Ready for her closeup: Amy Pierce confronts her troubling past life as a silent film actress

By Michael G. Ankerich

In my last blog, Lucille Ricksen, Reincarnation, and my Television Debut, I shared a bit more about my May adventure in Shadowland and introduced you to Amy Pierce and her mother, Theresa.  Amy and Theresa are featured in an upcoming episode of  Ghost Inside My Child, a Lifetime Movie Network series that airs August 23. The show explores Amy’s revelation that the spirit of silent film actress Lucille Ricksen lives inside her.

I spent some time with Amy and Theresa when we were in Los Angeles filming scenes for the show. My time with them and the Ghost Inside My Child crew turned out to be the highlight of my trip.

I’ve spent a lot of time in Hollywood researching days long past, the parade gone by. I dig beneath the surface to see old Hollywood among the current chaotic world that the modern day movie capital has become.  I love the bizarre and out of the ordinary, but I have to admit that it was a bit surreal to talk with a 17-year-old teen from Minnesota who insists that she once lived as Lucille Ricksen.

What would it be like to discover you had once lived another life, a life that ended tragically and mysteriously almost 90 years ago?

I asked Amy, who has the beauty and glamour of old Hollywood, to share her story.

Amy

Amy

 
Michael: How were you first introduced to Hollywood of the 1920s and how did you make the connection between your past life and Hollywood?  Did you first feel it was a connection to Hollywood or to Lucille Ricksen?
 
Amy: I grew up watching Shirley Temple films (like many little girls) and Hal Roach’s Little Rascals. I was drawn to the silent shorts of Our Gang.  I was obsessed with the finger waves, lipstick and such. At a very young age, I could tell my family how each and every Rascal died. To say the least, I was obsessed with the tragedy that took place upon some of the Rascals. Scotty Beckett being my favorite. One day, while browsing the internet, watching Shirley Temple videos, I came across a picture of Mary Pickford. I was drawn to her immediately and I started to branch out and find more silent stars.
 
My mother let me dress up and supported my new interest in silent films. At first, I thought it was only a fascination, not connected with my life in anyway. But as I started to watch more and more silent films, it dawned on me that I knew about the people — almost instinctively. I became in love with the shadow people of 1920s. I enjoyed Mary Pickford, Clara Bow, and all, but I was more interested in Olive Thomas and Martha Mansfield. The unknowns. When I was 12, I bought the Olive Thomas biography with my birthday money. This was when my life changed.
Olive and Jack

Olive and Jack

I had no idea who Jack Pickford was before reading this book, I only knew he was Mary’s brother. However, when I read the chapters including Jack, I felt angry. The accusations and bad talking him – I knew in my heart that all of it was not true. Something inside of me told me that he was a nice man, just misunderstood. I became mad at myself for all of these things that I had felt. I wanted to save Jacks name but didn’t know why. Why should I care about a man who has been dead since 1933? 
 
Michael: Tell me a bit about your childhood and how it came about that you discovered you had lived before.  
 
Amy:  I never talked. I did not speak until I was about 5 years old. I could — there was nothing wrong with me, I only chose not too. I let my mother speak for me when it was needed. I was a bit of a loner, and still am. I enjoyed being alone, playing dress up and playing with my dolls. But I was a very happy child! I realized that I had lived before while I was watching old films. I was familiar with the hairstyles, the language and all. It wasn’t odd to me like most other children would find it. I would miss a lot of school because of difficulty sleeping. I need and love my rest.
 
My mom understood this so missing school was a weekly thing for me. I’ve always needed alone time. I didn’t have very many friends and I don’t recall ever telling them that I’ve lived before. I remember though, one day some kids were talking about the The Little Rascals. I jumped in, of course, and started naming off a bunch of kids — Jackie Cooper, Wheezer, and so on. They had no idea what I was talking about. Every other kid had watched the 1990s film version of the Rascals. I watched the 1920s and 30s Rascals. That was the first time it hit me that I was different than most kids. I mainly just kept to myself all that I was dealing with. I didn’t want to sound crazy.
 
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Michael: How did your friends react?
 
Amy:  I mainly just kept to myself all that I was dealing with. I didn’t want to sound crazy.
 
