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Thursday, September 24, 2009


Well, the latest development in land of Effed up Human Behavior is the incestuous relationship that Mackenzie Phillips had with her father, John Phillips, of the Mamas and the Papas. Why? Just.... why???

As disturbing as this is to hear, it is not the first time I have come across similar information, which seems to run rampant in Hollywood in particular. Sex, when not used for pleasure, is most often used as a tool for power, so when the typical, insecure pervert feels the need to exert themselves over someone, it comes as no surprise that they choose the most helpless victim: a child. Following this reasoning, the solution to keeping the rape quiet is to choose a family member, who almost certainly will keep the information hush-hush, as they are both a) ashamed, and b) trust their attacker, so would see their speaking out as a betrayal.

Suffering the indignities and shames of such a situation, of course, breeds inner demons, which the victim is forced to deal with for the remainder of his or her life. It is no wonder that so many souls turn to artistry to deal with and exorcise their deep pain and confusion. The list of those who have martyred themselves on the silver screen after such attrocities is long indeed.

Margarita Cansino, aka Rita Hayworth, was molested by her own father (Eduardo) at the tender age of 13, while the two were touring on the road. In a dancing duo with Eduardo, Rita not only had to endure the exhausting rehearsals and routines he put her through, but when they began traveling, away from her mother, Rita was also forced to fulfill other "obligations." Supposedly, the first night the incest occurred, Eduardo was drunk and didn't know what he was doing, but that didn't stop him from repeating the act numerous times after. As a result, Rita developed into a shy, self-effacing woman who barely spoke above a whisper. She would repeatedly fall into the hands of numerous controlling men, including the eccentric Orson Welles. She would do anything to please the men in her life, and when she couldn't, when her relationships failed, she always thought it was her fault. The true Rita was a far cry from the sensuous, forceful vixen she portrayed on the silver screen. It was only there, in bright lights, that she had the sexual power and that she controlled men. It was only there that she was worshiped; in life, the men she worshiped, and trusted, were the same ones who debased and humiliated her. Perhaps the Alzheimer's she suffered from in later life was a godsend- blocking out all the painful memories from her past.

A similar story comes from Clara Bow, who uncovered a shocking memory about her own father when she entered therapy in her later life. The vivacious "It" girl came alive on the screen like a lightning bolt! But in her private life, she masked many horrors and personal pains that plagued her, driving her to insanity (she was diagnosed as schizophrenic) and suicide (luckily her sons found her dying body before it was too late to save her). Like Rita, it was Clara's father who betrayed her. For years, supposedly beginning in her early teens, Clara was taken advantage of again and again by Robert, the one man she should have been able to rely on. Of course, her mother, who was clinically insane, was no help to her welfare, and Clara once woke in the night to find Sarah Bow holding a knife to her neck. Having received no affection or love from her parents, Clara spent her life capturing the hearts of millions, though it always left her empty. She would have numerous affairs with the likes of Gary Cooper, Gilbert Roland, and husband Rex Bell, constantly searching for male approval and love, but she was never able to trust any kindness from a man as genuine. She died alone in her home in 1965.

However, women aren't alone in their victimization. One of the greatest philanderer's in Hollywood history, John Barrymore, was molested by his stepmother. Having already lost his own mother in death, the young John was left with no woman to support or nurture him, save his grandmother, who may have been the only woman he ever truly loved. Having a brutish, alcoholic, and womanizing father, John lacked a sturdy masculine figure to guide him as well. Ashamed and alone, John would spend his life disappearing in alcohol, venting his brilliant talents on the stage and screen, and punishing every woman he met for the sins of his stepmother. Womanizing was a competitive sport among his friends, the "Bundy Drive Boys," which included John Decker, Errol Flynn, and W.C. Fields. John used sex to exert his power over the female sex, but having a life that was filled with revenge and frivolity did not satisfy him. He had never had love; he had never had trust. Later, his own daughter, Diane, would claim that he had tried to rape her. True or not? Who knows, but based on his background it doesn't seem unlikely. John lost himself to the bottle and died prematurely at the age of 60. Perhaps his most famous role was in Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, the story of a man failing to suppress his inner monster.

One of the most recent massacres of innocence was suffered by River Phoenix. River was born into a hippie, free-loving family that soon entered a cult known as the "Children of God." Among other things, this "community" taught its followers to love God, love each other, and have sex as often as possible to celebrate the beauty of the body and unity of the human spirit. Sounds innocent enough, except they also instructed children to "experiment" with each other as often as possible, until they reached the age of fifteen. Then they were to abstain until marriage... at which point they could have sex as often as they liked and with as many partners as they wished. Couples were encouraged to swap partners, parents were encouraged to sleep with their own children, grandfathers with granddaughters, etc. etc. etc, because it was all about "Love." River would later recount losing his virginity at the age of four, though he later claimed he had been joking, probably at the instruction of his agent. Over the years, friends have reported that he revealed being molested by his own mother, and God knows who else, during this time at the COG.

Later, River's parents would recognize the "corrupt nature" of the community, and high-tail it out of there. But, the damage had already been done. River, and most probably his sister Rain, had already been corrupted. Joaquin, Summer, and Liberty, who were all born post-cult, may have been saved from these experiences, but who knows. All his life, River would have a close, and some say uncomfortable, relationship with his mother, Arlyn, whom he always referred to as "Mommy." A sensitive child, River would always be more concerned about pleasing others than pleasing himself, which revealed itself in his generosity and attention to animal rights. Forced to be a breadwinner, River was single-handedly keeping his family fed, and though his parents preached "love love love," it seems a little odd that they should put so much pressure on a child's shoulders. We all know how his story ended. While acting provided a good outlet for his demons for awhile, he was later unable to quell his personal tragedy, and took to drugs and alcohol. The sidewalk outside The Viper Room will always be famous as the place where River Phoenix OD'd.

I could go on all day with story after story about this subject... But I think this is enough to sufficiently depress me for now. The sad thing is, with all the talent these people possessed, it is a wonder where else they could have gone had they not been hampered by tragedy and self-loathing. There are those that would argue that, had they not experienced these terrors, they would not have been the supreme artists they were. I disagree. I believe they were born with their beautiful gifts, and had they been fostered and nurtured, they probably could have lived longer, healthier lives and produced more impeccable works of art. (Meryl Streep remains one of the greatest actresses of the day, and I would hardly describe her as "tragic"). These few stars felt alone in their sorrow. They had no one to turn to and no one they felt they could trust. Their pain festered, never being confronted, and never dealt with, until it drove them to ruin.

It is sad what human beings do to themselves, punishing themselves for sins not their own. We all feel alone, rejected, ashamed... But had Clara, Rita, John, or River had the confidence to reach out, I am sure there would have been no end to the people that would have helped them. Sadly, it is much harder to see our beauty and strengths than it is our flaws. These actors used their onscreen personae to reveal their vulnerabilities, their weaknesses... But refused to do so in life. Actors on stage, and actors off. I can only hope they are at peace at last.

1 comment:

  1. Meredith: it always seems to surprise us when the stars have feet on the same earth we do. Point to anyone, there is a story of loneliness and tragedy. The love we seek is not given over a lifetime, but in flashes of hope or seconds of pure joy. We all have idealized dreams of love and security, and these dreams make us sick with wanting. That's life.

    In other words, there is no peace at last and there is no help. Who can help, other members of miserable mankind? All drowning, floundering, taking one another down in efforts to save. -- Mykal