Life is Good at Hollywood Forever: A Chat With Karie Bible, Tour Guide

If you know me at all, you know I like to hang out in cemeteries. I’ve haunted graveyards all over the world, but my absolute favorite is Hollywood Forever Cemetery. In the middle of crowded and congested Hollywood, it is a haven of rest, for sure, but also a lovely park and a place to spend some quiet time with the Hollywood greats.

The truth is, friends, I’d rather be here than at Universal Studios or Disneyland — any day!

When I’m in Los Angeles researching a book, my pattern is pretty much the same. I have breakfast at Denny’s on Sunset and Western, then head down to Hollywood Forever to walk around and let the bacon and pancakes settle. Then it’s off to the Academy Library for a day of research.

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In 2013, I was a guest speaker at the annual Valentino Memorial Service at Hollywood Forever. I was so excited to meet Karie Bible, a devoted film historian who leads the Hollywood Forever Cemetery Walking Tour. As I figure it, she just about has the coolest job imaginable.

Let’s find out!

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Karie Bible

Michael: How long have you been tour guide at Hollywood Forever? 

Karie: I’ve been giving tours several times a month since February 2002.

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Michael  on his first visit (with Charlene) to Hollywood Memorial (now Forever), about 1986

Michael: My first trip to Hollywood was in the mid-1980s. Then it was Hollywood Memorial Cemetery and was among the first places I wanted to see. When was your first visit and what were your first impressions? 

Karie: When I first visited the cemetery, I was pretty emotional. A co-worker of mine had recently died at a young age and I was very upset about it. When I walked into the gates of the cemetery, I looked around and my mood started to change. I didn’t see the place as sad or morbid. To me it was a peaceful, beautiful oasis and a place to celebrate life. I fell in love with it immediately.

Michael: On that first visit, I was interested in one person: Valentino. Of course, I saw Barbara La Marr, William Desmond Taylor, and Marion Davies. But there really is so much more to see, isn’t there?

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A selfie at Valentino’s crypt, about 2014

Karie: There are tons of things to see! There is a story behind every single grave there. The cemetery has beautiful architecture, unique headstones and hosts a ton of creative people.

Michael: Tell me some of the highlights of your tours. Have you made any surprise discoveries? 

Karie:  One of my favorite things is seeing the look of joy and excitement that people get when they see the grave of a star that was meaningful to them. One day I was giving a tour and speaking to a large group about Valentino.

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Karie at Valentino’s crypt

There was a girl in the group who was about 20 years old. When I started talking about Valentino’s life, tears began pouring down her face. She finally turned around and ran out of the building. I was a bit shocked and couldn’t imagine what I could have said to upset her. I asked her boyfriend if she was ok. He said, “She just gets very emotional about Valentino.” It is a pretty big testament to his charisma and star power that ninety years after his death young girls still cry and react emotionally at his grave.

On another day I had an elderly lady who actually taught Jayne Mansfield’s children. She said that there were many celebrity kids at the school, and that Jayne was the ONLY famous parent who ever showed up in person. Screen Shot 2016-04-01 at 4.08.46 PMShe said Jayne was active at the school and a really loving, caring mother. That was a beautiful story and certainly makes her seem much more human. While these people may be icons, sex symbols, etc. they are, in fact, people.

Michael: What questions do you get most from those taking your tour? 

Karie: People often ask me about the peacocks and many of the graves with the faces etched into the marble. Those things add so much character to the place.

Michael: Yeah, I want to get to the peacocks in a minute. Any estimate as to the number of tours you’ve given? 

Karie: I couldn’t even begin to tell you. I do about two or three tours a month and it has now been 14 years. That isn’t counting private tours, the special art deco tour and other things.

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Karie in tour!

Back in 2013, I started getting kidney stones right before I gave a tour. I didn’t want to let the people down who had booked and I figured that the show must go on! I gave a 2 ½ hour tour with massive kidney stones. I was in so much pain that I really don’t remember very much. I have done the tour so many times that I sort of went on autopilot. I was rushed to Cedar’s Sinai right afterward.

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Johnny Ramone’s monument

Michael: What’s the most unusual monument or tombstone? 

Karie: None of them seem unusual to me, but I think that Johnny Ramone’s grave seems to draw a lot of attention. I’ve given many tours to seniors who don’t even know who he is, but that can’t stop looking at his grave.

