Life is Good at Hollywood Forever: A Chat With Karie Bible, Tour Guide

If you know me at all, you know I like to hang out in cemeteries. I’ve haunted graveyards all over the world, but my absolute favorite is Hollywood Forever Cemetery. In the middle of crowded and congested Hollywood, it is a haven of rest, for sure, but also a lovely park and a place to spend some quiet time with the Hollywood greats.

The truth is, friends, I’d rather be here than at Universal Studios or Disneyland — any day!

When I’m in Los Angeles researching a book, my pattern is pretty much the same. I have breakfast at Denny’s on Sunset and Western, then head down to Hollywood Forever to walk around and let the bacon and pancakes settle. Then it’s off to the Academy Library for a day of research.

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In 2013, I was a guest speaker at the annual Valentino Memorial Service at Hollywood Forever. I was so excited to meet Karie Bible, a devoted film historian who leads the Hollywood Forever Cemetery Walking Tour. As I figure it, she just about has the coolest job imaginable.

Let’s find out!

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Karie Bible

Michael: How long have you been tour guide at Hollywood Forever? 

Karie: I’ve been giving tours several times a month since February 2002.

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Michael  on his first visit (with Charlene) to Hollywood Memorial (now Forever), about 1986

Michael: My first trip to Hollywood was in the mid-1980s. Then it was Hollywood Memorial Cemetery and was among the first places I wanted to see. When was your first visit and what were your first impressions? 

Karie: When I first visited the cemetery, I was pretty emotional. A co-worker of mine had recently died at a young age and I was very upset about it. When I walked into the gates of the cemetery, I looked around and my mood started to change. I didn’t see the place as sad or morbid. To me it was a peaceful, beautiful oasis and a place to celebrate life. I fell in love with it immediately.

Michael: On that first visit, I was interested in one person: Valentino. Of course, I saw Barbara La Marr, William Desmond Taylor, and Marion Davies. But there really is so much more to see, isn’t there?

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A selfie at Valentino’s crypt, about 2014

Karie: There are tons of things to see! There is a story behind every single grave there. The cemetery has beautiful architecture, unique headstones and hosts a ton of creative people.

Michael: Tell me some of the highlights of your tours. Have you made any surprise discoveries? 

Karie:  One of my favorite things is seeing the look of joy and excitement that people get when they see the grave of a star that was meaningful to them. One day I was giving a tour and speaking to a large group about Valentino.

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Karie at Valentino’s crypt

There was a girl in the group who was about 20 years old. When I started talking about Valentino’s life, tears began pouring down her face. She finally turned around and ran out of the building. I was a bit shocked and couldn’t imagine what I could have said to upset her. I asked her boyfriend if she was ok. He said, “She just gets very emotional about Valentino.” It is a pretty big testament to his charisma and star power that ninety years after his death young girls still cry and react emotionally at his grave.

On another day I had an elderly lady who actually taught Jayne Mansfield’s children. She said that there were many celebrity kids at the school, and that Jayne was the ONLY famous parent who ever showed up in person. Screen Shot 2016-04-01 at 4.08.46 PMShe said Jayne was active at the school and a really loving, caring mother. That was a beautiful story and certainly makes her seem much more human. While these people may be icons, sex symbols, etc. they are, in fact, people.

Michael: What questions do you get most from those taking your tour? 

Karie: People often ask me about the peacocks and many of the graves with the faces etched into the marble. Those things add so much character to the place.

Michael: Yeah, I want to get to the peacocks in a minute. Any estimate as to the number of tours you’ve given? 

Karie: I couldn’t even begin to tell you. I do about two or three tours a month and it has now been 14 years. That isn’t counting private tours, the special art deco tour and other things.

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Karie in tour!

Back in 2013, I started getting kidney stones right before I gave a tour. I didn’t want to let the people down who had booked and I figured that the show must go on! I gave a 2 ½ hour tour with massive kidney stones. I was in so much pain that I really don’t remember very much. I have done the tour so many times that I sort of went on autopilot. I was rushed to Cedar’s Sinai right afterward.

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Johnny Ramone’s monument

Michael: What’s the most unusual monument or tombstone? 

Karie: None of them seem unusual to me, but I think that Johnny Ramone’s grave seems to draw a lot of attention. I’ve given many tours to seniors who don’t even know who he is, but that can’t stop looking at his grave.

Michael: On a recent tour, I was looking for the grave of Mae Murray’s brother. I was almost attacked by a gigantic peacock. I’ve since seen their cages. I have to admit they are beautiful creatures. What’s the story behind them and their home at the cemetery? 

