Archive for the ‘Hollywood Profiles’ Category

Alice Terry: The Girl from Old Vincennes–Part Three

Saturday, March 22nd, 2014

HOLLYWOOD PROFILES

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By Allan R. Ellenberger

PART THREE

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When filming of The Arab was completed, Alice returned to Hollywood, but Rex stayed to establish a studio of his own on the French Riviera, near Nice. It was far enough away from Hollywood and Louis B. Mayer for Rex to work without interference. Rex Ingram would never make another film in Hollywood.

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Rex needed time to prepare his next film, Mare Nostrum (1926), and advised Alice to return home and make a few films there. “Never would I work for anyone else…,” she once proclaimed. But Rex assured her that she would have only the best directors, and besides, the four films she would make would bring in a nice salary. The preparation on Mare Nostrum would take more than a year and during that time Alice made The Great Divide (1925) and Confessions of a Queen (1925) for the newly formed MGM. The remaining two films were on loan-out to Paramount for director Henry King called Sackcloth and Scarlet (1925) and Any Woman (1925).

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That year of separation was difficult for both Rex and Alice. It was the first time she worked for another director since The Valley of the Giants in 1919. The experience made her realize she never wanted to make another film for anyone else. She also understood how much Rex meant to her. “I would rather be Mr. Ingram’s wife than the greatest star on the screen,” she said. “When I’m working with Rex, what he says goes. His word is law to me. I neither question it nor doubt it.”

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Alice was not alone in her feelings. Rex also felt alone when Alice was away. “I want her to stay with me,” he told a friend. “It is the only way that I find a chance to be near her. If she were to go to another company, it would mean we would see practically nothing of one another.” Even though there would be periods when they were apart, and one more picture with another director, the remainder of her career would be with Rex.

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Mare Nostrum was now ready, and Alice sailed back to Nice to begin filming. The film was based on Vincente Blasco Ibanez’s novel of espionage during World War I. The role of Ulysses went to Antonio Moreno, another Latin heart-throb of the day. The Ingram’s adopted son, Kada-Abdel-Kadar, played Ulysses as a child.

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Even though it was a hard shoot, with many technical problems, Alice rose to the challenge. In one scene, she had to make love to Antonio Moreno in front of an aquarium containing an octopus. The thought of trying to be amorous with a big fish by the side of her head unnerved her. “You’d better get rid of me now because I’m not going to be able to do that aquarium scene,” she told Rex.

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When it came time to film it, Alice expected countless retakes, but surprisingly Rex said, “That’s it” on the first shot.  “I will never get another part like that,” she said about Mare Nostrum. “I will never like a part better, and I will never have the luck I had on that.”

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Mare Nostrum was a box office and critical success. Picturegoer magazine declared the film “exquisite and the acting brilliant…” Even thought Photoplay disliked the film and called it a “great dramatic disappointment,” they selected Alice Terry’s performance as one of the six best of the year.

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The Ingram’s were now residents of Nice. Rex refused to make more pictures in Hollywood with Louis B. Mayer breathing down his neck. Fortunately Rex had an ally of Nicholas Schenck, president of MGM, who arranged to have the Victorine Studios modernized and eventually it became the property of Rex Ingram.

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Rex Ingram’s Victorine Studios in France

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During their stay in France, Rex and Alice moved from one hotel to another. Because Rex was so busy preparing their next film, The Magician (1926), Alice was on her own. Rex, however, spent most of his time at the studio residence which he proudly named “Villa Rex.”

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During preparations of The Garden of Allah (1927), Alice returned to Hollywood to appear in Lovers? (1927) with her old friend, Ramon Novarro. Both stars played together with so much ease, that Louis B. Mayer remarked how Ingram was not only “ruining his own career but that of his lovely wife.”

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Lovers? would be Alice and Ramon’s fifth and final film together but not the end of their friendship. They remained close until his death in 1968 at the hands of two hustlers. Novarro’s death affected her deeply. “She couldn’t believe it,” Robert Taafe said. “It was hard for her to accept.” It’s probable that Alice knew of Novarro’s sexual preference, and if she did, it would not have mattered. She was very open-minded. “The only thing she disliked in anyone was someone who may have lied to her or was telling tales behind her back,” said Taafe. “But, she was also a very forgiving person.”

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In 1928, Alice Terry played the final role of her career in a film called The Three Passions (1929) which was, of course, written and directed by Rex. In an ironic twist, Alice took off her wig and dyed her hair blonde for this, her last film.  Alice had made a conscious decision to retire from films. Talking pictures were becoming popular, and she did not like the demands that sound made on an actor. Besides, she was tired of the constant need to control her weight. Liam O’Leary, in his biography of Rex Ingram (Rex Ingram: Master of the Silent Cinema, BFI Publishing, 1980) said about her decision to retire:

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“So without any heartbreak she decided to make her exit. It was certainly not due to the lack of an expressive voice, for the one she had was most pleasant to hear. Had she continued to play in films, she might have developed as a comedienne. It remains regrettable that she never appeared in sound film.”

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Rex Ingram would make one more film before he too would retire. Ironically, he cast himself as the male lead in Baroud (1932), a talking picture which Alice co-directed. It was a dismal failure at the box office. Many times over the years, Rex would announce the making of several films, but they never materialized.

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NEXT TIME, in the fourth and final installment, the story of Alice Terry’s life after her retirement from films.

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Alice Terry: The Girl From Old Vincennes–Part Two

Saturday, November 23rd, 2013

HOLLYWOOD PROFILES

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By Allan R. Ellenberger

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PART TWO:

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Alice and Rex’s relationship was developing beyond friendship. One evening they were out walking, and Rex asked her if they had enough in common to get along. “I think we get along pretty well,” she said.

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“Well, I mean to get married.”

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Alice didn’t know what to say. She didn’t think that he really wanted to marry her, and she was uncertain how she felt, so one night she invited him over to her house for dinner. She relied on her mother and other friends to advise her what to cook, then made enough for an army. Upon eating the meal, Rex exclaimed, “This is marvelous. Why don’t we do this every day?” That was the end of the cooking.

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Soon, they were back to work together on The Conquering Power, also with Rudolph Valentino. Although he had been easy to work with in Four Horsemen, Valentino’s attitude had changed considerably. Arguments and disagreements broke out on the set on a daily basis. “Things were different,” Alice recalled. “He was dissatisfied with his part, discontented and unhappy. I always had the impression that I was playing with a volcano that might erupt at any minute.”

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After The Conquering Power was finished, Valentino left Metro to work at Famous Players-Lasky, where he made The Sheik. Richard Rowland, Metro’s president, then asked Ingram to direct Turn to the Right as a personal favor to him. The picture had a very nice part for Alice, so Ingram agreed. Rex and Alice were inseparable and very much in love. “I really don’t know when we fell in love,” Rex told her.

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“I’ve always had a crush on you,” she replied, smiling. “But then you know I’m a little nutty anyway.”

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Not long after, Rex  traveled to New York on business. While there he realized that he was lonely for Alice, so he decided to call and propose to her. But instead of giving him an answer, she evaded his question. “When are you coming back?” she asked.

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“Well, I’ll be on my way right now,” he responded.

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However, they did not  marry right away, but wanted to wait until their next picture was finished. That next picture was The Prisoner of Zenda. It was during this film that Alice became friends with Ramon Novarro; a friendship that would last the rest of her life. Novarro, who played Rupert of Hentzau, was picked by Ingram to groom into stardom.

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“Ramon was the best actor of all,” Alice claimed. “I think there was no picture that you could put him in that he couldn’t have reached to every scene. I could have seen him in almost any part outside of an American boy.”

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During production of The Prisoner of Zenda, Rex and Alice decided to marry. Without telling anyone, they were wed on Saturday, November 5, 1921, in South Pasadena at a little place called Adobe Flores. The ceremony that was officiated by Dr. W. E. Edmondson, State Chaplain of the American Legion. The following day they saw three films and were back to work on Monday. When the film was completed, they went to San Francisco for their honeymoon.

