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Wednesday, November 28, 2012


Clara Bow enjoys spreading her wings in the glowing light of her celebrity.

Who knew??

Clara Bow wasn't always the "it" girl. In fact, during her youth, she probably felt more like the "ain't" girl. No money, no affection, no reason to keep going... All she had were her dreams. Her only fuel was her love of the movies and her hopes of one day being a movie star. As such, some of the celebrities that kept her mentally and emotionally nourished during her harsh, tender years became heroes in her mind and heart.

Movie stars quickly learn of their unnatural appeal to the public. Fan letters, autograph hounds, screaming pedestrians, et al, tip an actor off that he has accrued some level of worship. There is no way of calculating the number of fans that Wallace Reid, for example, encountered during his life. Certainly, he would give a smile and a handshake, offer his John Hancock, wave his hand, and move on his merry way when meeting a fan. These moments were touching, of course, but they were also frequent, and thus anonymous, drops in the bucket-- too many faces to recall. Therefore, Wally had no way of knowing that one of the gushing girls waiting for him outside a Brooklyn theater during one of his publicity tours was none other than a thirteen-year-old Clara Bow, who had stood for eight hours just to catch a glimpse of him! This would have made a great story, had Clara ever had the chance to tell him after she became famous herself. Unfortunately, right as Clara was hitting Hollywood, Wally was drowning in his morphine addiction, which would claim his life within a year of her arrival. Ironically, Clara's future husband Rex Bell (George Beldam) would know Wally well, since the former caddied for him during his high school years. Of course, Rex had easier access to the star, since he grew up in California. He also started a charity rodeo with his classmate and future star: Joel McCrea. (Clara avidly read star publications, like the left example with her idol Wally gracing the cover).

Needless to say, when Clara hit it big, she took advantage of her resources. She was never a pushy nor selfish person, but she was incredibly warm and loved to make new friends. Being in close proximity to people that were so illustrious, after a life of living in the slums, must have made her feel like a very grateful sore thumb. Naturally, some movie stars were a bit too snobbish for her taste, and considered her earthiness and lack of pretension far too "low class" for their high-fallutin' ways. Her fans would still adore her and do almost anything to get a piece of her. One up and coming actor was very pleased when Clara showed an interest. The play "Dracula" was all the rage in the late '20s. As such, when Clara had a chance to catch a show, she grabbed her pals and high-tailed it to the Biltmore Theatre. She was particularly intrigued by the atypically handsome leading man, Bela Lugosi (right). The Hungarian actor barely spoke English but had somehow found a way to memorize his lines for the devilish role and would consequently sink his teeth into the American audience. After seeing him onstage, Clara was smitten. She used her clout to go straight to his dressing room and extend her praise for his performance. After some half-hearted and broken conversations, which neither probably understood, Clara invited the blushing actor over. Bela appreciated her kindness, and became an occasional visitor to her cottage, although in this case there was no funny business-- Clara gave him the spare room and shared her bed with BFF Tui Lorraine. Yet, there was a tryst of sorts at some point, for Bela, the world's most famous vampire, would sometimes pull a friend aside, lift up his shirt, and indicate a series of love bites on his body. He would then smile and utter one of the few English words in his vocabulary for clarification: "Clara... Clara..." Their love affair was short lived, but the starlet definitely left her mark.

Greta Garbo (left) could certainly relate to the strange disassociation that the foreign Bela must have felt on American soil. Being outside of one's native language and familiar territory can induce definite feelings of melancholy and loneliness. When Greta first started working at MGM, she struggled emotionally. She missed Sweden, and strangely, she missed the cold. New York was preferable to California, but she went where the contract was. Things hadn't much improved by the time she began filming The Temptress, her second American made movie. Her first film had not yet been released, no one knew who she was, she still hadn't made any real friends, and when she received word that her elder sister, Alva, had died, she was absolutely devastated. To her surprise, she received a consolatory bouquet of flowers from an unlikely source: Lillian Gish. Somehow, the senior screen phenom had caught wind of Greta's misfortune, and being an innately intuitive woman, she probably gleaned from all she knew of the strange young woman that she was feeling pretty lonesome, out of place, and could use a friend. In her vulnerability, Greta-- who was still the shy Greta and not yet the aloof Garbo-- approached Lillian on the set to offer her gratitude. As Greta was still uneasy with English, she and Lillian had trouble communicating, but they seemed to understand each other and soon were sobbing in each other's arms! Greta was eternally grateful, and she even hung around several times to watch Lillian work. Lillian taught Greta the ropes, and may have done too good a job. After Greta was nursed back to emotional health, her first release, Torrent, would totally overtake Lillian's La Boheme at the box office! Perhaps Lillian knew it was time to pass the torch.

Lillian's big heart and depth won her many friends in life and
many fans through her work.

