Dedicated to the Study and Appreciation
of the Movies and Personalities of the Golden Age of Hollywood

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Films of Henry Hathaway: The Shepherd of the Hills

In 1941 Paramount and Henry Hathaway followed up their success with The Trail of the Lonesome Pine with another Technicolor version of a bestselling rural romance. This one was taken from a novel by Harold Bell Wright, a writer who was, if anything, even more popular in his day than Lonesome Pine author John Fox Jr. I say "in his day," but actually it was pretty much the same day; Fox's most productive years were 1895-1910, Wright's 1902-16 (although he continued to write and publish almost up to his death in 1944).

Certainly, even as late as 1941 the name of Harold Bell Wright was one to conjure with; in this magazine ad for the picture, Wright's name appears above the title, not once but twice. Even so, the credit "Harold Bell Wright's The Shepherd of the Hills" has a sharp edge of irony -- in point of fact, Grover Jones and Stuart Anthony's screenplay has little to do with Wright's novel (even less than Lonesome Pine had with Fox's) beyond the title and some character names. (And by the way, here's full disclosure: One of the names, in novel and movie, is Jim Lane, father of the movie's heroine Samantha "Sammy" Lane; he's played by Tom Fadden.) This departure from the text is enough to make Hathaway's movie an outcast among Wright's latter-day fans (and yes, he still has them), but in the movie's defense it can be said that Wright's plot is a pretty melodramatic can of worms, though it had been filmed fairly closely in 1928, and earlier in 1919 (that version, now lost, was presumably the most faithful of all, having been produced by Wright himself). Harold Bell Wright was still around in 1941, when the Hathaway picture was released, but what he thought of it -- or for that matter, whether he even saw it -- is not recorded. By that time, he might simply have washed his hands of Hollywood altogether -- and thereby hangs a tale.

Harold Bell Wright was a 35-year-old minister in the Disciples of Christ Church in Redlands, Calif. when he resigned his ministry in 1907 after the success of The Shepherd of the Hills, his second novel. Thereafter, he devoted himself full-time to writing as a way of spreading the Gospel (of decency, of hard work, of caring for the downtrodden) by other means.

You can get the whole story at Gerry Chudleigh's comprehensive Harold Bell Wright Web site, including this page specifically dedicated to movies from Wright's stories and novels. The Reader's Digest version, as brief as I can make it, is that Wright, dissatisfied with a 1916 picture based on his Eyes of the World, decided to film his books himself. To that end he formed the Harold Bell Wright Story-Picture Corporation with his publisher, Elsbery Reynolds. The company made only one picture, The Shepherd of the Hills in 1919, adapted and directed by Wright himself. Perhaps the picture was not well-received, perhaps the company was torn asunder by the falling-out between Wright and Reynolds when the writer decided to sign with a different publisher. Whatever the cause, by 1922 the two men were on the outs and the Harold Bell Wright Story-Picture Corporation was no more.

This is where Sol Lesser enters the picture. Lesser is remembered as a low-to-middle-budget independent producer who turned out such pictures as Our Town, Stage Door Canteen, and a long spate of Tarzan movies in the 1930s, '40s and '50s. In 1922, however, he was an eager young go-getter, an exhibitor looking to get into production after making a killing on a quickie exploitation flick about the passing of San Francisco's Barbary Coast. He approached Wright for the movie rights to his books, but Wright's first nine books were co-owned by Reynolds, and the two weren't speaking; if Lesser would deal with Reynolds, Wright said, then they could talk. Lesser bought out Reynolds's full interest for $174,500, then made a straight trade with Wright: publication rights, including Reynolds's original printing plates, in return for the movie rights to all nine books.

Wright saw in time that he'd made a bit of a fool's bargain. His books were hugely popular, but their very popularity had saturated the market; there simply wasn't that much to be made from republishing them. The real money was in putting them on the screen, and he had traded that chance to Lesser. After the coming of sound, Wright tried to get the rights back -- or at least get more money for them -- with the creative argument that he had given Lesser only the rights to make silent movies, not talkies. Nice try, Harold, but that one didn't hold up, and Lesser's rights to the works "regardless of technical changes or additions in the film medium" were confirmed. And those rights were extensive; they were universal and in perpetuity, and they included the right to make any changes whatsoever in the story, title, or characters of a given work "to such an extent as the purchaser [Lesser] may deem expedient." In effect, Lesser could make pretty much any picture he wanted and call it "Harold Bell Wright's This and Such." That's what he did, for example, with Wright's cowboy morality tale When a Man's a Man, turning it into a rather paltry little B-western in 1935.

So Wright may well (and I wouldn't blame him) have sighed and rolled his eyes at what was happening to his books in Hollywood, being powerless to alter it. Then again, his curiosity may have drawn him to check out what Paramount did in 1941 with his most popular novel; if so, perhaps he took comfort that, unlike that cheapskate Lesser, at least Paramount brought Technicolor, an "A" budget, and top-shelf talent to the table -- beginning with Henry Hathaway and scenarist Grover Jones.

Hathaway and Jones had collaborated successfully before, having first worked together on 1929's The Virginian, where Hathaway served as assistant to Victor Fleming. When Hathaway himself became a director, Jones worked with him on the scripts of The Lives of a Bengal Lancer, The Trail of the Lonesome Pine and Souls at Sea. Shepherd of the Hills would be their last picture together; on September 24, 1940, while Shepherd was in post-production, Grover Jones died of complications following surgery. He was 46.

The script for Shepherd is credited to Jones and Stuart Anthony, in that order. I don't know how much the two collaborated; maybe they didn't. Anthony may have been the writer brought in to add some connective scenes after Hathaway left the picture (more about that later). In any case, the script jettisons all the melodramatic curlicues of Harold Bell Wright's plot and leaves only a few basics, expanding and elaborating on those.

The setting is a remote mountain valley (Wright was living in the Ozarks of southern Missouri when he began the book) where the sparse populace ekes out a hardscrabble life based on subsistence farming, small-scale sheep ranching, and running moonshine past impotent federal authorities. Everyone cowers under a pall of superstitious misery centered on an empty homestead called Moaning Meadow, where walks (so they say) the ghost of a woman whose man left her to die of a broken heart. Feeding off this festering unhappiness like a spider is the dead woman's sister Mollie Matthews (Beulah Bondi); she has raised her nephew, Young Matt (John Wayne), on a diet of hate, telling him every day that the curse on all their heads can be lifted only when he finds and kills the unkown man who brought it on: his father. Matt is a gentle, tormented soul who doesn't relish the thought of killing, but he sees no way out; not even his growing feelings for pretty Sammy Lane (Betty Field), who plainly adores him, can be allowed to sway him from the task Aunt Mollie has set for him.