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Also appearing in The Prisoner of Zenda was that “Girl Who Was Too Beautiful,” Barbara La Marr. At first Barbara’s beauty made Alice a little uncomfortable and even a little jealous. The late Jimmy Bangley, a writer and film historian, befriended Alice briefly in the early 1980s, and he recalled her telling him about her initial reservations of Barbara La Marr. “She said she was kind of jealous,” Bangley said. “She also told me that she and Rex got married during the filming of The Prisoner of Zenda, and that no one was happier for them than Barbara.”

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Although Alice knew of Barbara’s reputation as a party girl, she drew the line at many of the rumors. Bangley asked her if some of the stories were true. “I don’t believe all these things they printed about her,” Alice insisted.

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According to her nephew, Robert Taafe, this reaction was typical of Alice. “Alice was one that did not like to relate anything to anyone she felt was inappropriate or that bordered on the offensive,” he recalled. “In fact, she would go out of her way to avoid issues like that.”

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Alice sat out Rex’s next film, Trifling Women, but was on hand for the following one which was shot on location in Florida and Cuba. Where the Pavement Ends was based on the novel “The Passion Vine” by John Russell and would again star Ramon Novarro with Alice. Before leaving, Rex talked with Metro president Marcus Loew in New York and was promised directorship of Ben-Hur, the epic the studio was preparing based on the bestselling novel by General Lew Wallace. However, once Rex and Alice were in Cuba filming, they received the unfortunate news that the directing reigns were given to Charles Brabin. Ramon Novarro recalled how Ingram reacted when he heard the news. “His reaction, when he lost it, was a hundred percent Irish—and you know what I mean.”

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.Ramon Novarro and Alice Terry in Where the Pavement Ends

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Alice remained supportive of her husband during the entire time to the point of taking over directorial reigns of Where the Pavement Ends while Rex went on a drinking binge. “There for a short period of time, Rex wasn’t in the mood,” said Robert Taafe. He was promised by Marcus Loew that he would be given Ben-Hur. It was probably Louis B. Mayer who turned it the other way.”

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It was well-known that Ingram and Mayer hated each other. Once when Mayer met Alice outside his office at MGM, he told the blue-eyed beauty, “Thank God I’m not married to him; you’re the one who has to put up with him.”

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Alice was more than happy to “put up” with her husband. She knew the best thing for him was work, so she encouraged him to do another film as soon as Where the Pavement Ends was completed. It would again star Ramon Novarro and was based on another Rafael Sabatini novel called Scaramouche. The film’s budget totaled more than one million dollars once production began on March 17, 1923—St. Patrick’s Day. Of course, Ingram, being a good Irishman, reportedly celebrated by getting drunk and continued celebrating for twelve days, shutting down production before it began.

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Variety said that in Scaramouche Alice Terry “looked wonderful and managed to score heavily.” Photoplay proclaimed that under her husband’s direction, she “has forged her way into the leading ranks of feminine stars.”

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Before work began on her next film, Alice accompanied Rex to London where she met his father, Reverend Frances Hitchcock. After what must have been a moving reunion, they traveled to Tunisia where filming began on The Arab, which again co-starred Ramon Novarro. During production, Rex and Alice fell in love with an Arab boy named Kada-Abd-el-Kader and adopted him. He eventually appeared in several Rex Ingram films but would later cause his adoptive parents untold headaches.

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.Novarro and Terry in The Arab, which was the first time

Alice did not wear her trademark blonde wig.

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Several years later, they brought the young lad to Hollywood where he began associating with fast women, and racing cars through the San Fernando Valley. It seemed that he had misrepresented himself and was really older than he had originally told them. “The entire family was incensed at it all,” remembered Robert Taafe. “Here I was their nephew, and they ignored me entirely.”

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Things go so out of hand with the “boy” that he was finally sent back to Morocco. The Ingrams told friends and the press that Kada was going to finish his schooling in his native land. Of course, this was not true, but they felt they had no other choice than to send him home. “They did not want to say at the time he had misrepresented himself,” Robert Taafe said. “In those days days those kind of things were kept quiet. Of course, today it would have been in all the tabloids.”

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Kada later became a tourist guide in Morocco and Algiers and would always tell the tourists that he was the adopted son of Rex Ingram and Alice Terry.

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NEXT TIME: In Part Three, Alice and Rex move to the French Riviera where they open a studio and make films without Louis B. Mayer’s constant supervision.

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Alice Terry: The Girl from Old Vincennes

Friday, November 8th, 2013

HOLLYWOOD PROFILE

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This is the first of four parts on the silent film actress, Alice Terry.

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By Allan R. Ellenberger

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Grace, style, and an icy beauty. These qualities describe Alice Terry, one of silent film’s most enchanting and underrated actresses. Even though she made only 24 films, her contribution to the film industry along with her husband, director Rex Ingram, could fill a history book.

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She was born Alice Frances Taafe on July 24, 1899, in a small house on Fifth and Shelby Streets in Vincennes, Indiana. Her father, Martin Taafe, was a farmer who had migrated to Indiana from County Kildare, Ireland. There he met and fell in love with Ella Thorn. The two were married and began a family, with Alice the youngest of three children.

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By the time Alice turned five years old, the Taafe’s had settled in Los Angeles. Not long after their arrival, Mr. Taafe was killed in a street accident, and Mrs. Taafe took her three children back to Indiana. Within the year the Taafe’s returned to Los Angeles and moved into an apartment building in the beach community of Venice.

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The years progressed, and Alice attended Santa Monica High School while her older sister Edna worked at a candy store. At the age of 14, Alice was chosen by the Chamber of Commerce to represent Venice in the “Beauties of the Beach” contest which was sponsored by the neighboring beach communities. “Miss Taafe is a typical beach maiden,” the local newspaper proclaimed. “She is an expert swimmer, diver, tennis player, and she is as swift and sure in a canoe as an Indian maiden.”

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Regardless of her fleeting fame, money was tight, and in order to help make ends meet, Alice auditioned as an extra for Thomas Ince after being encouraged by Tarzan of the Apes actress Enid Markey, who lived in the same apartment building.

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Ince took a liking to the auburn-haired teenager and paid her $12 a week. He put her in several of his films including the 1916 classic, Civilization, in which she played everything from a peasant to a German soldier. Years later, another Ince extra, Charlotte Arthur remembered working with Alice. “Alice Terry,” she recalled, “with whom we at once made friends, whose name was Taafe in those days and whom everyone called Taffy. She was very poor and very Irish and very simple and nice—and very plump—and nobody thought she had a chance. She couldn’t act. Well, Rex Ingram taught her to do that.”

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At the time, Rex Ingram was a young director working mostly at Universal. He was married to a young actress named Doris Pawn. However, the marriage was in trouble from the start, and within the year they were separated. Rex met Alice that same year when he was making a picture at the John Brunton Studios (now Paramount). “I played an extra for two or three days,” Alice recalled,” and then he left for the Royal Flying Corps. I didn’t hear from him again until the end of the war.”

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Alice Terry without her blonde wig

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In the meantime, she continued doing extra work for different studios. Alice did not have much confidence in herself or her talent and was uncomfortable working for anyone other than Thomas Ince. “Somehow I didn’t get the thrill out of working before the camera that one is supposed to experience,” she once told a friend. “Of course, as extras we did not know the story of the picture. We simply obeyed orders as they were shouted at us in a megaphone and then waited until the picture was exhibited at our favorite theater to see what it was all about.”

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Her confidence was soon strengthened when in 1916 director Charles Giblyn cast her as the younger sister opposite Bessie Barriscale in Not My Sister (1916).  “I acted all over the place,” she said, “killing people and eating up the scenery. Until I realized that I didn’t know anything about it. Then I never ‘acted’ again.”

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Regardless, with this taste of acting now in her blood, she set her sights on something more than just an extra. “I want to be a star like Miss Barriscale,” she told a reporter. “And I am going to work just as hard in the future as I have in the past, and who knows but my dream will come true.”

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Her dream eventually would come true, but not until several setbacks. After appearing in Not My Sister, Alice continued in small roles in such films as The Bottom of the Well (1917), Thin Ice (1919), and The Valley of Giants (1919). In 1917 she appeared as an extra in Alimony (1917), made at Metro Studios, along with another unknown named Rudolph Valentino. They were extras together earning $7.50 a day and were well acquainted. “I was an extra so long, never getting anywhere,” Alice remembered. “People would say, ‘its funny, Alice that you don’t get on,” but it wasn’t funny to me. I was so shy and backward, no one was willing to risk me with a part, and I grew to have that whipped feeling, you know, that awful inner discouragement, until I was sure I would never be any good.”

