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Wednesday, June 27, 2012


Ummm, Lon? Watcha doin?

Whodah-thunkit? Didja know that...

... Bill Hart was the first ambidextrous cowboy?

There's a reason they called him "Two-gun Bill." Prior to William S. Hart's use of dual six-shooters (left), cinematic cowboys had preferred the simple, one-handed draw. To exhibit more danger, Bill opted to fill both his mitts with ammunition, making him doubly dangerous on the silver screen, thus making his usually menacing characters all the harder to tame into the good-hearted heroes he typically became by the films' ends. So inspirational were Bill's morally salvaged heroes that a later lawman even took his name, becoming "Two Gun Hart" during the big prohibition battles. Of course, this other "Hart" had more than fanaticism to thank for his name change; it was also a strategic move. His birth name was James Vincenzo Capone. He had a brother named Al. Just like in the movies, they were on opposite sides of the law. Interestingly, during the roaring twenties of flappers, mobsters, and booze, James had identified with an antiquated cowboy to get his message across. With dual arms, he meant business, and his use of Hart's name was meant to strike the fear of God into his less law-abiding contemporaries. No news on Al's reaction, but Bill must have been proud.

... Bill Hart was almost a United Artist?

When Mary Pickford, Douglas Fairbanks, Charlie Chaplin, and D.W. Griffith (right) set out to build their own movie distribution company, their aim was to give themselves more control (and profit) over their artistic projects and to open the door for more independent producers. It was a daring move to step away from the already well-established companies of Metro and Famous Players, and many of the studio heads viewed this moment with trepidation: "The lunatics have taken charge of the asylum," cried Richard A. Rowland! What did movie stars know about business anyway? In any case, the foursome started the venture with high hopes and, knowing that they would need a lot of clout to survive the uphill battle, they invited a fifth power player, Bill, along for the ride. As a huge star of equal caliber-- one who had joined them on those morale boosting war bond tours, a fact too often forgotten-- Bill seemed like the perfect fifth wheel on this movie trolley. He was all for the new business, having long become disenchanted with the business tactics of old friend Thomas Ince and later Jesse Lasky. While he always looked upon Adolph Zukor with respect, Bill was an independent man who wanted to make his own films his own way. All those money guys kept mucking up his vision. However, the plan for a partnership fell through over monetary disagreements. The original four wanted to use their own money to finance pictures and thus maintain complete control, but this notion made Bill nervous. Thus, he backed out. In the end, it looks like Bill may have been right. While the formation of United Artists was a big moment that started the wheel rolling on star-owned, independent production companies, the fab four couldn't withstand the competition of the larger studios, particularly as films got longer and sound came into play. The expense became too much, Joseph Schenck was brought in to hold the reins, and the original players slowly drifted away.

... Doug was literally a big kid?

It's not a surprise that Doug Fairbanks was involved in the landmark UA formation. While he was more the energetic, charismatic front man, leaving the business quarreling to wife Mary and BFF Charlie, Doug's fingers were always in a lot of cinematic pies. After leaving the stage for the screen, he leapt to success in a series of outrageous boy-to-man comedies before becoming the ultimate, silent, action hero. He also later helped to establish the first film curriculum at the University of Southern California, finally alerting the world that film was indeed an art. He loved movies, and he loved to "wow" audiences. His stunts are legendary, and-- as a daredevil-- he insisted on performing them himself. A lot of stress was put on the directors and technicians of his films, who spent a lot of time in fear that he would kill himself. Even when they tried to bring a stuntman in for him, they would often catch Doug sneakily doubling his own double. While leaping from horses and jumping from trampolines over abysses in Robin Hood were a bit nerve-wracking for the crew to witness, some stunts were more enjoyable to watch, such as the infamous curtain slide sequence. Director Allan Dwan was excited to be working with such an enthusiastic collaborator as Doug on Robin Hood (left). When he shared his visions of action sequences on the set, Doug's eyes lit up just like Christmas! During the big castle battle scene, he explained how Doug was to ascend the stairs, being chased by fighting knights. To escape, he would eventually hop the balustrade and slide down a drape. Literally slide. Dwan revealed the mechanics of the trick, pulling back the lengthy fabric and showing the large children's slide hidden beneath it. He demonstrated the stunt himself, and turned to see Doug chomping at the bit to follow. Doug jumped on the slide and proceeded to slide down dozens of times just like a child! He would have gone on all day, but eventually, the crew got down to business and captured the notorious sequence. The film was a huge success, cementing Doug's place as the #1 Hollywood Hero. 

Doug plays with Mary aka Hams it up.

And another "didja know": the area of Los Angeles (Thousand Oaks) where Doug filmed a lot of the Sherwood Forest sequences for Robin Hood was named for the production. After the film wrapped, the legend continued: Potrero Lake became Sherwood Lake and the nearby park became Maid Marian Park. Golfers still enjoy swinging their clubs at Sherwood Country Club to this day, which would make an athlete like Doug pretty happy. 

... The Monster had bridge-work?

The process of turning Boris Karloff into the undead muse of Dr. Frankenstein was not easy. Many make-up tests had to be performed, undone, recreated, reapplied, etc. Finally, the magic of cinema's best-remembered villain came to life,  thanks to make-up artist Jack Pierce. A flattened head, heavily-lidded and deadened eyes, metal clamps, elongated limbs, and the staggering, baby-like movements of Boris's physicality birthed a killer to be both feared and pitied (right). There was one last touch that Boris added to give his horrific anti-hero a bit more ghoulishness. See, Boris had a dental bridge on the right side of his mouth. He offered to remove it during filming to give his creature a sunken cheek. This enhanced his already emaciated and cadaverous appearance. It was a small decision that completed the sickly pallor and fearsomeness now so famous in movie history. Another note on Boris's experience as the monster: during the length of filming the epic, Boris worked incredibly long hours, often between 15-16 a day. Having to arrive early for the make-up application, then to sit, work, and sweat in the cosmetics all day, was a tough feat for even the strongest guy, particularly with the sadistic James Whale as director. Whale at one point had Boris carry co-star Colin Clive up a hill to the soon-burning windmill, which resulted in the chronic back-pain Boris was to suffer the rest of his life. All of the torture turned out to be worth it... but it also instigated Boris's interest in forming the Screen Actors Guild! 

