Don't forget to refer to my Contents page for a more convenient reference to past articles.

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Wednesday, March 27, 2013


Crowds gather at a Cinespia screening of The Shining at Hollywood 
Forever Cemetery, where films are projected onto the mausoleum
wall behind the Fairbanks tomb. Like nowhere else...

There tends to be a harsh divide between West coasters and East coasters, and for that matter the Midwest, Central U.S, South, etc. As they say, home is where your heart is, so that piece of land that maybe didn't raise you but somehow fits you like a glove seems to be the only place on earth that makes sense. The outside world views Los Angeles and thusly Hollywood as being artificial, narcissistic, immoral, and oblivious. Smoothie shots of rutabaga and bi-annual botox visits rightfully appear absurd to the "normal" inhabitants of such bread and butter places as Oklahoma, Mississippi, or Ohio (can I get a what-what for the Buckeyes?!). Likewise, the jaded urban hustle of New York and the liberated and more earthy metropolis of San Francisco find Los Angelenos to be pretty much full of... shitake mushrooms, (or perhaps just "on" them, if you know what I mean). I admit, I can whole-heartedly relate to these outsider perspectives or escapee conclusions regarding my new home state.

Indeed, to live here and survive, you must have a BA in BS; there are no two ways about it. L.A. is gross in so many ways. Living here, you are overloaded with overly aggressive billboards, film land flim flam, and giant tools who are ironically lacking in... ball bearings. Everyone seems to look and act the same. The glamour soon disappears within and sometimes before a year of living here: "Isn't that that guy from that show?" / "Who cares? One large snifter of oxygen please!" Despite this, because of this, there are many who migrate here and many more who immediately migrate back to a place that feels less offensive. Strangely, for all the macabre mimicry of human beings, for all the traffic, for all the smog and walking Barbie Dolls (on crack), this place-- this devious, despicable, delicious place-- still feels more like home for this Midwestern girl than her youthful world of Cincinnati (which basically encapsulates the entire tri-state area as far as anyone there is concerned). I have shared this thought, analogy, what-have-you, before... but Hollywood is the only place on earth that openly lies and tells the truth at once. That's why I love it. That's why I remain shackled to it. It is the only place I have ever been that isn't tight-lipped about its own monstrosity. It is a liar who doesn't lie.

"Hollywoodland" wasn't the only Los Angeles community marked with a hillside sign. There 
were several growing neighborhoods that used this propaganda tactic, including 
the "Outpost" development, which blasted its neon red lights from the area
now known as Runyon Canyon. It's remains can still be found there.

Unarguably, my attraction to the Golden State was instigated by my obsession with Golden Era Hollywood. From a young age, I wanted to be where that magic was; I wanted to be where insane levels of absolutely anything were possible. I'm constantly teased for my movie collection, and I take it like the woman I am, but a movie has never been just a movie to me. They are art-- even the bad ones. There is always something new to notice, to appreciate, to learn, be it studying the performance of a particular actor, the style of the fashion and settings, the technological/psychological innovations, or the dissection of human history right before your very eyes. As a lover of history and a perpetual, self-taught student, there are few things more perfect to me than discovering a new film to love, a new actor to appreciate, or a new piece of a former beloved flicker coming together and making more sense to a mind that thought it already had it all figured out. My love for film is the same as a young artist's devotion to Van Gogh or Magritte; a writer's love for Proust or Hemingway. An athlete's love for Babe Ruth or Karl Malone. I understand and love the world of cinema in a way that those who do not cannot understand, just as I can't understand people who waste hours watching football. But, I respect that. There is beauty there too. There is passion. Everyone has her niche; mine is here. I fit here, because I just do.

Dennis Hopper works the camera... sort of.

Hollywood itself is a fascination if only because it is the most recognized geographical place in America, and perhaps the world, where good and evil so gracefully converge-- on screen and off. Everyone has an opinion, everyone's a critic. You may have hated the last Adam Sandler movie (can't blame you), but you're talking about it, aren't you? You love that damn beautiful and talented Leonardo DiCaprio, but you liked his performance in this so much better than in that. You're talking about it. And that latest, controversial war movie? You thought it was totally misdirected, while every other schmo accepted it as the God's honest truth. You're talking about it. You're all thinking about it. You can feast on the occasional thoughtless movie when you need a break from the tired cranking of your mental wheels, but more than we realize, the movies don't entertain us, they prompt us to think. That is their beauty, even when they're ugly.

The other Jekyll and Hyde in this scenario is the artistic, impassioned face of the finished product contrasted with the beastly bitch of hard work, seemingly unimaginative studio big wigs who rehash for cash, and the spiritual and physical casualties that go into and result from show business. As someone who has witnessed this first hand, there is no more astounding conundrum than trying to be an "artiste" in a system that runs on numbers and figures. It is incongruous, yet one hand must always wash the other. For those that make it, a little of themselves must be sold, because the reality of this situation is that show business is just business. It is just another job. The erotic pose on the silver screen isn't felt on the soundstage when the boom guy is hovering over your carefully covered extremeties so he can record your synthesized moans appropriately. The smiling faces in interviews are literally gritting their teeth, because they are so tired of going through the grind and being marched before the commercial camera to promote promote promote their latest film or show, which it turns out, is just a product, as are they.

When the sometimes critical but mostly white-washed gossip of Hedda
Hopper and Louella Parsons was interrupted by scandalous rag mags
like Confidential... the pillars of Mt. Olympus started shaking.

