“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.

 

 

Lucille Ricksen — Sacrificed to Hollywood

By Michael G. Ankerich

Of all the actresses I researched and wrote about in Dangerous Curves atop Hollywood Heels, none have stuck with me more than Lucille Ricksen.

Lucille Ricksen, a kid playing adult roles.

Her death in 1925, at the age of 14, still troubles me. I grieve for the loss of a teenager who became one of the first causalities of Hollywood. If ever there was anyone who was helplessly sacrificed to Hollywood, it was little Lucille, who, at 13, was dubbed the “Youngest Leading Lady” in moving pictures.

Lucille Ricksen signed this portrait for her father.

Our story begins in Chicago.

Under the direction of her mother, Ingeborg, Lucille’s career began almost from the time she could walk.

Lucille (R) and her brother, Marshall. Also, a lock of Lucille’s hair.

Lucille first worked as a professional model in Chicago.

Early modeling photos of Lucille Ricksen.

From modeling,  Lucille worked on the legitimate stage for about a year. Then, Ingeborg took her five-year-old daughter to the Essanay Studios, where she signed her up for film work. She was cast as Baby Ericksen in The Millionaire Baby (1915).

A rather disturbing pose, perhaps the first attempt to make Lucille appear older than she was.

By the late 1910’s, Ingeborg’s marriage was on the rocks. Sensing her fortune lay in the Golden West, she moved Lucille and her brother, Marshall, from Chicago to Hollywood and put the family to work.

Ingeborg and Samuel Ricksen in happier days. The caption is written by Lucille.

In no time, producer Samuel Goldwyn signed Lucille to appear as the dainty sweetheart of Johnny Jones in Booth Tarkington’s Edgar comedy series.

For Lucille, it was like playtime all day. She could be mischievous and rambunctious in one scene or sweet and sentimental in the next.

Lucille in a scene from one of the Edgar comedies (1920).

Lucille loved her work. She wrote a letter of appreciation to her director, E. Mason Hopper, calling him the “most patient child’s director I have ever known.”

Lucille’s handwritten letter to director E. Mason Hopper.

In 1921, Lucille and Marshall, along with a number of the cast members of the Edgar series, were cast in The Old Nest, a film based on a short story by Rupert Hughes, Howard’s uncle. When the shooting was complete, Lucille was taken on a tour around the country to promote the Edgar series.

Lucille on the front steps of writer Booth Tarkington’s Indianapolis home. He is not home when she comes to visit on her publicity tour.

Although the schedule was grueling, Lucille had the time of her life. She diligently documented the summer in her scrapbook. She carefully pasted the newspaper clippings to the pages and wrote creative captions for each photograph.

Lucille and her mother on tour.

For the next year or so, Lucille continued to mature on the big screen. By the time she made The Married Flapper (1922) with Marie Prevost and Kenneth Harlan, the 12-year-old looked the part of an adult.

Lucille Ricksen, appearing grown-up as she stands with the crew on the set of  The Married Flapper.

The publicity machines went into high gear in 1923 when director Marshall Neilan chose Lucille to play the lead in The Rendezvous. Although not quite 13 years old, the studio and press declared her to be 16. She became “the youngest leading lady in movies.”

Lucille Ricksen with director Marshall Neilan.

In The Rendezvous, Lucille plays the unhappy wife of a Russian official. One visiting reporter to the set noted how strange it was to see Lucille in the leading lady role. “Those Edgar Comedies were Lucille’s only childhood–the only chance to play with children her own age. That is what makes her different. It is almost uncanny how different she is. It makes you sorry and it makes you glad.  You long to see those pigtails flying in the wind and the cheeks snapping with bright color, instead of the all-day session playing the abused wife of a “horrid” Russian, interpersed with reading about Bernhardt and talking with older men and women.”

Lucille Ricksen in a scene from The Rendezvous.

Equally disturbing — to me — is her revelation that Marshall Neilan (her director) and Sydney Chaplin, who was also in the film, were two of her new best friends. Disturbing, because of their reputations as Hollywood “bad boys” and skirt chasers.

Moreover, in December 1923, The Billboard noted that Lucille and Chaplin had recently married.

It is doubtful, given Lucille’s age and the watchful eye that Ingeborg hopefully kept on her daughter and breadwinner of the family.  My research failed to uncover any marriage certificate for the two in Los Angeles in 1923.

