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Wednesday, April 24, 2013

History Lesson: Performers in the Pen- Part II

Barbara La Marr found herself on the wrong side of the law (see here) when she
was arrested at the age of fourteen. Deemed "too beautiful," she was set free.

Though Robert Mitchum seems to hold some kind of record when it comes to criminal records, there are other stars and starlets who have hip-hopped over the line that divides "good" and "bad" behavior. Of course, as we tend to find stainless people a bit boring, these naughty deviants seem far more interesting with their tangibly hardened edge after hard time.

Next on the list is John Gilbert. True, the gentlemanly Lothario with a poetic soul seems like the last guy who would be imprisoned-- although, he was onscreen from time to time, in Monte Cristo for example. John had a wicked sense of humor, but his boyish hell-raising was a far cry from anarchy. Police had no reason to go looking for this good guy; it was actually he who walked directly into a cell. The reason for his unusual arrest? The killer combo of love and alcohol. John Gilbert's long and temperamental affair with Greta Garbo, his unattainable ice minx, nearly drove him mad (in Love, right). Left at the altar multiple times, nothing seemed to dissuade John from his infatuation with Greta. Her need for independence and his need to possess were conflicting vices that would never mix well-- nor did the cocktail John helped himself to in 1927. He and Greta were nearing the end of their roller-coaster romance when they attended a dinner with Donald Ogden Stewart at his home. John, battling the anxieties Greta was causing him, had had a few too many to drink that night, but he was focused enough to enjoy a painting of the Crucifixion in Donald's possession by artist Peter Breughel. He was not, however, sober enough to stop Greta from fleeing his intoxicated arse. John eventually followed her to the Miramar Hotel, where she holed up with Mauritz Stiller, the director who had acted as her Pygmalion of sorts. "Feeling no pain" with his liquid courage, John gallantly began scaling the walls of the hotel to his beloved. As he approached Stiller's balcony, the irritated director warned him to stop, halt his climbing, and go away. John ignored him, and the next thing he knew, Mauritz had pushed him from the balcony! John landed on his rump, to the great surprise of the passing Carey Wilson and Carmelita Geraghty. He began rambling angrily: "He tried to kill me!" Eventually, Carey calmed him down and thoughtfully followed John home in his own car.

Yet, this was not the end. Apparently, John ventured back out after his brief return home. Yet, he did not make a second attempt to woo Garbo Romeo-style. Instead, he marched into the police office and declared that they arrest the man who had tried to murder him! Now, it was hard enough for the policemen to believe a drunken man-- who was probably slurring his words and swaying from one foot to the other-- but John made his story even more difficult to believe, due to the fact that he would not release his attacker's name. Therefore, the police had no one to arrest but a supposed, amorphous, mystery killer. They decided to arrest John instead for being drunk and disorderly. To add more comedy to the mix, it appears that John used his one phone call to summon Donald. He did not ask for bail money; he simpy asked that his friend bring the aforementioned Breugel painting to the station. Donald, used to John's ways by now, did as requested, only to arrive at the jail to find John giving the officers a lecture on Flemish art. One can imagine the assortment of faces: some cops rolling their eyes, others partly interested, and the rest trying to muffle their laughter. John was a movie star, after all, so at least the coppers were being entertained. The harmless John was given the ultimatum of enduring his 10-day stay for his crime in the pen or at the hospital-- where he was scheduled to undergo surgery on his appendix. He opted for jail. He only remained 1 1/2 days, mostly because the jail became overcrowded with press-hungry actresses, friends, attorneys, and John's personal physician. The policeman, it is said, were glad to be rid of him. (John, an artist to the end, left).

