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Wednesday, April 25, 2012


As gorgeous as Rita Hayworth was, there was always a touch
of little girl innocence about her.

Reviewing the life of Rita Hayworth, one may be left with the feeling that this poor lady had no fun at all. That is simply not true. A little girl trapped in the body of a luscious woman, Rita had a childlike sense of humor that she did, on occasion, get the chance to exercise. She seemed to bond with every day people more than her glamorous peers of the silver screen. As such, she formed close relationships with people like her secretary, Shifra Haran, and her make-up man, Bob Schiffer.

Shifra would see Rita at her best and at her worst. She came into Rita's employment because she had started out as Orson Welles's secretary, only to be charmed by Rita, whom she looked after like a daughter. She quickly empathized with the silent beauty, whom she realized was more insecure than her looks would indicate. When Orson began wooing Rita, Shifra would often walk into a room to find Rita reading, trying to improve her mind so that Orson would think well of her. Embarrassed by her almost total lack of formal education, she would hastily hide the book so that no one would know what she was doing. Shifra knew, and these little moments of humanity were what won her over to Rita's side, even after witnessing her all out brawls with Orson. One of her most cherished memories, however, is a moment when Rita really let her hair down. The two ladies had just returned to the US from Europe on the Queen Elizabeth. Having just divorced herself from Welles and currently being sought by Prince Aly, Rita was a ball of nerves most of the time. Clearly, she needed to unleash the stress. Thus, before disembarking from the great ship, Rita challenged Shifra to a spit-ball contest. She and Shifra stuck their dainty heads through a couple of port holes and hocked loogies like nobody's business. "That's the kind of gal she was," Shifra would recall proudly. However, their immature hijinks were not appreciated by all. Suddenly, Rita pulled her head back aboard: "The man below us just stuck his head out and I think I hit him!" Indeed she had, for when Shifra peered below to investigate, she was met by an angry gaze. One can imagine the two full-grown women chuckling uncontrollably at the mishap. For all of the glitz of Rita's movie star existence, it was these small moments that made her feel truly alive.

Bob Schiffer perhaps knew this better than anyone. He would come to know the woman behind the make-up very well as her cosmetics guru (see right). They remained nothing more than friends, although Bob admitted that he had a deep and unwavering crush on her that was constantly irritated by her poor choice in men. For this reason, he perhaps took a little too much pleasure in playing elaborate jokes on her suitors. Rita was at one time being romanced by producer Charles Feldman. It just so happened that Bob was over at her place having drinks when Charles showed up at her door. Rita was panicked! She was worried that Charles would misunderstand her friendship with Bob and was uncertain of how to explain his presence. Bob offered a solution: he would pretend to be Thor Heyerdahl of Norway-- adventurer and author of the recent success, Kon-Tiki. As such, he would pretend to speak no English and utter the only Norwegian word he knew, which was, of course, an expletive. Rita agreed, and Charles entered. When he met "Thor," he became excited, for he had been wanting to meet and sign him at the studio! Bob kept a straight face and feigned incomprehension as Charles tried to communicate. As Charles made an ass of himself talking slowly to the foreigner-- who only responded with his one token swear word-- Rita had to bite her lip to keep from laughing. Several times, she had to excuse herself so she could have a hilarious outburst in her room. Bob performed like a pro, occasionally deigning to converse with Rita in Spanish, which Charles too did not understand. The game tarried on as long as the two dared before Bob said his goodbyes, never breaking character. Charles must have been disappointed that he didn't land that contract.

Bob had some definite scrapes with Orson Welles after Rita married him (together, left). When filming The Lady from Shanghai, Bob was serving once again as Rita's make-up man. This was all well and good, but Orson proved to be a bit of an overbearing dictator. Tyrannical and demanding, he sometimes seemed to invent reasons to belittle or snap at Bob. Granted, he was probably under severe stress, serving as both an actor and as the director, but he too was perhaps jealous of Rita's friendship with Bob and used his position to enact a little revenge. Things would come to a head one day, with Orson blowing his top and ordering Bob to hurry up with re-touches. The more he yelled, the slower the angered Bob would move. Finally, Orson screamed, "You're fired!" Rita was not pleased, but to keep the peace, Bob continued doing her make-up in secret and sent one of his assistants to "pretend" to do his work on the set. This ploy worked well, until the entire production had to switch to location shooting in Mexico. Rita had to smuggle Bob onto the departing plane without Orson noticing. Bob, understandably upset over the whole thing, got a little schnockered at the bar before take off, where-- in a stupor-- he divulged the time and location of the flight to several lurking reporters. He got to the plane early and took a spot in the cock-pit with the pilot, an old war buddy, and passed out. Rita and Orson arrived to much fanfare, uncertain how the press had discovered their rendezvous point. To make matters worse, there was much turbulence on the flight, which frightened Rita and angered Orson. At his wit's end, Orson stormed the cock pit to talk to the pilot, who coincidentally had just stepped out, leaving the plane on auto-pilot. Thus, Orson was greeted only by the sight of a slovenly Bob Schiffer at the helm. His eyes bulged, and he raced back to Rita. "That jealous friend of yours is trying to kill us," he screamed in terror! Not so, but at least Bob won a few points back by frightening the unstirrable Orson Welles, even if accidentally. He may never have won Rita's heart, but he could always make her smile

When Carroll Baker (right, as Luz Benedict II) began taking acting classes with Lee Strasberg, she found herself in very handsome company. Struggling actors like Paul Newman and Steve McQueen were friends, and Eva Marie Saint was a constant companion. At many a get-together, Carroll would see another boy, whom she felt strangely drawn to and mystified by. He was an odd duck, with a small frame, tousled blonde hair, and a tiny face. Always separate from the group and lost in his own thoughts, he spent most of his time playing his bongos before disappearing to God knows where. Every now and then, he would see Carroll looking at him, trying to read his thoughts, and he would smile. But they exchanged few words. Yet, for some reason, James Dean always held a place in her heart. When Carroll was called West for a screen test for George Stevens's Giant in the spring of 1955, she was escorted to Warner Brothers by one of Jack Warner's lackeys. When they arrived at the gate, they were greeted by the security guard, who was hunched over, his face hidden by his hat. Suddenly, issuing beneath the brim, Carroll heard a muffled, "Carroll. Car-roll. CAR-ROLL!" She jumped out the car and swiped the hat off the head of Jimmy Dean, who burst into laughter. Carroll never did figure out how he knew when she was going to arrive-- she was too surprised to ask. He grabbed her, set her atop his motorcycle, and drove her (rapidly) out to his favorite place on the lot: a white house with a picket fence. Since they had never really been friends before, Carroll was shocked by Jimmy's sudden attentiveness. He seemed to have grown taller and more confident. They still talked little, but had an instant sort of rapport and camaraderie. He then drove her to the commissary where she ate lunch while staring at the likes of Elizabeth Taylor.

Carroll landed the role of Luz in Giant without a real audition. George met her and was sold. Carroll returned to New York and her husband, Jack Garfein, but before she knew it, she was back at Warner's for the big shoot... And back at that security gate! The same thing happened. The guard started in with "Carroll. Car-roll. CAR-ROLL!" This time, Carrol hopped out of the car and tore the cap from the guard's head only to be met with shock. She stood staring at a small boy with dark, sad eyes. He grinned at her shyly. Undeterred she called, "Come out, Jimmy! I know you're here!" Jimmy hopped out of the booth, cracking up yet again. "Oh boy, did I fool you!" He introduced her to Sal Mineo, his accomplice, with whom he had just wrapped on Rebel Without a Cause, then drove her back to the same white house as before. However, this time, they were met by an intruder, and one that Jimmy was not too happy to see: Dennis Hopper. Seeing that their privacy had been compromised, Jimmy grew irritated. Carroll never did figure out why he grew so cold at the sight of Dennis at "his house," but she assumed it was out of annoyance-- it was pretty clear to her that Dennis was trying to mimic all of Jimmy's mannerisms and attitudes. In any case, this little white house remained special to her, because it held such pleasant memories between James and herself. This had been the first place in Hollywood where she had felt at home. After Jimmy died, it was here that she went to grieve and say good bye. (Jimmy lassos Liz Taylor in Giant, left).

Forever Amber was being touted as a Twentieth-Century Fox sensation! Adapted from the scintillating novel by Kathleen Winsor about a young woman who sleeps her way up the English social totem, Linda Darnell was cast in the star-making role of Amber St. Clair (right) and Cornel Wilde was cast as one of her many suitors, Bruce Carlton. Unfortunately, all the hype and expense did not end as profitably as the studio had hoped. Though far from a failure, the film did not reap a success of Gone with the Wind-like proportions. Of course, there were signs all along that the movie was doomed. Linda herself, at a mere 23 years of age, was forced to carry the entire picture on her young shoulders. With a grueling shooting schedule, forty costume changes, and a strict diet weakening her system, it came as no surprise when the formerly brunette and now blonde actress collapsed on the set. She was sent home with Mastoiditis, though many would believe her true illness bore another name: Otto Preminger. Linda didn't take too well to the director. Few did. He was tyrannical, abrasive, and almost sadistic in his methods. While he produced mesmerizing films, few of the actors that suffered under his demands believed that the pain was worth the pleasure.

