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!

 

Advertisements

A soon-to-be groom checks out past Hollywood ceremonies

With my nuptials less than a week away, I have been daydreaming about the famous wedding scenes from Hollywood’s silent era. There were some spectacular occasions, social events of the season that I imagine myself being part of.

The first one that came to mind was not a real marriage at all, but a celluloid union between Laurel and Richard. Laurel was Lois Moran; Richard is Douglas Fairbanks Jr. The film was Stella Dallas (1925), the tale of a  struggling mother, Stella (Belle Bennett), who sacrifices everything for her daughter, Laurel. Who can forget the soapy ending with Stella watching the marriage through a window, as she is unable to identify herself without spoiling the event. A cop adds insult to injury when he approaches a rain-drenched Stella and asks her to move on. A tear jerker, for sure.

Poor Stella Dallas!

I saw the picture, which I personally think is superior to the Barbara Stanwyck version, in the mid-1980s. I had interviewed Lois Moran for my book, Broken Silence, and we developed a correspondence that lasted until her death in 1990. During the course of our conversations, Lois mentioned she had a VHS copy of Stella Dallas, given to her by its director, Henry King. She generously offered to mail me the tape, so that I could see this classic story.  It became one of my top five favorite silent films. I’ll tell you about the others in later posts.

Lois also became one of my favorites. I was just embarking on a writing career, having started as a newspaper reporter in the mid-1980s. She was very encouraging and always closed her letters with, “Let’s Keep the Ink Flowing…..”

 

My favorite photo of Lois Moran

Not only did I keep the ink flowing between us, I also kept a steady flow of questions in motion.

Lois in a 1987 snapshot.

I was curious about her relationship with writer F. Scott Fitzgerald, for sure, but I was also very interested in her recollections about Stella Dallas and the famous wedding scene. Belle Bennett, having just lost a son, was like a mother to Lois and Doug Jr.  “She was an extraordinary woman with great charm, dignity, and warmth,” Lois said of Belle. If I ever write a follow-up to Dangerous Curves, my book about the tragic lives of silent film actresses, I will include Belle Bennett.  She had a difficult life that dealt her more than her fair share of disappointments.

If you have not read Richard Buller’s fascinating biography of Lois Moran, you must!  It is beautifully written and a fine tribute to a lovely actress of the silent screen.

I digress!  I was telling you about the daydreams I’ve been having about Hollywood marriages and how I imagine my own wedding in light of some of the most famous (infamous) weddings in early film history.

I certainly don’t want my nuptials to unfold like the 1926 marriage of director King Vidor to actress Eleanor Boardman at the home of Marion Davies. Eleanor told me, in an interview for Broken Silence,  that the ceremony was supposed to have been a double wedding, that John Gilbert and Greta Garbo were to have been married in the same ceremony.

The Vidor-Boardman wedding party. Too much drama for me!

Garbo failed to show up and a heartbroken (and drunken) John Gilbert flattened his boss, Louis B. Mayer, into the bathroom floor when Mayer advised the movie idol to sleep with, not marry, the great Garbo.  I’m not much for drama, so I’ll pass on this scenario.

I could also put myself into the union of Rod La Rocque and Vilma Banky in 1927, said to be the social event of the year, but who could compete with the beauty of Banky, not to mention the dashing La Rocque? I would still love to have been present at that event to see whether they were as beautiful in person as they appeared in photographs.

The Banky-La Rocque wedding

Oh, dear! Here we come to the Mae Murray and David Mdivani marriage in 1926. What an event this must have been, rubbing shoulders with film idols Pola Negri, Rudy Valentino, Agnes Ayres, and others. Although I am delighted that Mae’s granddaughter is coming to my big event next week, I can’t see myself in this marriage extravaganza.  I could never get my body into that famous Mae Murray pose, nor could I look quite as needy as Prince Mdivani.  Read the behind-the-scenes account of this famous pairing in my upcoming biography of Mae.

Prince and Princess Mdivani

My other favorite wedding story came from actress Ethlyne Clair, whose interview also appeared in Broken Silence. She married make-up artist Ernest Westmore in February 1930. They made a handsome couple, Ethlyne and Ern.

The happy couple, Ethlyne Clair (second from the left) and Ernest Westmore (second from the right), stands with actress Charlotte Merriam and actor John Davidson.

They spoke their vows among their friends at Hollywood Presbyterian Church. As the radiant bride and groom emerged from the church following the ceremony, Ernest’s first wife, Veoda, and their daughter, Muriel, were waiting on the church steps. Dressed in rags, the two stepped forward and disrupted the gay occasion with their pleas for some relief from their dire circumstances.

 

Ethlyne Clair's wedding nightmare made headlines over the country.

“Daddy, daddy, why don’t you pay mamma that money so I can go back to school?” his little daughter cried.  A court server then stepped up and handed Ernest papers, which question why he was behind $1,200 on alimony payments to his family.

It’s a bit difficult to see myself in the Westmore-Clair fiasco. I can’t envision anything like this happening at my wedding next week, as I don’t have any children running around (that I know of).

When I think about my own special event coming up in a few days in Brooklyn, my mind wanders back to that peaceful and sweet scene in Stella Dallas where Laurel marries Richard.  I like that one best of all.

I do, however, hope for better weather than the rain they had on their wedding night.  And, please, if we have any Stella Dallases hanging around outside in the rain, dry yourself off, come on in, and join the party!