Tuesday, June 28, 2016

My 'Unmarked Mission'

I am thrilled with the interest and reception of my previous entry on Corliss Palmer. Her story really is quite interesting, if not tragic, and I am glad I was able to make more people aware of her. My friend, Jennifer Redmond (author of the marvelous book, Reels & Rivals: Sisters in Silent Films) is currently working on a book about Corliss, so definitely be on the lookout for that!

Another thing I am happy to be a part of is the campaign I am involved with to get a headstone for silent film actress, Katherine Grant. We are almost halfway to our goal and I have been so grateful for the support and with the amount of interest people have shown not just in Katherine, but in making sure these silent film stars are not forgotten.

I have had a few people thank me for spearheading this campaign and for making it a goal of mine to make sure the stars buried in unmarked graves are given proper headstones (without going against their or the family's wish for the plots to remain unmarked.) That is a big reason why I wanted to move out to California, to be near the silent film history I love and to be able to have the chance to pay my respects to the stars of the past I so adore. 

Katherine Grant's campaign is just the beginning for me. I highlighted a few silent film stars who are buried in unmarked graves in a previous post (read HERE) but I wanted to do so again, including a few more additions. I am not sure who to focus on after Katherine, but if you have any input on this, please let me know and we can work together to make sure we get the proper authorization. 

Click the link below to donate!

Mary Alden (1883-1946)
Mary was one of the first Broadway actresses to work in Hollywood. She also had the distinction of appearing in both of D.W. Griffith's epics, Birth of a Nation (1915) and Intolerance(1916). Mary passed away in 1946 at the Motion Picture Country Home, ten years after she made her last film. She was buried at Pierce Brothers Valhalla Park.

Lucille Bogan (1897-1948)
Lucille was one of the first female Blues singers to ever be recorded. She was also infamous for her raunchy songs, and I don't just mean for the time. When I first heard one of her songs, my mouth dropped open. She also recorded under the name 'Bessie Jackson.'
When she passed away in 1948, she had all but been forgotten by the music industry that had once put her into the same category as Bessie Smith and Ma Rainey. She was buried in Lincoln Memorial Park in Carson, California. I have read that she is in an unmarked grave because at the time of her death she had been living in poverty. When I went to visit her, I had to have one of the groundskeepers show me exactly where she is buried. Quite sad, but I am glad I was able to pay my respects to her and let her know that she wasn't forgotten and that I hoped to get her a proper headstone one day. 
Frances Burnham (1895-1924)
Frances didn't have a big career (she only appeared in eight films.) And her acting reviews were both good and bad. Why the interest in her then? Well, look at her! I think she is adorable! She is also a tragic figure because of her death before she even reached thirty. Frances passed away from tuberculosis in the same California sanatorium that Mabel Normand would pass away in just six years later. 

