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.
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Michael: Have you ever given thought to who you might have been before Lucille?  
 
Amy: Yes! I’ve always thought that I must have been living in England and was a seamstress. I’ve always had a thing, as Lucille, and even now, for all things British. And I’ve always adored fashion and clothing! 
 
Michael: What are your future plans?
 
Amy: I’m currently working on a book about my life as Lucille. It’s coming along nicely but it is difficult to write. I hope to finish it soon. As for school, I will be a senior this year, and I am thinking about attending acting schools for college. Acting or literature. I can’t make up my mind! I would like to write biographies on my favorite film stars. I’ve been thinking about doing one on Jack Pickford. I don’t think anyone else will so it shall be me!
Amy reclines with Jack Pickford's star on Hollywood Boulevard

Amy reclines with Jack Pickford’s star on Hollywood Boulevard

 

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

Lucille Ricksen, reincarnation, and my television debut

By Michael G. Ankerich

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

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

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

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

I listened.

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

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

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

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

Lucille around 1920

Lucille around 1920

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

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

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

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

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

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The grandeur of the Biltmore Hotel, Los Angeles

 

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

 

Michael, Theresa, and Amy

Michael, Theresa, and Amy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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!

 

Falling in Love Over and Over: My Romance with Italy

After I fly home from Los Angeles, you know I am always saying that I leave part of my spirit behind.  It’s true. The same is also true for Italy.  For Los Angeles, it’s my search for and exploration of old Hollywood, especially the Hollywood of the early 20th century.

With Italy, it is something different. It speaks to me like no other place on earth, at least like none of the 20 or so countries I’ve been to. It is the beauty of the country and its people. It has to do with the importance the Italians put on something as simple as a meal. It’s the pride they take in their wine, their food, their gelato, their cheese, their architecture, their history, their writers and artists.  They know how to live a well-balanced life.

Charlie and I recently spent two weeks in Italy. We started in the little village of Manarola in the Cinque Terre. This little town spoke to me like few places have. When it came time to travel to La Spezia to pick up the car and head into Tuscany, I had a hard time walking off the terrace of our little apartment.

So, my friends, here is a bit of what I experienced. I’m going to shut up and let you see Italy through the eyes of someone whose love for Italy runs deep.

We start in Manarola.

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Train station

Manarola in late afternoon. Can you find our apartment? Find the pink building in the middle of the picture.  Move to the right and see the other pink building. Our apartment is atop that building.

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Manarola in all its glory

Michael outside the apartment.

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Just outside the door of our apartment

My first meal in Italy.  My mouth waters just looking at this plate of mussels.

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Sunset in Cinque Terre.

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The next morning, we hiked to the next village, Corniglia.  You can see the village in the distance.

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On the hiking trail high above Manarola.

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Our path eventually leads us into the clouds.

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Looking back at Manarola from the hiking trail.

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Can’t say much about this one.  It is my idea of heaven.

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We finally arrive in Corniglia.

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Michael, on the descent into Corniglia.

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A local basking in the gentle Mediterranean breeze.

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Our travels took us to Lucca, a Tuscan jewel.  I catch up on my journaling while sipping vino.  Mine is the red.  Charlie’s will usually be white.

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Inside the massive cathedral in Lucca.

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Easily the best pizza I have ever put in my mouth.

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The next day, we drove to Volterra, high in the Tuscan hills.

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After lunch we drive south to Pitigliano.  Daylight gave way to a glorious sunset.

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Pitigliano took my breath away.  This medieval town seems to have been born out of the rocks.  Lush valleys surround.

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The next six photos give you a view of Pitigliano through my eyes.

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We visited Etruscan tombs below Pitigilano. The steps they carved centuries ago to access the tombs are still there.

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Pitigliano from the Etruscan necropolis.

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A stop in Sovana.

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Vino in Sovana.

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The approach to Sorano.

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A fall view from Sorano.

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The streets of Sorano.

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The drive to Rome.  Orvieto is on the horizon.

Orvieto in the fog

Orvieto in the fog

Enjoy Roma with me.

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Coliseum, Roma

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Roman Forum

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Tiber Island, on the way to Trastevere

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Church of St. Cecilia.

St. Cecilia, the patron saint for musicians.

St. Cecilia, the patron saint for musicians.

We headed south to Pompeii for the day. One of the most amazing sights I have ever seen.

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Pompeii had its share of brothels.  This carved stone in the wall shows the way to the nearest one.

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If you got lost and were too bashful to ask for directions, this stone on a major street in Pompeii would help you locate the nearest house of ill repute.

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Charlie and Michael in Pompeii.  See Mt. Vesuvius in the distance.

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Back in Rome.  The fish tank at our favorite Chinese restaurant.

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Early morning breakfast

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 No adventure to Rome is complete without a trip to the Vatican.

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Charlie.

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Bathroom graffiti.

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 The oculus at the Pantheon.

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Inside the Basilica di Santa Maria sopra Minerva.

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Thanks, friends, for taking a peek into my latest Italian adventure.

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If I ever drop out of sight, you’ll know I’ve run away.  You can find me  toasting the sunset on the terrace of my apartment in Manarola.

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Grazie mille!