Into all this walks kindly old Daniel Howitt (Harry Carey), a man of some (though mysterious) means with a hankering to settle down there. He befriends Sammy Lane and her father Jim, staying with them until he persuades the Matthewses to sell him Moaning Meadow. His effect on the whole valley is nearly miraculous: he heals the sick (treating Jim Lane's wounds when he is shot by a federal agent), raises the dead (saving a little girl who nearly chokes to death while her grieving parents look helplessly on), and makes the blind to see again (sending an old woman to the city for an operation to restore her eyesight). As Howitt tends his flocks on Moaning Meadow, folks roundabout come to regard him, both literally and figuratively, as a good shepherd.

It isn't long before Sammy figures out what has long since dawned on us: Daniel Howitt is Young Matt's long-lost father, the man Matt has sworn to kill. What happens from there constitutes the last act of The Shepherd of the Hills.

Whether the credit goes to Grover Jones or Stuart Anthony (my own money's on Jones), the script for Shepherd has passages that rise to a kind of mountain poetry, like something by James Whitcomb Riley or an Ozark Robert Burns. We hear it in the everyday speech, when a mother tells the village storekeeper about her sick daughter: "I put a dried tater chip and two crawdad legs in her bed. But she's still got that seldom feelin', complainin' from head to heel." And at more important moments, such as when Sammy first tells Mr. Howitt about Moaning Meadow: "That's where the ha'nt comes from. Frogs as quiet as graverocks, and the lake comin' from nowhere, and the trees don't rustle, and the flowers grow big but they don't have pretty smells." Then, when Howitt disregards her advice and buys the meadow: "On account o' ye disobeyin' me ye bought a unhappy land. Moanin' Meadow! Won't nobody come an' pay ye company there, nor warm by your fire with ye ... Them that goes in there has daylight dreams they allus disremembers! An' there's pizen plants an' pokeberries, an' nightshades dancin' with the bats!" The dialogue paints us a picture of an isolated people without schooling in the rules of grammar, but who have learned to make their language measure the deepest reaches of their simple hearts.

Casting Harry Carey and John Wayne as father and son was an inspiration, and it resonated for audiences in 1941 as much as it does for us today, if for a slightly different reason. Wayne was still sweeping along on the momentum of his A-picture breakthrough in Stagecoach after nearly a decade in Poverty Row horse operas. It's a bit of a myth that John Ford and Stagecoach made a star out of an "unknown" John Wayne. He was already a star, albeit in the kind of movies that didn't play Radio City or the Roxy, or win Oscars or make the New York Times 10-best list. But after Stagecoach Wayne was batting in a whole different league. He reported to the set of Shepherd directly after wrapping Seven Sinners with Marlene Dietrich over at Universal. The Duke Wayne of Santa Fe Stampede or King of the Pecos couldn't have shot his way into a Dietrich picture; that's what Stagecoach did for John Wayne. And in 1941 the Wayne persona was still malleable; studios were still experimenting with what kind of vehicles best suited this tall, handsome, earnest young man. The persona wouldn't really become rigidly set until 1948, with Red River, when writer Borden Chase handed Wayne the script and said, "Here's a part you can play for the next twenty years." (Which Wayne pretty much did.)

In 1941, naturally, audiences couldn't be sure where John Wayne was going, but they all knew where Harry Carey had been. Born in the Bronx in 1878, Carey was a self-made westerner and by 1917, as "Cheyenne Harry," he was a western star on a par with William S. Hart. By the late '30s he had made well over 200 pictures and graduated to Respected Elder Character Actor, snagging an Oscar nomination in 1939's Mr. Smith Goes to Washington. Even without knowing what the future had in store for Wayne, audiences could see that he and Carey were two of a kind, and Shepherd of the Hills -- especially in a scene at a fishing hole where Young Matt finds a tentative rapport with the man he doesn't yet know is the father he's sworn to kill -- has an unmistakeable passing-the-torch aura to it.

But the real revelation of The Shepherd of the Hills, its fervently beating heart, is the performance of Betty Field as Sammy Lane. Some writers have asserted that Henry Hathaway was strictly a man's director, but they don't know what they're talking about. A simple look at what he drew from the normally decorative Dorothy Lamour in Spawn of the North and Johnny Apollo, from the ice queen Ann Harding in Peter Ibbetson, from Debbie Reynolds in How the West Was Won, or from Marilyn Monroe in Niagara (probably her best dramatic performance) is enough to put the lie to that.

The best of the lot just may be Betty Field in Shepherd. Her Sammy is feisty and independent, uneducated and superstitious -- muttering half-heard incantations, drawing symbols and spitting in the dirt before venturing into Moaning Meadow -- but no fool. She knows her own world inside out, and when her moonshiner father stumbles home with a revenuer's bullet in his side, she calmly goes about her business, slicing bacon and singing as if nothing had happened, until the suspicious lawmen have gone their way. When she meets Daniel Howitt, she's wary at first, but she soon sees the good in the man and vouches for him to others; when he seeks to cash a check for the unheard-of sum of a hundred dollars, the storekeeper blanches, but says, "Sammy's say-so is all right with me. I'll look around." Sammy senses the tender heart of Young Matt, too, and struggles to reach it, battering in futile frustration at the crust of hatred so carefully planted and tended by the malicious Aunt Mollie.

Hollywood never really knew what to do with this quirky, unique actress. She wasn't really star material, never conventionally glamourous, and she didn't always photograph well. Even when she did, she tended to be merely "attractive" in her youth, "handsome" in middle age. But you couldn't ignore her on screen; whatever she had, she brought it to roles as different as the slatternly Mae in Of Mice and Men (1939), poisonous bad-news Kay in Blues in the Night ('41), and the tormented Cassie Tower in Kings Row ('42). 

In Shepherd of the Hills she gave probably the best performance of her career, and for once she photographed like gangbusters. Her delicate, heart-shaped face, blue-water eyes and fair complexion never looked better than they did for the Technicolor cameras in the crisp mountain sunshine of Shepherd's Big Bear locations. (What a pity that this was her only Technicolor movie in her prime; she didn't face Tech cameras again until 1955's Picnic, when she was well out of her thirties and playing the kind of matronly roles that would occupy the rest of her life.) For perhaps the one and only time in her career, Betty Field is truly beautiful. Still not movie-star glamourous, no competition for Ava Gardner or Maureen O'Hara, but beautiful -- in a way that perfectly suits the earthy, simple and pure-hearted character of Sammy Lane. The Shepherd of the Hills is Betty Field's picture -- lock, stock and barrel -- and Netflix browsers who pop it into their queues expecting a "John Wayne movie" are going to be in for a very big surprise. I hope for their sakes that they're open to it.