Michael: On a recent tour, I was looking for the grave of Mae Murray’s brother. I was almost attacked by a gigantic peacock. I’ve since seen their cages. I have to admit they are beautiful creatures. What’s the story behind them and their home at the cemetery? 

Karie: Someone told me that the peacock is a symbol for eternal life. That would make sense because cemeteries are always filled with symbolism and nothing is just there arbitrarily. If you look near the flower shop, there are peacocks in the stained glass and even peacock feathers painted on the dome over the building.

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Watch for the peacocks; they have the right of way!

Michael: What’s the story around the big, black car that sits up front?

Karie: That is an antique hearse that the owner Tyler Cassity purchased. I think it is from 1939. As far as I know it still works and is put to use.

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Michael: Are there any unmarked graves of silent film stars there? I believe Florence Lawrence’s grave was once unmarked, but she now has a marker.

Karie: Yes there are still unmarked star graves. Getting a marker can be a complicated process that involves getting permission from the family (if there are any still alive) and raising money. The cemetery has been great about helping make that process happen. I know that silent comic actor Ford Sterling was recently marked and Ann Sheridan was as well. Tyler and his staff recently got a marker for the grave of Pauline Pfeiffer Hemingway, Ernest Hemmingway’s second wife. Historian Allan Ellenberger does an excellent blog about Hollywood history and written about it. http://allanellenberger.com/sins-of-the-mother-the-story-of-pauline-hemingway/

Screen Shot 2016-04-01 at 5.04.16 PMMichael: Have all the film related graves, niches, and crypts been identified? 

Karie: To my knowledge, yes they have been identified.

Michael: Are there any missing old timers that may be there?

Karie: Not that I know of. I always preface things by saying that, as you never know!

Michael: What mysteries are there? What are your favorites? 

Karie: The grave of William Desmond Taylor would count as a mystery. It is one of the most famous unsolved murders in Hollywood history. There have been so many books about it, but I think it will always remain a mystery.

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William Desmond Taylor

I love Valentino, but I feel a deep connection to all of the people there. I spend a lot of time at the cemetery and I’m very passionate about film history. There are so many pioneers buried at Hollywood Forever who were at the ground floor as the art form and business of Hollywood was being created. Many of them worked behind the scenes as writers, cinematographers, composers and crew.

Michael: I understand. My passion is researching the lives of those from the very beginning.

Karie: So many of these people go unappreciated. A great number of them were discarded and forgotten. They deserve better.

Michael: Have you ever met any relatives of some of the permanent residents of Hollywood Forever on your tour? Who were they? 

Karie: Several years ago, I was giving a small tour and as I was at JScreen Shot 2016-04-01 at 4.02.20 PMohn Huston’s grave. I turned around and Angelica Huston was standing right there.
She was cleaning up the flowers and grass around her father’s grave. I didn’t want to bother her, but she was very gracious and a total class act.

Michael: If you were an early actor or actress died in Hollywood, what choices did you have? Rosedale, I know. What others? 

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Karie: Hollywood Forever (originally named Hollywood Memorial Park) was founded in 1899. Forest Lawn Glendale came along in 1906. Calvary Cemetery was established in 1896 and Evergreen Cemetery in 1877. I think that Home of Peace has been in their current spot since 1902. Grand View Memorial Park dates back to 1884. I’m sure there are others I’m forgetting, but those are the ones that come to mind.

Michael: Are there any haunted areas of the cemetery that you are aware of? Tell me the stories. 

Karie: People often ask me that question. I’ve been there a long time and I’ve never had a paranormal encounter of any kind. There have been rumors that Clifton Webb walks down the corridor of the Abbey of the Psalms Mausoleum or that you can hear actress Virginia Rappe weeping. Screen Shot 2016-04-01 at 4.01.29 PMTo me, the history is fascinating enough and I really don’t want to focus on the paranormal. (By the way, read Room 1219 to learn more about Virginia Rappe, the actress who died after the party thrown by Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle. It is an excellent read!)

Michael: So, give the cemetery a little plug for my readers? Invite them to take the tour!

Karie: The “Cemetery of the Stars” tour at Hollywood Forever is a great overview of the cemetery. It includes the big names including Rudolph Valentino, Cecil B. DeMille, Marion Davies, Tyrone Power, Vampira, John Huston, Johnny Ramone, Peter Lorre, Mel Blanc and many more! Hollywood Forever is a beautiful place and one of the most unique cemeteries in the world! Learn more about dates and times for the tour at www.cemeterytour.com.

