Thursday, November 7, 2013

Corliss Palmer, The Million Dollar Beauty

Every girl is born a princess, blessed by the fairies with beauty, health, joy, the same time, the evil fairy also was present with her curse.

--Corliss Palmer, "In League With the Fairies", Motion Picture Magazine, March 1921

Corliss Palmer was aimlessly thumbing through a fan magazine, just like any other teenager, when something caught her eye:  an unassuming little column at the back of the book, announcing the “Fame and Fortune Contest” for 1920.

“Fame and fortune,” she thought to herself.  “Could you just imagine?”  She could see herself swathed in furs, eating at the finest restaurants, admiring the diamond bracelet on her wrist – and the man on her arm. 

She was pretty, this she already knew.  So did everyone else, since she was crowned “Miss Georgia Peach”.  Sending a photo in seemed like a long shot, but it was worth a try, right?  She cut the coupon out of the ad and set to work.


Eugene Brewster, publisher of Motion Picture Magazine, sat listlessly at the heavy wood table.  He’d been rifling through the photos for that infernal contest all morning; he was tired, bored, and his patience was wearing thin.  Until he saw this:

Brewster was known for his eye for the ladies, but he had never seen one like her before.  He was speechless.  He was smitten.

He was also married. 

Had been since 1916.  At that moment, though, his wife was the furthest thing from his mind.


So begins the tale of Palmer and Brewster, a sordid little story all too common then – and now. 

Corliss would (surprise!) go on to win the “Fame and Fortune Contest” and was touted as “The Most Beautiful Woman in America”.  Her photos took up a good chunk of the publication.  She’s mentioned so frequently that, if you didn't know better, you’d think her the most famous woman in Hollywood! 

She appeared in a few films, most of which are lost and/or forgotten, save one comedy short: BROMO AND JULIET (1926), featuring a pre-Laurel Oliver Hardy and considered one of Charley Chase’s best.  

[image courtesy Fandor]

Brewster continued to make Corliss his personal project.  He founded a studio for her, CORLISS PALMER PRODUCTIONS, and gave her a (almost certainly ghostwritten) monthly beauty column in Motion Picture Magazine.  These columns led to a spinoff publication, BEAUTY, with you-know-who on the cover.  All his time was tied up in Corliss…and, by this time, the two had become a romantic item as well.

[image courtesy eBay]

“But Jennifer!” you might be saying.  “Didn’t you say he was married?”

Yes he was, Dear Reader.  Eleanor Brewster was NOT happy with the way things were going, calling Corliss “beautiful but dumb” and “nothing but trouble”.   You can't blame her;  Brewster continued to funnel money into Corliss, creating a cosmetics line he heavily promoted in his magazine...

...and buying her a $250,000 mansion to live in (with her mother, of course).  This house was the last straw:

Let him buy whatever houses he wants.  Let him move all over the country.  Let him get a divorce from me.  I'll let him -- at last!  But it will cost him EVERY CENT he has, and that means quite a lot of money.  No woman has ever been through such racking mental stress, such spiritual agony, as I have.  And I intend to see that I get some recompense. 
--"Woes of Lovesick Brewster." Buffalo Sunday Courier, circa 1924.

Eleanor sued for alienation of affection, naming Corliss as co-respondent, and the Brewsters divorced in 1926.  That October, Brewster and Palmer were married.

[image courtesy Fanpix]

From here, things went downhill rapidly.  After the success of BROMO AND JULIET, the rest of Corliss' films did poorly.  Didn't help that Eleanor was true to her word, draining Eugene of most of his fortune.  By 1931, he had filed for bankruptcy (citing "bad investments") and he and Corliss were living in a tiny one-bedroom bungalow.  Not long after, Brewster asked Palmer for divorce.  She agreed, admitting that she never really loved him.

Corliss turned to alcohol to numb the pain and confusion of losing her entire world.

[image courtesy Pieces of our Past]

I was blinded by self-pity...I thought if someone pitied me, they would again give me the fame, love, and fortune that I had let slip through my fingers.

While she did find true love towards the end of her life with Bill Taylor, a rodeo cowboy, she never truly came back from the spectacular rise and fall of the Brewster years.  Corliss Palmer died in 1952, in a California state hospital for the mentally ill.  She was only 50.

