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!

 

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.

 

Cover3

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.

barb03

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.

 

Gibson1

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.

 

Screen Shot 2014-03-01 at 8.08.58 AM

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.

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!