Michael: Do you remember the day that you came to the realization that you were once. Describe that day for me and the emotions you went through.
 
 Amy: I cannot remember the exact moment I realized I was Lucille. I wish I had an amazing story to tell, but I don’t. All I know is that I found a photo of her (when I learned of Lucille there were only two photos of her on the internet. It was before your amazing blog post of her) and I felt like my body was out of this world. I was so drawn to the photograph. I knew absolutely nothing about this girl, not even her name at that point, but I felt so connected.
 
I still have traits as I had when I was Lucille. I’m basically the same, only more shy. I was actually excited when I realized everything! It all clicked. I was obsessed with dying young and tragic child stars. It all made sense at that point. Jack Pickford! I worked with him in a film and was good friends with him. Of course, I wouldn’t like any bad talking about him. I knew him! The real him. And the never talking. I was a silent film star. I didn’t need words, just action.
Theresa and Amy

Theresa and Amy

 
Michael: How did your parents react over your revelation that the spirit of a silent film star lived in their daughter?  With your mother being psychic, perhaps they were 
a bit more understanding than other parents might have been.
 
Amy: When I told my mom, she did not say anything. I basically showed her a picture of Lucille and said, “Hey, see this girl? Her name is Lucille Ricksen and I believe that I was her in my last life. She was a famous actress in the 1920s. Her mom collapsed and died on top of her. She died when she was 14.” I left her with that. She didn’t have anything to say, really. Talking about it now with my mom, she says that she felt so sad and even a bit disturbed with the story. She didn’t want to believe that such a horrible thing could have happened. For her to think that it happened to her daughter — she was heartbroken. She didn’t really know how to act.
 
I’m not even sure when my father found out, to be honest. He’s not so much into past lives and such. He’s supportive. He’s never once doubted me; neither has my mother. They stand by me and I am thankful for that. One thing that I have to point out, even though my mother is a psychic, she has never once pushed me into that field. I have four siblings who have absolutely nothing to do with it. I found it on my own.
 
Michael: The crew from The Ghost Inside My Child came to Minnesota to film scenes in your home. Your niece played you as a young child and an actress portrayed you at age 
12.  Tell me about that experience.  Was it generally known in your neighborhood that the crew was coming?  Did your friends know?  
 
 
Amy: I was SO excited!! It was so much fun. They came on a Wednesday and I had to go to school that day. I had a French test which I probably failed. I was so excited thinking that a film crew was at my house. I got to skip school the next day and be there for the re-enactments.

The scene where Amy shows her mother a photo of Lucille Ricksen and tells her she once lived as the silent film actress

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Amy’s niece portrayed Amy as a five-year-old

I put pin curls in my niece’s hair and we watched Shirley Temple films. She had brought tap shoes and mimicked Shirley. It was so cute! They filmed her playing and watching Buster Keaton’s, The General. Mainly, she just got to play on camera! She did us all proud. The 12 year old, Sylvia, was fantastic! We filmed her getting dolled up and there was a Jack Pickford scene which I loved. The crew decorated my brothers room with a giant Jack poster with a bunch of little posters and pictures of him everywhere. It was a cute, sentimental scene. The neighborhood didn’t know about the filming. We did some filming outside and it was fun to see people’s reactions as they drove by. I felt like a huge movie star! It felt natural and normal. I like having the cameras, mics, and lights in my face. Only my close friends knew about the filming.
Amy comes to Hollywood

Amy comes to Hollywood

Michael: Was it generally known in your neighborhood that the crew was coming?

Amy: The neighborhood didn’t know about the filming. We did some filming outside and it was fun to see people’s reactions as they drove by. I felt like a huge movie star! It felt natural and normal. I like having the cameras, mics, and lights in my face.
 
Michael: Did your friends know?
Amy: Only my close friends knew about the filming.
 
Michael: The next week, you and your mom came to Hollywood to film you at Lucille’s final resting place at Forest Lawn and in front of Lucille’s home, the place where she died.  What 
were your general impressions of Hollywood? 
 
Amy:  I LOVED Hollywood! I had a blast. I miss it very much. It felt like home to me. 
Amy at Lucille's final resting place

Amy at Lucille’s final resting place

 
Michael: Tell me about visiting Lucille’s final resting place.  What feelings did you have when you visited the home where she died?
 