Cornel (left) had worked with Otto previously on Leave Her to Heaven and Centennial Summer, and was in no way, shape, or form looking forward to a reunion. He almost envied Linda for being home recuperating while he was left to suffer on the set. Linda did turn out to be lucky. One day, a dueling scene was to be shot, and Otto insisted on a special effect to simulate an early morning fog. They tried dry ice, but it dissipated too quickly. Then, some genius suggested using Nujol. The oil mixture was sprayed into the lights and created a beautiful illusion of mist. It was just what Otto wanted. There was, however, an unfortunate side effect. See, Nujol also acts as a laxative. After inhaling the chemical for hours on end, as Cornel recalled, the entire company got diarrhea. Linda was grateful to miss this episode. The worst she was to suffer was her initial illness and a minor burn from the great burning of London sequence-- during which many local residents called the fire dept. upon seeing the sky engulfed in smoke and flames. Yet, the worst scar Linda carried with her was that of Otto. She detested him, and this in effect had broken her trust with many future directors. When she started filming on A Letter to Three Wives, Joseph L. Mankiewicz decided to use this to his advantage. During the scene in which Linda's Lora May is to look with antipathy at a photo of character Addie Ross, he supplied a picture of Otto. The effect was perfect.

On the silver screen, Fatty Arbuckle and Buster Keaton got into all kinds of madcap shenanigans. Off screen... Fatty Arbuckle and Buster Keaton got into all kinds of madcap shenanigans. The anatomical opposites were a perfect match in the world of silent comedy and the best of friends in reality. Their physical dexterity mixed with their mental proclivities for mischief is perhaps what helped them gel so well. Their pranks became infamous and were so well planned and thoroughly calculated that mayhem seemed to be their religion. Soon enough, the duo were referring to their naughty gags as "Special Operations." They would find a mark, formulate their ploy, and execute with no mercy. One member of their countless prey was actress Pauline Frederick. As wealth was accumulated in Hollywood, some of the hoity-toity movie stars began taking on their new roles as rich aristocracy a little too seriously. For her part, Pauline had decided to spend her seemingly endless dough on authentic English grass, which she had specially imported and placed in the lawn of her new Beverly Hills mansion. Fatty and Buster couldn't resist. Enlisting the help of Al St. John, the threesome disguised themselves as Water Company Workers, complete with a rented truck. They told Pauline's staff that they were looking for a leak. In order to locate it, they would have to disturb her lawn. Thus, they rolled up her entire yard and carted it off. When Pauline woke in the morning and stuck her head out the window, she was greeted with nothing but dirt. Those dirty scoundrels! (Right in The Bell Boy).

Another favorite prank of Fatty and Buster occurred when they took one of their many trips to San Francisco-- ironically a place that would hold little laughter for Fatty later. They rented a room in a hotel and decided to have a some fun at the staff's expense. Buster took off his shoes and scraped them along the edge of the windowsill, getting them good and dirty. Then, Fatty balanced him with his hands, and Buster-- acrobat that he was-- proceeded to walk up the wall, then did a handstand off Fatty in order to walk across the ceiling and back down again. Thus, it appeared that a man had literally walked all over the room. When the cleaning crew came in the next day, there is no telling what they made of the strange trail of footprints. It must have driven them crazy trying to clean it, but overall, I would say that they were just confused... (Fatty, Luke the Dog, and Buster left in The Cook).

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

MENTAL MONTAGE: 50 G's, or the Kid Gets it!

If Rita Hayworth were as handy with a gun as Elsa Bannister,
her private life may have been a little less frightening.

Fame is attractive. Perhaps too much so. The brilliant light of celebrity glows so brightly that it is bound to attract all kinds of insects. While being a movie star may, therefore, appear to be glamorous, all that swatting at intrusive pests can become quite irritating... even horrifying. Every cinema great has a story when it comes to seeing the dark side of fanaticism and fame. Some have been sent obscene letters, stalked, hounded, etc. But the worst of the worst is when the threat of death comes knocking at the mansion door; when the wealth and prestige one has worked to accumulate is suddenly used against him by the very public that originally built him up. Extortion, blackmail, ransom... You name it. When you have money, you are going to make a lot of "friends" fast and a lot of enemies even faster. The worst of it comes when a parent's own child is used as the bargaining chip. Most of the time, these vile threats are just that-- pathetic, get-rich-quick schemes connived by ill-adept con-artists. On rare occasions, the worst can happen, as in the tragic kidnapping and subsequent death of the Lindbergh baby. Here are a few examples of when the lifestyles of the rich and famous became nightmares of the sick and twisted. Greed knows no shame...

Rita Hayworth never went in for the whole celebrity lifestyle. While she had great pride in her hard work, she did not invite nor yearn for a place in the spotlight. If she was disenchanted with the pretentious, hoity-toityness of Hollywood initially, she became completely tormented after the hypothetical high-life threatened the peace of her home and the safety of her children. After she married Orson Welles and gave birth to their daughter, Rebecca(together left), the trouble began. She was already on emotional pins and needles as her marriage collapsed (after a brief reconciliation while filming The Lady from Shanghai together). Mostly on her own, with secretary Shifra Haran and Rebecca as her only company, she was completely blindsided and terrified when a fan letter was sent to her on Feb 2, 1947 from "The Scar Never Fails" of Cleveland, TN. The author demanded $2000 in a week's time, threatening to kidnap Rebecca if his demands were not met. In addition, he intimidated Rita by making violent threats against her own life, ignorantly asking her if she wanted to wind up looking like "the blue daliha[sic]," clearly referencing "Black Dahlia" Elizabeth Short, whose mutilated and bisected body had just been found the previous month. If Rita did not comply with the blackmailer, she was told that lye would be "thrown into those beautiful eyes of yours." Needless to say, she was panicked and frightened. Luckily, by the time she even became aware of the letter, blackmailer James Gibson was already in custody. Having dealt with the shock almost completely on her own, she decided it was time to give old Orson the heave ho', and she filed for divorce the next month. Unfortunately, this was not the last threat to Rebecca's life. When vacationing with her mother and Aly Khan, Rebecca was actually physically grabbed by a man on the beach at Deauville. Luckily, the nanny who was watching her was able to call for help and the culprit didn't get far.

The one positive during this latter episode was the attentiveness of Aly, who was a much more nurturing partner than Orson had been. However, it was Rita's relationship, or rather failed relationship, with Aly that would put her children in even further danger. Their daughter, Princess Yasmin (right, with mom), became a prime target for kidnappers after she was brought back to America. Due to her royal status and wealthy parentage, she looked like a pretty sack of cash to unsavory individuals looking to make some easy money. Just prior to her divorce from Aly, Rita received threatening letters that demanded a hefty ransom in return for Yasmin's life. Rita had tried to find a little serenity by taking both of her girls to Lake Tahoe for some respite. Imagine her surprise when the District Attorney showed up at her door with seven guards telling her that there had been a threat made against Yasmin's life! Apparently, D.A. Jack Streeter had serendipitously overheard two culprits bragging about how much Yasmin would be worth, then listened as they laid out their plan to approach by boat, snatch Yasmin, and escape across the lake. The morons had no idea that they were divulging their plans to the very man who would stop them. Thus, Rita and her children were surrounded by bodyguards as they waited nervously for danger to approach. Luckily, none did. Perhaps the two dimwitted gents had merely been describing a fantasy scenario; perhaps they approached, saw all the feds, and decided to back off. In any case, Yasmin was safe... For now. When Rita finally was able to escape with the girls to the Beverly Hills Hotel, she became irate when a reporter broke into her hotel room and started taking photos of her daughters. If it had been that easy for him to get in, imagine what would happen if a person with evil intent made a move!

The worst was to come while Rita was being squired by next beau, Dick Haymes, who had essentially set his sights on Rita to solve his own financial woes and too help him out of his latest debacle-- he was being threatened with deportation to Argentina. (When visiting Rita in Hawaii, which was then not a U.S. state, he had failed to notify the authorities). In the midst of this mess, Rita received the first of three threatening letters on Aug. 24, 1953. Rita was going through her divorce from the Muslim Prince when this poison pen author claimed that Yasmin would be killed if she did not return to Aly. Since Rita had been unfairly dubbed a "homewrecker" and a "whore" after she allegedly broke up Aly's first marriage, it was clear that a religious fanatic was invoking the wrath of God on her and her sinful ways. The second letter she received informed her that if Yasmin was not returned to Aly, someone would "beat you so that you will have to go to the hospilal and your career as movie star will be over [sic]." At this point, Rita became incredibly paranoid, fearing that perhaps it was father-in-law Aga Khan III himself who was orchestrating this whole thing as a scare tactic to get her to return to his son. Such was not the case, but the intimidation had reached such a level that even J. Edgar Hoover got involved. Everyone was on the lookout for more letters with the same postmark of Rochelle, NY. The third letter came mere days before Rita's wedding to Dick. It stated: "Yasmine [sic] will die unless her father is permitted to raise her as a Moslem." Then... silence. The money was never paid, and the villain stopped his correspondence. Luckily, the worst Rebecca and Yasmin were to suffer through the ordeal was the inconvenience of constant police surveillance. (Dick, Rita, and the kiddies left).