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Unfortunately, it was during this time that Alice’s insecurity caused her to run away from what may have been her first big opportunity. While working as an extra on The Devil’s Pass Key (1920), director Erich Von Stroheim approached her.  “I am starting my next picture soon,” he said. “I think I may be able to do something for you. Come and see me.”

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Alice promised that she would and then walked off the lot and never went back, not even for her pay check. Afraid of having her hopes aroused again, she decided to make a slight change in careers. She found a job in the cutting room at Famous Players-Lasky, but it lasted only a short time because of her adverse reaction to the glue fumes, which forced her to return to acting.

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Soon after she received a call from Rex Ingram who had returned from the war and wanted her to pose for a head he was sculpting. Again, their paths did not cross for several months until Alice was called to be an extra on Ingram’s next film, The Day She Paid (1919). However, he spoke harshly to her, and she began to cry. She walked off the set and refused to go back.

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The next day, Rex called Alice and apologized and asked her to come back. He was going to be changing studios soon, and he had a part for her. Alice told him she would consider being a script girl, but as far as acting was concerned, she was through!

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Rex Ingram and Alice Terry

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Of course, Rex was able to convince Alice to return, and he gave her a small role in his next film, Shore Acres (1920), made at Metro. During this time, Ingram was able to find the talent that lay hidden beneath her shyness and decided to cast her in an important role in Hearts Are Trumps (1920).

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It was during preparation for this film that Alice discovered her trademark. One day she was putting on make-up and saw a blond wig sitting on the table next to her and decided to try it on. Thinking that it looked too silly, she immediately took it off, but not before Ingram walked into the room and saw her in it. He insisted she wear it in the film. Alice felt ridiculous wearing the wig until she saw the rushes three days later. “When I appeared on the screen, I looked so different, and from that time on I never got rid of the wig,” she recalled. “I was stuck with it. I didn’t feel like myself, and my freckles didn’t seem to show. My skin looked whiter, and there was a different person there. If I ever had to rehearse, I always put the wig on or I couldn’t do it.”

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The relationship between Alice and Rex was developing at a rapid pace. Rex began to get possessive of Alice, and once became jealous when she played the ukulele for his assistant, Walter Mayo. Another time, during the making of Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse (1921), a taxi driver took a liking to Alice and gave her free rides to the studio from the streetcar stop on Hollywood Boulevard. One morning, Rex overheard the taxi driver as he let her off in front of the studio on Cahuenga Avenue. “Goodbye Alice. I’ll see you in the morning,” he told the young actress. Rex was incensed. “He shouldn’t call you Alice,” Rex insisted. “You’re going to be a big star.”

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“Look,” she told Ingram, “he can call me Alice if he picks me up. I’m not going to ride on that streetcar and then walk six blocks to the studio.” The next day, Rex provided Alice with a car.

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Ingram began grooming his young protégé for stardom. First, he changed her name to Alice Terry and had her teeth fixed. He also sent her to a spa to lose weight. During this time they became good friends. They would meet at a Pasadena tea room and discuss the day’s events and each others secret ambitions. He would take her home, and the next day everyone would tell her about the other girls he saw later that night. “Well, good for him,” she would say. She liked Rex very much, but she knew that kind of behavior was not for her.

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Meanwhile, Metro Pictures’ president, Richard Rowland, bought the rights to the very popular novel The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. The Vincente Blasco Ibanez novel had remained on the best seller list consistently, and Rowland felt it could be what the ailing studio needed to rescue it from the brink of bankruptcy.

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Rowland placed the undertaking into the capable hands of scenarist June Mathis. When she suggested Rex Ingram to be the director, Rowland looked at his recent work and saw how little they had cost, compared to their quality. This impressed the cost conscious mogul, and he signed Ingram for the project.

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Rudolph Valentino and Alice Terry in “The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse”

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Ingram and Mathis did not agree on the choice of the actor to play Julio. Mathis wanted Rudolph Valentino, who was a rising young star. Ingram recalled the young actor from his days at Universal and felt that he could not handle the role. When Mathis agreed to sign Alice Terry in the role of Marguerite, Ingram yielded and agreed to using Valentino.

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When Alice discovered that Metro had signed both her and Valentino, she couldn’t image why Rex and the studio wanted to risk everything on two virtual unknowns. However, Metro executives were betting that the book was still popular with the public, and hoped that would be enough to lure an audience. Once again, Alice’s self confidence was tested. “When I read the book I was terribly frightened,” she recalled. “I used to look at those big sets and wish I could run away; but once we started on the work I forgot to be afraid—I was fascinated.”

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A spirit of congeniality developed on the set, but the work was hard. Rex insisted that the dialogue be spoken in French. Even though it was a silent film, he wanted to impress even the lip readers in the audience. So Alice would get up at five o’clock every morning and study on the streetcar on her way to work. However, after she learned one French title, she would repeat it for every scene. “Nobody could tell the difference,” she reasoned.

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Valentino became very irritated and told her, “If you say that line one more time I’m going to…” Rex finally insisted that she learn the entire dialogue.

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When the film opened in Los Angeles, Alice was a bundle of nerves. Rex had gone to New York to attend the premiere there and called to tell her that the film was a success. As she arrived at the Mission Theater, people greeted her politely, but not with much fanfare. She felt there must be something wrong that she didn’t know. “Then at intermission these people I knew began to recognize me,” she said, “but they didn’t know I had changed my name and that I had changed so much and that I was blonde and all this, and then it was very exciting.”

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The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse was a tremendous hit and put Metro into the black. It also helped the careers of June Mathis and Rex Ingram and made a star of Valentino and Alice Terry.

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Next week, Part Two looks at Alice and Rex Ingram’s budding relationship and the films she made with Ramon Novarro.

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Beatrice Dominguez: Valentino’s “La Bella Sevilla”

Friday, May 24th, 2013

HOLLYWOOD PROFILES

Beatrice Dominguez: Valentino’s “La Bella Sevilla”

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By Allan R. Ellenberger

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She was a vamp. With Spanish mantillas and high combs, and dancing to the sounds of a strumming guitar, she endeared herself to those she entertained. She was born Beatriz Dominguez on September 6, 1896 in San Bernardino, California. Descended from an old California Spanish family, a race of dons, her lineage can be traced back to old Castile who had been Americans for generations. Like her three older sisters, Beatriz was educated at Sacred Heart Convent, and like her younger sister Inez, she appeared in a few short films, but unlike Inez, she liked the medium. Her family, however, wanted her to be a doctor or lawyer; there had been no theatrical people or dancers in their ancestry. But dancing was in her blood. Her mother Petra was born in Sevilla and never had a dancing lesson, yet she simply danced. Beatrice learned to dance from her. “You see,” Beatriz said, “Spanish dances are all symbolical.” And from her, too, she inherited the priceless mantillas, combs, jewelry and embroidered shawls that she wore.

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In 1915 and 1916, Beatriz danced her way into fame when she appeared at the Panama-Pacific Exposition in San Diego. Billed simply as “La Bella Sevilla,” she lent the old Castilian touch to the air of the place.  To the click of castanets and a swirl of silken skirts, through an open archway she danced to the tune of the classic La Jota, black eyes snapping as the applause of the expositions throng bought in more crowds. When Theodore Roosevelt saw her dance, he called her “California’s sweetheart—fairest dancing daughter of the dons.”  

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While performing in San Diego, she had an uncredited role in the Douglas Fairbanks film, The Americano (1916). After the exposition, Beatrice returned to dancing in vaudeville.

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“After I left San Diego,” Beatriz recalled, “and had danced at the Mission Inn in Riverside—I wished to act. I called at some of the studios and did not say that I was the premiere dancer at Balboa Park (San Diego). I simply registered as ‘La Bella Sevilla.’ Mr. O. H Davis, who was a vice-president of the Exposition, was appointed general manager of Universal. One day, when I called there, he suggested that I use my own name, because directors were rather afraid to employ a dancer because they reasoned that she could not act. I was baptized ‘Beatriz,’ but at the studios they have turned that into the American ‘Beatrice.’”

