue

6622 Iris Drive (1928) (scene of party)

Lottie’s Christmas Eve party house (1928)

 

6524 ½ Franklin Avenue (1928)

1428 North Crescent Heights (1933)

577 Burlington Avenue (death house)

 

Alma Rubens

1834 El Cerrito Place (1926)

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

Alma Rubens lived here, 1475 Havenhurst Drive in 1928

 

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

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

 

1745 N. Wilton Place (1929) (site)

112 N. Manhattan (death house)

Alma Rubens died at 112 North Manhattan Place, Hollywood

 

 

Jean Sothern

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

 

Valeska Suratt

 

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

 

Marie Walcamp

6051 Sunset Blvd. (1914)

6113 Salem Place (1916)

1042 Sanborn Avenue (1917-1918)

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Marie Walcamp lived at 1042 Sanborn Avenue in 1917 – 1918

1014 North Vermont, Los Angeles (1919-1920)

4320 Melbourne Avenue (1930)

Marie Walcamp lived here in 1930 (4320 Melbourne Avenue)

 

6116 Scenic Avenue (death house)

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Marie Walcamp died here at 6116 Scenic Avenue

Helen Lee Worthing

Ambassador Hotel (1926)

3439 W. 60th Street (1927)

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

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

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Helen Lee Worthing lived at 2171 Vista Del Mar in 1929

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

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

1062 North Serrano Avenue (death house)

Inglewood Park Cemetery (final resting place)

 

 

 

 

 

Hairpins and Dead Ends: The Girl on the Cover

By Michael G. Ankerich

After the title Hairpins and Dead Ends came to me, there was only one photo destined to be the cover. Edwina Booth with her hair in pins.  Well, maybe they aren’t supposed to be hairpins, but you get the picture.

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Edwina survived a mysterious illness she contracted while on location in Africa for Trader Horn (1931). The beautiful blonde was never the same. She soon vanished from the screen and public view. Many believed she had succumbed to her disease. Comfortable in her seclusion, Edwina never came forward to prove them wrong.

She was one of the actresses I sought for an interview in the 1980s. It was impossible. She would speak to no one about her career and illness.

While researching Hairpins and Dead Ends, I contacted her cousins and nieces who told me the real story behind Edwina’s life, particularly her later years and marriages.

Edwina Booth is featured in Hairpins and Dead Ends.

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Billie Dove and the End of a Nagging Question

It was one subject I couldn’t bring up to Billie Dove.  What I wanted to ask was, “Billie, how old are you?”  Well, I would have never asked it in those exact words. But I wanted to clear up the question of her year of birth.  To a researcher determined to set the record straight, asking those questions is critical, especially when film reference books cannot agree on one date.

"To you, Lenore, from me."

“To you, Lenore (her fan club president), from me.”

One can use the tactic of bringing up the most sensitive questions until the end of the interview. That way, you have the story in case they hang up on you and show you the door the moment the question rolls off your lips.  But I couldn’t ask it then, either.

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Billie and husband Bob Kenaston

I didn’t have to.  Billie addressed the subject herself near the beginning of our first interview.

“I simply don’t believe that the number of years a person has lived is how old they are,” she said to me. “Two people, exactly the same age, can be entirely different.  It’s what you have absorbed that counts.”

Fair enough.

I kept digging. The film reference books were all over the board on the question. They had Billie being born from 1900 to 1904. Katz’s The Film Encyclopedia suggested 1900 as Billie’s year of birth.  Her fan club president told me 1900 was the date. Billie’s maid had found the birth certificate when going through some papers.

Dewitt Bodeen’s excellent career article on Billie for Films in Review suggested 1901. The 1920 U.S. Federal Census indicated 1903.

Billie and Michael

Billie and Michael

When The Sound of Silence, the book that included the lengthy interview I did with Billie went to press, I played it safe. I presented the possibilities as I had uncovered them and put the information out for the readers to decide.

When Billie died, the mystery was still unsolved. Her obits indicated 1900 and 1901. Her death certificate gave 1901. In her 1954 application for a Social Security Number, Billie gave 1903.

Billie’s words came back to haunt me, “Even my husbands didn’t know how old I was,” she once said.

Last week, I was delighted to hear from Paul Melzer through Facebook, a reader who has acquired Billie Dove’s driver’s license and birth certificate. With his permission, I am sharing them with you.