Karie: Someone told me that the peacock is a symbol for eternal life. That would make sense because cemeteries are always filled with symbolism and nothing is just there arbitrarily. If you look near the flower shop, there are peacocks in the stained glass and even peacock feathers painted on the dome over the building.

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Watch for the peacocks; they have the right of way!

Michael: What’s the story around the big, black car that sits up front?

Karie: That is an antique hearse that the owner Tyler Cassity purchased. I think it is from 1939. As far as I know it still works and is put to use.

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Michael: Are there any unmarked graves of silent film stars there? I believe Florence Lawrence’s grave was once unmarked, but she now has a marker.

Karie: Yes there are still unmarked star graves. Getting a marker can be a complicated process that involves getting permission from the family (if there are any still alive) and raising money. The cemetery has been great about helping make that process happen. I know that silent comic actor Ford Sterling was recently marked and Ann Sheridan was as well. Tyler and his staff recently got a marker for the grave of Pauline Pfeiffer Hemingway, Ernest Hemmingway’s second wife. Historian Allan Ellenberger does an excellent blog about Hollywood history and written about it. http://allanellenberger.com/sins-of-the-mother-the-story-of-pauline-hemingway/

Screen Shot 2016-04-01 at 5.04.16 PMMichael: Have all the film related graves, niches, and crypts been identified? 

Karie: To my knowledge, yes they have been identified.

Michael: Are there any missing old timers that may be there?

Karie: Not that I know of. I always preface things by saying that, as you never know!

Michael: What mysteries are there? What are your favorites? 

Karie: The grave of William Desmond Taylor would count as a mystery. It is one of the most famous unsolved murders in Hollywood history. There have been so many books about it, but I think it will always remain a mystery.

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William Desmond Taylor

I love Valentino, but I feel a deep connection to all of the people there. I spend a lot of time at the cemetery and I’m very passionate about film history. There are so many pioneers buried at Hollywood Forever who were at the ground floor as the art form and business of Hollywood was being created. Many of them worked behind the scenes as writers, cinematographers, composers and crew.

Michael: I understand. My passion is researching the lives of those from the very beginning.

Karie: So many of these people go unappreciated. A great number of them were discarded and forgotten. They deserve better.

Michael: Have you ever met any relatives of some of the permanent residents of Hollywood Forever on your tour? Who were they? 

Karie: Several years ago, I was giving a small tour and as I was at JScreen Shot 2016-04-01 at 4.02.20 PMohn Huston’s grave. I turned around and Angelica Huston was standing right there.
She was cleaning up the flowers and grass around her father’s grave. I didn’t want to bother her, but she was very gracious and a total class act.

Michael: If you were an early actor or actress died in Hollywood, what choices did you have? Rosedale, I know. What others? 

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Karie: Hollywood Forever (originally named Hollywood Memorial Park) was founded in 1899. Forest Lawn Glendale came along in 1906. Calvary Cemetery was established in 1896 and Evergreen Cemetery in 1877. I think that Home of Peace has been in their current spot since 1902. Grand View Memorial Park dates back to 1884. I’m sure there are others I’m forgetting, but those are the ones that come to mind.

Michael: Are there any haunted areas of the cemetery that you are aware of? Tell me the stories. 

Karie: People often ask me that question. I’ve been there a long time and I’ve never had a paranormal encounter of any kind. There have been rumors that Clifton Webb walks down the corridor of the Abbey of the Psalms Mausoleum or that you can hear actress Virginia Rappe weeping. Screen Shot 2016-04-01 at 4.01.29 PMTo me, the history is fascinating enough and I really don’t want to focus on the paranormal. (By the way, read Room 1219 to learn more about Virginia Rappe, the actress who died after the party thrown by Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle. It is an excellent read!)

Michael: So, give the cemetery a little plug for my readers? Invite them to take the tour!

Karie: The “Cemetery of the Stars” tour at Hollywood Forever is a great overview of the cemetery. It includes the big names including Rudolph Valentino, Cecil B. DeMille, Marion Davies, Tyrone Power, Vampira, John Huston, Johnny Ramone, Peter Lorre, Mel Blanc and many more! Hollywood Forever is a beautiful place and one of the most unique cemeteries in the world! Learn more about dates and times for the tour at www.cemeterytour.com.

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Watch for these beautiful birds

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A stunning view of the Hollywood Sign awaits as you exit the cemetery.