Louise Brooks's (right) first love in life was to dance. As a teen, she signed up with the most prestigious dancing instructors of her time, Ruth St. Denis and Ted Shawn, who ran the Denishawn dancing company. Her talent, grace, and intensity, quickly moved her up the ranks in the troupe and got her noticed by her instructors. Ted adored her unique gift; Ruth was annoyed by her obstinacy. In any case, after finishing up a tour, the group of dancers settled down for a summer session at the infamous Meriarden arts colony in Peterborough, NH. There, Louise made her first real friend on the road. Barbara Bennett had been sent to Mariarden because her artistic family deemed her unfocused and undisciplined. Naturally, she and Louise gelled. Louise enjoyed Barbara's lack of phoniness. In fact, the first time Barbara spoke to Louise it was while Lulu was stuffing her face with pie: "Hello, pie face," Barbara quipped. They became thick as thieves. After the summer ended, Barbara and Louise both returned to New York, and Louise quickly found herself kicked out of Denishawn after she and Ruth locked horns in a final confrontation. As such, she turned to Barbara, who invited her into her posh family's life. Louise from Kansas absorbed all of their cultured, manicured ways, learning diction and table manners from them. They were happy tutors and she an apt pupil. Of course, she knew all of the Bennett family by reputation: Parents Richard and Adrienne were both big actors. Barbara's eldest sister, Constance (18), was already making waves with her acting talent as well, though her younger sister, Joan (13), hadn't yet had time to hit her stride. In time, both would enjoy fame that would eclipse their parents'. Barbara, the unruly middle child, never caught the entertainment boat, but Louise still liked her the best. She thought Joan was sweet too, but, to speak plainly, she thought Constance was a total b*tch.

Hollywood royalty: acting sisters Joan and Constance Bennett.

Ginger Rogers (left) was riding high after her stage success "Girl Crazy." The musical had earned her multiple kudos and also a contract in Hollywood with Pathe Studios. Things were certainly looking good! When she and mother Lela boarded the Twentieth Century Limited at Grand Central Station, neither believed that life could get any better. It could. No sooner had they arrived, than friend Harold Ross alerted them that the two most famous performers of the American stage were to be aboard with them: Alfred Lunt and Lynn Fontanne. Ginger couldn't believe it! Of course, as she was an up-and-coming song and dance gal, she didn't think that she would have much to offer the acclaimed duo in the way of conversation. After all, she was just a newbie going to the low level Pathe, while they were signed at the OMG MGM! Yet, Harold still managed to set up a dinner for the two parties. Ginger was intimidated of course, but she found the husband and wife team delightful, and even felt that they were more nervous about their latest Hollywood venture than she was about hers. They were prepping to film their stage hit, The Guardsman, for the screen. They started asking her advice! What directors did she like, what kind of make-up tricks was she using, etc? Ginger offered whatever help she could, but admittedly, she knew little. Perhaps the Lunts had sensed her upcoming genius. Their talents would never translate to cinema, while Ginger was about to take the world by storm!

Alfred Lunt and Lynn Fontanne: acting dynamos and soul mates.

Few would peg Clark Gable (right) as the sensitive type, but he had much more going on inside than he ever let his carefully crafted, macho image indicate. Many would assert that he based his future characterizations on his personal hero, tough guy Victor Fleming. On the screen, he tried to be the man he wanted to be. In life, he was much more insecure. For example, he had a love of poetry and literature that he kept a secret, because he didn't want it to tarnish his hard-edged demeanor. When "Clark Gable" was born on the screen, he was born big. After A Free Soul, his cocky bad boy with a side of charm was golden at the box-office. But Rome wasn't built in a day, and the struggling, self-doubting actor had had to work his way to the top like everyone else. Sometimes, progress didn't seem to come fast enough, and he would give up on himself. For example, he landed the lead role in the play "Scars" and received positive reviews for his performance in the boy to man story of a war draftee-fighter-survivor. However, when the play itself got negative feedback, he dropped it like a bad habit. Always second-guessing, he didn't have the confidence to see it through. If it weren't for the women in his life, Clark probably wouldn't have gotten anywhere. In the end, he had good reason to quit the play: it was far too choppy and uneven. Still, another actor picked up where Clark had left off when the play hit New York. The new leading man who stepped up to the plate? Spencer Tracy. The play's title was changed to "Conflict," but although Spence put his guts into the part, earning even better reviews than Clark, the play still folded by April of 1929. He would move on to "The Last Mile," a jail-themed play, which luckily turned out to be a hit. (Clara Bow allegedly was in the audience for one of his powerhouse performances, but no love bites this time). Spence and Clark would later become BFFs in Hollywood, and probably --as part of their competitive hijinks-- would tease about their earlier shared stage experience.

Spencer Tracy, looking oddly dapper in one of his theater publicity shots.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

The 7x7 Blog Award!

Thanks to Margaret Perry for tagging me with the 7X7 Blog award!

One of my favorite pics, just for fun. (Mauritz Stiller, Greta Garbo, Lon Chaney, 
Fred Niblo, and Antonio Moreno).

The 7×7 Award is a kind of ‘gettin to know you’ award that allows bloggers to highlight their favorite pieces by answering a set number of questions, and then allows them to promote other bloggers by nominating/tagging them so that they can do the same. Really, a nice way to build the community and promote each other! Here are my responses to the stipulated instructions.

A. Tell everyone something that no one else knows about you:
Something that no one else knows??? Yeesh... I guess it would be that, despite the polite face, discussing the weather is pretty much my #1 pet peeve. Yes, this makes me a bad person. (That is why I normally don't disclose it).

B. My Seven Posts

1) Most beautiful piece: This one is hard to explain, but Where Have All the Cowboys Gone? has always held a special place in my heart. I think it expresses so much about the disappearing American hero from our cinematic culture and pays homage to the cowboy figure who so fully represented the courage and strength of this nation, even during times that we have often questioned or lost faith in who we are or what we stand for.

2) Most helpful piece: Helpful? That's hard to say... But, every year, I do make a quick blurb that I hope inspires people to fork over the dough for Mont-Alto Orchestra Silent Film Calendar. All proceeds go to silent film preservation, and if I can help that cause by even gaining them one sale, I'd be happy!

