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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...


  1. Great post Meredith. Next time I'm in town I better duck! Thanks