Marlene Dietrich was also a fiercely protective mother. Though her relationship with only child, daughter Maria Riva (together right), would grow complicated over the years, no one could deny her intense pleasure at being a mom nor her overpowering maternal instincts. This was never more evident than in Maria's earliest years, when Marlene took a brief respite from show-biz to play Mama. Yet, entertaining was in her blood, so it was only a matter of time before she returned to the spotlight. She was ecstatic about her sudden success with The Blue Angel and her American hit Morocco. However, when she crossed over to the United States, all was not all rosy. She would receive one Hell of a welcome when, almost immediately, Maria's safety was threatened. Just prior to filming Blonde Venus, Marlene received the first of several ransom letters. The extortionist demanded that $10,000 be placed in a box and left on the running board of a car, which was to be parked in front of her house. Marlene started shaking: "I have never known such fear in my life. I couldn't eat. I couldn't sleep." She immediately went to husband Rudi (Sieber), who wanted to call the police, but since the letter insisted that the police not be involved, Marlene resisted the intervention of law enforcement. Instead, Rudi did the next best thing, which was to enlist the aid of Josef von Sternberg and Maurice Chevalier, the latter of whom just happened to call when the hysteria was setting in.

And so it was that dapper Frenchman Maurice (left) arrived with both a pistol and a shotgun. He and Josef stood guard at Maria's door while Rudi patrolled the house and grounds, being clever enough to constantly change his clothes, so the kidnappers believed that there were more people around. More letters arrived, with the ransom price jumping to $20,000. As Marlene grew more nervous, Rudi maintained composure. Finally, the letters came to a stop. No thieves ever showed. Maurice tipped his hat, holstered his guns, and went home. It seemed the whole thing had either been a hoax or an ill-performed attempt that the instigators failed to follow through with. Things slowly returned to normal, but Marlene insisted that life always remained a bit bittersweet after that. When she started filming Blonde Venus, she insisted that Maria accompany her to set and be placed just out of camera range, so she could keep her eye on her. She later asked Rudi how he had remained so calm, to which he admitted that he had actually called the police unbeknown to her from the very beginning. The entire time that she had been biting her nails, the house and her daughter were under complete surveillance. Rudi said that he was afraid if she knew, she would be unable to go about her business normally, thus alerting the kidnappers to the police presence. He didn't think she was that good of an actress!

In February of 1934, Spencer Tracy also got an unfortunate introduction to an extortionist who went by the name of "Rattlesnake Pete." By this time, Spence was receiving oodles of fan mail, but one particular letter, written in pencil, definitely stood out from the pack. It too arrived straight to his Holmby Avenue address, which was even more alarming. Rattlesnake demanded $8,000 in return for the safety of Spence, his wife, mother, children Susie and John, as well as his recent paramour Loretta Young (together in Man's Castle, right). This was unnerving, mostly because the person seemed to have intimate knowledge of all the people surrounding Spence and too seemed to be taking some sort of cocky revenge on his infidelities. Rattlesnake made sure to illustrate the gravity of the situation by referencing recent ransom victim, Minnesota banker Edward G. Bremer, who had just paid the highest price to date for his safety-- $200,000-- to the Barker-Karpis gang. He warned that if Spence didn't pay up on the allotted March 10th drop date, the price would only go up. Spence took every precaution he could, moving his children to his mother's place in Westlake Park and calling the authorities, despite the warning not to do so. Wife Louise was blissfully ignorant of the whole charade, since she was out of town, unreachable, and snowed in. Detectives watched the family constantly, which was a thorn in the 10-year-old John's side, though Susie was too young to be aware of the situation. When Spence was forced to tell John that if he wandered off, a "bad man" may take him away, the little boy got the picture sure enough and remained terrified throughout the rest of the ordeal.

When Louise finally received word, she rushed home as quickly as she could and stuck to her children like white on rice. The family (left) was at the end of their tether as the dreaded drop date approached. The police authorized Spence to go ahead with the exchange in the hope that they would be able to swoop in and catch the culprit. So, on March 10th, Spence rode out to Wilshire and Western with chauffeur Walter... and Detective Joseph Filkas crouched in the back seat! They were told that a man would jump onto the side of the car and grab the dough. Though they followed instructions, the blackmailer never appeared. After that, Rattlesnake Pete became silent, never sending another letter. Spence had a theory that his last chauffeur may have been the guilty party, since he had been bitter when Spence fired him. Yet, when police investigated, the evidence was too inconclusive to make an arrest. The handwriting didn't check out. Rattlesnake Pete was never found.

The idea of losing one's child is perhaps the worst feeling a parent can endure, but there was one single lady who had her share of scares as well. In 1935, Thelma Todd (right) was doing more than well for herself. A successful, beautiful comedienne, the "Ice-cream Blonde" too had a roaring business going with her Sidewalk Cafe, co-owned by ex-lover Roland West. However, despite the fact that everyone in America seemed to love her, Thelma continuously got a slew of evil letters threatening her life. She once had to call a bomb squad to the restaurant because an offender claimed he had planted one inside! None was ever found. Some of these hate notes were certainly from obsessive fans, or anti-fans, but due to the company she had previously kept, Toddy also had an idea that ex-flame Lucky Luciano and perhaps even ex-husband Pat DiCicco had something to do with it. Since Lucky was miffed that Thelma wouldn't allow him to use the upper level of her restaurant for his gambling purposes, there had been a violent rift between them. She often felt herself being watched and followed. The hate mail grew to such a level that her maid, Mae Whitehead, took a batch of letters to the police station as a part of her regular duties. No shrinking violet, Thel' wasn't about to let the abuse go on. She kept the cops well informed, bought a white bull terrier named White King, and purchased herself a pretty little handgun, which she kept tucked in her purse.

The most fearful letters came from a man called "The Ace," who decorated his correspondence with a drawing of the ace of hearts in the lower, right-hand corner. His mail started Feb. 2 and continued five times more through November. His letters were different than the others, since they each named different men that Toddy had been romantically involved with, including Roland and bandleader Abe Lyman. She too received strange, mumbling  phone calls from Ace. The instructions she received-- money for her life-- were confusing. She was told to send $10,000 to Abe Lyman in New York, while Abe was told in a separate letter to send $20,000 to radio man Major Edward Bowes (?!?!). None of the three involved could make heads or tails of it. Soon, Thelma's number was up to $20,000. She decided to take action. She was to make the drop at Hollywood, but instead, the feisty lady left a letter at the allotted space, which stated that she wanted to meet the blackmailer face to face. Another meet was set, and Thelma drove to the Warner's Theater, where she saw a fidgety man in a hat, who made sure to obscure his face. He came up to the car and gave her directions to a secluded place where they could make the swap. After tossing out a "Not on your life, pal!" Thelma put the pedal to the metal and sped off. She went straight to the police, who first scolded her for setting up this dangerous operation without them, and then instructed her to try again with them in tow. She obliged. This time, when Ace stuck his head in the car and reached for the money in her purse, he caught a sight of her gun and made a dash for it. He got away again, but not for long. (Thelma with White King in her last photo, left).

The police made an arrest in Astoria, NY. Hotel superintendent Harry Schimanski was a 34-year-old obsessed fan who had photos of the lovely Thelma (right) taped all over his apartment. Though he pleaded "not guilty," Thelma was glad to at least have the guy in custody. To make things more confusing, however, more letters started to arrive, this time from "A Friend." This guy demanded $50,000, or Thelma would be killed and her restaurant burned to the ground. Luckily, the police located 28-year-old Edward Schieffert immediately, and he made no protest. In fact, he openly admitted that he had been the author. He was proud of it! He said that Thelma was his "dream girl." Obviously, he was a bit confused about proper wooing procedure. The strange thing was that he too admitted to the Ace letters. Since he was quickly committed to Bellevue after being deemed mentally unstable, it is still uncertain if these were just more mad claims or if he was in fact some kind of maniacal genius playing two games at once. Thelma was just glad that the harassment was over. Her peace would be short lived. She would be found dead that December.

Ironically, Spence portrayed a man wrongfully accused of
kidnapping in Fury.

Oh, the negative side of fame... Countless stories could be told. Linda Darnell's attempted $2000 extortion by a seventeen-year-old from Salt Lake City; Gloria Swanson's attempted blackmail by ex-husband Harry Samborn... It seems that there is no rest for the wealthy. Fame has a price, and it is staggering. The emotional toll is often more damaging than the financial one, which is perhaps why, for matters of pride, the aforementioned individuals refused to pay up, even if it meant that they could wind up six feet under. In the end, it wasn't about the money; it was about dignity and smarts. Where you find one cockroach, there are bound to be more. Sometimes you have no choice but to squash 'em, especially when a threat is made against your offspring. If the natural world has taught us anything, it is that you don't come between a mother and her cubs. Not even in Tinsel Town.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012


Rita Hayworth weds Prince Aly Khan May 27, 1949-- and becomes a 
bona fide Princess!