3) Most popular piece: I guess it is not at all surprising that those articles I have written regarding James Dean remain at the top of the pack. For this young man to have made such a lasting impact on our culture after three mere films is... impressive to say the least. What I do find interesting is that the post that consistently gets the  most hits on my site is the "Hot Spots" piece I wrote about my trek to the James Dean Memorial. I am proud of this, because the article includes an important moment in time I spent with my mother, but I find it fascinating that countless other individuals are apparently making the same pilgrimage to Dean's crash site. His death clearly impacted more lives that he could have ever imagined.

4) Most controversial piece: None of the pieces I have written have stirred up much controversy, mostly because I think I make it clear that I am here only to appreciate and discuss our past films and figures. So, for this one,  I will choose My Year with Bettie, simpy because it deals with supernatural elements that not everyone believes in. (I have trouble even believing it myself)!

5) Surprisingly successful piece: This one is easy! The "Take One, Two, Three" article I wrote, The Lady is a Tramp, regarding the character of Sadie Thompson in film, is my most surprisingly successful. I won an award for it via the Film Classics Community! I'm still in shock.

6) Most underrated piece: Hmmmm... I don't really know about this one. But, I have always liked Ladies in a Man's World, so if it drummed up more pro-feminist attention, I wouldn't be disappointed.

7) Piece you are most proud of: I think I will have to give this one to the "Personal Note" editorial piece that I did, titled YouTube Killed the Movie Star. We have all instigated and are suffering from a great disinterest in modern film, and understanding this transition may help us to recover some of the magic from the past that made films more communcative and emotionally evocative.

C. My Seven Favorite Blogs:

Hollywood Spy
Blonde Episodes
Defiant Success
O Falcoa Maltes
Strictly Vintage Hollywood
Out of the Past
B-Movie Heaven (my sister's scathing review site)

MENTAL MONTAGE: Psychotic Fanatics

Clara Bow arms herself against a dangerous threat (in Call Her Savage)!

A commonality most performers share is the need for love and attention. This desire, when misdirected, leads them to a life in front of the camera, wherein they are certain that they'll achieve the devotion and ardent admiration they so crave, thus making up for whatever vacancy they have in their lonely hearts. All too often, they get what they wish for and then some. Barraged by photographers, accosted en masse by crowds of people, and occasionally clawed and scratched by desperate, groping fans, more than one movie star had stopped to wonder what the Hell she has gotten herself into. Most people tend to simply admire and respect from afar when they find a screen persona that they somehow identify with. Others get a bit tearful and worshipful, hanging photos on their walls and perhaps even participating in a harmless bout of stalking in order to gain an in-the-flesh peep at their hero or perhaps his autograph. Still, others... Others go batty! The line between fact and fiction is completely blurred and fanaticism quickly turns to all out obsession. Here are a few hot stars that turned ice cold with fear when the love they sought on the big screen transitioned to something more sinister, or at least wildly unexpected:

At one point in time, Clara Bow (left) was the most popular movie star in the world. She and her male counterpart, Lon Chaney, were voted the two names most likely to sell tickets by theater owners across the nation. For the little, loveless girl from Brooklyn who had always wanted to "make it," life was now like a dream come true. But Clara soon saw the sour side of celebrity life, which manifested itself in multiple ways. One of the most peculiar things to grow accustomed to was the fan attention. Film celebrities were still a moderately new sensation by the 1920s. The public was familiar with the life-altering, screen presence phenomenon, but they were far from jaded, and their attention to their stars was vastly different from the more scathing and bitter focus we give our celebrities today. Thus, saying Clara was merely "famous" is an understatement. To the general public in her own time, Clara might as well have been God. 

A few people coincidentally deemed her as such, becoming so obsessed with her that life became a bit fearful. Before the days of the bodyguard, before the days when celebrity stalking was understood and more protected against, there were far more up close and personal threats that the average film celeb had to endure. For her part, Clara was once alarmed by a large, beefy blonde man from Iowa pounding on her door in the middle of the night. He had traveled a long way to tell Clara that he loved her and was not leaving until they were married. Another day, her secretary and friend Tui Lorraine was run off the road by two pursuant fans, who had been following Clara's car. They gents blazed off quickly when they realized that they had been stalking the wrong person, leaving Tui shaking in the driver's seat. Clara also received a mysterious note from "Mr. Rand" of the Secret Service, who claimed that a mental patient had escaped from Illinois State Hospital and was coming for her. The escapee believed that Clara had "the soul of a flying horse" and would soon "give birth to Jesus Christ." Ummm... The agent offered his protection. Only problem was that there was no Mr. Rand in the secret service. Paramount supplied Clara with hired guards instead.