One more mystery solved. Researching for the facts becomes obsessive. See how much fun we have!

Anyway, Billie Dove, according to her birth certificate was born May 14, 1903. Now we know. Everyone breathe a sigh of relief. Slow exhale.

Billie's birth certificate

Billie’s birth certificate (Courtesy of Paul Melzer)

 

Take a look at her California driver’s license from 1979.

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Losing Momma and Maebelle

Before the crystal ball dropped in Time’s Square last year, before the bubbles from the champagne flute tickled my nose, I knew 2015 was going to be one hell of a year, a year of heartbreak and change and one I would never forget. In fact, I made a New Year’s resolution for 2015:  “Survive it!”

Some of you have asked about my absence from the pages of this blog over the past nine or so months. I’ve tried to keep an upbeat and somewhat comical tone to my posts, but there’s no way to spin it.  2015 has been tough. What is that old saying, “Life happens when you’re making other plans.”  Well, friends, I guess you could say I’ve been living life.

Our New Year’s Eve party was as festive as ever, but something wasn’t right with Maebelle, our 16-year-old poodle. She’d once been the life of our parties, begging to be carried, hugged, and loved. After our parties, I would slow dance with her for the last tune of the evening. Tonight, she seemed to wander and stagger through the forest of high heels. Ms. Taylor, her twin, had long stopped enjoying parties. When she ventured out of her little bed, she went around in circles, blind and deaf.

Charlie with Ms. Taylor and Maebelle

Maebelle liked to stay close to me while I was writing; Tallulah is keeping watch

Maebelle liked to stay close to me while I was writing; Tallulah is keeping watch

Charle and I picked these little girls when they could lie comfortably in the palm of our hands. For 16 years, through good times and bad, they had been the closest we would ever have to children. Maebelle and I had a connection that went way beyond that of a canine and human. She was almost a soulmate.

And so, three days into the new year, Charlie and I arrived at that place where all animal lovers eventually come.  That nagging question: Are we keeping these darlings alive for our own pleasure when their quality of life had waned?

With Dr. Moshell’s help, our little babies went to sleep in our arms; Maebelle in mine, Ms. Taylor in Charlie’s. For you who have been through this, I don’t have to describe the gut-wrenching grief that comes from deep within your soul.

Charlie and I rallied around each other, treasuring Tallulah, our 5-year-old poodle girl.  She is black. We call her Tallulah Blackhead.

I waited a few days before breaking the news to my mom, who lived across the state. She was Mother Teresa to stray canines and felines in her neighborhood. She understood that strong bond between humans and animals. Mom cried when I told her about her “grandchildren.” “Poor little darlings,” she sobbed.

When we left my parent’s house after Christmas a few weeks before, I think Mom knew she would never again see Maebelle and Ms. Taylor. Did she know that morning when she held the puppies tight that none of us would ever again have Christmas with her? Mom knew she was sick; we all did, we just wasn’t ready to go there.

Michael and Carol

Mom and me

Mom and me in a rare Georgia snowfall

Mom and me in a rare Georgia snowfall

In October 2013, Charlie and I spent two weeks in Italy, our favorite vacation spot. I talked with Mom every other day or so while we were away. She said she was still fatigued, but “doing okay.” The afternoon we arrived home, Mom called. “Michael, I found out what is wrong with me.  I have leukemia. I didn’t want to tell you while you were on your trip.”

Not leukemia exactly, but something called Myelodysplasia Syndrome (MDS), a disease of the bone marrow that destroys the number and quality of blood-forming cells. The doctor was somewhat encouraging. While not a candidate for a bone marrow transplant, Mom could have some quality of life with chemotherapy. That is, weekly chemo treatments for the rest of her life.

Mom was a determined fighter. A red-headed hairdresser since the early 1960s, she was one tough 71-year-old. Chemo was the way it went for awhile. Fatigue seemed to be the primary side effect. Then came the fluctuating blood counts: hemoglobin, platelets, red and white blood levels. A monthly blood transfusion boosted her energy level.

