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Friday, November 20, 2009


In the world of history, all roads intersect. It truly is a small world, but the knowledge that we are all bound together inside of it can be a powerful thing. In studying Hollywood, I am focused on a very particular section of the past, but it is impossible to study the geography of one place without encroaching on other territories. The landscape of human life is forever intertwining, forever overlapping. Sometimes the bridges we forge between worlds is entertaining-- a hysterical bit of trivia-- and sometimes reassuring. Seeing the pieces of a massive puzzle all coming together to form one picture, albeit an ever-evolving one, makes the mystery of life and human connection all the more compelling. Is this not why we burrow into the past? To understand, to learn, to seek a commonality, which gives life a new meaning?

It is interesting to note the strange connections that different celebrities have with each other, outside of well-forged friendships. Chance encounters, life-altering meetings, and brief glimpses of different people from different generations seem to weld together the otherwise disconnected feelings that we have about important historical figures. I admit freely that I tend to think of people as existing within their own time line, so when I research a particular person and am introduced to the peers and acquaintances within their "community," I find it surprising. All of these separate stitches come together to form one large, all-encompassing fabric. It amuses me, and at the same time makes the person I study more tangible. Here are a few random encounters that struck me when I came across them:

~ Rin Tin Tin was one of the most famous, best beloved, and highest paid stars in Hollywood when he died on August 10, 1932. He peacefully met his maker in the arms of a new neighbor who had just moved in with her husband, Paul Bern. The new Hollywood ingenue? Jean Harlow.


~ In 1920, Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks were returning from a lengthy, European honeymoon. While aboard the SS Olympic heading for New York, they encountered a charming 16-year-old, English lad who was headed for America for the first time. His name was Archibald Leach. He would later be known as Cary Grant.

~ When Carole Lombard's plain tragically went down in January of 1942, it crashed into the mountains of Nevada. Before her husband, Clark Gable, had even heard the tragic news, 2 famous neighbors from the silent film days saw the flames going up over the mountains beyond their ranch. Rex Bell and Clara Bow were unaware of the gravity of the event when Rex went riding out to the scene, being one of the first to offer help.

~ One night in 1929, struggling actor Boris Karloff was leaving the Universal lot after a hard day of extra work. He was tired, and was thus very grateful when a generous man pulled over and offered to give him a lift. Lon Chaney then gave Boris the best career advice he was ever to receive- "The secret of success in Hollywood lies in being different from anyone else. Find something no one else can or will do-- and they'll begin to take notice of you." Clearly, Boris took the words of wisdom to heart.

~ Back in the 1940s, one of Hollywood's most notorious hot-spots was the Florentine Gardens. Many big-wigs went here to see and be seen, flirt with the pretty girls, and spend money on a strong drink. Young wannabe actresses went there hoping to bump into a producer or director, who would maybe give them a screen test. Two ingenues who met here? Elizabeth "The Black Dahlia" Short and Norma Jean Baker, otherwise known as Marilyn Monroe.

I came across another coincidence lately that went beyond the actor-actor connection. This one actually blew my mind, for although the "6 degrees of Kevin Bacon" law unites us all... this one stretches so far back into history, uniting two unlikely people, that all I could do was shake my head at the craziness of it.

                                                                     Wallace Reid                                                     

~Few people today remember the handsome matinee idol, Wallace Reid, although at one point he was one of Hollywood's biggest stars. Even fewer are familiar with his wife, Dorothy Davenport (below, top left), a movie star in her own right, who was descended from a long line of accomplished thespians, including the illustrious Fanny Davenport (bottom left), her aunt. (Fanny had, by the way, started an acting company in which the young actor Cunningham Deane aka William Desmond Taylor was performing in 1896). Dorothy's grandfather, Edward Loomis Davenport (top right) was a huge theater star in his time. So famous had he become, that his face appeared on etched cigar bands. Abraham Lincoln (left) was a fan of his work, and was excited when E.L. invited him to a performance of Othello at the Grover Theater on April 14, 1864. Unfortunately, Mary Todd had already made plans for them to see Our American Cousin at the Ford's Theater where, the night of the play, actor John Wilkes Booth (bottom right) shot Lincoln in his private box. Dorothy Davenport's grandfather very nearly saved Lincoln's life with his invitation, but fate had other plans. (Interestingly, E.L. had made his stage debut with Booth's father Junius Brutus Booth in Providence, RI). Wallace Reid-> Dorothy Davenport-> E.L. Davenport-> Abraham Lincoln. Less than 6 degrees of KB! Amazing! 

Hollywood seems to exist as its own separate universe- a galaxy of luminous stars radiating beyond the realm of the general population. Even living in Hollywood, one feels that there are two separate dimensions: the real world, and then the glossy world of fiction and fantasy-- the Olympus hovering somewhere overhead. It is a place that we cannot see nor touch, but that we are somehow constantly aware of. That is why I take such pleasure in the aforementioned instances of historical convergence, where "Hollywood" comes out from hiding and reveals itself as a real populace, filled with real people.


  1. Very cool post! I particularly like the Cary Grant - Mary Pickford & Douglas Fairbanks one. Fascinating!

  2. Thanks, girl! Just stopped by your blog and really enjoyed it. I was a film student in college as well, and it is always nice to converse with a fellow soldier! Have a great weekend :)

  3. I love coincidence stories like these! I was so shocked when I found out recently that Dorothy Davenport was Henry Davenport's daughter, and also the director/writer of Road to Ruin one of my favorite b-movie pre-codes!

  4. What a fascinating post! I, too, loved the Cary Grant story as well as the Boris Karloff one. Your site is always so illuminating!

  5. Thanks guys! I love this stuff too, obviously!!! I didn't even think to mention that Wallace Reid was also in a movie that included the Lincoln assassination: Birth of a Nation. I love the little stories though. Always nice to hear about young struggling stars meeting their idols. And you're right, Kate. Those Davenports were all over the place, with their fingers in many pies and projects!

  6. Fascinating stuff! I was aware that Rin Tin Tin died in Jean Harlow's arms, but wasn't aware of the date -- or that it (both geographically and chronologically) was so close to Bern's mysterious death.

    IIRC, I believe Dorothy Lamour wrote in her autobiography that a future husband of hers was a pilot, and may have been the last person to see Lombard's plane aloft before it crashed. Lamour worked with Lombard on "Swing High, Swing Low," and Carole befriended her to the point that when Lombard's contract expired at Paramount, she made certain Dorothy inherited her dressing room.

  7. VP81955: Sorry it has taken me so long to reply! Thanks for the info! I had not heard about Lamour, but that sounds like very typica; Carole stuff. I always love to hear stories about her. :)

  8. great work. Talk about a lucky dog. Dying in Harlows arms! The house in question is in Westwood. I really like it around there.