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Thursday, June 27, 2013

MENTAL MONTAGE: The More the Merrier?

Margaret Dumont may have been Groucho's most popular leading lady,
but one damsel was never enough for this comedic scallawag-- here in
A Day at the Circus.

One of the funniest moments in the Marx Brothers' classic Animal Crackers is the following exchange:

Groucho/Capt. Spaulding: [to Mrs. Rittenhouse and Mrs. Whitehead] Let's get married.
Mrs. Whitehead: All of us?
Capt. Spaulding: All of us.
Mrs. Whitehead: Why, that's bigamy!
Capt. Spaulding: Yes, and it's big o' me too.

A surprising number of Hollywood greats must have agreed. If nothing else, celebrities are consistent in their irreverence for the the norm. Their knack for breaking "the rules," which they mistakenly don't believe apply to them, result in many a mugshot, courtroom cameo, or front page article in such publications as the groundbreaking Life & Style or In Touch-- both of which should probably consider changing their titles. One of the favorite nit-picking recreations in which modern society partakes with regard to their falling idols is "the Marriage Game." We roll our eyes at their numerous nuptials (Hello, Liz Taylor) or their shameful divorces (were you on Team Jennifer or Team Angelina?) and consequently declare them unsuited for the supreme honor of wedded bliss. Clearly, these silly stars don't understand the sanctity of marriage nor appreciate it. Or do they appreciate it too much??? Marriage: an event so nice, some do it twice... And occasionally without getting the necessary divorce.

Show-business becomes our business due to its overabundant coverage. We idolize our movie stars and musicians for living abnormal lives of excess and glamour, but we just as easily transition to a mob of teeth-gnashing, rabid dogs when they overindulge in these same things. Ingrid Bergman (left) learned this the hard way when she fell desperately in love with Robert Rossellini at the cost of her first marriage to Petter Lindstrom. As Petter promoted himself as the wronged and totally faultless party in the scandal, public opinion turned against Ingrid with insane rapidity. The former angelic presence of the silver screen was labeled a "whore." The mother of all that was good was suddenly deemed unfit for maternity. Naturally, Ingrid's previously proclaimed superb talent became "overrated" overnight. (People do have an uncanny knack for rewriting history, don't they)? 

Ingrid obtained her divorce from Petter, refusing to contest any of his demands. She considered his attacks deserved retribution for her shameful actions. She wed her Italian beloved and made a new life and a new career in his country. She eventually recovered, but Ingrid was only truly forgiven by her American fans until after she started detaching herself from the erratic and possessive Roberto. It was considered an admission of her own defeat when Ingrid stepped outside his directorial control and performed in the superb Anastasia. After Ingrid decided to divorce Roberto, the US felt as if she had come to her senses and thus welcomed both her and her talent back with open arms. However, this second divorce was a little sticker than the first...

Roberto turned out to be just as vindictive as Petter during the separation, yet at no time did he come close to exhibiting any dignity. He bitterly told Ingrid that Italy did not "recognize" divorce (at the time), and if she ever wed another, she would be labeled a bigamist! In addition, he threatened to take their three children ("Robin," Isabella, and Isotta) away from her. His bitterness cleverly chose to ignore his own philandering during their marriage, of course. Again, Ingrid was appeasing and complacent to most of his demands, but she remained determined to obtain her separation from Roberto. With the help of her crafty lawyer Ercole Graziadei, she was able to obtain an annulment!!! The loophole used was thus: Ingrid had not registered her "proxy" divorce from Petter in Sweden before her Italian marriage to Roberto took place. Therefore, in the eyes of Roman law, she was still technically married to her first husband. Her strategically fashioned Swedish bigamy won her the annulment from Roberto; it was as though the second marriage had never existed. Fortunately, this tactic did not harm her children. At that time in Italy, when a father recognized his "bastard" children, they were considered legitimate. All was well, and Ingrid saw to it that her ties to all past men were totally severed, legally speaking.

Naturally, the public was secretly a little pleased by her estrangement from the man she had left her first husband for. The scale of crime and punishment was balanced once again. After Ingrid's third and final divorce from Lars Schmidt, she decided to avoid the menacing "aisle" at all costs. She openly admitted that her flighty ways, when mixed with her great romanticism, did not instigate the best choices. In reality, she was too much of a free spirit to put down roots anywhere or with anyone. Her great lover always remained her work.

Of course, Ingrid wasn't the only "naughty Marietta" in Tinsel Town. Another diva, who in her time was also considered the greatest of film beauties, had her own share of scrapes with love. Reatha Deane Watson (left) lived one Hell of a bittersweet, short life. At the age of sixteen, she had already run away from home and married one Jack Lytelle. Almost as suddenly, she reappered on her sister's front porch, claiming that her husband had died. (The facts on this remain a bit fuzzy). A wild gypsy at heart, Reatha would soon make her way to Los Angeles in the hopes of becoming a "somebody." She gained some ground when landing a gig in a burlesque. Unfortunately, she was arrested for being underage, hence her infamous appearance in court before the eyes of none other than writer Adela Rogers St. Johns. Labeled "too beautiful" to be in the company of such dirty men and scalawags, Reatha was set free and became an overnight press sensation. 

