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Pierre Collings tragic story

Posted by Allan Ellenberger on Feb 13th, 2011
2011
Feb 13

HOLLYWOOD TRAGEDIES

The tragic story of Pierre Collings

  

 

 

By Allan R. Ellenberger

 

Time, fame and money trip lightly in Hollywood, and the men and women who have them one day find themselves alone and penniless the next. So it was with Pierre Collings, screenwriter, whose screenplay of The Story of Louis Pasteur (1936) won him two Academy Awards in 1937. Sadly he would not survive to the end of that year.

 

The second eldest of five children, Lysander Pierre Collings was born on September 22, 1900, in Truro, Nova Scotia where his father Otto was a mining engineer. Otto and his wife Martha were both American citizens and once they returned to the states, had Pierre naturalized as an American citizen.

 

Collings entered motion pictures as a messenger boy at the Pickford-Fairbanks Studios when he was 17 years old. He became successively a cameraman [Alimony (1924) and Untamed Youth (1924)] at the Brunton Studios (now Paramount), an assistant director and then a writer. Among Collings early scripts were A Woman of the World (1925) and Good and Naughty (1926), both starring Pola Negri; The Grand Duchess and the Waiter (1926), with Adolph Menjou and Florence Vidor; the Louise Brooks classic, The Show Off (1926), and the continuity for the Marx Brothers’ Animal Crackers (1930).

 

Sadly, very little is known about Collings personal and professional life. In December 1926, Collings was married to Natalie Harris at New York’s Little Church Around the Corner. The couple was divorced in 1930. In 1928 Collings was scheduled to direct Alex the Great but for unknown reasons the film was taken over by Dudley Murphy.

 

 

 

 

Between 1924 and 1930, Collings kept relatively busy writing screenplays, however between 1930 and 1937 he only produced two screenplays, one of which was as an uncredited dialogue contributor on British Agent (1934) starring Leslie Howard and Kay Francis. It could be during this time that some of his personal problems began. In August 1935 he was arrested for drunk driving.

 

The following December he signed with Warner Bros. and was assigned, along with writer Sheridan Gibney, to write the screenplay for The Story of Louis Pasteur (1936), which was to star Paul Muni in the title role. During the production of the film, Collings mother, Martha died unexpectedly and was buried at Hollywood Cemetery.

 

 

The grave of Collings mother at Hollywood Forever Cemetery

 

The Story of Louis Pasteur would prove to be Collings biggest success professionally. Both he and Gibney were nominated for two Academy Awards for Original Story and for Screenplay. Reportedly, after finishing the screenplay Collings suffered a nervous breakdown and was not able to attend the ceremony on Oscar night. When Collings and Gibney won both awards, Gibney accepted the Oscars for his writing partner.

  

Soon after, Collings health improved enough for him to accept an assignment to write the screenplay for a projected Warner Bros. film, Houdini the Great which was scheduled to star George Raft. For whatever reason, the project never materialized. After this he had problems finding work again and started drinking and soon fell into more bad health and poverty. Stories circulated that he actually pawned one of his two Oscars in order to survive, but this cannot be confirmed. The following July, he was arrested on an intoxication charge that was filed by his landlady. He pleaded not guilty.

 

 

Pierre Collings died here at his father’s home at 12315 N. Huston Avenue in North Hollywood (PLEASE NOTE: This is a private residence. Please do not disburb the occupants)

 

Collings was working with songwriter Carrie Jacobs Bond on a proposed screenplay based on her popular song, “I Love You Truly” when he died from pneumonia at his father’s home in North Hollywood on December 21, 1937. His funeral was held at Pierce Brothers Chapel Hollywood and he was interred at Hollywood Cemetery near the body of his mother.

 

 

Pierre Collings grave at Hollywood Forever is located in Section 2W near the grave of Florence Lawrence.