AmyI tend to look at my life as Lucille in a positive way. I was a movie star who worked with wonderful people. I don’t like to focus on the last months. I ignore my mother’s death and dying. I remember it but I don’t like to think about it. It’s still painful for me.  I was excited to see the urn. But once I saw it, I was overwhelmed. I was already in a panic because we couldn’t find the urn. We even called you so you could help us, and once we found it, I was hit with a million emotions. I did not know that my father’s ashes were mixed in with mother’s and mine. I saw our names on the urn.
 
The thing that got me the most is that the urn was turned towards the window, facing the sun. It was morning while we were there and the sun was shining directly onto the urn. I wondered who had turned the urn. I still wonder. I only stared at it for a few minutes. I couldn’t manage to do anything else. Then I finally broke down and started crying. It brought back memories of my mother dying. The last few weeks alive without my mom were filled with horrible pain. How could anyone cope when something like that happens? It was tough but I’m glad I saw the urn. I let it all out and have since moved on.
The crew film Amy and Theresa in front of the house where Lucille died

The crew film Amy and Theresa in front of the house where Lucille died

We went to the house were Lucille died and that was an odd experience in itself. We were not allowed to go inside — although we tried (I couldn’t resist asking the house owner), but I walked around the house and tried to take it all in. It felt odd just walking around it. I felt like I needed to be inside. It was my house, I should be inside of it. 
Amy and Theresa get a closer look at the house where Lucille died

Amy and Theresa get a closer look at the house where Lucille died

 
Michael: What additional revelations did the trip to California open for you? Did the trip affirm anything for you?
 
AmyIt was an honor just to be able to go. I missed more school, which was fine by me, and was treated wonderfully by the crew. And I got to meet you! Which was incredible and a dream of mine. You shared some amazing photos of Lucille with me and I am very grateful for that. I enjoyed walking around and seeing all of the history of LA. It was a nice experience. 
 
Michael: Thanks, Amy!  I enjoyed meeting you and your mom. How has the whole experience changed you?
 
Amy: It has changed me for the better. Going to LA and talking to you, I now have answers to some questions I’ve always had regarding my last life as Lucille. Some questions I have can never be answered, I realize now. I guess I learned not to dwell on things anymore. Desperately seeking pictures, videos and documents on every bit of Lucille’s life, is okay to do, but only in moderation. Basically, I would try to go back and live in those moments again. Be with the ones I loved again. I didn’t really live my life as Amy, who I am now. I’ve learned to embrace the girl I was and not to let it dictate my whole life. I have a new chance at a better life and living it right. I should not mess it up by trying to change things that cannot be undone.
Michael and Amy after the filming of our scene

Michael and Amy after the filming of our scene

 
Michael: How do you feel that, in a few short weeks, your story will be out there for all to, see and hear?
 
Amy: I am very nervous but excited! I feel that I am ready to share my story with the world and I am also prepared for any negative feedback. People may not “get” it or agree with it, but it was something that I needed to do. So I did it. I also feel that it’s definitely time to share Lucille’s story! People need to know and understand what happened to her. She will live in the shadows no more. Hopefully it will open people’s eyes about what could happen to a young child in Hollywood. The way the press and media handle the whole thing with Lucille was awful. They milked her death for all it was worth! At least, that’s what I think looking back.
Lucille Ricksen

Lucille Ricksen

 
Michael: There is still mystery around Lucille’s death.  What actually killed the actress? Tell me about the events leading up to her death as you know them. 
 
Amy: Now, this is all what I believe happened to me/Lucille. As I remember it. I have no proof and will likely never get validation about what I believe but I stand by it. I do not want to reveal too much, but I believe that tuberculosis was not the cause of death. Exhaustion — yes, but so much more than that. I remember one man who was not so kind to me. A man who loved young girls. You know who it is, but I think I’ll leave people in suspense for a bit. It may be on the show. I talked about him and what happened while filming.
 
