Hairpins and Dead Ends: A review by Diane MacIntyre

Hairpins and Dead Ends: The Perilous Journeys of 25 Actresses Through Early Hollywood
By Michael G. Ankerich

Reviewed by Diane MacIntyre.
This is companion book to his Dangerous Curves ‘a top Hollywood Heels– The Lives and Careers and Misfortunes of 14 Hard-Luck Girls of the Silent Screen. It’s not hard to imagine Hollywood as a treacherous goldfields that stretch beyond the horizon. The miners are minors who have no inkling of what being a screen star is or refuse to believe there is no gold for them.

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Edwina Booth’s quest for fame almost killed her

Yes, some will hit a vein, nuggets here and there. Some will find the finest gold sand and powder that slip through their fingers so rapidly and finally only fools gold. There is a price to pay for every bit. What Hollywood gives with one hand it takes away with the other. Rabidly, painfully even deadly.

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Alma Rubens: Going, going . . .


The victims are of their own making from a deep burning fire in their bellies to succeed where only a tiny fraction do-for a time.


Youth is everything. Actress Belle Bennett was willing to call her sons her “brothers” and made them live that way (They were never to refer to her as “Mother”) to give more of an illusion of youth. How far would you go to realize you dream?


Among the 25 their are some famous names-Belle Bennett, Edwina Booth, Virginia Lee Corbin, Marjorie Daw, Jetta Goudal, Mary MacLaren, Lottie Pickford, Alma Rubens, Barbara La Marr, and Alice Lake. Mr Ankerich fleshes out their life stories to bitter middles and ends.

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Belle Bennett


Most all the rest with names like Lila Chester, Lolita Lee and Mona Lisa – nary a flicker. But they all had that unquenchable fire to shine not burn.

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Margaret Gibson, never far from trouble

My eyes burn with tears as I write this. I do not have the deep desire but every one of their stories is molded to draw out my emotions, for their agonies and ultimate defeats.

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Barbara La Marr in tears

What were the misfortunes of betrayals, the casting couches and the ultimate rejection, that caused enormous exhaustion breakdowns and the darkest of depression? These face about every screen performer. I would like to ask them all-Was it all worth it?

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A sad ending for Helen Lee Worthing

But I leave it to you to decide.


You won’t know until you read how well Mr. Ankerich opens our eyes and minds to a subject that is still a big problem over 100 years later. Congratulations for another finely polished book with dozens of illustrations and footnotes. I hope you find it as compelling and shattering as I did.

(Photos for this blog were selected by Ankerich)

Fontaine La Rue: Her story told in Hairpins and Dead Ends

Fontaine La Rue fascinated me for years, but she was elusive. I wanted to know what became of her and what her life was like before and after she left films. She was Dora Rogers, the Keystone Vamp, in the 1910s, and Fontaine La Rue in the 1920s. That I knew, but what became of her?

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Dora Rogers

I hit a number of dead ends. But, I was on the right track. Just before pulling out the old Ouija board from the attic and calling the spirit world, I did a blog on her, Fontaine La Rue, where are you?  Fontaine didn’t get in touch, but her family did!

You can now read her story in Hairpins and Dead Ends!

They adored their grandmother and great-grandmother and were eager to tell what they remembered about her. They filled in all the missing pieces and I provided some information they didn’t know.

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Fontaine La Rue

One thing I learned, Fontaine was short. Just over five feet. Fontaine La Rue, I concluded, was a small woman with a big name.

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She was also into the paranormal; she used a Ouija board. I located her big home in Hollywood, the one built with her “picture” money. I visited her final resting spot in Calvary Cemetery.

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Fontaine’s final resting place in Calvary Cemetery

As grateful as I am to her family for telling me about their mysterious relative, I have often wondered what would have happened had I dusted off my old Ouija board and tried to contact Fontaine myself?

Hairpins and Dead Ends — Barbara La Marr’s Early Years

I featured Barbara La Marr’s life and career in Dangerous Curves.  I came away convinced that her teen years were more interesting than any film she made in Hollywood in the 1920s. At least, those troubled years set Barbara on a course of self-destruction that would end her life in 1926.

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A teenage Barbara La Marr

When I began working on  Hairpins and Dead Ends, I knew the beautiful Barbara would make a reappearance. Unlike many sirens of the silent screen, Barbara was raised by two  seemingly stable parents and her siblings play an important part in her story. I spend a lot of time in her chapter piecing together her family tree and identifying those wild branches that seemed to have delved into blackmailing and extorting wealthy paramours.