America has always been its own land, influenced by the East but varied in its interpretations. We have no ruler, but we do have some guy we appoint every four years to help guide this ship. We have no palaces, but our richest society members can afford extravagant mansions at which we can marvel. We have no capitol Kingdom... but we do have Hollywood. As Tinsel Town grew into a burgeoning community of wealth and fame, our stars became the Kings and Queens of our universe-- the cream of the crop, the most beautiful we had to offer. As our economy boomed and we proved our mettle as builders, entrepreneurs, and even master businessmen, this little punch of public appeal lent us even more respect from the more aged countries across the sea-- who seemed antiques to our brave new, and finally thriving world. Hollywood would help put us on the map as a definite competitor in business, for as the world wars ensued and stalled filmmaking in the initially, equally prosperous German and French cinematic worlds, America's cameras kept rolling, and rolling, and rolling. As film continues to be one of the most far-reaching mediums in existence, so too do the faces that grace the silver screen remain the most famous and the most adored. These American idols, thus, became idols the world over, and soon, more historically rooted royal families started rubbing elbows with our own invented, ordained beings.

The first King and Queen of Hollywood, Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks, bridged this gap when they began entertaining the Duke of Alba, the Duke of Sutherland, the Marquis of Vienna, the King of Spain, the Prussian Princess, and the Prince of Sweden at their own illustrious, colonial style castle: Pickfair. Different curious foreign figureheads too began visiting the stars on the film set to see how they created their magic pull. Lon Chaney once entertained the Princess of Sweden in between shots on the lot (see his hamming here), and Russian government leader Premier Nikita Khrushchev later came to visit Shirley MacLaine on the set of Can-Can (right)-- he would memorably say, after watching the high-kicks, "The face of humanity is prettier than it's backside." (Can-can you believe it)? Some may have poo-pooed celebrity appeal, declaring that these newly appointed social rulers were not given their position through generational inheritance, as true royalty was, but the grit and determination of self-made American men and women somehow made their new, elevated status seem even more deserved. After all, true Kings and Queens were simply famous for being famous, wealthy, and guiding the general course of their nations. How were Hollywood idols any different? At least they didn't pretend to be entitled. They had worked hard, and publicly, to earn their places in adulation. They too were not chosen by a metaphysical God, but were chosen by the people and for the people. They were not creatures of tradition, but creatures of change: modern, alive, now. At the very least, they made things interesting... and much more aesthetically pleasing.

In no time at all, as if Hollywood had just discovered a great new plot, true royalty began romantically courting this new American royalty. Not surprisingly, the male heir to the foreign throne was usually the one who came to woo a beautiful American Princess back to his Kingdom. The movie starlet, after all, was the ultimate, two-dimensional sex object. A Prince was just a regular man in the end, and he saw marriage to a film goddess as the culmination of all his fantasies, just like any other guy. The only hiccup, of course, was that the perfection on the screen was an illusion, and these gorgeous screen creatures were actually three-dimensional, full-blooded women. Life with them would prove to be much more complicated off camera. Of course, the ladies too would make the mistake of getting involved with a real Prince as a result of their own yearning Princess fantasies. As such, more often than not, the glass slipper would prove to be a little too tight, and an alliance between the various Kingdoms and the world of America seemed not to be, if only because America's modernity is naturally averse to old-fashioned values and traditions. American movie stars are working women, not housewives nor the placid trophies and ornaments that the magazine covers make them to be. Nonetheless, more than one couple would defy reality, try to bring a fairy tale to life, and marry in the name of Love (aka delusion). Almost always, they would divorce in the name of War. (Marilyn Monroe tries to win Laurence Olivier's heart (and crown) in The Prince and the Showgirl, right).

The Love Goddess Becomes a Live Princess

Rita Hayworth met Persian Prince Aly Khan in Cannes through Elsa Maxwell. Much like her second husband, Orson Welles, Aly was on a mission for Rita, in his case after seeing The Loves of Carmen (left). Rita wasn't a fool. She knew why men were interested in her: her stardom, her sex appeal, her screen persona. She knew too that it was all bull-hockey. Just as she had Orson, Rita initially rebuffed Aly's advances-- after all, she was already dining with the Shah of Iran and King Farouk-- but she finally agreed to meet him for an afternoon visit. Yet, to show that she was no easy sell, she showed up late from another date and dressed in a casual pair of shorts as if to say, "Look bud, I'm just a regular girl-- but not a daft one." Of course, her moderate attempts at self-preservation started to crack due to her natural, maternal nature and sensitive heart. Aly was persistent and charming. Most importantly, he was attentive. During the early days of their courtship, it was as if there weren't any other people in the world. Aly even proved to be a devoted father figure to Rita's daughter Rebecca, giving her much more affection than her own father (Welles). After Rita's recent divorce, heartbreak, and her growing, increased antipathy toward Hollywood, an escape with an exotic Prince seemed to be just what the doctor ordered. After a fortune teller encouraged Rita to dive into the relationship, that's just what she did-- although certain people believe that Aly paid the "psychic" in advance for every premonition she would foretell.

Despite their love for each other, matrimony wasn't going to be as simple as a swapping of vows. First, Rita had to win over Aly's father-- Aga Khan III, the head of Ismaili Muslims. A very shy person, Rita was afraid she wouldn't be able to impress him, but Aga was immediately enchanted with the American beauty, whom he deemed incomparably lady-like. Step-one completed, Aly had to clear up one final snafu- a divorce from his wife Joan Yarde-Buller, with whom he had already had two sons. The divorce was obtained after much effort and protest, and Rita was unceremoniously dubbed a homewrecker-- this despite the fact that the wedded couple had been separated for some time, and Aly had been unfaithful with a slew of women before Rita. Needless to say, Joan should have been grateful for the release and sumptuous alimony, and Rita should have been more skeptical of her suitor. But, as they say, love is blind. The wedding of Rita Hayworth to Aly Khan was held in May of 1949 to much ballyhoo, despite their attempts to keep it quiet and private. The paparazzi party-crashers and the chaos of the day was nearly enough to send super-shy Rita into a nervous breakdown, but she made it through the ceremony. Little did anyone know that she was already a couple of months pregnant with her daughter with Aly, Princess Yasmin, who would be born in December of the same year.

Almost immediately, the beauty of their love affair became one beast of a burden. Rita was not cut out for politics nor the party life, which is what Aly's somewhat immature existence was all about. Instead of a quiet life away from the cameras, she seemed to be even more scrutinized and imprisoned than ever. Aly would throw or attend lavish get-togethers, often leaving Rita surrounded by strangers or else completely alone at home. He too did not give up his wandering eye. After Rita had had enough, she smuggled her daughters out of Cannes and back into America, fearing that Aga Khan would try to stop her from taking his heiress granddaughter. Such was not the case, but once the divorce proceedings commenced, a great debate was waged regarding custody, as well as what religion Yasmin (with mom and sis Rebecca, left) would be raised to practice. The Aga wanted her to receive Muslim instruction; Rita wanted her to be raised a "normal, Christian, American child," although she probably used the religion issue as a bargaining chip to maintain U.S. public sympathy. Aly, for his part, tried unsuccessfully to win his wife back, but despite her vulnerabilities, Rita was not the shrinking violet that she was sometimes believed to be. She wanted her freedom back and hopefully a chance at happiness with a man who could give her the life she'd always dreamed of. Aly, nice guy though he was, was not it. He would return to his wayfaring ways, seducing Joan Fontaine, Yvonne De Carlo and Gene Tierney, all while still legally wed to Rita. Rita would endure two more failed marriages, never finding her Prince Charming. You go to bed with a Prince, and you wake up with a frog...

Gloria Swanson and the Guy with a Long Name (Henri le Bailly, the Marquis de La Coudraye de La Falaise)... and Constance Bennett

She was the ultimate silent screen siren. He was a French nobleman who had inherited his title (Marquis de La Coudraye) from his grandfather. There was much appealing about Gloria Swanson-- diminutive but almost dangerously beautiful, glamorous, and noted for her embrace of a decadent lifestyle (see right). It seemed that she was only waiting for a like-minded man to make her healthy brand of business-savvy narcissism an official Queenship. Henri was equally intriguing. Born into privilege-- but not money-- he had to work for a living, which made him a rare, down-to-earth regal. The legendarily handsome man, who preferred to be called "Hank,"  became a war hero then set his sights on Hollywood. He served as a translator on the set of  Madame Sans-Gêne (1925), where he met his leading lady, Gloria. Though he took on jobs as her assistant, he lacked the business smarts of his wife, and Gloria remained the family breadwinner. Clearly, she hadn't married him for money, so it must have been his title alone that she found so hypnotic. The marriage only lasted until 1931, by which time both were already thoroughly involved with their replacement spouses: Irish sportsman Michael Farmer for her and Constance Bennett, another actress, for him. But some believe that it was the appearance of business partner Joseph Kennedy in Gloria's life that put the final nail in the relationship's coffin. Joe sent Henri to France to work at Pathe simply to get him out of the way. Joe wasn't the gentleman Henri was, and he wouldn't stick around too long after Gloria's career took a dive after Queen Kelly, particularly since her financial woes were partly his fault. By this time, Henri had already written Gloria a letter suggesting that they amicably call it "kaput." Thus, Gloria turned to Farmer, whom she accidentally wed while still technically married to Henri-- thus instigating a bigamy charge. Oy. Vey. Henri and Gloria remained friendly, though, unlike her former two spouses Wallace Beery and Harry Samborn. Henri was a great guy, just not husband material.