Boris arrives at 4am to get "pretty" ugly. Jack Pierce enhances
his sunken cheek to the left.

And another "didja know": Boris was made up in room #5 of Universal Studios for his work on Frankenstein and many future films. It was known as "The Bugaboudoir" because of its eerie cinematic connotations-- Lon Chaney had applied his make-up for The Phantom of the Opera here, and Conrad Veidt had used the room during The Man Who Laughs, as did Bela Lugosi during Dracula.

... Movie Stars were sticky?

People have often wondered how it was that photographers like Cecil Beaton, Clarence SInclair Bull, and George Hurrell were able to create such glowing, erotic, and ethereal portraits of the studio era's favorite celebrities. Skin that glowed, eyes that shined... Never an error, not a flaw. No wonder celebs were so envied! These stars were unreal! However, these images were just as re-touched as today's air-brushed, photo-shopped creations. While George Hurrell, for example, used his own specific type of panchromatic film and a particular style of lighting technique (including the new "bounce" light scheme) to create the heavenly and alluring atmospheres he's so known for, he also had to go back over his prints with a fine-tooth-comb to root out any lines or imperfections. James Sharp, for example, spent six hours retouching George's portrait of Joan Crawford for Laughing Sinners (left). Another theory has been postulated that George actually used another trick to give his stars a little extra sheen: vaseline. Allegedly, he had them rub it on their skin to give them that extra special effect of being lit-from within. So, either these folks were radio-active, or indeed there was a store-bought, gooey substance reflecting the camera's lights off them. Ironically, George favored very little make-up on his stars and shot them as bare as he could get them. Some say that George did indeed use vaseline, to enhance Jean Harlow's eyes for example; others say that this is just a silly rumor and that all of George's genius lied in his lighting and visual-editing. Hell, I believe the former. No one's skin does that on its own!

... Tod Browning liked ducks?

Well, he did. At least that's how it looks. Remember that classic final scene in Freaks when villainess Olga Baclanova, is given her due? After taunting and manipulating "midget" Harry Earles and the other members of the circus troupe-- including siamese twins and pin-heads-- Olga is rewarded for her treason by being attacked and mutilated into... a duck. Lying in a pit of dirt, squawking and flapping her arms, one is left uncertain whether to laugh, cry, or scream (right). As with most Browning epics, the question "What the Hell am I watching?" flits through the brain. Where Browning got his ideas and how he chose to implement them has always been a point of curiosity and fascination for his fans. This instance could be hailed as creative and macabre genius or taken as awkward absurdity. Of course, the uneasy feeling that the audience leaves with is always the point. There was only one actor who could pull off such a feathered performance and still hold the audience's sympathy... and in fact, Lon Chaney did wear the same duck suit featured in Freaks in a scene that was cut from his earlier collaboration with Tod, West of Zanzibar. That's right: Phantom, Cripple, Hunchback, Duck. Lon was Tod's dream actor, and though they were known to butt heads every now and then,  Tod enjoyed crafting particularly outrageous characters around Lon, simply because he knew that the 1000-faced man could pull it off. Hence, Tod would build the character first and the script later. After Lon passed away in 1930, Tod was left without his muse... but he still had the duck suit. Well, he found a use for it. It is interesting that one of Tod's only major, classic masterpieces without his favorite actor still had a touch of Lon in it. Birds of a feather...

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

HISTORY LESSON: Let's Get Down to Cases

Miriam Hopkins takes the stand in The Story of Temple Drake.
See the movie to hear one Hell of a testimony.

The public reaction when one of our beloved stars is hauled into court is varied. The collision of our perception-- or rather projection-- with reality often results in plain shock. The screen image is just an image? What??? Some feel betrayed, not only by the discovery that an idol is fallible, but by the fact that the icon is making such heinous and grievous mistakes after a life of such blessings as fame and fortune. Some fans become hysterically depressed, clinging to the vision of their hero, as if their love alone can keep him unsullied and innocent, despite the sometimes damning evidence against him-- a la Michael Jackson and the molestation claims. Others lash out in anger, feeling that the ungrateful star has arrogantly and ungratefully wielded his power. We thusly turn our backs on him as punishment for succumbing to human temptations and flaws-- a la Lindsy Lohan, or is she just "Lindsay" now? The natural human instinct is to jump to the defensive when celebs are offensive. There is no room for sympathy within our own disappointment. Our jealousy mixed with our worship dilutes our compassion: remember before Robert Downey Jr. cleaned himself up? America hates a loser, but we love a survivor. Thus it is that the Hollywood elite sometimes get a little taste of the soggy side of celebrity. Here are a few court scandals that temporarily tarnished or nearly ruined some of our screen stars' lives, particularly during the early Silent Hollywood Witch Hunts, when a more puritanical society lashed out vengefully at the film colony and their suddenly apparent, sinful ways.