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Reatha Watson (Barbara La Marr), left, and her wild and unruly half sister, Violet June (right)

Much of the chapter is constructed using Barbara’s diary from 1916 and Robert Carville’s unpublished account of his romance with the budding dancer.

You will come away feeling as though you were looking over La Marr’s shoulder as she fought with her family, abandoned sleep for the nightlife, battled tooth disease, took money from men in exchange for her company, and drank her way from one nightclub to another. I would recommend that you take a break — and a nap —  after you’ve finished this chapter.

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The first page of Barbara La Marr’s diary in her own handwriting

If you thought you knew everything about the “girl who was too beautiful,” get a copy of Hairpins and Dead Ends and find out the rest of the story.

 

Hairpins and Dead Ends: The Dedication

When it came time to dedicate Hairpins and Dead Ends, I couldn’t settle on one, so I chose two important ladies in my life, two larger-than-life characters who had perilous journeys of their own: silent film actress Lina Basquette and Carol Ankerich, my mother.

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My mom has been gone over two years and the wound is still raw. She left a hole in my heart that no one will ever fill. I wrote about her illness and death in a blog, Losing Mom and Maebelle. 

Here are some glamour pix of mom and me.

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Here’s a glamour photograph of Lina. Now, there was a siren. My buddy, silent film historian Roi Uselton considered Lina his ideal movie vamp. She was smoldering.

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Lina was my first silent film interview. I featured her in my book, Broken Silence: Conversations With 23 Silent Film Stars. She was also one who remained in my life until her death. We spent a lot of time together. In some ways, she was like a grandma to me.

When she came through the South,we’d hook up. She was the first person I saw who traveled with a portable bar stocked with her favorite liquor. Lina loved her cocktails before dinner.

At my request, she drove to Atlanta one weekend to screen one of her films and to sign her memoir. I booked her across from the Fox Theatre. She called me from her hotel.

“Michael, this is Lina. I’ve just arrived. I’m here at this dreadful Days Inn. The rooms  remind me of my vaudeville days.”

“Oh, no,” I say.

“Can we find another hotel?” You bet!

We did.  She was happy at the Renaissance Inn.

After the screening and book signing, Roi and I went back to her room. Lina curled up in bed and nibbled on Pepperidge Farm cookies and gossiped about this one and that until the wee hours of the morning.

Well, the stories go on and on. Someday, I will write in more detail about Lina.

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Lina and Michael on a cold November morning at a Katherine’s Kitchen restaurant in Georgia.

My mother and Lina were as different as water and oil. While both were gorgeous women, Mom was very shy and reserved until she got to know you; Lina never met a stranger.

Both of these unforgettable women made a significant impression on me. I love and miss them!

 

The Hairpins and Dead Ends Address Book

Old Hollywood still exists, but you have to look for it. While researching Hairpins and Dead Ends, I spent a lot of time in the rat race that is Los Angeles 2017 trying to understand what it was like in, say, 1912 or 1926.

As a biographer, it is important for me to visit the homes and graves of those actresses I write about. It helps me to better understand my subjects.

What follows are some of the addresses where the actresses lived, loved and died.  I have been to most of these places and I want to share them with you.

If you’re in the Los Angeles area, visit these for yourself. Arm yourself with a trusty map or GPS and a copy of Hairpins and Dead Ends. If not, the addresses and photographs take you on a personal tour through old Hollywood, where Hairpins and Dead Ends takes place.

We’re on the Hollywood Freeway heading south. Take the next exit, Highland Avenue. That puts you in the heart of Hollywood. Have fun!

 

Note: The addresses are in the Los Angeles area, unless otherwise noted.

