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!

 

That crazy book man?

 

What has happened to my peaceful office where Maebelle and Tallulah napped while I typed away on a new book or spent hours researching the whereabouts of a lost silent film siren?

That was then …..

working on mae

 

This is now ….

Screen Shot 2014-05-04 at 4.02.53 PM

Maebelle and Tallulah are no where to be found this afternoon. Ms. Taylor, our other poodle puppy is almost 16 and sleeps most of the day on the sofa.  Tallulah walks by occasionally and peeps in before moving on, her tail tucked low as if she is dusting the floor. They know something is going on in our little family.

Charlie, Maebelle, Ms. Taylor, Tallulah, and I are moving across town in less than a month. On this Sunday afternoon, I’m asking myself, “How the hell did two people accumulate so much in the 14 years we’ve been in this house?”

I’ve spent the past three days packing books, biographies to be exact.  By the time I got from Mary Astor to Florenz Ziegfeld, I had packed and taped 30 boxes.  Those are only the biographies. There’s still hundreds of reference books and countless clipping and biographical files packed away in two filing cabinets.

Thirty boxes of biographies

Thirty boxes of biographies

It’s not the best of times to be moving.  I’m on a roll in my research, I’m writing the companion volume to Dangerous Curves atop Hollywood Heels, and I’m leaving for LA in a couple of weeks to tape a show for Lifetime. Yeah, my dust is really stirred up.

My office is calmer days.

My office is calmer days.

I’ve been buying books since the 1970s. Perhaps it has become an obsession over the years. I’ve hauled suitcases full of books back from those (almost) extinct used bookstores in New York, San Francisco, and Los Angeles. I’ve always been of the opinion that there’s always room for one more. Now, I’m not so sure there is.

We’ve all heard about those crazy cat ladies, and I’ve known a few along the way. When things are back to normal, when I’m back from LA, when we’re settled into the new house and I’m back to writing my new book, I’m going ponder the nagging question, “Am I really that crazy book man that Charlie always said I was?” Now, however, I’m too busy; I won’t even go there.

Michael (L) and writer Jim Parish in a bookstore in Los Angeles in the early 1990s

Michael (L) and writer Jim Parish in a Los Angeles bookstore in the early 1990s

 

Mae Murray: The Girl with the Bee-Stung Lips — The First Announcement

The University of Kentucky Press has announced the release of Mae Murray: The Girl with the Bee-Stung Lips. Check it out.

Here are the details.  The official date is November 21, 2012. The biography is estimated to be 392 pages with almost 100 photographs, many of which have never been published. Just in time for Christmas,, I might add.  I’m just getting back from an adventure in Morocco, so you all may see it before I do. That’s okay!

I am starting a blog about Mae and the book in the coming days, hopefully before I leave for Los Angeles next week to research Hairpins and Dead Ends. In the new blog, I will share some photos that didn’t make it into the book and some thoughts about this extraordinary personality and how I approached the telling of her story.

I really like the cover design my publisher came up with.  Would Mae have liked it?  I ask myself the same question. Since she probably would not have been happy that her real story is being told, I have my doubts! With Mae, however, you never know . . .