 

Collings was already forgotten. The Los Angeles Times did not publish an obituary – only a listing of his name in the death notices. However, three weeks later, Lee Shipley, a columnist for the Times made this mention in his column:

 

“Little Pierre Collings, who wrote the script for Louis Pasteur, died the other day. His close friends tell me his decline in health resulted from heartache and despair because, after that truly great picture, he was given hardly any work. The producers thought one Louis Pasteur was great, through some accident, but the public wouldn’t stand for another picture like that – not when it could go to the next show house and see Ben Bernie.

 

“In fact, I think the sin of Hollywood is that it gathers genius from all the world and then says to it: ‘You mustn’t do your best or anything approaching it. Our public wouldn’t understand it.’”

 

Four months after Collings death, Charles Mackay, a wanna-be actor who was down on his luck was living at the Mark Twain Hotel in Hollywood. Mackay had graduated from Washington and Lee University the year before and decided to “try” Hollywood. His friends told him he should be an actor; his father, a prosperous St. Louis broker, told him he shouldn’t. He was told to go if he wanted, but don’t come home for help. Mackay decided to ignore his father and prove him wrong.

 

By April 1938, Mackay was down to his last quarter. His best prospect for finding lodging for the night was an afternoon working on a rock pile. He returned to his room sweaty, tired and discouraged. In hopes of finding a clean shirt, he looked through a closet reserved for the belongings of guests who left the hotel without paying their rent in advance. There Mackay discovered a threadbare blue sweater, and wrapped in the garment was Pierre Collings’ Oscar statuette.

 

Concerned that he would be arrested for the possible theft of the Oscar if he tried to return it to its owner, Mackay walked up to Hollywood Boulevard to think. By chance he ran into screenwriter Arthur Caesar, who himself won an Academy Award a few years earlier for Manhattan Melodrama (1934). He told Caesar his story and the writer took him and the Oscar to the Academy’s office where the secretary told him that Collings had died a few months earlier in poverty. It was assumed that, probably in need, Collings had been forced to leave the sweater and Oscar as hostage for his unpaid rent. The Academy gave Mackay $25 for the Oscar, told him to clean up, and they assumingly kept the Oscar.

 

 

Charles Mackay, center, is shown holding the Oscar given to Pierre Collings. At left is Donald Gledhill, scretary of the Academy, and at right is screenwriter Arthur Caesar.

 

During research for this article, I contacted the Academy and was told that Pierre Collings’ Oscar was not in their possession and there were no records of the transaction. It’s possible the unclaimed statue could be lying in a box somewhere in the Academy’s attic or, since his father was still living at the time, it was returned to him. In any event, both Oscars won by Collings that night are missing.

 

If you watch the Academy Awards ceremony in two weeks, when the award for Best Screenplay is presented, remember Pierre Collings – may he rest in peace.

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The Doty Twins Tragedy

Posted by Allan Ellenberger on Dec 25th, 2010
2010
Dec 25

 HOLLYWOOD TRAGEDIES

Weston and Winston Doty; the lost twins from “Peter Pan”

 

  

 

 

By Allan R. Ellenberger

 

For nineteen years, Winston and Weston Doty, twin brothers, lived together, went together and developed the close comradeship that comes only to boys of their kind until the Montrose flood swept down on them during a New Year’s Eve party and ended their lives.

 

Weston and Winston, the twin sons of Clarence “Jack” Doty – radio actor and one time leading man for Edna Park – and Olive Nance Naylor, were born on February 18, 1914 in Malta, Ohio. Before the twins were five years old, their parents separated and Olive moved the family to Los Angeles where she gained employment at the Palmer Photo Play Corporation. It was here that she formed connections to get the twins into films. Weston was originally named Wilson at birth; however once he began appearing in films with his brother, his name was changed.

 

 

Winston and Weston Doty in “One Terrible Day” (1922)

 

The Doty twins film credits included a few Our Gang shorts and as the twin Lost Boys in the 1924 version of Peter Pan starring Betty Bronson. The pair were talented radio performers and, at the age of 15, they graduated from Venice High School. In 1931-32 they attended the architectural school of the University of Southern California where they gained more fame as cheer leaders for the Trojans’ football team. Unfortunately after two years they had to drop out to earn enough money to complete their schooling.