Mom on Christmas Day 2015 with Lucinda and FeFe

Mom on Christmas Day 2015 with Lucinda and FiFi

By Christmas, Mom was clearly suffering from this disease. She’d get out of bed in the morning for a hour or two. Extreme fatigue and pain would send her back to bed, sometimes for the rest of the day. As a family, we’d never been that good at communication, so we all exchanged looks.  We talked about Mom’s illness among ourselves. My Dad and me. My Grandmother and me. What’s happening to her?

Before we left to come home, Mom called me into her bedroom. She wanted to talk. “I don’t want to die,” she said. “I’ve got to take care of your daddy and momma. I’m going to fight, Michael.  I’m not giving up, but you know I may not make it.”  Mom laid out her final wishes. Cremation. A memorial service at the funeral home. An Episcopal service was okay, “but not too many candles and crosses.” For music, she wanted Willie Nelson and Elvis Presley — luckily, their CDs would suffice. And one more question. Would Charlie and I consider taking Pancho, Lucinda, and FiFi, her rescue pups that never left her side?

Not surprisingly, Mom’s condition continued worsening into the new year.  Despite rain, sleet, or snow, my mom, driven by her saints (Dad, my Aunt, Peggy, and other close friends), made the 30-mile trek to the clinic to have chemo and her blood and platelet transfusions.

Mom getting one of her many, many treatments

Mom getting one of her many, many treatments

The transfusions that kept her alive from week to week were ordered more frequently. Nose bleeds, extreme pain in her bones, and crippling fatigue continued. We talked by phone most every day. The tone in her voice was becoming weaker and more somber. Our conversations were getting shorter.  In mid-February, I called Dr. Malik about her condition. As prepared as I thought I was for his report, it came as a jolt. “Your mom is now in the struggling phase, the decline phase, and approaching Acute Myeloid Leukemia (AML). I’m not throwing in the towel yet. There is one more treatment I want to try.”

In mid-March, Mom made the decision to close her beauty shop. Her customers had been loyal and had stuck by her. As hard as she tried, she no longer had the strength to keep going.

“Do you want to keep working?” I asked her.

In her weakest voice, she said, “I just want to lie down and go to sleep.”

Closing her business signaled a new chapter for Mom. She slipped into a depression that never left her. She cried more, became quieter and more withdrawn.

The next month brought weekly blood transfusions and iron injections, in addition to her chemo. Blood blisters developed in her mouth and on her tongue and lips. When blood began dripping from her nose, Mom wrote it off as a simple nosebleed. When she awoke one morning on a blood soaked pillow, her doctor ordered a platelet transfusion with a warning. “The next time this happens, Ms. Carol,” he said, “get yourself to an emergency room or you could bleed to death.”

Mom bottle feeding newborn kitties

Mom bottle feeding newborn kitties

In mid-April, a blood blister on her right wrist turned into a wound. The wound turned into a sore, the sore a hole. The flesh inside the sore turned black and smelled of dead flesh.

When I came home in late April to take her to appointments with her cancer doctor and a wound specialist, Mom was too weak to walk. I went into the bathroom where she sat. “There’s blood in my urine,” she said. “You know, Michael, this could be it.”

Mom made it to her appointment with the aid of a wheelchair. Blood tests were taken. Dr. Malik confirmed our fears.  “Oh, Ms. Carol,” he said, “your condition has progressed to Acute Myeloid Leukemia. Your white blood count is 280,000. I’m admitting you to the hospital.”

Lying in her hospital bed, Mom was a pitiful sight. Her arms black and blue from a year and a half of chemo and transfusions. Her lips caked with dried blood and sores in her mouth continued bleeding. A bandage protected the horrible sore on her arm. She was pale and weak, struggling to breathe. “I don’t want to die,” she cried. “What will become of my little babies? Gene and Momma need me.”

Mom's Hollywood pose

Mom’s Hollywood pose

Dr. Malik offered another type of treatment, a powerful infusion of chemo. No promises she would live through it, and if she did, she’d be in the hospital for three to four weeks with a poor quality of life.  “It won’t buy you much time,” he said. Mom made the sobering decision. “Dr, Malik, I don’t think I’m going to go through it. I think I’ve had enough.”

Mom went into hospice on Thursday, April 30. Her family never left her side. Before she slipped into the final coma, I said, “Thanks for being my momma. I love you.” “I love you, too.” she said. “Will you watch over me?” I asked. “Yes” she answered.