Margaret Gibson (1894-1964)
Margaret is one of those silent film actresses that would just be another pretty face from the past these days if it hadn't been for the confession she made as she lay dying on her kitchen floor. On October 21, 1964, Margaret suffered a heart attack at her home and while laying on the floor surrounded by a priest and neighbors, she confessed to killing director William Desmond Taylor, whose murder in 1922 remained (and still remains) unsolved. When one of the witnesses wrote down his statement of the events thirty years later, he couldn't remember most of the details due to not knowing who William Desmond Taylor was. He did remember her mentioning almost getting caught though. Apparently, Margaret had made this claim years before, but people either shrugged it off or just didn't pay attention. I mean, the murder had been so many years ago, it pretty much had faded from the Hollywood history books. 
I wish I could remember all the information that was documented in the book Tinseltown by William J. Mann but I read it back in December/January. I do remember that he covers the Desmond Taylor murder from Margaret Gibson angle and from a Mary Miles Minter angle, with tons of information included, so I definitely recommend reading it...especially since I am drawing a blank.
Anyway, when Margaret passed away, she had been living pretty much as a recluse in a house overgrown with weeds and bushes and I am sure this could very well account for the fact that she is buried in an unmarked grave at Holy Cross.
Lita Grey (1908-1995)
The infamous, second Mrs. Chaplin. She was only 16 years old when she wed Chaplin...and pregnant. The couple would have two sons together before divorcing just four years after they were married. She said he was cruel and seduced her and he refused to speak about her in his autobiography. 
When Lita passed away her ashes were scattered in the Garden of Remembrance at Pierce Brothers Valhalla without any marker. I have visited the garden and there are multiple markers for those whose ashes are scattered in the garden and I think it would be nice if Lita had one as well. 
Joe Keaton (1867-1946)
Joe Keaton (left) was the father of Buster Keaton. Joe, along with his wife, Myra, and Buster toured vaudeville as The Three Keatons. When Buster was in his late teens, he ended up leaving the group due to his father's increasing alcoholism. When Buster had made it big in Hollywood, he put his father in his pictures as a good will gesture. Sadly, Buster would follow in his dad's footsteps and deal with his own alcohol addiction issues later in life. 
Joe and Myra eventually split up and he spent a lot of years living in hotels. He passed away in 1946 reportedly after being hit by a car. He was buried in Inglewood Park Cemetery. After talking with a few friends, we all kind of agreed that perhaps Joe's alcoholism had alienated his family so much that they didn't feel extremely obligated to give him a headstone. Also, around the same time Buster was going through his own turmoils in both his professional and personal life. 
Interesting to note too is that while Myra and Buster have headstones, Louise and Harry, Buster's siblings, do not.
Alice Lake (1895-1967)
Alice was probably best known for appearing in comedies with Roscoe Arbuckle and Buster Keaton. Like many other silent film actors, the onset of the talkies signaled the end of her career. Sadly, her life after Hollywood wasn't a happy one. She was arrested in 1936 for drunk driving and had to get bailed out by a friend because she couldn't afford to pay the $10 fine that would keep her out of jail. The following year she was arrested again for drunk driving but this time the fine was $100. Not able to pay the fine, Alice spent almost a month in jail. She conducted interviews during her ordeal, telling newspapers that her days were usually spent pacing her home and waiting and waiting for a call from the studio. She passed away in 1967 of a heart attack in a sanitarium and was buried in an unmarked grave at Pierce Brothers Valhalla Park. I don't know if her situation picked up any from the time of her arrests to her death, but I hope they did. Maybe purchasing her a headstone will bring her some peace and the recognition she tried so hard to hang on to.

Edmund Lowe (1890-1971)
Edmund Lowe appeared in a number of silents, but I know him best for his role in 1933's Dinner at Eight...one of my favorite movies. Edmund played the role of Dr. Talbot, husband of Karen Morley and lover of Jean Harlow. Edmund was also known for his marriage to Ziegfeld and screen beauty, Lilyan Tashman. He is buried in San Fernando Mission Cemetery in Mission Hills, California. I am not sure why his grave is unmarked. 

Alice Maison (1900-1976)

I covered Alice almost a year ago when I did a series about the Mack Sennett Bathing Beauties. To read a little bit more about her, click here.
Like most of the Bathing Beauties, finding out what happened in Alice's life after she left Hollywood is a bit difficult. I know she married and divorced at least twice and that she passed away in 1976 and is buried at Forest Lawn in Hollywood Hills.