Constance Bennett would disagree. Henri's marriage to Constance (left) would last a few years longer than his partnership with Gloria, and at first they seemed a good team. Constance was herself true "Hollywood royalty," having come from a family of esteemed thespians, including father Richard and sister Joan. Her beauty was as famed as Gloria's, as was her impeccable sense of fashion. A shrewd business-woman, she too had a love of controversy, which is perhaps why she jumped at the chance to wed a nobleman, and most importantly, a nobleman who was still married to Gloria Swanson! Always ambivalent toward the press, this royal wedding probably seemed like more of a game to her than anything else, and the fun-loving Henri simply enjoyed being along for the ride-- with beautiful company, of course. The duo had some successes as a couple, such as establishing a production company, Bennett Productions, through which they produced two films together, but by 1940, both their business and personal institutions hit the skids: too much flash, too little substance. Connie quickly moved on to actor Gilbert Roland (for awhile) before settling on army Gen. John Theron Coulter. Henri would marry again to a Colombian divorcee, but would die with no heir to pass on his notorious title. Just as well, for the moniker hadn't served him too well in the end. Heavy is the head the wears the crown... 

Mae, Pola, and Those Damn Mdvanis

The noble Mdvani family hailed from Georgia-- not the American State, but the Eurasian country nestled between Eastern Europe and Western Russia (ironically, a Georgian Prince, Gregory Eristoff, would tutor Rita Hayworth in royal etiquette during her marriage to Aly). While the Mdvani name and their country are little familiar to the ears today, they caused quite a scandal in the 1920s that would make them, briefly, both famous and infamous. The family was understandably unnerved during the Russian revolution of 1917, which encouraged the five offspring of parents Zakhari and Elizabeth Mdvani to flee to Paris. Of course, woeful times of war were not going to knock this highbrow family off their pedestal, and the killer instinct-- or rather lady-killer instinct-- led to them all finding safe harbor through fortunate marriages-- emphasis on the "fortune." They were thus referred to as the "marrying Mdvanis." The three sisters Alexis, Isabelle, and Nina did well for themselves, the latter of whom married Denis Conan Doyle, son of author Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, but it was the two brothers, Serge and David who would make the greatest claims to fame by wedding Hollywood starlets. David found a paramour and partner in Mae Murray (right). The "girl with the bee-stung lips" was hit by Cupid's arrow, and the duo wed in 1926. Unfortunately, after David had bled the movie queen dry and bankrupted her, he abandoned her for better prospects.

For his part, Serge attached himself to drama queen extraordinaire and exotic film siren Pola Negri (left) in 1927, but after she too lost her fortune in the stock market crash, he quickly ditched her to find a more profitable union. This proved to be more than enough impetus for Mae and Pola to spend the rest of their lives single. Mae had already endured three prior marriages, including one to director Robert Z. Leonard, and her heart was officially finito. Her acting career would too become non-existent, and she ended her days in near poverty at the Motion Picture Country Home. Pola, memorably devastated (and overstated) at the funeral of lover Rudolph Valentino, had too suffered through a previous marriage to Polish Count Eugene Dambski-- oh yeah, she was married to a Count too, and thus was temporarily a Countess, which she happily publicized. Anyway, after the debacle with ol' Serge, she opted to forevermore avoid the sacrament of marriage... and allegedly men. She was rumored to favor only the fairer sex throughout the rest of her life (though indiscriminately). Temporarily, Mae and Pola were regal sister-in-laws; afterward, they were separately, equally, and thoroughly disenchanted.

The Near Miss (Flynn)

Errol Flynn had no shortage of women to choose from. While in his early Hollywood days, this was a welcome bonus to his celebrity, which only enhanced his already irrefutable charm, as he aged, he seemed to favor a quieter, less pretentious lifestyle. Of course, two failed marriages (to actresses Lili Damita and Nora Eddington) had certainly weathered him, particularly the first. After the notorious statutory rape trial that dragged his name through the mud and left his reputation forever sullied by the popular phrase "In Like Flynn," he felt that he had been through the ringer. Despite public perception, he was not proud of his reputation as, what he found akin to being, a gigolo. This was particularly embarrassing for him as a father, a job that for once he was totally devoted to. The skills he lacked as a faithful husband, he made up for as a loving dad. As he tried to leave boyish hijinks behind in pursuit of more mature aspirations-- a career in writing, an acting reputation of repute-- he too thought it time to man-up in the ways of matrimony. Perhaps in a further need to class-ify himself, he drew his attention to Romanian Princess Irene Ghika. The two became engaged (right), with Errol perhaps hoping that some of her royal blood would rub off on him. He, in turn, made suggestions about getting a career started for her in film. However, the nuptials never came to pass. It took one mere look at newcomer Patrice Wymore on the set of Rocky Mountain for Errol to forget all about that royal bird, Ghika. He would settle for being a mere Hollywood Prince by marrying Patrice in 1950. They remained married until his death, though at the end they had become estranged. All of the hard living in Errol's earliest years had fractured his chances at love and happiness, perhaps because he had never truly learned to love himself. But, as he would say, he had still had "one Hell of a time."

The Happy Ending

The one royal wedding that has gone down in history as a true fairy tale is that between Grace Kelly and Prince Albert Rainier III of Monaco (left). Having met on May 6, 1955 while Grace visited Cannes (strangely where Rita and Aly had met), Grace had not been interested at all in meeting the Prince, and was a bit miffed that she was expected to take time out of her vacation for, essentially, a publicity ploy to meet some guy who happened to be royal. She was still engaging in a fling with Jean-Pierre Aumont anyway, so romance was not on the agenda. Begrudgingly, she agreed to the meet n' greet, so imagine her annoyance when Rainier showed up late for his personal tour of the palace. Despite this, Grace made nice, and Albert was cordial, but no one would exactly say that sparks flew at this meeting. Still, something had been ignited. Unlike the fiery, passionate affairs that both had engaged in previously, this romance began slowly. The two found themselves still thinking of each other after they had politely parted, and a correspondence began. What could a little love letter or two hurt? After all, Albert had, from Grace's own lips, been "charming." While Grace began performing her role as the conflicted Princess Alexandra in The Swan, few people knew of her secret affair with a man who would in time make her a real life Princess!

After coming to know each other through their letters more than most people ever do, and meeting clandestinely when appropriate, they fell in love, and Albert proposed. He was under the wire and in need of bringing an heir to the throne. He saw his meeting with Grace, therefore, as fortuitous. Her natural aristocratic air, intelligence, and poise made her a prime candidate for a royal wife, which is why she said "Yes" and then "I do." Grace finished filming on High Society, then boarded the S.S. Constitution for her new home across the sea in April of 1956. The wedding was extravagant and the event of the season, not to mention one of the most memorable movie star moments of all time. As a woman of discipline and duty, Grace would fulfill her obligations as a political wife, including mothering three children (right) and enduring the snooze-fest schmooze-sessions she had to attend as Rainier's arm candy. There would be a tinge of regret in her choice to leave her career behind, and unfulfilled roles and opportunities must have hung heavy on her heart. Nonetheless, she remained Princess Grace of Monaco until her dying day and proved to little girls everywhere that impossible dreams do come true.

Paramount was ecstatic about the publicity Gloria Swanson's
marriage to Henri de la Falaise generated.

When it comes down to it, all of these marriages or attempted marriages were about dreams. Everyone is looking for his or her perfect soul mate-- a fellow traveler who will walk this crazy, winding road with them and give them peace. Too often, the illusion of what one wants is far from reality, which is why most of these regal pairings wound up royally screwed. Yet, you can't hold it against them for trying. When offered the chance of a lifetime, one is bound to seize it, even at the cost of not thinking it through. You can't blame the stars for trying to solidify their own powerful but somehow unsteady existence by "marrying up;" nor can you blame movie-loving royalty for literally reaching for the Stars. In either case, the film performers who failed at the altar still reign supreme on the silver screen. Since many of them will be remembered long after names like Mdvani and Ghika are forgotten, I think we know who really rules the world.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

TAKE ONE, TWO, THREE: The Lady is a Tramp

Some of our best films are adaptations of famous novels: Gone with the Wind, Double Indemnity, Ian Fleming's 007 Series, etc. During the Golden Studio Era, when a producer wanted a dramatic story with punch and passion, he turned to W. Somerset Maugham. Bette Davis had Maugham's genius to thank for two of her most popular roles in cinematic versions of both Of Human Bondage and The Letter. Gene Tierney embodied one of his venomous villainesses in The Razor's Edge. Greta Garbo behaved naughtily then piously for him in The Painted Veil. His work was written, adapted, then re-written and re-adapted several times throughout cinematic history, including re-makes of the aforementioned pieces. However, one particular story has been directed and performed in such vastly different and distinctive ways that it is well worth investigating. His tumultuous tale "Miss Thompson," later retitled "Rain," hit book stands in 1921 and enthralled readers around the world with its themes of sex, religion, and torrential downpour. It didn't take Hollywood long to smell an equally cinematic sensation, with emphasis on the "sin."