The most notorious example of Clara's brush with celebrity obsession came via the dashing Robert Savage. Robert was a charming playboy from a prominent family in Connecticut. He was certainly the black sheep of the upper crust bunch, which he proved when he left behind the expected ivy league education to marry Ziegfeld girl Geneva Mitchell. Of course, even this coup wasn't enough for someone with his skewed ambition. He lacked the work ethic of a successful businessman but possessed the unstoppable desire for fame, money, glory, etc. As such, he wouldn't be satisfied until he had obtained the "It" girl. Through his conniving, he was able to gain an introduction through a mutual friend, and met up with Clara at her personal cabin for one of her parties. Clara was friendly, flirty, but her interest ended there. She though Robert was nice enough, but apparently she was turned off by the fact that he seemed to do nothing but talk about himself. She said "good bye," but it was far from the end. Robert publicly bragged that he and Clara had enjoyed much more than conversation, and that she had bit his lip so hard that it had bled. This only served to irritate the starlet, but things got worse. Robert started calling repeatedly, hounding Clara, and soon enough threatening that if she didn't see him, he would kill himself. Finally, after she'd had enough, Clara agreed to meet Robert for lunch, hoping she could at least calm him down. Instead, he picked her up and drove her to the marriage licence bureau. Clara's eyes bulged! Luckily, they arrived too late and were not joined in holy matrimony that day. When she begged him to leave her alone again, he staged an elaborate "prank." He wrote her a lovely poem, surrounded himself with Clara's photos, and then slit his wrists, allowing the blood to drizzle on Clara's picture. Of course, he had alerted his friends to what he was doing, so the cops showed up to find him smugly smoking a cigarette, "bleeding to death" on the couch. He was sentenced to a psych ward, but when brought before the jury, he admitted that he hadn't really wanted to kill himself, but had simply been trying to get Clara's attention. He vowed that he'd get it still! The case was thrown out of court. Luckily, Robert seemed to have sucked up enough of his fifteen minutes of fame, and after his family yanked him back in tow, he thankfully seemed to disappear from Clara's life.

Charlie Chaplin also endured a none-too-savory suicidal fan. In 1922, while in the midst of his affair with the ever dramatic Pola Negri (together right), he was confronted by Marina Varga, a Mexican spitfire of a woman, who had left her husband in Vera Cruz and crossed the border into the United States dressed as a boy in order to meet her true-true love, Chaplin. She went directly to the Chaplin Studios, where she was of course turned away, but then she showed up at his house. Somehow, she managed to sneak in, and while Charlie, Pola, and friends dined downstairs, she was found by his Japanese servant, Kono, lying comfortably in Charlie's bed dressed in his pajamas. Kono was clearly disturbed to find the strange, mentally uneven woman in his employer's room, but managed to calmly coax her back into her own clothes. He summoned Charlie from upstairs, and the comedian took on a serious tone, talking to Marina, calming her down, and eventually getting her to leave the house. As a naturally sympathetic soul, Charlie-- who was always in awe of his incomprehensible celebrity and effect on fans-- felt only pity toward the poor woman. His girlfriend, Pola, was much less entertained by the episode, which only made matters worse when Marina showed up again. This time, she staged a great death scene, decorating Charlie's porch with a smattering of roses, then sipping poison, and lying down to die on his lawn. Luckily, the poison wasn't really poison, and she had merely passed out from-- it appears-- her own hysteria. When she came to, she and Pola got into a nasty yelling match, which turned into a fight. At some point, Chaplin's concern for the whole thing seemed to turn to farce, for he later turned the water on the two women when they wouldn't cease their cat fight. The good news for Marina is that, while she didn't get Charlie, she did become front page news, and she gladly posed for a photographs for the press. She left Charlie alone afterward, which proves it was probably more the fame than ol' Chuck that she wanted in the first place.

Silent film cowboy William S. Hart (left) had another interesting altercation with a stalking female. An unlikely mark for a desirous woman, the lanky, eagle-faced actor was hardly what one would describe as a heart-throb. He still managed to make an effect, it seems. When in Chicago, Hart was in talks to contribute to what would later become known as United Artists with Mary Pickford, Douglas Fairbanks, Charlie Chaplin, and D.W. Griffith. (He later declined the offer). Joining him on his journey through the Windy City was, as always, his sister Mary and also tag-along pal Norma Talmadge. One day, the trio were sitting around the hotel suite, probably planning what to do with the rest of their day, when a strange woman unceremoniously swept in and interrupted their conversation. One can imagine the moment of silence and confusion as Bill, Mary, and Norma sat staring at the equally silent stranger, who gawked at Bill with eyes wide as saucers. Finally, after Bill addressed her, she stated: "I've come to take you home." Bill didn't know exactly where this lady thought 'home' was, but he didn't get too good of a feeling when he saw her menacingly reaching into her purse. Within a split second, Norma was ducking under a chair, Mary was reaching for a weapon-- a bottle-- and Bill quickly grabbed the woman gently on the arm and led her docile body out the door, which he promptly slammed behind her. And bolted. The scared group never learned what became of their strange visitor, nor did they discover what it was that she had had in that hand bag. 

Mary Pickford (right), as the first big movie star, knew better than anyone else the power that celebrity could hold. At its best, it was a tremendous benefit; at its worst, it was terrifying. Trying to learn why it was that so many people were interested in her and her life, why complete strangers adored her, was a difficult thing for her to wrap her mind around. She took on her role in the public eye with surprising responsibility and a bit of sadness: "I have learned that I do not belong to myself." Yet, this didn't mean that she was just going to roll over and let people do with her as they wanted. Most of her fans were harmless, including one homeless man who built a shrine to her in New York Park. His name was William Bartels, and he informed police officers that "America's Sweetheart" was truly his sweetheart. Of course, he too admitted that he and Mary were not yet on speaking terms. Then, alleged fan Edward Hemmer tried to extort money from Mary after he claimed that he had acted as a surrogate father to her during her youth. Mary didn't remember the guy, and had a court order filed to shut him up. 