William S. Hart (left) would be the last person to whom anyone would attribute controversy. Yet, even the stone-faced cowboy had his share of scrapes. Hart's brief marriage to Winifred Westover came to a violent end, as Winifred claimed, when Hart allegedly dragged her out of the house! Hart would swear on a stack of Bibles that this was a dramatic falsehood, but whatever the case, the divorce would end in 1927 with a hefty $200,000 settlement. Some claimed that this was the final nail in Hart's popularity coffin. Ironically, while Winifred had sued Hart in Reno for divorce over the claims of physical and emotional abandonment, Hart had found himself in court several years earlier when another woman claimed that he had gotten a little too familiar with her. In November of 1919, a paternity suit was filed against Bill by Elizabeth MacCauley of Brookline, MA. Elizabeth claimed that she and Bill had become acquainted three years prior in Syracuse, NY and had indulged in a sexual relationship. The result was a child, whom she had been forced to support on her own. Indeed, she claimed that she had hidden the child's existence for the past three years, because she feared that Bill would kidnap it! She alleged that she had only come forward for monetary reasons: her meager salary as a nurse in conjunction with a recent illness made it hard for her to support the youngster. Bill, who was in the middle of filming, arrived to court in complete cowboy array and asserted that, not only had he never engaged in an affair with Elizabeth, but he had never even seen her before. 

The proceedings that day were fairly comical to say the least, especially when the plaintiff was asked to identify the father of her child and did so by saying, "Everyone knows him. He is William S. Hart!" This caused the present audience to erupt in laughter. When the judge asked her to respond to Bill's denial of her claims, she professed that her testimony was the truth. Now this was something. All these years, Bill had been a self-proclaimed, nearly asexual bachelor, and all of a sudden this woman's assertions made him a secret, seductive predator! The game of He Said vs. She Said continued, but finally, the cards fell in Bill's favor. The skeptical judge asked Elizabeth once more if her claims of sexual intimacy with Bill had indeed taken place, to which she replied, "Well, not in the flesh, your Honor... He and I live in the spirit world." Uh oh, Lizzy. It turned out that the disturbed lady had borrowed the child from someone else and was posing it as her own. And so, poor Bill was dragged into court by a complete loon. As such, the case was quickly dismissed, and Bill was back in the saddle with this silly scandal quickly behind him. His status as America's favorite Western star would continue for six years more without faltering. Though there were occasional whispers that Bill did indeed have sexual flings, his recorded relationships with women like Jane Novak-- which were so puritanical they were almost platonic-- and his clear inability for emotional connection with his wife, Winifred, make it appear that he was far from the zesty Lothario Elizabeth had tried to paint him as. At least he knew, despite his personal issues, that some women around the world found his boyish onscreen charm irresistible... and even convictable. (You'll never take 'im alive! Hart in older years, right).

Speaking of paternity suits... Oh, Charlie Chaplin (left). Charlie, Charlie Charlie... With genius, there is always madness, and this genius was unfortunately bitten by the love bug. His addiction to and obsession with young, beautiful women got him into his share of trouble and plenty of regrettable, shot-gun weddings. But he didn't reach the worst of the worst until he met an unacceptable woman of acceptable age: Joan Barry. Charlie and Joan were introduced by Tom Durant, allegedly at the enthralled 22-year-old woman's request. Charlie initially enjoyed the lively, attractive girl's company, and a day of entertaining turned into the expected night of passion. Charlie took advantage of his movie stardom to go to bed with a lovely girl, and a lovely girl used her wiles to sleep with a movie star. Even Steven, as they say. The next day, Charlie expected the one night stand to disappear, as all his other trysts had, but surprisingly, Joan kept popping up in his life and essentially wooing him. This wasn't totally unexpected, as Charlies had become accustomed to hangers-on and "friends" with their hands out. Joan seemed innocent enough, so the liaison continued a bit longer. In time, Charlie's enchantment with the girl seemed to fade. She just wouldn't go away, and he couldn't decide if he was being conned or guilted into accepting her presence, but soon he was bewildered to find himself paying for her acting classes and later even signed her to a contract at his studio. But, he was a wealthy man after all, and he figured it was the least he could do. As an astute man-- at least after the initial call of desire had been quelled-- Charlie couldn't ignore the odd feeling in his gut that something in this girl wasn't right. He slowly tried to distance himself, but this only exacerbated her obsession with him and led to her repeatedly and drunkenly driving to his front door, breaking windows, and one night even threatening his and her own lives with a gun.

What Charlie didn't know was that he had chosen to have one of his brief flings with an as yet undiagnosed schizophrenic. The product of a broken home-- her father had committed suicide before she was born-- Joan (right) had used her sexuality to get ahead in life. After coming to Hollywood to become an actress, she had been taken in, or rather "kept," by another man with whom she lived out of wedlock, which was quite scandalous in those days. Her most recent affiliation had been with another rich "keeper,"  John Paul Getty, who incidentally had also sensed something off about her and passed her onto A.C. Blumenthal, who passed her to Durant, who passed her onto Charlie. She had been arrested for shoplifting prior to this latest tryst and, in the midst of her affair with the comedian, would be picked up for being under the influence of barbiturates. She was clearly an unstable woman, who sadly and obviously had been misused by the men in her life and perhaps even moreso by herself. Charlie eventually became so put off by her erratic behavior that he bought her contract back from her and essentially paid her to go away. He wasn't in the clear, however. He became the straw that broke the camel's back in Joan's train wreck life, and after he met and fell in love with his final wife, Oona O'Neill-- over 35 years his junior-- Joan would flip her lid, and Charlie would find himself slapped with a paternity suit.