Charlie and I stayed with her through the night. We talked to her, held her hand. I studied her face as a painter studies his subject, trying to capture in my own mind’s eye the features of that beautiful face that I would soon never see again.

Mom died that morning at 9:50 a.m., May 1, 2015. “Go ahead, Momma, it’s okay,” I cried as she breathed her last. “It’s a beautiful day.” And it was a beautiful spring day. Mom’s suffering was over.

Holding Mom's hand

Holding Mom’s hand at the end

 

Her memorial service was a celebration of life. I spoke to the room full of Mom’s closest friends. “You’ve heard of Wonder Woman. My Mom was Wonder Woman. She could drive me to school on the back of her motorcycle, do three shampoos and sets in the morning, dig post holes in the afternoon, and make the best spaghetti supper that night.”

Grieving has been hard, my friends. Part of it is wondering how Mom is doing and where she is. The finality of it all is difficult. It’s the phone that never rings, yet I want it to ring with Mom on the other end. Why can’t Mom send a postcard to let me know she made it or send some kind of sign that she is okay.

I turned a corner in my grief about three months after Mom’s death.  I was lying in the floor somewhere between consciousness and sleep. Suddenly, with my eyes closed, Mom appeared. Her face was a younger Mom. Her voice so familiar. “Michael,” she said. “It’s just the way it is.” Then she was gone. I knew then that I was on a journey through grief, that I was not setting up residence there, that perhaps I would one day see a brighter day and not feel such consuming and overwhelming sadness.

As I write this, there is only three months left in 2015. It’s been nine months since Maebelle and Ms. Taylor went to puppy heaven. It’s been five months since Mom left. Life goes on, they say.

I am writing again after a long hiatus. My new book, Hairpins and Dead Ends, is coming along. I’m working on new interviews for this blog.  People ask me how am I doing.  By the grace of God, I am living my 2015 resolution. “I’m surviving,” I say.

 

Mom's one connection to the silent film era.  Through me, she knew actress Lina Basquette

Mom’s one connection to the silent film era. Through me, she knew actress Lina Basquette.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Visit to Spahn Movie Ranch

By Michael G. Ankerich

My morbid curiosity is a side of me that most friends and family don’t understand. I simply had no choice, friends!  I grew up watching Dark Shadows, and the first scene from a movie I remember seeing was a decapitated head rolling down the stairs in Hush, Hush, Sweet Charlotte. I remember burying my head into my mother’s lap and not coming up until “The End.”

I’d rather see low-budget movies (just watched The Town that Dreaded Sundown for the fourth or fifth time) about hauntings and serial killers than comedy or the commercially popular latest and greatest epic.

The really fun part is when it spills over into real life.  I love hanging out in cemeteries and going to those places where creepy and bizarre things happened. On my first trip to Los Angeles, back in the 1980s, one of the first places I asked to visit was Cielo Drive, where Sharon Tate and friends were murdered in 1969. On my next venture west, I found the La Bianca murder house.

You cannot imagine the disappointment when I trekked to the corner of Alvarado and Maryland in Hollywood only to find the courtyard apartment where William Desmond Taylor was murdered in 1922 was a parking lot. Or, when I went to the apartment house where Marie Prevost died and was unable to go inside.  We learn to live with life’s little disappointments.

High on my list was the site of Spahn Ranch, which had once been a 500-acre movie ranch for filming Westerns and numerous television programs.

Spahn Ranch in the day

Spahn Ranch in the day

You know the story. By the late 1960s, little filming was actually done on the desolate property in the Simi Hills and Santa Susana Mountains above Chatsworth. Its owner, 80-year-old George Spahn, blind and ailing, now used the ranch for horse rentals.

It was in 1968 that Charles Manson and his followers, “The Family,” came to live at the ranch.  Spahn allowed them to stay rent free as long as they help out with chores. This abandoned, isolated ranch, 20 miles from Los Angeles, became the primary residence of Manson and the Family during the time they committed the Tate-LaBianca murders until Manson’s arrest in 1969 during a raid on the property.

The dilapidated buildings of Spahn Ranch burned to the ground in 1970. Mother nature reclaimed the property. It eventually became part of Santa Susana Pass State Historic Park.

On previous trips to LA, when I was traveling alone, I had been reluctant to explore the area. It was not on any tourist map, and I frankly was not excited about stepping on rattlesnakes or getting lost in the wilderness.