But we know this, because we see the self destruction. We "ooh" and "aah" at how beautiful Julianne Moore looks this year at the Oscars, but we do this while flipping through the article regarding Lindsay Lohan's latest arrest. The former is a train wreck, but my God, she didn't get there in one breath. A child star pushed before the camera too young, used by her two inept parents, and far too easily introduced to the ever available valley of drugs practically sold here by street vendors, she didn't stand a chance. So few do. This town is a heart eater. As Marilyn Monroe, the undisputed authority on the subject, said: "Hollywood is a place where they'll pay you a thousand dollars for a kiss and fifty cents for your soul." It's true. People are used for profit and discarded the minute their box-office loses value. It is a place where one is constantly judged, where your job is always on the line no matter how famous you are at the moment, and where the timeline of your career is not something you ride until your retirement but a rapidly spilling hourglass. Will it be turned over for another cycle? The temptations of easy sex, comforting highs, and erratic, violent lows are much more understandable and easier to empathize with when viewed from this angle. Yet from the outside looking in, the vantage point is always low, looking down, judging, and never comprehending how easy it is for an actor, director, writer's spirit to be broken. The industry professionals aren't champions or Gods; they are hamsters on a wheel running for their lives. Anyone who emerges from the end of this rabid, Wonderland rabbit hole in tact deserves an honorary Oscar just for surviving.

For all these contradictions, I remain mystefied and enthralled with Hollywood. It has a texture like nowhere else. Every street, every alley, every vacant lot, is brimming with tales of both life and death. I find solace at a cemetery walking among the stones and paying respect to the people who contributed to making cinema what it is. They are dead and gone, but the marked graves that confirm their previous existence somehow make them more vividly alive and seemingly still here. It draws the curtain back and reveals the flesh and bone behind the silver screen image. In every neighborhood, you will find remembrances of celebrities past (and present). I can drive past Lupe Velez's former home in Beverly Hills, and just by knowing that she once inhabited those walls, I am touched, and moved, and saddened, and invigorated. The Roosevelt, The Beverly Hills Hotel, Grauman's Chinese Theatre, The Million Dollar Theatre downtown... They are all standing tombs of history filled with the energies of ghosts, film fans, and the secret histories of so many people in so many eras-- all sandwiched together and somehow entwining and creating the collective soul that makes this town truly great. All of these inhuman artifacts are fossils of humanity, there to be laid bare and investigated, to tell us truths and teach us lessons about ourselves, just as the films this city produces.

Former Abode of Lupe Velez at 732 North Rodeo Drive. The home has been little changed
since her occupancy, but the more protective gate was added.

Of course, no other city pays such tribute to the art it forms. Only in Hollywood can you go to a screening at the Egyptian Theater and see living legend Kirk Douglas in the flesh. Only in Hollywood can you attend a Q&A session with Eva Marie-Saint. Only in Hollywood are there such dedicated and bold stage productions about Judy Garland or Marilyn Monroe by actors that are so good, you believe that you and a room of people are the in the presence of a ghost. Only in Hollywood can you attend plays starring modern celebrated performers carrying on a devotion to the craft laid down before us at the turn of the 20th Century and now taken for granted due to its availability. Ed Harris, Richard Attenborough, and John Goodman rarely make appearances in small town theaters, but here, actors who love acting continue to seek out their creativity despite the fame and fortune they've already accrued. They tread the boards where expression began before there was a camera to capture it; a place that gave birth to their initial thirst for storytelling.

Here, just as much as the industry feeds itself, the public celebrates its product. Screenings of new films, old films, silent films, forgotten films, B-films, cult classics, and film students' final projects are attended by lovers of celluloid. Hollywood may have gone commercial, it may cater to tourists in a way that is not as grandly hospitable and self-respecting as the gallant South, but at its core there is still the beating heart of is pure phenomenon. Directly on the pavement upon which you tread, there are etched reminders: Griffith was here, Garbo was here, DeMille was here, Hayworth was here. The same engine of pure drive, desire, and passion to create that brought legions of auteurs to these once barely inhabited hills still chug beneath the skin of cracked sidewalks, graffiti covered slums, and oceans of people who have forgotten the sources of magnificence at which they still marvel.

Orson Welles directs Citizen Kane and makes history.

I guess you could say that I came to Hollywood for its beauty and stayed for its soul. You know how they say, "You are attracted to a person's perfections, and you fall in love with his flaws?" That is the love I have for La La Land, which is coincidentally the same love we all have for it. Our fascination may have been instigated by the initial excitement of technological gimmickry and the glossy finish of pretty people in motion, but our loyalty has remained because of the vulnerable and dangerous underbelly and profound honesty we slowly discovered both on the screen and behind the camera. Once the initial sheen faded, which it did, we would have stopped believing in Hollywood and its tall tales had they not become true. We continue our mutually co-dependent relationship with show-business like shameless addicts. We are at the mercy of what it feeds us, but it is at the mercy of our ticket purchases. Los Angeles, Hollywood, or "Tinsel Town," is the sad dog in the pound that you choose to adopt, because it is adorable in its pitiful sadness. It nurtures us, we nurture it. Thus, despite the constant, holier-than-thou critiques of outsiders or under-appreciators, I remain convinced of and fascinated with the integrity and debauchery of this town. To know it, to truly know it, is to love it. And to me, at peace in the present chaos and the painful memories surging through the veins of this naughty metropolis and powering electric lights, I can say with utter certainty that Dorothy was right: "There's no place like home."

Wednesday, March 20, 2013


Lupe Velez, her inner turmoil always secretly
simmering beneath her public facade.

The only thing more fearful than the wrath of God is the human finger of judgment. Human beings, while capable of great brilliance, kindness, and sympathy, are just as equally capable of hypocrisy, short-sightedness, and an indulgence in the ever-unfashionable superiority complex. From our long evolution from savage cavemen and women to "civilized" mankind, we have created certain societal structures that make life more functional and cohesive. Social mores, rules, laws, taboos, religious morals, and definitions of principle, have all woven together to create expected behaviors and ways of living. Unfortunately, just as much as man needs order, he rebels against it. Hence our inner cavemen convincing us to color outside the lines from time to time. Often times, it is the sexual impulse that gets us in trouble. Ironically, the simplest part of our nature is too the one that makes life so complicated. It would be nice if everyone followed the Cleaver family's simple steps to acceptance: a woman remains a virgin until marriage, wherein she is joined to a man earning a steady living, and they commence making perfect babies who follow their sterling example when the time comes. Raise your hand if you stuck to that path? Yeah. It's complicated, hence the slew of celebrity "Un-oh" moments that ended with the letter "P" -- Pregnant!