Joan claimed that Charlie had seduced her from the beginning and that their relationship had dragged on for a couple of years by the time she had become pregnant with baby Carol. Charlie would admit to the affair, but claimed that he hadn't been intimate with her for two years prior to the suit. Joan also claimed that Charlie had paid for at least two previous abortions for her during their affair, but she refused to get rid of baby number three when she became pregnant again in May of 1943. She had been used and discarded, at least that is what she told Hedda Hopper, who was engaging in an anti-Charlie war when it was suspected (falsely) that he was a communist. Hence, the media storm. Despite Joan's attempt to essentially blackmail Charlie and enact a little vengeance, he clearly was confident that he wasn't the father. He and his lawyer made an offer: he would take a paternity test, paying for the medical costs and Joan's living expenses while they awaited the baby's birth, but if the results came back negative, then Joan would drop the charges. Charlie turned out to be blood type-O. Joan was type-A. When Carol was birthed, she was tested as type-B. Charlie was in the clear... at least until Joan decided to ignore their agreement and take him to court anyway. Paternity tests were not yet admissible in court, so despite the obvious invalidity of her case, the trial commenced in Dec. of 1944. Two deadlocked juries later-- the first case ending in a 7-5 split in Charlie's favor and the second in a 9-3 split in his favor-- and the judge made the final call: Charlie would pay Joan $5000 in damages and pay Carol $75/mo. until her 21st birthday.

Charlie would spend his career portraying the underdog in the hopes
 of inspiring a better, more understanding world. He would not
find this role as rewarding in reality.

During this mayhem, Charlie had wed Oona and, after the case, the remainder of his life would mostly be spent quietly abroad in Switzerland, as he was ousted from his own country, due to his supposed commie affiliations. The case severely hurt his reputation, and he was heartbroken that the welcoming land of opportunity had so harshly slapped him in the face. Joan would surprisingly marry and move to Pennsylvania, but she was soon institutionalized when her mental illness was diagnosed. While Charlie wasn't Carol's father, it is still uncertain which witness's version of the sexual relationship between Charlie and Joan was true, but it was probably a blending of both. In this court case, both the plaintiff and the defendant were guilty in many different respects, yet Charlie wound up paying the price for the one accusation of which he was innocent. Oh, justice...

The ladies got into their share of trouble too. Mary Astor was a Hollywood beauty (left) of great repute and talent. Landing roles opposite the likes of Douglas Fairbanks in Don Q. Son of Zorro, she too would act opposite lover John Barrymore in Beau Brummel and Don Juan. The two initiated a romance, despite her parents' objections, due to her tender age of 17. After John spurned her for his third wife, Dolores Costello-- incidentally before Don Juan was filmed-- Mary was deeply grieved. Her tempestuous relationship with her controlling, greedy, and sometimes abusive parents made her only want to rebel more, and she finally found consolation in the arms of first husband Kenneth Hawks. When he shockingly died in a plane crash, Mary was further plummeted into despair. Her nervous breakdown required medical attention, which brought Dr. Franklyn Thorpe, husband #2, into her life. Her life seemed to be repairing itself, and her career was sailing along smoothly with an easy transition to the talkies. Yet, as a woman of passion and pain, Mary found herself unsatisfied in her union, the only blessing from which was her beloved daughter, Marilyn. When friend Miriam Hopkins introduced her to playwright George F. Kauffman, Mary was smitten by his intelligence and surprising charm. An energetic affair ensued, which Mary mistakenly recorded in her diary. Unfortunately, the good doctor accidentally found her blue journal and its explicit, purple pages and filed for divorce. Mary, unhappy in the marriage, did not contest the dissolution. However Franklyn got petty and, having taken the diary, blackmailed her for custody of their daughter, lest its titillating contents be unleashed!

Mary may have been a sorry wife, but a bad mother she was not, and she refused to take the bait. She counter-sued Franklyn, who was engaging in his own vengeful parade of sexual encounters after, and perhaps even before, his April 1935 suit. As expected, Franklyn tried to introduce the diary as evidence in his case, but the judge was so scandalized by the few pages he'd perused that he refused to admit it in court. Despite this, and probably at Franklyn's hand, excerpts were still leaked to the press, further humiliating Mary and damaging her reputation. Yet, she did not back down. While Franklyn had his claims against her, she also had her witnesses against his reputation. Marilyn's nurse even testified to the plethora of women who had been gracing Frank's bed, all before the eyes of their innocent daughter. In the end, the court ruled against Frank, and Mary received custody of Marilyn. Her career surprisingly did not falter, especially after her smash hit as the diabolical femme fatale of The Maltese Falcon-- the audience perhaps enjoyed watching her play, what they assumed, was her sinister self. Ironically, she would be best remembered in her later years for her mature, maternal roles in films like Meet Me in St. Louis and Little Women. She would suffer several more heartbreaks in a life that was far from easy. The rough road that she tread makes it somewhat understandable why she had come to confide her worries, joys, and tragedies in her faithful diary. It also makes one sad at the idea that she felt she had no living soul to truly confide in or whom she could trust with the truth. In the end, the diary betrayed her too, and she never got it back. Deemed too pornographic, the judge had it incinerated. (With daughter, Marilyn, right).

