The world according to Fontaine La Rue and other upcoming Hollywood adventures

By Michael G. Ankerich

If you know me at all, you know that I have a thing for actress Fontaine La Rue. I can’t call her my favorite actress because I’ve never seen one of her films.  I like her as a personality and for so many other reasons.

Fontaine La Rue

Fontaine La Rue

When I began searching for her about two years ago, I had no idea she would be so hard to track down. I devoted a blog to her early last year, Where are you, Fontaine La Rue?, when my frustration over dead ends almost led me to the attic on a quest for my old Ouija board.

Just about the time I opened the door and was headed into the dark attic to connect with the supernatural, the most amazing thing happened. Fontaine’s family got in touch and told me all about their grandmother, their aunt, their great aunt. It turns out that Fontaine was even more interesting than I realized.

The mysterious Fontaine La Rue

The ever mysterious Fontaine La Rue

I’m dusting off my wings and revving my engines for a flight out to Hollywood this weekend. I will continue the research for my new book, Hairpins and Deadends: The Perilous Journeys of 20 Actresses Through Early Hollywood, and will type away on some chapters that are ready to be written.

My main focus is getting better acquainted with Fontaine. I’m not meeting her face-to-face or chatting with her over tea, of course, but I’m visiting her final resting spot (since 1964) at Calvary Cemetery and those places that were special to her: her mansion on North Van Ness Avenue in Hollywood and St. Vincent de Paul, the church where Fontaine exchanged wows with her first husband, the father of her three children.

I’m devoting a chapter to Fontaine’s life and film career in my new book — how could I not? — so I’m not telling everything I know. I can tell you that everything I thought I knew about her at first was wrong.  How did Matilda Fernandez, a young immigrant from Mexico, survive family tragedy in her native country to find her way into the studios of the 1910s as Dora Rogers (later Fontaine La Rue) and vamp her way into the hearts of movie fans over the world.  That’s the story I want to tell.

There’s more in store for me in Los Angeles than just Fontaine. I’m doing some hiking and biking. I’m pouring through the Los Angeles Examiner archives, visiting friends, and dining at my favorite Chinese and Italian restaurants. Did I also mention that I am filming a scene for a documentary about a silent film actress I’ve written about in the past? Yes, my first experience before the camera, but I can’t miss the opportunity to talk about an actress whose heartbreaking story still haunts me.  I’ll fill you in on the details when I can.

Oh! Here’s another plea.  If you are a relative of actresses Vivian Prescott, Lolita Lee, Evelyn Gibson, or Lila Chester, please let me hear from you.  I have lots of clues, but I’ve reached a dead end on whatever became of them.  I’m also deep into research about Estelle Mardo. I want to know where she went after she disappeared and was never heard from again. Members of her family, equally perplexed, would also like to know.

There’s a lot of mystery about the early days of the film industry and those actresses who made their livings before the camera. It’s frustrating to someone who is researching and writing a hundred years after the fact.

That’s the way it is, my friends, with hairpins and dead ends.

 

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Where are you, Fontaine La Rue?

I admit that I’m a bit obsessed with Fontaine La Rue, the actress who started out in films in the mid-teens as Dora Rogers (Rodgers), a comedienne with Mack Sennett.  In the late 1910s, she changed her name to Fontaine La Rue and moved from comedy to vamps, vixens, sirens, and sorceresses.

When I say obsessed, here’s the story.  I want to include her in the book I’m currently working on, Hairpins and Dead Ends: The Perilous Journeys of 20 Actresses Through Early Hollywood, a companion volume to my 2010 Dangerous Curves atop Hollywood Heels.

Michael's Fontaine La Rue puzzle

Michael’s Fontaine La Rue puzzle

I have a folder full of pieces of the puzzle that made up Fontaine’s life, but I don’t have the missing pieces that complete the picture. She is one of those rare subjects for which I have solid information for the middle of her life.  However, I don’t know whatever became of her. I don’t know (for sure) when or where she died. I don’t even know where and when she was born.

Fontaine La Rue, where are you?

fontaine

The International Movie Database has dates for her birth and death. That’s all well and good, but lay down your cards. Show me the proof. As a meticulous researcher, I need to match those dates with birth certificates and death records.

I can find neither for this enchanting woman.

I have followed her rather successfully  through the decades. There she is in the 1920 U.S. Census  and numerous  Los Angeles city directories. She called herself married to one Louis La Rue, but records and other pieces of information show she was  living with a professor-turned-screen actor she’d been living with since the mid-1910s.

When she signed with Goldwyn in the early 1920s, she fills out a personnel profile, giving her parent’s names as Diego Monroy Bourbon Ferrar and Charlotte Bouchet. Her ambition in life is to educate her three children. Where did they come from?

She claimed decorating her home was her hobby, but her home life seemed a far cry from knitting afghans and hanging curtains. Somewhere in the ’20s, she was walking along her street in Hollywood when she was approached by a man dressed as a cop. He told her he was trying to arrest a man who was following her — that old story!! When she stepped into an orange grove with him, the man grabbed her around the neck and attempted to throw her to the ground.  The whistle she carried in her handbag saved the day — and her neck!

By the early 1930s, she was living with a real estate broker from Iowa. He later returned to Iowa and died there in the late 1930s. Dead end. No one in his family will talk with me.

After Fontaine La Rue faded from the silver sheets in the late 1920s, a notice appeared in Variety that one Ruth Madonna Antonelli was splitting from her husband.  Professionally, she was Fontaine La Rue, a dancer.  Several death and marriage certificates later, I concluded there had been two professionals by the name of Fontaine La Rue. As disappointed as it was, this Fontaine La Rue was NOT the one I was looking for.

I’ve traced Ms. Rodgers/La Rue to 1946.  After that, the trail goes cold. Dead end!

Fontaine as Dora Rogers

Fontaine as Dora Rogers

This old researcher believes there must be numerous dangerous curves in the life of this actress.  I want to know her story.

So far, I’m stumped! What do I do?

I’m almost to the point of contacting the spirits. I realize there are problems with that idea.  I can’t afford a psychic, I broke my crystal ball, I’m too chicken to have a seance, and my Ouija board is somewhere in the attic.

I also run the risk of getting dear Fontaine on the line and not being able to get rid of her. My life is too complex right now to have a spirit who played sorceresses and vixens hanging around the house and scaring my poodle puppies.

Finding Fontaine online and buried in a census report sounds like the way to go.  I’ll keep trying.