Pregnancy out of wedlock, at too young an age, with the wrong partner, etc, is hard enough. Having a baby in Golden Era Hollywood was harder. Celebrities had a stellar image to uphold. There could be no hint of scandal that could turn the public against the idols who kept the studios churning. Thus, if two unmarried lovers "got in trouble," the publicity department would do whatever was necessary to keep the information out of the press. But, if people did find out, an actress wouldn't be too surprised to find herself stripped of her contract and left in the cold. It was rough for women, as they literally had to carry the burden of their indiscretions and, more often than not, face the hurtful decisions and judgments to follow alone. In addition, actresses were openly encouraged to participate in the most popular form of Hollywood birth control: abortion. This wasn't just ever-so-delicately suggested by the big wigs when an adulterous affair went wrong. It was also inflicted on any pregnant actress in order to both a) keep her working and b) keep her figure. Thus, many women were intimidated and manhandled into choosing their careers over their unborn children. The emotional toll this took was obviously devastating, as it instigated desperate measures, (See the cases of Loretta Young (read here) or Lupe Velez (here), the latter of whom was so disturbed at her circumstances that she killed both herself and her child in one fell swoop).

Many women are rumored to have had abortions, which explains all those press releases from the early era regarding this or that actress being hospitalized for an "appendectomy." Everyone in Hollywood knew what that meant. The public might have had a clue, but most just assumed that California water induced a Hell of a lot of appendicitis. Marilyn Monroe (right) is often cited as one who obtained several abortions. How many of these claims can be confirmed is uncertain. It is, however, very likely that in her youth, she had to undo one or two wrongs, since she was allegedly passed around like a cigarette by the industry. Raising a baby alone would not only be incredibly difficult, but it would forever destroy her dream of becoming the greatest star in the world. If she did have an abortion or abortions, this would explain the difficulty she later had in conceiving. She must have naturally felt with every failure that she was being punished for her previous mistakes. As such, she was always very attentive to the children of her friends, and she took distinct pleasure in being the temporary step-mother of Joe Jr. ( as in DiMaggio), with whom she remained close after her divorce from Joe Sr. (She even spoke to Joe Jr. on the night of her death). Every future miscarriage she suffered, including one with Arthur Miller, was agonizing. She never fulfilled her desire for motherhood. (Although, there are conspiracy theories that she did give birth to, if you believe the BS, dozens of babies over the years, whom she gave up for adoption. The numbers are a little too steep to be believed).

Joan Crawford is another cinema siren who is often speculated to have had her share of abortions. In her case, this is often chalked up to her desire to maintain her youthful body and continue her reign as one of the Queens of Hollywood. This would make sense, as she adopted four children in time (another controversial story) but never bore any of her own. Whether Joan made this move to present the image of the loving movie star whom she thought the public wanted, or whether she did so to indulge her own maternal instincts, is still debatable. Probably, it was a little of both. As a girl with a complicated relationship with her own mother, she may have wanted to undo the wrongs of her upbringing by giving neglected children their second chance at a warm family life. There is continuing argument about just how good a job she did. The elder two children, who instigated the Mommie Dearest fiasco, would be combated in their sinister assertions by the younger two, who vigorously defended Joan as being a wonderful parent. Certainly, Joan may have had her issues, including a possible penchant for OCD, and as her career always came first-- her insecure way of overcoming her past and proving herself to the world-- she was not the prototype for a perfect mother. The idea of motherhood is much easier than the reality. (Joan strikes a maternal pose with adopted daughter Christina, left, who would later pen a scathing novel about her "motherly" attributes).

Some women fell prey to the pressures of the industry when addressing their pregnancies, but more interestingly, some were manipulated by their own mothers. Jean Harlow (right) is one example. Jean was one of few actresses in Hollywood-- joined by Carole Lombard and Audrey Hepburn-- remembered by every cast and crew member as being a true sweetheart. Her early death at 26 provoked a stunning silence on the MGM lot that few celebs have been able to equal (two others being Lon Chaney and Irving Thalberg). Jean's rise to fame was accidental. It had been her mother, the real Jean, who had wanted to be a star. Daughter "Harlean" had literally been in the right place at the right time when her call to the camera came, and soon her mother was riding her designer gowns all the way to the top. Jean became an overworked piggy-bank for her mother and sketchy step-father, Marino Bello. When Jean became pregnant by her first husband Charles McGrew, whom she wed at the age of 16, it was Mama Jean who insisted that her daughter get an abortion, so her rising career would not be interrupted, nor Mama's cash flow. Jean was distraught, as she had always wanted a simple life with children and her own family. Obedient as ever, the easily pressured Jean gave into her mother's demands. She spent the rest of her life enduring further heartbreaks: the death of husband Paul Bern, a divorce from friend Harold Rosson,  and a tortured love for William Powell, with whom it is speculated that she endured another abortion. She never seemed to raise a hand to defend herself against anyone, perhaps having already given up on a dream that she felt she no longer deserved. She died exhausted and heartbroken, though still brimming with kindness. Ironically, her nickname was "Baby." (Jean would gain notoriety for her platinum locks, but she seemed much more comfortable and natural on camera when she went dirty blond and played girls-next-door more like herself, right in Wife vs. Secretary).