[image courtesy Movieart]

Bonus:  Fashion News of 1928.  Skip to 1:44 to see Corliss.

Other Sources:

The Most Beautiful Girl in the World / Love at the End of the Rainbow: Corliss Palmer - An Epilogue -- posted by Scott Thompson at PIECES OF OUR PAST

Lowe, Denise. An Encyclopedic Dictionary of Women in Early American Films, 1895-1930. New York: Haworth, 2005.

"Husband Broke, Beauty Still at Side".  Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, August 7, 1931.

Slide, Anthony. Inside the Hollywood Fan Magazine: A History of Star Makers, Fabricators, and Gossip Mongers. Jackson: University of Mississippi, 2010

Corliss Palmer -- IMDb

All images (unless otherwise noted) courtesy the Media History Digital Library.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Happy Olde-Tyme Halloween!

In lieu of a post this week -- mostly because your Humble Narrator is off begging for Kit-Kats and Three Musketeers -- here's some 1920s Halloween images for all you boils and ghouls to enjoy!

I've collected these from all over -- if any are yours and you want credit, just comment and I'll fix it.

Harold Lloyd and his daughter, Gloria, Halloween 1927

Costume suggestions from Dennison's Party Book, 1927

Festive twins, circa 1920s

A typical Twenties paper decoration

Clara sends you off with a smile!

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Flawed Rubye

I feel kind of bad for Rubye de Remer.

Her story starts commonly enough: she was born Ruby Burkhardt in 1892, and as a young lady joined the ranks of Ziegfeld's Midnight Frolic. Wasn't a long jump from there to film, her first being ENLIGHTEN THY DAUGHTER (1917).  Her success on both stage and screen was frequently - and almost singularly - attributed to one thing: her looks.

[image courtesy]

Everyone thought Rubye was gorgeous.  Ziegfeld called her "the most beautiful blonde since Venus".  Artist Paul Heller said she was the "ideal of American beauty".  She even posed for Harrison Fisher after winning (what else?) a beauty contest in 1916.  A typical fan magazine article about her went something like this:

The beauty of Rubye de Remer has steeped in me like tea steeping in a tea-pot.  It haunts its victim. The screen gives only half an intimation...[s]o cherubim have floated about the canvases of some of the Old Masters.
[Gordon Gassaway, "The Lady of the Big House on the Hill". Motion Picture, April 1922]

It seemed Rubye was blessed...

...but she often felt cursed by it.

She wanted to be a serious actress, but no one would take such a "pretty girl" seriously.  The Washington Post let her vent in a 1919 article appropriately titled "Beauty Often a Handicap":

"The actress that has been blessed with a fair measure of good looks," says Miss De Remer, "labors under the handicap imposed by the casting-director who insists that she play only such parts as afford her a chance to look her prettiest...I want people to say of my work 'she is more play strong character parts than she is to be dolled up in silks and satins'...[p]eople pay for seats in a theatre to see acting, not to witness a display of gowns or pulchritude."

Yet even they responded the same way, effectively erasing the whole point of the piece:

Personally we agreed with Miss de Remer's views...but did you ever see this little lady as a member of the "Midnight Frolic"?


I couldn't find anything further about Rubye, other than the same tired old fluff that exhausted her so much:

The secret of remaining young is never to wear an unbecoming hat.
["Some New Ideas About Dress", Photoplay, May 1922]

But there still was a spark in her, and she wasn't above letting it out:

[I]f I lost whatever looks with which the Almighty has seen fit to bless me, I wouldn't have a job very long.
["How I Keep in Condition", Photoplay, September 1921]

Rubye de Remer made a little over 20 films, her last being THE GORGEOUS HUSSY (1936) with Joan Crawford.  She married twice, once in 1912 (divorced 1916) and again, this time to coal/iron magnate Benjamin Throop in 1924 (he died in 1935, though I can't find if their marriage ended before that).  She passed away in 1984, aged 92.