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Watch for these beautiful birds

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A stunning view of the Hollywood Sign awaits as you exit the cemetery.

 

 

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Hair Pins and Dead Ends, Ankerich’s new book, on the horizon

Relax, friends, I have not pulled a Howard Hughes or Doris Duke on you and slipped into seclusion on some exotic island in the Pacific. If I ever became a recluse, it would be in Manarola, Italy, but that’s another story.

Michael in Manarola

Michael in Manarola, 2013

I am hunkered down and working on my next book, Hair Pins and Dead Ends: The Perilous Journeys of 20 Actresses Through Early Hollywood. This book is a companion volume to Dangerous Curves atop Hollywood Heels, which was released in 2010.

Hair Pins and Dead Ends tells the stories of 20 young women from all walks of life who, despite the odds against them, rose above thousands of other hopefuls to enjoy various level of success in films.

 

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Like Dangerous Curves, I selected the names for this book because I wanted to know more about their struggles in Hollywood. Some were well known and it was fairly easy to research their lives. Others existed only in fragments, a mention in Variety here, a photo in Motion Picture Classic there. Family members and public documents brought these women back to life.

I wrote extensively about Barbara La Marr  in Dangerous Curves, from her birth in 1896 to her death in 1926. She lived life so fast that I thought we should slow the action down and focus on her formative years, her life before  films.

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In Hair Pins and Dead Ends, I piece together those years using La Marr’s own diary and the unpublished memoirs of Robert Carville, an early lover. I discovered that the “girl who was too beautiful” was really the girl who was too unhappy.

 

Mona Lisa

Mona Lisa

Mona Lisa was equally as mysterious on the silver sheet as she was on canvas. Like Barbara La Marr, this shadowy figure from silent films lived fast. Her publicity campaigns and brushes with the law made her private life more interesting than any films she made.

 

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Margaret Gibson’s 1965 deathbed confession brought her name back to life. A neighbor who had been with Margaret as she lay dying recalls her confessing to the murder of director William Desmond Taylor. While playing virginal maidens on the screen, Margaret drifted into Hollywood’s underworld.

 

Marjorie Daw

Marjorie Daw

Both Marjorie Daw and Virginia Lee Corbin had mothers who brought their families to Hollywood in search of fame in the flickers. Marjorie’s mother died in 1917, leaving the 15-year-old  to raise her teenage brother.

 

 

Virginia Lee Corbin

Virginia Lee Corbin

By the time Virginia could crawl, her starstruck mother was pushing her into the spotlight. Virginia married young to escape her mother’s talons, but found it difficult to let go of her career.

 

Alice Lake

Alice Lake

 

Alice Lake, Helen Lee Worthing, and Lottie Pickford drowned their broken dreams of Hollywood in booze. Alice clung to a career long gone.

Helen Lee Worthing

Helen Lee Worthing

Helen rebounded from mental illness and suicide attempts, but her major sin in life was falling in love with the wrong man.

Lottie Pickford

Lottie Pickford

Lottie never gave a damn about much, preferring to party life away in the shadow of her sister, Mary, America’s Sweetheart.

 

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Sisters Katherine McDonald and Mary MacLaren were the Olivia de Havilland and Joan Fontaine of silent films. They were as different as night and day. Early tension in their lives led to a rift that never healed. Katherine struggled with alcoholism.

Mary MacLaren

Mary MacLaren

Mary, referred to (by some) as a crazy cat lady, spent her last days in her dilapidated home in the heart of Hollywood.

 

Fontaine La Rue

Fontaine La Rue

After a tragedy in their native land, Fontaine La Rue and her mother came to the United States. Fontaine soon married and became the mother of three children. Defying the odds against her, she found her place in the motion picture industry as a comedienne and vamp. I devoted a post to Fontaine when I was searching for her story.  I knew bits and pieces, but lacked the critical piece needed to put her life together.  Her family got in touch and filled me in. Her remarkable story is ready to be told.

 

Belle Bennett

Belle Bennett

Belle Bennett became a teenage mother while appearing in her family’s traveling circus. Once in Hollywood, she denied her motherhood, passing her son off as her brother. Ironically, an accident took the boy’s life, just as Belle was preparing for the mother-of-all roles in Stella Dallas (1925). Belle was stricken with cancer and died at the dawn of talkies.

 

Edwina Booth

Edwina Booth

While Edwina Booth survived the mysterious illness she contracted in the wilds of Africa while on location for Trader Horn, the beautiful blonde was never the same. She disappeared from public view. For years, the world believed she had succumbed to her illness. Edwina, comfortable in her seclusion, never came forward to prove them wrong. Her family sheds light on her illness and later life.

