Monday, September 25, 2017

Dorothy Lee (1930s Starlet)

"My only regret is that I never parachuted out of an airplane!" ~ Dorothy

Dorothy Lee was born Marjorie Elizabeth Millsap in Los Angeles, California. At the age of sixteen she married Robert Booth, a dancer, but they divorced two years later. After winning a contest Dorothy moved to New York City and started singing with Fred Waring and his band. She and Fred were engaged for a brief time. In 1929 she appeared in the movie Rio and Rita with the comedy team Bert Wheeler and Robert Woolsey. It was a huge success and she would star in more than a dozen more Wheeler and Woolsey comedies. Audiences loved Dorothy's bubbly personality and beautiful singing voice. She married gossip columnist Jimmy Fiddler in 1931. Their marriage lasted only seven months. While making the 1932 film Girl Crazy she had a dispute with producer David O'Selnick. Dorothy was so upset that she quit the Wheeler and Woosley comedies. She appeared in a few more movies but her acting career stalled.

During the 1930s Dorothy has two more short lived marriages. In 1939 she adopted a three year old son. She married her fifth husband, businessman Frank John Bersbach Jr, in 1941 and stopped acting. Her final film was Too Many Blondes with Rudy Vallee. She briefly toured in vaudeville with her friend Bert Wheeler. Dorothy and Frank had four children together. They divorced and she married attorney Charles Calderini in 1960. The couple had homes in Chicago and San Diego. Dorothy spent her free time playing golf and learning how to fly a plane. She and Charles remained happily married until his death in 1985. Dorothy died from respiratory failure on June 24, 1999 at the age of eighty-eight. She is buried at Prospect Hill Cemetery in Illinois.

Sunday, September 24, 2017

Bette Davis

"I will not retire while I've still got my legs and my make-up box." - Bette 

 Bette Davis was born Ruth Elizabeth Davis on April 5, 1908, in Lowell, Massachusetts. Her parents divorced and Bette's mother encouraged her to become an actress. She studied acting and appeared in numerous Broadway shows. In 1931 she made her film debut in the drama The Bad Sister. The following year she married musician Harmon Nelson. During their marriage she had two abortions because she thought a baby would hurt her career. Bette was offered a contract with Warner Brothers and in 1935 she won an Academy Award for her performance in Dangerous. She won her second Oscar for the 1938 film Jezebel. With hit movies like Now, Voyager, The Great Lie, and Mr. Skeffington Bette became one of the most successful actresses in Hollywood. In 1941 she became the first female president of the American Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. After divorcing Harmon she was romanced by Howard Hughes and began an affair with director William Wyler. Bette said he was the great love of her life but he refused to leave his wife. She married innkeeper Arthur Farnsworth in 1942. Tragically just three years later he died after an accidental fall.

During World War 2 she sold war bonds and volunteered at the Hollywood Canteen. Bette married artist William Grant Sherry in 1945 and had a daughter, Barbara. While making the drama All About Eve she fell in love with her costar, Gary Merrill. She divorced her husband and married Gary in 1950. The couple adopted two children, Margo and Michael. Sadly Margo was mentally retarded and had to be institutionalized. Gary and Bette had a tumultuous marriage and they divorced after ten years together. In 1963 Bette worked with her longtime rival Joan Crawford in What Ever Happened To Baby Jane? and received her eleventh Oscar nomination. In the early 1980s Bette was diagnosed with breast cancer and suffered a stroke. Despite her illnesses she continued to work in movies and on television. She also wrote several autobiographies and became a popular talk show guest. Bette was devastated when her daughter Barbara wrote an unflattering tell-all book and she never spoke to her again. She died on October 6, 1989, from complications of breast cancer. Bette is buried with her mother and sister at Forest Lawn Memorial Park in Los Angeles, California. The epitaph on her grave says "She did it the hard way".