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The newly rechristened ‘Beatrice’ returned to films in 1919 in a small role in the Rex Ingram picture, The Day She Paid (1919) followed by another Ingram film, Under Crimson Skies (1920). Carl Laemmle saw her and considered her “an exceptional motion picture type” and gave her a part in The Fire Cat (1921) at Universal. Beatrice became one of the first Hispanic actresses to receive screen billing and to be mentioned in the press. Then the film that she would be remembered for today was offered to her. “Beatrice Dominguez, a Spanish dancer, has been engaged to play in the Metro production of The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, which Rex Ingram is directing,” the local trade papers announced. The film starred the relative newcomer, Rudolph Valentino and his dancing the Tango with Beatrice glamorized the dance and gave him instant celebrity.

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In December 1920 Beatrice appeared in the prologue to The Mark of Zorro starring Douglas Fairbanks during its seven week run at the Mission Theater. The following February she was filming The White Horseman (1921) with Art Acord when she collapsed with a ruptured appendix and was rushed to the Clara Barton Hospital at 447 South Olive Street. Doctors believed she would recover, but as with Valentino five years later, peritonitis set in; a second operation was necessary. She died from the complications of the operation on February 27, 1921. She was 24. One week later, The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse opened in New York City to rave reviews and made Rudolph Valentino a star, in part because of the Tango scene with Beatrice.

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The home of Beatrice Dominguez at 2522 Elsinore Street in Los Angeles where her funeral was held. (PLEASE NOTE: This is a private home. Please do not disturb the residents)

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Beatrice’s funeral was held at her home at 2522 Elsinore Street, where she lived with her mother and sister Inez. The funeral mass was held at the Plaza Church in old Los Angeles with burial at Calvary Cemetery.

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At the time of her death, her role in The White Horseman was not yet completed, so they had to find a way to write her out of the remainder of the film. Her purpose in the film was to find a treasure. The director brought in a stand-in, of about the same height, dressed her in Beatrice’s costume and had her walk into the scene with her back to the camera and announce that she was called back to her home. She entrusted her mission to another, who was then responsible to find the treasure. Just before her death, she was signed to play the role of a Hindu girl in an adaptation of the Rudyard Kipling story, Without Benefit of Clergy at the Brunton Studios (now Paramount).

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Toto the Story of a Dog

Wednesday, June 15th, 2011

 

 

 

Fans of the 1939 film The Wizard of Oz will celebrate the dedication of a full size bronze memorial sculpture of Toto, Dorothy’s beloved dog on Saturday, June 18 at 11 a.m. at Hollywood Forever Cemetery, 6000 Santa Monica Blvd. To commemorate the event, following is a biography of Toto.

 

 

By Allan R. Ellenberger

 

The most indulged of all the spoiled lovelies of Hollywood during the Golden Age were the canine actors who worked in films. They had their own hotel—The Hollywood Dog Training School—where at one time, seventy-five of the best known dogs of the screen lived in tranquil comfort.

 

The school was set on a pleasant ten-acre site, covered with oaks and willows, near Laurel Canyon Boulevard five miles north of Hollywood. Three hundred feet back from the road stood a cream colored frame house and back of it were two kennels, each 150 feet long. It featured southern exposure, long runs to each kennel, a large grass playground, showers in each section, and several porcelain bathtubs with hot and cold water, an electric drier and a special kitchen where, every day, a tempting cauldron full of vegetable and beef bone soup was cooked for dinners of the distinguished boarders.

 

 

 Carl Spitz with dogs from his training school

 

The dogs, like all other actors, employed a manager—the amiable Carl Spitz—who drove as hard a bargain for his clients as any other agent in Hollywood. The German-born Spitz first took up the work of schooling dogs in Heidelberg where his father and grandfather were dog trainers. Spitz trained dogs for military and police service in World War days. He saw Red Cross dogs search for dying men in no man’s land—and he devoted his life to educating man’s best friend.

 

Leaving Germany, Spitz arrived in New York in 1926, moved briefly to Chicago and soon found himself in Los Angeles, where, the following year he opened his first dog training school at 12239 Ventura Boulevard. Sometime around 1935 he moved the facilities one mile north to a ten-acre spot at 12350 Riverside Drive, where he remained for almost twenty years. “This is a school, where dogs go to classes just like children,” Spitz said. “We have grammar school, high school and college.

 

 

 Above is the location of Carl Spitz’s first dog training school at 12239 Ventura Blvd., Studio City, CA

 

 

 Advertisement for Spitz’s school at his new location on Riverside Drive

 

 

At first his services were for the public but soon the movies came calling. The transition to sound films required Spitz to drop his verbal commands and develop a series of soundless visual hand signals.

 

His first sound film was Big Boy (1930) starring Al Jolson in which he trained two Great Danes. This one was followed by the John Barrymore classic, Moby Dick (1930). It was too expensive for studios to create their own specially trained dogs so Spitz suddenly found himself in big demand.

 

Canine stars soon began to emerge such as Prince Carl, the Great Dane appearing in Wuthering Heights (1939). The first big dog star to appear from Spitz’s stable was Buck the Saint Bernard who co-starred with Clark Gable and Loretta Young in Call of the Wild (1935). Others included Musty (Swiss Family Robinson), Mr. Binkie (The Lights that Failed) and Promise (The Biscuit Eater). However, probably the best known dog star to emerge from the Spitz kennel that is known today is arguably Toto from The Wizard of Oz (1939).

 

 

Clark Gable with Buck in Call of the Wild (1935)

 

Toto, a purebred Cairn Terrier, was born in 1933 in Alta Dena, California. She soon was taken in by a married couple without children in nearby Pasadena—they named her Terry. It soon became apparent that Terry had a problem with wetting the rug, and her new owners had very little patience with her. It wasn’t long before they sought the services of Carl Spitz’s dog training school in the nearby San Fernando Valley. Spitz put her through the usual training and in a few weeks she was no longer watering the carpet.

 

However, by the time her training was completed, Terry’s owners were late on the kennel board. Spitz attempted to contact them but their telephone had been disconnected. With nothing else to do, Carl’s wife suggested that they keep her.

 

Terry sort of became the family pet until one day Clark Gable and Hedda Hopper stopped by the kennel for some publicity on Gable’s new film, Call of the Wild. One of Carl’s dogs, Buck the St. Bernard, had a large role in the film and Hedda wanted some photos of him with Gable. That day Terry made himself known to the Hollywood people and Carl took note and the next day took her to Fox Studios to audition for a part in the new Shirley Temple film, Bright Eyes (1934).

 

 

Jane Withers and Shirley Temple with Terry in Bright Eyes (1934) 

 

Spitz put her through her paces—playing dead, leaping over a leash, barking on command—for the executives and was then presented to Shirley for the final say. Terry was placed next to a Pomeranian named Ching-Ching, who wasn’t part of the film but was Shirley’s own dog. Terry stood there for a moment, while Ching-Ching looked at her. Finally Terry rolled over, was sniffed and both dogs began running around Shirley’s dressing room. At last, Shirley picked up Terry and handed her to Spitz, grabbed her dog and skipped to the door. “She’s hired,” Shirley giggled as she left the room. Bright Eyes, which co-starred Jane Withers, would be Terry’s first film.

 

That same year Terry made another film, Ready for Love (1934) at Paramount. Next she appeared in The Dark Angel (1935) with Fredric March and Merle Oberon. Other films followed including Fury (1936) with Spencer Tracy; The Buccaneer (1938) for director Cecil B. DeMille and an uncredited part in Stablemates (1938) with Wallace Beery and Mickey Rooney.

 

 

Franciska Gaal with Terry in Cecil B. DeMille’s The Buccaneer (1938)

 

One day it was announced that MGM was going to produce L. Frank Baum’s children classic, “The Wizard of Oz.” Spitz knew that Terry was a mirror-image for Dorothy’s dog, Toto based on sketches throughout the book. So he began teaching her all the tricks from the book, and sure enough, in two months, he received a call from MGM for an audition.

 

Spitz and Terry met with the producer, Mervyn LeRoy who had been inspecting an average of 100 dogs daily for the past week. “Here’s your dog, all up in the part,” Spitz said to LeRoy when he submitted Terry for scrutiny. Terry could already fight, chase a witch, sit up, speak, catch an apple thrown from a tree, and took an immediate liking to Judy Garland. Frank Morgan, Ray Bolger, Bert Lahr, Jack Haley and the rest of the cast were accepted on first acquaintance with the dog. On November 1, 1938, Terry won the role of Toto without a test.