Can anyone out there fill in the holes for me?  I'm still poking around, trying to find something, anything.  I'd feel this way about any actor/actress, but especially Rubye.  She so much wanted to be remembered as more than just a pretty face.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

The Fleeting Aristocracy of Constance Binney

Constance Binney fairly leapt out of the pages of Blum's A Pictorial History of the Silent Screen, with the kind of eyes that "often fire first and with deadly aim" [Film Fun, Sept 1919]. In a volume filled with lovely faces, hers was different somehow -- her gaze held depth, sparkle.  Who was the woman behind it?

Constance was born in New York City in 1896. She was sent to Paris for her education, returning to Connecticut to attend finishing school.  It was at the latter that she began performing in student productions, both acting and dancing.  By 1917 she was back in New York and appearing on Broadway in Saturday to Monday.

1918 saw her first appearance on the screen in SPORTING LIFE, along with her sister Faire.  Both young ladies had a mildly successful (if short-lived) career, with Faire's list of credits lasting only two years longer than Constance's.

Coincidentally, both Binneys made films with John Barrymore, and both in 1919:  Faire in HERE COMES THE BRIDE, a breezy comedy of the sort Jack excelled in at the time, and Constance in his first dramatic picture, THE TEST OF HONOR.  (Both films are lost as of this entry.)

[image courtesy Corbis]

The fan magazines made much of Constance's background, calling it "Massachusetts aristocracy" and playing up her ancestry as a "direct descendant of one of the ten thousand families that came over on the Mayflower" [1].  As a result, the image they paint of her is composed, noble, almost patrician:

There was none of the usual histrionic flutter in this twenty-year-old...[s]he is a lovely thing facially and the poise of breeding...[and] the saving grace of a vast underlying gund of New England common-sense. [1]

She was very small, cool...distinctively, pleasantly crisp...upon an interesting verge of flapperism.  That cool little something, poise, aplomb...prevents her from ever quite slipping over the edge. [2]

Binney had good notices for THE TEST OF HONOR; Linda "Mrs DW" Griffith herself called her "a darling little person, with...youth, beauty, personality, and a simple, unaffected, direct style of acting" ["Comments and Criticisms of a Free-Lance", Film Fun, June 1919].  Famous Players-Lasky was impressed enough to sign her to their prestigious RealArt division.

Yet, even with this stellar beginning, her career slid to a halt by 1923.  (Her sister Faire's would end by 1925.)  She did a little stage work in London in the early 1940s, and was briefly married to British war hero Leonard Cheshire.  But, unlike Faire, who did a little TV work in the 1950s, Constance slipped completely from the public eye by 1951.  At one point, she returned to the New York area, settling in Queens.  Constance Binney died on November 15, 1989.  She was 93.

[1] Julian Johnson, "Plymouth Rock Chicken". Photoplay, September 1919
[2] Kenneth Curly, "Constance: The Brute-Breaker". Motion Picture, May 1922
All images courtesy the Media History Digital Library unless otherwise noted.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Ode to the Trade Paper Introduction of Lina Basquette

"Little nine-year-old Lena Baskette"--
a fetching beauty, dark of hair and eyes,
a charming girl who loved to pirouette,
a star pupil Pavlova would have prized.
Your life would be a tempest, and your heart
would burst and knit and never be fulfilled;
despite all your hard work, one single role -
The Godless Girl - would be your lasting art,
forever known best by that one DeMille
and off-screen storms that you could not control.

Lina Basquette

My inspiration: the Motion Picture Studio Directory and Trade Annual from Oct 21 1916.
Click to enlarge.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Adults Only! -- Maniac (1934)

Oh man, I wanted to write a review for this -- I really, really did -- but all I managed to get out was "what the hell did I just watch?"  Well, that and  "HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!"

The Bad Movie Report has a brilliant review here if you want something more intelligent and cohesive.  What follows will be notes I made (after wiping the tears out of my eyes).


The plot (as if it mattered), from IMDb:

A former vaudevillian gifted at impersonation assists a mad scientist in reanimating corpses and soon goes mad himself.  (Why the hell is a vaudeville guy even working with a scientist?)

Memorable moments:

• Dr Mierschultz listening for a heartbeat on his victim.  IN THE MORGUE.