Another event was much more bone-rattling. While Mary was traveling through Boston, she received letters for two weeks from a persistent man who claimed that he had information about a will. Clearly, this was fishy business, and Mary wasn't exactly hurting for money, so she chose to ignore the scam. Later, the author of the letters and his female companion were found camping outside Mary's hotel room door listening in. They were kicked out, of course, but only returned later. Mary's maid, God knows why, let the duo into her room, while Mary entertained guests in the sitting area. Perturbed, Mary left her friends and confronted the eerie duo, demanding that they leave at once! The man cowered, but the woman claimed that she had a "message" for Mary, and was there to offer "spiritual guidance." Mary clearly wasn't interested. She had them arrested. She believed that this was all part of a kidnapping scheme, and when she had to appear in court regarding their case, she had no qualms about letting them have it. The judge was surprised that he had to ask the red-faced pipsqueak to calm herself! Mary may have been small, but she was no shrinking violet. The religious duo never bothered her again.

Not all fan and star meetings were quite so threatening nor fearful. Some were just... surprising. Labeled as "The Screen's Most Perfect Lover," Wallace Reid (left) was constantly at the mercy of salivating women. To an outsider, this probably doesn't sound like an burdensome position for a person to be in, but it could be inconvenient. First of all, Wally was married to actress Dorothy Davenport, so the constant attention from the opposite sex was a bit stressful on the marriage. Thankfully, neither husband nor wife seemed to take it all too seriously. A charming, good-natured guy, Wally probably laughed off the majority of the adoring compliments sent his way. Yet, some of the "proposals" he received were more difficult to ignore than others. For example, he was ardently and persistently pursued by a high society matron who had fallen madly in love with him after seeing the handsome speedster in films like The Roaring Road. So infatuated was she that she wound up bribing his valet with $25,000 worth of jewelry for a mere peek at Wally's dressing room. She hoped to win at least one night of passion with Wally, and thus proceeded to woo him with love letters, expensive gifts, and photos of herself in the nude. She also sent him a mysterious key, which opened her boudoir. It was, needless to say, an open invitation. Wally RSVP'd, "No thanks." Other girls didn't have the same resources to get to Wally, although his employees were making a fortune off bribes that the desperate throngs offered to catch a glimpse of the star or see where he lived. He and Dorothy soon became accustomed to strange women popping out of hiding places in their home. They snuck in and hid under beds, in closets, cabinets, in the attic, the basement, and the garage. Wally and Dorothy were particularly shocked when a young girl popped out of the back seat of their car where she had been hiding under a blanket! Things were getting ridiculous, but since most of these lustful dames seemed harmless, Wally never took any major action to deter their infiltrations. It became a sort of running joke.

Carroll Baker (right) was also surprised by an unexpected guest. After giving birth to her first child, daughter Blanche Joy Garfein, (with no anesthesia, thank you very much), she was greeted by several fans within the hospital offering their congratulations. Mostly, everyone just wanted a peep at the "Baby Doll" with her new baby. Her entire delivery had been a bit of a production, being witnessed by several members of the staff including current medical students, who observed the event under the excuse of education. Afterward, while convalescing, Carroll's beautiful, personal moments was constantly interrupted with fellow patients and nurses stopping by to wish her well, despite the "Do Not Disturb" sign on her door. Since all a tired, new mother wants is peace and quiet, it was a bit irritating to say the least, but Carroll handled it well and appreciated the sentiment. Then, things took a more menacing turn. Late one night, around 10pm, Carroll was having trouble sleeping. She managed to waddle to the restroom in her open-backed gown, then re-entered her pitch black bedroom, where she was startled by a figure standing in her doorway. Leaning against the frame was a large man, grinning at her and eying her very bare legs. He also seemed to be holding something behind his back. Carroll panicked!  She dove for the intercom and screamed as loudly as she could. The man bolted, and the hospital staff and security came running to her defense! They never tracked down the intruder, who was clearly there long after visiting hours were over. Where he came from or how he got in was never discovered. BUT, they did find the stairwell where he made his escape. Also present was the bouquet of flowers he had been hiding behind his back. The card read: "To the Beautiful Baby Doll, from Your Fan." Carroll didn't mind the gift, but the giving had been a bit too much.

Monty Clift (left) was accosted by a somewhat unsettling fan, but as was his way, he found the episode much more entertaining than frightening. The predator in his story was a chubby, middle-aged German woman known only as "the Baroness." What she was the 'baroness' of remains a mystery. Apparently, she became totally fixated on Monty after witnessing his performance (and handsomeness) in films like The Search and A Place in the Sun. She had decided that she and Monty were meant to be married, and naturally she considered it her duty to find him and let him know that she was his soul mate. Thus, she traveled all the way from Europe to get to him, and wherever she stayed on her hunt, she covered her hotel room walls with his photos. She wrote the studios repeatedly asking for his address, but was strangely never answered. She finally made it to Beverly Hills, but was still unable to track Monty down, which is why she attended a press conference at the Beverly Hills Hotel where his former co-star Burt Lancaster was conversing with the press. When she brashly cried out and asked him where Monty lived, Burt raised and eyebrow and assured her that he hadn't the slightest idea. 