In February 1924, I believe, I became pregnant. In May, the baby was gone. I think everyone can come to a conclusion about how the baby became “gone”. It was a lot of different elements that contributed to the untimely demise.  I would have made it if mother did not die. When she was gone, so was I. As Amy, I still feel regret and sadness for the things I had done. I adored Paul Bern as Lucille. He was so nice, but I treated him not so kind after my mother’s death. I became mean to everyone! Eighty nine years later, I can see how life played out for all my friends.
 
Finding that Paul committed suicide is hard for me. I had been unkind to him at one moment in time. But he stuck with me until the end. Though I had been bratty the last few weeks, I truly felt bad for Marshall. I knew and had decided that I was going to die, he was on his own.
Amy as Marilyn

Amy as Marilyn

I’m still trying to come to a conclusion about what exactly killed me as Lucille. I don’t think I am meant to ever find out what truly happened. What I remember were horrible memories, and there could still be more horrible memories to surface. I don’t know if I could handle any more. I don’t mean to not share or be sneaky or anything, I just haven’t come to terms with things that I had done as Lucille yet. I need to figure it all out in my head before I try to analyze and share it with the world. I only know pieces of it. Some, I’ve shared, and some I did not.
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Michael: Have you ever given thought to who you might have been before Lucille?  
 
Amy: Yes! I’ve always thought that I must have been living in England and was a seamstress. I’ve always had a thing, as Lucille, and even now, for all things British. And I’ve always adored fashion and clothing! 
 
Michael: What are your future plans?
 
Amy: I’m currently working on a book about my life as Lucille. It’s coming along nicely but it is difficult to write. I hope to finish it soon. As for school, I will be a senior this year, and I am thinking about attending acting schools for college. Acting or literature. I can’t make up my mind! I would like to write biographies on my favorite film stars. I’ve been thinking about doing one on Jack Pickford. I don’t think anyone else will so it shall be me!
Amy reclines with Jack Pickford's star on Hollywood Boulevard

Amy reclines with Jack Pickford’s star on Hollywood Boulevard

 

Don’t miss this thought provoking episode of Ghost Inside My Child on Lifetime Television Network, Saturday, August 23.

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Madge Bellamy and the Stranger Inside

Madge Bellamy told me that she had spent her life trying to understand the stranger inside of herself.  During our conversations, the subject was never far from her thoughts.

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In Madge Bellamy: A Friendship Cut Short, Madge talked about her childhood and how she got into show business. In this concluding installment, Madge talks about Hollywood, the Hollywood she remembered. Note: Madge’s quotes are in italics.

Madge's Barbara La Marr pose

Madge’s Barbara La Marr pose

Your first film was The Riddle: Woman with Geraldine Farrar.

She was my idol, but she ignored me completely. I remember her gestures. I remember her great happiness when Lou Tellegen (her husband) would come on the set.

 

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You started working in films in New York.

I was appearing on the stage in New York and I would take the train to Fort Lee to be in this movie because filming in those days started very early in the morning. I’d get the train, and when I’d get home, I’d have to be in a matinee or evening performance of the play. I remember I was always so tired. I think,  for success, what you need more than anything is energy. If I had had more energy, I’m sure I would have been better, but I was always so tired.

Did you plan for a motion picture career or was it supposed to be a one picture deal?

After I came out here, I got ambitious to get better pictures. I had very little success. I didn’t have control over the picture I was to be in. I would cry. I think now, to become a big success, you have to be a smart business woman and know how to make your own pictures or at least have a say so in it.

How did you get to Hollywood?

Thomas Ince sent a man to New York to find actresses for him. They took actresses from all the different plays and a few from the Ziegfeld Follies. They made about 12 tests, and I was notified that I was selected. Mr. (Daniel) Frohman said, ”I’ll never see you again.”

First impressions of Hollywood?

I was frightfully disappointed. I had it built up in my mind that it was as large as New York.  You can imagine coming from those tall buildings to a street of one-story buildings.

Madge Bellamy

Madge Bellamy

You got over your disappointment.

Yes, but the lifestyle was very bizarre and wild. I remember thinking nothing of having liquor all around. We all learned to smoke. No one told us it was bad for us. We had parties that would last from morning through night and then we’d go on to another house and end up in a house with somebody we didn’t even know. Yet, in a way, it was an innocent time. 