 

 

You can check out anytime you like, but you can never leave

I’ve been back from Los Angeles for over a month now, but I feel that part of me is still there. Like that line from Hotel California, “You can check out anytime you like, but you can never leave.”

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I first came to Los Angeles almost 30 years ago. In many ways, part of me never left.

Hollywood, Los Angeles, Santa Monica, the Valley, they have a certain pull on me. They’re places where you can just be. I’m beginning to think my most recent former life may have been 1920s Hollywood.  Don’t ask me who I was in that time.  I’m still figuring it out.

My most recent trip to LA was late August.  It revolved around a speaking engagement at the annual Rudolph Valentino Memorial Service, a book signing at Book Soup on Sunset, and research at the Academy Library (or “Aunt Maggie’s” as Eve Golden likes to call it).

I’m working on a companion volume to Dangerous Curves atop Hollywood Heels. The working title is Hairpins and Dead Ends: The Perilous Journeys of 20 Actresses Through Early Hollywood.  The book should have been on the shelves by now, but I keep adding new actresses to the marquee.  Fontaine La Rue and Mona Lisa have joined the table of contents. Yes, Mona Lisa!

My Mona Lisa autographed portrait

My Mona Lisa autographed portrait

When flying west, I try to get a window seat on the plane so that I can be sure to see Los Angeles and Hollywood when they come into view.

Here’s my first view of the Los Angeles area in the mid-1980s.

The first time I set my eyes on Los Angeles

The first time I set my eyes on Los Angeles

Here is my view last month as I approached the city.

Los Angeles from the air, 2013

Los Angeles from the air, 2013I think I see the Hollywood Sign in the middle left of this one

I think I see the Hollywood Sign in the middle left of this one

On the day that I fly into the wild blue yonder, I try to take the earliest flight I can get. That way, I am in Los Angeles by 9:30 a.m. By the time I get my luggage and the car and head into Hollywood, it’s lunch time and I’m pumped.

I’ll never forget the day in the late 1980s when I landed at LAX and had to rush to get to the Days of Our Lives set at Sunset and Gower, known in the 1930s as the Gower Gulch. As a newspaper reporter, I had interviewed Drake Hogestyn, the actor who played Roman Brady, at a charity baseball game in South Carolina earlier that year. I was also his bowling partner in a celebrity tournament.

Not sure what Drake and I were discussing in this photo.  Probably our pitiful bowling score. We didn't win.

Not sure what Drake and I were discussing in this photo. Probably our pitiful bowling score. We didn’t win.

Drake invited Denise (she worked with me at the newspaper) and me to stop by the set and say hello on my next trip to Los Angeles.

Drake signed this photo for my mom

Drake signed this photo for my mom

After we put the top down on our Chrysler LaBaron, we headed into Hollywood. Our traveling companions dropped us off at Sunset and Gower and went to check into the hotel while we visited with Drake. It was a fun afternoon with Drake cutting up with the rest of the cast. By the time he was ready to leave the studio for the day and drive home to Malibu, it was getting dark.

He asked us how we planned to get to the hotel.  We were hoofing it!  Concerned for our safety and the distance to the hotel, Drake insisted on driving us to the Holiday Inn. Before we left the studio, he drew a map of Hollywood and the surrounding area.

Drake's map and photo as he signed photos for his fans

Drake’s map and photo as he signed photos for his fans

I crawled in the back of his jeep; Denise took the front. Drake was stopped by fans as we drove out of the parking garage.  He sat behind the wheel and signed autographs and talked to his fans.  He was an awesome gentleman.

Drake and Michael at the Holiday Inn in Hollywood

Drake and Michael at the Holiday Inn in Hollywood

But, I digress. That was a long time ago. I want to tell you about August 2013.

It has become a tradition for me to watch the sun go down behind the Hollywood Hills on the first night I’m in town.  I find a place to prop at the Griffith Park Observatory and watch the sky turn purple and orange as the sun sinks behind the hills.

Here’s how it looked last month.

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The nightlife comes to life

The nightlife comes to life

The Sign rests for the evening

The Sign rests for the evening

The day after I arrived in Los Angeles, I was guest speaker at the annual Valentino Memorial Service. Read about that here.

The next day, Chris and I planned to drive around Hollywood until my book signing that afternoon at Book Soup on Sunset Blvd. We spent the morning hiking the Hollyridge Trail.  The walk up was hotter than the hinges of hell. We came with no water.  What were we thinking?

