Saturday, June 27, 2009

the thelma todd mystery, and why hollywood babylon makes me want to punch polar bears

Much has been written of Thelma Todd's death and the circumstances surrounding her case. The Ice Cream Blonde, best known for her roles in Marx Brothers films such as Monkey Business and Horse Feathers, was found dead in the garage of her apartment above her famed Roadside Cafe on the Pacific Coast Highway. The jury ruled that she died by her own hand of carbon monoxide poisoning on December 16th, 1935, leaving many unanswered questions. What of the state of the body when it was found? The blood on her mink coat, a broken tooth? What of the testimony of silent film star Jewel Carmen (the wife of Todd's lover, Roland West), that she had seen Todd out for a drive on Sunday with a handsome stranger, contradicting the verdict that she had died early that morning? Or of Ida Lupino's testimony that though Todd had seemed happy and carefree the night before at the Troacadero, she admitted to cheating on West? What of the fight she supposedly had with lover Roland West the night before, where he locked her out of their shared apartment and was seen kicking the door and screaming? There are several different theories of what must have really happened.

1. All of this is mere conspiracy theory, and the poor girl just fell asleep.
2. Roland West wanted to break off the relationship and decided to bump her off. He had a girlfriend who looked like Todd perform the kick and scream routine outside while he knocked her out and left her in her car with the motor running.
3. Lucky Luciano wanted to use her club for illegal gambling and she refused. You don't mess with Lucky Luciano.
4. She was murdered by her ex-husband Pat DiCicco
5. She was having bouts of depression and many financial troubles, indicating that she may have actually committed suicide
6. Or, according to a segment on the History Channel show Histories Mysteries, Roland West admitted to the crime on his deathbed, saying that he had locked her in the garage because he was possessive and suspicious of her and did not want her going out again that night, leading to accidental asphyxiation.

We may never know what really happened, but one thing I did not know is that the cafe still stands! And worse than that, I must have driven right past it on my trip last week without realizing it! It is now home to Paulist Productions at 17575 Pacific Coast Highway, and looks much as it did when it was owned by Todd. I didn't want anyone else to make the same mistake.

Now it must be noted that all of this is mere speculation as my only source other than some of the things I've found on the internet in the past hour is that rag book of all rag books Hollywood Babylon which I need to briefly rant about. It is an interesting read for those interested in Hollywood gossip, and there is a certain validity in it insofar as part of Hollywood stardom is the myth of stardom, what was written in fan magazines, by the studios, by the gossip mongers, and how we come to understand these people through many different sources with different types of spin. I'm one of those strange people who is interested in truth (or at least makes a distinction between books like HB and say, a well researched biography. Because there is a difference, even for figures as moldable as stars). No doubt there were many, and I mean many racy, "sinful", sometimes terrible things that went on in Hollywood then and now, but that is no excuse for printing a book with no actual sources listed claiming that everything written in the book is exactly as it happened.

Note: No polar bears were harmed in the writing of this post.

Friday, June 26, 2009

friday night confessional

In an attempt to start weekly features that I may or may not keep up with due to work and the work I have to do when I am not at work, I've decided to start a weekend post that is entirely informal because I'm always exhausted by this time but feel guilty when I don't keep up with this blog. It is reserved for random youtube videos, the mysteries of the world (who are we? why are we here? and more importantly, why the hell did ava gardner marry mickey rooney?), or any other form of ramblings because I know that hardly anyone reads blogs on the weekends and plan to take full advantage of this thin veil of secrecy. Cue diabolical laughter. Because I work during the week I always feel like I miss the peak time and therefore have not really posted much that is really worth reading, and for that I apologize and hope that I don't lose any readership for I plan on posting better posts in the future.

With that said...My Confession?

I went through a Facts of Life phase. 
Phase is really too weak a word. Even obsession is too weak a word.

I taped every single episode on vhs. I was still a wee idiot and had no idea how to pre-record, so I woke up at 4am because I desperately wanted to see the Christmas episode where Lisa Welchel sings. I learned to play the theme song on my flute. I roped one of my other friends into writing all the cast members letters when Nancy McKeon didn't want to do the reunion movie. My friend got an autographed headshot from Nancy McKeon...which in my eyes did not make up for not doing the reunion movie. I then looked up McKeon's family tree online, thinking that we may be part of the same Scottish clan... 

Many years later, after this dark period had passed, I met Charlotte Rae after a play, where she either said "get a life" or "that's my ride." It should be noted that she then got into a moving vehicle, but I'm still not convinced. John Astin, an incredibly kind person from the several minutes he spent talking with me, was also in the show and introduced me to his son Mackenzie Astin, who came to see his father in the play and was on the later years of FOL as Andy Moffett. 

Unfortunately, none of this embarrassment ever led to a chance meeting with George Clooney.

But despite how my tastes have changed, this is never not hilarious.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

you know you've had a successful trip when...

You almost get arrested trying to find a better view of the Santa Anita racetrack without having to pay an outrageous fee, not realizing that you have trespassed on private property where they supposedly keep the billion dollar horses.

More at 11.
(Clark and Carole approve of this message)

Page Music

Thursday, June 18, 2009

california here i come!

Unfortunately I won't be able to visit Ethel's hometown, but I am off to California tomorrow and as such will not be around the blogosphere until my return. Even though we're mainly visiting with friends, of course I have to slip something in there that is in some way Hollywood related without attempting to steal John Wayne's footprints. So instead, we plan on going to Will Rogers State Historic Park which I am tremendously excited about due to my obsession with and wish that I could have been half of a Gable/Lombard, Stanwyck/Taylor pairing that had a beautiful sprawling horse ranch. It is my understanding that the interior of the ranch house has been preserved to look as it did in the 20s and 30s, so this may be the closest I can get without an actual time machine. I'll take it.