 

 

 Judy Garland singing “Over the Rainbow” to Toto in The Wizard of Oz (1939)

 

Terry received a weekly salary of $125, which was more than the studio paid the Munchkins. Before filming began, Terry spent two weeks living with Judy Garland, who fell in love with her and tried to buy her from Spitz. Of course he refused. Judy’s daughter, Lorna Luft, once said that her mother told them that the dog had the worst breath in the world. “It all made us laugh,” Luft said, “because the dog was constantly put in her face [with its] silly panting, and she did everything but wince because poor little Toto needed an Altoid.”

 

Terry did everything required of her, although she hesitated at being put in a basket and standing in front of the giant wind fans, simulating a tornado. One day they were filming on the Witches Castle set with dozens of costumed “Winkies” when one of them stepped on Terry’s paw. When she squealed everyone came running including Judy who called the front office and told them that Terry needed a rest. Until Terry returned a few days later, they utilized a stand-in for her.

 

The remainder of filming went smoothly for Terry and even though she appeared in approximately fifteen films, The Wizard of Oz was ultimately her best known. When the film was released, Terry appeared along with the cast at the premiere held at Grauman’s Chinese Theater. She became so famous that her paw print brought top prices among autograph seekers. Soon she began making public appearances and became so popular, that Spitz officially changed her name to Toto.

 

 

Terry, now billed as Toto with Virginia Weidler in Bad Little Angel (1939) 

 

That year was a busy one for Toto. Besides The Wizard of Oz, Toto also made a cameo appearance in MGM’s The Women (1939) starring Norma Shearer and Joan Crawford and had a larger role in Bad Little Angel with Virginia Weidler. The next few years had her appearing in Calling Philo Vance (1940), Twin Beds (1942), and Tortilla Flat (1942), again with Spencer Tracy and Hedy Lamarr and John Garfield. Her final film was George Washington Slept Here (1942) starring Jack Benny and Ann Sheridan. That year Toto retired to Spitz’s huge facility on Riverside Drive until she died sometime in 1944. Even though several of Spitz’s dogs were interred at the Camarillo Pet Cemetery in Ventura, he chose to bury Toto on the school property.

 

Carl Spitz continued to train dogs. In 1938, he wrote a handbook, “Training your Dog,” which contained a foreword by Clark Gable. As far back as 1930 Spitz tried to get the Army to let him train dogs for war use. But nothing came of it. Finally in the summer of 1941 they took him up, in a limited way. Spitz agreed to furnish the Army fifty trained sentry dogs—at no cost. He delivered six, had twelve more under training, and already spent $1500 of his own money in the process.

 

 

 

Spitz trained the first platoon of war dogs installed in the continental United States just prior to World War II. He was an expert advisor to the War Department in Washington DC and helped formulate the now famous K-9 Corps for both the US Army and Marine Corps. He became prominent nationally as a dog obedience judge at dog shows. Carl Spitz died on September 15, 1976 and is buried at Forest Lawn in Glendale.

 

 

 Aerial view of the site of Spitz’s Hollywood Dog Training School on Riverside Drive. Toto was buried somewhere on this site.

 

Around 1958, the Ventura Freeway was being built through the San Fernando Valley and the route went through Spitz’s school, forcing him to relocate. Today the Hollywood Dog Training School is still in existence at 10805 Van Owen Street.

 

Sadly, not only did the freeway erase the school, but it also obliterated Toto’s grave.

 

It’s appropriate that Toto’s Memorial Marker is being installed at Hollywood Forever Cemetery this Saturday, June 18 at 11 a.m. Many of the people that worked with Toto are interred there including Victor Fleming, Harold Rosson (The Wizard of Oz, Tortilla Flat); Cecil B DeMille, Maude Fealy (The Buccaneer); Erville Anderson, Carl Stockdale, Franz Waxman (Fury); Arthur C. Miller (Bright Eyes); Sidney Franklin, Gregg Toldand (The Dark Angel); Ann Sheridan (George Washington Slept Here). She is in good company.

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Frank A. Nance profile

Wednesday, June 16th, 2010

HOLLYWOOD PROFILES

Frank A. Nance, Coroner to the stars

 

 

 Frank A. Nance sits at his desk in the Los Angeles Coroners office (1932, LAPL)

 

By Allan R. Ellenberger

 

Frank A. Nance was not a famous movie star. He never appeared in a film, yet he came in contact with more movie stars than the average person – the only difference is, if a movie star was in the presence of Frank Nance, they were probably dead. You see, Frank Nance was the Los Angeles County Coroner from 1921 through 1945, during what is typically called the Golden Age of Hollywood.

 

During his term in the Coroner’s office, Nance investigated 121,000 deaths, including 2,500 murders and 17,000 traffic victims. He wrote numerous articles about his job and set up standards, many of which have become routine procedure in California Coroner offices.

 

Frank Albert Nance was born on May 25, 1875 in Galesburg, Illinois. When he was 12, his family moved to California where Nance was educated in Los Angeles schools and at Pomona College where he was a star athlete. In 1911, Nance married Bessie Marion Beaver, a native of Toronto, Canada. The couple settled in the Los Angeles suburb of Monrovia, living at 127 N. Canyon Boulevard.

 

Nance’s career in public service began on December 10, 1910, when he became bookkeeper in the County Auditor’s office.  On March 25, 1921, the Board of Supervisors appointed him from a list of eight certified eligible candidates to succeed the late Calvin Hartwell as County Coroner. He officially took office on May 1 at a salary of $375 a month.

 

During his 24 year career as coroner, Nance performed or presided over many celebrity autopsies, including the murders of director William Desmond Taylor (1922), actor Ray Raymond by the hands of fellow actor Paul Kelly (1927), and the mysterious ‘Trunk Murders’ committed by Winnie Ruth Judd. The suicides of director Lynn Reynolds (1927), actress Peg Entwistle (1932), producer Paul Bern (1932) and Lupe Velez (1944) kept his name in the headlines. And Nance’s findings concerning the mysterious deaths of Thelma Todd (1935), Ted Healy (1937) and Marie Prevost (1937) fascinated the public.

 

Nance’s first headline-grabbing case was the murder of director William Desmond Taylor. The inquest was held at the Ivy Overholtzer undertaking parlor where Taylor’s body was present, covered with a satin sheet, except for his head. Actress Mabel Normand was scheduled to testify at 10 am however at the appointed time, Normand was nowhere to be found. Nance ordered a telephone search for her, however, it was learned that while the photographers waited at the entrance, Mabel was hurried in through the back alley and was waiting in the hall.

 

Mabel entered the rooms wearing a brown checked sport coat furred at the collar and cuffs, a black skirt and a cream lace waist and a green velour, wide-brimmed fedora. She wore white gloves and held a lavender silk handkerchief in one hand. Her voice was low and she spoke calmly.

 

“Did Mr. Taylor go to your car with you when you left?” Nance asked her.

 

“Yes, he took me to the car and stood talking with me a few minutes and said he would call me by telephone in about an hour,” Mabel replied. “He watched while I drove away and I waved my hand to him.”

 

“Did he call you up,” Nance asked.

 

“No,” she said. “I went home and went right to bed. My maid never wakes me anyway, once I have retired.”

 

It was during Nance’s tenure that both the St. Francis Dam disaster (1928) and the Long Beach earthquake (1933) occurred, each presenting extraordinary problems for the Coroner to solve. More than 450 people lost their lives when the St. Francis Dam collapsed and flooded the valley below.

 

The disintegration of the St. Francis Dam is one of the worst American civil engineering failures of the 20th century. Nance’s inquest concluded the disaster was primarily caused by the paleomegalandslide on which the eastern abutment of the dam was built. The coroner’s jury determined responsibility for the disaster lay with the governmental organizations which oversaw the dam’s construction and the dam’s designer and engineer, William Mulholland, but cleared Mulholland of any charges, since neither he nor anyone at the time could have known of the instability of the rock formations on which the dam was built.