Michael and Chris on the Hollyridge Trail

Michael and Chris on the Hollyridge Trail

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The Hollywood Sign from above

The Hollywood Sign from above

After I dragged my hot, tired, sweaty self to the top, I stood amazed at the view.  I thought about the 1920s and what it must have looked like in those days of early Hollywood.  Take a look at this comparison. Look closely and you can see Beachwood Drive in the photos (in the middle left third of both photos). That long straight road takes you into the Hollywood Hills and near the Hollyridge Trail.

The view from the Sign in 2013

The view from the Sign in 2013

The view in the 1920s

The view in the 1920s

Mack Sennett Beauties enjoying the view

Mack Sennett Beauties enjoying the view

Before going the book signing, Chris and I hydrated ourselves and stopped off in Beverly Hills at Church of the Good Shepherd.  The sacred place is a who’s who of Hollywood when it comes to weddings and funerals.  In June 1926, Mae Murray married her prince, David Mdivani. Rudolph Valentino and Pola Negri were best man and bride’s maid.  Two months later, Hollywood’s brightest stars crowded into the church to say goodbye to Valentino.

Approaching the church from the side. Chris swore this beam of light my camera picked up was a  welcoming sign

Approaching the church from the side. Chris swore this beam of light my camera picked up was a welcoming sign

 

I took a seat in a pew.  Chris  stretched out at the altar to soak in the spirit of peace

I took a seat in a pew. Chris stretched out at the altar to soak in the spirit of peace

 

The book signing at BookSoup was fun.  I wish I could say I got writer’s cramp from signing so many books, but I’d be lying to you.

Michael and Mae at BookSoup

Michael and Mae at BookSoup

Here I am at the booksigning with Chris and Miles Kreuger. Miles knew Mae and provided the anecdote that opened Mae Murray: The Girl with the Bee-Stung Lips.

Here I am at the booksigning with Chris and Miles Kreuger. Miles knew Mae and provided the anecdote that opened Mae Murray: The Girl with the Bee-Stung Lips.

The rest of the week went something like this.  I did research at the Academy Library during the day. The library is closed on Wednesday, so Richard and I hiked the Hollyridge Trail to the Hollywood Sign.  This time, we saw some shirtless gents scale the fence and to get a better look at the Sign.

Two teens stripped bare-chested and scaled the fence. They took photos right before they went over.

Two teens stripped bare-chested and scaled the fence. They took photos right before they went over.

IMG_0338I was content to pose once more with all of Hollywood at my back. I could see me scaling that fence. I’d catch my privates halfway through the jump and have to shriek for a helicopter to fly over and pull me out of the links.

Michael over Hollywood

Michael over Hollywood

In the afternoon, I drove to the beach to spend a few moments with Thelma Todd. There in the sand, with her beach house in sight, I thought of poor Thelma and how her untimely death in 1935 stills cries for justice.

Michael and Thelma's house

Michael and Thelma’s house

Thelma’s house back in the day.  It’s changed very little over the years.

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Thelma's place

A panoramic view with my lone shadow in the middle

Malibu and Duke’s was my next stop. I got a table by the sea and sipped chilled white wine.

An old haunt of mine

An old haunt of mine

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Late in the afternoon, during a tedious rush hour, I went down to Culver City and found the old entrance to MGM. I looked around and wonder whether this was the street that a naked Mae Murray ran across during her war with Erich von Stroheim on the set of The Merry Widow.

The gates to MGM

The gates to MGM

The gates in Mae Murray’s day.

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Before my time in Hollywood ran out, I drove south to Holy Cross Cemetery. I looked for Pola Negri in the Great Mausoleum. The building closed before I could find her. I walked and walked in the baking sun looking for Ramon Novarro. The markers all began to look alike. I never found him.  Next time!  With the help of the cemetery office, I found one actress I had come here to find: Fontaine La Rue. If you have followed this blog, you know about my frustrating quest to determine what ever happened to this siren of the screen.  I will tell you more about her in my new book.

 

Fontaine La Rue, an screen siren who has held my attention for a long time

Fontaine La Rue, a screen siren who has held my attention for years

Of course, I spent time with friends. I had dinner one evening with writer Jim Parish and Allan Taylor, the godson of Margaret Mitchell. They are my oldest Hollywood friends. We’ve been buddies since the 1980s. I had lunch with Susie and Bob Archer. She is the niece of actress Marjorie Daw, to whom I am devoting a chapter in my book.

