Hair Pins and Dead Ends, Ankerich’s new book, on the horizon

Relax, friends, I have not pulled a Howard Hughes or Doris Duke on you and slipped into seclusion on some exotic island in the Pacific. If I ever became a recluse, it would be in Manarola, Italy, but that’s another story.

Michael in Manarola

Michael in Manarola, 2013

I am hunkered down and working on my next book, Hair Pins and Dead Ends: The Perilous Journeys of 20 Actresses Through Early Hollywood. This book is a companion volume to Dangerous Curves atop Hollywood Heels, which was released in 2010.

Hair Pins and Dead Ends tells the stories of 20 young women from all walks of life who, despite the odds against them, rose above thousands of other hopefuls to enjoy various level of success in films.

 

Cover3

Like Dangerous Curves, I selected the names for this book because I wanted to know more about their struggles in Hollywood. Some were well known and it was fairly easy to research their lives. Others existed only in fragments, a mention in Variety here, a photo in Motion Picture Classic there. Family members and public documents brought these women back to life.

I wrote extensively about Barbara La Marr  in Dangerous Curves, from her birth in 1896 to her death in 1926. She lived life so fast that I thought we should slow the action down and focus on her formative years, her life before  films.

barb03

In Hair Pins and Dead Ends, I piece together those years using La Marr’s own diary and the unpublished memoirs of Robert Carville, an early lover. I discovered that the “girl who was too beautiful” was really the girl who was too unhappy.

 

Mona Lisa

Mona Lisa

Mona Lisa was equally as mysterious on the silver sheet as she was on canvas. Like Barbara La Marr, this shadowy figure from silent films lived fast. Her publicity campaigns and brushes with the law made her private life more interesting than any films she made.

 

Gibson1

Margaret Gibson’s 1965 deathbed confession brought her name back to life. A neighbor who had been with Margaret as she lay dying recalls her confessing to the murder of director William Desmond Taylor. While playing virginal maidens on the screen, Margaret drifted into Hollywood’s underworld.

 

Marjorie Daw

Marjorie Daw

Both Marjorie Daw and Virginia Lee Corbin had mothers who brought their families to Hollywood in search of fame in the flickers. Marjorie’s mother died in 1917, leaving the 15-year-old  to raise her teenage brother.

 

 

Virginia Lee Corbin

Virginia Lee Corbin

By the time Virginia could crawl, her starstruck mother was pushing her into the spotlight. Virginia married young to escape her mother’s talons, but found it difficult to let go of her career.

 

Alice Lake

Alice Lake

 

Alice Lake, Helen Lee Worthing, and Lottie Pickford drowned their broken dreams of Hollywood in booze. Alice clung to a career long gone.

Helen Lee Worthing

Helen Lee Worthing

Helen rebounded from mental illness and suicide attempts, but her major sin in life was falling in love with the wrong man.

Lottie Pickford

Lottie Pickford

Lottie never gave a damn about much, preferring to party life away in the shadow of her sister, Mary, America’s Sweetheart.

 

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Sisters Katherine McDonald and Mary MacLaren were the Olivia de Havilland and Joan Fontaine of silent films. They were as different as night and day. Early tension in their lives led to a rift that never healed. Katherine struggled with alcoholism.

Mary MacLaren

Mary MacLaren

Mary, referred to (by some) as a crazy cat lady, spent her last days in her dilapidated home in the heart of Hollywood.

 

Fontaine La Rue

Fontaine La Rue

After a tragedy in their native land, Fontaine La Rue and her mother came to the United States. Fontaine soon married and became the mother of three children. Defying the odds against her, she found her place in the motion picture industry as a comedienne and vamp. I devoted a post to Fontaine when I was searching for her story.  I knew bits and pieces, but lacked the critical piece needed to put her life together.  Her family got in touch and filled me in. Her remarkable story is ready to be told.

 

Belle Bennett

Belle Bennett

Belle Bennett became a teenage mother while appearing in her family’s traveling circus. Once in Hollywood, she denied her motherhood, passing her son off as her brother. Ironically, an accident took the boy’s life, just as Belle was preparing for the mother-of-all roles in Stella Dallas (1925). Belle was stricken with cancer and died at the dawn of talkies.

 

Edwina Booth

Edwina Booth

While Edwina Booth survived the mysterious illness she contracted in the wilds of Africa while on location for Trader Horn, the beautiful blonde was never the same. She disappeared from public view. For years, the world believed she had succumbed to her illness. Edwina, comfortable in her seclusion, never came forward to prove them wrong. Her family sheds light on her illness and later life.

 

Marie Walcamp

Marie Walcamp

Florence Deshon

Florence Deshon

 

Evelyn Nelson

Evelyn Nelson

Marie Walcamp, Florence Deshon, and Evelyn Nelson escaped illness, heartbreak, and disappointment by bringing down the curtain on their own lives. Suicide, it seemed, was the only way to set themselves free.

 

Jetta Goudal

Jetta Goudal

Valeska Surrat

Valeska Suratt

Jetta Goudal and Valeska Suratt committed professional suicide through out-of-control temperament and typecasting.

 

Peggy Shannon

Peggy Shannon

Peggy Shannon came to Hollywood as a successor to Clara Bow, The It Girl, who had broken down from too much “It.” In time, Peggy lost her own way. Hollywood was particularly cruel to this former showgirl and helped her realize that, while she might have been a replacement for Clara, she was a poor imitation.