In a 1973 oral history interview with Polly Platt, Henry Hathaway told a frustrating tale of studio politics regarding Shepherd of the Hills. His first cut ran 120 minutes and was previewed in San Bernardino. The response, he said, was excellent: no walkouts, and nobody thought the picture was too long. At a second preview, with about ten minutes cut, a few people walked out and about five percent of the audience thought it was too long. A third preview confirmed the trend: the more they cut, the more people thought the movie was too long. Paramount refused to restore any of the cut scenes and just kept cutting; eventually they decided that new scenes needed to be shot to connect what was left. Hathaway said no, just put back some of what I've already shot. Instead, Paramount's Y. Frank Freeman brought in another writer (Stuart Anthony?) and director Stuart Heisler to film the new scenes. Hathaway left the studio to work for Darryl Zanuck at 20th Century Fox; he didn't return to Paramount until The Sons of Katie Elder in 1965. 

Stuart Heisler was a textbook example of the reliable studio hack, and I think I can spot some of the scenes he directed after Freeman took Shepherd out of Hathaway's hands. One is this studio-bound scene between Sammy and Young Matt, talking about things which I strongly suspect Hathaway showed us in some of those missing 22 minutes. Another is the picture's hasty and too-pat final scene, where the writing has a let's-wrap-things-up hurry to it, with little of Grover Jones's ear for the artless poetry of rural speech -- and the staging shows little of Hathaway's instinct for where to put the camera.

But it's no use crying now over 22 minutes of milk spilt 69 years ago. As it is, at 98 minutes, The Shepherd of the Hills gives us Harry Carey toward the end of his career and John Wayne and Betty Field near the beginning of theirs, all of them -- and Henry Hathaway and Grover Jones, too -- at their best.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

C.B. Gets His Due

Here's another book review, but with a difference. While the subject of my last post, Florenz Ziegfeld, was only peripheral to the Hollywood story, this one is right smack dab in the middle of it. The book is Empire of Dreams: The Epic Life of Cecil B. DeMille by Scott Eyman.

I'm still reading Empire of Dreams, but I know gold when I find it. Besides, when you're digging in the Scott Eyman mine, your odds of hitting paydirt are always good. Scott wrote The Speed of Sound, one of two indispensible books on the transition to talkies (the other is Richard Barrios's A Song in the Dark). He also wrote Lion of Hollywood: The Life and Legend of Louis B. Mayer; Mayer was often (and often justly) detested in his time, but Eyman gives us a warts-and-all portrait to counter the warts-only bogeyman of legend, humanizing Mayer and giving the devil his due. And speaking of legends, there's Print the Legend: The Life and Times of John Ford; Eyman himself "prints the legend" along with the truth, and shows how the one derived from the other. Add biographies of Mary Pickford and Ernst Lubitsch among his other books, and Scott Eyman has covered some of the most revered and reviled figures in movie history.

Cecil B. DeMille, in his day and since, was both. Personally, I've gone from one extreme to the other on DeMille, then most of the way back again. My uncle took me to The Greatest Show on Earth when I was four; God knows it's no work of art, but it set the image of the circus for me forever; no real circus has ever lived up to it. Then there was The Ten Commandments (1956); for me, as for anyone else who first saw it at the age of nine or ten -- I say this without fear of contradiction -- DeMille's movie was the Book of Exodus brought to life once and for all. Yes, the pillar of fire that holds back the Egyptian chariots and later carves the Commandments at Mt. Sinai is only ink-and-paint animation -- any child could see that even in 1957. But it didn't matter. Charlton Heston was Moses, Yul Brynner was Rameses II, and that sure as hell was the parting of the Red Sea. (And giving DeMille credit, he wasn't any happier with that pillar of cartoon fire than I or my friends were. But money and time grew tight during post-production and he had to cut some corners. Then, once the movie was released, that was that as far as he was concerned; the age of a Steven Spielberg or a George Lucas tacking expensive afterthoughts onto a hit movie was still years in the future.)

The zenith (or nadir) of my contempt for DeMille's brand of moviemaking was about 1971, in my college know-it-all, tear-down-the-titans phase. I remember writing that year that Ken Russell's movies were no better than Cecil B. DeMille's. "No better," indeed; in fact, Russell's movies -- all of them -- were a good sight worse. I like to think (now) that I knew it even then, but I was certainly too hip to say so. Then, fifteen years ago (more or less), I had mellowed toward the old boy; when The Ten Commandments played a revival date at a local theater, I wrote, "Cecil B. DeMille may have been a sanctimonious old humbug, but he sure knew how to put on a show."

Well, I was getting warm -- in more ways than one. In fact, as Scott Eyman proves beyond arguing, Cecil B. DeMille had a career absolutely unique in movies -- or any other form of show business, for that matter. He was the first superstar movie director after D.W. Griffith, and he was still riding high thirty years later, as Griffith was fading away in boozy neglect at the Hollywood Knickerbocker Hotel. Thanks to his nine-year stint as host of The Lux Radio Theatre, DeMille was a nationwide household name at a time when few Americans knew or cared who directed the movies they saw every week.

When C.B. came to Hollywood in 1913, it was a sleepy wide spot in the rural road several miles from Los Angeles, surrounded by sagebrush, rattlesnakes, wolves, deer and jackrabbits. By the time he shuffled off his mortal coil in 1959, the town was home to Ciro's, the Brown Derby, the Hollywood Bowl and Grauman's Chinese Theatre -- not to mention the very idea of "Hollywood" itself, which DeMille and his fellow pioneers had such a hand in creating.

They say one of the components of an epic story is that it portrays great changes in the land. By that measure, Eyman's subtitle, The Epic Life of Cecil B. DeMille, is more than just a play on the kind of picture most associated with DeMille. It is an epic story, and DeMille's was an epic life. Larger-than-life characters -- that's another ingredient of the epic, and DeMille was that, too: grandiloquent and intimidating to many, but he attracted a stock company of actors and a core of designers and technicians who stayed with him for decades, some for the rest of their lives, others for the rest of his.