The last evening, I told myself it had to be an early night. I had a 5:25 a.m. flight to Atlanta, which means the clock was set for 3:30. Wishful thinking.  I sat up until almost midnight with Andre Soares, the author of Beyond Paradise: The Life of Ramon Novarro. We finished our Thai dinner, then went around the corner for a milkshake.  When Andre and I get to talking about silent film stars, the night slips away.

It’s always sad when I pull away from the hotel, enter the freeway and head for the airport. Part of me stays behind.

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The line from the old Eagles song is true. “You can check out any time you like, but you can never leave.”

Journeys in Classic Film reviews Mae Murray: The Girl with the Bee-Stung Lips

I am always elated and very appreciative when reviewers of my work take the time to ponder the message I am trying to get across in my writing. Journeys in Classic Film, in their review of my latest book, Mae Murray: The Girl with the Bee-Stung Lips, does just that.

For me, the greatest compliment a writer can receive is summed up in Kristen’s (the author’s) thoughts about my introduction. She writes, “The introduction by author Michael Ankerich is heartfelt, genuine, and is aware that by the end of his research he had to present a biography, warts and all.” 

Heartfelt, genuine, and objective!

I remember sitting at Mae’s gravesite during the writing of Mae Murray: The Girl with the Bee-Stung Lips and talking to her about the approach I was taking in telling her story. It would be neither a whitewash or a hatchet job.

“Mae, my story about your life won’t always be flattering, but it will be fair.”

Maybe I was talking to the grass and a bronze marker that afternoon, but it helped me clear the cobwebs and get on with telling the story.

Thanks, Kristen and Journeys in Classic Film.

Read Kristen’s review here.

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Interview with Mae Murray Biographer Michael G. Ankerich

It is always a please to talk with Immortal Ephemera and Cliff Aliperti.  He recently talked with me about Mae Murray: The Girl with the Bee-Stung Lips.  After you read the interview, check out this site.  It’s one of the best!

 Interview with Mae Murray biographer Michael G. Ankerich

 

Introduction: Meet Michael G. Ankerich 

Michael G AnkerichOver the past few years Michael G. Ankerich has become one of my favorite people in the community of film writers and historians. I first came into contact with Michael after posting a video review of hisDangerous Curves atop Hollywood HeelsOur first interview sprang from correspondence at that time. The last question I asked Michael was about what he was working on next. A biography of Mae Murray, he told me.

And now it’s here!

Mae Murray: The Girl with the Bee-Stung Lips was published late in 2012. Like Dangerous Curves it is both meticulously researched and opens up new territory via interviews with surviving family members of its subject. That’s all tied together by Michael’s engaging writing style making The Girl with the Bee-Stung Lips not only informative but a darn good read. You’ll breeze through the first time but there’s plenty to send you back for a more careful second reading.

Mae Murray circa 1917 Kromo Gravure Trading CardThe hardcover volume from the University Press of Kentucky numbers 376 pages plus a foreward by Kevin Brownlow. It includes several rare photographs and reproductions of Mae Murray collectibles.

Michael G. Ankerich has previously publishedtwo volumes comprised of his interviews with silent and early talkie stars, Broken Silence: Conversations with 23 Silent Film Stars andThe Sound of Silence: Conversations with 16 Film and Stage Personalities. Those two books were originally published in the 1990s and most of the subjects have since passed away.

In many cases Michael provides the only written record about these stars. The press relied upon his work in The Sound of Silence when Barbara Kent died in 2011.

Michael also co-authored Joyce Compton’s memoirs, The Real Joyce Compton: Behind the Dumb Blonde Movie Image, and prior to his Mae Murray biography wrote the aforementioned Dangerous Curves atop Hollywood Heels, a collection of biographies covering “The Lives, Careers and Misfortunes of 14 Hard-Luck Girls of the Silent Screen.”

Mae Murray 1923 Neilsons Trading CardLike the Mae Murray book Michael did not have access to the subjects covered inside Dangerous Curves. The 14 pieces within are very similar in style to the new Mae Murray biography, just shorter. If you’ve enjoyed one I highly recommend the other, though all of Michael’s books come with my highest recommendation.

You’ll find more information about Michael G. Ankerich on his website plus I also suggest visiting his blog,Close-ups and Long Shots. Michael regularly blogs about early and obscure film stars from that space where he posts original research and incredible photos.

Connect directly with Michael through his Facebook Page.

And now, on to the questions.

Question: Your previous books include three volumes of shorter biographies and interviews plus the longer Joyce Compton book. Compton was somebody you had access to prior to her death in 1997 which makes Mae Murray: The Girl with the Bee-Stung Lips something a little different for you.