After eight months of stalking, the Baroness found herself in New York at Monty's brownstone. She knocked on the door, and when his assistant opened it, she caught a glimpse of her hero walking down the stairs. She was in awe and went into complete hysterics, throwing herself at his feet and weeping. Monty was floored... and confused. As he was personally undergoing his own mental and physical illnesses, he must have taken pity on the poor woman. As he had already wrapped on The Misfits, his acting career was pretty much over and, unbeknownst to him, time was winding down. He let the warped woman inside, and the two had a nice long talk, which turned into a friendship of sorts. She even let Monty read the journal that she had totally devoted to him, which he, of course, found fascinating. Monty was probably more intrigued by the woman's psychotic fixation than anything else, but she was allowed to come over for brunch from time to time, and Monty even gave her one of his silk shirts, which she religiously slept in until it was thread bare. To show her gratitude, Monty's "soul mate" even offered him the use of her brother, which implied that despite her feelings, she was aware of Monty's sexual proclivities. His reaction to this proposition must have been priceless, but he doesn't seem to have taken her up on it. In time, Monty introduced the Baroness to his mother, Sunny, whom he always enjoyed provoking. The Baroness introduced herself as her daughter-in-law. Sunny, suffice it to say, was not nearly as amused by the crazy woman as her son.

Sometimes crazy fans can come in handy, which is something both Bebe Daniels and Harry Richman discovered when they found themselves the recipients of Al Capone's steadfast loyalty. The allure of the mafia in the prohibition era is somewhat confusing today. Movie stars rubbing up against thieves and murderers??? In an "ignorance is bliss" kind of way, people abstractly admired these men of power, who were supplying them booze, while keeping themselves detached from the methods by which the Meyer Lanskys and Lucky Lucianos of the world did business. In addition, those who weren't so attracted to the power were fearful of winding up on the villain's bad side and played nice for their own safety, while maintaining a comfortable distance. Harry Richman fell into the former category, enjoying the attention and publicity that a relationship with Capone could offer. A "media whore" himself, who had for a time been engaged to Clara Bow (see right) for the fame it would offer him, this crooner was all about the angle and using any means necessary to stay in the press to become bigger and richer. For a time, he needed little help, with his own Club Richman doing hopping business for the well-to-do and his top hits like "I Can't Give You Anything But Love" and "Puttin' on the Ritz" maintaining his fan base. Capone was a fan, and he used to show up at the club at 17 West Fifty-Sixth Street often, always in his bullet-proof Rolls Royce with 32 bodyguards in toe. Capone was so appreciative of Richman's music that he offered him the greatest gift he could give: protection for life. Harry graciously accepted.

Bebe Daniels (left) on the other hand, was not too eager to hob-knob with known criminals, yet she too would reluctantly have Capone as an ally. When she was once traveling through the Midwest, she was shocked and upset to find that some of her expensive jewelry had been stolen. She, of course, reported the theft to the authorities, but the chances of ever seeing her priceless gems again were slim and she knew it. She resigned herself to their disappearance and hunkered down for the night. The next day, she received a surprise delivery. Her jewelry had been returned in toto on orders from Al Capone! How he knew they had been stolen in the first place, or how he knew where to go to obtain them, is left to history. But, for love of Bebe, an actress he clearly admired, he went the extra mile to see that justice was done. One wonders what form of intimidation he used on the original thief? It probably wasn't pretty... Then again, maybe he staged the whole thing simply to ingratiate himself to the starlet. Bebe certainly was glad to get her belongings back, but she couldn't help but feel a little uneasy with the knowledge that it was the most dastardly of fans that she had to thank for it. Not all that glitters is gold, particularly in Hollywood.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012


Clara Bow gives the people what they want: sex.

The objectification of women in film is nothing new. From the advent of the medium, filmmakers, studios, and even sometimes the actresses themselves, have used their beauty and sexuality to reel in viewers, build up a fan base, and maintain mankind's engrossed attention. Sex is power. The sexual muscle is the easiest one to flex, mostly because we do so unconsciously, subconsciously, and unwittingly, countless seconds of every day. From a business stand-point, it makes sense to appeal to our sensual selves. Show a pretty face, a bit of leg, a pair of breasts, and voila! You've flipped the switch. You have our attention. Women aren't innocent either, salivating unapologetically over bare, muscular torsos and perfectly formed asses when the Joe Manganiello's of the world take the screen. But when does this purely visceral, instantaneously physical appeal become too much? Particularly with regard to the female form-- which is continually scrutinized, perfected, and promoted as being thin, voluptuous, barely clad, and above all young-- there seems to be a continuing saga of damage with regard to the pin-ups, love goddesses, and sex icons that we visually fornicate with, fantasize over, and eventually cast aside. But who is the real victim: the girl in the ever-erotic pose or the voyeur gawking uncontrollably. What is a sex-object, and can the pawn just as equally be the player???

There was a point in time when Theda Bara was regarded as the sex-siren of the screen. Fashioned by Fox, Thedosia Goodman was built from the ground up to be a dangerous, foreign temptress. Her sex-appeal was desirable because it was bad. With her coal-black eyes and opulent figure, not to mention jaw-droppingly revealing clothing-- particularly in those times (left)-- Theda as "the vamp" was the embodiment of sin. If Sex was the Devil, then she was one of his minions. Much as Cecil B. DeMille would use religious plotlines to delve into his own naughty sensibilities, Theda was the warning of evil that we were all meant to learn from-- i.e. the "slut" you were not to do or be-- and while learning the lesson, we got to indulge in her sins along with her-- "win-win," as they say. The issue with Theda's highly specific and sexual film persona, like many of the ladies to follow her, was that it boxed her in. The character, both public and private, that Fox designed for her was so well-ingrained in the public consciousness that she could not escape it. Thus, when the fad of "Theda Bara" had lost its allure, so too did Theda lose her career. William Fox had drained every last ounce of coin that he could and cast her aside. She became, thus, the aged whore-- used up and no longer desired. Her career on film was over as of 1926 when she was just over 40-years-old. Age, of course, could have also had something to do with it. Hollywood needed young blood; Theda was old hat. As her persona and sex were inseparable, she could not translate to other genres. Her identity as a siren completely derailed her career.