DeMille came to movies as a struggling actor-playwright firmly grounded in the theater of the 19th century; his father's partner, and Cecil's own role model, was David Belasco. Cecil embraced the cutting-edge technology of early movies with eager arms, just as he would in time embrace talkies, Technicolor, the wide screen and stereophonic sound. But he never lost that Belasco worldview. One of the most interesting insights in Eyman's book comes, oddly enough, from the costume designer Adrian, who worked two years for DeMille before settling into his throne at MGM: "He believed in his world ... a world of antiquity from which he rarely emerged." As Eyman himself puts it, "DeMille would remain his father's son, a nineteenth-century man of the theater -- his greatest strength, as well as his greatest limitation."

Scott Eyman has a historian's thoroughness, and for Empire of Dreams he had access to Cecil B. DeMille's archives, which run to some 2,000 boxes now housed at Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah. Equally important, he has a critic's perception and perspective. That combination makes all his books worth reading, and this one especially, because DeMille and his career really were unique. Eyman sheds light on all the facets of DeMille's work: the innovative artist of the early silents, the monumental presence of the talkies, and -- always -- the showman. I'm loving it.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Flo Chart

Florenz Ziegfeld Jr., who bestrode Broadway, in life and legend, for the entire 20th century, made a few forays into the movie business -- especially in the last years of his life when, after a string of expensive flops on top of huge losses in the stock market crash of 1929, he tried to diversify his activities beyond Broadway and its lurking creditors. And that's all the excuse I need to turn this post into a plug for Ethan Mordden's Ziegfeld: The Man Who Invented Show Business.

Would you like even more of a Hollywood connection than that? Okay, how's this: You see that beauty with the peacock feathers who adorns the front cover of Mordden's book? There is, ahem, a more complete view on the back, reproduced at right. Mordden identifies her as The Ziegfeld Girl Who Never Was, photographed by Ziegfeld's house photographer, Alfred Cheyney Johnston, with his customary mix of glamour, dignity and eros, even though her audition failed to get her into the rarefied ranks of the Ziegfeld Girls. Believe it or not, that's the young Norma Shearer. No kidding. Now look again (if you haven't already); try to match that gracefully arching back with the Norma you remember from The Women or Marie Antoinette. When her husband Irving Thalberg was overseeing The Great Ziegfeld at MGM in 1936, do you suppose Norma's thoughts ever wandered to this photo session fifteen years or so earlier? Did she wonder what had become of the negatives and prints?

Ethan Mordden's books are full of surprises like that, although he doesn't usually splash them across the front cover. And the surprises usually aren't pictorial, either; Mordden's books are well but not lavishly illustrated.

Someone once said of the Civil War historian Bruce Catton that he wrote about the Army of the Potomac as if he had served with it -- meaning his knowledge was that intimate and comprehensive, his style that relaxed and casual. That's how it is with Ethan Mordden and his books about Broadway: he writes about these shows as if he saw them. Of course, for any show since the original The King and I in 1952, he probably did see it. But he writes with the same intimate authority about plays and musicals that came and went long before he was born in 1949, and that's what makes his books so much fun. He's written a seven-volume history of the Golden Age of the Broadway Musical that's required reading for anyone even slightly interested in the subject: Make Believe (about the 1920s), Sing for Your Supper ('30s), Beautiful Mornin' ('40s), Coming Up Roses ('50s), Open a New Window ('60s), One More Kiss ('70s), and finally (since he dates the end of the Golden Age to the death of Gower Champion in 1980) The Happiest Corpse I've Ever Seen (1980-2005). Toss in books like All That Glittered: The Golden Age of Drama on Broadway, 1919-1959 and the coffee-table tome Rodgers and Hammerstein, and Ethan Mordden becomes entirely indispensible. (Movies haven't escaped his expertise, either; also indispensible is The Hollywood Musical, published back in 1981 -- his seventh book.)

After all that, the very thought of a Mordden book about Florenz Ziegfeld is delicious -- and the book fully delivers the feast that the thought promises. Mordden is a scholar, certainly, but he doesn't write in a scholarly fashion; he's offhand, chatty -- even catty -- and to read his account of Ziegfeld and his first wife, the belle epoque superstar Anna Held, motoring around New York in one of her beloved, newfangled automobiles is to feel like you're there watching them pass. And he has a flair for the delightfully pithy: "Too often [in the 1900s], romantic shows dragged in jokes like a child pulling a yakking wooden duck." "Ruby Keeler definitely had a lovable clunky something, but her performing skills per se were on the perfunctory side." Or on the difference between the real Billie Burke, Ziegfeld's second wife, and the Billie we know from movies like Dinner at Eight and The Wizard of Oz: "[T]hese films disguise the Billie who fell in love with Ziegfeld ... Billie of the movies is a sharp comedienne playing a prattling human doily ... Billie the Charles Frohman star was someone else entirely -- younger, obviously, but keen, bold, and vivacious in a red-hair-and-blue-eyes coloring." One of the ancillary pleasures of Ziegfeld is the long clear glimpse it gives us of the lady behind Glinda.

There have been many books about Florenz Ziegfeld, beginning just months after his death in 1932, and Mordden gives them full credit in a long "Sources and Further Reading" epilogue to his book (don't skip it thinking there's nothing more to learn). There's much that's unknowable, and always was, about this intensely private, even secretive, man. Mordden's subtitle tells us his approach: The Man Who Invented Show Business. By deep research and sharp analysis he gives us what feels like a personal insight into Ziegfeld the staid conservative revolutionary, the first producer to have four smash hits running on Broadway simultaneously, earning him the cover of Time on May 14, 1928. You had to actually do something to get the cover of Time in those days. Do something and be somebody. This book gives us a real grasp of who he was, what he did, and what drove and enabled him to do it.