Frank Sinatra (right) was another fellow that had issues with his amours. Many are familiar with his mug shot, which-- typical to most musicians (Cobain, Bowie, Morrison)-- only seems to make him cooler. Sinatra definitely had a more melodic voice than most contemporary rock stars, but the sensual energy that threaded his lyrics together made him just as provocative in his own time. Even before his time, it seems... Frank hit the music scene with full force in the '40s, but in 1938, he was just another struggling 23-year-old with dreams. His mother, Dolly, who had had her own brushes with the law-- for running an abortion ring out of their family home-- was opposed to Frank's career choice and constantly pestered him for it. He was going to be a wash out, just like his father! His father, by the way, with whom Frank sympathized, had also been arrested for receiving stolen goods in the past. Frank, in keeping with the rest of his family, was about to take his own unlawful turn. It all began when he entered into a relationship with a woman named Della Pente Francke, who had met him at the Rusty Canyon, where he worked as a waiter and occasionally sang with Harold Arden's band. The elder gal (25) fell for his bright, blue eyes, and an affair began. And it was a true affair, for Della was married-- albeit separated-- from her husband and living with her parents at the time. Dolly Sinatra was not pleased with her son's romantic choice, thinking Della a low-class girl from Lodi. Apparently, the Sinatra-inhabited area of Hoboken, NJ was much more socially palatable. Tensions mounted, Dolly tried to break the duo up and eventually, Frank started caving. Then, Della got pregnant. Frank was going to marry her, but she lost the baby in the third month and thereafter became privy to another girlfriend in Frank's life: Nancy Barbato.

"Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned," as they say. Humiliated and beyond angry at Frank's dropped promises, sudden disappearance, and newly discovered infidelity-- never mind her own-- Della swore out a warrant for his arrest! Times have certainly changed, for back in the day-- November 26th to be exact-- a man could be charged with a little something called "Seduction." What this meant, in plain English, was that a scalawag had won his way into the bloomers of a "female of good repute under the promise of marriage" and consequently had ruined her reputation. Frank's arrest number was #42799 (left). He was released on a $1500 bond and the charge was dropped when it was learned that Della was married. Far from being home-free, Frank was back in jail  by December 22nd, now for "Adultery" (#42977). This time, he was forced to post a $500 bond, but this charge was also dismissed. Apparently, Frank as much more shaken and upset by the drama than many would assume, for he truly had feelings for Della. Did he still deserve to get off scot-free??? Who's to say? Yet, the complicated and controlling nature of his mother, which would lead to his own volatile temper and understandably turbulent relationships with future women, seems to have been punishment enough.

Frances, Frances, Frances... Today, so few people have seen any of her work, yet she remains a firm staple on the board of Hollywood warnings. There are many ways you can look at the case of Frances Farmer (right)-- independence vs. subjugation, feminism vs. misogyny, passion vs. standard expectations-- but no matter the interpretation, this woman paid the forfeit of her own irreverence. There is continued debate over this talented actress's mental state, which arguably earned her a lobotomy-- a claim that seems to be false and the result of mere speculation after she was falsely identified in a medical photograph-- but her iron will and stubborn defiance have earned her her historical hero status. During her life, this same thing got her into a lot of trouble. I mentioned in a past post that she was once was arrested in 1942 for driving with her headlights on in a wartime "dim-out" zone. Her response to the officer at the time was: "You bore me." Her 180-day jail sentence was suspended, but as she was out of town for a shoot in Mexico, she failed to pay half of her $250 fine. A bench warrant was posted for her arrest. Debilitated after her divorce from Leif Erickson, a damaging affair with Clifford Odets, and the pressures of working in an industry that tried to dictate her every move, Frances was nearing her wit's end when she began filming No Escape in 1943 back in the states. Alcohol wasn't helping matters either, which may explain why she lashed out at a pushy hairdresser on the set, slapping her with a brush. The beautician would claim that her jaw had been dislocated.