How challenging was it to tackle a subject like Mae Murray, who’s been gone so long, in an expanded book format?

Michael G. Ankerich: The Mae Murray bio was much different from the Joyce Compton book. I worked with Joyce on The Real Joyce Compton: Behind the Blonde Movie Image. It was written as a memoir, whereas the Mae Murray book is a biography.

Tackling Mae Murray as a biographical subject was not as challenging as it might seem. She had a long life, and she received a lot of press in her day. The challenge came from uncovering parts of her life that she concealed and never wanted brought to light.

Mae Murray 1920s era 5x7 Fan Photo

Question: At what point did you decide Mae Murray needed her own book? Were you in contact with Mae’s son, Daniel Michael Cunning, before that point or did you seek him out after making the decision?

Michael G. Ankerich: I made the decision to do a full-length book on Mae after making contact with and getting cooperation from her nephew, the son of Mae’s brother, William. I can’t over emphasize the importance of his contribution. He was able to put together the period in her life that had always been shrouded in mystery: her birth, family, and childhood.

I had lots of clues, but Bob (her nephew) provided details that completed the picture. From there, I was able to secure the birth certificates for Mae and her brothers, as well as the death certificate for her father.

Bob provided the background for Mae’s immediate family that Mae’s own son, Koran (Daniel), didn’t know. Daniel had no idea that his mother had brothers until my interview with him. Mae gave him no information about her life.

Mae Murray 1925 BAT Tobacco CardQuestion: Was it very difficult to gain Daniel Michael Cunning’s participation?

Michael G. Ankerich: Yes, it was rather difficult to pin down Mae’s son to an interview about his mother.

I had been interested in his experiences for a number of years and had written him out of curiosity. My letters had gone unanswered. When I decided to write a full-length biography, I reached out to one of Daniel’s daughters, who put me in touch with her father and urged him, I think, to answer my inquiries.

His reluctance goes back 70 years to the early 1940s when he was thrust into the media spotlight and put in the middle of a custody dispute between his mother, father, and the family caring for him.

Not surprising, since those difficult days, Daniel has harbored a dislike for the press.

Question: Which part of Mae Murray’s career wound up most fascinating to you in the end? Her early stage career, her time as a huge film star, or post-movie fame and fizzle?

Michael G. Ankerich: The period from about 1925 to 1928 was a roller coaster ride for Mae.

She was at the top of her ride in 1925 with the success of The Merry Widow, but soon found herself in a free fall professionally. She divorced Robert Z. Leonard, gave birth to her son in Paris, found herself a prince, signed and cancelled a contract with Germany’s UFA studios, left and returned to M-G-M, and started a vaudeville act.

I suppose my favorite period to research was from the 1940s to her death in 1965. There were people still alive who remembered her and were able to help me bring her later life into perspective.

Question: Were you able to view all of Mae Murray’s surviving films and did you have a favorite of the bunch?

Michael G. Ankerich: I viewed every available Mae Murray film I could set my eyes on. A Mormon MaidThe Delicious Little Devil, and The Merry Widow were my favorites because they gave Mae a chance to show the spectrum of her talent: drama, comedy, and dance.

Fortunately, more and more of her films are being discovered.

John Gilbert and Mae Murray in The Merry Widow

Mae Murray and John Gilbert in The Merry Widow (1925), from Photoplay, July 1925.

Question: Did Mae’s most famous hit, The Merry Widow, provide any special inspiration while you worked?

Michael G. Ankerich: Mae’s performance in The Merry Widow is stunning, and viewing the film while researching the development of the scenario and the battles fought on the set was particularly helpful.

Of course, it’s Mae at her best: those glorious close ups, her furs and negligees, and the chemistry she obviously had with John Gilbert.

Question: For those who only know the Mae Murray legend, typically beginning and ending with those Bee-Stung Lips, can you give a better idea of just how big a star she was during her peak years?

Mae Murray 1920s Motion Picture Magazine Paper Premium Photo

Michael G. Ankerich: It’s rather tricky to gauge someone’s star power, not having been among the movie-going audience in the 1920s. How does one define stardom?

I suppose we could look at her weekly salary of $7,500 to get a clue. Also, her image was used on collective spoons and hand mirrors and to advertise products that appealed to her fans.

Perhaps the most telling aspect of her popularity was her box office appeal. Her films consistently made money, lots of money, for the studio.

Mae Murray 1910s Kinema Theater Advertising CardQuestion: Mae Murray can be seen in a few talkies but her final films were released in 1931. Despite Louis B. Mayer’s interference do you believe Mae Murray could have overcome her own ego and continued a film career in supporting and character roles over the next decade or so?