While I was reading Ziegfeld, I went to the post office on business. When I set the book down on the counter, the clerk glanced at it. "Ziegfeld. Is that the guy with the Follies?" Florenz Ziegfeld Jr. -- and nearly everyone who knew him -- had been dead a good forty years by the time this mailman was born. But he knew who Ziegfeld was -- he even knew how to pronounce the name correctly. In Ziegfeld: The Man Who Invented Show Business, Ethan Mordden tells us why.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Movie Playing Cards: 5 of Spades - George Walsh

George Walsh's chief claim to fame is the movie he didn't
make. He's one of three actors known to have 
been the 5 of Spades in the Moriarty deck, and probably 
not the first. Of the other two, the first was 
probably Harold A. Lockwood. I say "probably" 
because Lockwood didn't have long to join the deck, 
so he must have done it early; he died 
in the Spanish Flu pandemic of 1918, age 31. 
Before that he had appeared in 131 pictures since 1911, 
with three more released posthumously. In 23 of those 
pictures, all between 1915 and '17, he was half of 
a romantic team with May Allison (5 of Diamonds in my deck, 
Queen of Hearts in others). The other 5 of Spades was 
Charles Kent, already 64 years old by the time the cards 
were introduced in 1916. Kent's first known picture was 
in 1908 -- Macbeth for Vitagraph (and he played old King 
Duncan in that). Unlike Lockwood, he would outlive the 
production of the cards, dying in 1923 at 70. My guess is 
that Lockwood was the first face on the 5 of Spades, 
Kent the second, followed by George Walsh, who didn't 
make his first picture until the others had made 
94 and 81, respectively.

This is as good a time as any to talk about those numbers of pictures I keep throwing around. Ninety-four and 81 pictures in less than ten years? Why, Dustin Hoffman and Jack Nicholson (to take two random, veteran examples) haven't made 80 pictures apiece in their entire careers. Of course, we're not talking about full 90-to-100-minute features here, although such things weren't unheard of even as early as 1915. By the late 'teens, the average feature was about five reels -- between an hour and 75 minutes, depending on the speed of individual hand-cranked projectors used in those days. Before 1915 or so, most pictures were probably two or three reels -- the rough equivalent of an episode of a TV series. That's how Harold Lockwood and May Allison could make 23 pictures together in two years, but it's still a pretty breakneck pace. Mutual, Vitagraph, Biograph, Edison and Famous Players-Lasky kept their actors and crews busy, grinding out material for the burgeoning number of movie houses, where a picture would seldom play more than three or four days. 

But back to George Walsh. Born in 1889, he followed his older brother Raoul into pictures in the mid-1910s, having originally planned to be an attorney (he attended, however briefly, Fordham and Georgetown). He also attended New York's High School of Commerce, where he graduated in 1911, and where he was a versatile athlete: baseball, track, cross country, swimming, rowing. This experience would stand him in good stead, at least in the Hollywood short run -- certainly better than whatever he learned about commerce or pre-law.

I don't know what drew George to pictures in the first place, but it's easy to imagine him being lured by the stories his brother told. Raoul had backed into pictures after working as a cowboy; his horsemanship had landed him a stage job, riding a galloping horse on a treadmill for a touring company of The Clansman. From that he got the acting bug, forgetting all about cowpunching. He wound up in New York making westerns (mostly) for Pathe, then followed D.W. Griffith to California. He loved the freewheeling fun of making pictures in those days, and he surely must have painted an enticing picture for George -- "With your looks and athletic ability, you're a natural for this stuff." Hal Erickson at says that George joined Raoul at Reliance-Mutual in 1914, but according to the IMDB, George's first picture was an indeterminate bit in The Birth of a Nation for D.W. Griffith. Or more likely a series of bits; Griffith was economical in his use of extras, and George may well have been one of those who saw himself on screen fighting on both sides of a battle. Raoul played John Wilkes Booth in Birth, but was already on his way to a director's career (it would extend to 1964; Raoul Walsh remains a favorite director among critics and historians).

George did get his first breaks in Reliance-Mutual pictures directed by Raoul and others, moving up the cast list till he was top-billed, and first drawing the eye of Variety's reviewer in Raoul's Blue Blood and Red (1916): "The kid is clever...a fine, manly looking chap, full of athletic stunts..." By this time, both Raoul and George were working for William Fox, and soon George worked again for D.W. Griffith. Here he is as the Bridegroom of Cana in the Judean Story section of Intolerance, receiving the bad news that the wine supply has run out. With him are 17-year-old Bessie Love (still several years from her own stardom) as the Bride of Cana and William Brown as the father of the bride.

That same year, George married Seena Owen (nee Signe Auen of Spokane, Wash.). They probably met on the set of Intolerance, where Seena played Princess Beloved in the Fall of Babylon story. The union, the only marriage for either of them, would end in divorce in 1924. (UPDATE 6/22/13: It turns out this was not in fact George Walsh's only marriage. See the comment below from "Anonymous", who married George's eldest son Tom in 1982.)

George Walsh's career flourished as William Fox's slightly younger answer to Douglas Fairbanks. By this I mean the early Fairbanks, before The Mark of Zorro, Robin Hood, The Thief of Bagdad, etc. landed him permanently in costume swashbucklers. Before Zorro, the typical Fairbanks hero was a boyish, high-spirited American naif, triumphing over adversity in effortless leaps and bounds, always with a beaming, irresistible smile.

And so it was with George Walsh. His pictures from 1916 to 1920 are probably all irretrievably lost, but reviews in Variety document their pleasures, and Walsh's appeal: The Mediator ('16), "Walsh proves himself as good a rough and tumble man as ever got into focus;" Melting Millions ('17), "his athletic ability stands him in good stead for this particular line of work;" Brave and Bold ('18), "Mr. Walsh does some athletics, jumping over everybody in his path, runs an auto or motorcycle, whichever is the handiest when needed, and climbs up the front of the Ft. Pitt hotel at Pittsburgh to keep an appointment with a French prince;" On the Jump ('18), "...the whole thing is built around Mr. Walsh, apparently with the idea of giving him opportunities to perform unusual stunts;" Luck and Pluck ('19), "Walsh is in his glory scaling walls, climbing trees, foiling cops, etc. There are a couple of corking fights where he handles anywhere from a dozen to twenty opponents at a time;" From Now On ('20), "What may be held up for approval is the hard work which George Walsh invests in it." The image conjured up from these reviews is a series of lightweight adventures distinguished by George's prowess; as brother Raoul, who directed From Now On, said years later, "Well, anything with him wouldn't be too heavy."

George's career did get a little heavier as the 1920s dawned. In 1922 he played explorer Henry Morton Stanley in With Stanley in Africa; neither the film nor any reviews seem to have survived, but it appears a more serious departure from his vehicles to date. So was Vanity Fair the next year, in which he played the dashing wastrel Rawdon Crawley, though the picture was not well received. It's an open question how well Thackeray's huge novel could be adapted into an 80-minute silent movie, but writer-director Hugo Ballin seems not to have risen to the occasion; Variety carped that most of the picture was frittered away on closeups of Ballin's wife Mabel, who played Becky Sharp. In any case, Walsh didn't make much of an impression. He had better luck with Rosita, playing the love interest for Mary Pickford under the direction of German emigre Ernst Lubitsch making his first American picture; Walsh basked in the reflected glory showered on Lubitsch and Pickford by the movie's artistic and commercial success.