That night, Frances was dragged from her hotel room at the Knickerbocker and booked for assault and violation of probation. When filling out the paperwork, a policeman asked her what her occupation was. Showing her antipathy for the business and her disdain for herself, she smirkingly responded: "C*cksucker." Her ambivalence in the courtroom did not help her case, literally, as she was very vocal and aggressive in her assertion that her civil rights had been violated. She also threw an inkwell at the judge and was carried bodily from the courtroom (left), during which she allegedly screamed, "Have you ever had a broken heart?!" She spent that evening in jail before being moved to a mental institution for what was diagnosed as "manic-depressive psychosis." She received ECT treatments, but after she was briefly released, she was arrested yet again in Antioch, CA for vagrancy-- without money, (She had been trying to find work as a "fruit-picker." and-- much like Robert Mitchum claimed in his youth-- was essentially arrested for being poor). With her mother acting as her guardian, she was incarcerated in a mental institution yet again, which at the time, she may have considered better than being in her parents' custody. She lost the best years of her life to her stays in these sanitariums. In any event, she survived everything life threw at her, though she became incredibly hardened by it all. She eventually would take care of her parents, despite their tumultuous relationship and neglect over the years, and would later appear on television in her own series. At the age of 56, it was Cancer that claimed her. Hollywood may have robbed her of her sanity, but it didn't get her soul.

The last three culprits are notorious speedsters, but then driving scrapes and fines are the easiest ones to fall prey to-- and don't get me started on parking tickets. Lupe Velez (right) was a hot tamale with a fiery temper. Add to this her lead foot, and you have a problem. On one particular occasion in April of 1929, Lupe was cruising rather rapidly around Beverly Hills in her convertible. A policeman pulled her over on Wilshire Boulevard for going 40 mph in the 25 mph zone. "Loop" must have been irked by this unfortunate imposition, for she wasn't exactly cooperative. Either her attempt at batting her big, brown eyes failed or she was already in a bad mood, for when the copper handed her the citation, she promptly threw it back in his face! She also ignored her summons to appear in court the following May,  after which a warrant was issued for her arrest. Whether Lupe was merely distracted by other business or purposely continuing her haughty attitude is unknown, but she at least came to her senses. She surrendered and was released at $30 bail, which would be about $275 or so today. It is doubtful that this curbed her appetite for automotive acceleration. (Interestingly, Lupe was almost arrested in Mexico before she made her fateful trip to Hollywood. Her family was deeply in debt, and when it was announced in the papers that she had been offered a "big Hollywood contract"-- a falsehood-- the entire community came calling with their financial demands. Obviously, the family still could not pay them all. The authorities were involved, and the Velez clan was pretty much kept under house arrest, which led to Lupe being smuggled to the train station for her Los Angeles escape twice-- the first failed attempt involved her being transported in a baby carriage)!

Zsa Zsa Gabor: the name remains fairly well known today, if only for its unique sound and attractiveness to the tongue. Like most people, I am more familiar with Zsa Zsa as a personality rather than an actress. My first introduction to her, I believe, was in watching The Naked Gun 2 1/2: The Smell of Fear when she had a cameo in the film's opening credits. For those who haven't seen the film, I won't spoil it, but know that her brief performance is directly related to the following: The Hungarian actress had completed the bulk of her work in film and television by 1989 when Officer Paul Kramer pulled her over on La Cienega Boulevard, again in Beverly Hills. When she handed him her license, Kramer quickly noticed that it had expired. Ms. Gabor must have already been acting a bit uncooperative, for he asked her to get out of her car. The following search of the vehicle revealed a silver flask of bourbon in the glove compartment, which Zsa Zsa claimed belonged to her husband, Prince Frederick von Anhalt of West Germany, (who allegedly used this liquor to "sweeten" his Pepsi). At some point during her street-side interrogation, Zsa Zsa slapped the officer, knocking his glasses right off his face! She would claim that he was being verbally and physically abusive, citing two broken finger nails and her bruised wrists as proof. The altercation ended with her asking Kramer what was taking so long, to which he told her to "f*ck off." Zsa Zsa did just that, hopping into her car and racing away. Kramer would remember it differently, saying that she swore at him then announced proudly that she was leaving. The final charges were as follows: battery upon an officer, disobeying an officer, driving without registration, driving without a license, and having an open container of alcohol in the car. She eventually spent three days in the slammer in the El Segundo City Jail (left).