• More ham acting than a roomful of Barrymores!
 Bizarre intertitles about mental illness that pop up at random times -- with happy music!
 LSD trip double exposures!  
 Suddenly, gratutitous nudity!
 Eating of cat eyeballs!  "It is not unlike an OYSTER or a GRAPE!"
 Continuity?  What's that?  Even the cat has a bad stand-in.
• T & A ending that was mercifully tacked on for the viewers.  

and my favorite line:

"The cats eat the rats, the rats eat the cats, and I get the skins!"

HOLY CRAP this movie is off the rails.  It's made by the same folks who made Reefer Madness, so that should be no surprise.  

Best part of all?  It's available on Youtube.  GO WATCH IT.

Friday, September 27, 2013

The Beautiful Eyes of Blanche Mehaffey

Imagine one of the most embarrassing things you’ve ever done.  Go ahead, I’ll wait.

All set?  Cheeks burning with shame?  Okay.  Now imagine it being on television – your derpiest hour broadcast to hundreds of thousands of people.  You’d be horrified!  You’d be humiliated!  You’d be…

Blanche Mehaffey.

[Photoplay, November 1924]

Blanche was born in Cincinnati, Ohio, but which year is anyone’s guess – 1906, 1907, 1908 have all been mentioned.  She made her way to New York, where she was a dancer in the Ziegfeld Follies.  Florence Ziegfeld himself said she had the most beautiful eyes in the world!  She was also lovely enough to be featured in the more risqué rooftop “Midnight Frolic”. 

Her screen debut was in a Hal Roach production, Fully Insured (1923).  She made somewhat of a name for herself with in Roach shorts, supporting such stars as Snub Pollard and Charley Chase.  Blanche was on the rise, and was about to get even more famous: she joined Lucille Ricksen, Alberta Vaughn, and fellow July birthday girl Clara Bow as a WAMPAS Baby Star of 1924!  (That's her on the bottom right, next to Bow.)

[image courtesy Immortal Ephemera]

So from here she went on to superstardom, becoming a household name into the Roaring Twenties and beyond, right?  Right?!

Sadly, you’ve read enough of these profiles to know where this is headed:  being a Baby Star turned out to be the pinnacle of her career.  She made a few more silent pictures, the most memorable being Westerns with Hoot Gibson, and by the 1930s her output mostly consisted of incredibly low-budget films produced by her husband, Ralph M Like.  She also had the lead in a 1931 serial (also low-budget) called MYSTERY TROOPER. 

Mehaffey changed her name to “Janet Morgan” in the mid-Thirties, in an attempt to reboot her fading career, but to no avail; disillusioned by her body of work, she retired from films by the end of the decade.

[image courtesy The Old Corral]

 Fast forward to 1948.  Television was in its infancy, and a great deal of early programming came from 1930s films – quite the lucrative way for studios to recycle old pictures.  Blanche was startled to find MYSTERY TROOPER on the tube one day, and sued to keep the rest of her less-than-stellar output off the screen.  The suit was dismissed, and she was forced to watch her former films become “golden turkeys”, laughable trifles still featured at "bad" film festivals today. 

Blanche Mehaffey died on March 31, 1968, of natural causes.  She was only 59.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Coming back soon...but first, let's help Flo

Hello Friends!  I've been away far too long, and plan to remedy that very soon.  In the meantime, check out the fundraising efforts to get a proper grave marker for our Thanhouser darling, Florence La Badie.

You might recall the piece I wrote on her.  This has caught fire in silent film circles, and even outside of them -- recently CBS New York aired a story about it as well.

If you can, contribute!  If you can't, spread the word!

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Happy Independence Day!

Flapper Flickers + Silent Stanzas is taking a week off to enjoy the holiday.  Have a happy Fourth, folks -- and a safer one than poor Joanie!

(Photo courtesy Amy Jeanne)

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Thom's Sawyer

“Perhaps no picture player in the world is better known and more admired than Miss Laura Sawyer”, proclaims the April 1911 Motion Picture Story.   The very opposite is true about her today – she’s one of the most obscure of silent film stars.