Joan Crawford

"I never go out unless I look like Joan Crawford the movie star. If you want to see the girl next door, go next door" ~ Joan 

Joan Crawford was born Lucille Fay LeSueur on March 23, 1904, in San Antonio, Texas. Her family was poor and her parents separated before she was born. As a young girl Joan worked as a maid to pay for her school tuition. When she was nineteen she won an amateur dance contest and decided to go to Hollywood. During this time she posed nude and there are rumors she appeared in pornographic films. She was briefly married to a saxophone player named James Welton. In 1925 she was offered a contract with MGM and was given bit parts in movies like Pretty Lady and The Circle. Her big break came in 1928 when she landed the lead role in the comedy Our Dancing Daughters. The following year she married actor Douglas Fairbanks Jr. She became one of the most successful actresses of the 1930s with starring roles in The Women, Grand Hotel, and Rain. Joan loved her fans and personally responded to much of her fan mail. She worked with Clark Gable in eight movies including Laughing Sinners and Dancing Lady. The two stars had an off-screen romance that lasted for decades. Joan was also a bisexual and enjoyed numerous affair with women. After divorcing Douglas she married actor Franchot Tone. She wanted to have a baby but suffered several miscarriages.

In 1939 she divorced Franchot and adopted a daughter named Christina. Joan would later adopt a son, Christopher, and twin daughters, Cynthia and Cathy. She married Phillip Terry, an actor, in 1942 but the marriage ended four years later. After making a series of flops MGM dropped her contract. She made a comeback with the 1945 drama Mildred Pierce and won an Academy Award for her performance. Two years later she was nominated for another Oscar for her role in Possessed. Joan married Pepsi-Cola executive Alfred Steel in 1956. After his death she served on the board of directors of Pepsi-Cola. In 1963 she teamed up with her longtime rival Bette Davis to make the horror film What Ever Happened to Baby Jane. Now in her fifties Joan had a serious drinking problem and was having trouble finding work. She appeared in low budget movies like Berserk and Trog. Joan died on May 10, 1977, from pancreatic cancer. She was cremated and her ashes were interred at Ferncliff Cemetery in Hartsdale, New York. In her will she left a small sum of money to Cathy and Cynthia but gave nothing to Christopher and Christina. A few years later Christina Crawford wrote a book, Mommie Dearest, that portrayed Joan as an abusive mother. Cathy and Cynthia have always disputed Christina's claims.

Thursday, August 31, 2017

Fritzi Fern (1920s Starlet)

Fritzi Fern was born Fritzi Fern Blower on September 19, 1907, in Akron, Ohio. After her parents divorced she moved to Los Angeles with her mother and brother. Fritzi began her career as a child actress and made films for the Greyhound Motion Picture Company. In 1922 producer Harry Burns cast her in a series of two-reelers starring Little Napoleon. She spent the next several years dancing in vaudeville. Fritzi signed a contract with Universal Studios in 1928. Unfortunately the only movie she made at the studio was The Charlaton. She was supposed to costar with Reginald Denny in Clear In The Decks but she was replaced before filming began. In 1929 she appeared on stage in Earl Carroll's Revue. Fritzi  had a small part in the 1932 Western serial The Last Frontier. It would be her last acting role. In the Fall of 1932 she was diagnosed with a brain tumor and had surgery to remove it. Tragically she never recovered and died on September 20, 1932. Fritzi was only twenty-five years old.

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Mabel Normand

Mabel Normand was born on November 9, 1892 in Staten Island, New York. When she was a teenager she worked as an artists model. Her acting career began at Vitagraph Studios where she appeared in dozens of of short films. Mabel met producer Mack Sennett who took her to Hollywood. With her beautiful face and flair for comedy she quickly became a star. Mabel fell in love with Sennett but they had a tumultuous relationship. In 1914 she starred in Tillie's Fractured Romance, the first full length motion picture. She often worked with Roscoe "Fatty" Arbuckle and Charlie Chaplin. Mabel also co-wrote and co-directed many of Chaplin's movies. Her nickname was "Madcap Mabel". At the age of twenty-three she started her own film company with Mack Sennett. Sadly her personal and business relationship with Sennett came to an end when he cheated on her. She signed a $3,500 per week contract with Samuel Goldwyn in 1918.

 Her success continued with hit movies like Mickey and The Extra Girl. Mabel developed a reputation as a party girl who loved to drink and curse. She also had a serious cocaine habit. In 1922 she was involved in a major scandal when her close friend director William Desmond Taylor was murdered. Taylor had been madly in love with Mabel and she was the last person to see him alive. His murder has never been solved. Mabel continued to make movies and signed with Hal Roach studios. She impulsively married actor Lew Cody in 1926. The couple never lived together but they remained married. Mabel's drinking and partying began to affect health and she had to stop working, Her final movie was the 1927 comedy One Hour Married. In late 1929 she entered a sanitarium suffering from tuberculosis. She died on February 23, 1930 at the young age of thirty-seven. Mabel was buried at Calvary Cemetery in California.