With Douglas MacLean in Passing Thru (1921)

With Douglas MacLean in Passing Thru (1921)

Your first day on the set in Hollywood. You walked out of Douglas MacLean’s office and almost off the lot.

I can’t imagine what I was going to do. That impluse I had to walk out has followed me through my life. It practically ruined me. Instead of staying and fighting over something, I would walk out. I would say, “I won’t have it,” and then just shut it off. That’s very wrong. I should have stayed and argued. I have that impulse now.  I don’t know what that is. I have sometimes thought that it goes back to my lack of energy.

I’ve always said that the trouble with most Texans is that they think things can be solved with a gun. Nothing can be solved with gun!

What was the trouble with Douglas MacLean.

We didn’t personally synch with one another. He would stand by the camera and say, “Don’t make her look too pretty. It detracts from the comedy.”

Madge

You were with fellow Texan Florence Vidor in Hail the Woman.

I looked up to her. I admired her. She was a very elegant person. Although she was from Texas, you would have thought she was from the finest finishing schools in Europe. She had an innate sense of elegance about her.

Her husband, King Vidor, directed you in Love Never Dies.

King Vidor was a very quiet man on the set. He would come over and whisper instructions. He was so different from those directors who had megaphones and would shout at you.

You were with Jack Pickford in Garrison’s Finish.

Jack was very sweet to me. I had always been in love with Mary Pickford. I just adored her. I remember a strange thing after the picture was finished. Mary sent her chauffeur over to my house to get a pair of gloves I had worn in the movie. I will never forget how strange I thought that was.

With Jack Pickford

With Jack Pickford

You say you were selected for a role in Ben Hur, but that you refused the part.

I think I was just ignorant. I can’t imagine why I was so rude. I remember saying at the time that I didn’t want to be in the picture became there would be a lot of horses.

Do you have regrets about Ben Hur?

I don’t think it would have helped me very much. They went to Europe and it took about a half a year to make it. It didn’t do May McAvoy much good. 

Talk a bit about The Iron Horse.

It was filmed on location in a prairie . Lots of pictures were made on the back lot of Universal. The old man, Carl Laemmle, used to say. ”A rock is a rock and a tree is a tree.”

Madge in the Iron Horse

Madge in the Iron Horse

A coach car was given to me. I lived in great style back there. I thought it was wonderful of Jack Ford (the film’s director)  to sleep in an upper berth with the extras. It shows what a unusual guy he was.  George O’ Brien was also an adorable person.

How did you like John Ford as a director?

He saw the picture as a whole, instead of a series of static pictures, which was like most directors directed. He brought a movement, a narrative form to the picture. He was really a genius.

Madge and Thomas Ince

Madge and Thomas Ince

Were you still under contact to Thomas Ince when he died?

I think my contract was up with Mr. Ince when he died. It was very shortly that I got a call from Fox telling me they wanted me. Ince was having a hard time financially when he died. He was going to star me in First National pictures, but that didn’t come off because of his financial difficulty. At Ince’s studio, nobody seemed to take charge. He was so busy with the money side of it.

Ince’s death was rather mysterious at the time. Did you ever get the inside scoop?

I have never been able to find out. I have heard so many different versions of what happened. I knew Mickey Neilan and he said that nobody shot nobody. He had a stomach ache and they took him off the ship and he died. It may have been no mystery at all.

What about the rumors that you were hard to work with?

If I had that been hard to get along with, all these directors would not have wanted me. I made seven pictures a year and I only had trouble with one or two. I was late one morning for Lorna Doone, but that wasn’t my fault. My chauffeur didn’t show up. I was kind of bossy when I was with Ince, but when I got to Fox, they said, ‘You can’t select your picture and you can’t select your director, but you can select your leading man.’ I never had any trouble with anyone there.

Madge in Lorna Doone

Madge in Lorna Doone

You bobbed your hair for your role in Sandy (1926).

Yes, and I never knew what to do with it after that.  I had rather pretty hair. It was dark in the shadows and gold in the sunlight. When they made me cut it off and dye it blonde, I think it detracted from me.

Madge bobs her hair

Madge bobs her hair

Was your mother the stage mother she was rumored to be?

When I came out here, mothers were in disrepute. Everybody said that mothers came on the set and bossed everybody. My mother never came on the set. In fact, she was not particularly interested in my career. She never either complimented or criticized me.