Michael G. Ankerich: I can see no reason why Mae could not have continued in character roles for the next decade or so. She had the offers, but she wouldn’t allow herself to mature before the movie camera and her fans. The offers to play mothers and matrons were considered insults. Mae certainly could have made life easier for herself had she had someone in her life like another Robert Z. Leonard to keep her grounded. She didn’t. It was easier to sleep on park benches than to play a woman of a certain age on the big screen.

Question: Now that your work is done do you come away liking Mae Murray more or less than you had when you began?

Michael G. Ankerich: It is impossible to live with a personality like Mae Murray for two or more years and come away disliking her or wishing I had never heard her name. It is also impossible to fully know another person’s motivations, insecurities, and those other interesting traits that make us human.

I will say that I came away thoroughly disappointed, even angry, at the way Mae withheld information that every child has a God-given right to know as a member of the human race: parentage, birth date and birth place.

It’s one thing to disown and deny siblings, but it’s another thing to bring another human being into the world and provide them with so little information about their identity.

Mae Murray July 1916 Photoplay

Mae Murray dances in Photoplay, July 1916

Question: What’s next?

Michael G. Ankerich: Several ideas are materializing.

I am working on Hairpins and Dead Ends: the Perilous Journeys of 20 Actresses Through Early Hollywood, a companion volume to Dangerous Curves.

I am revisiting the truly sad story of Barbara La Marr, focusing on her childhood, family, and early professional years. Those early years set the stage for what became the downward spiral that eventually took her life.

As with Dangerous Curves, I am attempting to make contact with relatives and friends of my subjects to get their perspectives and gather some of their family photos and stories.

Barbara La Marry 1920s Cerveza Polar Cuban Premium

Barbara La Marr pictured on a 1920s era Cuban beer premium issued issued by Compania Cervecera Internacional, S.A. with a product called Cerveza Polar (Clara Especial)

Question: Can you talk about some of the other actresses you are profiling in Hairpins and Dead Ends?

Michael G. Ankerich: Let’s see, there’s Belle Bennett, Katherine MacDonald, Corliss Palmer, Mary Miles Minter, Jetta Goudal, Valeska Suratt, and a number of others.

While I selfishly selected actresses that I wanted to know more about, I think readers will also be drawn in and captivated by these dazzling personalities.

Thank you once more to Michael G. Ankerich.

You can check out an earlier interview with Michael about his Mae Murray biography at Film Threat and read a review of the book by Matthew Kennedy at the Bright Lights Film Journal.

Once more don’t forget to connect with Michael G. Ankerich at Facebook and be sure to read (I really mean subscribe!) to his blog.

And be sure to pick up Mae Murray: The Girl with the Bee-Stung Lips (and thanks for using my Amazon affiliate link to do so!).

Michael also pointed me to the following group of videos that he posted to YouTube. They capture a rare 1960 radio interview with Mae Murray.

 

 

Mae Murray — The Movie?

Could it be that Mae Murray: The Girl with the Bee-Stung Lips is headed for the big screen?

Maybe!  The publisher and I got our first nibble this morning. An independent filmmaker read the Murray bio and is interested in developing a screenplay and film about her life.  Certainly, nothing definite, but some movement forward, wouldn’t you say?

Perhaps it’s a bit too premature, but I can’t help but wonder, who would play Mae Murray in all her glory?

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Through the years, Mae had various ideas of her own.

In the 1940s, she was once in talks with Twentieth Century-Fox about Betty Grable bringing her story to a new generation. Those plans crumbled.

Betty Grable as Mae Murray?

Betty Grable as Mae Murray?

When The Self-Enchanted, Mae’s biography by Jane Ardmore was released in 1959,  Marilyn Monroe was Mae’s first choice. That didn’t happen, either! Neither did the book buy Mae and Ardmore castles in Spain, as Mae had predicted.

Marilyn Monroe as Mae Murray?

Marilyn Monroe as Mae Murray?

I’m a huge Monroe fan, but I never saw MM playing MM.  Perhaps Grable would have been more believable as Mae in the late 1940s, I don’t know.

Here it is 2013.  Who would play Mae Murray on the screen? Sharon Stone (too tall) and Drew Barrymore were my first thoughts.  Can’t you tell I’m out of touch with today’s female vamps and sirens?

So, Mae Murray fans, who would be your choice?