 

Marie Walcamp

Marie Walcamp

Florence Deshon

Florence Deshon

 

Evelyn Nelson

Evelyn Nelson

Marie Walcamp, Florence Deshon, and Evelyn Nelson escaped illness, heartbreak, and disappointment by bringing down the curtain on their own lives. Suicide, it seemed, was the only way to set themselves free.

 

Jetta Goudal

Jetta Goudal

Valeska Surrat

Valeska Suratt

Jetta Goudal and Valeska Suratt committed professional suicide through out-of-control temperament and typecasting.

 

Peggy Shannon

Peggy Shannon

Peggy Shannon came to Hollywood as a successor to Clara Bow, The It Girl, who had broken down from too much “It.” In time, Peggy lost her own way. Hollywood was particularly cruel to this former showgirl and helped her realize that, while she might have been a replacement for Clara, she was a poor imitation.

 

Lolita Lee

Lolita Lee

Lolita Lee, a struggling dancer and movie extra, was hired to replace Barbara La Marr in the film Barbara was making when she finally burned out. Being an imitation of or replacement for anyone never guaranteed success. Lolita soon vanished.

Look for further information about the release of Hair Pins and Dead Ends.

The Sad, Soulful Eyes of Barbara La Marr

By Michael G. Ankerich

Brian Labrie, a reader of this blog, made an interesting comment regarding my June post on Barbara La Marr. How ironic it is that Barbara was dubbed “The Girl Who Was Too Beautiful,” but there doesn’t seem to be a lot of candid photos of her out there in cyberworld. I challenge you to look through their collections and find some relaxed photos of this actress with her family and friends.

Barbara (R) with actress Blanche Sweet.

You know by now that I am fascinated by this lovely creature, plain old Reatha Watson who became world famous as Barbara La Marr. She is on the top of the list of those I would want to interview if I could find my way back to 1920s Hollywood.

The exquisite Barbara La Marr

The other afternoon, I was researching an actress for my new book, Hairpins and Dead Ends: The Perilous Journeys of 18 Actresses Through Early Hollywood, when I came across an interview that British journalist Joan Drummond did with La Marr for Pictures and the Picturegoer (April, 1924).  While the screen siren was great at self reflection, this is most revealing  interview I have ever read with her. The story also included some lovely photographs I had never seen of Barbara. I will share some of them here.

Let’s visit Barbara through the eyes of writer Joan Drummond. I will set the stage for you.

We are high above Hollywood in Whitley Heights at the home of Barbara La Marr. It is the spring of 1924.

The La Marr home on Whitley Terrace.

Barbara is getting ready to go abroad where she will honeymoon in Paris with husband Jack Daugherty and began work in Rome on The Eternal City. The vamp is trying to settle down to a normal home life.  The year before she had secretly given birth to little Marvin and concocted a plan to “adopt” him from an orphanage in Texas.

When writer Joan Drummond showed up at the La Marr home, she first encountered a maid in a cretonne apron warming little Marvin’s bottle by the fireplace. When Drummond said hello, the woman turned from the fire.  It was not a servant at all; she was face to face with La Marr herself.

Drummond writes, “I found myself looking straight into the languorous black eyes and jet-black hair of the screen’s most popular vamp. I hadn’t recognized her out of her trailing gowns, and her silks and satins, black velvet and slinky robes.”

La Marr and son

Barbara gushed about little Marvin. “Isn’t he a beauty? Isn’t he just too sweet for anything?  He is going to be a fine man someday. I’m going to have him travel just as soon as he is old enough. I don’t want him to grow up like other men.  I’m through with men, you know.”

The writer made note of the bitter look in Barbara’s eyes.

Drummond wrote, “I thought of Barbara’s hard fight for recognition, and of her adventures, during those first chequered years of hers in California. I felt we were getting into dangerous ground. She had such depths of experience in her eyes that in spite of her young beauty I found it hard to credit the fact that to-day she is still only twenty-five.”

Rather than follow up in the Barbara Walters style of questioning, Drummond changed the subject to Barbara’s upcoming schedule.

“Busy, my dear? the actress replied. “I’m nearly rushed to death. I’m off to Rome in a few days to make The Eternal City for Goldwyn. It’s a holiday for me in a way, and really, I do think I deserve one for I’ve been rushed from studio to studio, and lot to lot for many months without a break. ”

Barbara and husband apply for a passport.