Yet, within months, she had wed "Max Lawrence," who turned out to truly be the already married father of three Lawrence F. Converse. In addition to participating in Converse's bigamy charge and arrest, there remains the question of Reatha's first marriage. Was her first hubby Jack truly dead, or had Reatha in this instance committed a double bigamy of sorts??? To further sensationalize the scandal, it was widely reported that Converse had knocked himself unconscious in his cell, allegedly for being dramatically distraught over the loss his beautiful, illegitimate bride. When he came to, Converse feigned ignorance of the whole affair, but Reatha could not outrun the scandal, which ruined her reputation in L.A. and drove her to San Francisco. There she performed in a cabaret show and temporarily wed Philip Ainsworth, but he soon left her for what he claimed were her extra-marital dalliances.

Starting fresh yet again, Reatha changed her stage name to Barbara La Mar and married Ben Deeley, though she was not yet quite divorced from Ainsworth. That brings her bigamy tally up to three, by the way. Eventually, the world-worn but still lovely Barbara La Mar became Barbara La Marr and fell in with a new lover-- John Gilbert, (prior to his marriage to Leatrice Joy). She did some extra work and fell under the protection of "Father Confessor" Paul Bern-- who would incidentally have his own bigamy issue of sorts concerning his common law wife Dorothy Millette when he later wed Jean Harlow-- and was handpicked by "Mr. Pep" Douglas Fairbanks to star opposite him in 1921's The Three Musketeers. Every man in existence seemed to fall under Barbara's spell, from homosexual BFF and sometimes "playmate" William Haines to the fawning Louis B. Mayer, who considered her "the most beautiful woman who had ever lived." Sadly, despite or because of her golden looks, Barbara's rough life never won her happiness nor did her trips to the altar gain her true love. She would pass away at the age of 29 after her hard-living body succumbed to tuberculosis. (Barbara right with Ramon Novarro in Trifling Woman).

Rudolph Valentino remains a controversial figure by nature. Uncovering his sexuality has become more important than studying and understanding his work or his influence on the entertainment industry. This is sad indeed. Neither answer, one would assume, should deter people from considering him an incredible cinematic force and one of the greatest symbols of sexual power to ever hit Hollywood. Ironically, one of the pieces of evidence used to argue whether Rudy belongs in the "homo" or "hetero" box is the bigamy case brought against him in 1922. As ever when it comes to this silent heartthrob, this debate remains heavily contested, frustrating, and unsolvable.

Rudy (right) married Jean Acker-- one of Alla Nazimova's cling-ons-- in 1919, a couple of years after he had made it to Los Angeles from Castellaneta, Italy. Unfortunately for Rudy, Jean turned out to be same-sex oriented. Thus, on their wedding night, rumors spread like wildfire that the ultimate lover Valentino had spent his honeymoon trying to beat down his lesbian wife's door. The argument here is that the marriage was a total set-up in order to hide the rising movie star's closeted homosexuality. Yet, Jean's reaction muddles this theory, as does the fact that Rudy hadn't yet obtained enough popularity to need such public protection as a mock marriage. So, was Rudy extremely surprised that night by his lover's reaction or did Jean had some serious second thoughts about their mutual ruse? Who the Hell knows... After a lot of back and forth in which the couple lived apart-- with Rudy allegedly trying to patch things up-- the duo settled on divorce. Though, Rudy's new girlfriend may have had something to do with it.

Rudy became enamored of Natacha Rambova-- yet another Alla Nazimova friend. (FYI-- Rudy hung around Alla quite a bit, which is used to both bolster and refute the homosexuality claims. Alla herself was bisexual, so you have the "guilt" by association slant, yet his association with her also spread his sex-God status. Allegedly, he once overpowered Alla so much in a sexual romp that she fainted mid-coitus). The same consternation of the Acker incident was repeated in the love affair of Rudy and Natacha, who was a creative and artistic force in his life. Rudy certainly preached old-fashioned ideals to friends in terms of marriage and family, but his attraction always veered toward the socially exotic. He was drawn to strength, divergence, and intellectual elevation in women. Whether this represents further proof toward his sexual preference or is irrelevant character information is still unanswered. Yet, his deep attachment to Natacha compelled him to hastily marry her on May 13, 1922 in Mexicali, Mexico. Natacha had assured him that their union would be legal outside the US, despite the fact that he had not waited the legally stipulated full year following his divorce from Jean. Such was not the case, and soon a warrant was out for his arrest!

