CONGRATULATIONS! YOU HAVE STUMBLED INTO "THE SHALLOW ZONE." WATCH OUT FOR THE ROCKS. SOME OF THEM ARE SHARP.
If you're looking for a blog with meaningful content on the important issues of the day, you've come to the wrong place. This is the shallows, my friend. Nothing but shallowness as far as the eye can see. Let someone else make sense of things. I like it here.

About Me

My photo

I love my grown children, miss all the dogs I ever had, and I cry at the drop of a hat, I believe in true love, destiny, fairness, and compassion. If I could be anywhere right now, it would be the ocean. My favorite city is New York, but I am always longing for London and craving more time in Copenhagen. I'm drawn to desolate places, deserted buildings, and unknown byways. I don't care how society perceives me as long as my gut tells me that what I'm doing is right. I am interested in paranormal things, spiritual things, historical things, and things that glow at night. I like to drink, I smoke when I write, I can't stand small talk, and despite my quick temper, I would rather kiss than fight. I'm selfish with my writing time, a spendthrift with my love. My heart has been broken so many times that it's held together with super glue and duct tape. The upside is that, next time, I won't be tempted to give away what I no longer have to give. But I will let you buy me a Pink Squirrel.
MY SHALLOW MISSION STATEMENT

MY SHALLOW MISSION STATEMENT

MY SHALLOW MISSION STATEMENT
Not that there's any weight to it...
IN A WORLD FILLED WITH COMPLEX POLITICAL ISSUES, SOCIAL INEQUALITY, AND FINANCIAL UNCERTAINTY, I CONSIDER IT MY GIFT TO YOU, MY READER, TO OFFER THIS SHALLOW LITTLE HAVEN, WHERE NOTHING IS TOO SHALLOW, TOO INSIGNIFICANT, OR TOO RIDICULOUS TO JUSTIFY OUR ATTENTION. IN OTHER WORDS, IF IT'S NOT IMPORTANT....SO WHAT? NEITHER WAS MARILYN MONROE'S BRA SIZE. AND THAT STILL SELLS MAGAZINES, DOESN'T IT?
VIDEO OF THE MONTH

Thursday, February 21, 2013

WHEN TRAIN WRECKS HAD CLASS: A LOOK BACK AT MABEL NORMAND AND CLARA BOW



Okay, I'll get right to the point. I'm sick of reading about Lindsay Lohan's troubled lame ass life. And I can't be the only one who would like to go cold turkey on the Li-Lo Loser updates. But there's obviously a lot of people who feel differently because her rapidly aging mug and forced smile keep showing up on celebrity news feeds, which means that either the girl still has fans who are actually interested in her ongoing self-made woes, or there's a huge audience for train wrecks. My money's on the latter. The thing is, Lindsay Lohan's train wreck is happening in ultra slow motion, and not only am I sick of being obliged to witness it whenever I click on a news site, I just can't stomach the fact that an "actress" who hasn't made a decent movie since she was wearing a training bra, and doesn't seem to have anything else going for her except what seems to be an exceptional ability to not care about anyone or anything but herself, is still getting so much damned face time. The girl is so far off the charts that she actually makes her fellow train wrecks look pretty good, even former Nickolodeon star and current basket case Amanda Bynes who, screwed up as she may be at the moment, at least confines her whacked-out behavior to department store dressing rooms and the lobby of her apartment building instead of running people over in nightclub parking lots.


And that brings us to the real purpose of this post, which you may be surprised to discover is not simply to bash Lindsay Lohan just because it's so much fun and she deserves it. The real purpose of this post is to provide a brief look back at two of Lindsay Lohan's predecessors on the fast track to train wreck central. Because there are train wrecks and, then, there are train wrecks. Take away Lindsay Lohan's former (very former, so former it's impossible to see without X-Ray specs) career as a child star, and you're pretty much looking at the poster girl for what happens when a white trash kid from a screwed-up family becomes famous, falls in love with the idea, and forgets to do anything else except "be famous." But in those long-ago, primordial times known as the "classic Hollywood" era, there were train wrecks as well, although with an important difference---at least some of them were women who are still remembered for their talent and artistic achievements despite the wreckage scattered across the tracks at the end of their careers.

Take Mabel Normand, for instance...


Back in the days of silent films (i.e. the days when they didn't need voices because they had faces, darling!), Mabel Normand wasn't just a star, she was a one-woman film industry powerhouse. Only 16 when she appeared in her first film in 1909 (hard to believe that was over a hundred years ago, isn't it?), Normand was initially cast in a succession of "bathing beauty" roles, but her knack for comedy caught the attention of director Mack Sennett ("The Keystone Cops") who began casting her in short films opposite such future comedic giants as Charlie Chaplin, Roscoe "Fatty" Arbuckle, Stan Laurel, and Oliver Hardy. Normand's association with Sennett led eventually to a romantic relationship, but it was of the on-again/off-again variety, and when it finally ended in 1918, the one-time bathing beauty had amassed enough star power to sign a $3,500 a week contract (huge money in those days) with Samuel Goldwyn and open her own studio in Culver City.