You must be tired? the reporter wondered.

“Tired? Never with work! It’s only life that makes me tired. Sometimes though my work makes me anxious. I lie awake at night and wonder whether I am really progressing, whether I am really giving the best of my soul to my art, whether I am really satisfying my public.”

As an good reporter does, Drummond let the moment of silence between them play out. Barbara opened up.

“I’ve had a lonely life,” the siren said. “I have known misery, and infidelity and soul sickness. I have known what it was to be all alone in the wide, wide world with not a human being to turn to for comfort. That is why I have brought Marvin here and given him a home. I couldn’t bear the thought of another morsel of humanity suffering as I have suffered.”

Then, Barbara plays with the facts and wanders from the truth. “For I was a foster child myself. My father was French and my mother Italian, but I never knew them. I was thrust out into the world at the age of four to earn my living as a dancer.”

Reatha Watson’s entry in the 1900 U.S. Federal Census. Her father and mother were from Illinois and Oregon. Barbara was one of five children.

Barbara told of her years as a dancer in her teens. Those years taught her about carriage and poise.

“Many a producer has asked me where I learned to walk with such ease and charm. My walk has won for me more than one part I am sure. That is no credit to myself–all dancers know the way.”

What about ambitions for acting?

“Always, in the bottom of my heart, but for many years  I crushed it down,” Barbara recalled. “I have felt, too, the ache to write; and indeed I have written. It was my pen that brought me indirectly to the screen. When I had been dancing for ten years or so, the life began to sicken me. I longed to create. I longed to express myself in poetry, and I wrote quite a number of verses that were accepted by American magazines.  Gradually I established a position as a writer and chance threw at my feet the offer of a post in the scenario department of the Fox Film Company.”

She wrote the scenario for His Brother’s Wife. Then she was tapped to appear before the camera.

“I have little time for writing nowadays,” Barbara said. “Since I started working in pictures, parts have come fast and furious. They say I am a type. They say they can’t think what they’d do without me now. Nita Naldi is a type, too. Consequently we must be two of the busiest women on the screen.”

She touched on two men who furthered her career in films: Douglas Fairbanks and Rex Ingram.

Ramon Novarro, Rex Ingram, and Barbara rehearse a scene for Trifling Women.

“I doubt if I should ever have been known to-day if it had not been for the piece of luck that brought Douglas Fairbanks to engage me for the part of Milady in The Three Musketeers.”  Ingram discovered her in the studio cafeteria when he was filming The Prisoner of Zenda and preparing for Black Orchids. “My walk — Oh, how often I have blessed that walk — caught his eye. He promptly came across and spoke to me. I was in luck that day. He gave me first the part of Antoinette de Mauban in The Prisoner of Zenda. In due course, he carried out the contract. And meanwhile I stayed on at the Metro studios to play the vamp in Quincy Adams Sawyer.

Barbara on the set of The Eternal Struggle with cast and crew.

Bess Meredyth reads her scenario of Thy Name is Woman to Barbara and others.

Drummond reminded her that the vamp in Quincy Adams Sawyer was played in “gingham and country mannerisms.”

“A vamp in any other dress is still a vamp,” Barbara laughed. “It’s the look in the eye that does it. Clothes don’t make much difference really.”

The sad, soulful eyes of Barbara La Marr.

The reporter questioned Barbara about her large, soulful eyes and how they helped create her image as a screen siren. Barbara confided that producers urged her to insure them against injury from “Sunlight arcs.” She took out a £5,000 policy.

Barbara was in a constant battle with her weight. Excessive dieting was partially responsible for her death in 1926.

Barbara continued, “Louise Fazenda once told me that I made her think of women at tombs. I think she was right. Sometimes I seem to get outside of my own sadness and look at it, and I know then what she meant.”

Barbara’s gowns were always spectacular.

When the interview was over, Drummond descended Whitley Heights and headed down into Hollywood. She relived her experience with the screen’s most popular vamp, especially her comment of being finished with men.

The reporter concluded, “I began to have a strong suspicion that the gentle art of leg-pulling was not unknown to Beautiful Barbara!”

Less than two years after her interview with Joan Drummond, Barbara La Marr was fighting for her life. The ailing actress is pictured with her father, William Watson.