~     ~     ~

Gloria proves why she's a star in her Maugham piece.

The 1928 offering, silent film Sadie Thompson, stars none other than Gloria Swanson as the title character. Looking her most beautiful in a visually hypnotic film directed by Raoul Walsh, one's heart breaks with the knowledge that at this height of artistry, the land of sound was about to enter cinema and send us back to technological kindergarten. The movie opens aboard a boat docked in Pago Pago. One by one, we are introduced to the key characters, who are asked to write a quotation describing their outlook on life. Missionary Alfred Davidson (Lionel Barrymore) writes of the importance of "reform." His wife (Blanche Friderici) writes of "righteousness." Fellow passenger Dr. Angus McPhail (Charles Lane) writes of the importance of "tolerance." Finally, we meet the spunky Sadie, who offers her own personal rendition of, essentially, make love while the sun shines: "Smile, Bozo, smile!" From the outset, Walsh sets us up with the realization that this film is going to be about people and how their different outlooks and lifestyles can, at best, flavor life and, at worst, cause a dangerous friction that instigates natural disaster. The natural disaster in this film is rain, which, almost as soon as the boat docks, begins to shoot from the sky like daggers.

The whole company is forced to disembark and remain on the island of Tutuila, because the boat has been quarantined for small pox. The "plague" has arrived, but just who has brought it remains a mystery. When the main characters are thrown into closer contact at the lodgings of trader Joe Horn (James A. Marcus), Davidson becomes certain that the source is Sadie. A solemn meal between the Davidsons and Dr. & Mrs. McPhail is interrupted by the lively Sadie and her quickly made Marine friends, who play loud jazz music in her room and enjoy themselves in general. "Fun" and "Sin" are essentially synonyms to Davidson. When Sadie emerges from her bedroom, surrounded by the eager Marines, Davidson's eyes hit her with a ferocity that is difficult to describe as either hate, fear, or desire. Since we all preach the hardest against the things we fear the most, Davidson's creeping sexuality, as instigated by Sadie, evokes the missionary's wrath. He is certain that she is one of those "girls" from San Francisco. A prostitute! God knows, all sexual, lively women are whores, so he makes it his goal to "save her," or rather castrate her from her natural passion for life. (Gloria looks her man-eating loveliest, left).

Meanwhile, Sadie is having the time of her life, surrounded by fawning soldiers who haven't seen an American girl, nor one so gorgeous, in a long time. She cozies up quickly to Sgt. Tim O'Hara (Walsh in his last acting role, right), who is somehow different from the others. The duo don't draw up much heat, but they have an almost immediate rapport and affection that is real, if obviously more intensely felt by the male party. Sadie isn't heartless, though. She is heading away from a chaotic past to a respectable job offer at a steamship company. You can tell she's "been around" in the quiet moments that Walsh allows her to have-- alone in her room, she tries to brush off her dirty fur and counts the pins that she's saved from all the servicemen she's known. She doesn't add O'Hara's pin to her trophies, and because of this, we know he is already special to her. In this, we realize that the jovial front she puts on is an act... but not a total one. She possesses sadness but is not governed by it. She has hope-- a hope that lies across the sea in a better life. Davidson interprets this as ignorance. He even goes so far to say of the locals, "I actually have to teach them what sin is!" He, in effect, is the Devil, who comes into Eden and offers an apple of shame that no one was even hungry for. Is sin "sin" if no one's getting hurt? It is the missionary that enacts evil in this story.  We know this due to Barrymore's physical embodiment of sinister judgment. We too know that Sadie is a sainted Eve, if for no other reason than the monogram of her initials "ST" plastered across her breast. (In certain scenes it looks like she is sporting a tattoo as well, but I couldn't quite make it out).

Davidson comes to Sadie and offers her salvation, which she first tries to politely refuse (left) but then, insulted,  she rages against him in all her 4'11" fury-- and believe me, this pint-sized lady grows stories when she's provoked! He grabs her in a sexually dominating way, forcing her to her knees, and commands her to repent. Sadie refuses to take the bait, and Davidson thus connives with the local governor to have her deported back to San Francisco. O'Hara continues to step in as her knight in shining armor, offering her an even better dream of a life together in Sydney, but when she begs the governor to let her go to Australia instead of California, he holds firm. Without Davidson's blessing-- and his own political safety-- the governor cannot grant escape. Sadie is trapped. Another altercation ensues between Sadie and Davidson, and it comes out that Sadie cannot return to San Francisco, not just because of her promiscuous past, but because she has been implicated in a murder, of which she maintains her innocence. Davidson argues that she must return to California, and thus prison, to suffer for her sins. For this, Sadie calls him a "hypocrite" who has no concept of how she has already suffered.

Then, the shift. Sadie returns angrily to her room, alone, without her music or Marine friends to distract her. Outside, the rain continues to pour, and through her window, it looks like she is on board a sinking ship as the water beats against her window. Walsh produces a fantastic, terrifying fantasy sequence, in which Sadie imagines herself imprisoned-- without freedom, the flame of her life is snuffed out. Overcome with fear, she howls up to Mr. Davidson as if from the bowels of Hell, and he comes to her again with his demands of repentance. Struck by his power in her vulnerable state, she finally submits to him. Gone is the lively woman of vim and vigor; in her place is a penitent nun, who throws her make-up and baubles away. Davidson now has complete control, and he thrives on it. Sadie will return to San Francisco and fulfill his self-professed prophecy as the new Son of Man. O'Hara tries to win Sadie back to her senses, begging her to come with him to Sydney, but her head is so confused that she isn't certain which angel whispering in her ear is the good or the bad (right). She chooses Davidson.

The erotic charge of Barrymore during these final scenes is electric. Sadie is his triumph. He has annihilated her light and made it his own. It excites him. He tells her that she no longer has to return to San Francisco, but when she still opts for spiritual salvation, it only increases his desire. She has become his Saint, his great treasure. He wants her, and he savagely takes her-- behind closed doors, of course. Rape is about power, domination, and submission. Sadie was a sexual threat to Davidson, and he has finally had his vengeance, but the price is his soul. After this great betrayal, Barrymore's dead body is pulled ashore in a fishing net, feet first, and it is reported that he has killed himself by slitting his own throat. Cut to Sadie, who has reverted completely back to her old self-- dressed to the gills and referring to men as "Pigs!" She has paid the price for her blind faith, for it was not in God but in a man with a God complex. She is disgusted with herself and with the traitor that manipulated her out of her reason and her strength. Yet, when she hears that Davidson has killed himself, she shows that she still possesses the humanity that Davidson tried to steal, for she pities him. She forgives him for his sins, an ability that the self-professed spiritual man lacked-- he did not show her such kindness. Sadie, as the true Saint, is rewarded for her compassion and goodness-- a lamb in wolves' clothing-- and she is able to sail off into the sunset to Sydney, where she will await Sgt. O'Hara and their heavenly life together.

This has been hailed as the greatest adaptation of Maugham's classic, and after watching it, one can understand why. The poetry and vitality of the visual artistry and the impassioned performances of Barrymore and Swanson in particular are perfect in their beauty and horror. The story was too good to let go of, however. In 1932, before the production code came creeping in, there was another chance to interpret this story and explore it in a new, and hopefully bolder, way.

The tigress peers out from her jungle.

The film this time would be titled Rain, and from the get-go, we see why. The film's opening is filled with ominous storm clouds and threatening bullets of rain that interrupt the serenity of placid, crystal surfaces with chaotic splashes and ripples. The violent storm increases, and the earth is turned to mud, as the Marines sludge through and make quickly disappearing tracks. The theme this time is therefore an investigation of nature itself, or rather how human nature mirrors that of the natural world. Human beings are simply the vessels of their own private storms-- disasters waiting to happen. For this reason, when we meet the prime characters for the first time, they are all faceless. Instead, we are met with their passports and the sounds of their voices, which are indicators enough. Mrs. Davidson is a bit stuffy, Dr. McPhail seems pleasant, and this time, Mr. Davidson, played superbly by Walter Huston, too doesn't seem like an all-out villain. He makes polite conversation, and when the camera reveals him for the first time, he stands in stark contrast to the always maniacally vibrating Barrymore of the former film. For this reason, his character will be more fascinating to watch. His self-destruction becomes more of an inner battle, so deeply is he steeped in self-denial-- the denial of his primal self.