Belle Bennett

2132 N. Highland (1924)

6180 Temple Hill Drive (late 1920s)

Belle Bennett’s Temple Hill Drive home

 

Valhalla Cemetery (final resting place)

Belle Bennett’s marker at Valhalla

 

 

Edwina Booth

 

1133 Fremont Avenue (1927)

Edwin Booth lived in this S. Pasadena house in 1927 (1133 Freemont Avenue)

 

5047 W. 21st Street (April 1930)

1948 Fletcher Avenue

Edwina Booth’s 1948 Fletcher Avenue home in the 1930s

140 Linden Avenue (last home)

1847 14th Street (Santa Monica) Woodlawn Cemetery (final resting place)

 

Lila Chester

306 West 20th Street, New York City (1935)

118-32 202nd, New York City (last home)

Lila Chester’s last home

 

61-40 Mount Olivet Crescent, Middle Village, New York (Fresh Pond Crematory, final resting place)

Virginia Lee Corbin

5154 Franklin Avenue (1917 – 1918)

1755 Ivar Avenue

Virginia Lee Corbin lived at 1755 Ivar Avenue in Hollywood

2028 Beachwood Drive (1920s)

Virginia Lee Corbin’s Hollywood home in the 1920s (2028 Beachwood Drive)

 

Marjorie Daw

7733 Maie Avenue (1917)

Marjorie Daw lived at 7753 Maie Avenue in 1917

 

8091 ½ Sunset Blvd. (1924) with Eddie Sutherland

9550 Wilshire Blvd. (Beverly Wilshire Hotel) (1930)

910 Benedict Canyon Drive (1930s) with Myron Selznick (site)

964 Palisades Beach Road, Santa Monica (1930s)

Marjorie Daw’s beach house at 964 Palisades Beach Road, Santa Monica

 

7151 Little Harbor Drive, Huntington Beach, CA (last house)

17772 Beach Blvd. (Huntington InterCommunity Hospital) (death place)

 

Florence Deshon

6220 Delongpre Avenue (1920)

Florence Deshon lived here at 6224 De Longpre Avenue

Margaret Gibson

1337 5th Avenue (Santa Monica, 1915)

432 ½ Commercial Street (location of Margaret’s arrest, 1917)

432 1/2 Commercial Street, site of Margaret Gibson’s 1917 arrest

 

120 South Grand Avenue (1920)

2324 N. Beachwood Drive (1923)

525 North Gramercy Place (1930)

Margaret lived at 525 Gramercy Place in 1930

 

1434 Morningside Court (1937)

5161 Templeton (1942)

6135 Glen Oak (last residence, location of confession)

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6135 Glen Oak where Margaret Gibson confessed to the murder of William Desmond Taylor

 

Holy Cross Cemetery (final resting place)

Jetta Goudal

Ambassador Hotel (1920s) (site)

8320 Fountain Avenue (1930s)

875 Comstock Avenue (1972)

401 S. Burnside Avenue (1975)

1712 S. Glendale Avenue (Forest Lawn Great Mausoleum, Sanctuary of the Angels, Glendale) (final resting place)

Alice Lake

6624 ½ Hollywood Blvd. (1920) (site)

1622 Wilcox Avenue (1930)

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Alice Lake’s 1930 residence (Mark Twain hotel)

6767 Yucca Street (1935)

Alice Lake lived here in 1935 (6767 Yucca Street, Hollywood)

 

6015 Monterey Road (last residence)

Alice Lake’s final residence, 6015 Monterey Road

 

2415 South Western Avenue (place of death)

Valhalla Cemetery (North Hollywood)

 

Barbara La Marr

1329 ½ Figueroa Street (1913)

1507 W. Pico (Faust Apartments) (1914) with Lawrence Converse

1507 W. Pico Blvd.

 

2408 S. Grand Avenue (Rockwood Apartments) (1914)

2408 S. Grand Avenue

 

822 W. 12th Street, Medford, Oregon (parent’s home) (1916)

Medford, Oregon, home of Barbara La Marr’s parents

307 W. 98th Street (1916) with Robert Carville (New York City)

1234 Boston Avenue (death house)

404 Riverside Drive, NYC (1925)

6672 Whitley Terrace (1920s)

Hollywood Forever Cemetery (final resting place)

 

Fontaine La Rue

709 Ceres Avenue (1912)

1802 N. Van Ness Avenue (1920s)

Fontaine La Rue’s 1920s home at 1802 N. Van Ness Avenue in Hollywood

 

12722 Washington Blvd. (1930)

3803 W. 8th (1930s) with Wayne Hancock

318 W. 17th Street (1938) (site)

5439 Hollywood Blvd. (1940s – 60s)

1174 North Hobart (last home)

4201 Whittier Blvd. (Calvary Cemetery, final resting place)

M Rogers Hancock (Fontaine La Rue)

 