“Amazingly Unusual” : Two new reviews for Dangerous Curves Atop Hollywood Heels

I’m always delighted when someone takes the time to read my books.  I’m thrilled when they take the time to review them and give their opinions of my work.  Dangerous Curves was a super fun book to research.  I’m working on a companion volume to be released in early 2014.

Here are the two recent reviews of Dangerous Curves.

Dangerous Curves atop Hollywood Heels: The Lives, Careers, and Misfortunes of 14 Hard-Luck Girls of the Silent Screen [Paperback] Amazingly Unusual

Dangerous Curves atop Hollywood Heels: The Lives, Careers, and Misfortunes of 14 Hard-Luck Girls of the Silent Screen [Paperback]

“Amazingly Unusual”

Michael G. Ankerich BearManor Media (December 5, 2010)

“We were like dragonflies. We seemed to be suspended effortlessly in the air, but in reality, our wings were beating very, very fast.” – Mae Murray “It is worse than folly for persons to imagine that this business is an easy road to money, to contentment, or to that strange quality called happiness.” – Bebe Daniels “A girl should realize that a career on the screen demands everything, promising nothing.” – Helen Ferguson In Dangerous Curves Atop Hollywood Heels, author Michael G. Ankerich examines the lives, careers, and disappointments of 15 silent film actresses, who, despite the odds against them and warnings to stay in their hometowns, came to Hollywood to make names for themselves in the movies. On the screen, these young hopefuls became Agnes Ayres, Olive Borden, Grace Darmond, Elinor Fair, Juanita Hansen, Wanda Hawley, Natalie Joyce, Barbara La Marr, Martha Mansfield, Mae Murray, Mary Nolan, Marie Prevost, Lucille Ricksen, Eve Southern, and Alberta Vaughn. Dangerous Curves follows the precarious routes these young ladies took in their quest for fame and uncovers how some of the top actresses of the silent screen were used, abused, and discarded. Many, unable to let go of the spotlight after it had singed their very souls, came to a stop on that dead-end street, referred to by actress Anna Q. Nilsson as, Hollywood’s Heartbreak Lane. Pieced together using contemporary interviews the actresses gave, conversations with friends, relatives, and co-workers, and exhaustive research through scrapbooks, archives, and public records, Dangerous Curves offers an honest, yet compassionate, look at some of the brightest luminaries of the silent screen. The book is illustrated with over 150 photographs.

Dangerous Curves atop Hollywood Heels: The Lives, Careers, and Misfortunes of 14 Hard-Luck Girls of the Silent Screen (Paperback)

My bookcase is full of books by William Drew, Anthony Slide, Eve Golden, and so many bios and autobiographys but in Dangerous Curves I read about 14 silent stars and eleven of them I never heard of. Yet, these women were stars who made several movies, they were not in the Mary Pickford or Gloria Swanson class, but they were stars none the less.

I wish that I were an English major so that I could write a review that would really stand out and get people to purchase this terrific book. The stories are so compleling and so many are heartbreaking. He was lucky enough to interview Barbara LaMarr’s son and there are new facts concerning her that have never been published. In everything I had ever read, including Jimmy Bangley’s piece in Screen Classic, it was said that she was adopted. Turns out that she wasn’t and that she had siblings, including a sister (and her boyfriend) who try to kidnap her.

The research on this book was extensive and this made the book so incredibly wonderful. If you are at all interested in silent film history, this is a “must have” and even if you aren’t, the stories of these ladies will really hold your interest.

 

Here is the other one:  http://tarahanks.com/2012/08/01/dangerous-curves-atop-hollywood-heels/

 

Dangerous Curves Atop Hollywood Heels

August 1, 2012 by marina72

Dangerous Curves Atop Hollywood Heels: The Lives, Careers and Misfortunes of 14 Hard-Luck Girls of the Silent Screen is an illustrated paperback by Michael G. Ankerich, published in 2010 by BearManor Media, and named by the San Francisco Examiner as one of the top silent film books of that year.

Ankerich’s previous books on early cinema include two collections of interviews,Broken Silence and The Sound of Silenceand a biography, The Real Joyce Compton.

‘Cultivate your curves,’ Mae West once quipped. ‘They may be dangerous, but they can’t be avoided.’ Of all the hard-luck stories of the silver screen, the earliest are among the most poignant.

Hollywood was a provincial backwater when D.W. Griffith expanded his Biograph company from New York to California in 1910. Within a decade, America’s film industry was booming. However, scandals involving stars like Fatty Arbuckle and Mabel Normand led to an increasing unease with the popularity of movies.

