Mae Murray’s Hollywood

A very young Mae Murray.

About the time Mae Murray came to Hollywood.

Mae Murray was working in the Ziegfeld Follies of 1915 in New York when she signed with Lasky Studios and boarded a train for Hollywood.

She reported to work at Lasky Studios at the corner of Vine Street and Selma Avenue in Hollywood.

Layout of Lasky Studios in the mid-1910s

Layout of Lasky Studios in the mid-1910s

Visitors to Hollywood now see a vast parking lot at the corner of Selma and Vine where the Lasky Studios once stood.

Corner of Selma and Vine

Corner of Selma and Vine

Mae took a room at the nearby Hotel Hollywood at the corner of Hollywood and North Highland.

1916 census showing Mae living at Hotel Hollywood.

1916 census showing Mae living at Hotel Hollywood.

Hollywood Hotel

Hollywood Hotel

In 1918, Mae married her director, Robert Z. Leonard. They lived in a house at 1542 North Martel Avenue.  High rise condos now stand on the site.

1542 North Martel Avenue

1542 North Martel Avenue

In 1925, Mae starred in her biggest picture, The Merry Widow, at MGM.  Check out this footage from a 1925 studio tour.

MGM studios in 1925.

MGM studios in 1925.

MGM took over the old Triangle film studios in 1924.

The old Triangle studios

The old Triangle studios

While in the middle of one of her tirades during the filming of The Merry Widow, Mae was asked, “Just who do you think you are?”

“The Queen of MGM,” she snapped!

The Queen of MGM.

The Queen of MGM.

Mae considered herself the Queen of Hollywood when she married Prince David Mdivani in June 1926.

All smiles at the Mdivani-Murray wedding

Rudolph Valentino, Pola Negri, Mae, and her Prince were all smiles at the wedding of the season.

Their big day began with breakfast at Falcon Lair, Rudolph Valentino’s estate overlooking Beverly Hills. On a personal note, no trip to Hollywood was complete until I drove up the winding Bella Drive to  Falcon Lair.  Since learning the famed home of Valentino was razed in recent years, I can’t bear to see the site.  It’s heartbreaking to lose this piece of history.

Falcon Lair

Falcon Lair

They motored to the Church of the Good Shepherd in Beverly Hills, where Mae said yes to becoming a princess.

Church of the Good Shepherd, 505 N. Bedford Drive, Beverly Hills.

Church of the Good Shepherd, 505 N. Bedford Drive, Beverly Hills.

Their vows spoken, the Mdivanis and the wedding party gathered at the Ambassador Hotel for the reception.

The Ambassador in its heyday.

The Ambassador in its heyday.

Valentino, Mae, and David Mdivani at the reception.

Valentino, Mae, David Mdivani, and Pola Negri at the reception.

While Mae believed she had ascended to the top echelon of filmdom, she was actually in a teetering position that would soon spiral downward.

Mae sunk money into a grand home at 13047 San Vincente Blvd.

Mae and the "House that Jack Built."

Mae and the “House that Jack Built.”

It was designed and built by the infamous architect and sometime actor Jack Donovan. Mae came to her senses when she realized the structure had many flaws.  Equally as humiliating was the realization that she had bought rooms of fake antiques. Mae and the Donovans (Jack and his mother) spent years and years in court over this one!

Mae's home at  13047 San Vincente Blvd., from a bird's eye view.

Mae’s home at 13047 San Vincente Blvd., from a bird’s eye view.

Street view of the entrance to 13047 San Vincente Blvd. today.

Street view of the entrance to 13047 San Vincente Blvd.

In 1927, Mae built a castle on the sands in Playa Del Rey.  Some said it resembled a mosque.  Mae found herself in court when the city of Los Angeles said she had built the mansion too close to the water.

Mae's castle on the sands in the distance.

Mae’s castle on the sands in the distance.

Looking south.

Looking south.

