By Michael G. Ankerich
If you know me at all, you know that I have a thing for actress Fontaine La Rue. I can’t call her my favorite actress because I’ve never seen one of her films. I like her as a personality and for so many other reasons.
When I began searching for her about two years ago, I had no idea she would be so hard to track down. I devoted a blog to her early last year, Where are you, Fontaine La Rue?, when my frustration over dead ends almost led me to the attic on a quest for my old Ouija board.
Just about the time I opened the door and was headed into the dark attic to connect with the supernatural, the most amazing thing happened. Fontaine’s family got in touch and told me all about their grandmother, their aunt, their great aunt. It turns out that Fontaine was even more interesting than I realized.
I’m dusting off my wings and revving my engines for a flight out to Hollywood this weekend. I will continue the research for my new book, Hairpins and Deadends: The Perilous Journeys of 20 Actresses Through Early Hollywood, and will type away on some chapters that are ready to be written.
My main focus is getting better acquainted with Fontaine. I’m not meeting her face-to-face or chatting with her over tea, of course, but I’m visiting her final resting spot (since 1964) at Calvary Cemetery and those places that were special to her: her mansion on North Van Ness Avenue in Hollywood and St. Vincent de Paul, the church where Fontaine exchanged wows with her first husband, the father of her three children.
I’m devoting a chapter to Fontaine’s life and film career in my new book — how could I not? — so I’m not telling everything I know. I can tell you that everything I thought I knew about her at first was wrong. How did Matilda Fernandez, a young immigrant from Mexico, survive family tragedy in her native country to find her way into the studios of the 1910s as Dora Rogers (later Fontaine La Rue) and vamp her way into the hearts of movie fans over the world. That’s the story I want to tell.
There’s more in store for me in Los Angeles than just Fontaine. I’m doing some hiking and biking. I’m pouring through the Los Angeles Examiner archives, visiting friends, and dining at my favorite Chinese and Italian restaurants. Did I also mention that I am filming a scene for a documentary about a silent film actress I’ve written about in the past? Yes, my first experience before the camera, but I can’t miss the opportunity to talk about an actress whose heartbreaking story still haunts me. I’ll fill you in on the details when I can.
Oh! Here’s another plea. If you are a relative of actresses Vivian Prescott, Lolita Lee, Evelyn Gibson, or Lila Chester, please let me hear from you. I have lots of clues, but I’ve reached a dead end on whatever became of them. I’m also deep into research about Estelle Mardo. I want to know where she went after she disappeared and was never heard from again. Members of her family, equally perplexed, would also like to know.
There’s a lot of mystery about the early days of the film industry and those actresses who made their livings before the camera. It’s frustrating to someone who is researching and writing a hundred years after the fact.
That’s the way it is, my friends, with hairpins and dead ends.