In 1921, Will Hays became head of the Motion Picture Producers and Directors Association, and gradually a strict moral code was imposed. This didn’t stop stars misbehaving off-screen, of course, but the magazine columnists of the day were ready to report every little mishap.

If the careers of movie actors weren’t precarious enough already, advances in technology posed another threat. Many skilled and experienced stars fell by the wayside in the late 1920s, brought down by their own peccadilloes and the coming of sound.

Ankerich avoids the best-known silent stars – such as Clara Bow or Louise Brooks, whose fates have been well-documented – in favour of those who are now all but forgotten. Of these, the most recognisable is Barbara LaMarr – dubbed ‘The Girl Who Was Too Beautiful.’

This monicker originated from when she was still a teenager in trouble with the law. Returning her to her parents’ care, the judge declared that, ‘There are no charges against (her) – unless it be that she is dangerously beautiful.’ She quickly became immersed in the nightlife of Los Angeles and New York, admitting that she rarely slept for more than two hours.

Barbara had a gift for poetry and was working as a scenarist when Mary Pickford encouraged her to take up acting. In 1922, she starred alongside Ramon Navarro in The Prisoner of Zenda. She bore a son in secret, later adopting him.

When Barbara died of tuberculosis at thirty, film producer Paul Bern arranged her funeral, remarking that she was ‘too beautiful to cremate.’ Her son was raised by actress ZaSu Pitts. Her surname would later be given to another beautiful brunette, Hedy Lamarr.

Marie Prevost began her career as a ‘bathing beauty’ in Mack Sennett’s two-reeler slapstick comedies. After being snapped up by Universal’s Irving Thalberg, Marie burned her bathing suit on Coney Island.

After finding new fame in The Married Flapper (1922), Marie appeared in three films directed by the great Ernst Lubitsch; The Marriage Circle and Three Womenin 1924, and Kiss Me Again in 1925. That year, she scored another hit withBobbed Hair.

But Marie’s life was dogged by tragedy. Shortly after she was dropped by Warners in 1926, Marie learned that her beloved mother had died in a car crash. When her own car later hit a young girl (who was unharmed), a haunted Marie began drinking heavily.

By the late 1920s, Marie’s weight gain was hindering her from winning roles. Her final star vehicle was Cecil B. DeMille’s The Godless Girl in 1929. Still, she never gave up, and for several years she worked as a contract player for MGM.

Her comeback was cut short in 1937, when Marie died in a house-fire. She wasn’t found for three days. Her friend, Joan Crawford, paid for her funeral, which was attended by many Hollywood luminaries. Crawford lamented that they had not been able to help Marie sooner.

Mary Nolan was born into dire poverty, and raised in an orphanage. At thirteen, she fled to New York and established herself as one of the leading artists’ models of the day, posing for the likes of Norman Rockwell.

She became involved with a married musical star, Frank Tinney, whose frequent beatings led her to attempt suicide. She was fired from the Ziegfeld Follies and moved to Europe. On her return to America in 1927 she changed her name to escape her sordid past.

In 1928, Mary achieved stardom in West of ZanzibarDesert Nights, with John Gilbert, followed in 1930.But Mary was now embroiled in another abusive relationship, with MGM producer Eddie Mannix.

Addicted to narcotics, Mary became increasingly erratic. She was fired from What Men Want at Universal, and married a stockbroker who had just lost his $3 million fortune. After setting up a dress shop in New York, Mary went bankrupt and failed to pay her employees. She was jailed for thirty days.

Her final film was made in 1933. She tried to launch a new career as a nightclub singer, but was often in debt and spent time in a psychiatric ward. During the late 1940s, she sold her story to a tabloid newspaper. Then, in 1948, she died of a Seconal overdose. A sentimental poem was left at her bedside. Mary had written in the margin, ‘If only this were true.’

Juanita Hansen, like Marie Prevost, was one of Mack Sennett’s discoveries. After signing to Universal, she starred in serials like The Brass Bullet and The Lost City. But in 1918, while recovering from a serious bout of flu, Juanita began using narcotics to sustain herself during long working days.

Her last film was made in 1923. She credited Dr John Scott Barker with helping her to kick drugs. Unfortunately, she was arrested in a bust soon after, which she believed was a police set-up. When Dr Barker’s clinic was shot down, Juanita defended him in court.

She was devastated by the death of her friend, Mary Thurman, in 1925. Three years later, Juanita was badly scalded in a hotel shower.