 

Frank A. Nance (seated) and his staff go over notes from an inquest (LAPL)

 

In 1929, a scandal of sorts erupted in the Coroner’s office when it was charged that certain employees had sold funeral privileges to several Los Angeles undertakers. After an investigation by the Sheriff’s department, it was determined that no evidence was found to support the charges. Nance expressed pleasure at the outcome of the investigation.

 

“It confirms my opinion that none of my employees would be a party to such proceedings,” Nance said. “Should I ever find anyone guilty of such an act I will dismiss him at once. “

 

At times, Nance would publish statistics, especially if some form of death was more prevalent at that time. For example, during the mid 1930s, the suicide rate had steadily climbed in California and Los Angeles County over a fifteen year period. Nance reported that during the fiscal year of July 1, 1935 to June 30, 1936, there were 522 reported cases of suicide. Of this total 416 were men and 106 were women. The suicide ages ranged fairly evenly from 20 to 60 years. Poisoning was the favorite method of killing oneself, shooting, hanging, jumping and asphyxiation followed in that order.

 

In 1939, Nance relaxed procedures for an autopsy and inquest when Edward C. Crossman, veteran police ballistics expert committed suicide from carbon monoxide poisoning. Crossman was a friend of Nance and was  an expert witness at many coroner inquests. Crossman left a special note to the Coroner:

 

“Dear Frank Nance: This is, of course, a suicide. No inquest is necessary, and for the sake of my family will you keep the matter as quiet as possible. Reason for suicide – the death of my beloved wife – Oct. 21 (1938), from the motor car accident which was my own fault. Best regards. Edward C. Crossman.”

 

Per the dead man’s wish, Nance announced that there would be no autopsy or inquest in this case.

 

In 1945, Frank Nance celebrated his 70th birthday, which was the compulsory retirement age for Los Angeles County employees. On May 29, civic leaders, public officials and county government workers packed the assembly room of the Hall of Records to honor Nance for 34 years in county government service, 24 of them as County Coroner.

 

“It is not my desire to retire at this time, but retirement is the penalty for having enjoyed one’s 70th birthday,” Nance said in response to many tributes by assembled speakers. “I resent the insinuation of the Retirement Act that I am an old man. One’s age is a state of mind.”

 

Nance left the coroner’s office on May 31, 1945 and was succeeded by Ben H. Brown, who became coroner as well as Public Administrator – a consolidation of both departments.

 

After his retirement, Nance accepted an executive position at the Utter-McKinley Mortuary.

 

“After 24 years as Los Angeles County Coroner, during which time I have had intimate contact with all local funeral firms, I take pleasure in announcing my association with the Utter-McKinley Mortuaries,” Nance announced. “I do so with the sincere belief that Utter-McKinley is the finest funeral firm in Los Angeles.”

 

Shortly after Nance’s retirement, his wife Bessie became ill and died two years later on August 8, 1947. The following year on November 7, 1948, Nance married for the second time to Ruthmary Barnes, a cofounder of the Executives’ Secretaries, and went on a cross-country tour with his new wife. When they arrived in Boerne, Texas, about 30 miles north of San Antonio, they found the climate to their liking and leased a ranch house.

 

In late September 1950, Nance became ill and was admitted to a San Antonio hospital where he died of pneumonia a week later on October 2, 1950. His body was returned to Los Angeles where funeral services were held at Utter-McKinley Wilshire Mortuary at 444 S. Vermont Avenue. He was buried next to Bessie at Forest Lawn Memorial Park in Glendale.

 

 

 

 

 

The grave of Frank A. Nance and his wife Bessie are located at Forest Lawn Memorial Park in Glendale in the Kindly Light section (above), Lot 207, Space 1 and 2. They are directly across the road from the Finding of Moses statue near the cemetery entrance. If you know where Claire Windsor is interred, the Nances are two rows up and ‘about’ 20 feet to the right.

 

 

A month following his death, a bitterly worded will was filed for probate in Superior Court. The document, written entirely in Nance’s hand, identified his widow as Ruthmary Nance, 45 of 2124 Hillhurst Avenue.

 

It stated that during their brief marriage, Nance gave her joint tenancy interest in property worth $20,000, made her beneficiary in insurance policies of $15,000 and purchased a car for her.

 

“All of which,” the will said, “she now has in her possession exclusively and all of which she received from me on her promise to be a loving and loyal wife as long as I lived, which promise she has refused to keep or to tell her true name to others – persisting that her name is Ruthmary Barnes.”

 

Nance cut off his wife with $1.00 and left the remainder of his estate, valued at the time at $25,000 to his brother, sisters and a godson.  Nance had no children.

 

The following September, Nance’s brother, Ira, sued his ex-sister-in-law, charging that Frank Nance was deceived into assigning her some $50,000 from his holdings. The inducement for these transfers was the “promise of marriage, but after the marriage, Mrs. Nance did not live with Mr. Nance as his wife despite her promise.”

 

Unfortunately the results of these charges were never made public, however, Ruthmary Barnes returned to her original name and died on March 14, 1972.

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Belle Bennett profile

Saturday, May 1st, 2010

HOLLYWOOD PROFILES

Belle Bennett, mother of the screen

 

 

 

 

By Allan R. Ellenberger

 

Belle Bennett is not a name that is well remembered today. Yet she had a successful stage and film career and is best known for her “mother” roles, in particular the 1925 silent film classic, Stella Dallas.

 

Belle Bennett achieved stardom beginning with a girlhood career in the circus. She was born on April 22, 1892 in Milaca, Minnesota, the daughter of circus owners, William and Hazel Bennett. Her father, known as Billie, was one of the pioneer showmen of the circus, who arrived in the United States in 1898 and established himself in St. Paul, Minnesota. His wife, and later Belle, played with him in his stock company. Belle technically began her stage career when her mother carried her on the stage as the baby of The Fatal Wedding. Her mother recalled that she proved to be a good trouper and did not interrupt a single scene by crying.

 

Belle first appeared before the public at the age of 13 as a trapeze performer in her father’s circus. Later she became a member of a stock company, then went to Broadway and played in productions for David Belasco.

 

In 1916 she came to Culver City and signed a contract to make westerns for the Triangle Company. In her early films, Belle supported such stars as Alma Rubens, Gloria Swanson and Olive Borden. When Triangle closed, Belle returned to the stage with the Alcazar Stock Company of San Francisco.

 

Actress Marjorie Rambeau encouraged Belle to seek a place on Broadway and deluged A.H. Woods with letters and newspaper clippings until the producer wired her to come east. Belle made her debut on Broadway in Happy Go Lucky, substituting for Muriel Martin Harvey.  Other plays for Woods included Lawful Larceny, replacing Margaret Lawrence; The Demi Virgin, substituting for Hazel Dawn, and The Wandering Jew, in which she won the favor of Broadway audiences in her own right.

 

Belle was married three times: her first husband was Jack Oaker a sailor at the San Pedro submarine base. Her second husband was William Macy, who was the father of her two sons, William and Theodore. She divorced Macy and married director Fred Windermere in 1924.

 

Belle’s greatest success was in films. She appeared in numerous inconsequential film roles over a period of years until 1925 when she was among seventy-three actresses up for the leading role in Samuel Goldwyn’s production of Stella Dallas.   

 

A few days before a decision was to be made, Belle’s sixteen year-old son William was badly hurt in a scuffle with some other boys. The injury was at first not thought to be serious, but when he was taken to the hospital his condition grew gradually worse. During that brief time he expressed hope that his mother would be chosen for the part of Stella. He said he did not see how they could think of anyone else. Sadly William did not recover from his injuries and he ultimately died. The following day Belle was told that she had received the part.

 

The first few days of filming were difficult but she found solace in her friendship with Lois Moran, who played her daughter in the film. Until then Belle had told people that William was her brother. The reason, she said afterward, was that she wanted to hide her age from the studios, for she had always appeared as a woman of around 24, ten years younger than her real age.

 

 

 

 

Stella Dallas was a resounding success and Belle received stunning reviews for her role. The New York Times said that Belle “gave such a remarkable performance as Stella that she seems to live through the part…”

 

The “mother” role in Stella Dallas (later played in the remake by Barbara Stanwyck) typed her for the remainder of her career. Subsequently she appeared in Mother Machree (1928), Battle of the Sexes (1928), The Iron Mask (1929) and Courage (1930).  

