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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.


  1. Just look at these photos! So vintage, so classic, so original oh I believe at this point Photoshop don’t exist yet… xoxo ^_^

    1. I know, right?!?! Nowadays, beauty is only tech-deep! Hahaha.