Bette Davis seems like the kind of character who never bowed to anyone's will but her own. However, even she had a very close and complicated relationship with her mother, Ruthie Favor. Bette had always admired her mother, who had done more than her share in raising her two daughters (including the younger Bobby) alone after her husband left them. A woman with an aesthetic eye, the photographer and sometimes actress would influence her elder, more vibrant daughter Bette's interest in the arts. Bette was not exactly an easy child. Headstrong, and perhaps suffering from some level of OCD herself, it was always "her way or the highway!" She insisted on receiving money for dresses, purses, dancing classes, etc, and Ruthie always gave in for fear of Bette's tantrums. Shyer sister Bobby just sort of watched the madness while she disappeared into her own. When Bette went Broadway, the family joined as her coterie. It was all about Bette.

However, this resulted in an unnatural co-dependence between mother and daughter. Their rapport was intense, combative, yet loving. For all the yelling back and forth, they would defend each other with every breath in their bodies. So, when Bette found herself pregnant with first husband Harmon Oscar Nelson's child, it was the idolizing Ruthie who convinced her rising star daughter to have an abortion. Bette's career was just starting, and both she and Ruthie feared that any hindrance in her progress would be irredeemable. Bette deliberated the options, but she concurred with her mother. Oscar was not told about his unborn child until much later. It is alleged that Bette would have multiple abortions over the years, including one resulting from her affair with William Wyler, but the majority of claims are pure speculation. When Bette later had daughter, B.D, (above left) with William Grant Sherry, it is said that the same mother-daughter relationship continued. Bette took Ruthie's place; B.D. took hers. The cat fights continued.

And then... There are the scandals! Marlene Dietrich was known for seducing many of Hollywood's leading men, from John Gilbert to John Wayne. Needless to say, when she began filming on Destry Rides Again with everyone's favorite, regular fellow Jimmy Stewart, his chances of escaping her wiles were as slim as his waistline. The attraction was mutual (right). Ten years before he fell in love and wed his only wife, Gloria, Jimmy was one of the most eligible bachelors in Hollywood. Handsome, charming in his awkwardness, and riding the wave of an increasingly successful film career, he was very appealing to the opposite sex, if only because he seemed to be equally gentlemanly. Ginger Rogers herself would attest, when it came to dates, she preferred Jimmy and Cary Grant as her dance partners. When the more sensually provocative Marlene set her sights on him, and he caught a glimpse of her gams, it didn't take long for fire to ignite-- on and off screen.

Unfortunately, in the midst of their brief fling, Marlene got pregnant. As a married woman, in a very open relationship with husband Rudi Sieber, she could at least play the child off as legitimate. On the other hand, Jimmy-- according to her recollection-- was a nervous wreck! Firstly, he had committed adultery-- although Rudi didn't seem to mind a bit about his wife's infidelities, while he was openly living with his own permanent mistress Tamara Matul. More importantly, Jimmy was disconcerted at the idea that he was going to be the father of a child he couldn't even claim! Marlene said that Jimmy became the exact, stuttering replica of his onscreen persona: "W-Well, what-what, what're you gonna do!?" Marlene would state on the record that the baby just "went away," implying a miscarriage, but since she had already decided that she didn't want to have anymore children-- she had one daughter, Maria-- it is more likely that she chose a more forbidden solution to the problem. After this altercation, the romance between Jimmy and Marlene was finito.

Then, there is the much more sorrowful case of Patricia Neal and Gary Cooper (who ironically is also rumored to be the real father of Lupe's tragic baby). Coop had been a notorious womanizer, as his "aw, shucks" prettiness was like catnip to the ladies, who reacted to him much the same way as they did Mr. Stewart. However, while Jimmy's appeal was more accidental, Coop's was instinctual, and he didn't seem to turn away any prospects. He'd had intense relationships with Clara Bow and Lupe, and multiple  other flings while enduring his loveless marriage to "Rocky" Balfe, but his final great love affair was with his Fountainhead co-star, ingénue Pat Neal. A Kentuckian with an atypical, assertive beauty (left), a wonderful, deep voice that seemed to be coated with good Southern liquor, and an education in the more modern style of acting, Patricia didn't seem to be a good match for Coop. When he saw her testing for the role of "Dominique Francon," he thought she was "awful." However, once filming began, their attraction was immediate. Patricia fought her more primal urges until filming had completed, then on the night of the wrap party, the duo's affair began.

Friends of Gary would say that it was the happiest that they had seen him in years. Patricia was also in love and fascinated by the classic, older actor (25-years her senior) who had a quiet intelligence, elegance, and an astounding hold on his craft. So smitten was Gary, that he started attending Pat's classes with her, watching younger thespians developing a new take on acting. The pair's relationship endured its ups and downs, including Patricia's guilt, their inevitable lack of future, and Coop's continued philandering-- Pat once returned a pair of earrings that Coop had given her only to find that he had bought two more identical sets for other women. The final nail in the coffin was her pregnancy. Needless to say, despite her strength and determination that she could raise the child on her own, the resulting scandal would be something from which both performers would be unlikely to recover. In Pat's own words: "For over 30 years, alone, in the night, I cried. I cried over that baby... I had not allowed him to exist." Pat would eventually marry her only husband, Roald Dahl, and have five children during their 30-year union. She saw Coop alone only once more after their split. Much time had passed, and they were able to bury the hatchet and depart as friends. Their passion for each other had died with their child.

Yet, there has been at least one torrid Hollywood affair and adulterous conception that ended with a birth. I speak, of course, of Ingrid Bergmann and Roberto Rossellini. Ingrid's soft, ethereal beauty (right) and her emotional, instinctual performances had made her the new golden girl of Hollywood in the '40s, as well as Alfred Hitchcock's latest obsession. A woman in constant search of a father, she often found herself confusing her on-screen attraction for her co-stars spilling into her private life. Her marriage to  Dr. Petter Lindstrom, who actually used to ration her food (!), had offered her little comfort over the years, so she consistently took solace in the most familiar men in her life-- her leading men. Unfortunately, as soon as her films wrapped, so did her feelings. It seems the final call of "cut" always brought her back down to earth where she was confronted by her guilt over what she had done. Gary Cooper would recall falling for her during For Whom the Bell Tolls, but after filming ended, he "couldn't get her to return [his] calls."