 There’s not a whole lot available on her early life; indeed, all I could find was from Wikipedia, and even that was sorely lacking: her birthdate (Feb 3, 1885), her parents (Alvah Hayden and Laurette Sawyer), and that she was schooled at the Ursuline Academy in St Louis, Missouri.

She performed with the Otis Skinner theatrical troupe for four years before landing at Edison Studios, where she would remain until 1913.  Sawyer’s work there was highly regarded, and she was said to have been the favorite actress of Thomas Edison himself.

Miss Laura Sawyer, leading lady in the Edison company…commonly referred to by her intimates as “Dolly Dimples”, is as charming a young woman as she is a talented actress…” [Moving Picture World, April 26, 1913]
During her time at Edison, she headlined one of the first detective story serials:

Let it be understood that these stories will be absolutely independent of each other, each telling of an entirely separate case on which Kate Kirby, a girl detective, is detailed to work…[t]hese “Kate Kirby’s Cases” will be particularly interesting because of the mystery that will sorrund them. [“Kate Kirby’s Cases”, The Kinetogram (Edison’s own trade paper), July 15, 1913]

The Kate Kirby serials proved quite popular (matching the success of Edison’s own “What Happened to Mary?” with Mary Fuller) and got good reviews; Moving Picture World called the first installment, THE DIAMOND CROWN, “very commendable…as a one reel detective story this is unusually good”.  Future installments were just as well-received: “very good…the best regular release of the last two weeks” and “well-acted”.

Sawyer, too, was lauded for her performance…

[Sawyer’s] performances are invariably forceful and she shows remarkable powers of repression in scenes which less capable players would spoil by overacting.  [“Edison Studio Notes”, Moving Picture World, August 16, 1913]

…as well as other things:

“[A] girl with two noticeable dimples, dark ‘soulful’ eyes, a mass of chestnut hair and a debonair manner that will overlook formalities and put you at your ease”…[A]smile filled with California sunshine – a smile that radiated kindness, happiness, the joy of living and perfect health, was one of the chief attributes of his leading lady.
[“Laura Sawyer, of the Edison Company – Chats with the Players”, Motion Picture Story, August 1913]  (Anybody else think the reporter had a teensy crush on her? – JR)

 At any rate, by the end of August 1913, Sawyer had ended her tenure at Edison and moved to Famous Players, bringing Kate Kirby along with her.  The “girl detective” lasted three more installments; by 1915, after a couple of additional films, Laura Sawyer’s career was over.  Whether the choice was hers or the studios’, I cannot say.  As for her personal life, Wikipedia lists her as having married, but I have no idea if this had any say in her leaving movies or not. 

The last word on Laura comes from the ubiquitous “where are they now” section:

The author of that successful photoplay, “The Valentine Girl”, in which Marguerite Clark played the delightful lead, is none other than our old friend Laura Sawyer (Edison), who, after leaving the silent drama, has returned as a successful scenario-writer. [Lester Sweyd, “What They Are Doing Now”, Motion Picture, February 1918]

Her scenario-writing seems to have been limited to that one picture...after that, she completely vanished from the public eye.  Laura Sawyer died on September 7, 1970, at age 85.

[photo courtesy the Jonathan Silent Film Collection]

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Five Facts About: Roy D'Arcy

[image courtesy eBay]

1.  He was quite the Renaissance man:  born Roy Giusti in San Francisco, he was educated abroad, studied art in Paris, worked odd jobs in South America, traveled Germany and Switzerland with a “gypsy” band, then hit vaudeville and toured Europe and Asia.  He eventually returned to the US, where Erich von Stroheim took one look at him on stage and chose him for Prince Mirko in The Merry Widow (thus beginning his reign as a villain of the silent screen).