Did you experience any rivalry with any of the other leading ladies at Fox?

I didn’t feel any. I know that Maurice Tourneur (the director) wanted Barbara Bedford for Lorna Doone because she was his sweetheart. You can’t blame him for perferring her.  I didn’t feel any rivalry with her.

What was the atmosphere like at Fox with the advent of talkies?

Everybody was very excited and I was so excited.

You have been listed among the actresses who failed to make a transition to the new medium.

They still say that. I just read a book that said it was too bad that Madge Bellamy’s voice didn’t come over, but I think it did.  They made a test at Fox to see which star would make the first talking picture at Fox. After the tests, who did they choose?  Me! I had notices that I had a very fine voice. Arthur Hopkins, a famous New York producer, said that even my whisper carried. So it was a shock to read that I couldn’t talk. 

It didn’t help your career when you turned down a second Fox contract that would have paid you $25,000 more a year.  Why did you refuse the offer?

I have tried to figure that out for many years. I can only say that it was a streak of insanity. I don’t know why. I didn’t care for Mr. Sheehan very much. I know that that was the end of my career. I did the same at MGM. They called me and I said I’d make a picrture for them, but that I didn’t want any businessman on the set.  You can’t talk like that.

At Fox, I didn’t want to do The Lady from Hell with an actor that was going to be the director. I refused to do it. I said I was quitting. The bosses told me to go away and think about it. I said I was going to quit. I don’t know why I did it or what I was thinking. I think maybe the fire had gone out of me. I wish you could solve it for me becaue I’m still trying to figure it out.

You lost your home, career, and belongings in 1929. How did you get through it?

It was an almost unbearable experience for me. I think the secret of my survival is that I have always been interested in the rest of the world. How can you cry about yourself when you’re worried about Guatamala? I have always been interested in what’s happening in Germany or in England. I could take these troubles because I was worried about world conditions as much as I was about myself.

Also, if I had a book in front of me that I was intereseted in, I didn’t care where I was or what was happening to me. 

"The Cedars," Madge's home

“The Cedars,” Madge’s Hollywood home

You returned to films in 1932.  Why?

I suppose it was to make some money.

White Zombie, now a cult classic, was your comeback film.

I was very fond of the two young men (Victor and Edward Halperin, the director and producer) that made the picture. Of course, Bela Lugosi was quite a gentleman. I think he was a fine actor. I wish they wouldn’t show it so often on TV. If they show it one more time, I’m going to scream.

Madge in White Zombie

Madge in White Zombie

In the film, you are transformed into a zombie by an evil voodoo master.

I think it’s a good story. They say it was a true story. In those days, they doped up the workers and worked them until they died.

Madge with Bela Lugosi and Robert Frazer in White Zombie

Madge with Bela Lugosi and Robert Frazer in White Zombie

Is it true that you tested for the part of Belle Watling in Gone with the Wind.

They called me in to do a test, but when they saw tme, they said I looked too young for the part. It didn’t turn out to be much of a part anyway.

A Darling of the Twenties stops after 1945.  What happened?

That’s the part of my life I don’t want to talk about. The publisher wants me to do an epilogue and I have written one, but they don’t know whether to use it or not. They said all they wanted was just to let the readers know that I’m well and happy, but I don’t know how to write a well and happy epilogue.

Madge at home in the 1980s

Madge at home in the 1980s

Louise Brooks called the movie business the roughest, toughest, most humilatting and degrading job in the world. Do you agree?

I don’t think it is. I didn’t find it that way. It was humiliating there at the end of my career when I wasn’t offered fine parts or any good parts at all. That happens to nearly everybody in life.

The cover of Madge's memoir.

The cover of Madge’s memoir.

Would you be an actress again if you could turn back the clock?

I think I would have become a libriaian, because then I would have lived my life with books. I guess books have been my great love in life. It’s a strange thing about books. I love words. It’s the use of words that I am interested in. The words that I put together in an interesting way are what interest me.

What did you learn about yourself in writing your memoirs?

I’ve learned that subconscious memories flair up in you and cause you behavior that is unexplainable. What it is, I don’t know. I don’t think even a great psychiatrist would know what makes a person what they are.