Last, but certainly not least, is the King of Speed, Steve McQueen (right). The success of his starring vehicle, Bullitt, was certainly in keeping with his personal penchants. The film boasts the iconic and groundbreaking car chase that paved the way for future action films. Steve loved to speed himself, perhaps trying to prove to himself that he was faster than the speeding Bullitt. Belonging to the same fraternity of racing superstars like Wallace Reid and James Dean, Steve considered leaving the acting profession behind to be a professional auto and motorcycle racer. When pressed by friends as to why he took such risks with his life, his reply was, more or less, that it made him feel "like a man." In essence, the closer one feels to death and danger, the more one feels alive. But then, Steve always had a need to test the waters (or in this case, the pavement) of his wild side. Growing up in a broken home, the isolated youth learned to take care of himself and toughened up early. His impenetrable exterior was enhanced in his adolescent years when he was involved in local gang life. Rebellion and non-conformism were the name of the game. Nothing changed when he hit Hollywood, his defiant leading man persona enchanting audiences and making him one of the most desirable male stars of all time. 

We can only guess what exactly it was that Steve was racing away from when behind the wheel, but his need for speed probably had a lot more to do with escape than hasty arrival. His unfortunate taste for alcohol (and drugs) would also indicate the inner demons that he consistently battled. The combination of these two flaws in his character led to his infamous reputation in Anchorage. While in Alaska in 1972, Steve was up to his usual hijinks on 4th Avenue, which was then home to block after block of bars and brothels. After some serious imbibing, Steve hopped into his rented Oldsmobile Toronado, and started racing up and down the street doing "brodies," otherwise known as "donuts." Needless to say, his reckless driving drew lawful attention, and he was soon pulled over and asked to walk the usual straight line to prove his sobriety. In keeping with his performer status, Steve did somersaults instead. Clearly, he was drunk as a skunk, but to his credit, he seemed to be in a very good mood, and the policeman seemed to thoroughly enjoy this particular arrest. Instead of being disobedient, Steve joked around with the lawmen and even gifted them several autographs. Proof of his congenial mood can be seen in his happy-go-lucky mugshot, which remains a popular point of interest at the Alaska State Trooper Museum.  He must have come to his senses in the morning, and in his certainly hung-over state, posted bail and fled the "Land of the Midnight Sun." Consequently, he was "convicted in absentia" for his reckless driving, and a warrant was out for his arrest in Alaska until the day of his death.

One mellow criminal: Steve McQueen breaks the law and offers peace.

All the celebrities mentioned in this post were fortunate that no one was seriously injured by their illegal shenanigans-- other than a few cuts and bruises here and there. As movie stars are bigger than life, it only makes sense that their devious behavior seem magnified as well. In the end, they are only human, and whether they are eternally playing to imaginary cameras when they indulge in overly dramatic and even dangerous behavior or we simply see them as deglamorized monsters in their moments of mental obscurity is a continuous debate that has no answer. Judging from reality shows, there is plenty of crazy to go around-- famous or not. In the cold light of day, most of these scoundrels had soulful or fearful awakenings that left them guilt-ridden or at the very least consciously crystallized. Though, it should also be mentioned that none of the described celebs enjoyed lives of undiluted happiness. Troubles and hardships seemed to follow them wherever they went, whether they survived these hurdles for great lengths of time or succumbed to them in early death. Robert Mitchum was one of the few who had real staying power, despite his many ups and downs and downs... and downs. Yet, even he was realistic about his, at times, disenchanting mistakes. Upon is arrest for the Marijuana charge, like Frances Farmer, he was asked to declare his occupation. His downtrodden response: "Former actor." Luckily for us, that turned out to be a perjury. Despite our sometimes moral selves, we seem to like the dark sides of our stellar heroes even more than their sparkle. Justice can be harsh, but it serves the public appetite well.

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