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Wednesday, November 21, 2012

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.


  1. Maravilhosa postagem. Você tem muita bagagem! Onde consegue todas essas informações?

    Dos tipos de fãs que você citou, uu sou uma fã colecionadora. Até consigo entender esses 'malucos', mas limite é limite, não é?

    Pobre Baronesa! Clift foi um anjo ao lhe dar atenção. Outros não teriam.

    1. Thanks, Regi! This article definitely turned out to be longer than I expected, but there was a lot of information to include! I pulled a lot of the stories from the different books I list in my Bibliography (it is on the right side bar toward the top of my page). I'm glad you enjoyed it! Yes, I am obviously a huge fan too, but I know when to back off, hahahaha. And I agree, Clift was a sweetheart. Love him!

  2. As opposed to the likes of James Dean and Marilyn Monroe (nothing against them, but EVERYONE loves them), I am so much more interested in the not-so-well-known personalities of early Hollywood (my favorite, Warren William, seems to be riding a wave of popularity within the genre, thanks to TCM). I consider myself pretty knowledgeable about many of them, but I love it when I learn about "new" people - and your blog often helps me do just that! I find myself doing more of my own research after reading about them in your blog. Sometimes I know a celebrity's name &/or face, but I don't much about them, and you open up a new door for me in that way too. :) Great blog, as always - I appreciate it!

    1. You have no idea how wonderful that makes me feel. My sole purpose in starting this blog was to talk about forgotten figures from cinema past and introduce them to new audiences. I am glad that you have found it useful and I appreciate you visiting and leaving input. Thank you kindly, Madame. ;)