Lolita Lee

1382 N. Ridgewood Place (1927)

2100 N. 49th Street, Philadelphia (last residence)

Eglington Cemetery, Clarksboro, New Jersey (final resting place)

 

Mona Lisa

647 S. Grand Avenue (1907) (site)

145 South Beaudry (1909) (site)

1356 S. Bonnie Brae (1926)

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Mona Lisa lived in an apartment at

5101 Melrose Avenue (1932)

801 South Kingsley Drive (1940) (site)

5717 Camerford Avenue (1950)

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Mona Lisa lived at 5717 Camerford Avenue in 1950

10948 Morrison (North Hollywood) (death house)

Inglewood Park Cemetery (final resting place)

Katherine MacDonald

127 North Manhattan Place (1917) (site)

Corner of Pico and Georgia (her studio in 1921)

121 S. Rossmore (home of Katherine and mother Lillian)

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Katherine MacDonald built this house at 121 S. Rossmore in 1923

235 Hot Springs Road, Santa Barbara (1920s – 1956)

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Katherine MacDonald lived at 235 Hot Springs Road in Santa Barbara from the late 1920s to 1956

 

Mary MacLaren

6541 Hollywood Blvd. (1916)

6830 Whitley Terrace (1917)

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Mary McLaren lived at 6830 Whitley Terrace in 1917

127 North Manhattan Place (1917-1982) (site)

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Mary MacLaren (R) sits with a neighbor on the front porch of her dilapidated home at 127 N. Manhattan Place (about 1981)

975 North Virgil (last residence)

Forest Lawn (Glendale) (final resting place)

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Estrellita del Regil (the Lady in Black) weeps at the casket of Mary MacLaren at Forest Lawn in Glendale (1985)

 

Marion McDonald

2294 Alcyona Drive (1928-1930)

Marion McDonald lived in at 2294 Alcyona Drive high in the Hollywood Hills in the late 1920s

 

6561 Franklin Avenue (1940)

1443 W. 21st Street, Sunset Island, Miami Beach (last residence)

Woodlawn Cemetery, Miami, Florida (final resting place)

Evelyn Nelson

6231 Delongpre Avenue (death house – site only)

The house where Evelyn Nelson committed suicide is now a parking lot for Southern California Hospital

 

1831 West Washington Blvd. (Rosedale Cemetery, final resting place, unmarked)

Based on cemetery records, Evelyn Nelson rests in this unmarked grave at Rosedale Cemetery (Hollywood)

 

 

Lottie Pickford

56 Fremont Place (1920)

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Lottie lived in this mansion at 56 Fremont Place with sister Mary and mother Charlotte

1001 Elden Avenue

6622 Iris Drive (1928) (scene of party)

Lottie’s Christmas Eve party house (1928)

 

6524 ½ Franklin Avenue (1928)

1428 North Crescent Heights (1933)

577 Burlington Avenue (death house)

 

Alma Rubens

1834 El Cerrito Place (1926)

1475 Havenhurst (Andalusia Apartments) 1928 (location for Alma’s wild parties)

Alma Rubens lived here, 1475 Havenhurst Drive in 1928

 

Intersection of N. Wilton Place to Hollywood Blvd. and in direction of Van Ness (path of Alma’s escape when she learned she was returning to the sanitarium)

Alma Rubens escaped from her home on N. Wilton when she was being committed to a sanitarium. She fled down N. Wilton and up Hollywood Blvd toward Van Ness.

 

1745 N. Wilton Place (1929) (site)

112 N. Manhattan (death house)

Alma Rubens died at 112 North Manhattan Place, Hollywood

 

 

Jean Sothern

Upper Octorara Cemetery, Parkesburg, PA (final resting place)

 

Valeska Suratt

 

Albany Apartments, 51st Street and Broadway, New York City (1916)

 

Marie Walcamp

6051 Sunset Blvd. (1914)

6113 Salem Place (1916)

1042 Sanborn Avenue (1917-1918)

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Marie Walcamp lived at 1042 Sanborn Avenue in 1917 – 1918

1014 North Vermont, Los Angeles (1919-1920)

4320 Melbourne Avenue (1930)

Marie Walcamp lived here in 1930 (4320 Melbourne Avenue)

 

6116 Scenic Avenue (death house)

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Marie Walcamp died here at 6116 Scenic Avenue

Helen Lee Worthing

Ambassador Hotel (1926)