At the end of the day, it was Ingrid's art that meant the most to her. Her work was the most honest thing she could give to the world or herself. However, when she traveled to Europe to begin shooting Stromboli with hot (married) Italian director Roberto Rossellini, there was no confusion about her feelings. She fell in love with the brilliant man who was changing the face of foreign cinema. Hitchcock was a bit burned when his top actress kicked him over for another director, but his anger was just the tip of the iceberg. When Ingrid got pregnant, she opted to keep her child, divorce her cold husband, and marry her dream man. Son Robertino "Robin" Rossellini was born, (joining his half sister Pia), and chaos ensued. The world's reaction was more than harsh; it was devastating. Ingrid was literally shamed out of Hollywood-- simply for being honest-- and virtually blacklisted from American work. Yet, as time heals all wounds, six years would repair the damage. She would return with a career comeback in her Oscar-winning performance as Anastasia. Once again, Hollywood was groveling at her feet. The sturdy Swede had made her point. Her marriage to Rossellini didn't last, nor did her final marriage to Lars Schmidt, but she still triumphed personally and professionally: she had a combined brood of 4 beautiful children from her first two unions-- including her final twin daughters, Isabella and Isotta-- and a career that any actress would envy.

Ingrid with her four grown tots: Isabella, Robin, Isotta, and Pia, before one
of her stage performances.

It is a dangerous thing and a heavy burden to play God, which we do when we act as our own creators and make new life. It is a sacrifice to which some of us cannot commit for various reasons. No road is easy. For those that travel the path of parenthood, the struggles are difficult, stressful, but (one hopes) ultimately rewarding. For those who do not, the grim reality of their dismissal of nature's call and the resultant guilt is often punishment enough-- no stone throwing necessary. As ever, in such dark and multi-faceted subject matter, our stars act as our martyrs, just as they do on the big screen-- magnifying the life experience and providing the many, varied shades and examples of survival we all make, have made, and will make in our collective history. No one's story is the same, but we are all tragicomics. My heart goes out to the women who had to endure the harsh scrutiny, strict control, and ridicule that they suffered under the mighty Hollywood microscope. Ladies, let it be known, in your incredible work, you were mothers to us all.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

MENTAL MONTAGE: Epic Lovers' Brawls!

A young and sultry Lupe Velez: every man's fantasy. 
(Be careful what you wish for)!

Oh, love... Ain't it awful? More than a few celebrity couples would agree, considering the number of divorces and infidelities that are more the rule than the exception in a town of pretty (messed up) people. Maintaining a relationship in the fast-paced, ego-centric world of film and television isn't easy, and many lovers have let their affections for each other pay the forfeit. After the split, most of them put on a brave face for the cameras and say that they're "still friends," all while harboring still simmering jealousies and a plethora of pain. Some break-ups break our hearts even more than the wounded couples'. Yet there is a select club of bedfellows who are well recalled for their knock-down, drag-out fights. Their love affairs remain fascinating, not for the romance, but for the gossip-worthy, quite public feuds that they had with each other. Press releases about their brawls were often more hoped for than their next movies. Pristine social lives don't tend sell papers. As such, the following members of the "I Love You to Death" club continue to draw fascination and open mouthed shock, or laughter, at the heinous brutality of their not-so-eternal devotion.

It should have been clear to everyone when Lupe Velez started attending the fights at Hollywood Legion Stadium, during which she ravenously screamed "Keel him! Keel him!" that the lady had a taste for violence. For some, violence is a rare, cathartic release. For the pint-sized Lupe, it was a lifestyle. Take her notorious love affair with Gary Cooper. "Loop and Coop" (left) had a mutual fascination and passion for each other, which was great. What was not so great was their totally polar temperaments. Lupe was a high-strung, night owl who was constantly moving-- even when standing still she seemed to vibrate with energy-- while Coop was a more passive, quiet nights at home,  early-to-bed, early-to-rise kind of guy. Their intense passion not withstanding, the relationship quickly went from butterflies to vampire bats. Coop was so smitten, he would generally just follow Lupe's lead-- against his will-- which meant he got very little sleep, lost about 50 pounds, and-- due to the expensive gifts he bought her-- nearly went broke. Jealousies also erupted, given that Lupe was a very sexually forward woman, and Coop was never short of willing lovers.

Add to this Lupe's confusion over his mother Alice's intrusion into their relationship, and her battle with what many believe was bi-polar disorder, and... you've got a problem. Out of nowhere, Coop would be sitting quietly or cooking dinner, and Lupe would come at him out of nowhere with a knife and slice him! Often, these outbursts came from her frustration with his uncommunicative nature and the fact that he would not stand up to her onslaughts. It was like trying to have an argument with a brick wall, albeit a pretty one. Coop would show up at the studio with scratches all over his face, bruises, bite marks, etc. One time, he even had to allegedly fight back-- not his style-- when Lupe flew (too far) off the handle. Their altercations became so public that when the studio saw the toll that Lupe was taking on Coop's health, they sent him abroad for five months. It was the official end of their relationship. Well, almost. When Coop tried to take off in the train for his trip, Lupe surprised him by firing a gun at his head! Luckily for us, she missed. Though they separated, the duo would never forget each other and are rumored to have carried on an intermittent affair through the rest of Lupe's life. In the end, they both laughed and bragged about their past quarrels and war wounds. Coop proved to be rather proud of his scars, in the end, and the fact that he had survived "The Mexican Spitfire." (The distance the duo should have kept from each other, right).

