Sunday, March 28, 2010

Miss Olive Borden

When I first saw Olive Borden's picture on the Silent Ladies and Gents website, I was taken aback. Most of the ladies from that time look like the silent era. Their faces and expressions just look like they belong in the 1910s and 20s. Olive though, her face was one of those that could span throughout the years. Sadly, her career didn't span that long. Her movies, like so many others, aren't readily available. I have seen her in only one, Three Bad Men. She was wonderful.

Olive Borden was born July 14, 1906 in Richmond, Virginia. Her father died when she was a baby, so she was raised by her mother, Sibbie in Maryland. It was Olive, not her mother (as it usually is in these cases) that wanted to get into show business.

She began her career as one of Mack Sennett's Bathing Beauties in 1922. She also played the role of a vamp in Hal Roach shorts. In 1925, she was selected to be a WAMPAS Baby Star. (Along with cousin and close friend Natalie Joyce).

In 1927, at the height of her career, she walked out of her contract after the studio cut her salary. (She was accustomed to mansions and limos and the finer things in life). She made a few talkies with other studios, making her last film in 1934. For awhile after, she performed on vaudeville.

Olive married twice. First to Theodore Spector in 1931. He was arrested the following year for bigamy when it was discovered that he had failed to divorce his first wife before marrying Olive. She had the marriage annulled. In 1934, she married John Moeller. They divorced 7 years later. She never had any children. She also dated actor George O'Brien and producer Paul Bern (Jean Harlow's tragic husband).

Sadly, the rest of her life was not happy. She spent her final years cleaning floors at a home for destitute women in Los Angeles.

Olive Borden passed away on October 1, 1947 from a stomach ailment and pneumonia. She was only 41. 

She was interred at Forest Lawn in Glendale.

Even though Olive is virtually unknown today, she was a big star in her day. She has a star on Hollywood Boulevard for her contribution to Hollywood's film history.

Also...Olive is a distant relative of Lizzie Borden, who was famous for being accused of murdering her father and stepmother with an axe.

She was nicknamed the "Joy Girl" :)

She always wore a lucky pansy ring on her pinky. It was made out of a stickpin that belonged to her father.

Olive wore a size 2 shoe. She had to have her shoes specially made!

"Almost any girl taken from obscurity and spot-lighted , highly paid and catered to, would go haywire. Precious few have escaped the stage of distorted viewpoint, unless they had very wise management." ~ Olive Borden

Miss Constance Talmadge

Of all three Talmadge sisters, I think Constance is the one I would have enjoyed hanging out with the most. She was the cutesy, funny blonde sister. Also, she was the middle child, just like me! While older sister Norma acted in tear jerkers and dramas, Constance was acting in comedies. She was known as "Dutch" to her family and friends and seemed like a real darling of the silent era.

Constance Alice Talmadge was born April 19, 1897 in Brooklyn, New York. Her parents were Fred and Margaret "Peg" Talmadge, and had an older sister Norma. (Natalie followed a year later).

Even though Peg pushed Norma the hardest to star in movies, she really wanted all her girls to be actresses. Constance followed in her sister's footsteps and made her film debut in 1914. She had a bigger role in Intolerance as The Mountain Girl and Marguerite de Valois in 1916. Her role in this film was so popular, that her sequences alone were released as its own feature film.

She appeared in more than 80 films, most of which were comedies. She didn't like slapstick though, saying, "I enjoy making people see, in my way, I take my work quite as seriously as my sister does."

When the talkies came around, Constance left Hollywood. She invested in real estate and other business ventures to keep up her lifestyle.

Constance married four times. First, to John Pialoglou in 1920. It was a double ceremony with them and friend Dorothy Gish and her husband, James Rennie. She and Pialoglou divorced in 1922. Next, she married Alastair McIntosh in 1926 and divorced him in 1927. Townsend Netcher was next in 1929 and again divorced, in 1931. The fourth and final marriage was to Walter Michael Giblon in 1939. This marriage lasted until her death. She never had children.

Constance Talmadge died on November 23, 1973 of pneumonia. She survived her two sisters, and was buried along side of them and their parents at Hollywood Forever.

Sadly, like sister Norma, not many of her films survive.