 

In early 1930, Belle suffered a nervous breakdown and was diagnosed with general carcinomatosis, a form of cancer. She recovered but only appeared in three films over the next two years. In the summer of 1932, taking a break from films, Belle went on an extended vaudeville tour. While appearing in Philadelphia she collapsed on stage, but was revived and insisted on “carrying on” in the best theatrical tradition. The effort aggravated her condition and she was sent to Harrisburg hospital for blood transfusions which enabled her to regain her strength.

 

However in September her condition worsened and she was rushed from New York by plane to Hollywood, where she was admitted to Cedars of Lebanon hospital.  Apprised of the severity of her condition, her husband returned from New York.

 

On several occasions during the next two months, she was reported near death, but always rallied and continued to fight; close friends commented that she had the will to live. Yet, on November 4, 1932, her fight ended when she died at 9:15 p.m. The only person with her at the end was her son Theodore; her husband had only just left the room shortly before she passed. Belle Bennett was only 40 years old.

 

On November 6 her funeral was held at Pierce Brothers Mortuary, her body lay in a pure white coffin, banked with a vari-colored spread of flowers, while relatives and intimate friends filled the pews of the chapel. The service was conducted under the auspices of Christian Science, including a reading of selections from the Psalms and the Scripture and the committal of the soul to the care of the Lord.

 

For two minutes the mourners bowed their heads in silent prayer. John Vale, who once acted on stage with Belle a decade earlier, was the soloist, rendering “Shepherd Show Me How to Go,” and “Oh, Gentle Presence,” both authored by Mary Baker Eddy.

 

Then the congregation joined the reader in oral rendition of the Lord’s Prayer. There was no eulogy and the services over, the mourners filed past the bier. Among those who attended were Mary Pickford, for years a close friend of Belle’s, Sidney Olcott, one time her director, and Jean Hersholt, Thelma Todd (whose own funeral would be held in the same chapel in less than three years), Norma Shearer, Zasu Pitts, Russell Simpson and Joe E. Brown. Later that day, Belle Bennett was interred at Valhalla Cemetery in Burbank.

 

The grave of Belle Bennett at Valhalla Cemetery – Block H, Section 8351, Grave 6 (Allan R. Ellenberger photo)

 

 

Belle left no will and it was later revealed that her estate was valued at less than $5,000, which was a surprise considering that she had at one time been a wealthy woman. Her husband and son shared the estate.

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Click below for a brief scene from the 1929 silent adventure film, “The Iron Mask”, featuring Belle Bennett as the Queen Mother, discovering Gordon Thorpe as her long-lost son (the evil twin).

 

 

 

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Pepi Lederer’s 100th Birthday

Thursday, March 18th, 2010

100th BIRTHDAY

Pepi Lederer: ‘Marion Davies’ Niece’

 

 

 

By Allan R. Ellenberger
March 18, 2010

 

Today is the 100th birthday of Pepi Lederer, who is the niece of actress Marion Davies. What little that is known about Pepi comes from Louise Brooks’ autobiography, Lulu in Hollywood. In it she devotes an entire chapter to Pepi, Marion and William Randolph Hearst.

 

Pepi was born Josephine Rose Lederer on March 18, 1910 in Chicago, Illinois. Her mother, Reine was the older sister of Marion Davies, and an actress and writer in her own right and was the first to use the Davies name professionally. Married twice, first to Broadway producer and director, George Lederer, they had two children – Pepi and Charles, who later became a successful screenwriter. Reine divorced George when Pepi was two years-old and later married actor George Regas.

 

Pepi was given the nickname “Peppy” as a child because of her high spirited personality. When she turned 18 she changed the spelling to Pepi and legally made it her real name. She hardly ever saw or spoke about her father, and was embarrassed because he was Jewish.

 

Pepi and her brother Charlie were favorites of both Marion and Hearst. They in turn, preferred Marion to their own mother. When she turned twelve, Pepi was spending most of her time with Marion at San Simeon and the Lexington Avenue mansion in Beverly Hills, rarely seeing her mother. Once, years later when Pepi was living in a New York apartment building owned by Hearst, Reine unexpectedly stormed in drunk, calling Marion a scheming bitch for having robbed her of her children. The episode left Pepi sobbing and racked with guilt.

 

At Hearst’s San Simeon, Pepi had free run of the ranch. Visitors usually had to obey Hearst’s rules about liquor rationing (because of Marion’s excesses) and the insisted-upon early rising to have breakfast. Pepi, on the other hand, had no problems obtaining liquor since she had her own private boot-legger – Hearst’s executive secretary who had keys to the wine vaults and could not resist Pepi’s charm and flashing blue eyes. Louise Brooks said that Pepi “and her group of pansies and dykes could drink and carry on all night…” As long as Marion’s drinking was under control and no one was breaking up Hearst’s art collection, he didn’t care about their drinking or sexual activities.

 

In the great dining hall at San Simeon, Pepi and her friends would sit at one end of the long wooden table while Marion and Hearst would face each surrounded by their guests in the middle. Pepi’s friends usually included her brother Charlie, Louise Brooks, Sally O’Neil, William Haines, and Lloyd Pantages, son of the theatre mogul. The guests called them the Younger Degenerates.

 

Pepi‘s sense of humor gave her every chance to expose a guests vanities while humoring the rest. Claire Windsor’s falsies and writer Elinor Glyn’s red wig would mysteriously disappear from their bedrooms while they slept. An “exclusive” item would appear in Louella Parsons’ syndicated Hearst column, which would later have to be retracted. Once, when a group of Hearst editors, dressed in business suits and seated at a liquor-loaded table visited the ranch, Pepi organized a chain dance. Ten beautiful girls in wet bathing suits danced round their table, grabbed a bottle here and there, and then exited, leaving a room full of astonished men, who inquired, “Does Mr. Hearst know these people are here?”

 

Pepi was charismatic, but undisciplined with a gluttonous appetite for rich food, alcohol and eventually drugs – specifically cocaine. Once in an attempt to lose weight and quit liquor, she convinced Louise Brooks, who she first met at San Simeon in 1928, to join her at a friend’s duck blind in Virginia, where she hoped the seclusion away from her temptations would help kick her habits. Upon their arrival she had the liquor cabinet locked and spent her time listening to Bing Crosby recordings. After only a few days, she raided the kitchen, eating cold chicken and half an apple pie, then went for the liquor and was shocked that it was locked up. “You told him to lock it,” Louise told her.

 

“I’ll fix that,” she mumbled, and went to the kitchen and returned with a hatchet, and with three robust whacks, opened the door.  For the remainder of the week, she satisfied herself with good whiskey, mouth-watering Southern cooking and Bing Crosby songs.

 

Pepi was also a lesbian. Though Louise Brooks never publicly admitted to an affair with Pepi, she once told a friend that Pepi said, “Let me just fool around a bit,” and Louise said, “Okay, if it’s anything you’re going to get some great enjoyment out of, go ahead.” And so they fooled around, but said she got nothing out of it.

 

Pepi secretly yearned to be an actress so she was thrilled when she was given a small comedy part in Marion’s picture The Fair Co-ed (1927) that was directed by Sam Wood. During filming she was told how good she was, but when the film premiered, her part had been cut. Marion consoled her with the promise of a better part in her “next” picture, but the next picture never materialized. Pepi realized that no one had been serious about her career and that was just a joke.

 

In 1929, Pepi visited MGM during the last day of filming of King Vidor’s Hallelujah. Conveniently, Marion, Charlie, and Rose were absent; so on an impulse, Pepi invited several of the cast members, including Nina May McKinney, to the house on Lexington Avenue. After three days, a neighbor, shocked by the sight of black people running in and out of the mansion, telephoned Marion, who sent Ethel to end the party. Pepi told friends she would never forget the look on Ethel’s face when her aunt opened the door and found Pepi in bed with Nina May. Pepi was immediately banished to New York as a punishment.

 

At the end of March 1930, Pepi was in New York and was concerned that she had not menstruated in three months. Finally, desperate for a reason, she called Marion about her condition. Marion told her to stop wasting time and to make an appointment to see an abortionist at once. He found that Pepi was pregnant, and aborted the fetus the next day.