 

On Sunday evening, December 31, 1933, the boys left their home at 1026 Amoroso Place, Venice to attend a New Year’s party given by Henry Hesse at 2631 Manhattan Avenue in Montrose. Weston escorted Mary Janet Cox to the party and Winston took Gladys Fisher. A steady rain had been falling in Los Angeles since early Saturday morning. The chief topic that evening – besides the rain – was the next day’s Rose Bowl game between Stanford and Columbia Universities.

 

At midnight, the twins called their mother and wished her a happy new year.  It was the last time she would hear their voices. A short time later, Henry Hesse heard water rushing around the house. He stepped to a rear door, just in time to see the porch swept away. Rushing inside he grabbed his wife, ran for another exit and shouted: “Everybody get out!”

 

As the party guests reached the outside, they stepped off into several feet of swirling water as the walls of the home crumbled. Hesse said he held to his wife and battled the constantly rising waters to the street, then grabbed a floating tree trunk, placed his wife astride it and started to swim. Three blocks from their demolished home the log rammed into a concrete wall, where the two held on safely until the waters subsided.

 

 

Above is Manhattan Avenue, Montrose after the New Years flood in 1934 where the Hesse house once stood and where the Doty twins lost their lives (lapl)

 

 

On New Year’s Day, searchers found Winston and Weston’s bodies lying close together in the debris in the Verdugo Wash. Mary escaped the flood but Gladys was also drowned. Once the flood waters had subsided, a total of 35 people had lost their lives that night.

 

 

 

Funeral services for 19 year-old Winston and Weston Doty were conducted at the Union Congregational Church in Venice followed by cremation at Woodlawn Cemetery in Santa Monica, where they are interred. The following year, their father Jack died alone from a heart attack in a Chicago hotel.

 

 

 

 

 

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Hollywood Tragedies…

Posted by Allan Ellenberger on Jul 7th, 2008
2008
Jul 7

HOLLYWOOD TRAGEDIES

Virginia Rappe

 

 

A modeling photo of Virginia Rappe (courtesy Joan Myers) 

 

Today is the 117th birthday of Virginia Rappe, who is best known for her tragic and controversial death in 1921. Film researcher Joan Myers is presently working on a detailed account of the Arbuckle trial.

  

By Joan Myers 

 

Virginia Rappe was born in Chicago on July 7, 1891. In 1907 she began working as a artist’s model; she quickly segued into the new field of commercial fashion modeling. For the next few years she traveled throughout the northwest and eastern seaboard doing live modeling for fashion shows and posing for advertising and fashion photography. In 1914 she began designing and marketing her own line of clothing; later that year she moved to San Francisco to market her designs at the Pan Pacific International Exhibition. In the spring of 1916 she decided to try for a career in films and again relocated, this time to Hollywood. 

 

 

She continued her modeling career in Hollywood. In early 1917 she was hired by producer Fred Balshofer and given a prominent co-starring role in Balshofer’s Paradise Garden opposite screen idol Harold Lockwood. Balshofer hired her again the next year to co-star with popular cross-dresser Julian Eltinge and newcomer Rudolph Valentino in Over the Rhine. This film was not released until 1920 when Balshofer recut it and released it under the title An Adventuress.

 

 

In 1917, Rappe began a relationship with comedy actor/director/producer Henry Lehrman. She appeared in at least four films for Lehrman: His Musical Sneeze and A Twilight Baby (1920) with Lloyd Hamilton, Punch of the Irish (1921) with Frank Coleman and Lige Conley, and A Game Lady (1921) with Hamilton and Coleman. All but two of these films (A Twilight Baby and Punch of the Irish) are lost. It is possible Rappe may have had additional roles with Lehrman, but none have so far been identified.