2.  Was known for affecting a rather creepy rictus grin; Motion Picture described him as “leering”, the Milwaukee Sentinel labeled him “the erstwhile smiling heavy of the silver sheet”, and Eve Golden called it “death’s head grinning” in John Gilbert: The Last of the Silent Film Stars.  My favorite is Louella Parsons, in a 1927 article entitled “Picture Stars Must Abandon Individuality”:

I have often wondered if Roy D’Arcy did not have his grin and forefinger how he could act.  They are props for him in every screen drama.  Mr D’Arcy made his success in The Merry Widow by affecting a leer…
[image courtesy Allposters]

3.  After he and his wife divorced, he was romantically linked to Lita Grey Chaplin for a time:

Lita and Roy D’Arcy, the dental screen villain [there it is again! – JR] admit to a serious interest in each other...[o]ne report says they will co-star on a vaudeville tour this fall at a large joint salary, another that they will marry and go for a tour to the Orient. [“Gossip of All the Studios”, Photoplay, June 1928]

Lita Grey Chaplin and her stage-door Johnny, Mr Roy D’Arcy…Roy is waiting for one of those leisurely California divorce decrees, to ask Lita to become the second Mrs D’Arcy. [“Gossip of All the Studios”, Photoplay, January 1929]

It all appears to have been for naught, however:

Roy D’Arcy has remarried his former wife, Laura…[a]nd all along we, and lots of other people, were believing that he would soon be the husband of Lita Grey Chaplin.  [“Hollywood High Lights”, Picture Play, December 1929]  (Sadly, the marriage would again be over less than six months later.)

4.  He possessed a lovely singing voice – he headlined as lead tenor in numerous theatre troupe productions, as well as in the stage show Oh Boy!  He later created a vaudeville show called The Greatest Array of Talent Ever Assembled on Any Bill in This Country, but returned to his monologist roots instead of singing.

5.  Although he did make some talkies – the most notable being the serials The Shadow of the Eagle (1932) and The Whispering Shadow (1933) for Mascot – his overwrought acting style was too old-fashioned for 30s audiences, and after a small part in 1939’s The Story of Vernon and Irene Castle, he retired from the screen.  At age 45, he reinvented himself again, starting a profitable real estate business.  Roy D’Arcy died in 1969, at the age of 75.

[image courtesy]

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Dareos, the (Somewhat) Soothsayer of Hollywood

If you were an actor in the 1920s, or just hung around with them, chances are that someone would eventually drag you along to visit a fortune teller or psychic.  Early Hollywood was a superstitious lot, and there were plenty of people willing to exploit it:

There are all kinds of soothsayers and prophets.  There are sincere ones, no doubt – and equally doubtlessly, ruthless charlatans…[the] good people of movieland, in no small degree, believe what the hocus-pocus peddlers tell them!  [1]

The most famous of the “hocus-pocus peddlers” was Dareos, about whom there is maddeningly little on the internet.  Photoplay investigates:

This Dareos’ full name, by the way, is George Dareos.  He has a rambling suite of rooms in a two-story building, over a branch bank in Ocean Park – a beach town near Hollywood.  He is listed in the phone book as “Dareos, George, psychoanalyst”, but he tells you frankly that he just senses things about his clients…
“[I] lived for a long time in the East and in Europe.  My people thought I was going to be a lawyer, but I didn’t want to.  It was in 1916 that I first took up this psychic work…[I] went into a fortune-teller’s tent, and…I had told his fortune instead of him telling me mine.” [2]

The only other background I could find is by Irving Shulman, in his book Jackie: The Exploitation of a First Lady (and you know there must be a dearth of info if I’m using Shulman):

[M]any of these stellar people were clients of George Dareos, formerly butler to a Hollywood star addicted to frequent consultation with a Pasadena medium.  After Dareos compared his earnings as a manservant with the medium’s takings, he decided to set himself up as a seer.

Which of these stories are true?  Who knows?  At any rate, Dareos’ prophetic skill was legend in and around Tinseltown; he advised Pola Negri, Charles Chaplin, Mae Murray, Mabel Normand, and a multitude of the cinema elite.

One of his more infamous clients was Valentino, as noted in Dark Lover: The Life and Death of Rudolph Valentino by Emily W Leider:

[H]e sought advice from a crystal-ball-gazing Santa Monica seer, Dareos, who told a reporter that Valentino had come to him in a confused state, confessing his undying love for Mrs Valentino [Natacha Rambova] and begging for a glimpse into the future.  Dareos foretold that the separated couple would never be reconciled… “I told him he was born to have many romances and that he should never get married.”

We’ve established his reputation, but the question remains: how was his accuracy? 

