As Halloween creeps closer, I thought it relevant to dip into the more macabre side of Hollywood. Since All Hallows Eve is embraced as a public indulgence in the sometimes very thin line between life and death, it seems a perfect holiday for La La Land. Hollywood itself, sometimes appearing as a glorious Heaven and others as a torturous Hell, has birthed multiple superstars but has too killed its own children. The most depressing and pitiable of these fallen angels are those who choose to take their own lives. In all cases, the deaths are shocking, unexpected, and heartbreaking, but there are a few that are so unbelievable that, even when given direct reason or motive, one cannot wrap his or her mind around the tragedy; at least I can't. Olive Thomas remains the first official poster girl for the inexplicable, self-inflicted death, which to this day remains debatable. One can continue to turn over the evidence, but the varying testimonies of husband Jack Pickford, the memories of friends, and the final conclusions of medical professionals all produce contradictory evidence. Whether suicide or accident, the outcome is still devastating and Olive still a victim. Journeying down this same vein of the unfathomable and unreasonable disappearance of some of our brightest stars, I've compiled the following collection of some of the most bizarre and yet little discussed suicides in Hollywood History. Years after their shattered ends, one can still cry "Why, oh, why?" to the Hollywood Hills and receive no answer but a pained echo for the lost souls, volleying without end.
Lupe was branded the "Mexican Spitfire" due to her feisty, sensual, uncontainable spirit and her obvious heritage. Born in San Luis Potosi, she-- like Dolores Del Rio and Anna May Wong-- paved the way in the industry for "ethnic" girls, bringing her beauty, fire, and passion to the screen with full force. After a stint in vaudeville, Lupe landed in Hollywood where she made unprecedented, scene-stealing appearances in films opposite Douglas Fairbanks (The Gaucho) and Lon Chaney (Where East is East). The girl didn't just have "something," she had something indescribable. Who else in the history of cinema has outshone the Man of a Thousand Faces? Intensely sexual with a temper to match, she had a notorious romance with Gary Cooper-- whose placid demeanor was probably the only one who could withstand her raging bouts of anger-- and a failed marriage to an equal wild man, Johnny Weissmuller. Her career thrived through the silent era, where she gained a reputation as a comedienne with punch and panache, but the coming of talkies allegedly inhibited her career due to her obvious accent-- taking her out of the running of more acceptable, all-American leading ladies-- and later accusations of communist support dampened her public appeal. In her thirties, she did Broadway, returned to her native Mexico-- where she was very popular-- and landed back in Hollywood where she fell into the arms of actor Harald Maresch. Then, on Dec. 13, 1944, Lupe was gone, having taken her own life with the aid of Seconal. She was but 36-years-old. The reason for her shocking end was given by herself in a suicide note: "
Dear World, I am leaving because I am bored. I feel I have lived long enough. I am leaving you with your worries in this sweet cesspool. Good luck." His drug of choice was Nembutal. What remains so indiscernible is that a sharp man such as himself could suddenly become the butt of life's joke.
The ultimate French lover, Charles Boyer could inspire amore in even the lowest of skunks-- which he did when Looney Tunes modeled Pepe le Pew after him. With unforgettable performances ranging from superb malevolence in Gaslight to pious romanticism in All This, and Heaven Too, his acting talents were enhanced by a single raised eyebrow that drew women to him like moths to a flame. In his private life, Charles maintained his suavity but had much less ego. Fairly shy but amiable, he was entrancing for reasons aside from his looks-- which was necessary since he was prematurely balding, short, and had a bit of a gut. Originally a student of philosophy and a fluent speaker of five languages, the equally religious man wed his only wife in 1934 and remained faithful to her for the next 44 years (although, James Cagney--also a loyal husband-- would recall overhearing ol' Charles putting the moves on a young actress on one of their WWII morale boosting tours). The classy Irene Dunne named him as one of her two favorite leading men, (Cary Grant being the other), and he was able to befriend even the intensely private Maurice Chevalier. However, despite a prosperous career and happy marriage, darkness too was lurking over Charles's shoulder. After losing his son, Michael-- who shot himself either by accident or suicide on his twenty-first birthday-- Charles lost his beloved wife Pat nearly fourteen years later in 1978. Two days after this tragedy, Charles took his own life, again with the aid of Seconal. It is believed that he did so because the great romantic could not bear life without his paramour, but there had to be more cracks in a man than a broken heart to spur on such a desperate act. Whatever pains he felt in his personal life, he kept hidden, therefore giving a performance that far outshone anything he did on the silver screen. Without Pat as the glue to hold him together against his demons, death must have seemed the only out, but the results still make one shake the head in consternation.