When her finances were siphoned off and her career and marriage were in shambles, Mae’s beloved house was auctioned off.  The sea threatened to retake its ground.

The sea was a constant threat to Mae's seaside mansion.

The sea was a constant threat to Mae’s seaside mansion.

The house was eventually moved back from the beach. It became a dorm house for Loyola University.  It was later razed. I found the location (6300 Ocean Front Walk, Playa Del Rey) in 2012.

A view of the spot where Mae's beachfront house once stood, 2012.

A view of the spot where Mae’s beachfront house once stood, 2012.

Hollywood knew the marriage of Prince and Princess Mdivani was in trouble when he knocked Mae to the floor at the fashionable Embassy Club at 6763 Hollywood Blvd.

The Embassy Club and Café Montmartre in the 1920s.

The Embassy Club and Café Montmartre in the 1920s.

The Embassy Club is long gone. Today, the Hollywood Wax Museum occupies the building. At least the building has been preserved.

The Embassy Club is long gone. Today, the Hollywood Wax Museum occupies the building. At least the building has been preserved.

Mae long denied the existence of any immediate family. She kept  brother William quiet by providing money for the support of his family. A family blowup occurred in the late 1920s when Mae’s sister-in-law confronted the actress on the street in front of the Orpheum Theater in Los Angeles, where Mae was appearing in a vaudeville act.

The Orpheum Theater in the late 1920s, 842 S. Broadway,  Los Angeles.

The Orpheum Theater in the late 1920s, 842 S. Broadway, Los Angeles.

The Orpheum Theater in modern times.

The Orpheum Theater in modern times.

Mae’s brother and family once lived in this modest house at 1124 Poinsettia Place in Beverly Hills.

Mae's brother William lived at 1124 Poinsettia Place in 1930.

Mae’s brother William lived at 1124 Poinsettia Place in 1930.

After losing her castle in Playa del Rey, Mae and her son, Koran, lived for a time at the Lido Apartments at 6500 Yucca Street in Hollywood.

Lido Apartments in Hollywood.

Lido Apartments in Hollywood.

William King, Mae’s brother, was living at 1967 N. Wilcox Avenue in Hollywood when he got into a scrap with police.  He died from his injuries in February 1948 at County General Hospital.

William King's apartment in 1948.

William King’s apartment on N. Wilcox.

William and Ann King rest at Hollywood Forever Cemetery.

The marker for Mae's brother and sister-in-law.

The marker for Mae’s brother and sister-in-law.

 

 

Mae was honored with a star on Hollywood Blvd. in 1960.  Look for it at 6318 Hollywood Blvd.

Once a star, always a star!

She was living at this apartment house at 628 S. Ardmore Avenue, Los Angeles, in 1960, when she suffered a stroke. Hollywood thought it had lost its Girl with the Bee-Stung Lips.

Mae's home in 1960.

Mae’s home in 1960.

Mae is carried from her apartment after suffering a stroke in 1960.

Mae is carried from her apartment at  628 S. Ardmore after suffering a stroke in 1960.

 

Mae was living at the Garden Court Apartments at 7021 Hollywood Blvd. when she was discovered wandering the streets of St. Louis, Missouri, in 1964. The Motion Picture Relief Fund paid for her airfare back to Los Angeles.

Garden Court Apartments, Mae's home in 1964.

Garden Court Apartments, Mae’s home in 1964.

Mae lands in Los Angeles after her sad adventure in St. Louis (1964).

Mae lands in Los Angeles after her sad adventure in St. Louis (1964).

 

Following a stroke in 1964, Mae moved into the Motion Picture Country Hospital. She died there in March 1965.

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The Motion Picture Relief Fund paid for her spot at Valhalla Cemetery in North Hollywood.

Mae's marker at Valhalla.

Mae’s marker at Valhalla.

After having studied her life and career, I’m rather sad I never got to meet the Girl with the Bee-Stung Lips. Guess this is closest I’ll ever come!

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Mae, in living color.

Mae, in living color.

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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!