 

Lolita Lee

Lolita Lee

Lolita Lee, a struggling dancer and movie extra, was hired to replace Barbara La Marr in the film Barbara was making when she finally burned out. Being an imitation of or replacement for anyone never guaranteed success. Lolita soon vanished.

Look for further information about the release of Hair Pins and Dead Ends.

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Hollywood, Here I Come!

In one month, I will be in the heart of Hollywood!  I’m making my umpteenth journey to the land of dreams, the city that never disappoints.  This trip is dedicated to researching my new book, Hairpins and Dead Ends: The Perilous Journeys of 20 Actresses Through Early Hollywood. It is a companion volume to my 2010 book, Dangerous Curves atop Hollywood Heels.

I’ve already imagined the cover.  Well, it’s a working cover. The publisher will most likely alter it in some way, but it’s a starting point.

The actress on the cover is Edwina Booth, one of the subjects I am researching. Here are some of the actresses I am including in Hairpins and Dead Ends: Evelyn Nelson, Belle Bennett, Margaret Gibson, Gladys Brockwell, Dorothy Sebastian, Mary Thurman, Virginia Lee Corbin, Kathleen Key, Mary MacLaren, Peggy Shannon, Mary Miles Minter, Lilyan Tashman, Valeska Suratt, Corliss Palmer, Lottie Pickford, Marie Walcamp, and Alma Rubens.

You may not know some of the names, but their stories, their journeys through early Hollywood, are riveting.

On my upcoming trip to Hollywood, I’m interviewing relatives, visiting their former homes, paying respects at their final resting places, and researching their contributions to film history at the Motion Picture Academy Library.  As a writer and journalist, it is important for me to visit the places where they lived, loved, and died. It helps me put together the puzzle pieces that make up their lives. Being there helps me understand who they were.

As I prepare for upcoming trip, I can’t help but reflect on my very first trip to Hollywood. It was in the mid-1980s.  I had just started my writing career as a newspaper reporter. I was also interviewing former silent film actors and actresses for a column I had in Classic Images.

Dorothy Revier was one of the first actresses I reached out to. I thought her Hollywood portraits were stunning.

Although she was reluctant at first, we started a conversation, first through the mail, later by phone.  Here is her first letter.

She lived a lonely existence, I suspected, in her little Hollywood apartment. She was estranged from her only child, a daughter. She maintained close relationships with her sisters and writer Richard Lamparski. Dorothy became a regular correspondent. She sent pictures of herself in 1986 and urged me to visit her, if I ever made the trip West.

Dorothy Revier in 1986, a stunner still!

It was in the summer of 1986 that a trip emerged for me. I was invited to go with a theater troupe on their summer trip to Disneyland. I jumped at the chance.  Knowing nothing about southern California, I figured Disneyland was in the heart of Hollywood. It was actually over 30 miles away. It might as well have been a million. My sole purpose for joining the tour was to get to Hollywood, to see old Hollywood, to visit Dorothy Revier.

Fortunately, a writer friend of mine, Joyce (her last name escapes me), offered to pick Charlene (a co-worker from the newspaper) and me up at our hotel in Anaheim, drive us into Hollywood, and show us the sights.  Here’s what we did that unforgettable day in Tinseltown.

Knowing I was a Valentino fanatic, Joyce took us to Hollywood Memorial Cemetery (now Hollywood Forever) and to Valentino’s crypt. Who knew that Barbara La Marr and William Desmond Taylor were neighbors of Rudy’s?

Approaching Valentino's crypt on the left

Hollywood Memorial Cemetery with the Hollywood sign in the background.

We to Paramount. I looked, but didn’t see Gloria Swanson.

Michael at the Paramount gate.

Grauman’s Chinese Theatre was a must. I marveled at the foot and hand prints.

Mary Pickford's hand prints.

We had lunch at The Pink Panda on Orange Avenue. It’s probably long gone.

Well, the sunglasses WERE in style in the '80s.

Joyce drove us into Beverly Hills. The highlight was passing Lucille Ball’s home and driving up the long, winding street to Falcon Lair, Valentino’s famed home. The view from that street, Bella Drive, left no doubt, I had arrived in the land of my dreams.

Later in the afternoon, we pulled in front of 1275 North Havenhurst Drive. Dorothy Revier met us in the courtyard and invited us into apartment #6, her home.  Dorothy was gracious, fun, and outgoing. I had met and interviewed my first silent film actress. Her interview is featured in my book, Broken Silence: Conversations with 23 Silent Film Stars.

Dorothy, Michael, and Charlene

Later in the trip, I visited the Queen Mary ocean liner in Huntington Beach, but wouldn’t you know it, my sights were still on Hollywood.

On the Queen Mary

I even got myself on the cover of a magazine.

People are always asking, isn’t Hollywood a disappointment? True, it’s not what it was in the 1920s when Valentino was making hearts flutter and Mae Murray was striking poses with her bee-stung lips. But, it’s still there. You just have to dig a little deeper to see the Hollywood of the past. (As I write that last line, my heart is heavy with the news that plans are underway to raze Mary Pickford’s studio. Why do we Americans insist on destroying, nor preserving, our past?)

There would be many more pilgrimages to Hollywood over the years, but I’m kind of nostalgic.  You never forget your first time!