Herein lies the conundrum of being a woman, which is only heightened through the celebrity experience. Walking the fine line between being attractive and becoming an ornament is not always easy. Women that were able to maintain their independence and thrive in the world of film were those that thus entertained and defied sexual conventions. Marlene Dietrich was dripping with sex, but she too swapped genders from time to time to maintain her own unique identity. Mary Pickford emitted a subtly sensual eroticism that always played second fiddle to the often tomboyish, head-strong independence of her heroines. Katharine Hepburn strutted with the confidence of a man, wielded her worldly intelligence mightily, and occasionally showed up in a dress and reminded people that she was a quite beautiful woman (right), particularly when making eyes at Spencer Tracy. However, these women had personalities. Norma Shearer, Gloria Swanson, Carole Lombard, Barbara Stanwyck, Joan Crawford, Bette Davis, etc-- they all had sex, but they all had their own unique edge that allowed them to indulge in lengthy careers and the continued worship of their fans. Many used their sexuality to get a leg up in the business, and once they had gained a foothold in their own careers, used their newfound power to cement protective contracts and personally guide the direction of their business affairs. The success of these ladies was contingent upon the fact that what they had in bod', they possessed even moreso in brains. Thus, they would distract the man holding the check book with one delicate hand and slap him fiercely with the other. Their ambition gave them a killer instinct that made them impenetrable.

Not all women were so lucky. Not all were so shrewd. Clara Bow is a prime example. Clara's success was certainly aided by her extraordinary beauty and unapologetic sensuality. The carnal desire that she displayed in her films was the first of its kind-- at least coming from a woman. Girls were used to being hooted at, jeered over, propositioned, insulted, etc. Suddenly, with Clara in the driver's seat, it was the male sex that received this sultry level of objectification. In It, when Clara sets her sights on Antonio Moreno, her eyes light up in excited lust and she spouts out, "Sweet Santa, give me him!" In Dancing Mothers, she shamelessly pursues Conway Tearle, and won't take "no" for an answer, even when it means he has to carry her bodily out of his home. In Mantrap, Clara makes a sport of sex, attaching herself to any man-- and she appreciates all types-- who strikes her fancy. Clara's saving grace in portraying such sexually forward women was her warmth and depth. Her predatory nature was tempered by the humor she injected into her performances, as well as the pathos that-- when allowed time to shine-- revealed that she wasn't some over-sexed trollop, but a flesh and blood woman whose sexual nature was but one aspect of her invigorating and fully formed personality. Yet, Paramount didn't support her growth as an actress. Clara was the ace up the studio's sleeve, and they played the sex card where she was concerned over and over again, until fact and fiction began to collide. Clara's true self eventually merged with her screen self, which always possessed more confidence and power than the real her. Her popularity, it seemed, was dependent upon her appearance in sexy dresses, lingerie, or even less. The bare-backed shot of her in Wings was a big shocker in its day, which had no place in the wartime film other than to give the audience what it wanted: Clara nude (left).

In time, it would prove that Paramount had done its job too well. Clara's raucous private life became serialized scandal in the press, which had previously praised the former qualities that they now used to label her as a "slut." Never taking time to give Clara well-written material or to allow her roles to mature as she did, she maintained her onscreen presence as the fun-loving, good-time girl with a heart of gold buried beneath an erotic veneer. Like Theda, people tired of this. They didn't tire of Clara necessarily, and the success of her career and longevity can be attributed to both her talents as an actress and her charismatic and attractive personality. Her goodness always effected her audiences more than her skin. The failure of her career, exempting her personal stresses and the effect of the talkie revolution, is almost entirely dependent on the short-sightedness of the studio, who did not allow Clara to be more than a sex object, or do more than be sexy. It is a tribute to her that she was able to give so much with the shoddy material she received as to make it in the business at all. Any number of her films, without Clara Bow in the lead role, would have been quick-fix B-movies and footnotes in history and not the box-office sensations that she made them. Her downfall was in the fact that she was denied her identity and sold the idea that she was a sex-kitten and nothing more. As she wasn't the Hell Cat and ambitious diva that many others in the industry were, she didn't fight back but played along until she was played out. At least she had the glory of taking her final bow by choice.

Clara's career was echoed in that of Jean Harlow and Marilyn Monroe. Unlike Clara, neither of these ladies quit Hollywood. Their early exit was determined by their deaths. In both of their lives, Jean and Marilyn had moments of reflection and pain over the fact that they were looked upon as desirable fixtures for the male gaze and nothing more. Jean took a more light-hearted approach to it, her sexuality thus appearing accidental and just as comical in her films as it was enticing. Her screen presence was very much like Clara's, yet with more of a bitterness. Clara openly indulged in sex; Jean's girls mostly accepted sex as a means to an end, until a charmer like Clark Gable or Franchot Tone entered the frame and convinced her that there was still life to be had. Jean's heroines were strong and worldly, where Marilyn's, particularly earlier in her career, were oblivious, if not ignorant, if not completely vacant. Marilyn's form of sexual attack was, "Who, me?" rendering her, like Clara and Jean, as non-threatening. Yet, as a business-woman, there was nothing about her screen presence that was not carefully studied and constructed. Her lack of self-esteem and value as a child had only been quelled when she began receiving attention as a well-formed teen. Thus, she only believed her sexual self had the capability to gain, in essence, love. She learned how to use it to get what she wanted. Yet, when she tried to undo the damage, she could not completely let go of the only pleasing aspect of her character that she had ever had any confidence in-- her body-- in order to translate to an actress of any real repute. Even when critically acclaimed and recognized for her performances, the stigma of "bimbo" was always attached. Even after her death, her talents as an actress are recognized second to her reputation as a sex icon. She is recalled in still images-- her skirt blowing up in The Seven Year Itch-- or as as a joke-- the tramp that screwed the Kennedy brothers. (Jean pulls a Clara and reveals bare back in Hold Your Man, right).