Sadie's entrance is, of course, the most important. We see her hands grasp the edges of her cabin door one at a time, both bedecked with garish, spangled bracelets. Then her two feet emerge from the door, heeled and wide apart in a warrior stance. Then, we see her face, and Dear Greek God, is it scary! This is not the lightly flitting Gloria Swanson-- vibrant but delicate-- of the past film; this is Joan Crawford in the beginning of her transformation from the delicate ingenue of her youth to the protective mask of exaggerated eyebrows and lips that we see in her later career (left). Lipstick is smeared across her mouth in a giant, clowning frown  (allegedly her idea), and her large eyes are emphasized by the thick lashes that weigh down the lids of her world-weary peepers. This woman, with cigarette planted firmly in her mouth, is tired. Tired of it all. She's not putting on any pretenses. This world is bull sh*t, and she knows it. She can barely even summon the strength to open her mouth to form words, but instead communicates in deep-throated mumbles and slurs. But, all in all, she's not a bad gal. She still makes nice with the people that are nice to her, like the Marines and Horn, the latter played comically by Guy Kibbee. But she still knows her place. When the quarantine (for cholera) keeps her ashore, she personally quarantines herself in her room, away from the religious Davidsons whom she knows want no part of her.

The same moment of introduction between cat and mouse occurs. Sadie makes a ruckus in her room, and at first, the more forgiving Davidson, as played by Huston, makes little of it in a "Live and let live" kind of way. But then... he sees her. Sadie exits her room with her gang of soldiers, and Davidson peers over his shoulder, taking her in deeply and slowly. Here, his anger is not as abruptly ignited as Barrymore's; instead, Sadie's image is subtly impregnated in his soul, and it will take time for Davidson's fear of her and his own desires to give birth to the wrath that is to come. The supporting cast is given more life here. Horn and McPhail have many conversations about how hypocritical the world is, including Horn's decision to retreat "back to nature," because of the restrictions of more civilized life. McPhail too, though nasally played by Kendall Lee, is vocal in his dislike of Davidson's "Thou shalt not enjoy thyself" viewpoint. Sadie's suitor is unfortunately played by William Gargan, an overgrown child who comes across as a doofus (right)-- no match for the man's man that Walsh portrayed in the previous film. At no point in time is it clear why a worldly dame like Sadie is even interested in this O'Hara, except perhaps to amuse herself at his ignorance.

In many ways, this film falls far short of its predecessor. Despite some impressive camera-work and brilliant cinematography, the film becomes steeped in camp and is proof of why Joan Crawford remains the cult classic leading lady she is. (Perhaps this is why director Lewis Milestone remained uncredited???). The movie's salvation comes via the performances of the two leads and the slow way they wrap around each other in their various attempts at manipulation, the clincher being that Sadie does not know until too late that she is the mouse and Davidson the snake. You have to hand it to Joan that beneath her overdone appearance, her luminous eyes still convey the despair her exterior seeks to hide. Initially, Davidson approaches Sadie with stoic control and alleged compassion when he offers the gift of her salvation. Sadie takes the opportunity to both show her truly vulnerable self and to hopefully use this man's kindness to her advantage. Yet, she is unable to seduce him with either her sexiness or girlishness the way she is the other guys (left); Davidson is not enticed by feminine power but by the destruction of it. The only person that seems aware of the danger to come is Mrs. Davidson (Beulah Bondi), who early on sees her husband mark his prey and says: "I wouldn't be in that girl's shoes for anything in the world." This statement echoes in the ears-- what evils has she seen in her husband already? 

Again, Davidson tries to woo Sadie to the Lord, which she finds comical at first, but when he starts making those threats of deportation, her anger rears its head. The low-angle/high-angle camera shots emphasize the growing power of Davidson over the weakening Sadie, who first promises to behave and be "quiet as a mouse," if he promises to leave her alone, but later retaliates against his attempts to possess her soul: "You want another scalp!" She sees that despite appearances, he is the true savage. She won't submit and refuses to fall to her knees before him. Both are wild beasts battling their natures out-- their need for independence and control. The rain outside becomes even more isolating during their epic battles, as if it more thoroughly needs to wash away whatever violence is being incurred, but so deep are the implications that it cannot easily remove the stains. As Sadie's self-conviction cools, her normally sound reason and bull sh*t detector start to malfunction. Her will is weakening, and soon the obvious signs of Davidson's evil are not so easily read. They intimidate her into obedience instead of defense. After she asks the ineffectual McPhail for help, she strolls around Horn's porch and is greeted with the shadows of Davidson and his wife. They are praying. It is horrifying. Horn's wife refers to Davidson as a "witch doctor." They are dangerous, shadow people, and most certainly not of God.

Finally, Davidson's great, orgasmic moment comes. After he confronts Sadie for her early days of whoring in Honolulu and demands that she return to face her jail time, she defies him only to be met by his cold stance and steely voice spitting out the Lord's prayer (right). Despite herself, she finds herself mouthing his words like a puppet. As he stands on the stairs before her, she falls to her knees, and in the throes of ecstasy, his hands reach out to brace the banisters on either side of him. Herein they consummate their relationship as tutor and pupil. The fumbling O'Hara returns to help, but his innocent, baby-like nature is no match for Sadie's defeated she-wolf nor Davidson's tyrannical control over her. Sadie is such a devotee at this point that when not in Davidson's presence, she is lifeless-- although much better looking without all that make-up. Whenever Davidson appears, Sadie animates, her eyes growing large and soaking in the wonder of her true God-- the only man who dared to lead her back to righteousness. (One is reminded of the mutated loyalties of the Manson family). What follows this allegiance is their final, fateful meeting, where all of Sadie's faith in him, and man in general, is crushed. Watching the locals perform their tribal songs, the pounding of the drums sounds out Davidson's own lust and leads him back to Sadie's door, where-- after offering her freedom-- she instead chooses to remain his disciple. As the boat to San Francisco approaches, it looks more like a menacing shark aka Jaws than Sadie's vehicle to salvation, but she still wants to take it. In refusing escape, she has passed the final test and sealed her doom. Now barely unable to contain himself, Davidson follows the unsuspecting Sadie into her bedroom-- walking through the doorway of beads like a man entering the jungle of his own torment. We are left to imagine the example of vengeful lust that occurs.

The result is the same. Milestone copies Walsh's retrieval of Davidson's body from the ocean. O'Hara rushes to Sadie, hoping that she will now consent to go with him to Sydney. We have come full circle. Sadie emerges from her doorway as in the beginning, with both hands clutching violently to the frame, her feet stepping out, and her gawdy-awful face telling us that she has returned to the world of "Pigs!" But, she too forgives Davidson his trespasses when she learns of his sad fate. His sacrificial act reminds her of the last vestige of her own humanity. As the rain dries up, the sun pours in. The evil in man's nature has been destroyed and the good has triumphed. For this reason, Sadie can escape to Sydney with O'Hara (though why, I can hardly imagine.) The world has been wiped clean. The End is a The Beginning of a new world, one where Goodness is the true measure of Godliness. Though a slightly hack-job of a film, this one is worth seeing for all Joan devotees and those who love good-bad movies.

Rita Hayworth's Sadie tries to muck it as best she can in a land of men.

As the opening credits started to role on 1953's Miss Sadie Thompson, I feared that things were only going to get worse in the world of Maugham. However, I was pleasantly surprised by Curtis Bernhardt's take on the Sadie saga. You can hardly blame me for my initial misgivings. The film opens with footage of beaches, palm trees, and jovial harmonica music. Immediately, I was certain that I was about to see some sort of Beach Blanket Bingo meets Gidget fiasco. Then, Bernhardt pulls the switch. The source of the music is found to be a lonesome Marine, soon joined by three of his fellow soldiers, including Phil O'Hara (Aldo Ray), who come out of the ocean after a swim looking more perturbed than happy. Pvt. Edwards (a delightfully menacing Charles Bronson) spits a mouthful of water right into the musician's face with a contemptuous smile. The message is clear: all is not well in paradise. We too get a bit of the age-old idiom "Boys with be boys." And that is exactly what this film is about: Men-- their nature, their desires, their makeups, and their variations. When Sadie Thompson (Rita Hayworth) comes riding up on a speed-boat from her soon quarantined ship, the local soldiers surround her like hungry apes beating their chests. It's been years since they've seen an American girl. They're horny, what can ya' say?