3439 W. 60th Street (1927)

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Helen Lee Worthing’s residence in 1927 (3439 W. 60th Street)

2171 Vista Del Mar (1929) with Dr. Eugene Nelson

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Helen Lee Worthing lived at 2171 Vista Del Mar in 1929

Intersection of Sunset and Portia Street (Helen found here passed out, 1946)

Helen Lee Worthing was found passed out at this intersection (Sunset and Portia) in 1946

1062 North Serrano Avenue (death house)

Inglewood Park Cemetery (final resting place)

 

 

 

 

 

Hairpins and Dead Ends: The Girl on the Cover

By Michael G. Ankerich

After the title Hairpins and Dead Ends came to me, there was only one photo destined to be the cover. Edwina Booth with her hair in pins.  Well, maybe they aren’t supposed to be hairpins, but you get the picture.

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Edwina survived a mysterious illness she contracted while on location in Africa for Trader Horn (1931). The beautiful blonde was never the same. She soon vanished from the screen and public view. Many believed she had succumbed to her disease. Comfortable in her seclusion, Edwina never came forward to prove them wrong.

She was one of the actresses I sought for an interview in the 1980s. It was impossible. She would speak to no one about her career and illness.

While researching Hairpins and Dead Ends, I contacted her cousins and nieces who told me the real story behind Edwina’s life, particularly her later years and marriages.

Edwina Booth is featured in Hairpins and Dead Ends.

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Hairpins and Dead Ends is Waiting! Are You Ready for the Journey?

You survived Dangerous Curves ‘atop Hollywood Heels, my 2011 book about ill-fated actresses of the silent screen . . .

. . . but are you ready for the companion book, Hairpins and Dead Ends: The Perilous Journeys of 25 Actresses Through Early Hollywood? Get ready!  It’s here.

 

My new book takes you on a hair-raising rollercoaster ride through a time when Hollywood was surrounded by orange groves, not concrete jungles, and into the intimate lives of 25 beauties, ambitious nobodies who wanted to be somebodies.

Several became twinkling stars, while others settled as serial queens, slapstick vamps, bathing beauties, western heroines, and everything in between. While many young hopefuls abandoned their quest for fame and returned home disappointed, here are the stories of women who stayed, often to a bitter and tragic end brought on by drugs, booze, and suicide.

Through my intensive research, which includes interviews with relatives of the actresses, I’ll take you into the dark side of Tinseltown, a world of dope rings, whorehouses, gin joints, and other gritty hellholes some called home.

Lavishly illustrated with over 160 photographs, many from family scrapbooks, Hairpins and Dead Ends uncovers a world that offered passion and imagination, but functioned on illicit love, domineering mothers, desperation, greed, abuse, and discrimination.

The screen images of these 25 dazzling beauties were fleeting shadows. Their personal passions and struggles in real life held more drama than any role they clamored to play. These ladies make up the ghosts of Hollywood’s past.

Ready?  Let’s go!

 

 

 

Losing Momma and Maebelle

Before the crystal ball dropped in Time’s Square last year, before the bubbles from the champagne flute tickled my nose, I knew 2015 was going to be one hell of a year, a year of heartbreak and change and one I would never forget. In fact, I made a New Year’s resolution for 2015:  “Survive it!”

Some of you have asked about my absence from the pages of this blog over the past nine or so months. I’ve tried to keep an upbeat and somewhat comical tone to my posts, but there’s no way to spin it.  2015 has been tough. What is that old saying, “Life happens when you’re making other plans.”  Well, friends, I guess you could say I’ve been living life.

Our New Year’s Eve party was as festive as ever, but something wasn’t right with Maebelle, our 16-year-old poodle. She’d once been the life of our parties, begging to be carried, hugged, and loved. After our parties, I would slow dance with her for the last tune of the evening. Tonight, she seemed to wander and stagger through the forest of high heels. Ms. Taylor, her twin, had long stopped enjoying parties. When she ventured out of her little bed, she went around in circles, blind and deaf.

Charlie with Ms. Taylor and Maebelle

Maebelle liked to stay close to me while I was writing; Tallulah is keeping watch

Maebelle liked to stay close to me while I was writing; Tallulah is keeping watch

Charle and I picked these little girls when they could lie comfortably in the palm of our hands. For 16 years, through good times and bad, they had been the closest we would ever have to children. Maebelle and I had a connection that went way beyond that of a canine and human. She was almost a soulmate.