In October 2014, Charlie came with me. I was in LA for the second time. The first time was in the spring when I flew out to film an episode of The Ghost Inside My Child.

Charlie and Michael high above Hollywood

Charlie and Michael high above Hollywood

Garage where Thelma Todd was found dead

Now, I’ve coaxed Charlie into experiencing some rather wild adventures over our 23 years together, but I don’t think he took seriously my idea of visiting Spahn Ranch on this trip. When we left Hollywood for the coast that morning, just days before Halloween, I had the ranch on my radar for the afternoon.

On our way to Malibu, we stopped in Pacific Palisades and located the garage where Thelma Todd was found dead way back in 1935.

Later that morning, we hiked in Malibu Canyon and rested at the site where they filmed the exteriors for M*A*S*H.  After lunch at Duke’s on the coast in Malibu, we turned inland on Topanga Canyon Blvd. for the Valley.

As we neared Chatsworth, the terrain turned mountainous and rocky. Right before we reached Ronald Reagan Parkway,  we turned left onto Santa Susana Pass Road and headed west.  When we got to Iverson Road, I knew we were there. I looked to the left. Nothing to indicate it was Spahn Ranch. We turned right onto Iverson. Just ahead, we pulled into the parking lot at Church at Rock Peak. Leaving the car, we set out on foot, back down Iverson toward Santa Susana. Just passed the guardrail, we skidded down a bank and found ourselves in brush and brambles.

 

 

Spahn Ranch, then and now

Spahn Ranch, then and now

As the shadows grew longer in the waning light, I led Charlie down a trail toward the dry creek bed. It had to be here.  But where? At one point, the bed was at the bottom of a gully.  I had no choice but to go down and explore. Charlie said he’d wait on me. If I found what I was looking for, holler for him.

Clinging onto a branch, I lowered myself down toward the creek bed. When I let go, the leaves and loose rocks sent my feet out from under me (maybe the wine from Dukes had something to do with my unsteadiness).

I tumbled to the bottom, scrapping my shine and breaking the arm of a pair of Revos on the way down.

Scrapes and bruises, but no broken bones

Scrapes and bruises, but no broken bones

So overgrown with vines and limbs was the area, there was no way to travel along the creek. I carefully pulled myself out of the ravine and met Charlie back on the trail.

Daylight was fading, but not my determination. We walked back toward the road and took another trail that led down into the creek bed. Then it came into view, the cave where the Manson family took their now infamous photo.

The Cave, then and now

The Cave, then and now

It felt creepy being there, that’s about the best way I can describe it. Although decades had passed since the horrible crimes, a sense of evil still hung in the air like a fog. It was time to go.

On the way back to the hotel, we stopped at Iliad Books in North Hollywood — one of my favorite haunts, then had dinner in Studio City at Vitello’s Italian Restaurant. After we turned over the car to the valet, I motioned for Charlie to follow me around the corner from the entrance to the restaurant.

“You know what happened here, don’t you?  As I figure it, it happened right about there.”

“No, what happened here,” he asked reluctantly.

“This is the place where Robert Blake’s wife, Bonnie Lee Bakely, was shot to death while she waited for Blake, who had supposedly returned to the restaurant to retrieve a gun he had left behind.  Interesting, huh?”

Charlie had had enough.  “Come on, I’m hungry.”

My own directions to Spahn Ranch

In the event that you have an afternoon to spare and want to make your own visit to the site of Spahn Movie Ranch, follow my directions.

  • Type 22601 Santa Susana Pass Road into your GPS. That will get you close to the ranch.
  • Be careful if you park alongside the road.  Better yet, park discretely in the church parking lot (Church at Rock Peak).
  • Back on Santa Susana Pass Road, walk to the end of the white guardrail.
  • Leave the road and follow the trail into the brush.  You’re there! Now, explore. Be careful.  Watch for rattlesnakes.

 

Spahn Ranch, a bird's eye view

Spahn Ranch, a bird’s eye view

 

Your map to Spahn Ranch

Your map to Spahn Ranch

 

 

 

 

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.
 
Screen Shot 2014-08-09 at 3.09.40 PM
 
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

Screen Shot 2014-08-09 at 3.51.04 PM

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.
Screen Shot 2014-08-09 at 3.11.44 PM
 
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.