"Screen actors are the funniest people in the world. I adore them!" ~ Constance Talmadge

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Miss Norma Talmadge

I was going to combine both the Talmadge sisters into one entry, but I figure the girls had two separate careers, separate lives...they deserve two separate entries. I am not including Natalie because frankly, well...I am not a fan of hers.

Norma was a beautiful lady. It's no surprise she was such a big star in the silent era. I wish her films were available so she can be remembered forever.

Norma Talmadge was born May 26, 1883 in Jersey City, New Jersey. She was the first born of Fred and Margaret "Peg" Talmadge. She was later joined by sisters Constance and Natalie.

The family was quite poor, and the situation was made even worse when Fred left one day to go to the store, and never came back. Peg had to start taking odd jobs in order to support her daughters. She eventually moved the family to Brooklyn, New York.

Peg heard about a young girl at Norma's school who had gotten a job modeling for a photographer. She immediately found out who and where and pushed Norma to be a model, and then a movie star. She pushed all three girls to be movie stars, even though it wasn't really what they wanted. (Peg joins Jean Harlow's mother as being an uber-stage mother).

Norma made her film debut in 1909 and she appeared in over 100 films between 1911 and 1912. In 1915, the family moved to California where Norma signed with National Pictures Company. The company went bust and she moved to Triangle Film Corporation. She stayed with them for about eight months before her contract expired, and the family moved back to New York.

It was at this time that Norma met producer Joseph Schenck. After two months of dating, they were married on October 20, 1916. Schenck, who Norma called "Daddy" worked along side Peg handling Norma's career. He helped her establish the Norma Talmadge Film Corporation. His plan was to make her the biggest movie star and produce larger than life pictures with larger than life casts. The comic unit of this company was responsible for the Arbuckle, Keaton, and St. John shorts.

By 1923, according to a picture poll, she was ranked the number one box office draw. In 1926, she starred in the film Camille and fell in love with her leading man Gilbert Roland. She wanted a divorce from Schenck, but he refused. Norma was his moneymaker and he was not about to let her slip away. She ended up separating from both men eventually.

She made one talkie, DuBarry, Woman of Passion in 1930. The film was a failure. Sister Constance told her sister not to worry, that the girls were set for life financially. She was almost 40 and becoming quite bored with movie making in general, so, she bowed out. She wouldn't even sign autographs for fans anymore, telling them, "I don't need you anymore."

After being separated for seven years, Norma and Schenck finally divorced in 1934. That same year, she married Schenck's poker buddy, George Jessel. They divorced in 1939. In 1946, she married for the third and final time to Dr. Carvel James. She never had children.

Norma Talmadge passed away on December 24, 1957 of pneumonia. She is interred with her mother, father, and sisters at the Hollywood Forever Cemetery.

You was Norma who started the cement footprint fad at Grauman's Chinese Theater. In 1927, she accidentally stepped in wet cement in front of the theater, and the rest is history!

**11/19/10** While scanning through the 1910 Census Records, I came across the Talmadge family, living in New York. Natalie was 15 at the time and sister Constance was 11. Fred Talmadge was listed as being an advertising agent.

Miss Alla Nazimova

Oh, Nazimova! When I first saw a picture of her, I was taken aback by how outlandish she came off, even in a photograph. I read a biography about her and learned to respect her as an actress and as a person. She was who she was, and didn't apologize for it.

She was born Miriam Edez Adelaida Leventon on May 22, 1879 in Yalta, Crimea. She was one of three children born to Yakov and Sonya Leventon. Her parents eventually separated and the household became quite dysfunctional. She pulled through it though, and even began playing violin by age 7.

When she was a teenager, she began acting on the stage. She changed her name to Alla Nazimova, Alla being her nickname, and Nazimova from a Russian author. She eventually just went by Nazimova, or even Madame Nazimova.

By 1903, she was star in Russia. In 1905, she and her boyfriend moved to New York City. The two opened a Russian language theater, but it was not successful. The boyfriend moved back to Russia, but Nazimova stayed in the States. Henry Miller signed her and she made her Broadway debut and became a star of the stage, mostly in Chekov and Ibsen plays. She even had a theatre named after her. (Not bad!)

