Don't forget to refer to my Contents page for a more convenient reference to past articles.

For More L.A. La Land, visit my writing/art/film appreciation site on Facebook at Quoth the Maven and follow me on Twitter @ Blahlaland. :)

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

MENTAL MONTAGE: What a diff'rence a bouquet makes...

Olivia De Havilland, looking lovely in
a floral garland.

When comparing notes about different celebrities, I can't help but notice a common trend of the floral variety. Flowers between friends isn't an uncommon theme, and for birthdays, Valentine's Day, or (sadly) funerals, they always do the trick to indicate sentiment and appreciation. In any case, here are a few tales of gardenia lore I have encountered, which I thought you too would enjoy. As they say, one should always take time to stop and smell the roses.

Our starlet of the month, Veronica Lake, (left) had quite a history when it came to flowers. When she initially arrived in Hollywood, she found herself a bit left out in the cold, despite the fact that MGM had summoned her to California in the first place. Told that her screen test was being placed indefinitely on the back burner, she kept herself busy attending the Bliss Hayden School of Acting, thereafter obtaining extra roles and bit parts in feature films. While the public was still ignorant of her existence, some people were taking notice, particularly men. Walking around the back lot, the petite but sensual young woman was a tasty bit of eye candy. Even among the throngs of gushing ingenues and "5 o'clock girls," Ronni had a way of standing out, perhaps because she didn't bat her eyes or coo at the men in charge. Her aloof impenetrability made her all the more desirable.

However, Ronni always remained ignorant of her beauty or her charms, so when she started receiving anonymous bouquets of flowers, she was bewildered. Who could they be from??? They started arriving every day for a month. Unable to piece the mystery together, Ronni was relieved when she finally got a phone call from her nameless suitor. John Detlie, an art director at MGM, had been one of the many men whose heart (and loins) had churned at the sight of Ronni. He became intrigued, and instead of being one of the abrupt oafs who simply accosted her and asked her out, he decided to woo her in the style of an old-fashioned Don Juan. Since Ronni thought most men were full of sh*t, she liked John and his approach. Enjoying the attention he lavished on her, she accepted an invitation to lunch at The Brown Derby, which her mother, Constance, attended as well. (By inviting her mother along, John had also endeared himself to the senior party).

Soon, Ronni and John were in love. Throughout their marriage, which began when they eloped during Ronni's first big hit, I Wanted Wings, John would always surprise her with flowers or stuffed pandas, her favorite animal. She had quite a collection filling her house, and even her engagement ring, which Detlie had designed, followed suit: it was a panda with a diamond. Sadly, their marriage didn't last-- after jealousy over Ronni's career interfered-- but during these early romantic days, flowers won John's way into her heart.

Ronni also had a notable encounter with a floral arrangement when she was working with Milton Berle (right) on his television show in the early '50s. After Ronni's film career faltered, as a result of a disastrous second marriage to Andre DeToth, an increasing addiction to alcohol, and a losing battle with schizophrenia, she had to return to her more resourceful ways to provide for herself and her three children: Elaine, Michael, and Diana. Though unnerved by the idea of performing live on television, it seemed to be one of the only viable options for an actress who was on the outs with Hollywood. Milton Berle did her a favor by asking her to participate, due to the fact that she had garnered a notorious reputation as a temperamental and difficult actress. However, during the show, Milton found Ronni to be anything but her alleged diva persona: she was professional, friendly, and most importantly funny. During her skit, Ronni was supposed to seductively walk onstage with her fur wrap, and instead she wrapped it around her head like a babushka. Milton almost lost it in tears of laughter. The next day, Ronni would find a bouquet of flowers at her front door from him. During a difficult time in her life, it was just the thing to pep up her spirits.

When not using flowers to woo, one often sends them just to say "Thank you." Such was the case for William Holden. When picked up to star in his first major role in Golden Boy, the cocky charmer found himself-- for perhaps the first time-- a nervous wreck. Given the lead role in a major motion picture opposite such acclaimed and studied thespians as Lee J. Cobb and Barbara Stanwyck seemed like a dream come true, but once on the set, he lost a little of his swagger. Stiff and awkward, even Bill's handsome looks couldn't save him from the atrocious work the studio was seeing in the rushes every day. His worst fear was being whispered-- he was going to be replaced! And he would have been, had it not been for Barbara Stanwyck (pictured with Bill, left). Beneath Bill's jitters, Babs saw an incredible amount of potential, if only he could learn to harness it. So, she took him under her wing and studied his lines and his character with him each night. Their friendly rehearsals bolstered Bill's confidence and turned his performance around. When the film premiered, it was a huge success, and Bill became an overnight sensation. He never forgot Barbara's generosity, and for the rest of his life, he would send her flowers on the anniversary of the film's first production day. Babs was equally fond of Bill, and when she won her Honorary Oscar for Lifetime Achievement, she paid homage to her by then deceased friend: "Tonight, my golden boy, you got your wish."

Frank Sinatra, Robert Mitchum, a Olivia de Havilland during
the filming of Not As A Stranger.