Monday, June 15, 2009

judy garland; always chasing rainbows

Though I'm too late to celebrate the birth of one Frances Ethel Gumm, it is never too late to celebrate the existence of one of the greatest entertainers of all time, especially one that has had a profound impact on my life.

That sounds dramatic but it really isn't. I absolutely would not be where I am right now if it weren't for Judy Garland. If I had not decided one day about 4 years ago to watch Easter Parade (I really don't remember what my rationale was) and had not developed an intense admiration for her talent, I would not have developed the love I have for old movies, for all movies. I would not attend my current University, and I would not be trying my hand at a career in film.

A lot has been written about the little lady with the big voice, and many have lamented that had her life not been touched by such tragedy she might still be thrilling the world at the ripe old age of 87.

I do not mean to diminish the tragedy, the injustices that were done to her at such an early age, but I've always felt that this focus on her personal suffering has in itself done her an injustice because it takes away from the magic and joy that was Judy Garland. She was not just a voice, she was a person. A person whose troubles were magnified and placed on display for all the world to see. It is part of who she was, but I think the real tragedy is when her talent, her gift becomes a side show to her personal pain.

I could be wrong considering I didn't know the woman, but given everything I've read about her I don't think she would have wanted people to focus on the negative, and I also do not believe that she committed suicide. She was a sick woman who needed help, but there are also many happy stories that never seem to get mentioned. My point is summed up best in her own words in Garland Speaks. I've only listened to one part of it because it seems like such an invasion of her privacy, but it is still incredibly poignant. She says "I wanted to believe, and I tried my damndest to believe in the rainbow that I tried to get over, and I couldn't. So what? Lot's of people can't."

Monday, June 8, 2009

my jesus on a piece of toast moment

Ok, so this isn't as exciting as Mary Magdalene in a bowl of cereal or the Lord and Savior in a piece of dry wall, but this was my bizarre moment of the day.

I'm doing a little summer cleaning to try to keep my room from turning into something out of Grey Gardens minus the 5000 cats. In trying to get rid of some old books to consign/give away, I come across a novel that hasn't been opened in about ten years. As I flip through the pages before tossing it aside, a piece of paper falls out that reads as follows:

Good Morning
I am God. Today I will be handling all your problems.
Please remember that I do not need your help.

If the devil happens to deliver a situation to you that you cannot handle,
DO NOT attempt to resolve it. Kindly put it in the SFJTD
(something for Jesus to do) box.
It will be addressed in MY time, not yours.

Once the matter is placed into the box, DO NOT hold on to
it or attempt to remove it. Holding on or removal will delay the
resoution of your problem.

If it is a situation that you think you are capable of handling,
please consult me in prayer to be sure that it is the proper resolution.

Because I do not sleep nor do I slumber, there is no need for you
to lose any sleep.
Rest my child. If you need to contact me,
I am only a prayer away.

Way to come at me out of left field, Jesus. I have no recollection of where I might have received this or when, as it's on a completely nondescript piece of paper. I also did not realize that God was passive aggressive. Has anyone seen anything like this before? I'm sure I'm overreacting, but it provided an interesting turn in an uninteresting day.

Friday, June 5, 2009

They aren't all Taylors and Paines in Washington. Their kind just throw big shadows, that's all

I am not an adult, that's my explanation of myself. Except when I am working on a set, I have all the inhibitions and shyness of the bashful backward child . . . unless I have something very much in common with a person, I am lost. I am swallowed up in my own silence

Whether it happens in celluloid, the printed word, or on a lighted stage, we all have characters, performers, writers that we identify with, that seem to speak only to us. We know that we are no more than the impersonal mass, anonymous to the great, the known of the world, yet we reach out our hands and trust.

For me, one such performer is Jean Arthur. On screen she was witty and self-assured, her speaking voice an instant identifier. Off screen to this day she remains mysterious, odd, complex in memory. She valued her privacy above all else and closed herself off to the prying eyes of the public. She did not travel in the smart sets of Hollywood, attend the lavish parties, or bother with people that she didn't like. Off screen she was incredibly insecure, and often had to be coaxed out of her dressing room to do a scene because she was too nervous and unstrung. Because of this, she received a bad rap in Hollywood as someone that was uncooperative. In later life she lived as a recluse in Carmel California and was once arrested for trespassing on a neighbor's property to try to help a mistreated dog. When she died her ashes were scattered along the coast in perfect symbiosis with her restless spirit.

The thing about Jean that I find so admirable is her individuality, her complete disregard for the falsities of life in Hollywood and blind conformity. She seemed completely real in her imperfections.

One role of hers that I now relate to my own life is that of Saunders in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington. I live in the shadows of our Nation's capital, within arms length of the infamous beltway. It is not really a human city, but a city of ideals; Constitution Avenue, Independence Avenue, the likeness of Jefferson, Lincoln. I still look in awe at the beauty in its great stone structures, meant to represent the heart of an entire nation and the things it aspires to be. I've shook hands with Representatives and played in sandboxes with children whose parents did work that was classified as top secret information. Here politics is a sport, a game, and we consider ourselves wise in the ways of Washington.

Even though I am not involved in politics, as a woman attempting to break into the film industry (and currently interning at a production facility in DC) I understand what it is like to be a woman who wants to sit behind a camera rather than pose in front of it. I reach out my hands in blind faith that I will have the tenacity necessary to succeed, the humanity to prevail, and the wit to survive.