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Wednesday, April 27, 2011

MENTAL MONTAGE: Who's Your Daddy?

Adoption seems to be a popular sport among today's celebrity elite. Sometimes a famous lady or gent has simply gotten impatient while waiting for Mr. or Ms. Right and decides to start a family on his or her own. Other times, a svelte actress may opt to visit the orphanage to protect her figure instead of having babes the ol' fashioned way. Then, of course, there is option three, wherein certain celebs become invested in a strange, maternal gluttony-- a la Mia Farrow or Angelina Jolie-- and keep adding to their litter like bitches in heat without the heat. (I suppose all the extra nannies help). Adoption in Hollywood is not a new phenomenon, however. Joan Crawford accrued a tally of four lucky (if you ask the younger two) or unlucky (if you ask the elder two) tots, and Cecil B. DeMille had only one legitimate daughter (Cecilia) before adding on another three, due to his wife's charitable love of children and alleged distaste of the marital bed. This brings me to the point of today's segment: those mysterious, adopted children who suspiciously resemble their new parents. Coincidence? Perhaps. But Scandal is much easier (and  more fun) to believe and, in Hollywood, almost always true.

Cecil ponders: how am I gonna pull this one over???

Returning to Cecil, he had an older brother, William (left), who was also a director. The two were very close and mutually respected each other. While Cecil went on to be a much more famous and powerful man in the business, he still looked up to and admired his big bro. Perhaps this is why, when Bill ran into a little trouble, Cecil was all too ready to offer his help. See, William had married Anna George in 1903. This, however, didn't stop him from having a few extramarital dalliances, including one with writer Lorna Moon. This affair led to the birth of a son, Richard, in 1922. In order to save his marriage and to save the child from an unknown fate, William asked Cecil to adopt the child as his own, so at least William could watch him grow up. Cecil agreed to the request, since he had already adopted two other children, John and Katherine DeMille. Cecil was known for having trysts of his own, most particularly with writer Jeanie Macpherson, actress Julia Faye, and secretary Gladys Rosson, though aside from Julia he never dabbled with his actresses, sensing the danger it would cause on the set. For this reason, Cecil held no judgement against his brother, and took on the task of raising Richard and supporting Lorna until her death of tuberculosis in 1930. It was publicly stated that the child was abandoned and left inside Cecil's car and that he took it in. This and Cecil's own checkered romantic life raised many eyebrows, and it was often incorrectly speculated that Richard was his own child. The only two people who supposedly knew the truth were the two brothers. Cecil kept the secret until after Bill's death, when, as agreed, he told Richard about his true parentage. This brought forth a rush of understanding on Richard's part, who, though always treated with the same love and tenderness as the other kids, suddenly understood both his uncanny feelings of somehow being "apart" from the rest of his family and his strange attachment to his mysterious Uncle Bill. However, it never changed his relationship with CB, who continued to treat him as his own son.

A sudden and questionable bundle of joy also arrived in (William) Wallace Reid's life in 1922. Wally (right) was the All American Boy whom no woman could resist, as many women of his time could attest. After successfully wooing and wedding actress Dorothy Davenport, the two became the delighted parents of Bill, Jr, Wally's pride and joy. However, as time wore on and the marriage cooled, Wally's hijinks and shenanigans did not. Living a fast-paced and debaucherous life as one of the most desired men in American-- and even the world-- this superstar found it hard to resist the temptations that came with fame and fortune. Of course, his outward bravado also hid a sensitive and somewhat sad overgrown boy who was constantly searching for comfort, whether it be in inebriation or the arms of an all too inviting woman. As such, it is rumored that Wally fathered a child out of wedlock with an extra girl, who appeared on his doorstep and begged his wife Dorothy to take the baby girl in as her own. Whether or not these are the exact circumstances is unknown, but Wally and Dorothy did adopt daughter Betty Anna Mummert in 1922. It is said that Wally, who loved being a father, adored her just as dearly as his "legitimate son," so much so that if anyone insinuated or mentioned the fact that she was adopted, Wally's eyes would turn red with anger. He could be seen playing with his two tots in his backyard on DeLongpre, where they enjoyed splashing around in the family's fashionable swimming pool. Many would recall the strange resemblance Betty had with her adopted father and sibling Bill, and it is also recorded that she inherited some of Wally's more tortured mental traits. After Wally died as a result of his morphine addiction in 1923, Betty would live for another fifty years, having become estranged from her remaining family. If she was in fact his true daughter, all concerned took that information to their graves.

Dorothy, Wally, Betty, and Bill, Jr.