When society beauty Evelyn Nesbit named Juanita as a co-respondent in her 1933 divorce from long-estranged husband Jack Clifford, she was once again plunged into scandal.

For the rest of her life, she worked tirelessly as an anti-drugs campaigner. Her 1938 book, The Conspiracy of Silence, argued that addicts should be given hospital treatment, not criminalised. In this respect, she was decades ahead of her time.

Though Juanita suffered an overdose during a brief relapse in 1941, she remained an inspiration to others until her death twenty years later.

Some of Ankerich’s stories are more light-hearted. Rudolph Valentino’s bride, Jean Acker, locked herself in her room on their wedding night, only surfacing when her alleged lover, Grace Darmond (star of The Valley of the Giants) arrived.

And in 1946, former silent screen star Alberta Vaughan was arrested while dancing in men’s underwear on the roadside for a bemused crowd of G.I.s, in exchange for cigarettes – only to repeat the spectacle in her jail cell, explaining, ‘A girl’s gotta smoke!’

Not all of the ‘hard-luck girls’ met a hapless fate. After taking advice from director Howard Hawks, Natalie Joyce declared, ‘I’ll never get anywhere in this business because I won’t put out!’ She later married and opened a beauty salon.

Eve Southern, whose acting career was cut short by a toboggan accident in 1932, continued to work behind the scenes as a retoucher, pianist and composer.

Dangerous Curves Atop Hollywood Heels illuminates a neglected area of cinematic history. If novelist Jacqueline Susann had been around in the 1920s,Valley of the Dolls would probably have read a little like this book.

Ankerich clearly knows his subject, adding a filmography and footnotes to each chapter. His next book, Mae Murray: The Girl With the Bee-Stung Lipswill be published in October, and he is currently writing a sequel to Dangerous Curves.

 

 

My Visit with Barbara La Marr

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

My 2011 visit with Barbara La Marr.

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

Crimson prints from Barbara La Marr

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

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

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

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

Barbara and son

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mr. and Mrs. Jack Daugherty

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

Barbara and Jack’s passport photos

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

Sadly, the La Marr – Daugherty marriage failed.

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

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

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

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

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

Somewhere, back of the sunset,

Where loveliness never dies —

She dwells in a land of glory,

With dreams in her lifted eyes.

And laughter lives all about her,

And music always in the air;

She is far from all thoughts of sadness,

Of passion, and doubt, and care!

The flowers of vanished April,

The lost gold of summer’s mirth,

Are wrapped, like a cloak, about her,

Who hurried, too soon, from earth.

And we who have known her splendor —

A beauty that brought swift tears;

Will cherish her vision, always,

To brighten the drifting years!

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

Lest we forget?  Not a chance!

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

Discovering Old Hollywood Among the New – My 2012 Tinseltown Adventure

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

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

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

Alma Rubens died in this house in 1931.

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

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

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

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

The pond and the Hollywood Sign.

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

Mother Goose

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

That peacock got close ……

… and closer!

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

Barbara La Marr’s final resting spot

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

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

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

This is the best I could do.

Michael’s shadow over Mae’s marker

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

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

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

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

A favorite book from my collection.

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

Check out his dedication…..

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

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

Thelma’s beach home

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

Thelma’s garage

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

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

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

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

When Night Time Comes

This tattered page from a mid-1920s movie magazine has inspired me for decades. It is one of my treasures. When I was writing Dangerous Curves atop Hollywood Heels, the stories of 14 young women who became actresses in silent films and suffered in their personal and professional lives along the way, I kept this poem and photograph close to be desk–and heart

When I journey out to modern-day Hollywood, this image goes with me. When I walk or drive down Hollywood Boulevard, I try really hard to imagine the little town that existed in the 1920s, that “silent, resting town” that has “wept, and laughed, and worked, and known desire.” I imagine those earth-bound stars whose faiths were lost and whose plans went awry.

Of the ones I wrote about in Dangerous Curves, I believe it is the tragic lives of Barbara La Marr, Marie Prevost, Olive Borden, and Lucille Ricksen that touched me most. When that project was over, I had trouble letting go of  Lucille Ricksen, who joined the heavenly stars in1925. In future postings, I want to share with you items from the scrapbook Lucille and her mother compiled. This enthusiastic teenager, who was thrust into leading lady roles much too early, crammed too much living into her young life. I wish Lady Moon had kept closer watch over little Lucille.

Lucille signed this photograph for "Daddy".