Mabel and Roscoe, yukking it up pre train-wreck

Not bad for a funny girl from Staten Island, New York. But Normand wasn't one to plunk down for an extended sit-fest on her hard-earned laurels. She continued to appear in films, most notably with Roscoe Arbuckle (another future train wreck) with whom she shared a special chemistry that film audiences loved, but she turned her hand to screenwriting, producing, and directing as well. This at a time when most women in the industry were basically at the mercy of the men who ran it. But Normand's talent and business savvy kept her on a path all her own right into the early 1920's, at which point two new things came into her life: cocaine and the very handsome Irish actor-turned-film director William Desmond Taylor. Normand's cocaine addiction hadn't caused any professional problems for her by the time she met Taylor, but she wanted to kick the habit, and Taylor just happened to be the sort of man who liked to lend a helping hand. He even went so far as to meet with federal prosecutors and offer to file charges against the cocaine dealers who were supplying Normand. In the midst of all the helping, Taylor fell in love with Normand and the two began seeing each other on a romantic basis. It looked like the makings of another slam dunk for the comedy siren cum filmmaker, but, then, just as things were starting to resemble a Hollywood version of a Currier and Ives print, Taylor was murdered in his bungalow less than an hour after he and Normand had said good-night, blowing kisses to each other as Normand, holding a book that Taylor had lent her, left the bungalow and walked to her car.


Willim Desmond Taylor: Collateral damage along the tracks

Taylor's murder was Hollywood's first real scandal, involving everyone from the troubled ingenue who had been in love with Taylor (Mary Miles Minter) and her overbearing mother to Taylor's valet and a mysterious acquaintance who had been staying at Taylor's bungalow in the weeks before the murder. But for Normand, it was a devastating personal loss. As the last person to see Taylor alive, she was grilled mercilessly by the Los Angeles police, but was eventually ruled out as a suspect. That was small consolation for the loss of the man who had offered such unconditional support in her time of need. And it did little to curtail the damage that had been done to Normand's career. Suspect or not, in the eyes of the public, Normand was a "tarnished" woman, and although the search for Taylor's killer would continue (unfortunately, to no avail), Normand's success would not. And to top it all off, just when it seemed that things couldn't get any worse, they did. In 1924, only two years after Taylor's murder, Normand's chauffeur Joe Kelly shot and wounded millionare oil broker Courtland S. Dines. This time, Normand was nowhere near the murder site, but, unfortunately, Kelly used her pistol to shoot Dines. It was another black mark that the struggling star didn't need.


Normand's subsequent efforts to revive her fading career were met with lukewarm success at best, despite the public support of friends like fellow film star Mary Pickford. Finally, in 1926, Normand decided to pack it in and married actor Lew Cody, with whom she had appeared in a 1918 film called Mickey. But by then, Normand's health had started to fail and shortly after marrying Cody, she entered a sanitarium in Monrovia, California where she died of tuberculosis in 1930. She was 37 years old. A bleak end for a woman who had spent most of her life making film audiences laugh and, in doing it, incidentally paved the way for similarly ambitious women in the film industry.

And then there was Clara Bow...


Lindsay Lohan might be the media's current "Ick Girl", but back in the silent film days, Clara Bow was its one and only "It Girl." Born and raised in Brooklyn, New York, Bow had, on the surface, quite a few things in common with Lindsay Lohan. She was a redhead, she came from a screwed-up family, and she was starved for love and affection. When she was 16, Bow's mother died from epilespy, having been ill with the disease for most of Bow's childhoood, and the teen-ager was so overcome with grief that, as her mother's casket was lowered into the ground, she tried to jump into the open grave with it. Failing that, she turned her attention to less dramatic ways of seeking affection, including hanging out with the boys at her high school, in whose company she felt more comfortable than she did with other girls. (Think "Anybody's" in West Side Story, except pretty and voluptuous and with an engaging personality.) Not particularly academic-minded, Bow excelled on her high school track team, and in later years, recalled that "from the first grade on, I could lick any boy my size. My right arm was quite famous. My right arm was developed from pitching so much." Gossip columnist Louella Parsons once wrote that "...curiously enough, (Bow) has muscles on her right arm that stand out like a whip cord."


Prior to her mother's death, Bow had entered and won a "Fame And Fortune" contest in Brewster Magazine, but nothing had come of it. But despite her tomyboyish ways and "funny looks", as she called them, Bow was determined to become a "motion pictures actress", and began making the rounds of studio agencies, hoping to get work. When nothing materialized, she took an office job and tried to reconcile herself to an ordinary life. Fortunately, around the same time, Hollywood director Elmer Clifton was getting ready to make a movie called Down To The Sea In Ships for which he needed a "tomboy type", and having heard of Bow, he sent for her. It was the break she needed. Following rave reiews for her work in Down To The Sea In Ships, she was cast in a series of films that were all shot in New York. Her vivaciousness, charisma, and "natural" acting style seemed to personify the "flappers" who had risen to the fore of popular culture, and in 1924, she was summoned to Hollywood where she was cast in her first lead role in a film called Poison Paradise. She was an immediate hit, winning the adoration of film audience and the unbridled praise of critics, one of whom, the poet Carl Sandburg wrote "...there are only about five actresses who give me a real thrill on the screen — and Clara is nearly five of them."