Then came what looked like the break of a lifetime: George Walsh was chosen by June Mathis to play the title role in Metro's screen adaptation of Ben-Hur, to be shot on location in Rome. This was the role that every actor in movies coveted. The most popular choice, Rudolph Valentino, was out of play because of a contract dispute with Famous Players-Lasky; until they settled their differences, the studio wasn't about to let him work for anyone else. Mathis ordered tests, dozens of them, and Walsh won out. In his recounting of the Ben-Hur production in The Parade's Gone By, Kevin Brownlow tells us that there was little enthusiasm in Hollywood for the choice; George was a fine physical specimen, they said, but not that strong an actor.

To Walsh, this was surely the gravy train to glory, and he grabbed on with both hands. He gladly agreed to a salary cut when offered the role, and even swallowed his umbrage when, as the company sailed for Italy in the spring of 1924, he found himself relegated to second-class accommodations. Arriving in Rome, he worked out every day with his co-star Francis X. Bushman (playing Messala) and posed for a few publicity stills like this one. Otherwise he was ignored.

Things didn't go well for Ben-Hur in Italy. Sets weren't ready, equipment wasn't available. Matters began in a state of disorganization and degenerated into hopeless chaos. June Mathis, ostensibly the production supervisor as well as scriptwriter, was barred from the set by director Charles Brabin -- not that there was much set to bar her from. While construction dawdled along, the company adjourned to Anzio to shoot the sea battle; Brabin sat around drinking wine and regaling the crew with longwinded stories while underlings haggled with local bureaucrats and hundreds of extras idled sweltering on the beach. When cameras finally rolled, everything went wrong.

Well, I needn't go on; you can get the whole story from Brownlow. By autumn of 1924, the newly-formed MGM had inherited this mess, and L.B. Mayer and Irving Thalberg took drastic measures. Brabin was fired because his footage was awful. June Mathis was fired because she had been the supposed supervisor of this fiasco, and had insisted on shooting in Rome in the first place. And George Walsh was fired because Mathis had hired him -- besides, MGM wanted to build up their rising star Ramon Novarro. Walsh and Bushman (one of the few survivors of the purge) read about the changes in the newspapers.

It was a bitter pill for George. "You know, Frank," he told Bushman, "I felt this was going to happen. But to leave me over here for so long, to let me die in pictures -- and then to change me!" Because MGM, in damage control mode, kept mum about the state of the production and the reasons for such sweeping changes, the impression was left that George simply couldn't cut it -- just as everyone expected.

Could he have cut it? Maybe, maybe not. June Mathis shrugged off her own dismissal, saying her chief regret was for Walsh: "I had complete faith in his ability to play Ben-Hur," she told Photoplay. "I realize many other people did not believe in him, but the same thing occurred when I selected Rudolph Valentino for the role of Julio in The Four Horsemen. Valentino justified himself, and I am confident that Mr. Walsh would have done the same thing. Actually, he was given no opportunity to succeed or fail. He was withdrawn without a chance. Indeed, Mr. Novarro was in Rome for three days before Mr. Walsh was notified that he had been succeeded in the leading role." Nevertheless, in Hollywood -- then as now -- image was everything. George slunk home a "failure," even though he had not faced the cameras for so much as a frame of film.

He didn't exactly "die in pictures," but in an age where a star was expected to appear in a new picture several times a year -- even every few weeks -- George Walsh was off the screen from December 1923 to October '25. He had lost momentum, and he never really got it back. His vehicles continued as they had before, with titles like American Pluck, The Kick-Off, Striving for Fortune and His Rise to Fame, but the scripts were more formulaic than ever, the productions cheaper and more slapdash, the companies increasingly fly-by-night. The kid was looking less clever than he once had; more important, he was no longer a kid. His last starring vehicle was the inaptly named Inspiration (1928), which Variety termed "for second run houses in not too particular neighborhoods."

After the coming of sound Walsh made a few movies, but was never again top-billed. Supporting roles (often in brother Raoul's pictures like Me and My Gal, The Bowery and Under Pressure) slid into bits -- like this one in Cecil B. DeMille's Cleopatra (1934), as a courier bringing Antony (Henry Wilcoxon) and Cleopatra (Claudette Colbert) the bad news that Octavian is on the march. After Raoul's Klondike Annie and a couple of Poverty Row westerns in 1936, George decided to call it a day in pictures, and retired from the screen to work as a racehorse trainer for the Hollywood horsey set.

All in all, George Walsh didn't have such a bad run; his pictures were breezy, undemanding fun in their day and he had a definite following. Getting canned from Ben-Hur was a blow, no doubt, but how much of his subsequent career slide was due to his two years out of circulation, and how much was simply because his day was done, is something I guess we'll never know. Like any other star, he arrived, he blazed, and he waned, then (unlike some) lived to a ripe old age: George Walsh was 92 when he passed away in Pomona, Calif. in 1981.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Movie Playing Cards: 9 of Diamonds - Mary Miles Minter

This one's too dramatically juicy to ignore. Poor Mary Miles Minter -- was there ever a Hollywood life more pathetic, or more completely ignored by posterity? She once seemed to be the heiress apparent to Mary Pickford, yet Pickford is still a household name nearly 80 years after her last movie, while Minter... I suppose it doesn't help that only six of Minter's 54 movies are said to survive. But Minter's obscurity isn't merely a function of poor film preservation. It was her off-screen life that doomed her to an addled oblivion and a lonely death at the age of 82 -- and her off-screen life was something she never had a moment's control over. Poor Mary Miles Minter.

 As I said before, Minter is the only person to appear at the 9 of Diamonds in any extant version of the M.J. Moriarty deck of cards, so presumably the happily smiling lass we see on the card is Mary as she looked in 1916, when she was only 14 years old. She looks more mature in the undated photo at right, less inclined to adolescent baby fat, though surely no more than 18 or 19. More melancholy, too -- or is it just historical hindsight that makes me want to see a sadder-but-wiser girl? 