May McAvoy (1899-1984)

May is probably most remembered today for starring opposite Al Jolson in the 1927 part talkie, The Jazz Singer. There were rumors that May didn't make many talkies because of a speech impediment, but in truth, she retired from films because her husband, a bigwig at United Artists, didn't want her to work anymore. She eventually did go back to acting during the 1940s but she was only cast in uncredited roles. She does have the distinction of appearing in both the 1925 and 1959 versions of Ben-Hur, however. Following her divorce in 1940, May mentioned that she would have to seek help from the Motion Picture Relief Fund for financial assistance. I am not sure how long her economic hardship lasted.
May passed away in 1984 and was buried at Holy Cross Cemetery in Culver City. For an actress who poet Carl Sandburg once called a "starry-eyed goddess," having an unmarked grave is just awful. May did leave a son, Patrick behind when she passed way. Patrick passed away in 2012, otherwise it would be have nice to reach out to him and ask about possibly obtaining a headstone for his mother.

Corliss Palmer (1899-1952)
Read my latest entry on Corliss HERE
Corliss is buried in an unmarked grave with her mother and younger brother, Grady (Grady's is the only grave that is marked) at Woodlawn Cemetery in Santa Monica. Corliss went from being deemed "The Most Beautiful Girl in the World" to being named in TWO divorce suits, to being an alcoholic in a mental institution, to an unmarked grave. She deserves more than that.
Virginia Pearson (1886-1956)
Virginia was one of the original vamps. She was also called a 'screen heretic,' which still surprises me because she looks like sweet and kind lady, not that dark beauty that one thinks about when they think of a vamp who is going to steal your man. In her later years, the vamp was out of vogue and she was forced to file for bankruptcy and live in a tiny hotel room with her husband, actor Sheldon Lewis. She and Lewis died within a month of each other and are both buried in unmarked graves paid for by the Motion Picture Country Home at Pierce Brothers Valhalla.
Vera Reynolds (1899-1962)
Vera was a Mack Sennett Bathing Beauty and WAMPAS Baby Star of 1926. She is buried in an unmarked grave at Pierce Brothers Valhalla.
Alberta Vaughn (1904-1992)
Alberta was a Mack Sennett Bathing Beauty, WAMPAS Baby Star of 1924, and was once named "The Prettiest Girl in Kentucky." Alberta also became an alcoholic and was arrested multiple times for drunk driving. Her younger sister, Ada Mae (or Adamae), was also an actress and WAMPAS Baby Star (1927) who sadly passed away in 1943 following surgery. It is interesting to note that Ada Mae's grave at Forest Lawn Glendale is marked, but Alberta's grave at Pierce Brothers Valhalla is not. 
Mildred Washington (1905-1933)
Mildred didn't achieve the greatest heights of stardom, but she packed a lot of life in her 28 years. An actress and a dancer (she worked for years at the famous Cotton Club) she stepped outside of the Hollywood stereotype of what an African American actress was supposed to be and made it her own, with sass and class. Her best known role (and my favorite) was as Claudette Colbert's maid and confidant in 1933's Torch Singer. 
Sadly, Mildred passed away just as her career was on the up and up. In March of 1933, Mildred was at Grauman's Chinese Theater when a major earthquake struck. While running for cover, Mildred slipped and fell and her injuries would later develop into appendicitis. She passed away a few months later on September 7, 1933 due to peritonitis following an appendectomy. She left behind a couple of siblings and a young daughter, so I am not sure why her grave is unmarked, but considering her death occurred during The Great Depression it could have been lack of funds. 
The names listed below were buried in unmarked graves at Hollywood Forever Cemetery. Mind you, these are only a few of the names that are there: 