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What do you want readers to learn from your book?

I want them to learn to conserve their energies, take care of their bodies and their minds, and believe in life and believe in never giving up on the progress of the human being. It’s hopeless when you give that up. I want heaven on earth, as we all do.

What are you proud of?

I’m not proud of anything. I’m kind of proud of my ambition, although it gave out too soon. I lost my ambition, but I’m proud that I had it. I had great expectations, but they gave out before my years gave out. That’s too bad, isn’t it?

Madge (L) with Gloria Stuart

Madge (L) with Gloria Stuart

Do you feel that your true talent and potential were ever realized in Hollywood?

No, not at all. I don’t think that I ever had a part that suited me or ever had an expression of what I felt or wanted to express.

Do you keep in touch with any friends from the old days?

Dorothy Revier is a friend. I can almost say that she was the prettiest woman I ever saw. She was really gorgeous.

Dorothy Revier

Dorothy Revier

The last time I saw her was at a party for the Whatever Became Of? books. We laughed and laughed because we both had the same singing teacher, Howard Hughes’ uncle. He was deaf as a post. The more we studied with him, the worse our singing voices became.

What do you think about the rerelease of the films you and your contemporaries made.

I think it’s wonderful. Through this, people’s imaginations will be fired again. What you see on the screen now kills the imagination. Everything is solved with a pistol shot or a car chase instead of by imagination or vision.

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Have you read A Darling of the Twenties?  If not, get it!  Read it! Let me know what you think.

Madge with

Madge with Charles Morton in Colleen

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Starlight, Starbright: Studying Portraits of the Silent Film Era – 1

It was the breathtaking images of silent screen stars that first turned my head.  It was way back in the 1970s.  I found a copy of Daniel Blum’s A Pictorial History of the Silent Screen. I stayed up into the wee hours of the morning studying these unique and mysterious creatures who beckoned me back to “their” Hollywood.

This is the first post devoted to those enchanting picture players of the silent screen.

I’ll start with an autographed photo I recently added to my collection.  It’s of Betty Blythe, an actress I’ve been researching of late.  She’s quite intriguing.  I love her handwriting. 

Betty Blythe and that unique handwriting of hers.

Another one of Betty Blythe.  In some portraits she reminds me of Barbara La Marr.

Betty Blythe

The quite handsome George Walsh.

I devoted a chapter to Martha Mansfield in Dangerous Curves atop Hollywood Heels. She was indeed a tragic figure in the history of Hollywood. What a beauty!

Martha Mansfield

When I first wrote Claire Du Brey in the late 1980s, I had never seen a photo of her. She replied that all of her collection was at the Motion Picture Academy Library.  In her note to me, she said she started in films in 1913 and that Rudolph Valentino was a “gentleman.” As far as the coming of sound, it had no negative impact on her career.  She worked into the early 1960s.  People ask me about the film players I regret not interviewing.  One was Claire Du Brey.  She must have had quite a story.

Claire Du Brey

An interesting study of Jack Pickford. Wonder if the rumors were true?

And, finally, Mae Murray, in a portrait not long after she came to Hollywood. Mae and I became pretty close in the last three years.  Read my biography of her, Mae Murray: The Girl with the Bee-Stung Lips, next month.

Mae Murray

Hugh’s Little Sweetheart

By Michael G. Ankerich

In 1925, Mary Pickford was not only America’s Little Sweetheart; she was Hugh Allan’s as well.

The handsome youth had played bit parts in films for the past several years, when in the spring of 1925, Mary plucked the 23-year-old from the ranks of an extra to play her leading man in Little Annie Rooney. Hugh had become what was thought impossible: an instant star.

Hugh Allan, the silent hunk, in 1925.

The path was clear for him to become the newest star in the celluloid heavens.

His hometown newspaper, The Oakland Tribune, sang his praises.

In an interview from his home in Memphis, Tennessee, in 1992, Hugh Allan told me the story of his instant success.

A dashing Hugh Allan.

Mary Pickford had requested a number of screen tests be sent over to Pickfair for her to review. She had little trouble selecting the handsome hopeful. Hugh was introduced to the star on the set of Little Annie Rooney.

