Friday, October 24, 2014

The Ripper's Wife: The Women of Jack the Ripper

The Ripper's Wife is told from the viewpoint of Florence Maybrick, the beautiful young bride

of wealthy and successful Liverpool cotton broker James Maybrick. 

Their life together is like a fairy tale. 

Battlecrease House, that Florrie dreamed would be their castle and their happy home.

Two beautiful children--Bobo and Gladys.

And the clothes...

But not all fairy tales are happy. Take for instance the tale of Bluebeard. He gives his beautiful and innocent young  bride everything her heart could desire, the keys to his castle, all the rooms filled with riches and pretty things, and asks only one thing of her--NOT to open the door of a certain room.

Opening James Maybrick's diary is like opening that forbidden door.

Florie discovers the five unfortunate down on their luck women whose lives her husband has taken and the rage-filled reason why they had to die.

Polly Nichols, the first victim.

Annie Chapman, the second victim.

Elizabeth Stride, the third victim.

Catherine Eddowes, the fourth victim.

And Mary Jane Kelly, the fifth victim, and James Maybrick's strange angel.

When James dies under mysterious circumstances, Florie finds herself fighting for her life in one of Victorian England's most infamous and scandalous murder trials. And all her mistakes come back to haunt her.

Every love has its own peculiar story, and The Ripper's Wife is James's and Florie's doomed tale of illusions and delusions.

To order a paperback from Amazon click here.

To order the Amazon Kindle edition click here.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Happy 7th Birthday Tabby!

Tabby: I know this is last year's dress, but it matches my cake so well!

Sunday, July 27, 2014

13 Castle Walk by DeWitt Bodeen

This novel is a thinly veiled fictionalization of one of Hollywood’s most famous unsolved murders. In 1922, director William Desmond Taylor was discovered dead in his home with a fatal gunshot wound in his back. Two famous actresses of the era, Mary Pickford wannabe Mary Miles Minter and popular comedienne Mabel Normand, were rumored to have been romantically involved with Taylor and had their careers tarnished as a result of his murder. Since some of the cast of players and suspects and known associates were still alive at the time it was published in 1975 (the year I was born) all names and many identifiable characteristics have been changed in the novel, but if you know the case it’s still possible to tell who’s who, and even if you don’t know a thing about it you can still enjoy this book for what it is—a novel about an unsolved murder mystery from Hollywood’s silent screen era.

The book begins with Hannah Winters being paroled from prison. The young woman, whom many regard sympathetically, was condemned for the mercy killing of her terminally ill husband. Her parole officer arranged a job for her as a live-in housekeeper/secretary/companion for the eccentric elderly former silent movie queen Jennie Jill Jerard.

Still a lovely blonde from the neck up, after Jennie disappeared from the screen in the aftermath of the scandalous demise of her director, and the only man she ever loved, Andrew Riley Rutherford (the thinly disguised William Desmond Taylor), she became an obese virgin recluse, living in her opulent Hollywood villa at 13 Castle Walk, alone with a succession of housekeepers, her memories, prize-winning rose garden, the perpetual See’s candy box, and her white Persian cat.  Jennie is obviously modeled on Mary Miles Minter whose virtuous image was destroyed after her romantic involvement with or romantic idealization of (depending on what you believe) William Desmond Taylor became public knowledge.  Both the Jennie Jill Jerard of this novel and the real life Mary Miles Minter wore their hair in long golden ringlets a la Mary Pickford, dressed in beautiful lacy Valentine gowns, and had faces you might find on the lid of one of the beribboned candy boxes of the day, and specialized in playing demure, sweet, and pure heroines on the silver screen.

Hannah and her employer instantly hit it off. They quickly become friends, not just employer and employee. And a handsome reporter, who sympathetically covered Hannah’s trial, and also just happens to be curious about the decades old mystery, also comes into their lives, and quickly becomes Hannah’s love interest.

In this novel, taking the place played by the real life Mabel Normand is the fictional Molly Carfax, who is modeled on Mary Pickford. Since Mary Miles Minter and Mabel Normand played different types of roles onscreen, they really could not be seen as rivals, except possibly for William Desmond Taylor’s affections, so this makes a very interesting substitution. In this novel Molly Carfax and Jennie Jill Jerard were both the girls with the golden curls, playing the same kinds of roles, both backed by ruthless, ambitious stage mothers willing to do anything to further their darling’s career. Retired from the movies, Molly lives in her mansion, and her brother, a hopeless alcohol, lives in the guest house with a retired boxer as his caretaker to keep him out of trouble.

Molly’s brother, and Jennie’s occasional costar, Johnny Carfax is also a prime player in this work of fiction. Obviously modeled on immature, hard-drinking party boy Jack Pickford, who lost his beautiful Ziegfeld Follies showgirl bride Virginia Knight (inspired by Olive Thomas) to an inexplicable suicide on their honeymoon.