She made her film debut in 1916 in the film War Brides. After awhile, she became a well known face on the screen and was earning quite a lot of money. She began to feel comfortable with the new medium, and got into writing and producing her films. Her 1923 film Salome is famous for its all gay cast, and for not being a popular adaptation. (It really is quite odd, but interesting).

Putting all her money into these films eventually led her to leave the movie industry and go back to the stage. She made a few talkies, including a remake of Blood and Sand in 1941, playing Tyrone Power's mother.

There has been much said about Nazimova's private life, mostly about her bisexuality. She only married once, to actor Sergei Golovin, in 1899. It was a marriage in name only, although the two never legally divorced. From 1912 to 1925, she lived in a "lavender marriage" with actor Charles Bryant. Bryant was gay, and Nazimova was a bisexual, hence the title of lavender marriage.

Nazimova was known in Hollywood as being very helpful in getting young starlets their start in the movie business. Such actresses she helped were Patsy Ruth Miller, Anna May Wong, and both of Rudolph Valentino's wives, Jean Acker and Natacha Rambova. Nazimova did have an affair with Acker, but it is unknown if she did with Rambova, although the two were very close. (I'm thinking they probably did but, that's just my opinion). She was also romantically linked to Dorothy Arzner, Eva Le Gallienne, Mercedes de Costa, and Daisy Wilde, niece of Oscar Wilde. Her finally female partner was Glesca Marshall. The two lived together from 1929 until Nazimova's death.

Speaking of women...the thing I have always found interesting is that Nazimova is the godmother of Nancy Reagan, former first lady. She had been a friend of Nancy's mother Edith.

Not surprising that this over the top woman had an over the top home. "The Garden of Alla" was the mansion she lived in on Sunset Blvd that became famous for the lavish parties that were held there. Due to financial reasons, the mansion was later turned into an apartment complex, although she continued to live in one of the villas until her death.

Alla Nazimova died on July 13, 1945 of coronary thrombosis in Los Angeles, California. She was interred at Forest Lawn Memorial Park in Glendale.

My favorite film of hers is Camille, which she starred in with her friend Rudolph Valentino. Her hair and her clothes and her expressions are just beautiful in that film. Pair that with Valentino, and you have a great work of silent film.

Nazimova and Valentino

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Mr. Roscoe Arbuckle

In honor of his recent birthday, I decided to jump start on writing a blog about Roscoe Arbuckle. For the past few years, I have read and read about Roscoe, his career and the circus trial that went on around him, and I have tried to clear people's minds of the mark that has been put on him. Although he was cleared of all charges, the damage had been done in the public eye, and poor Roscoe died too early of a heart attack. What happened to him was wrong, unnecessary and just plain awful. He was a wonderful comedian and seemed like a genuinely good man. I hope he is at peace now and knows that there are people out there that know he was/is completely innocent.

He was born Roscoe Conkling Arbuckle on March 24, 1887 in Smith Center, Kansas. He was the youngest of nine children born to Mollie and William Arbuckle and was reported to have weighed 13 pounds at birth. Since both of his parents were slim in stature, William didn't believe that a baby this big could possibly be his. So, in response, he named the baby after a politician he hated, Roscoe Conkling. Since he was such a large child, Mollie developed health problems, which eventually led to her death 12 years later.

Early on, Roscoe exhibited a great talent for singing, and his mother encouraged him to perform on the stage when he was around 8 years old. After his mother died, his father refused to entertain his son's interest in the theatre, so Roscoe ended up having to get odd jobs to help support himself.

One day at work, he was overheard singing by a man who was a professional singer. He told Roscoe to enter into an amateur talent show. He didn't really wow the audience until he did a somersault into the orchestra pit. He won the talent show and soon after began his vaudeville career.

In 1904, Roscoe was invited by Sid Grauman himself to perform at one of his theaters in Minnesota. A few years later, he went to the West Coast and performed in theaters in California and Oregon.

On August 6, 1908, he married Minta Durfee, a fellow actress. She would play against Roscoe in some of his later films. The two looked like opposites in the way that he was tall and round and she was short and petite.
In July 1909, he made his film debut, a four years later, he began appearing in Keystone shorts. His weight was part of his comedic draw, but he never wanted to be seen as just the fat guy getting stuck in chairs and doors and whatnot. In fact, he was actually quite acrobatic.