You would think this information would make any man steer clear of Lupe's volatile temper, but Lupe at her best and most charming was a woman difficult to refuse. Enter Johnny Weissmuller, the only man she ever married (left). An Olympic gold medalist, Johnny had conquered the world of film just as easily as aquatic sports when he became a movie star and the eternal "Tarzan." Yet, in his case, the story went: lucky at life, unlucky in love. He wed five times, but second wife Lupe became the most memorable notch on his belt. Things progressed in much the same fashion as they had with Coop, except that Johnny was able to give Lupe what she wanted: commitment. Unfortunately, marital bliss soon turned to marital discord almost immediately after their 1933 wedding. The passion that brought them together soon drove them apart. It all seemed hilarious in retrospect, and Johnny would laughingly recall the porcelain throwing tournaments that they had, each tossing plates, vases, etc, at each other in moments of heated dispute. After awhile, Johnny taught himself to always go for the inexpensive decor. However, the most hilarious bit of arguing occurred in London when the couple was staying at the famous Claridge's Hotel. Lupe was feeling ignored by Johnny, who had been publicized as being "out on the town" with other women. He professed that it was perfectly innocent. Apparently, Lupe didn't believe him. So, she did what any sane woman would do and hit him on the head with a shoe while he was sleeping. Commence craziness.

Lupe continued tossing random objects at Johnny as he tried to approach her and calm her down, then she ran from their room. Johnny followed, trying to retrieve his hysterical bride, which led to the two of them doing laps around their floor. Oh, did I mention that Johnny was pantless??? Seems he had a habit of sleeping in the buff. At one point, an elderly damsel opened her door and peeked to see the naked madness ensuing, yet she surprisingly cheered Johnny on: "Go a little faster, Johnny!" Indeed he did, and he eventually caught his wife. The heat of the chase turned immediately sexual, and the duo returned to their room to... make up. The next day, they were nearly thrown out of the hotel for their hijinks, but were saved at the command of no less than the Queen of Denmark, who just so happened to be their cheerleader from the night before! Divorce came by 1939 when the hostilities overcame the romance, but Johnny apparently held no grudges. Later, after the separation, he was at a party when a drunken, clearly disturbed girl started telling him how much she "hated him and his face." Johnny grinningly said: "You're lucky I'm not married to Lupe Velez now, or she'd kick the stuffing out of you." (A little calmer, right).

Another knock-about couple was Errol Flynn and his first wife, Lili Damita (left). The two met while Errol was en route to America for the first time and Lili was aboard the same ship. The attraction wasn't instant. Lili, who was five years Errol's senior, was a beautiful, strong-willed, and already successful movie star when the smitten Tasmanian set his sights on her. She ignored him at first, but Errol was, of course, Errol: a boyish rake with dashing good looks and the charisma to match. Needless to say, he won her over. At the beginning of their relationship, Lili acted as both lover and mother in a way, guiding the totally movie-biz ignorant Errol into the world of Hollywood and its machinery. It is rumored that she even was the reason that he got his first big break in Captain Blood when she suggested him to her ex-husband, director Michael Curtiz. All was not bliss, however. The couple's yelling matches were notorious, as was the flying furniture. It was all pretty much fore-play in the beginning, as their love-making was rumored to wake the dead! 

However, Errol was a free spirit who didn't want to be tied down, and Lili was possessive and jealous-- this despite the fact that both had numerous affairs during their union. Further evidence of her controlling behavior can be noted by the fact that she wept after seeing Errol's premiere in Captain Blood. He was phenomenal! He was going to be a big star! Instead of being supportive, Lili felt her relationship's death knell, which is both sad and a little bit catty. Instead of sticking by her rising star husband, she combatted her insecurity by picking vicious fights with him instead, in which Errol-- whose intense mistrust of women had already been well implanted by his abusive and neglectful mother-- agitatedly and angrily participated. Lili once broke a champagne bottle over his head, which gave him a concussion! Their physical and verbal fights, which were oozing with obscenities, became expected side shows at every party they attended. In time, their love turned to hate, and they divorced. Lili wasn't done however, and her monetary demands haunted Errol for the rest of his life (see right). Her last fatal blow was in gaining possession of his beloved home on Mulholland Drive, which she had never even lived in. Errol was forced to take refuge at sea with third wife Patrice Wymore. Love became a mystery that he would never solve, so it seemed appropriate that he spent a large portion of his later life literally adrift.

Next on the list is the only man Mr. Flynn ever met who could drink him under a table: this one's a double Bogie! The Mr. and Mrs, otherwise known as Humphrey and Mayo (Methot), were more popularly known as "The Batting Bogarts" (left). Mayo's own personal nickname would fittingly be "Sluggy." Sluggy and Bogie; Bogie and Sluggy. Sounds almost like a nursery rhyme. It wasn't. Not by a long shot. This duo couldn't even make it through their wedding without quarreling. In fact, Bogie stormed out of the reception without his bride and spent the night carousing with friends after their first of many husband-wife spats. Both members of this party had tempers, but Mayo's has become legendary. Bogie would definitely fight back, but he was often at the sore end of Mayo's woman-handling. As with the aforementioned coupled, the violence was a bit of a sexual turn-on, but sometimes it was just downright brutal. The pair's home was quickly dubbed "Sluggy Hollow," and it was Humphrey who took most of the beatings. Anything could happen. Mayo liked to toss any object within reach at her partner-- with great ferocity and velocity-- be it decor, dinnerware, or the food itself. She aimed for the head always, including the time she sat on Bogie's back and repeatedly slammed his face into the pavement. She wasn't above pushing him overboard when they went yachting or setting the house on fire either. She also had a gun, which made life a bit more complicated for the entire neighborhood, as her bullets were known to go blasting through the front door, which had to be constantly replaced. She also had a knack for knives apparently, for she once stabbed Bogie right in the back, which left him with several stitches.  