Thus, the plight of the sexual woman is that she allegedly gets what she asks for, but she asks only for sexual recognition after she is initially denied her humanity. Beauty is both glorified and punished in the same breath-- the Virgin and the Whore scenario. I'm reminded of an image from Belle de Jour wherein Catherine Deneuve is pummeled with mud-- one of her sexual desires is to be debased. The audience watches with rapt attention, enjoying in her defamation as her character too relishes in it. Taking this moment and applying it more figuratively to women in the Clara-Jean-Marilyn chain of sexual heroines, a disturbing connection can be made. The director yells, "action," the woman rolls in the metaphorical mud for our amusement-- turning us on, debasing herself, and theoretically liking it-- and we watch. Yet, she is the only one who goes home dirty. The director is clean. The studio is clean. We're clean. Thus, the women that we eagerly watch pollute themselves for our amusement as sexual playthings and toys, are applauded for their eroticism but raped of common decency and mutual respect. When they take efforts to escape the sex bomb mold carefully created for them, they cannot ever wash themselves clean. When it comes to the Bond girls, topless horror actresses, Playboy bunnies, we salivate but we internally condemn. As such, when Marilyn Monroe died, Clara was intensely sympathetic, publicly stating that she understood the pressures of being a sex symbol and how they weigh on the soul. Her insinuation, of course, was that Marilyn's existence as a beautiful thing crippled her hopes of being a beloved woman. One wonders, since Jean Harlow passed away at the age of twenty-six, whether the same self-same burden too took its toll on her? She certainly bore similar stresses: she couldn't even win the commitment of William Powell in matrimony because he didn't want to be married to another bombshell-- Carole Lombard being the first. (Marilyn is cornered, left, and at our mercy, but does her duty in giving the impression that she likes being our prey).

There are a series of women that were fashioned to be sex-goddesses who crippled under the pressure. Some of them rebelled by sooner or later flipping Hollywood "the bird" and getting the hell out of town-- Greta Garbo, Veronica Lake, Kim Novak. Others suffered, simultaneously seeking to destroy their own beauty yet being equally distraught when it began disappearing, thus leaving them powerless-- Ava Gardner, Bridget Bardot, Lana Turner (right). Hollywood would thereby seem to teach us that you cannot be beautiful and a human being at the same time.  Those ladies who failed to calculatingly play "the game" found themselves unwitting members of a decadent menagerie-- a collection of butterflies pinned to the walls of Hollywood's sexual catacombs. Yes, 'sex is power,' but it is a heavy burden to carry. Like the bully on the playground robbed of his big stick, a sex object without her sexuality feels even more naked than she does in the buff. Colleen Moore, like Clara Bow, was a flapper, but her persona in Flaming Youth was more that of a quirky girl gone innocently haywire than that of a tramp on the loose. She possessed the spirit of the "flapper" generation, but was not one of its sexual prey. She had enough of a mogul mentality to make it in the business on her own terms. Louise Brooks, in her own retaliation, merely defected. She refused to trade her brains to make a buck, became disgusted with Hollywood, and simply left. Clara, in comparison, is thus a victim as much as she is her own villain, in that she let Hollywood do with her as it may with no resistance. Buried with her is a graveyard of women who listened in their youth when they were told to believe that they were no more than a pretty face: Rita Hayworth, Carole Landis, Barbara Payton, Linda Darnell, Hedy Lamarr, Jayne Mansfield...

Ava sits enticingly atop a phallic stick of dynamite because...
who they Hell knows why?

The "sexification" of daily life has only intensified. More and more it seems that Hollywood is selling nothing else, (yet they refuse to notice that we are buying fewer tickets). The audition process for females continues to escalate into total dehumanization and objectification. Women are measurements on a resume, they are types, they are placed into a category and when one doesn't fit, she is not allowed entre. Then there are the Frances Farmer's who try to make it on their own terms, refusing to just sit there and be pretty. Her sanity paid the forfeit. Those who obey the stereotypes and try to make it, often quickly fade into obscurity or are remembered as some bit of pop cultural trivia (Raquel Welch). The women that amazingly last are those in the Lillian Gish category, whose beauty never eclipsed her soul. Her talent was applicable at any age. Her longevity may be echoed by Nicole Kidman or Cate Blanchett or Reese Witherspoon, for their beauty and sensuality is secondary to their character. In whatever fashion, some manage to escape the sex label. Those ladies who do not, who compromise or are compromised, are never able to undo the stigma. It is their identification as beautiful, empty vessels by the public-- which demands such sexual props as constant visual stimuli-- that eradicates their chances at publicly recognized evolution. It would be too baffling to eliminate these erotic templates from society-- you can't stop the natural human reaction nor the mental signals that fire at the sight of a beautiful woman. Yet, is her victimization as an indicated "object" an unavoidable conclusion to this pulse of uncontrollable adrenaline? What is it in our natures that continually chooses to hate what we simultaneously love? Are we not responsible for the road of abandoned, once beautiful bodies?