Rudy turned himself in when the authorities informed him that the corrupt District Attorney Thomas Woolwine had charged him with bigamy on two counts-- both for his double marriage and his consummation of the second. When the case went to court, Rudy's defense argued that the second marriage was not truly legetimate as it had not been consummated. Natacha claimed that she had been ill on the wedding night and, to allow her to rest, Rudy had slept on the porch. This is often used as argument for the pro-homosexual party, as they claim it proves Rudy was not interested in sex with his wife. However, the true person sleeping on the porch that night-- a man physically seen by a passing Indian (?!?) was Douglas Gerrard, a friend who had served as the best man at the wedding. The perjuries committed by Natacha and friend Paul Ivano, who both supported the "unconsummated" defense, were considered a necessary evil to save Rudy from the slammer. The prosecution tried to refute these claims claims and pushed for proof of the standard Honeymoom Delight. They even produced the eye-witness testimony of a maid who had seen the couple wearing matching, purple pajamas while eating breakfast together the next morning. A couple that feeds together, breeds together.  (Feast or farce, right)?

The judge, who was just as confused as you are right now, became so irritated by the ridiculous  arguments and misplaced evidence that he finally had the bigamy charges dropped. An annulment of Rudy's marriage to Natacha necessarily followed to put things right, but this meant that the lovers were separated for a year until they could be properly married. Again. As Rudy's correspondence with Natacha at this time was typically overdramatic but honestly melancholy, it seems that the duo truly cared for each other, though they eventually proved to be incompatible. Had Rudy not died prematurely in 1926, a divorce would most likely have split them apart. Was part of that incompatibility sexual? I unfortunately would have to devote a separate website to that argument. But I do know that he was a bigamist...

...As was his Beyond the Rocks co-star, Gloria Swanson, but then, Gloria always went 'big' (see left). One of the most decadent stars of the silent era, this petite but powerful beauty commanded attention everywhere she went and wore the role of Hollywood Siren as if she had been born playing it. Of course, despite her violent hunger and ambition, Gloria didn't start her career as a lush and intoxicating force of nature. She allegedly began her cinematic employment at about the age of fifteen doing extra work at Essanay in Chicago. Allegedly, production was so taken with her beauty that she was signed to a contract. Before she knew it, she and her mother were moving out to California. Though she suffered through an emotionally scarring and brief marriage to Wallace Beery, Gloria emerged stronger, more resilient, and more determined. Soon enough, she was Cecil B. DeMille's chosen leading lady and one of the most followed fan-favorites in Hollywood.

With her assertive and somewhat intimidating beauty, Gloria had her share of lovers and slobbering supplicants-- from Joe Kennedy to Marshall Neilan-- and her taste for extravagance exposed itself in her six marriages. After Wallace came Herbert K. Somborn of "The Brown Derby" fame, then the dashing Marquis de la Falaise followed, whom she also divorced only to immediately marry Michael Farmer. It was due to this latter relationship that things got sticky. Gloria's impulsive need to be with Michael, which was driven by her severe case of ILL ('in love with love'), caused her to marry him in August of 1931 only to realize that she would not be free from her marriage to the amiable Marquis Henri until November. Thus, the lady received the temporary "bigamy stamp," which she quickly corrected, resolvedly returning to tie the knot with Farmer at end of the year as a legal eagle.

Despite the triumph, all was not smooth with this union. According the couple's biological daughter Michelle Farmer, Michael was "an Irish playboy" with a tendency toward alcoholism. This definitely soured the romance. In addition, despite her turbulent union with Beery (who had raped her on their wedding night), Gloria still craved a man who could, as Michelle put it, "dominate her... Men came into her life like machos and they left like poodles sitting up for a biscuit." Gloria unsuccessfully tried to find a match who could go toe to toe with her own arresting personality (right) while being his own breadwinner; someone to take care of her, while allowing her independence. Being a major and obscenely rich movie star, she was frequently disappointed by her masculine prospects. Such was the case this go-round, and Gloria and the insecure Michael eventually headed for the divorce courts. At least, she did... Michael threatened to sue her for bigamy (yet again!) if she chose to get a divorce without his consent. I guess he didn't know whom he was messing with. Gloria got the divorce two days prior to what would have been their 3rd wedding anniversary.

Gloria would wait over ten years before she faced the altar again, both because she had learned a valid lesson from her past mistakes and also because her career and her life changed a great deal with the talkie revolution. Her star did not shine as bright as it once had once her mysterious magic was forced to speak, despite her talent and strong voice. While struggling with personal issues, she would eventually come out swinging... and wedding. The next stud in her stable was George William Davey, whom she was tied to for less than a year. Her final marriage to William Duffy was the most successful, lasting a full seven years and being ended by her 1983 death. Who knows? Had she survived longer, she may have dragged her wedding gown out of mothballs a few more times!

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