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Wednesday, March 10, 2010


Movie stars seem to have it made-- living lives of luxury, lying carefree on their bed of roses... However, every rose has its thorn, so imagine the sting! When we watch one of our shooting stars fall to earth, we ask ourselves how someone so "blessed" could come to such tragedy. At times, it seems that some people are just guided by a blacker fate. Odd premonitory events or strange post mortem occurrences often seal in our minds the image of a fallen idol as doomed from the start. In the wake of yet another demise-- that of Corey Haim-- here are a few examples of uncanny coincidences in celluloid history that seemed to echo the tragedies that have or would soon befall our Kings and Queens of the screen. These oddities beg the question, Is it all happenstance, or are we all entwined in some kind of twisted destiny?


In the film Monkey Business, Groucho Marx, as usual, filled his dialogues with puns, zingers, and one-liners that left audiences howling with laughter. With new leading lady, (and star of the month), Hot Toddy, he had a whole new bag of witticisms he could use to play off her beauty, sex appeal, and naughtiness. It is strange that one of the funniest bits in the film would later lose all of its hilarity.  

Monkey Business was already hitting close to home with Thelma. Her character is trapped in marriage to a gangster, just as she would be married to underworld pawn Pat DiCicco. Of course, she would later become involved with another mobster-- Lucky Luciano. However, this example of art-imitating-life is chicken feed. It is Groucho's line in the film that sends the real chill up the back of your neck:

  • "You're a woman who's been getting nothing but dirty breaks. Well, we can clean and tighten your brakes, but you'll have to stay in the garage all night."
Four years after this film was released, Thelma would be found dead in her garage. The joke is no longer funny. Hearing it now, one feels saddened and a bit uncomfortable. Odd coincidence or foreshadowing?


Roman Polanski, who was always something of a notorious figure, would become even more troubled and haunted after the brutal murder of his beautiful wife, Sharon Tate. Sharon was one of the many victims butchered by the demented "Manson Family" in 1969. Clearly disturbed by the loss, Polanski used his work to communicate his resulting inner demons. The violence he would inject into his later films seemed symbolic of his tortured memories. Some would speculate that Polanski was cursed for making the devil-themed film, Rosemary's Baby, which explored the impregnation of a woman by Satan himself. Perhaps in conversing with occult leader Anton LaVey, (for research during the production of the film), he inadvertently opened a door to a certain evil that would later claim his wife's life, and ironically, the life of his own unborn child.

However, this is all spiritual conjecture. It was later, while shooting his adaptation of The Tragedy of Macbeth, that a truly chilling and concrete episode occurred. In keeping with the most savage of Shakespeare's plays, the film was packed with violence, obsession, and blood. Indeed, during one sequence, much of the cast and many of the extras had to be covered in fake blood. One small girl, drenched head to toe in red, caught Roman's eye. A pretty little thing, the contrast of her innocent eyes and blood-caked face spoke to him. She seemed nervous and a bit frightened by the ensuing chaos, so he approached her, perhaps hoping to calm her. He then politely asked her name, to which she replied: "Sharon." One can only imagine his reaction, for his thoughts certainly went right to another blood-soaked beauty.


Hollywood and every teenage girl alive mourned the loss of River Phoenix when he shockingly died of a drug overdose on Halloween morning of 1993. A promising young actor, River overcame many personal tragedies to arrive at super-stardom by giving performances filled with nuance and intelligence. However, all of the old ghosts who remained locked in the back of his mind, ones he never really faced or dealt with-- mostly because they involved misuse by his own family-- drove him to bury himself unnecessarily in drugs and alcohol. Had he received counseling or been supported by a stronger system, his life may have been a very different story.

Or would it? It seemed that River was hexed from the start, not through any kind of magic or voodoo, but by his very name. It would take time for people to make the connection after River collapsed outside The Viper Room in Hollywood-- supposedly after receiving a bad "hit" from personal friend, John Frusciante of the Red Hot Chili Peppers-- but an anagram of River's name spelled out his very doom: River Phoenix = Viper Heroin X.


When Judy Garland began making films, audiences were immediately charmed by the awkward little girl with the big voice. However, it wasn't until she had her world turned upside down by a tornado in The Wizard of Oz that she really took Hollywood by storm. This film changed her life, and despite all of the ups and downs that would follow, she would always remember the making of this film as one of the highlights of her career, as well as one of the fondest memories of her life.

Judy would go on to make many movies and sing many songs, but it was "Over the Rainbow" that sealed her forever in the American heart. Despite her addictions to drugs and alcohol, people could never really turn their backs on her. They always recalled the nervous and vulnerable child underneath, who-- at heart-- just wanted to go home. We lost Judy far too soon, but she will live on forever because of her participation in one of the greatest films of all time. I think she knew this too. Fittingly, on the day of her death a tornado swept through Kansas. Perhaps this was Judy taking her final bow... She certainly liked to go out big.


John had a select pack of pals that he regularly spent his time with. This tight-knit group included the likes of artists (John Decker), actors (John Carradine), and writers (Ben Hecht). One such comrade was Gene Fowler-- intellectual and journalist extraordinaire. As with all of John's friends, Gene respected and adored John, and was devastated when he saw "the great profile's" physical and mental condition crumbling. John was a tough man to love, but those who knew him best stuck by him and remained loyal to the man beneath the monster.

One of John's most cherished possessions was a cuckoo clock that sat in his Beverly Hills home. It had ceased to work long ago, but it remained sitting against the wall for guests to admire. When John passed away on May 29, 1942, Gene (right) thought it befitting to set the time on John's beloved clock to his time of death at 10:20pm, forever immortalizing that fateful hour. However, when Gene approached the dial, he froze. The clock already read 10:20! Strangely, John and his clock had died at the same time, only years apart. Was the cuckoo eerily predicting the hour of John's passing?

Hollywood offers glamour, prestige, adulation, wealth, and a variety of other assorted splendors, but it seems that its underbelly is just as gruesome as its face is fair. Sometimes, the horrid events that take the world by storm seem almost preordained, for in looking back, you can find the signs screaming "Beware!" to the unwitting victims who walk the Boulevard of Broken Dreams. Too many take the chance of treading on this brittle path and suffer the consequences. Though their deaths serve as a shocking wake up call to us, we can only hope that they themselves are now finally able to rest in peace.


  1. Wonderful post!! I was especially spooked by the Thelma Todd and River Phoenix ones. Just crazy.

  2. Yeah, the River thing is definitely a little too crazy!!

  3. Your last paragraph summed it up pretty well. Many of these folks don’t heed the warning signs that come with the pressures of fame. They were just regular people like us. The “Star Treatment” that was created by publicists and studios sometimes became a double edged sword. Well done Meredith.