Let’s test it ourselves!  In the aforementioned Photoplay article, Dareos predicts the future for some big names.

Tom Mix:
“Tom Mix should be careful.  I predict that Tom Mix will be ruined if he’s not careful.  If he doesn’t watch out, some day a bolt will strike him like lightning out of the blue!” [3]

[photo courtesy Wikipedia]

Well, Mix wasn’t exactly ruined, but something did strike him – the aluminum suitcase he was traveling with, forever to be known as the “Suitcase of Death”:

On the day he died, Mix was driving north from Tucson in his beloved bright-yellow Cord Phaeton sports car.  He was driving so fast that he didn’t notice – or failed to heed – signs warning that one of the bridges was out on the road ahead.  The Phaeton swung into a gully and Mix was smacked in the back of the head by one of the heavy aluminum suitcases he was carrying in the convertible’s back seat.  The impact broke the actor’s neck and he died almost instantly.  ["On This Day in History" Oct 12 1940 --]

Constance Talmadge:
“Constance Talmadge – I told her she has many wonderful things yet to come – I predict a brilliant marriage for her, one that will last.” [4]

[photo courtesy The Fabulous Birthday Blog]

Notoriously unlucky in love, Dutch married four times, the last of which finally did last (for 25 years).  She had no children.

Joan Crawford:
“There’s talk that she and young Fairbanks will marry, but I don’t see that.” [5]

[photo courtesy]

Finally, Richard Dix:
A year ago, Dareos told Dix that within five years the star would marry one of the most important society women in America…[c]heck that on your calendar for 1932, fans! [6]

[photo courtesy Silents Are Golden]

Dix married San Francisco socialite Winifred Coe in October 1931.  The marriage produced a daughter, but was over by July 1933.

So our friend Dareos was about as intuitive as a Magic 8 Ball.  Didn't seem to hurt him though; he remained one of the most visible and oft-consulted psychics -- the Sidney Sheldon of his time -- well through the silent era and beyond:

Meet Rex Larbow Bell, the son and heir of Clara Bow…the unusual middle name is the suggestion of George Dareos, local astrologer, who is widely consulted by film folk, and who is a close friend of Clara and Rex [Bell].  According to Dareos, Larbow is an Indian name…[Harrison Carroll, “Behind the Scenes in Hollywood”, Rochester Evening Journal, Jan 3 1935]

Franklin D Roosevelt’s election fo the much debated “third term” is a certainty, in the opinion of George Dareos, noted Hollywood astrologer for many of moviedom’s noted…he declares he is a theosophist, the reincarnation of a great sociologist from the far distant past…[l]ooking ahead 50 years, Dareos forecasts a change of site for the Vatican from Rome to some place in Spain. [“Hollywood Astrologist Sees Roosevelt Triumph”, Valley Star-Monitor-Herald (Texas), Oct 20 1940]

Some years ago, George Dareos, world-famous psychic, told us he predicted that Hayley Mills would marry a man old enough to be her father…[a]ccording to present Hollywood whispers, George Dareos’ predictions appear to be coming true.  She has been guarding a romantic secret, one that involves a man of 57. (Mills was 22 at the time of the article). [TV and Movie Screen Magazine, June 1967]

The last mention of Dareos I could find was a prediction he made about Elvis Presley in 1969 (excerpted in Private Elvis by May Mann):

Elvis can live to be over 70 years of age if he stays away from private planes…Elvis, after his fortieth birthday…will stand a symbol of honesty and good character…[h]e will one day head a magnificent producing company, and hire other stars to appear in pictures he will produce (besides the ones he will star in), he will make a great success…

After that, the trail goes cold.  Aside from a Diane Arbus photograph (which I could not find in good enough resolution to reproduce here), nothing.  Very strange for a man who seemed such a ubiquitous part of Hollywood’s gold-plated façade. It’s as if he simply vanished.  (I wonder if he foresaw it?)

[1--6] Harry Lang, "Exposing the Occult: Hocus-Pocus in Hollywood", Photoplay, December 1928

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Jobyna Ralston and the Fickle Finger of Fame

One thing that’s both wonderful and painful about having so many issues of Photoplay at one’s fingertips is tracing the fleeting career arc of a star.  We see the excitement of his/her discovery, the popular period when every other article seems to be about him/her…then, the mentions get fewer and further between, until finally his/her name is all but forgotten by the once-adoring public.  