Even though he was quite agile, his weight did cause problems for him. Most specifically, a problem with circulation in his legs. He at one point weighed over 300 pounds. To manage his weight, he was prescribed morphine...which...back then, the dangers were not known.

Alice Lake, Roscoe, and Buster Keaton

Eventually, the studios were offering artistic and production control over films to be made with actress Mabel Normand. They also offered him a pretty penny. He made many films with Mabel and eventually teamed up with newcomer Buster Keaton. He also worked with Charlie Chaplin in a number of shorts (In fact, the little hat and baggy clothes Chaplin wore for his role as The Tramp were borrowed from Roscoe).

Not only did Roscoe give Buster Keaton his big break on screen, he also helped out Bob Hope. In 1927, he invited Bob to open for him at a comedy show.

Mostly everyone knows, or should know, that Roscoe's nickname (on screen and off) was "Fatty." He hated this nickname, so I don't use it. If people addressed him as Fatty, he would say "I got a name you know!"

And now...the scandal. On September 5, 1921, Roscoe left for San Francisco and checked into the St. Francis Hotel. He and his friends decided to invite some ladies up and have a party. One of the ladies was Virginia Rappe, a struggling actress. Later during the party, Virginia became violently ill. She was delirious and kept saying "Arbuckle did it. He hurt me." She was rushed to the hospital and died one day later of "peritonitis from a ruptured bladder." She was 26 years old.

Here's the thing though...she was not this innocent little flower who was raped by this 200+ pound evil man. She was known around Hollywood as a wild girl, the girl who was known for taking off all her clothes when she drank. She slept around as well, and had had a number of abortions. This was truly the cause of her death, a botched abortion. Sometime during the night, perhaps while horsing around with her friends, she suffered a blow to the stomach, which started her internal bleeding.

At the hospital, Virginia's friend Maude Delmont told the doctor that Roscoe had raped Virginia. Eventually, her manager began the rumors of rape with a Coca-Cola or champagne bottle, a piece of ice, or that Roscoe crushed her with his weight. The ice was proven actually to be a remedy for Virginia. Roscoe gave it to her to help ease the pain in her stomach.

The Arbuckle trial was huge in the media's eye. Roscoe was portrayed as being a sex hungry man who preyed on innocent young girls. Women's groups banned together to protest the comedian's films and soon theaters were pulling his films and taking down the movie posters. Buster Keaton made a public statement in defense of his friend.

Maude Delmont was set to be the star witness. But after it came to light that she had a long criminal record and a habit of getting young girls to extort money from rich men, her testimony was thrown out (I don't like to speak ill of the dead...but what an evil bitch).

The first trial resulted in a mistrial. The second trial resulted in a mistrial. The scandal was one of four that happened in the early days of Hollywood, along with the sudden death of Olive Thomas, the murder of director William Desmond Taylor, and the drug related death of Wallace Reid. This resulted in actors having morality clauses in their contracts.

After Minta Durfee divorced him in 1924, he married Doris Deane in 1925. They divorced in 1928. He married again for the third and final time to Addie MacPhail in 1932 until his death. He again sought comfort in alcohol to help him cope with the aftermath of the trial and the shunning of the public. Friend Buster Keaton helped Roscoe get work by having him help write and direct Keaton's own movies.

Roscoe began to work under the name William B. Goodrich (as in Will Be Good). He directed a few shorts here and there and was signed to direct a feature film for Warner Brothers, but it wasn't to be. He suffered a heart attack later that night, and died in his sleep on June 28, 1933. He was cremated and his ashes were scattered in the Pacific Ocean.

It was quite interesting to read that John Candy, John Belushi, and Chris Farley wanted to play Roscoe in a film, and that all three actors died suddenly. There is supposed to be a film in the works titled Life of the Party with Preston Lacy, from MTV's Jackass (Yeah...I don't know...) as Roscoe and Chris Kattan as Buster Keaton (Yeah...again, I don't know....). But the film has been put off and then set back in motion, so who knows when it will come out.

Roscoe was also the subject of a work of fiction titled "I, Fatty" by Jerry Stahl. I have heard some negative things about the book, but I actually enjoyed it, so pick it up somewhere and judge for yourself!