And so, three days into the new year, Charlie and I arrived at that place where all animal lovers eventually come.  That nagging question: Are we keeping these darlings alive for our own pleasure when their quality of life had waned?

With Dr. Moshell’s help, our little babies went to sleep in our arms; Maebelle in mine, Ms. Taylor in Charlie’s. For you who have been through this, I don’t have to describe the gut-wrenching grief that comes from deep within your soul.

Charlie and I rallied around each other, treasuring Tallulah, our 5-year-old poodle girl.  She is black. We call her Tallulah Blackhead.

I waited a few days before breaking the news to my mom, who lived across the state. She was Mother Teresa to stray canines and felines in her neighborhood. She understood that strong bond between humans and animals. Mom cried when I told her about her “grandchildren.” “Poor little darlings,” she sobbed.

When we left my parent’s house after Christmas a few weeks before, I think Mom knew she would never again see Maebelle and Ms. Taylor. Did she know that morning when she held the puppies tight that none of us would ever again have Christmas with her? Mom knew she was sick; we all did, we just wasn’t ready to go there.

Michael and Carol

Mom and me

Mom and me in a rare Georgia snowfall

Mom and me in a rare Georgia snowfall

In October 2013, Charlie and I spent two weeks in Italy, our favorite vacation spot. I talked with Mom every other day or so while we were away. She said she was still fatigued, but “doing okay.” The afternoon we arrived home, Mom called. “Michael, I found out what is wrong with me.  I have leukemia. I didn’t want to tell you while you were on your trip.”

Not leukemia exactly, but something called Myelodysplasia Syndrome (MDS), a disease of the bone marrow that destroys the number and quality of blood-forming cells. The doctor was somewhat encouraging. While not a candidate for a bone marrow transplant, Mom could have some quality of life with chemotherapy. That is, weekly chemo treatments for the rest of her life.

Mom was a determined fighter. A red-headed hairdresser since the early 1960s, she was one tough 71-year-old. Chemo was the way it went for awhile. Fatigue seemed to be the primary side effect. Then came the fluctuating blood counts: hemoglobin, platelets, red and white blood levels. A monthly blood transfusion boosted her energy level.

Mom on Christmas Day 2015 with Lucinda and FeFe

Mom on Christmas Day 2015 with Lucinda and FiFi

By Christmas, Mom was clearly suffering from this disease. She’d get out of bed in the morning for a hour or two. Extreme fatigue and pain would send her back to bed, sometimes for the rest of the day. As a family, we’d never been that good at communication, so we all exchanged looks.  We talked about Mom’s illness among ourselves. My Dad and me. My Grandmother and me. What’s happening to her?

Before we left to come home, Mom called me into her bedroom. She wanted to talk. “I don’t want to die,” she said. “I’ve got to take care of your daddy and momma. I’m going to fight, Michael.  I’m not giving up, but you know I may not make it.”  Mom laid out her final wishes. Cremation. A memorial service at the funeral home. An Episcopal service was okay, “but not too many candles and crosses.” For music, she wanted Willie Nelson and Elvis Presley — luckily, their CDs would suffice. And one more question. Would Charlie and I consider taking Pancho, Lucinda, and FiFi, her rescue pups that never left her side?

Not surprisingly, Mom’s condition continued worsening into the new year.  Despite rain, sleet, or snow, my mom, driven by her saints (Dad, my Aunt, Peggy, and other close friends), made the 30-mile trek to the clinic to have chemo and her blood and platelet transfusions.

Mom getting one of her many, many treatments

Mom getting one of her many, many treatments

The transfusions that kept her alive from week to week were ordered more frequently. Nose bleeds, extreme pain in her bones, and crippling fatigue continued. We talked by phone most every day. The tone in her voice was becoming weaker and more somber. Our conversations were getting shorter.  In mid-February, I called Dr. Malik about her condition. As prepared as I thought I was for his report, it came as a jolt. “Your mom is now in the struggling phase, the decline phase, and approaching Acute Myeloid Leukemia (AML). I’m not throwing in the towel yet. There is one more treatment I want to try.”

In mid-March, Mom made the decision to close her beauty shop. Her customers had been loyal and had stuck by her. As hard as she tried, she no longer had the strength to keep going.

“Do you want to keep working?” I asked her.

In her weakest voice, she said, “I just want to lie down and go to sleep.”