Poses like that are easy to find of Minter -- wide-eyed, pensive, gazing soulfully to one side or the other of the camera, as if listening intently for something. Or to someone. It was a popular attitude for virginal waifs in those days, but in Mary's case it might have had another motive: to make her look older. People look younger when they smile. For an illustration by contrast, here's a postcard of Mary (probably from late 1922 or early '23, near the end of her career) in which her smile looks quite open and unforced. There's a certain dressing-up-in-Mama's-clothes quality about this picture, isn't there?

That may not be too far from the truth. Minter's mother was a real piece of work, a frustrated actress in the mold of stage mothers from time immemorial, who live out their own thwarted ambitions through their daughters -- once they realize that that's where the real talent in the family is.

Mary Miles Minter was born Juliet Reilly on April Fool's Day 1902 in Shreveport, Louisiana, the younger of two daughters of J. Homer and Lily Pearl Miles Reilly. By 1907 Homer was out of the picture, sent packing by Lily Pearl, who went gallivanting off to New York to be an actress, adopting the name Charlotte Shelby. Nobody knows why she chose that name; Sidney D. Kirkpatrick, in his book A Cast of Killers (more about that later), relays the speculation that a politician named Shelby might have helped Lily Pearl get her first big break. For whatever reason.

Charlotte had left Juliet and her sister Margaret with their grandmother, but she soon sent for them to join her in New York, where little six-year-old Juliet caught the eye of Charles Frohman, producer of the play Charlotte was appearing in. Kirkpatrick says Frohman cast the tot in Cameo Kirby and A Fool There Was -- but neither play was produced by Frohman, and Juliet Shelby doesn't appear in either cast on the Internet Broadway Database. Well, whatever the exact names or titles involved, Charlotte realized in short order that little Juliet was the meal ticket.

Juliet Shelby made at least one picture under that name in 1912, for Universal in New York: The Nurse (now lost, of course). Not long after that she caught the baleful eye of the Gerry Society, watchdogs over the exploitation of child labor and the bane of any show business troupe with underage players. Charlotte handled the matter creatively; she rushed back to Louisiana and borrowed the birth certificate -- and name -- of her sister's daughter, who had died in 1905 at the age of eight. And hey presto! -- eleven-year-old Juliet Shelby became sixteen-year-old Mary Miles Minter, old enough to satisfy the Gerry Society but looking young enough (because she was) to play the sort of roles for which she was in demand. By the time she made a hit on Broadway in Edward Peple's The Littlest Rebel, she was Mary for good.

This, in case you're keeping track, makes the fourth name our girl had by the time she was eleven. Born Juliet Reilly, then Juliet Miles while she lived with her grandmother, then Juliet Shelby after joining her mother in New York, and finally Mary Miles Minter, a name and identity borrowed -- stolen, really -- from a dead cousin she never knew, yanking her once and for all out of any chance at a normal childhood. I leave the psychiatrists to speculate on what a history like that can do to a girl's self-image.

By the time she returned to pictures in 1915, this time on the West Coast for a succession of studios, she was an established stage name (although in true Hollywood fashion, her biggest hit, The Littlest Rebel, was filmed with somebody else, one Mimi Yvonne). "Of Littlest Rebel fame" followed her everywhere she went.

And so did Charlotte. Somebody made up a nursery ryme: 
Mary was a little lamb.
Her heart was white as snow.
And everywhere that Mary went,
Her mother had to go.
Actress Florence Vidor, as quoted by Sidney Kirkpatrick, remembered: "She and her mother were at each other's throats from the day I met them. They fought about everything. But her mother always won. Mary was like Charlotte's cute little puppet. I don't think she ever cared about acting too much, really, but Charlotte wanted her to be a star, so Mary did what she was told." Journalist Adela Rogers St. Johns said that Charlotte's only career was "managing" Mary's -- at a 30 percent commission. She hired lawyers to find loopholes in whatever contracts she signed for Mary so she could shop for better deals at other studios. 

And she kept Mary hopping: Six pictures at Metro in 1915 and '16, then ten at Mutual in '16 and '17, one more at Metro, then back to Mutual for nine more through July 1918, when Mary was still only 16. Then to Pathe for seven pictures in one year, topped off by Charlotte's coup de grace in 1919: a million-dollar-plus contract with Paramount just as America's Sweetheart Pickford was bailing on her Paramount contract for a sweeter deal with First National and, later, her own United Artists.

Thirty-three pictures in 49 months; that's a long resume for someone who "didn't ever care about acting too much, really." Maybe Mary's heart wasn't in the acting at that, but what else could she do? What else had she ever been allowed to do? She had to support the family in a style to which Charlotte was enjoying becoming accustomed. Charlotte and sister Margaret were actresses after a fashion, but the only parts they ever got were supporting roles in Mary's pictures, suggesting that talent wasn't a major factor in their casting.

Besides, there's evidence that the critics, at least, were beginning to view this Mary as something of a Pickford manque. Reviewing The Intrusion of Isabel in 1919, Variety said, "Miss Minter as the years advance still has much to learn now that she [is] becoming past the age of being a child wonder ... She seems to be always bounding and jumping around, throwing her arms about someone."  Later, on Anne of Green Gables, the paper said she "revealed nothing approaching the Pickford standard."

Green Gables was nevertheless a success, and credit for it accrued to the director, William Desmond Taylor. In all, Taylor directed Minter in four pictures, and seems to have had a good effect on her acting; of their next one, Judy of Rogues' Harbor, Variety said, "Miss Minter shows improvement with each new production, and her work in the present feature is by far the best she has done yet."

What effect further work with Taylor might have had we'll never know, for after the release of Jenny Be Good in April 1920 they never worked together again. But there's reason to believe -- at least judging from Variety's reviews -- that he had a pivotal influence on her acting in those four pictures, all made in the year between her seventeenth and eighteenth birthdays.

He may have had other effects on her as well, and that possibility came to light only after the evening of Wednesday, February 1, 1922. On that night, sometime after 7:45 p.m., in the living room of this bungalow at 404 Alvarado Street in Los Angeles, somebody stood behind William Desmond Taylor and shot him dead with a .38-caliber Smith & Wesson revolver.

The murder came right smack in between Roscoe "Fatty" Arbuckle's second and third trials, up in San Francisco, in the death of Virginia Rappe after a Labor Day party in Arbuckle's suite at the St. Francis Hotel. And the press pounced on Taylor as they had on Arbuckle; here was more proof -- as if any was needed -- of the moral turpitude of Hollywood. Lurid stories circulated in the press as the investigation progressed. Most of them weren't reflected in the official police files or those of a succession of Los Angeles district attorneys, but they were enough to ruin two careers.

