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?
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).