Clara Bow had star quality: energy, playfulness, sexuality, and a bit of naughtiness (see left). Unfortunately, these were also the things that threatened her stardom. A woman with a sad past of familial insanity and sexual abuse, Clara's warmth and need to be loved resulted in a string of sexual relationships that gained her quite the reputation. Richard Toomey would say with a twinge of pity that rumors were always circulating about her, and how "she laid everything but the linoleum." At first, audiences liked her spark and vivacity. She was a flapper! She was expected to live rebelliously and unapologetically! But, with every trend comes a backlash, and soon the popular press turned on her and her sinful ways, particularly after they got her into legal trouble. In all of her flings, Clara had one simple rule: no married men. She wasn't going to mess around with a man who had a wife and children. However, after an appendectomy, she found herself being attended to by a handsome, Texan intern: Earl Pearson. Clara was smitten. Earl, unfortunately, was married, but he had separated from his wife, hence his presence in Los Angeles. As he conveniently claimed that his wife was just one of those awful, nagging, cold-hearted broads, (pause for eye-roll), and as he had no children, Clara reneged on her personal oath and indulged in an affair with him. What followed was a divorce suit from Elizabeth Pearson with Clara listed as the correspondent who had alienated her husband's affections. Mrs. Pearson was seeking $150,000 in damages. With Paramount's help, Clara was able to crawl out from under the financial burden, and wound up paying a total of $56,000 to keep her name out of the suit, which Elizabeth changed to divorce by reason of "Failure to Provide" on the philandering Earl's part. Though word eventually got out about the scandal, Clara had avoided court this time, but another vengeful female would soon take her before the judge.

The argument this time resulted from yet another love triangle... but an unexpected one. After dating no-good Harry Richman, Clara had had the good fortune of meeting and falling in love with the nurturing and loving Rex Bell. As her relationship with him grew, she grew too, and her reliance on the other people in her life began to diminish, especially after Rex started weeding out the bad seeds. Clara had been supporting her repulsive, alcoholic father, Robert, paying for the care and maintenance of her mentally-ill aunts, and had too been bled dry by her business manager, Bogart Rogers. For this reason, the wealthy movie starlet rarely had any dough, despite the fact that she never really spent any on herself. Before Rex came along, her number one trusted advisor was former hairstylist and later personal secretary Daisy DeVoe. Daisy had been a friend and confidante to Clara, had taken the reins of her finances, and had finally improved her meager savings. However, when Rex entered the picture, Daisy felt herself being overshadowed and edged out-- she had, after all, secured a very comfy position for herself with Clara. Rex, for his part, didn't trust her. Daisy was very possessive and secretive about Clara's expenses, and Rex couldn't help but wonder if she was skimming some off the top. When he tested her loyalty, Daisy disappeared with Clara's checkbook, her personal correspondence to past lovers-- including Pearlman-- and her business records. Rex saw this as proof enough-- Daisy was fleecing Clara!

Feeling that Rex had wrongly turned Clara against her, Daisy was irate. In a heated moment, she opted for revenge and blackmailed Clara for $125,000 or else her love letters and private business would be released for all the world to see. Clara was devastated at the betrayal, and when Daisy tried to undo her impetuous move and asked for her job back, Clara unceremoniously slammed the door in her face. With a police escort, Rex was able to obtain Clara's possessions from Daisy, and her former friend was hauled to jail-- although, strangely, she had not yet been charged. (D.A.Buron Fitts didn't trifle with silly things like legal rights). Soon enough, 37 counts of grand theft were handed down upon her, as there were curious check stubs by Daisy's hand that had all been made out to Daisy herself. Daisy would claim that this was all business, that Clara trusted her with all of her finances and also encouraged Daisy to buy gifts for herself and others. "There was nothing underhanded about it," she pleaded. Because Daisy had managed to put almost a quarter of a million dollars into a private trust for Clara, it appears that the damsel in distress clearly had been doing her job. Certainly, she may have taken a little for herself, but the consensus over the years has been that she was indeed innocent and the whole issue had resulted from an unfortunate misunderstanding between herself and Rex and the power struggle they were indulging in over Clara's life.

Clara tries to put on a happy face during the trial with the help of true love, Rex Bell.

At the time, the jury disagreed, and it was alleged that Daisy had knowingly embezzled at least $35,000 from her supposedly beloved employer. The People vs. DeVoe was another low moment for Crisis-a-day-Clara, and proof that in this world, she couldn't trust anyone. Despite this, she still felt bad for her friend. Though she believed Daisy had indeed betrayed her-- penning some 100 curious and presumably fraudulent checks-- her loyalty urged her to ask the judge for some leniency in the punishment, which at worst could be up to 350 years in prison. The verdict was not easy to assert, as Clara's business methods were clearly unorthodox, and as such Daisy had nothing to protect her but her own testimony. The furs and jewels Daisy had bought herself also worked against her as evidence of her unethical financial tactics. Daisy was hysterical in court and had a great many of the jury men and women sobbing along with her. Nonetheless, she was found guilty and sentenced to 18 months in prison. Clara had lost her friend but, more importantly, her faith in humanity. Her reputation further ruined by Daisy's public besmirching of her sexual character, Clara and Rex abandoned Hollywood for Nevada, but the broken-hearted Clara would end her days in solitude under the care of a nurse and estranged from her family and her once loving public.

Tyrone Power defends his innocence in Witness for the Prosecution.
Spoiler alert: like most celebs, he did it.

Naughty, naughty, naughty Hollywood. It is hard to sometimes pity the comeuppance our saucy stars get when they seem to go about brazenly asking for trouble. Perhaps, in a way, they deserve to sometimes have their impenetrability threatened, if only to cut them back down to human size. The succession of ill luck, to poor choices, to bad choices, to  the"are you crazy" actions some of them indulge in, makes their final landing place in the courtroom seem obvious in retrospect. Certainly, many of them took those moments sitting in the witness box to ask themselves, "Man, how did I get here?" or "If only I hadn't..." In any case, while the instant human reaction is to retaliate, time heals all wounds, and in the end, we have embraced our stars again, despite-- and perhaps even because of-- their immoral behavior, which makes them that much more appealing. It is amazing what a few decades can do. Perhaps it merely takes awhile for us to see the hypocrisy of our own judgment, as founded as it may be at the time.  We all have dirty laundry, skeletons in the closet, and little black books we should have burned long ago. The only difference is that our secrets aren't displayed as entertainment on such a large scale. The aforementioned sad lot didn't expect so much of their "entertaining" to be performed off camera and in the press. Luckily for them, the integrity of their work outweighed the integrity of their actions. In any case, Chaplin is still our comedic Jesus, and Clara remains our ball-busting Eve. We don't buy tickets to see vanilla innocence, now do we?