Initially, the male member of this duo found his wife's temper alluring and even sort of comical. But while he was proud of Mayo's venom, their friends and guests were often terrified of the couple's interactions. Gloria Stuart witnessed one horrific evening of flying bullets, and David Niven was present when a violent fight broke out in a restaurant. On this occasion, when a pushy drunkard accosted her man, Mayo let him have it! David and his wife dove under their table, and later Bogie appeared beside them and said, "Don't worry, Mayo's handling it." Their spats, wars, and maniacal wrestling matches became some of the most anticipated and feared shows in town. They seemed like a turbulent pair for the ages, yet soon enough they seemed to wear each other out. Bogie especially was growing weather worn and exhausted. He decided to keep friendlier company with the equally defiant, yet much more submissive, Lauren Bacall, creating a union as blissfully mythic as his previous one had been toxic. "Bogie and Bacall" reigned in Hollywood until his death in 1957. Mayo had oppositely spent all she had on Humphrey, her third and final spouse. She outlived their divorce by a little over five years, dying as a result of her alcoholism-- a passion she and her former husband had once so enthusiastically shared. (They substitute tea for liquor, right).

However, not all Hollywood abuse involves battered husbands. The case of Bette Davis and Gary Merrill was just as notorious for his battery of her-- and much less comical beings that the slaps and threats were administered by a man much stronger than his feisty but smaller wife. The two were wed not long after their astounding chemistry brought them together in All About Eve. A clear social ladder climber, Gary had actually tried to hit on the younger, unresponsive Anne Baxter first, but was a bit honored when Bette honed in on him. After their wedding, they spent a lot of time on their property in Maine, appropriately named "Witch Way," which was probably meant to be a play on words but earned much more evil connotations as rumors began to spread through the town that all was not well with the new, famous neighbors. Gary had a fierce temper and a total lack of control when he lost it. He also had an absence of decorum, often walking around the house in the nude in front of the servants. It was hard for the family-- which included Bette's daughter B.D. and the couple's adopted children Michael and Margot (left)-- to keep anyone employed, so quickly did the hired staff run screaming for the hills. It didn't take long for Gary to start taking his anger out on Bette, who was constantly suffering from his brutal hits. 

Yet, being the brazen woman that she was, Bette often instigated these attacks, pushing Gary's buttons to purposely get a reaction and draw forth his rage. As B.D. herself said: "She liked being brutalized. It was the only way she could understand a male-female relationship." A strong woman who for so long had elbowed her way around every man, woman, and child that came across her path, it was almost as if Bette were seeking some sort of punishment. Or, perhaps having a man dominate her at last was a sexual fantasy realized. This 'fantasy' was ugly. B.D. often put herself in the middle of the fights to protect her mother, which only enraged Gary more. Soon, he started hitting B.D. as well, perhaps due to his own sexual frustration and attraction to her. He even attacked one of her young friends when she visited the house! Slumber parties were never a good idea. It wasn't unusual for him to kick down his step-daughter's door and threaten her out of the blue. Adding more fuel to the fire was Margot, who was unfortunately born brain-damaged, was violent herself, and equally difficult to handle. As if in competition with Bette's relationship with B.D, Gary favored Margot and refused to send her away to a school where she would be better attended. Son Michael was all but ignored. Bette eventually paid her servants for silence. She would leave Gary and return to him ad nauseum until, finally, she left him for good and sought refuge at a friend's house. Though Gary howled at the windows for her, the damage was done. Ding-dong, the "Witch" couple was dead. Gary began dating the equally emotionally frail and sexually confused Rita Hayworth and did not even appear at the divorce proceedings. After four failed unions, Bette understandably never married again. (The couple right in All About Eve).

'Tis a thin line between love and hate, as they say. Were the blood-thirsty passions these couples felt for each other directly proportionate to their love? Or were they all disturbing and confused messes from the beginning: accidents just waiting to happen? Addiction and attraction are very different things, as are obsession and adoration. Just as certain chemicals, when brought together, can be combustible, these spouses caused explosions wherever they went. Perhaps it's possible to love too much. Perhaps psych evaluations should be a prerequisite to matrimony...

Wednesday, March 6, 2013


Don't let the glamourpuss fool ya'-- Loop was a hoot!

Many an adjective could be used to describe Lupe Velez: feisty, fiery, temperamental, and apparently inexhaustible. D.W. Griffith found this out the hard way. Griffth has rightfully earned his place in history as a genius of cinematic glory. Through his innovative techniques of visual storytelling, he was able to elevate film from a place of flash to a place of substance-- and even entrancement. Nonetheless, a psychoanalyst could probably have a field day mulling over the man's personal deficiencies and the ways they manifested themselves in his work. Gutsy and heady actresses like Mary Pickford and Lillian Gish could handle his eccentricities and particular fetishes, but it wasn't until Lupe that ol' D.W. was totally beaten at his own game. The power play he used on his sets regarding women is notorious. Light, ethereal females were meant to fulfill a personal fantasy for him on the screen while submitting to his directorial mental games behind the scenes-- a precursor to the later Hitchcock fiascoes. Lupe was the opposite of Griffith's dream girl-- dark featured, exotic, and erotically charged-- but Griffith hoped to tame her nonetheless when they began filming on Lady of Pavements (1929, right). To show her who was boss and to break her iron will, he was determined to exhaust her into submission. His harassment began the first day, when he decided to shoot her in intense close-ups: take, after take, after take, after take. He expected her to eventually burst into tears, complain, collapse in frustration, etc. Not so. Lupe, as ever, was not only a total, uncomplaining pro, but she was a consistent, dynamic, bundle of energy. By lunch time, Griffith and his crew were collapsing and sweating in their chairs, and Lupe was still brimming with excitement: "Play some jazz; I want to dance!" Precious few can say that they jitterbugged circles around D.W. Griffith. One more point for Lupe.