Closing her business signaled a new chapter for Mom. She slipped into a depression that never left her. She cried more, became quieter and more withdrawn.

The next month brought weekly blood transfusions and iron injections, in addition to her chemo. Blood blisters developed in her mouth and on her tongue and lips. When blood began dripping from her nose, Mom wrote it off as a simple nosebleed. When she awoke one morning on a blood soaked pillow, her doctor ordered a platelet transfusion with a warning. “The next time this happens, Ms. Carol,” he said, “get yourself to an emergency room or you could bleed to death.”

Mom bottle feeding newborn kitties

Mom bottle feeding newborn kitties

In mid-April, a blood blister on her right wrist turned into a wound. The wound turned into a sore, the sore a hole. The flesh inside the sore turned black and smelled of dead flesh.

When I came home in late April to take her to appointments with her cancer doctor and a wound specialist, Mom was too weak to walk. I went into the bathroom where she sat. “There’s blood in my urine,” she said. “You know, Michael, this could be it.”

Mom made it to her appointment with the aid of a wheelchair. Blood tests were taken. Dr. Malik confirmed our fears.  “Oh, Ms. Carol,” he said, “your condition has progressed to Acute Myeloid Leukemia. Your white blood count is 280,000. I’m admitting you to the hospital.”

Lying in her hospital bed, Mom was a pitiful sight. Her arms black and blue from a year and a half of chemo and transfusions. Her lips caked with dried blood and sores in her mouth continued bleeding. A bandage protected the horrible sore on her arm. She was pale and weak, struggling to breathe. “I don’t want to die,” she cried. “What will become of my little babies? Gene and Momma need me.”

Mom's Hollywood pose

Mom’s Hollywood pose

Dr. Malik offered another type of treatment, a powerful infusion of chemo. No promises she would live through it, and if she did, she’d be in the hospital for three to four weeks with a poor quality of life.  “It won’t buy you much time,” he said. Mom made the sobering decision. “Dr, Malik, I don’t think I’m going to go through it. I think I’ve had enough.”

Mom went into hospice on Thursday, April 30. Her family never left her side. Before she slipped into the final coma, I said, “Thanks for being my momma. I love you.” “I love you, too.” she said. “Will you watch over me?” I asked. “Yes” she answered.

Charlie and I stayed with her through the night. We talked to her, held her hand. I studied her face as a painter studies his subject, trying to capture in my own mind’s eye the features of that beautiful face that I would soon never see again.

Mom died that morning at 9:50 a.m., May 1, 2015. “Go ahead, Momma, it’s okay,” I cried as she breathed her last. “It’s a beautiful day.” And it was a beautiful spring day. Mom’s suffering was over.

Holding Mom's hand

Holding Mom’s hand at the end

 

Her memorial service was a celebration of life. I spoke to the room full of Mom’s closest friends. “You’ve heard of Wonder Woman. My Mom was Wonder Woman. She could drive me to school on the back of her motorcycle, do three shampoos and sets in the morning, dig post holes in the afternoon, and make the best spaghetti supper that night.”

Grieving has been hard, my friends. Part of it is wondering how Mom is doing and where she is. The finality of it all is difficult. It’s the phone that never rings, yet I want it to ring with Mom on the other end. Why can’t Mom send a postcard to let me know she made it or send some kind of sign that she is okay.

I turned a corner in my grief about three months after Mom’s death.  I was lying in the floor somewhere between consciousness and sleep. Suddenly, with my eyes closed, Mom appeared. Her face was a younger Mom. Her voice so familiar. “Michael,” she said. “It’s just the way it is.” Then she was gone. I knew then that I was on a journey through grief, that I was not setting up residence there, that perhaps I would one day see a brighter day and not feel such consuming and overwhelming sadness.

As I write this, there is only three months left in 2015. It’s been nine months since Maebelle and Ms. Taylor went to puppy heaven. It’s been five months since Mom left. Life goes on, they say.

I am writing again after a long hiatus. My new book, Hairpins and Dead Ends, is coming along. I’m working on new interviews for this blog.  People ask me how am I doing.  By the grace of God, I am living my 2015 resolution. “I’m surviving,” I say.

 

Mom's one connection to the silent film era.  Through me, she knew actress Lina Basquette

Mom’s one connection to the silent film era. Through me, she knew actress Lina Basquette.