"I don't believe there is any finer mission on Earth than just to make people laugh." ~ Roscoe Arbuckle

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Miss Barbara La Marr

"The Most Beautiful Girl in the World." Barbara La Marr. I actually first learned about her when I was standing in front of her grave. On my first trip to Hollywood Forever, while looking for Valentino's grave in the mausoleum, I came across a grave decorated with flowers and covered in lipstick marks from people who left kisses. I was intrigued by the claim that the woman buried here was the most beautiful girl and that all these people wanted to leave flowers, kisses, etc. And I came to find later, that she was in fact absolutely beautiful. The tragedy is that she only lived to age 29. Now, when I visit the cemetery, I not only leave Rudy a kiss, I leave Barbara one too.

She was born Reatha Dale Watson on July 28, 1896 in Yakima, Washington. Her parents were newspaper editor William and his wife Rosanna. She joined older brother William Jr. and Rosanna's two children from a previous marriage, Henry and Violet.

In 1910, the family moved to California. In January of 1913, she joined her sister Violet on a road trip with a man named C.C. Boxley. Barbara started to get a feeling after a few days that they were never going back home. She was finally sent back home after Violet and Boxley found out that there were warrants out for their arrests for kidnapping. The story made front page news, and Barbara even testified against her sister. The charges were later dropped.

Barbara kept on making news. In 1913, after a visit to Arizona, she announced that she was now the widow of a man named Jack Lytell. He supposedly saw her riding in her car, rode up on horseback, and literally swept her off her feet (This is just a legend though, so who knows).

She then married a man named Phil Ainsworth and the two moved to New York City. She began writing screenplays and working with filmmakers, which ultimately led to her returning to Los Angeles. She made her film debut in 1920 and was soon deemed "The Most Beautiful Girl in the World" and soon became a star.
Not only was she an actress, appearing in over 30 films, she also wrote 7 screenplays and danced on Broadway.

Barbara divorced Ainsworth in 1918. That same year, she married Ben Deeley. They divorced in 1921. She married her fifth and final husband, Jack Dougherty in 1923 and stayed married to him until her death. After her death, the fact she had given birth to a son, by a man who was never identified, came to life. Marvin Carville La Marr was adopted after Barbara's death by actress and friend Zasu Pitts and her husband Tom Gallery. The boy was renamed Don Gallery and eventually grew up to become an actor and even dated Elizabeth Taylor off and on.

With all the movies and performances she took part in, its not surprising that Barbara only slept two hours a night. She never wanted to miss a moment in her life. Kinda prophetic if you think about how short her life would end up being. Living the fast paced Hollywood life, it was no surprise that she soon began to use heroin. The drug weakened her system, and she died suddenly of tuberculosis and nephritis on January 30, 1926 in Altadena, California.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Mr. Buster Keaton

I love him. Love him, love him, LOVE HIM! I figured I needed to add some male stars to this blog, and what better way to start it off with the man himself, Buster Keaton. I could write an entire blog about just him! The man is a genius. Definitely the hands down winner between him and Charlie Chaplin as to who was the leading silent film actor. Buster did his own stunts, incredible stunts at that! He had funny, innovative films, and he was a genuinely good guy. Whereas Chaplin, well...he had his own agenda...and he liked the young, YOUNG ladies. Buster needs to be recognized more for his incredible talent, not only as a an actor, but for the man who wrote and directed his own shorts. I wish the studio system would have realized how amazing he was instead of using him to help jump start Jimmy Durante's career. But, it is what it is. Oh yeah...and he was gorgeous!! Those abs! That amazing body!! CHEERS!

Guess what my first son's name is going to be? You guessed it! Keaton.

He was born Joseph Frank Keaton IV on October 4, 1895 in Piqua, Kansas to Joseph and Myra Keaton. He was later joined by brother Harry ("Jingles") and sister Louise. His parents were both in the vaudeville circuit. Joe was a talented comedian and Myra was the first woman to play the tenor saxophone on stage.

When he was six months old, the name Buster was given to him. It has been widely speculated that it was Harry Houdini that gave him the nickname after he saw him fall down the stairs and proclaimed "That was a real buster!" But, it has also been stated that his father gave him the way, he was then known as Buster Keaton.