 

A few days later, Louise Brooks visited her and found her in bed, sick, feverish, and frightened. She was hemorrhaging badly and told Louise about the abortion. “This was the most astonishing piece of news since the Virgin birth,” Louise said, “because, as far as I knew, she had never gone to bed with any man.”

 

When Pepi explained, Louise asked if she knew who the man was. “No I don’t,” Pepi said violently. “And I don’t want to know the name of a man who would rape a dead-drunk woman.” Pepi continued, saying that it had to happen on New Year’s Eve, when she got drunk at a party given by Lawrence Tibbett and someone had to take her home. “But I don’t remember who it was,” she said, “and I don’t want to remember who it was and that’s the end of it.” (After Pepi’s death, a mousy, deranged friend of hers told Louise with a smirk that it was he who had taken her home on that 1929 New Year’s Eve and raped her. He also admitted to escorting other drunken women home and performing in the same manner).

 

The following June, a recovered Pepi accompanied Marion and Hearst to Europe on the Olympic. While in England, she convinced Hearst to give her a job on one of his English magazines, The Connoisseur and ended up staying there for five years. In London, she wrote to Louise that she was now a person in her own right, not a way station for would-be friends of Marion and Hearst. And she said that she found a lovely companion, Monica Morris, who now shared her flat, her generous allowance, and Marion’s charge accounts.

 

Louise was apprehensive of Pepi’s taste in girlfriends and asked around about Monica Morris. When asked, one friend exclaimed: “My God, the Stage-Door Ferret! Don’t tell me Monica has latched onto Pepi!” It seemed that Monica had earned her nick-name because she was the most predatory among the group of girls who had fought over Tallulah Bankhead when she became a star of the London theatre in 1923.

 

Regardless, they remained an item until Pepi’s return to the United States on April 15, 1935. They spent two weeks in a suite at Hearst’s Ritz Tower Hotel on Park Avenue before going to Hollywood. It was Monica’s first time in New York but the first thing she asked Louise after they met was “Will you take me to Harlem to get some cocaine?” She evidently lost her stash while on board the ship and was most urgent to replace it. Louise referred her to Tallulah Bankhead at the Gotham Hotel, and Monica hurried out, leaving Pepi and Louise to have their last serious talk before Pepi’s death.

 

Though they laughed together, Louise could see the cocaine addiction in her eyes and the reason why she wanted to avoid Marion and Hearst. She had also lost weight, which Louise attributed to the cocaine.

 

When Pepi and Monica arrived in California, they stayed at the Lexington Avenue house. Marion and Hearst were at San Simeon but no directive came for Pepi and Monica to join them there. Weeks passed and there were no fancy parties, and Monica grew ever more bored among the Davies relatives. Then, without warning,  Marion and Hearst decided to have Pepi committed to the psychiatric section of Good Samaritan Hospital for a drug cure. Pepi only had time to slip her diamond ring (a present from Marion on her 18th birthday) from her finger to give it to Monica before she was taken away.  

 

A few days later, on June 11, 1935, Pepi was propped up in bed reading a movie magazine in her sixth floor room at Good Samaritan when she asked her nurse for something to eat. The nurse stepped to the doorway to call a floor nurse and order something, when suddenly, she heard a noise and turned to see Pepi plunge through the window, carrying the screen with her.

 

Six floors below, in a thicket of shrubbery, Pepi’s body was picked up. Hospital attendants said she only lived a few minutes. She was dead before they could carry her to an operating room, her neck broken.

 

Marion, Hearst and Reine were at San Simeon when they received the news. Reine took the news more calmly than Marion, who lost control, as she always did when confronted by death. Louise Brooks was in her dressing room at the Persian Room of the Plaza, getting ready to open her new act when she was informed of Pepi’s death. “Looking in a mirror as I checked my hair, makeup, and costume for the dinner show” Louise said, “I thought, her dreaded visit to Hollywood had lasted exactly six weeks.”

 

As for Monica, her trunk was searched by Hearst’s people and a bundle of Pepi’s letters was taken from it – she felt it was because they feared blackmail. The ring that Pepi had given her was snatched from her finger. She was given a steamship ticket to Southampton and a thousand dollars in cash and was told she was being deported immediately after the funeral.

 

 

St. Mary’s of the Angels Church, 4510 Finley Avenue, Hollywood where Pepi Lederer’s funeral was held

 

Newspaper reports said that Pepi was suffering from acute melancholia, the usual public reason for drug abuse. Pepi’s funeral was held at St. Mary’s of the Angels Church in Hollywood. Her bronze casket was placed in a crypt in Marion’s private mausoleum at Hollywood Cemetery.

 

On the 100th anniversary of her birth, it’s hoped that Pepi has found some peace.

 

 

 Marion Davies’ private mausoleum at Hollywood Forever Cemetery. Pepi’s is the first bottom crypt to the left of the door.

 

Information for this article was taken from “Marion Davies’ Niece” by Louise Brooks and from “Louise Brooks” by Barry Paris (1989).

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Hollywood Profile…Tyrone Power, Sr.

Friday, November 14th, 2008

HOLLYWOOD PROFILES

Tyrone Power, Sr.

 

 

 

 

By Allan R. Ellenberger

 

 

Tyrone Power Sr., the father of popular matinee idol, Tyrone Power, was a member of one of England’s most famous stage families and was widely known on the American stage and screen.

 

The actor was born Frederick Tyrone Power in London, England on May 2, 1869 to Harold Power and Ethel Lavenue, a popular dramatic team of the English stage. Power, the namesake of his grandfather, the legendary Irish actor, Tyrone Power (1795-1841), began his stage career touring Europe with his parents. Later he came to America and started an orange grove in Florida. When that venue failed, he returned to the theatre where he rose to fame on the Broadway stage, using the name, Tyrone Power II. For more than two decades he gained widespread attention in Shakespearean plays and in such productions as The Wandering Jew and The Servant in the House.

 

Walter Hampden, Arthur Lewis and Tyrone Power in The Servant in the House

 

Most of his life had been devoted to the stage although he appeared in silent films during the pioneer days of motion pictures. His last film role was as the villain in The Big Trail (1931), an early talkie western.

 

Power had just completed an eastern tour with the Chicago Shakespeare Company when he returned to Hollywood in early December 1931 to appear in the title role of The Miracle Man (1932), at Paramount. The film, a remake of the 1919 Lon Chaney classic, was directed by Norman Z. McLeod and starred Sylvia Sidney and Chester Morris.

 

At about 9 p.m. on Tuesday evening, December 29, Power finished filming for the day  and retired to his room at the Hollywood Athletic Club. With him were his son, Tyrone, Jr. and his attorney, Francis D. Adams. They talked until 11 p.m. when Adams left. At around midnight, Power suffered a heart attack and a physician was summoned, but emergency treatment was to no avail. Power died in the arms of his son, early on the morning of December 30, 1931 (not December 23 as reported on imdb.com).

 

The Hollywood Athletic Club where Tyrone Power, Sr. died.

 

Power’s simple funeral rites were held the following Saturday from the A. E. Maynes Chapel, 1201 South Flower Street. The pallbearers were H. B. Warner, Rupert Julian, Arno Lucy, Sidney Olcott, Edmund Breese, Lawrence Grant, and Claude Gillingwater.

 

Actor and friend, Ian Keith delivered the eulogy, saying:

 

“The curtain is rung down. The prompter has left his box. You have played your last great role on your mortal stage, Tyrone. But you know that the Great Dramatist has prepared a finer role for you than any you played here.”

 

Tyrone Power, Sr. and his son, Tyrone Power
(CREDIT: Tyrone-Power.com)

 

Besides his son, Tyrone, Power was survived by an ex-wife, Patia and his daughter Anne.

 

After the services, Power’s body was cremated at the Los Angeles Crematory. A few months later, Tyrone and his mother scattered the ashes up the Richelieu River at Isle Aux Noix, Quebec, Canada, near the actor’s home, Two Pines.

 

Power was replaced in The Miracle Man by his close friend, Hobart Bosworth, who closely resembled the actor. “It does seem odd that I should be the one to replace him in this role after all these years,” Bosworth said. “We were warm friends and I only hope that I can do justice to the role in his stead.”

 

When Tyrone Power placed his hands and footprints in cement at Grauman’s Chinese Theater, he wrote: “To Sid, following in my father’s footsteps.”

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