Spottiswoode Aitken (1868-1933)
An actor on both stage and screen, Spottiswoode was one of the first film actors to head out to California to continue his craft. He befriended director D.W. Griffith and appeared in both of his epics, Birth of a Nation and Intolerance. He retired in 1927 due to ill health.
Frank Alexander (1879-1937)
Frank was one of the original 'big guy' actors during the silent film era. His 300+ pound frame earned him the nickname, 'Tiny' (he was also known as 'Fatty' for a time, in reverence of Roscoe Arbuckle.) He worked frequently with Larry Semon, most notably in the 1925 version of The Wizard of Oz, with Frank playing the role of Uncle Henry.
Andrew Arbuckle (1887-1939)
Andrew was the younger brother (by 20 years) of actor Macklyn Arbuckle and they were the cousin of Roscoe Arbuckle. Although he looked a lot like his famous cousin, his career never really took off. He appeared in films from 1915 until he retired in 1935. Macklyn died in 1931 and was buried in New York with a headstone while Andrew died of a suspected heart attack in 1939 and was buried in an unmarked grave at Hollywood Forever. 
Marion Fairfax (1875-1970)
Marion was one of the first working female screenwriters in Hollywood with her most popular script being 1925's The Lost World. She was married to actor, Tully Marshall from 1899 until his death in 1943. It is interesting to note that they are buried next to each other by the lake at Hollywood Forever, but only Tully's grave is marked.

Page Peters (ca.1886-1916)
Page Peters was a handsome leading man whose stardom was at its peak starting in 1914 and continuing until his death in 1916. He is virtually unknown today (I didn't even hear about him until a few months ago) most likely due to his untimely death.
The story goes that Page and some friends drove to Hermosa Beach for a party at a friend's house. The next morning, he and a couple others decided to go swimming in the ocean. Page and a female friend, known only as 'Miss Graves,' swam further out than the rest of their party and it was while out in the deep that he was stricken with a cramp. Miss Graves tried to grab a hold of Page and swim with him to shore, but was finding it difficult and began calling out for help. Apparently, she gave up on her efforts to save him and only managed to get herself to shore. His body was found by rescuers, who pulled him ashore and tried to revive him for a good two hours before they gave up hope on trying to save him. The medical examiner later concluded that Page had died from heart failure and not from drowning, which was interesting considering he was 27 years old and in pretty good shape. 
Page's funeral was held at what is now Hollywood Forever Cemetery. His pallbearers were a group of his industry friends, including director Al Christie.  Apparently the funeral was filmed at the request of his parents, which...I would love to see that if it still exists! 
What gives Page a little more distinction is that he is rumored to be the first actor to be buried at Hollywood Forever. Considering the fact that he was a pretty popular actor during the time and the fact that even his funeral was filmed, I find it odd that he was buried in an unmarked grave near the Cathedral Mausoleum. Unfortunately, I can't find much information on his early life other than he was possibly born in Kentucky. I've seen his birth year range from 1886 to 1900.
Delphine Walsh (1908-1929)
Delphine isn't a name that is remembered these days, and I think it's only remembered now because of her tragic death following an abortion, or as it was termed back then, an 'illegal operation.' The two doctors who performed the operation were charged with murder and two of Delphine's close friends, actresses Mildred Harris and Natalie Joyce, were brought in to testify on behalf of their friend. Unfortunately, a party loving, heavy drinking showgirl who got knocked up by a man she was not married to did not make a sympathetic figure in the case and BOTH doctors were acquitted. 
Delphine was forgotten and she is now buried in an unmarked grave at Hollywood Forever. When I went to pay my respects a few weeks ago I found her grave had a damn cat box sitting on top of it. Hollywood Forever feeds strays, I get that, however, it did upset me that her memorial is a cat piss covered wooden box. 


  1. I am actually surprised by some of these actors not having markers at all. It's such a shame because, you're right, they deserve to have a gravestone. This last one with a litterbox on it is so wrong and the person who placed it there should have been more respectful.

    1. I found it pretty interesting too! It seems like at Hollywood Forever they were just dumped and that is nuts. I have thought about reaching out to the employees of Hollywood Forever about the cat box on Delphine's plot. They are pretty decent people so I hope they would understand where I was coming from in that regard.

  2. They all deserve markers: breaks my heart i think Delphine Walsh and Alice Lake? What do you think?

    1. I was speaking with a friend of mine who also is a silent film fan and we are working on something to help the ball rolling in getting these stars proper headstones. Alice Lake was one that came up in my top 5. Hopefully I will have more word on that soon!