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Bright Lights Film Journal reviews Mae Murray: The Girl with the Bee-Stung Lips

Brights Lights Film Journal recently reviewed Mae Murray: The Girl with the Bee-Stung Lips.

Check it out here or below.  I love Matthew’s final summation of our Miss Murray. Read to the end.

 

By Matthew Kennedy

Not too many remember Mae Murray. Not a one of her films is on Netflix, and she’s scarcely available at Amazon. But she was big – very big — in her day. She spawned fashion crazes and erotic fantasies, perpetuating and defining a 1920s ideal of film womanhood. Michael G. Ankerich’s revealing new biography, Mae Murray: The Girl with the Bee-Stung Lips, covers all that and more with unflattering detail.
She began life as Marie Koenig in 1889. Raised in New York City tenement squalor, her father died of alcoholism when she was 11, and her mother worked as a housekeeper. Pretty Marie meanwhile dreamed of becoming a dancer. She was on Broadway by 17 as one of Vernon Castle’s bevy of chorus girls. From there she appeared in the Ziegfeld Follies, where she gained widespread attention for her buoyant, sexy charm. Then came a contract at Universal for her film debut in To Have and to Hold. Under director Robert Z. Leonard, she starred in eight films through their Tiffany Productions at MGM. With titles like Peacock Alley, Fascination, and Jazzmania, they featured Murray as actress-dancer exotically costumed in baroque ensembles of peacock feathers, beadings, and bull’s horns. Alas, the Tiffany features are either forgotten and/or lost to time and neglect. It’s a shame, for Leonard was as important to Murray as von Sternberg was to Dietrich. Her career pinnacle arrived in 1925 with the title role in The Merry Widow. Her spats with director Erich von Stroheim were legendary, but years later this was the one she fought to keep in the public eye.
Mae and her 'prince'Ankerich’s fastidious research leaves the conclusion that Murray was petty, vain, delusional, and perhaps even slow-witted. If there was a poor decision to be made, Mae made it. She married for money very young, and dumped the guy when he didn’t deliver the goods. Her second marriage fell apart so fast reporters barely knew it happened. Her third marriage, to her Tiffany partner Robert Z. Leonard, lasted as long as their professional union was solid. Her fourth collapsed when she learned her husband was a fortune hunter, not a Georgian prince as advertised.
She threw public tantrums, and found some kind of solace from marital and/or professional injustices by repeat litigation. The talkies did her no favors, her florid style clashing with the microphone. In 1931’s Bachelor Apartment, she is a bespangled over-emotive anachronism next to a lovely young Irene Dunne. On the advice of her “manager” and fourth husband, she walked out on Louis B. Mayer at MGM. That would kill anyone’s career, and in Murray’s case, it exiled her to vaudeville. It must have been a dispiriting spectacle to witness a former silent film star treading the boards when everyone knew both her and her stage genre had appointments with extinction.
A certain “she made this movie and Variety said that, then she made that movie andVariety said this” rhythm sets in to Ankerich’s prose, but with some irony, Murray’s story gains interest after her career hits the skids. In her decline we see a cavalcade of show business neuroses. She had a fear of aging, yet insisted on maintaining, not updating, her image. Her many court appearances look like surrogate film performances, with opportunities to face the flashbulbs in movie star glad rags. There was a custody battle between her and a husband, with their son adopted by a surgeon and his wife. Murray by then had lost most of her money and scruples, becoming ever more moody and reclusive.
Dancing Mae, long after her heydayAnkerich recounts scenes in Murray’s later life that ache with pathos. Murray had once mentored Loretta Young. Broke in the 1950s, Murray paid a visit to her old protégé, then a lavishly successful TV star. Murray needed money, and Young wrote a check. Living in the Motion Picture House in Woodland Hills, a confused Mae boarded a Greyhound bus for New York. She got off in St. Louis, believing she had arrived, and wandered the streets without an identity. The Salvation Army took her in and determined that the addled old woman with the corn-yellow hair once danced with Valentino and Gilbert. Right up to her death in 1965, she maintained a once a star, always a star attitude against an indifferent world.
Murray’s story fuels the idea that Hollywood is a place of monstrously large lives taking gruesome crash landing through bankruptcy, infidelity, addictions, and career failings. It’s not pretty, be it Murray or Judy Garland or Lindsay Lohan. In Murray’s case, she doesn’t appear to have ever been a warm or compassionate person, so while we may pity her, there’s no sense of great injustice. It’s a terrifying spectacle, really, all about a self-made woman who lived and died by her own delusions.
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