Wednesday, June 13, 2012


Bill Hart, looking atypically dapper!

~     ~     ~

William S. Hart ran across many popular and important people in his life, from childhood to his retirement from the screen. This may seem like a give-in, since he was an entertainer and spent his life in and around show-business, but surprisingly, many of his celebrity meetings had little to do with his film career. For example, when he was a boy, around the age of 15, he got a job as a messenger at the Everett House and the Clarendon Hotel in New York. Occasionally, he was given theatre passes as payment for his services, a tip that the young, starstruck lad enjoyed heartily. He saw many shows and some of the top performers of the day, but nothing would top one particular encounter. As one of his errands at the Everett House, he was asked to deliver a bouquet of flowers to Sarah Bernhardt-- first lady of the stage (right)-- who was currently opening at the Booth's Theatre! Though a youngster, he realized the gravity of the moment and how fortunate he was to be in the presence of a true star-- a star even before the days of cinema celebrity! After he handed over the flowers, the lovely and talented actress pinched the blushing boy's cheeks. He nearly swooned, and he certainly didn't wash his rosy reds for a long time. He treasured the moment for the remainder of his days.

After he got a little older, Bill realized that he too wanted to spend his life treading the boards, and he devoted the remainder of his adulthood to acting. During this time, he worked with many talented people, but none of them would go on to equal his acclaim nor fame after he left the stage for the screen. He did come across someone equally important to film history, however. In 1890, Bill got a gig working with Robert Downing's troupe on the play "Virginius." With him in the cast was Dustin Farnum (left), another man making a name for himself in the theatre world. The two got along well and had a definite, mutual understanding of the struggles of a starving artist. Soon after, Bill found success in his first Western role in "The Squaw Man." The success of this play led to the usual trend of similar storylines, with producers hoping to replicate "Squaw's" profits. As such, "The Virginian" was scooted into production, with none other than Dustin Farnum assuming the lead. Ironically, after Bill finished on "The Squaw Man," he would take his turn performing in "The Virginian" in 1907 at The Broadway Theater, which would solidify his new cowboy reputation. BUT, it would be Dustin who portrayed the lead in both plays when they were adapted into films by Cecil B. DeMille. Today, Dustin is rarely remembered at all if not for his participation in The Squaw Man-- the first feature length motion picture to be filmed in California (1914). The Virginian would quickly follow the same year. Perhaps it was Dustin's success in motion pictures (in some of Bill's favorite roles, no less) that turned the competitive Western star toward Los Angeles himself. Bill won that bet, as he became a much larger star than ol' Dustin ever did.

Bill solidified his place in Hollywood rather quickly. After living with his sister Mary Ellen in an bungalow at 534 Figueroa Street for several years, he finally laid down the cash to buy a property in Hollywood: 8341 DeLongpre Ave, (now a dog park). It was when he was living here, going about his normal, daily business, that he would bump into another up and comer. Bill was a hard worker, who used to boast of the fact that he worked 16 hour days for the majority of his life, getting little sleep and rarely taking vacations. As such, there wasn't a lot of spare time for Bill to just soak in his accomplishments and enjoy life. He took more pleasure in the quiet moments-- say, in reading the morning paper before trotting off to the studio in the morning. The boy who threw that daily paper onto his doorstep was none other than a young Joel McCrea (right), who would later go on to great acting acclaim himself. He must have at least chatted with Bill a time or two on his route, because after Bill left the screen for his ranch and Joel stepped into his stirrups, he was an occasional guest at La Loma de los Vientos.

It was while Bill was living here, out of the limelight and enjoying his retirement, that he made the acquaintance of another important American. While his guests were visiting on his luscious ranch, they were frequently annoyed by the same plane buzzing over their heads and making a racket. Eventually, the noise got so disruptive, that Bill decided to invite the pilot over for dinner in order to persuade him to tone down the intrusive flying. A meeting was set up, and Bill got a big surprise. Thus it was that Amelia Earhart (left) came to dine with William S. Hart. The two became fast friends, and the plane mishap was soon forgotten. Bill even gifted Amelia a buffalo skin coat, which was an artifact from the Indian wars. He must have really been taken with her, because Bill was known to be pretty possessive of such trophies and souvenirs.

But Bill wasn't the only person to have close encounters of the celeb kind. When Wallace Reid (right) and his lovely wife Dorothy--nee Davenport-- were carving out their careers in show-business in 1916, and doing a pretty good job, they purchased a house at 1822 Morgan Place. Later in his career, Wally would be a bit of a Hollywood mascot, popularly speeding around town in one of his cars or playing with his kids in the back-yard of his later mansion on DeLongpre-- right by Bill Hart. He wasn't quite as flashy at the Morgan Place address, but his presence would still disrupt the quiet street. Few people know that Wally was an accomplished musician who could learn to play any instrument by ear within mere moments of picking it up. However, his vehicle of choice, as it were, was always the saxophone. Late into the night, many of his neighbors would be graced with the sound of his melodious saxing... and many more would be irked by the incessant noise! One young neighbor belonged to the latter category, recalling in later years, after Wally's death, how he used to be constantly pestered by the sonorous tooting into the midnight hours when he was trying desperately to catch some sleep! Of course, Rudolph Valentino would later go on to take Wally's place as the leading Hollywood heartthrob, so in recollection he was perhaps glad that he had this strange musical encounter with him. Yet, at the time, he was a struggling actor living in a rented room across the street, and Wally's usual adorable antics weren't quite so cute!