Everyone's favorite girl-next-door ruled the silver screen in roles that showcased both her warmth and resilience. Close friends would be impressed with these qualities in her private life, including Jimmy Stewart who was head-over-heels for her in his early career. Maggie was a fighter, and proved it by overcoming a muscular weakness that prevented her from walking when she was a child. Rebellious in spirit, she overcame this malady and grew into a tomboy who shrugged off familial disapproval to pursue a career in dance and theater. When they cut her off financially, she paid her own way, making it all the way to Hollywood and cementing herself as a leading lady with grace and gumption. One of her most remarked upon qualities was her voice, which did not ring out clear as a bell, like so many young ingenues, but was instead deep and lush. Few knew that this was because she had a hearing problem diagnosed as otosclerosis: only by speaking at a deeper register could she even hear herself. As she aged, her condition worsened, which deeply affected her psychologically, as did her divorce from third husband Leland Hayward. After her three children forsook her to live with their father, Margaret was crushed. Separated from her family, she felt alienated and it gave her great pain to see the lives of her loved ones fall apart-- all of her children possessed her same rebellious spirit if not her focused drive. She became increasingly depressed, finding it difficult to sleep, and spent a great deal of time on her own. Though she continued to work, her only real companion seemed to be the foggy static that used to serve as noise in her increasingly isolated and lonely life. After spending time briefly in a mental institution, she was found home in bed suffering a Barbituate overdose on New Years Day 1960. It was too late to save her life. It continues to be argued whether the death was accidental or purposeful, but examining the evidence it seems that Maggie's flinty strength finally succumbed to her emotional abandonment. To make things even more tragic, two of her other children-- Bridget and Bill-- would later commit suicide, continuing the sad legacy. Only daughter Brooke remained to pen the novel of her family's breakdown: Haywire. Watching Maggie's movies today, she remains one of the least likely candidates for such a death, yet there the hard truth lies-- etched in stone.
Lou is a rarely remembered film personality. If he is recalled at all, it is only by history buffs who know him as the one-time husband of screen siren and opera star Geraldine Farrar. A handsome man, he clearly had something in the way of charm, since he was able to woo some of the biggest and most untouchable women in show business, including the illustrious Sarah Bernhardt in addition to Farrar. Charm also helped him in his acting career, where it has been reported that what he lacked in talent he made up for in personality and the ability to forge the correct "relationships." He got his start on the stage after seducing Bernhardt, who cast the young man as her leading man. He had no experience and at the time had just been released from prison. His drive for success was perhaps propelled by his status as an "illegetimate child." The legitimacy that he lacked in infancy, he clearly sought to attain in adulthood through prosperity. His ambition revealed itself in his first marriage-- to a countess. The name of his auto-biography, therefore, seems befitting: Women Have Been Kind. With his good looks, he clearly knew how to play the game to suit his needs, but after three failed marriages he still had not found what he was looking for. Thrown into the mix was his dwindling career, which included stage plays and film roles (including 3 Bad Men), often playing unsavory characters with an agenda. Things took a turn when his handsome face was damaged in a fire, thus leaving him without his oft played Ace. By 1934, he too was suffering from Cancer (a fact that was kept from him) and bankruptcy. With no career, no woman to save him, and a lifetime of mistakes and lost opportunities, Lou at fifty-one had nothing. This makes his death not necessarily surprising, as his sad state was obvious to those around him; what makes his suicide shocking is its execution. Lou's method was masochistic: standing before a mirror, he stabbed himself with a pair of sewing scissors... seven times. Legend has it that this was done while he was surrounded by newspaper clippings of his past glories, which is true figuratively if not literally.