Through the first half of 1924, Lucille went from picture to picture at an alarming rate. She completed an astonishing 10 features in a little over seven months.

One can’t ignore the look of exhaustion on Lucille Ricksen’s face.

The grueling pace finally caught up with the teenager. That summer, while her films were being released, Lucille was fighting for her life. While the movie-going public was building her up, Lucille was secretly breaking down.

Ingeborg sent Lucille into seclusion, hoping that a few months of rest would make her good as new. Despite her best efforts, news about Lucille’s emotional breakdown leaked out.  Her mother offered little information.  “Nervous breakdown–that’s all. No, she can’t think of working now–not for four months at least. She must have rest–lots of it. After that, perhaps.”

News of Lucille Ricksen’s breakdown made headlines.

Lucille’s doctor was more candid. “Miss Ricksen is a high-strung enthusiastic girl, full of ambition and energy,” Dr. J. F. McKitrick said. “She crowded too much work into too short a time, and overtaxed her capacities. Other youthful stars have done the same thing.  The result is that she has had a complete physical and nervous collapse–so complete that she has not rallied from it as she should.”

With no money coming in, Marshall Ricksen quit school and found work to support his mother and sister.

Lucille and Marshall Ricksen in a Melbourne Spurr portrait.

One morning before daylight, Ingeborg thought she heard Lucille cry out for her. As she was speaking to Lucille and adjusting her covers, Ingeborg collapsed over her daughter’s bed. Lucille’s screams brought Marshall running into the bedroom. He tried to lift his mother from atop Lucille. It was no use. Their mother was breathing her last. “Take care of yourself, dear,” she said. Ingeborg died two days shy of her 45th birthday.

Lucille sank deeper into despair. Their Hollywood friends came to her aid. Paul Bern made sure Lucille had around-the-clock nurses. Actress Lois Wilson sat by her bed for hours at a time.

Lois Wilson signed this portrait to Lucille Ricksen.

Samuel Ricksen, their father, who lived nearby, reappeared to offer his support. Lucille and Marshall asked actor Conrad Nagel and Rupert Hughes to become their guardians.

Three weeks after her mother’s death, Lucille, surrounded by her brother and Lois Wilson, gave up her fight for life.

Lucille Ricksen died in her Hollywood home on Gardner Drive.

Following an Episcopal service, the ashes of Lucille and her mother were placed in a bronze urn and interned at Forest Lawn (Glendale).

Photos of Lucille’s urn at Forest Lawn.

Lucille’s death certificate gives pulmonary tuberculosis as the cause of her death. Newspaper accounts blamed a nervous breakdown brought on by overwork. Contemporary references have cited a botched abortion as the contributing factor.

Lucille Ricksen’s death certificate

The bright spot of the story centers around Lucille’s brother, Marshall. With the support of Conrad Nagel and Rupert Hughes, Marshall enrolled in the University of California. He majored in law and became a successful lawyer in the San Francisco area.

Marshall Ricksen lost both his mother and sister within a month.

His two twin boys also became attorneys. Their father never talked about the devastating losses of his mother and sister. The memories were too painful.

Little Lucille Ricksen crammed a lifetime of work and living into 14 short years. She was exploited by an industry that thrived on make believe. Her innocence was snatched before its time. In real life, she was rushed hurriedly through her childhood and bypassed the years one needs to become an adult.

A leading lady at 13.

As the breadwinner of her family, she was cast in adult roles in rather complicated adult situations, but she was still a kid at heart. Her mother, perhaps struck blind by the Klieg lights of fame, waited until it was too late to pull her little Lucille to safety.

Note:  Thanks to the Ricksen family for making Lucille’s scrapbooks accessible during my research.  Most of the images in this blog entry are from those treasures. 

True Story … Do we know the true story?

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

The Afterlife of Eve Southern

It was the question mark ( ? ) that got my attention.

Over the years, when I researched the lives of silent film players, I would come across the name Eve Southern. Her entry, whether in film encyclopedias or on Internet blogs, would give a date of birth. There was always a question mark for the date of death. No one seemed to know whatever became of Eve Southern.

I keep this photo of Eve Southern on my desk for inspiration.

I like question marks. I am challenged by mysteries.

In 2009, I needed a challenge.