Frank Sinatra was a crooner who was notorious for his unique and powerful vocals as well as his reputation with the ladies. In his day, he knocked boots with some of the greatest beauties of the silver screen: from Ava Gardner, to Angie Dickinson, to Mia Farrow. Needless to say, he knew how to show a girl a good time and shower her with gifts, however it was a man who was on the receiving end of Frank's floral generosity. During the shooting of Not As A Stranger, the boys' club of Frank, Robert Mitchum, Lee Marvin, et al fraternized, drank, swore, and rose hell. Strangers became fast friends and lifelong buddies. The eternal lady, Olivia de Havilland, laughed their shenanigans off and enjoyed watching the testosterone hijinks. Specifically regarding the powerhouse actor and dominating personality of Mitchum, it was no wonder that the rest of the cast and crew looked up to him. He became a sort of leader in the group, engaging in all night benders yet brushing off the effects like he had been sipping tea. Indeed, he could roll out of bed and head to set with ease, but he had to put a little elbow grease into sobering the rest of the fellows up. One day, when Frank expressed his astonishment at Bob's remarkable rehabilitation skills, he responded that liquor was like "mother's milk" to him. As a result, the boys' club started calling him "Mother." The joke didn't end when the shoot did, for Frank always used to send Bob a bundle of flowers on Mother's Day.

William Powell and Myrna Loy established one of the most memorable screen duos in cinema. Witty and romantic lovers onscreen, offscreen they were simply pals. Their natural chemistry translated well into the world of Nick and Nora Charles in The Thin Man series (right), where they volleyed off each other like squabbling siblings one minute and then kissed like sweethearts the next. Making fourteen movies together, they became staunch allies and the greatest pair of lovers who were never in love. It certainly helped that they enjoyed each other's senses of humor, which kept them laughing between takes as well. When Myrna Loy was voted the #1 actress in 1938, making her and Clark Gable the "King and Queen of Hollywood," William was proud of her, even though he had only ranked #4 in the same poll. To express his happiness for her, but also maintain their dueling humors, William decided to send Myrna a little congratulations. He had a bouquet of dead, atrocious twigs, leaves, and sour grapes sent to her in a huge box with the greeting, "With Love, from William the Fourth." Myrna had a good chuckle.

William continued his relationship with flowers with Jean Harlow, albeit on a more somber note. Jean was madly in love with William (together, left) and desperate to get married, but he had his reservations. He had already been wed twice: first to Eileen Wilson and then to Carole Lombard. Though the second union had ended in a still strong friendship, he wasn't quite certain that another trip down the aisle was in the cards. That didn't stop him from loving Jean, nor from buying her a nearly golfball-sized sapphire ring, which she wore during the production of Personal Property. When Jean suddenly and tragically died of uremic poisoning at the age of 26, William was devastated. He regretted not being there for her more, nor doing the one service for her she had truly wanted: to make her his wife. In her memory, he had fresh flowers placed on her grave at Glendale Forest Lawn for several years, so that "Our Baby" would know that she was still remembered and loved.

Jean: the "Baby" and a bouquet.

Marilyn Monroe had a great love of flowers. Her favorite photo-- taken by Cecil Beaton at the Ambassador Hotel in 1956 (right)-- is the vulnerable and sexy shot of her lying in bed, pressing a carnation to her chest. She frequented her favorite florist, Parisian Florist, at 7528 West Sunset Blvd, ordering beautiful bouquets to dress up her home or to send to her beloved friends. Sometimes, Joe DiMaggio, her ex-husband, would accompany her to the shop, where he autographed a baseball for the owners. (The flower shop still stands, usually displaying a picture of their favorite customer. If you ask, they will too show you the infamous baseball). Joe and Marilyn's union was an emotional and devoted one. Unable to live together due to Marilyn's fragile yet independent nature and Joe's old-fashioned and jealous tendencies, they still cared deeply for each after the collapse of their marriage. Marilyn remained on good terms with stepson Joe Jr, and whenever she needed someone she could trust, she called on Joe Sr. for help. Indeed, he was there to get her out of the Payne Whitney psyche ward of NY Hospital in 1961 when she was wrongly confined-- she had merely checked in for bedrest.

Joe and Marilyn in happier times.

When Marilyn died, Joe was destroyed. All the wrongs he had done her wore on his heart like a weight. If only he had done this, if only he had done that... But it was too late. One of the women he had loved most in the world, perhaps most of all, was gone and there was nothing he could do this time to save her. But he, like William Powell, would honor her memory, sending flowers to her grave at Westwood Memorial for the next twenty years-- always bright, red roses. He ordered them from Parisian. The cold, marble wall where she was interred seemed far too stale. But with fresh flowers, the delicacy and beauty that Marilyn represented to the world was more accurately communicated, even in her death. To this day, fans still bring her flowers and cover her grave with a garden of lipstick kisses.

Gone, but not forgotten...


  1. Beautiful post! I have, sadly, fallen behind in my blog-readings and I really miss reading your posts!!

  2. I find the platonic devotion that Barbara Stanwyck and William Holden had for each other beyond beautiful, and Stanwyck's speech at the Oscars makes me cry (a "good" cry) every time I watch it!