At age 3, he joined his parents on stage. They billed themselves as "The Three Keatons." The main gist of the show was little Buster finding new ways to disobey his father, and Joe would find new ways of punishing the young boy. The favorite form of punishment was Buster getting tossed around stage by a special handle that was sewn into his coat. This "abuse" brought their act to the attention of the authorities. The Keatons would show that Buster suffered no bruises or broken bones, and that he was fine. They even went as far as saying he was a midget. Buster always stated throughout his life that his father was not an abusive man, that it was all part of the act. Joseph Keaton taught Buster how to fall the "right way" to avoid injury.

It was on stage with his parents that Buster developed his signature "stone face." He used to say that he had such a good time with his dad on stage that he himself would start laughing. But, he soon realized that the audience laughed more when he was dead pan. So, his father would say "FACE!" and Buster's expression went blank. (Not only was his expression his trademark, he also had his pork pie hat).

Myra took Buster to New York when he was 21. This is where he met Roscoe "Fatty" Arbuckle in 1917. Joe Keaton was not a fan of the film medium, but Buster was intrigued. He asked Arbuckle for a camera so that he could take it apart and see how it worked. He came back the next day and Arbuckle gave him a role in his short Butcher Boy. The famous molasses scene was filmed in one take. Buster was a natural. It was the beginning of a wonderful partnership and friendship between the two comedians.

Soon after, Buster was given his own studio and started producing his own shorts and then his own features. He wrote his own gags and performed them himself. Even though he had learned how to handle a fall, he still ended up getting hurt doing his own stunts. For instance, while filming a scene for the film Sherlock Jr. Buster broke his neck after falling from a water tower onto a railroad track. He didn't even realize he had broken it until a few years later when he had an x-ray and the doctor asked him when he had hurt his neck. (I love that story!)

Speaking of dangerous stunts, there is the famous scene in Steamboat Bill Jr. where Buster stood in place while the side of house fell down on top of him. The only thing between him and two tons of wood, was a few inches of space. He insisted on being the one doing the stunt. While shooting the scene, many production staff turned around because they didn't want to see Buster being squashed. The scene was done in one take. Buster was unharmed. And the scene is a part of cinema history.

In 1927, he released The General, the film he was most proud of. It combined his two great loves, comedy and trains...with a story about the Civil War thrown in. It cost a lot of money to make, and was not popular when it was released. This disaster caused Buster to lose all control over his movies. He was devastated.

He soon was signed to MGM, a decision he called "the worst of his life." His roles were very restricted. He was usually cast as a bumbling, brainless character, most of the the time named Elmer. He was used as a jumping off board to help bring comedian Jimmy Durante into the spotlight. He also became a gag writer for Red Skelton and the Marx Brothers.

During his later years in had appearances in such films as Sunset Blvd, Limelight with Charlie Chaplin, and his last film, A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum.

Later during the 1950s, Buster had his own television show, and made appearances on other shows, performing some of his famous gags. He also appeared on This Is Your Life, which was used to help promote the film The Buster Keaton Story starring Donald O'Connor (not the best bio film, but back then they were usually highly fictionalized).

Buster married three times. The first was to Natalie Talmadge, sister of silent stars Constance and Norma. (For the record, this part is going to be quit bias, because I am NOT a fan of Natalie). They married in 1921, and by they, I mean he married not only Natalie, but Norma, Constance, and Mama Peg. They had two sons, James in 1922 and Robert in 1924. Shortly after Robert was born, Natalie and her mother informed Buster that their physical relationship as man and wife was now over. Buster informed them that he refused to live without sex. (By favorite quote from him. Love it!) This was not the only problem. Natalie was also very greedy and wanted to live very regally. He had to take movie roles that he didn't want in order to keep up with living expenses. When they divorced in 1932, she took the boys from him and changed their last name to Talmadge. Buster was crushed. (Again...I do NOT like her!)

His second marriage to Mae Scriven was during what he called an "alcoholic blackout." So...we can just leave it at that.

His third and final marriage was to me...*j/k* Was to Eleanor Norris. It was a very happy marriage and lasted until his death. She seemed like a lovely lady, always happy to talk about Buster and his career. The lovely Eleanor Keaton passed away in 1998.