Rita's Sadie is not intimidated. In fact, she thrives on the overpowering male energy. She loves being the belle of the ball, and she knows how to use her sexuality to get what she wants. But she's not vindictive or malicious. In fact, she's a sweetheart. While sensual, her attention to the boys is more motherly than anything else. She wants to make them happy, and she literally sprinkles sunshine wherever she goes. For this reason, the men continue to fight over her, but O'Hara, who looks more like her son than a suitable lover, begins paying particular, protective attention. The thing is, Sadie needs no protection nor help from anyone. She's got this racket cornered. This is Hayworth in one of her best performances. Gone is the big-eyed girl of musical comedies. Here, she is a woman. Sweaty, unapologetic, dominant, and even a bit trashy, she is always confident and in control. Men throw her around on the dance floor like a ragdoll, but she pushes them away and playfully takes center stage in "This is how it's done, boys," fashion (left). She sings and dances alone (yes, it's a musical), both maintaining their desire for her and her power over them. Her independence is too illuminated financially. Whenever someone offers to pay for something, she says that she "always pays her own way." She's not looking for handouts, and she too protects her new friends, whom she doesn't want to see get into trouble for her sake. None of the men see her resilience, of course. They see a pair of legs, a possession, or a sweet little thing, depending on the guy.Their egos continually deny her identity. She lets them respond as they will and exists in her own phenomenal, private universe. This woman has clearly lived a life, but she still has spirit. Whenever a bad situation should rear its head, she offers up an old Japanese saying, "Pft, I should care!"

She should care, because this spark plug quickly acquires the disapproving attention of Davidson, this time played by Jose Ferrer. We see more fully that the source of the world's problems lie with the faults of man and his near-sightedness. Tragedy doesn't enter the picture until Davidson's eyes land on Sadie, who this time is flirting with the Marines at a local substitute for a bar. Right after Davidson's sexual gaze hits Sadie, the rain starts. He, like the others, doesn't see "Miss Sadie Thompson," he sees a sexual play-thing-- one that intimidates his religious laws and his own lust. Unlike Joan's Sadie, who feared the Davidson crowd, or Gloria's, who was ambivalent toward it, Rita's Sadie is welcoming. She makes no apologies for who she is-- life is a party and everyone is invited! She's making a fresh start and nothing is going to trip her up. We do see quiet moments of reflection in her. For example, when the Marines bring up The Emerald Club of Honolulu, the same place from whence Sadie is fleeing, she grows quiet, distant, then snippy. But, any past transgressions are not dwelled upon in length. Sadie wipes unhappiness away like dust off her shoulder. In an early, short song, Sadie sings about the classic three monkeys who "hear no evil, speak no evil, see no evil." This is a policy she lives by, perhaps too strongly. She shuts her eyes to the past and her own flaws, as well as the evil intentions of others. This is a feeling Hayworth could totally identify with, since compartmentalization was the source of her own personal survival. Davidson lives by the same policy, except to "see no evil" he simply seeks to destroy anything he deems evil so that he doesn't run the risk of seeing it anymore. Thus, Sadie is his mark-- he must kill her to kill his own desire. In this way, he shuts his eyes instead of allowing them to absorb the whole picture. (The duo have their first confrontation, right).

Not all the men on the island are bad guys. Mr. Horn (Harry Bellaver) and Dr. McPhail (Russell Collins) are both wise men who have evolved past primal urges to a place of reason and compassion. They have seen the world, sewn wild oats, admitted their flaws, and embraced them. They have nothing to run from, thus they do not see Sadie as a threat. They are humanly protective, whereas the other men are brutal. They look at her as a daughter as opposed to a sexual toy. Dr. McPhail jumps to Sadie's defense constantly against Davidson in some (often too-on-the-nose) dialogue about the battle between Davidson's invented faith and sense of "wrong" and McPhail's ironically more subjective, scientific reasoning. Even O'Hara is a kind of villain in his immaturity. He tries, very unstealthily, to get into Sadie's pants (left), but he's at least got enough manners to take "no" as an gentleman. Ray is not wholly bad in the role, and his screechy voice mixed with his fighter's physique makes his overgrown boy quite believable if not wholly desirable. Sadie is trapped in the wilderness with all these men and their green uniforms, and it is only her charm and wit that keep her from becoming dinner. But she cannot forever evade Davidson, who first chastises her for going out alone with the Marines, where she will be the only "white" woman (gasp), and later confronts her about her Emerald Club days.

In film, women are constantly made to pay the price for male sexuality. In this case, Sadie is the sacrificial lamb (her attempts to cool off only serve to turn up the heat, right). After she refuses to repent to Davidson, she is humiliated by man's hypocrisy. O'Hara tries, again unsuccessfully, to come to her rescue (oh, the vanity of the male ego), only to be met with the news from Davidson's mouth that Sadie was one of those "Honolulu girls." Sadie knows what is coming, and in waiting for O'Hara's return, she bursts into violent tears, which her "hear no evil" mentality fights to contain. When he returns to her, weathered and angry, she returns his gaze like a drowning flower, steeling herself for a final submergence. One piece of truth, one bite of knowledge, and O'Hara's love for her is destroyed, and his offer of Sydney is off the table. When Sadie resisted O'Hara's earlier sexual advances, he rewarded her chastity with an offer of marriage, but now that he knows she is "dirty," he turns his back on her. Such is the female plight. We must continually avoid the minefield of male sexual tests: if you submit, you get to have sex but lose the ring, and if you're good, you get to marry but probably won't have any fun. Davidson's deep embarrassment comes with the fact that this game was twisted on him, and he ignorantly gave his heart to a whore. This was totally her fault, of course, and now she must suffer. This confrontation evokes from Rita one of her most painful onscreen moments. She tells O'Hara  that when he fell for her, she felt like he was an angel from heaven sent "to take [her] by the hand," but now he slaps that hand away. After being treated like scum by yet another man, her faith in all men is crushed, until Davidson strategically uses the opportunity to accept the hand O'Hara shunned. In effect, this battle over Sadie was a possessive one, with both Davidson and O'Hara trying clumsily to mark their territory. When Davidson wins and enters into his prayers about "thy rod and thy staff," the phallic implications are clear.

After Davidson alters Sadie into the softer student of his enforced rhetoric, he yet again becomes unable to contain his inner, carnal howl. The erotic music and dancing of the locals sends him back to Sadie's door. She has received word that O'Hara is "sorry" and that he still wants her to go to Sydney and wait for him, but it is too late. She has seen the monster in him and cannot forget. Her savior Davidson arrives and again tells her that she is free to go if she wants, but she accepts her fate and the boat back to prison. Turned on, Davidson draws nearer: finally, she is his. Or is she? She draws back when he begins purring in her ear, which erupts his ego-- an echo of the fact that they are on a volcanic island. "Are you scared of me?!" Rejecting him sexually only serves to awaken all of his repressed urges-- apparently he doesn't yet hold all the cards, which is why he jumps to rape to claim final domination and control. This rape scene is the most graphic of all three movies, with Ferrer pouncing on a writhing Hayworth and knocking her to the floor, where one desperate hand claws at a curtain. Her red nails scream violence before the camera fades to black.

The next day, O'Hara rushes to Horn's place to tell Sadie the news of Davidson's suicide, hoping that she has not yet left on the boat. At first, she appears to be gone, but then the sound of hopping music can be heard coming from her room. Not only is she still there, but the real Sadie is back. She wants no piece of O'Hara at first, partly because he humiliated and rejected her, but mostly because she was just raped by another-- yet again-- "Pig!" Then, Davidson's suicide reawakens the mother in her, and she is left with feelings of pity, which counteract her anger. Here is the film's dividing line between men and women. Women are born knowing or willing to know-- hence Eve's embrace of the apple. Men resist learning-- knowing-- because it puts restrictions on their thoughtless actions. It takes longer for them to be schooled. Women, like Sadie, can compromise, adjust to times and circumstances, and give themselves sacrificially as martyrs when necessary, but men take longer to get to the same place. Davidson learned his lessons too late, and his final sacrifice was his life. O'Hara has luckily caught up. His childish illusions of right and wrong, virgin and whore, have been eradicated, and in their place is truth. True emotion and regret grow from this, and now he is wizened like the Doctor and Horn. He is a man that can offer himself and his unwavering support to Sadie. Sex is no longer a dangerous line between them, but-- one hopes-- an act that will finally bring them closer together. As Sadie rides off to Sydney, the audience is left hoping that these two will meet again, bite into this apple of fuller human knowledge together, and be rewarded instead of shamed.

"The Heat is On!" Hayworth takes center stage in the movie's big number,
and proves that she can act.

Maugham said he was proud that it was in an adaptation of one of his books that Rita Hayworth proved that she could act. And boy did she! From the moment she steps ashore, she is a three-dimensional, complicated woman who runs the gamut of emotions and back again. Proud, strong, ashamed, weak, angry, sorrowful, and fully alive, Rita Hayworth makes Sadie completely her own with no stone left unturned in her resistant, then repentant, then redeemed soul. The film, post-code, was quite scandalous, especially in its originally released 3D form, and it was banned in several states after it was defamed by-- you guessed it-- religious groups. Clearly, they didn't take the moral of the story to heart. All three films are fascinating investigations of morality, judgment, sexuality, hypocrisy, and the pain that comes with maturity-- life is no fairy tale. Human beings are destructive beings that seek to destroy themselves or each other when life becomes too confusing, too difficult to box-in or label, or too tempting. Does one obey the rules or break them to obtain happiness? Which solution offers the true Eden? The only answer these films seem to offer is not to jump to conclusions-- not to judge "lest ye be judged." You never know: sometimes the Whore at whom you cast stones just may be the Virgin.