Monday, August 7, 2017

Mabel Todd (1930s Starlet)

Mabel Todd was born Mabel Dobbs on August 13, 1907 in Los Angeles, California. Sadly her mother died when was very young. Mabel had a lovely singing voice and began her career in vaudeville. She and her sister Marcia often performed as a duo. Mabel started singing on the radio where she nicknamed "The Little Ray of Sunshine". She married comedian Morey Amsterdam in 1933 and the couple worked together on The Laff and Swing Club radio show. Mabel made her film debut in the 1937 musical Varsity Show. She signed a contract with Warner Brothers and was given supporting roles in Hollywood Hotel and Gold Diggers In Paris. With her pouty lips and high pitched voice Mabel was typecast as a ditzy "dumb blonde" comedienne. She was a popular personality on the Warner Brothers lot where she was often seen riding her scooter. In April 1942 Mabel appeared in one of the first televised talent shows.

                                With Ted Healy                                                                        

The following year she starred in the film The Ghost And The Guest. Her husband Morey had written the script for her. During World War 2 she traveled across the country entertaining the troops in a USO show. Mabel and Morey split up in 1945. Their divorce was so bitter that he refused to ever speak about her again. By this time Mabel's movie career had stalled and she could only get bit parts. Her last role was playing a florist in the comedy Wife Wanted. She continued to work on the radio and appeared in several stage shows. Mabel made headlines in 1950 when she divorced her second husband Matthew A. Sontino. In court she accused him of beating her with a shoe and giving her a black eye. She retired from show business and lived a quiet life away from the spotlight. Mabel died on June 2, 1977 at the age of sixty-nine. She was cremated and her ashes are buried at the Queen Heaven's cemetery in Los Angeles, California.

Sunday, August 6, 2017

Betty Hutton

"Some kind of fun lasts longer than others." ~ Betty

Betty Hutton was born Elizabeth June Thornburg on February 26, 1921, in Battle Creek, Michigan. She was the youngest of two daughters. Betty's father abandoned them and her mother struggled with alcoholism. To help support the family Betty began singing professionally when she was thirteen. She moved to New York and appeared in several Broadway plays. After signing with Paramount in 1942 she made her film debut in the musical The Fleet's In. It was a hit and Betty became one of Hollywood's most sought-after actresses. Her success continued with starring roles The Miracle of Morgan's Creek, The Perils of Pauline, and Let's Face It. Meanwhile her older sister, Marion Hutton, became a popular big band singer. In 1945 Betty married Ted Briskin, a camera manufacturer. They had two daughters - Candy and Lindsay. Betty divorced him and married choreographer Charles O'Curran in 1952. That same year she played a circus performer in The Greatest Show on Earth. The movie won the Academy Award for Best Picture. Betty was now earning five thousand dollars a week. She wanted her husband to direct her next film but when Paramount refused she walked out on her contract. Betty was labeled a temperamental diva and her marriage to Charles ended.

Her last film was the 1957 drama Spring Reunion. She made occasional guest appearances on television shows like "What's My Line?" and "The Dinah Shore Chevy Show". Her 1959 television series "The Betty Hutton Show" was canceled after only one season. Betty's third marriage, to producer Alan Livingston, lasted five years. She married musician Peter Candoli in 1960 and had a daughter named Caroline. Betty found work singing in nightclubs and in Las Vegas. She and Peter divorced in 1967. By this time Betty had a serious addiction to prescription drugs. She suffered a nervous breakdown and attempted suicide. With all of her money gone she was forced her to take a job cleaning at a church in Rhode Island. Eventually she was able get off drugs and turn her life around. During the 1970s she earned a bachelors degree from Salve Regina University and starting teaching theater. Betty spent her final years living in Palm Springs. In 2000 she made a rare television appearance on Turner Classic Movie's "Private Screenings". She passed away on January 25, 2007 after being diagnosed with colon cancer. She was buried at Desert Memorial Park in Cathedral City, California. None of her children attended her funeral.