The past comes back to haunt Jennie when a man, claiming to know the truth about Andrew Riley Rutherford’s death, tries to blackmail her and then is found dead, shot through the back, in her front yard at a time when both she, and her new housekeeper, are getting a fresh start in life, Jennie through an unexpected return to the screen, and Hannah when love comes into her life.

SPOILER ALERT! Because 13 Castle Walk is a rare and pricey book, at the time I’m writing this used copies range from $75 and up, I am going to break my usual rule and reveal the rest of the story. If you don’t want to know the solution to the fictional mystery please skip to the final paragraph.

Gradually the truth is revealed. The blackmailer and corpse in Jennie’s front yard turns out to be a forgotten actor who drifted into a life of obscurity and petty crime after his career fizzled with the advent of sound. Andrew Riley Rutherford was (as William Desmond Taylor was also rumored to be) a discreet homosexual. In this novel he infected Johnny Carfax with a particularly virulent form of syphilis, which he unwittingly passed on to his bride. This led her to take her own life and Johnny, unhinged by grief, took a gun and shot the man he held responsible. Molly Carfax, and her protective mother, covered up the truth, even submitting to blackmail, to protect Johnny.

Overall, this was an interesting but not remarkable read, certainly not worth the high price used copies usually go for, which I fortunately didn't pay. I only have this because of my longstanding interest in the William Desmond Taylor murder case and the lives and films of Hollywood’s Golden Age. If this review has aroused your curiosity, I recommend the highly readable, nonfiction account A Cast of Killers by Sidney D. Kirkpatrick; real life movie director King Vidor became intrigued by the Taylor case and launched his own investigation and this book details it in a lively manner that reads almost like a novel. A Deed of Death by Robert Giroux, though it draws a different and much less dramatic conclusion, also makes interesting non-fiction reading. Both of these can be found at much more reasonable prices than 13 Castle Walk

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Naked At The Feast A Biography of Josephine Baker by Lynn Haney

This well written and researched biography tells the rags to riches then back to rags story of Josephine Baker (1906-1975), a woman born dirt poor in the slums of Missouri who became the toast of Paris in the 1920s.

Exuberant, enthusiastic, and egotistical, Josephine’s life was, by her own design, a fairy tale, crafted to resemble the story of Cinderella that her grandmother read her. She saw herself as a Negro Joan of Arc, destined to deliver her people from the shackles of oppression. She was always moving, it was like the ragtime music of the time was in her bones.

After a short-lived marriage at age thirteen, she began her show business career as an underage chorus girl on the vaudeville “Chitlin’ Circuit” with other black performers. She soon married her second husband, Willie Baker, a Pullman porter who shared her wanderlust and love of excitement.

After enjoying some success in cabarets in Harlem, she traveled to Paris as part of an all black cast for Le Revue Negre. Josephine fell in love with Paris and Paris fell in love with her. She became a popular artists’ model and, after overcoming her initial fear about dancing in the nude, became a star. Appearing as a bare-breasted and barefoot jungle savage in a skirt of rhinestone covered bananas at the Folies-Bergere brought her all the jewels, satins, silks, and furs she had ever dreamed of. She was the highest paid entertainer in Europe. Instead of rags she now wore couture clothes designed by Schiapareilli and Poiret. And in Paris she was free of racial scorn and prejudice, and segregation; she was welcome everywhere. She could walk into a shop and try on clothes and hats just like a white woman.

She lived lavishly, being wined and dined and bedded by celebrities and royalty, bought a chateau, and acquired a large menagerie of both exotic and ordinary pets. She starred in movies, lent her name and image to advertising beauty products and clothing, opened her own nightclub, Chez Josephine, took numerous lovers because she could not bear to sleep alone, and served chitlins, greens, black-eyed peas, and rooster combs on her table alongside Cordon Bleu cuisine.

The man she called her “no account count,” her lover/manager, the faux count Pepito de Abatino, a gigolo/dance instructor, played Pygmalion to her Galatea and helped her to acquire all the outer trappings of a lady.  Only then, in 1935, ten years after she had left, did she dare return to the United States, hoping to triumph there as she had in Paris. But America wasn't ready for Josephine, she was forced to use the servants’ entrance at the hotels she stayed at and bombed at the Ziegfeld Follies. Soon Josephine back in Paris, on the stage of the Folies-Bergere. She blamed Pepito for her failure, and cast him out of her life, leaving him to die alone. But though the lovers came and went for the rest of her life, everything from chorus boys to crowned heads, even some women if the rumors were true, she never found anyone whose love and devoted equaled or surpassed Pepito’s.

Her third husband, a millionaire sugar broker, taught her to fly, but expected her to give up her career and become a housewife. The union didn't last.