Buster Keaton himself passed away from lung cancer on February 1, 1966 in Woodland Hills, California. He was never told that he was in fact terminally ill, just that he had a throat infection. He was even up playing cards with friends the night before he died. He was interred at Forest Lawn in Hollywood Hills. (I had a chance to visit his grave last year. It was an amazing experience).

"What used to get my goat at MGM were comedians like The Marx Brothers or Abbot and Costello who never worried about the script or the next scene. My God, we ate, slept and dreamed our pictures." ~ Buster Keaton

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Miss Mary Miles Minter

Miss Mary. Her film career seems to be looked over by those who read about her because they are more interested in the scandal that eventually enveloped and swallowed up her career. It is tragic that the William Desmond Taylor scandal involved the unsolved murder of a fine film director and the end of the careers of Mary and Mabel Normand. Mary is so incredibly innocent looking and beautiful in her photographs and she acts beautifully on camera as well. It would be great if her films could be more available, but to my knowledge, there are only two out there. The horrible scandal may have ruined her career, but it has helped to keep her alive in tales of Hollywood's sordid past.

She was born Juliet Reilly in Shreveport, Louisiana on April 1, 1902. Her mother was an actress (albeit a failed one) named Charlotte Shelby, and she had an older sister, Margaret. Since Charlotte couldn't make it as an actress, she was going to make sure her daughters were stars. She took the girls on auditions. Most of the time it was Margaret getting the parts since she was the oldest, but one day, when Mary was 5 years old, she was offered a part in a play.

Although Charlotte and her husband were separated, he still forbade the girls using his last name on stage. So, they adopted their mother's maiden name of Shelby. Margaret became a bit actress using this name.

Child labor laws had just gone into effect, so to make sure her daughter could be on stage (and bring home the cash), Charlotte obtained the birth certificate of a relative and changed Juliet Reilly/Shelby into Mary Miles Minter.

In 1915, she appeared in her first film. She was groomed to be another Mary Pickford with her virginal, innocent good looks. Her career began to grow after such films as The Ghost of Rosy Taylor and The Eyes of Julia Deep.

In 1919, she played the lead role in Anne of Green Gables, which was being directed by William Desmond Taylor. The film was a hit and Taylor was very involved with Mary's climbing career. The two eventually began a romantic relationship. He was hesitant at first, considering their 30 year age difference, while Mary looked at him as a father figure.

On February 1, 1922, the body of Taylor was found in his home, shot to death. Mary was distraught when she found out. As the police investigated the murder, they uncovered love letters written by Mary, confessing her love for him. They also found pictures of Mabel Normand in his bungalow. Both actresses had been at the height of their careers, but the scandal (which followed right behind the Roscoe "Fatty" Arbuckle murder) ruined them in the eyes of the public. Hollywood was seen as being filled with sex filled, unscrupulous fiends.

At first, she just locked herself up in her house to keep away from the spotlight. After the hoopla died down, Mary made a few more films and even had a brief relationship. In 1925, she sued her mother for money she made during her film career. The case was settled out of court, and they eventually reconciled (man oh man!). She eventually married a man named Brandon O'Hildebrandt. She never had children.

Mary died from a stroke on August 4, 1984. Around seven of her films are said to survive today, but like I said, I have only seen two available to view.

The murder case of William Desmond Taylor is still unsolved, but they had many suspects. Mabel Normand, Charlotte Shelby, and Mary herself were all suspects. An actress named Margaret Gibson even confessed to the murder on her deathbed. Personally, I think it was Charlotte Shelby who killed Taylor. She was jealous that he was taking away her little girl, her money maker, and she was not going to take it. But, since all of the major players in this case are dead, we are probably never going to know what happened.

Either way, Mary Miles Minter was a beautiful girl who got involved in a bad situation and sadly was destroyed by it. If you ever get a chance to view her on film, do it. She is remarkable.

** 10/23/10 ** Well, this wasn't that surprising to find. In the 1920 Census record, Charlotte Shelby is listed as "business manager" and also as an actress. She didn't work out as an actress, so it's quite funny that she still referred to herself as one. Mary (listed by her real name Juliet) and Margaret are both listed as actresses in moving pictures.