  

 

On September 9, 1921, four days after attending a party thrown by Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle, actor Lowell Sherman, and director Fred Fischbach at the St. Francis Hotel, Rappe died of a ruptured bladder in San Francisco. Arbuckle was arrested for her murder the next day. The murder charge was eventually reduced to manslaughter, for which Arbuckle was tried three times. The first two trials ended in hung juries; Arbuckle was acquitted of the charge at the end of the third trial, but his career was ruined. 

 

 

Virginia Rappe’s grave at Hollywood Forever Cemetery

 

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Hollywood Tragedies…

Posted by Allan Ellenberger on Jul 2nd, 2008
2008
Jul 2

HOLLYWOOD TRAGEDIES

Gladys Brockwell

 

 

Gladys Brockwell (1893-1929) 

 

By Allan R. Ellenberger

 

Today is the 79th anniversary of the tragic death of actress Gladys Brockwell. Though virtually unknown today, Brockwell was a popular actress in the teens and 1920s. The Brooklyn-born daughter of a struggling chorus girl, Brockwell entered show business on stage at the age of 3, with her screen debut for the Lubin Company in 1913.

 

Brockwell was one of the earliest stars at the Fox Studios. Some of her most important career roles included The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1923), Stella Maris (1925), Man, Woman and Sin (1927), Seventh Heaven (1927), The Woman Disputed (1928),  and The Home Towners (1928). Her last appearance in film was in The Drake Case (1929) for Universal, which she finished two weeks before her death.

 

Gladys Brockwell strangling Janet Gaynor in Seventh Heaven (1927) 

 

During the experimental days of sound at Warner Brothers, Brockwell appeared in short subjects then being made as tests. She had a lead role in the first feature-length, all-talking film, Lights of New York (1928).

 

On June 27, 1929, Brockwell and a friend, T. Stanley Brennan, were driving to Ventura in a new roadster. As they neared a curve near Calabasas – an area about 25 miles northwest of Hollywood – the car skidded to the edge of the road and plunged 75 feet down an embankment, turning over three times after hitting the bottom. Brockwell was pinned beneath the wreckage, with one of the car’s doors resting on her face. The couple was unconscious when removed from the wreckage by passing motorists.

 

They were taken to Osteopathic Hospital where doctors determined that Brockwell received fractures of both lower jaws, fracture of the left upper jaw, fractue of the left collar bone, fracture of a vertebra, a broken pelvis, and a rupture of the large intestine. In addition, the left side of her face was paralyzed, caused by a severed facial nerve. Both of Brennan’s shoulder blades were broken as well as several ribs.

 

Because of their serious condition, police could not obtain a coherent report of the accident. However it was determined that neither had been drinking. Once Brennan regained consciousness, he explained that the accident was probably caused as a result of a cinder that blew into his eye just as they reached the dangerous curve in the road.

 

Following a second blood transfusion, Brockwell appeared to improve until perotonis set in as a result of her internal injuries. After two more transfusions, Gladys Brockwell died at 7 p.m. on July 2, 1929 at Osteopathic Hospital. The immediate cause of death was peritonitis, due to the puncture of the large intestine. No negligence was placed on Brennan, who was still recovering in the hospital.

 

Brockwell’s body was taken to the Ivy H. Overholtzer Mortuary at 1719 South Flower Street. Funeral services were conducted at 2 p.m. on July 5 at the Hollywood Cemetery chapel. The service was in charge of the Christian Science Church in the presence of many prominent film actors, directors and producers. Brockwell was cremated and the ashes given to her mother, Billie Brockwell, who was also an actress.

 

NOTE: Brockwell’s companion, T. Stanley Brennan survived his injuries from the accident. Ironically, almost twenty years later, on February 11, 1949, Brennan was a passenger in a car driven by a friend. As they crossed the Aliso Street Bridge near downtown, the driver attempted to cut in front of another car when he lost control, swerved across the bridge, smashed through the concrete rail and plunged 35 feet to an alleyway below. The driver survived but Brennan was killed instantly.

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