Barbara La Marr (left) also allegedly adopted her own child in 1923. This task was much more daunting for a female, since she could not simply take on the child after its birth as the father could, but had to carry it to term without raising attention. Since producer Paul Bern had been pining away for Barbara for some time, and the newborn seemed to bear a slight resemblance to him, many opined that it was indeed his child. However, this throws a wrench in all of the rumors built up around Paul, which include the theory that he had infantile sex organs and was unable to pleasure future wife Jean Harlow, (coincidentally leading to his mysterious "suicide"). If in fact this whole story about Paul's anatomy was a fabrication concocted by Mayer to cover up Bern's mysterious death, his possible paternity of Barbara's child also begs the question why he wouldn't marry her when she became pregnant, since one hears nothing but how infatuated he was with her? It is possible that she simply turned him down, as she was not in love with him. (There were additional stories that Bern tried to drown himself in his own toilet when Barbara broke things off. Clearly, this was either an incredibly unstable man or one whose memory people loved to desecrate). In any case, the child is popularly believed to be Barbara's own, one that she placed in an orphanage temporarily to complete the ruse. Though the child's true father is unknown, there are other papa possibilities- William Haines-- who was a constant "friend with benefits" to Barbara at this time-- and her one time fiance Wallace Beery. Another bit of trivia is that, after Barbara's death, her son (Marvin) was adopted by none other than pal Zasu Pitts!

But, the most famous case of celebrity "adoption" is the story of Judy Lewis (Mary Judith Clark), who was adopted by her own mother Loretta Young in 1937 (both pictured right). This one gets even juicier because not only was this lovely girl the offspring of one of the most gorgeous and powerful women in Hollywood, but her true father was none other than the King himself, Clark Gable. When Clark and Loretta met and began work on Call of the Wild, it wasn't long before the sparks started to fly, and Loretta's high Christian morals were soon overcome by Clark's charms. The two entered into an affair, he still being wed to Ria Langham at this point. Loretta, to her own shock and shame, became pregnant. Of course, there was no way to solve this disgraceful problem except to have the child aborted, which is what the studio wanted in order to protect both of their stars' images. However, Loretta's faith would not allow her to do so, so she concocted a plan: she would "take ill" in Venice Beach until the baby was born (on November 6, 1935) and place it in an orphanage (St. Elizabeth's Infant Hospital for unwed mothers) with the understanding that she would return within a matter of  months to adopt it. With the help of Irving Thalberg, this is exactly what she did. 

Clark and Loretta adhere to the Call of the Wild... 
and pay for it 9 months later.

Of course, everyone in Hollywood knew the real story, but for the press, Loretta went on the with act-- perhaps the best of her career. Clark made a few visits to mother and daughter after the birth, and by Nov. 30, Loretta gave her first interview, sans child, about how she had completely recuperated from her illness. Judy remained well taken care of, basically sitting in wait for her mother to return to her, which she did after a year and a half. The world bought the whole story, however, the secret became more difficult to hide as Judy aged. Not only did she resemble her mother greatly, but she had also inherited her father's trademark ears, which Loretta kept firmly hidden underneath a bonnet until she was forced to have them surgically pinned back. Later, after being prodded by a friend at school with the curiosity, Judith asked her mother why, if she were adopted, the two should look so alike? Loretta fumbled for an answer, stating that it was simply that they had spent so much time together and used the same mannerisms and way of speaking, etc. When the truth came out in Judy's early twenties, and Loretta was finally forced to confess to her daughter, she became so overwrought that she rushed to the restroom and threw up. Loretta had been tortured by both her love of Judith and her knowledge that she was the result of outright "sin." For Judith's part, once she knew and accepted the truth, she said that it made her feel whole for the first time in her life. And while her sketchy history and upbringing has become the stuff of Hollywood legend, she remains secure in herself and proud of both parents, despite their naughty, naughty ways. (Judy shows her resemblance to both parents, with mother Loretta, left).

There are certainly more stories from whence these dollops came, but uncovering them all would take a large chunk of time. The sad truth is that in these studio days, when celebrities were looked up to as Gods, it was intolerable for them to commit human errors. Many adhered to studio regulations when being punished for their immoral crimes, hence the number of "appendectomies" that female stars had to undergo. (Marlene Dietrich once quipped that abortion was the only studio supported method of birth control). For some, like the aforementioned, who chose to bravely go against the grain and have their children against studio objection, they still had to sacrifice honesty for a continued life of fame and fortune. Since most people in the community knew the truth, it makes one wonder why people chose to wear the facade of morality when all concerned knew that it was a facade. Between the shame of studio condemnation and the knowledge that a pious audience may too turn their backs on them, these players were forced to keep up the ruse and maintain their pristine reputations. As always, The Greatest Show on Earth takes place behind the cameras.


  1. Your blog entry reminds me of two Dietrich-related tidbits. In the Marlene Dietrich biography by her daughter Maria Riva, Marlene Dietrich allegedly supported Heinz vinegar douches as a form of contraception! Riva--once an actress herself--also claimed that Dietrich urged her to abort when she was pregnant.

  2. You pointed out so well how history has dumped on Paul Bern's memory. I wish someone could have protected Lupe Velez from making a tragic decision. As for Reid, they didn't call him Good Time Wally for nothing. I have visited an old apartment on Sweetzer ave that Cecil kept for his trysts. It's still there on Fountain. Thanks so much Mer and keep em coming. I'm all ears! (however not Judy Lewis ears) ;^)

  3. Joseph: Thanks for the info. I will never look at Heinz products the same way, haha. Sounds like Marlene.
    Billy: I didn't even think of poor Lupe! I wish there was more information about her. I hear her mentioned so often in others' accounts, but I feel there is too little devoted solely to her. And poor Paul... What can ya' say?