Rudy ponders revenge... like a gentleman.

Charlie Chaplin is recalled as perhaps the most memorable performer of the silent film era. One of cinema's early champions, he elevated the possibilities of emotional communication through his visually superb, comically stupendous, and always heartfelt methods of storytelling. He became one of the first movie stars to consider his job both a privilege and a responsibility: he aimed to inspire and to make movies about people for the people. After finding success writing, directing, and acting in a series of shorts, he decided to sink his teeth into the next revolution of film: the full-length feature! When he began work on The Gold Rush (left), he had no concept of how great a phenomenon it was to become. Following on the heels of The Pilgrim and A Woman of Paris, The Gold Rush was to become one of Chaplin's most successful films, if not its most remembered-- due to that dance of the rolls (a gag borrowed from Fatty Arbuckle, but that's another matter). Now aside from being a master filmmaker and perfectionist, Chaplin was also known for his taste in women, which tended toward the more youthful of the sex. Thus, when casting the lead female role in The Gold Rush, the vision of lovely ingenues that paraded through his office must have given him a great deal of pleasure. He was quite taken with one young girl-- a fifteen-year-old blonde of great beauty and humor. Carole Lombard was offered a screen test after a scout noticed her at the "May Day Carnival," of which she was representing Fairfax High School as its Queen. Carole was ecstatic about the audition! Charlie, on the other hand, was non-plussed by the fact that her mother, Bessie, had protectively come to the audition with her. Thus, no flirting was to be had. Carole lost the part to Lita Grey, who fulfilled Bessie's worst nightmares by soon becoming pregnant with Charlie's child. Grey lost the role due to her "condition," and it went instead to Georgia Hale.

Carole about the age Charlie first saw her. Good thing Bessie 
was there-- not that Carole couldn't take care of herself!

Spencer Tracy (right) was a serious actor and a serious man. A constant worry-wart, the mental masochist was often down on himself, haunted by visions of human mortality and his own personal flaws. This didn't stop him from being a friendly, charming guy, but it did give him a depth and pathos that was missing in the majority of the other hot-to-trot Hollywood men. Spence's personal torture also lent a great deal of gravity to his performances, none of which were superficial and all of which were carefully crafted and fleshed out human beings. Having worked his way long and hard up the Hollywood totem, Spence used his knowledge of life in general to appreciate his great success when it came, but he was also always stressed by the notion that it could all go away again. Due to this, he continued to work hard, almost never stopping for air, with the intention of keeping his family and extended family well provided for. One of the many experiences of his life that induced him to continue his consistent work ethic occurred while he was filming Quick Millions. He took notice of one of the extras in the crowd, who looked awfully familiar. That face... hadn't he seen that face in the flickers and emblazoned on magazine covers as "The King of the Movies?" Didn't that face belong to one of early cinema's greatest stars, writers, and directors? My God... It was indeed King Baggott!!! The sight gave Spence a start: my, how the mighty had fallen. Ironically, it was partially Baggott's alcoholism that spoiled his career-- a demon with which Spence could definitely relate. As a result, Baggott was relegated to uncredited roles and bit parts for cash. Spence put this humbling moment in his pocket, and never forgot that What Hollywood Giveth, Hollywood Taketh. As a result, Spence remained one of the top male leads in cinematic history, carrying the torch long after the majority of his contemporaries had bit the dust of retirement.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

HOT SPOTS in CA: The William S. Hart Ranch

Final abode of Hollywood's Western Hero

The major remaining artifacts of the first Western star William S. Hart are, of course, his films. But there is another far more tangible relic of this Hollywood celebrity: his home. Having lived in ramshackle homes and cramped apartments in his youth, he was elated when he finally had the money to build his dream home-- an oasis where he could escape from the rush and strain of the business and relax. He found the perfect spot in Newhall, CA, where he moved in 1918. With his permanent residence still in Hollywood, Bill rented a patch of land and its small ranch house while he filmed in the Newhall region. He fell in love with it and by 1921 had purchased the lot from its original owner (George Babcock Smith). As the years progressed, Bill purchased more of the surrounding land and began planning the mansion that he would name La Loma de los Vientos ("Hill of the Winds"). After his retirement from film, he permanently settled on the estate. He lived on the property for over 20 years, and after he passed away, he left his ranch to the people of Los Angeles County, with the understanding that they be given free tours and reign of the land. It was his way of saying "thank you" to the people who had spent their time and money seeing his movies and supporting his career when he ruled as the King of the Cowboys. The house still stands as a monument to him, his life, and career.

Bill's original, smaller ranch house.

Upon immediate arrival at the ranch, the guest will be met with glimpses of the petting zoo, the gift shop, and the park. Since rainy days are rare in California, it is a safe bet that the sunshine will make the lush green grass and the picnic tables look very inviting. The area is popular, but not busy, so a few families can be seen scattered about and enjoying the weather. 

The tack and saddle room.

Opposite the gift shop is the original, smaller building Bill used as his home. This modest structure is nothing much to look at on the outside, but as the initial seed that sprouted the later hilltop mansion, it is still interesting to peruse. The interior is bedecked with some remaining Hart fossils, including his game room, kitchen, his sister Mary Ellen's initial bedroom, the tack and saddle room, and a room devoted to early film artifacts. In the main sitting room, a Hart movie plays to introduce the deceased owner to his visiting guests.