By the mid-20s, Bow was a Hollywood sensation, making $1,500 to $2,000 a week, and the regular recipient of favorable comments on her work. Her playful sexiness appealed to men, the wistful vulnerabulity that underscored it tugged at the heartstrings of women. And, apparently, what you saw of Bow on the screen was what you got when you met her in person. Those who worked with her universally described her with words such "unaffected" and "genuine." By the time she made the film "It" in 1927, in which she played a poor shop girl who wins the heart of her rich boss, Bow was the most in-demand actress in Hollywood, worthy of the nickname she earned from the film's title.


But, not surprisingly, fame had its dark side as well. In the midst of all the success, money, and public acclaim, Bow was struggling with her own insecurity and lack of business savvy. Despite her popularity with film audiences and most critics, she was shunned by members of the Hollywood "elite" who denounced her as "a bohemian" and made fun of her Brooklyn accent, which she had never tried to hide. There were allegations of drug use, alcoholism, and "sexual debauchery". By the time "talkies" started to take over the film industry, Bow was close to a nervous breakdown and began missing work. The studios retaliated by shutting down her films, docking her pay, and making her pay for her own publicity photos. Making matters worse, Bow's hard-earned fortune was constantly under attack by "friends" and hangers-on who were always hitting up the notoriously generous actress for money. Bow's financial woes culminated in 1929, when, facing bankruptcy and foreclosure on her home, she hired a woman called Daisy Devoe as her private secretary to help with the task of getting her monetary affairs in order. Unfortunately, Devoe's presence in Bow's life did not sit well with Bow's new fiance, cowboy actor Rex Bell, who accused Devoe of stealing from the actress and had her arrested. A carnival-like trial ensued, with a slew of nasty revelations regarding Bow's personal and love life being dredged up by various witnesses. In the end, the jury returned with four "not guilty" verdicts and one "guilty." Despite the three "not guilty" verdicts, the judge sentenced Devoe to 18 months in prison, precipitating a backlash of resentment from Bow's fans, on whose good will and affection her career depended. The sound of the judge's gavel, as he announced the sentence, must have been a terrible one for the hapless secretary, but for Clara Bow, it was a career death knell.


For the next few years, Bow continued to make films, but her psyche had taken a momentous hit, and her heart just wasn't in it anymore. In 1933, she made her last picture, Hoop-La, for which she received good reviews, but the former tomyboy from Brooklyn had had enough of the motion picture business. Following the release of Hoop-La, Bow hung up her flapper costume for good, married Rex Bell, and focused her attention on raising their two sons. But although her "It Girl" days were over, their effect on her mental state were just beginning.


Following her marriage to Rex Bell, Bow started to display signs of psychiatric illness. She refused to go to parties or socialize with friends, but, at the same time, became very upset if her husband tried to go anywhere on his own. Bell's decision to run for a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives in 1944 was the straw that broke the already-staggering camel's back. While her husband was off campaigning for office, Bow attempted suicide. In the note she wrote before the attempt, she stated that she preferred death to a public life.


Bow and Bell: Last stop before the crash

For the next fifteen years, Bow endured an endless succession of "treatments" for her psychological ills, including shock treatment, and in 1949, an extended stay in The Institute of Living, where she was diagnosed as a schizophrenic and declared "unable to reason", even though I.Q. tests measured her intelligence as "bright-normal." Bow rejected the diagnosis, and refusing further treatment, left the Institute. But instead of returning home to her family, she moved into a bungalow where she lived as a virtual recluse until her death from a heart attack at the age of 60 in 1965.


Following her death, film critics and pundits wrote reams of words in requiem for the erstwhile "It Girl" and her sad demise, but Clara Bow's own words, which she had committed to posterity for an article that had appeared in Photoplay magazine some years earlier, said it best. Looking back on her days as a Hollywood star, she told a reporter, "My life in Hollywood contained plenty of uproar. I'm sorry for a lot of it, but not awfully sorry. I never did anything to hurt anyone else. I made a place for myself on the screen, and you can't do that by being Mrs. Alcott's idea of a Little Women".

And so ends my post on two classic Hollywood train wrecks, both of whom will always be remembered for what they were before the crash, not just the things that caused it. Because, unlike Lindsay Lohan and all the other "famous for being famous" Hollywood "stars" of today, Mabel Norman and Clara Bow were actresses who gave off a real light, not the kind that flashes only when you happen to be standing in front of a paparazzo's camera.

Skol!

No comments:

Post a Comment