“I was flabbergasted,” Hugh told me. “Totally overwhelmed.  She was the goddess of the world.”

Mary, while she didn’t mean to be, was intimidating.

“This was my first big part,” he said. “I had no experience at all. I was completely raw material.”

Mary did her best to put her leading man at ease.

“”They started taking scenes and I realized I couldn’t do them,” Hugh said.  “I was as stiff as a wooden soldier. I couldn’t even walk straight.”

Mary’s brother, Jack, who was frequently on the set, didn’t help matters.

“He was a grade-A, son of a bitch.  A real bastard,” Hugh recalled. “He was on the set making wisecracks while I was trying to do something. I finally got a little annoyed and said to him, ‘One more wisecrack and I’ll put the nose on the front of your face on the back of your face.’ He left the set.  He got his ass out of there.”

After several days, it was obvious that Hugh would be unable to complete the film. Mary, almost as disappointed as Hugh, provided a cover that allowed him to leave the picture without the chance of permanently damaging his fledgling career.

The studio issued a release, stating that Hugh had broken an arm after falling from his roof and would be unable to finish his commitment. Hugh was brought back to the set, where the prop department placed a cast his arm. Mary insisted a photograph be taken for the press.

Hugh (with his fake cast) and Mary Pickford on the set of Little Annie Rooney

The press took the bait. Hugh’s reputation was saved.

The press writes about Hugh’s “accident”.

Hugh never saw the finished film–William Haines took over his role, but he remained in touch with Mary over the years.

“Mary was a very gracious lady,” he said. “She would invite me to parties after the Little Annie Rooney experience.”

Hugh was proud of his telegram from Mary Pickford.

Free from Little Annie Rooney, Hugh Allan got out of town. “I went to Tijuana for two or three weeks. It was a town full of howling, drinking and prostitution.”

Back in Hollywood, Hugh connected with a drama coach, an actress of the stage, who gave him acting lessons for four or five months.

First National took notice and signed him to a contract.

Hugh worked steadily for the next four years, playing leads opposite such actresses as Jean Arthur, Priscilla Dean, Bessie Love, Helene Costello, Jeanette Loff, and Lois Wilson.

With Jean Arthur and George Chesebro in The Block Signal.

To his fellow actors, he was an all-American boy.  To his leading ladies, he was irresistible.

“Priscilla Dean was a nice girl, a good-looking woman with a good-looking figure,” Hugh said. “They used to kid us about the way we were kissing. They thought it was pretty real.  It was!”

Hugh Allan and Priscilla Dean in Birds of Prey.

Hugh Allan and June Marlowe in Wild Beauty.

Hugh Allan and John Mack Brown in Annapolis (1928).

Hugh did two serials with Gladys McConnell: The Tiger’s Shadow and The Fire Detective. “Gladys was a charming lady who always had her mother with her. She was not a promiscuous female. She had a high opinion of herself and she was right.”

The two serials, he said, were his best pictures. He liked the action.

Hugh Allan and Gladys McConnell in The Fire Detective (1929).

Hugh left films in 1929, following a failed film project in Hawaii. The director had taken the cast to Hawaii, ran out money, due to the stock market crash in October, and tried unsuccessfully to raise the needed funds from the locals. Hugh discovered he was filming scenes without film in the camera.

The shenanigans in Hawaii spoiled his opinion of the movie industry. Hugh disappeared from the screen. Over time, he became a successful businessman in the elevator industry. He was dubbed Memphis’ Howard Hughes.

While he wasn’t particularly nostalgic about Hollywood, he was interested in the various ones he worked with while in films. In 1937, he reconnected with Lois Wilson when she came to Memphis to appear in a play.

In 1992, Hugh was the perfect host.  He put me up at his country club and cleared a day so we could talk about his years in Hollywood. At noon that Saturday, Hugh drove me (with a glass of wine in his hand) to a local eatery.

Hugh and Michael, August 1992.

We ran out of time before he ran out of stories. Read the full interview in The Sound of Silence. He talks about a wild party at the home of Serge Mdivani and Pola Negri and the day he ran into Rudolph Valentino in the showers at the Santa Monica Swimming Club.

Sadly, Hugh passed away in February 1997.