It had been a little over 10 years since I wrote my last book, The Sound of Silence. I seemed to have lost interest in writing. My good friend and inspiration, silent film historian Roi Uselton, who grew up in the 1920s a devoted film fan, developed Parkinson’s Disease and slowly slipped away. He had been my mentor. I thought, “what’s the use?”

Roi Uselton and actor William Janney

My main thrust had always been documenting the memories of the remaining silent film actors. Barbara Kent was my last interview. By the late 1990s, the players of the silent screen were fast going the way of the dinosaur.

It was about that time that I embarked on a spiritual journey in an effort to figure out God and determine how I fit into life on this big rock called Earth. It was a circuitous route that took me around the world for some 10 years. Read about those years in my spiritual memoir, Drag Queens at the County Line and Other Spiritual Adventures.

On a spiritual adventure in Honduras.

I’m just not sure when I will get around to writing it, because I still haven’t figured it all out.  Isn’t that the whole point of a journey? Maybe there’s no end to it!

It’s the question marks that nag at me.

Eve Southern was one big question mark.

The enormous eyes of Eve Southern.

What became of this odd-looking creature of the silent screen? With her enormous eyes and long lashes, Eve looked almost supernatural.

A supernatural Eve.

With her belief in reincarnation and spiritualism–she once claimed Mary Queen of Scots as a past life, how could this woman have vanished into history?

Eve

As an actress, she is little more than a footnote in history, but I love reading footnotes. It is there that you sometimes find the most interesting ingredients of a story.

Eve appeared in almost 30 films from 1916 through the mid-1930s. It seemed she was on the cusp of something big happening in her career, then it would be taken from her.

D.W. Griffith discovered her for the movies, but after he retired temporarily, she was set adrift. Another time, it was a director who had big plans for her. But, he left the studio. Charlie Chaplin gave her a plum role in A Woman of the Sea, but the film was never finished or released.

She got her chance to shine as the Miracle Girl in The Gaucho (1928) with Douglas Fairbanks and Lupe Velez.

Lupe Velez, Douglas Fairbanks, and Eve Southern in The Gaucho (1928).

She received the best reviews of her career. For several years, she played leads opposite such actors as Malcolm McGregor and Walter Pidgeon.

Eve Southern and Malcolm McGregor in Stormy Waters (1928).

Then, a series of accidents from 1929 to the early 1930s finished her career and almost took her life.

From there, the trail of Eve Southern grew cold.  She disappeared.

Tracing Eve.

Beginning in 2008, that haunting question mark in her biography sent me searching through newspapers and archives. I would reach a dead end, become discouraged, and close her file. The question of her whereabouts would nudge me and I’d start afresh.

I won’t bore you with the details, but I was able to learn Eve’s real name from her short-lived marriage in 1925. From there, I researched her family and sent queries through the mail. “Are you perhaps a relative of Elva McDowell, who became Eve Southern in the movies?”

A phone call confirmed the identify. “Elva McDowell, or Eve Southern, was indeed my aunt. I knew her well.”

Identifying Eve.

Wally McDowell filled in the gaps about his Aunt Elva. After her career ended in the early 1930s, she disappeared behind the camera and worked as a retoucher in the photography department of a movie studio. She continued to live with her parents in Hollywood for the rest of their lives.

Wally often asked his aunt, still a beautiful woman, why she didn’t return to the movies. Her automobile and toboggan accidents had left her with nagging pain that prohibited her from standing long periods of time. Wally’s father (Eve’s brother) kept a close eye on Elva over the years and made sure she had everything she needed.

She lost her battle to Parkinson’s Disease in 1972. She was buried in Valhalla Cemetery in Burbank.

At Eve Southern’s final resting spot at Valhalla Cemetery. She is buried beside her mother, Lucille.

Through my long search for the whereabouts of Eve Southern, I felt a strange, rather spiritual, connection to her.

Feeling the need to tell her story, I began researching the lives of other silent film actresses who had perilous journeys through Hollywood. The idea for a new book was born.  The book, Dangerous Curves atop Hollywood Heels: The Lives, Careers, and Misfortunes of 16 Hard-luck Girls of the Silent Screen, was released in 2010 and was named one of the top 10 silent film books that year.

I dedicated Dangerous Curves to Roi Uselton and Eve Southern.  My dedication read, “For Roi Uselton, who first introduced me to many of these hard-luck girls of the silent screen; for Eve Southern, who finally introduced herself and inspired me again.”

Thanks, you two!

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".