Not all of the stories weren't true. For one thing, it developed that William Desmond Taylor wasn't his real name. He was born William Cunningham Deane-Tanner in 1867, not 1877 as widely believed while he was alive. He had abandoned a wife and daughter in New York in 1908; his wife had divorced him in absentia, but she spotted him in one of his pictures as an actor, leading his daughter Daisy to seek to contact him. They had finally met in July 1921, and Tanner/Taylor promised to see her again; as things turned out, he never did. There was enough mystery in Taylor's real life to feed plenty of rumors after his death.

The first career ruined by the Taylor scandal belonged to
Mabel Normand. Already "tainted" in the public mind
by her long on-screen association with Arbuckle,
she had the incredibly bad luck to be the last person
(besides the killer) to see Taylor alive. She had visited
him that night, leaving a little after 7:30; Taylor
walked her out to her car on Alvarado, then returned
to his house for the last time. Rumors were
repeated in the press: that she was a cocaine
addict (true); that she was back at Taylor's the
morning his body was discovered, ransacking the
place in search of compromising letters (false). She
was closely questioned, investigated and exonerated.
But it didn't help; the rumors -- and her drug problem --
persisted, and fed each other in a spiraling decline.
By the time she died in 1930, of tuberculosis no doubt
aggravated by her addiction, she hadn't worked in
three years. She was only 34. As she lay dying,
she mused, "I wonder who killed poor Bill Taylor."

The other ruined career, of course, was Mary Miles Minter's, and looking at her face in this picture she (or, more likely, Mama Charlotte) signed for the 1923 edition of Blue Book of the Screen, it's impossible not to believe she knew the end was nigh. In the flurry of publicity after Taylor's murder, all of her publicity was bad. Love letters surfaced, some in a kind of schoolgirl code, that she had written to Taylor -- they look girlishly innocuous to modern eyes, but in 1922 they were scandalous, and not in keeping with the sugar-and-spice-and-everything-nice image Charlotte and her studios had so carefully cultivated. In Taylor's bedroom dresser was found a sheer pink nightie embroidered with "MMM;" it was passed around police headquarters for a while, for laughs, before vanishing altogether.

Were Minter and Taylor -- 15 and 50, respectively, when they met in 1917 -- lovers? Only two people ever knew the answer to that one, and they both died without saying. Florence Vidor, for one, didn't believe Minter was sexually active with Taylor or anyone else. When would she have the chance, with Charlotte never letting her out of her sight? Some friends of Taylor's believed Minter was infatuated with the director, badgering him with pleas for his affection when he regarded her as no more than a dear little child; other acquaintances believed that, well, Taylor had no interest in women of any age. 

Whatever the case, the damage was done. Even before the murder, the Hollywood establishment had begun to suspect that Mary Miles Minter's time had all but passed; afterward, studios and the public at large regarded her almost as a has-been who wouldn't go away. Reviews of her last picture, The Trail of the Lonesome Pine (released on April 15, 1923) were downright cruel. The New York Times: "The chubby Mary Miles Minter, who apparently does not often take as much exercise as in this production..." Variety wasn't as unchivalrous as all that, but reviewer "Fred" dismissed her as "colorless." Ten days later, Paramount bought out her contract for $350,000 and released her. She had just turned 21. 

The murder of William Desmond Taylor was never officially solved, and it hung over Mary Miles Minter and her mother like a curse from beyond the grave. Eventually the two were driven to a public statement: the L.A. district attorney should put up or shut up; publish any evidence against them and charge them, or absolve them once and for all. The D.A.'s office replied that they had nothing, and absolved them. Over the years there's been no shortage of theories. He was shot by a burglar. Or by Normand. Or one of her ex-lovers. Or a bootlegger to whom Taylor owed money. Or drug dealers, angered by his efforts to help Normand kick her habit and to have them driven out of town. Or a secretary who had disappeared after robbing Taylor and forging his signature to cash checks. Or, no kidding, the butler (one Henry Peavey) did it. 

In 1967, 73-year-old director King Vidor, who had been a contemporary and acquaintance of Taylor's, launched a personal investigation for a screenplay he hoped to write and direct. Many Hollywood old-timers were still alive then, and nearly all of them had their own take on the mystery. His efforts took him far and wide, visiting friends and former colleagues -- including Mary Miles Minter herself. She was now living quietly in Santa Monica and answering only to Mrs. Brandon O'Hildebrandt, the name of the man she married in 1957, after Charlotte Shelby finally died. Her husband had died in 1965, leaving little Juliet Reilly a final name to fold herself into.

Or perhaps there was one more. Vidor was appalled to find an obese, demented wreck of the beauty he had known, looking far older than her 65 years and clearly mentally unstable. She said she was writing a lot these days, poetry of her own. When Vidor glanced at the stack of poems she had, he noticed they were all signed "by Charlotte Shelby."

Vidor never made that movie, or any other feature, though there was an unrelated documentary short in 1980. Solomon and Sheba in 1959 proved to be his final outing as a director. The fruits of his investigation were locked away in a strongbox in his garage, where they were discovered after Vidor's death by his biographer Sidney D. Kirkpatrick. Kirkpatrick published the material in 1986, along with Vidor's conclusions about the crime, as A Cast of Killers. I won't mention Vidor's solution to the mystery, because I happen to believe it's the correct one. Kirkpatrick's book, despite some minor inaccuracies and the annoying lack of an index for such a complicated tale, is a good read, and I wouldn't care to spoil it. 

Juliet Reilly/Miles/Shelby/Mary Miles Minter/Mrs. Brandon O'Hildebrandt outlived King Vidor by nearly two years. Mentally fragile as she may have been, she was reasonably well-fixed thanks to real estate investments during the glory days. But her Santa Monica neighborhood grew perilous, and she was robbed more than once. During one robbery in 1981 she was bound, gagged, beaten and left for dead; she survived, and an ex-servant was charged with the crime. She died on August 4, 1984, age 82; any thoughts she had after that 1967 visit from King Vidor she most likely took with her. Mary Miles Minter has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 1724 Vine St., a little over five miles from the spot where William Desmond Taylor died. 

POSTSCRIPT: In preparing this post, I went looking for a copy of A Cast of Killers, my first one having slipped out of my hands some twenty years ago. I found a copy at a used-book store, and snapped it up. When I got it home, I learned to my surprise that I had bought an autographed copy. On the title page, above his signature, Sidney D. Kirkpatrick had cautioned a previous owner: "Don't let this story haunt you. It's only Hollywood."

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