True, Lupe was a bit of a firecracker. While this aspect of her character could reveal itself in an exuberant, positive attitude, one could also catch the brunt of her anger. There were two simple missteps one could make to incite Lupe's ire. One was to hurt or harm her pets. The other was to mess with her jewelry. She had quite the collection of both, but her array of sparkling gems was one of the most impressive in Hollywood. Lupe didn't spend lavishly on dresses or shoes, but when it came to necklaces, earrings, and-- her favorite-- bracelets, she spared no expense. Her arms could be seen covered wrist to elbow in her stacked duds (see her bling-blingin' left). So exorbitant was the sum of her glittering parts, that she couldn't afford to insure them! As such, she got a little paranoid that they would be stolen, particularly when Hollywood went through its big burglary/kidnapping scare following the Lindbergh tragedy. Lupe kept her jewelry stash at home, which made it easy prey for greedy robbers. So, Lupe saw to it that her entire staff, chauffeur included, were given artillery. Even Lupe was packing heat. Any guest to the house would be greeted by a suspicious doorman holding a pistol. There was more than one occasion when Lupe, home alone, heard suspicious noises around her home, and she just fired randomly through the windows or the front door. Whoever it was lurking about quickly fled. But Lupe didn't need a gun to prove her gusto. She was once nearly mugged-- "nearly" being the key word. When two gangster-ish fellows came up behind her on the street and demanded her chinchilla coat, Lupe spun on her heels and howled out an obscene collaboration of English and Spanish expletives and random threats! The two hoods stared wide-eyed then booked it. Lupe's prized fur remained intact, as did all her jewels.

It could be said that Lupe could run hot and cold, but then, who doesn't love variety? Of course, every man has his type. Some prefer shy girls; some like spark plugs. Some prefer a partner who is down-to-earth; others like a little mystery. Actor and war hero Wayne Morris had definite opinions about what was "hot" and what was "not," particularly when it came to women. He made his opinion known when he put the finishing touches on his bathroom. Instead of labeling the faucet handles as "Hot" and "Cold," he instead labeled them respectively: "Ann Sheridan" and "Greta Garbo" (very icy, right). Once can imagine the light-hearted Ann being tickled by that bit of trivia, but allegedly Greta was not amused, but then, she just proved his point, didn't she?

The steamy Ann Sheridan. Which temperature do you prefer your

The Big Sleep is memorable for many reasons. It is yet another stylish Howard Hawks classic and the second teaming of Humphrey Bogart and his sultry paramour Lauren Bacall (right). Based on the Raymond Chandler novel of the same name, the plot follows detective "Philip Marlowe" (Bogie) as he tries to uncover a diabolical family mystery that leads to murder. Actually, the story proved to be a bit too mysterious. Even today, upon multiple viewings, many audience members have trouble discerning the strange chain of events and what exactly all the pieces of the puzzle mean. Who is the bad guy? And what exactly did he do??? Don't ask me. Even now, I couldn't tell you with any certainty. Hawks smelled trouble early on. During one pivotal scene, after Bogie uncovered a dead body, he actually had to go up to his director and ask, "Howard, who killed this fellow?" Hawks didn't know. It turned out that even Raymond Chandler didn't know! I suppose by then they had already filmed too much of the film to worry about tying up loose ends, so they completed shooting with this mystery in tact. Thus, The Big Sleep may be the only who-dunnit film in history that doesn't even know who-dunnit itself!

John Barrymore was yet another wild card in a full deck of Hollywood scalawags. An incredible theatrical talent, he was just as idiosyncratic as he was gifted. Genius and madness always go hand in hand, don't they? John was serious about his acting, but he wasn't serious about abiding by Hollywood's rules. When offered the lead in The Beloved Rogue, John demurred, feeling that the adapted material wasn't up to his standards. He disappeared to Honolulu instead, intent on racing his yacht, the Mariner, in a race to San Francisco. The irked Irving Thalberg had no choice but to send his right-hand man, Mr. Fix-it Paul Bern, to reel John back to Hollywood for the film. So, Paul and Alan Crosland sailed out to the middle of nowhere to chum it up with John-- and his pet monkey Clementine (left)-- and sweet talk him into accepting the role. John finally acquiesced, but he had some stipulations: the script needed some alterations, of course, but more absurdly, he demanded a role for his friend's duck! Yeah... In the end, the negotiations were easier than many that Paul had been faced with. They shook hands, and the film was made. (No news on whether the bird ever worked again).

Speaking of John, he and his crew of pals had an interesting romantic rivalry going on with the same girl. The only thing was, she wasn't quite... real. It all began when artist John Decker and buddy Errol Flynn were out shopping for decorations for Decker's new Alta Loma Gallery. Passing a certain store, they both spied a gorgeous redhead in the window. Sure, she was a mannequin, but she had sex appeal. Decker decided then and there that he had to have her! So, he and Errol grabbed her from the store, put her in the back-seat of Errol's car, and probably raised more than a few eyebrows while driving with her to the gallery. They quickly named the lady Mona, and what started out as a gag became a bit of an obsession for Decker, who developed a sort of Pygmalion-like relationship with his muse. Indeed, she became something of the mascot of the group. They referred to her as a real girl, threw parties for her, and even fought over who got to dance with her! Then, to heighten the already absurd proportions of the jest, Decker decided to unveil Mona as his latest masterpiece at his gallery. Everyone was invited and thoroughly intrigued to see what the quirky artiste had come up with this time. Decker expected to reveal his friend Mona to a cluster of confused stares, pretentious nods, and the muffled laughter of his friends. Unfortunately, it never got that far. Before the big moment could arrive, Mona was accidentally knocked over and consequently beheaded! As Decker let out a horrified squeal, a huge brawl ensued, with Lawrence Tierney throwing punches, Diana Barrymore tossing out slaps, and others like Anthony Quinn just standing back in amazement. The authorities were summoned, the party broke up, but while Mona was beyond repair, it is believed that Decker was the one who never truly recovered. Ah, lost love... (Errol, his father, and John Decker, right).