First glimpse of the palace.

A shot hike up a dirt path will take you past the dog graveyard-- where Bill laid to rest all his treasured mutts-- the small bunk house, and a corner of land inhabited by bison-- most of whom were donated by Walt Disney. Following the path upward, you will come upon the modest mansion, gracing the top of the hill and overlooking wilderness views intercut only by the occasional passage of a steam engine. It is truly like stepping into the past. The exterior of the house is white stucco, painted vibrantly with turquoise trim, small colorful detail, and a red-tiled roof. It was designed by architect Arthur Kelly and completed in 1928.

Upward glance at the foyer-- notice the design and detail around the edge.

Upon entering, the eye immediately goes up the spiral staircase to the rustic chandelier hanging in the foyer. The decor and style dictate from the beginning that this is a man's castle. Though replete with vibrant works of art and occasional hints of the feminine touch, the earthy style and tones are in keeping with Bill's masculine image. His adoration of the Native American culture is also firmly established, even in the original and never duplicated Indian designs applied to the crossbeams, which run throughout the house. Bill's boots, leather cuffs, and one of his shirts are also proudly on display at the entrance. 

Entertaining and dining room.

In a little room to the side, the original bathroom has been converted into a theatre tribute room, where pictures of Bill in some of his theater rolls are on display. The dining room is to the left, complete with an elegant place setting, Indian blankets covering the floors, and silver film appreciation trophies-- given to him by the likes of Marcus Loew (before the days of the Oscar). The walls are adorned with original works of art, all with Western themes, most of which were painted by Bill's good friend Charles Russell. Bill was a huge art fan and an appreciative collector, which becomes only more obvious as the tour of the house continues. A collection of horseshoes also adorn one wall, with his beloved Fritz's crowning the group at the top.

Meeting place for Hart's guests, like Maurice Chevalier and James Montgomery Flagg.

Continuing on, next to the dining hall there is a smaller dining room used for more modest occasions, followed by the kitchen. The hallway, complete with a dumbwaiter, leads back to the main entrance, which takes you upstairs. The main room at this level is the sitting room, which during Bills' life was complete with a projector and descending film screen. Holes in the back wall still reveal where this projector once operated. Samurai swords, a wooden bumper Bill bought off a passing car, and a bear-skin rug gifted by Will Rogers are proudly still in place, as well as an expensive, early record player. This is where Bill would have entertained guests. The room is still occasionally used for intimate parties and special affairs thrown by the museum.

A little treat from Doug, Buster, and Harold.

Also present in the rotating display for silent film buffs, was a collection of artifacts from some of cinema's favorite heroes. A saber used by Douglas Fairbanks in The Thief of Baghdad, Harold Lloyd's specs, and Buster Keaton's hat were a pleasant surprise to me on this particular day.

Moving on, a glimpse down one hallway reveals the room that used to belong to Bill's sister Mary Ellen, who was sadly bedridden or wheel-chair bound for the majority of her time at the ranch. To get to her room, one would pass the telephone: a novel possession at the time, particularly in this less populated region. Bill's phone number was 20! Mary Ellen's private tea room leads you down another hallway, past a few more rotating displays, this time showcasing early lantern slides-- a form of entertainment made arbitrary after pictures started to move.

This room once served as Bill's bedroom, but he quickly 
gave it to his oversized dogs.

Down this hall, which is decorated with various paintings revealing Bill in the middle of some of his most famous film stunts, you arrive at his bedroom. With more of the same style of decor, Bill's desk-- where he probably penned all of his enjoyable novels and even his biography-- and his lengthy bed are the major eye-catchers. A fairly modest space, the room where Bill laid his head at night was actually a later addition to the mansion, for his original bedroom was overtaken by his large dogs. Bill later moved into his second room and left the first space for his slobbery dogs to sleep in.

Out the door of the dog/sitting room, you find yourself back outdoors, enjoying the scenery of an elevated patio, and another outdoor tea room delegated to Mary Ellen. Further investigation of the property reveals the area clearly used as the garage for Bill and his visitors. Walking back down from whence you came, you pass the decorative tower bearing the name of Bill's palace, which now seems to separate and protect his happy haven from the noise and clutter of the modern world. One brief visit can leave you a bit enchanted and unwilling to leave. After experiencing the peace and simple beauty of the property, a life of traffic and smog is not all that alluring.

The entrance tower announcing La Loma de los Vientos.

If one has time to amble about, you can take time getting acquainted with the hogs, mules, and chickens, or perhaps take some time to peruse the gift shop, where proceeds act as donations toward the maintenance of the ranch. I purchased a copy of Bill's bio, a magnet, Hell's Hinges on DVD, and a first edition of one of his novels while I was there. (After such a lovely visit, I was on a high and easily departed with the dough). If you need a relaxed day away from it all, I highly recommend you giddy up to Bill's beloved abode. The tour is completely free, the guides are knowledgable and friendly, and even if you aren't a huge movie fan or Bill Hart fan, the interior and exterior of the ranch still give you the occasional gift of nostalgia we all need to remind us that life, indeed, is beautiful.

James Montgomery Flagg's portrait of Bill and Fritz.

To visit La Lomas de las Vientos and the William S. Hart Park:

24151 Newhall Avenue
Newhall, California 91321

Museum Information : (661) 254-4584
Park Information : (661) 259-0855
Web Site:

Labor Day to Mid-June
Wednesday - Friday, 10 am to 1 pm (last tour at 12:30)
Saturday - Sunday, 11 am to 4 pm (last tour at 3:30 pm).
Summer- Beginning, June 20, 2012
Wednesday - Sunday 11 am to 4 pm (last tour at 3:30 pm).