(All images are courtesy my favorite place on the internet, the Media History Digital Library.)

Jobyna Ralston was born on November 21, 1899. She first appeared on stage at age nine; by 1915 she was attending acting school, and eventually made her Broadway debut in Two Little Girls in Blue at age 21.  Max Linder was in the audience and insisted she come to Hollywood -- she performed in many of his films, as well as the Marx Brothers' lost Humor Risk and Hal Roach shorts.  First mention of her I could find was in 1922, in a blurb about Mildred Davis retiring as Harold Lloyd’s leading lady:

 Just who is to follow Mildred…hasn’t been decided…[A] little extra girl named Jobyna – yes, truly – is being most seriously considered.  Well, whoever follows Bebe Daniels and Mildred Davis, will be lucky, it would appear. [“Plays and Players”, Photoplay, September 1922]

With that, suddenly, in 1923, she was noticed: 

 [Photoplay, July 1923]

The prestige of being named a WAMPAS star, along with well-received performances in Why Worry? and Girl Shy put her on the map.  She was profiled by Adela Rogers St Johns:

But oh, sang I, to be eighteen and just fresh from Tennessee, and pretty.  Jobyna is so Southern...[t]rying to alter her speech would be just about as foolish as extracting the perfume from a rose.  I don’t know whether she’s got a brain in her head, but brains are just excess baggage to girls like Jobyna. [I guess that’s supposed to be positive?  Yeesh.  –JR] I don’t know what to call it – but whatever it is, Jobyna’s got it.  [“Betty & Jobyna”, Photoplay, November 1923]

She posed for fluff [a bob clause?  Really?!]:

 [“News and Gossip East and West”, Photoplay, July 1924]

She was officially presented to the public:

A man with an eye like [Harold Lloyd]’s doesn’t need any glass in his horn rims.  I have never seen a more sensitive face.  Expressions flutter over it, one after another, like ripples in a pond.  A whimsical, engaging bit of fluff that’s liable to be wafted far.  [Herbert Howe, “The Discovery of Jobyna Ralston”, Photoplay, August 1924]

And the portraits!  Hardly a month went by without one:

[Photoplay, February 1924]

[Photoplay, August 1925]

[Photoplay, April 1926]

But then…one issue went by without Jobyna.

She was still working, both with Lloyd (she appeared in six of his pictures) and in other films, including the first Academy Award winning Best Picture, Wings, yet she didn't seem to garner attention.  More issues went by with nary a word about her.

Her marriage to Richard Arlen, whom she met on the set of Wings, did gain a notice:

[Photoplay, July 1927]

Nothing else until four years later, when her prowess at dinner parties is discussed:

When Jobyna Ralston married Richard Arlen, she gave up a promising screen career to settle down and become merely “Dick Arlen’s wife”.  [OUCH. – JR]  Since then, Joby has turned her talents into housewifely channels…[Carolyn Van Wyck, “Jobyna and Dick Give a Party for Six”, Photoplay, May 1931]

She made three movies after sound came in, but talkies exposed one problem that even her sweet Tennessee drawl couldn't fix: a lisp.  Due to this and her first child on the way, she retired permanently from the screen.

[Photoplay, August 1933]

Movies are mercurial by nature.  It’s almost unfathomable to process how much films changed from the 20s to the 30s.  It’s no wonder, then, that just ten short years after her discovery, Jobyna is part of a “where are they now” nostalgia article:

It’s easy to account for many former big stars who have found the answer in Hollywood marriages and screen retirement…Jobyna Ralston is satisfied with being just Mrs Richard Arlen. [Kirtley Baskette, “They, Too, Were Stars”, Photoplay, March 1934]

Sadly, the satisfaction didn't last forever; she and Arlen were divorced in 1945.  In later years, her health declined dramatically, and she suffered from rheumatism and a series of strokes.  

Jobyna Ralston succumbed to pneumonia on January 22, 1967.  She was only 67.