When World War II erupted, Josephine gave all her energy and dedication to the war effort. She was devoted to France, her adopted country. She worked untiringly for the Red Cross, sending gifts and letters to servicemen, entertaining the troops, and joining the Resistance, and even serving as a spy, using her numerous international connections, to free her beloved Paris from Nazi occupation. In Casablanca, she gave premature birth to her only child. It was stillborn and Josephine was forced to undergo an emergency hysterectomy and almost died of infection and fever.

Knowing that she would never be a mother, sent Josephine spiraling into a deep depression, made worse by continuing health problems, but she dragged herself out of bed and forced herself to go on entertaining the troops.

The Josephine who returned to Paris in 1944 after the Liberation was a calmer, older, and sadder Josephine, no longer the savage wild child. At the age of forty-one, she married her fourth husband, orchestra leader Jo Bouillon, and devoted her energies to restoring and operating Les Milandes, her 15th century chateau, as a working farm and tourist attraction. She continued performing, but no longer in the nude, and campaigning against racism and segregation. But on a visit to the USA, an ugly incident in the Stork Club involving columnist Walter Winchell, led to her being labeled anti-American and a possible Communist and her own people began to turn away from her.

Back at her chateau, Josephine decided to fulfill both her dreams of motherhood and racial harmony by adopting a child of each race, to prove they could all live together happily and peacefully. Between 1954 and 1965 she would adopt twelve children; her very own “Rainbow Tribe.” But it all had the air of a publicity stunt; though the children clearly adored her, Josephine was often an absentee mother, leaving them to the care of governesses, her husband, and other relatives and servants.

But everything slipped through her fingers, either fast or slow, in time she lost it all. Her health, her home, her family, her possessions, which were sold at auction. In 1964 she was photographed, sixty-two years old, barefoot with a mammy cap covering her balding scalp (the lye she used to straighten her hair had gradually destroyed the follicles) sitting on the backstairs of her chateau, crying in the rain, after she had been forcibly evicted.

Princess Grace of Monaco came to her aid, but Josephine, desperate to satisfy her creditors, returned to the only life she had ever known. Trading on fond memories and the novelty of seeing an elderly woman in feathered headdresses, sequins, and spangles, sometimes roaring onto the stage astride a Harley Davidson motorcycle or dancing the Charleston, she made a successful comeback, but even that slipped away too, as the march of time continued and senility set in. After suffering a cerebral hemorrhage, Josephine slipped away quietly, without ever regaining consciousness on April 14, 1975. Princess Grace was at her side as last rites were administered and arranged for Josephine to buried in Monaco beneath a simple black granite marker.

I remember seeing the made-for-tv movie, The Josephine Baker Story, years ago, so when I saw this book I was very curious and eager to read it. I love the history of the theater and the Golden Age of the movies, and Miss Baker’s remarkable life story is a fascinating and poignant Cinderella story of the dizzying highs and lows of celebrity. She was a brave woman who did much to help people, but ended by only hurting herself, she was always chasing rainbows and could never hold on to what she had.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Sweethearts: The Timeless Love Affair--On and Off Screen--Between Jeanette MacDonald and Nelson Eddy by Sharon Rich

I first read this book when it was originally published in 1994, so I was delighted to add the new updated 20th Anniversary edition to my collection of Hollywood biographies and read all the new discoveries Ms. Rich has unearthed since.

For those unfamiliar with Jeanette MacDonald and Nelson Eddy, they were known as the silver screen’s singing sweethearts during the 1930s and early 40s when they starred together in eight musicals at MGM Studios, including the smash hits “Naughty Marietta,” “Rose Marie,” and “Maytime.” For many years,  Nelson Eddy was the highest paid singer in America, singing to sold out crowds during his numerous concert tours, and Jeanette MacDonald was MGM’s prized prima-donna with the red-gold hair and sea green eyes, prim and proper to some, a demanding professional known as “the iron butterfly,” but sensual with a spark of mischief in others’ eyes.

What the general public didn’t know, or only guessed at or daydreamed about, was that Nelson and Jeanette were not-so-secret secret lovers in real life, their on again off again affair was one of Hollywood’s best kept “secrets” well known but well guarded. But the true story was nothing like the sometimes bittersweet but more often happily ever after stories they enacted onscreen. Both were ambitious, being a star meant so much to Jeanette it sometimes caused her to make decisions that would have drastic repercussions on her own personal happiness. Nelson had a temper and was a well known ladies’ man, he was wildly jealous and sometimes took this out on Jeanette in the form of sexual assaults, arguments, and infidelities. He wanted Jeanette to abandon her career and become a housewife and was unwilling to compromise. Studio mogul Louis B. Mayer was convinced if the couple married in real life it would spoil their box office, especially if their volatile natures eventually led them to the divorce court. Jeanette was urged into marriage with the non-threatening Gene Raymond, a charming and competent enough actor who never quite made the Hollywood A-list, and bore an uncanny resemblance to the blonde baritone who had already stolen Jeanette’s heart.

This lengthy exhaustively and impeccably researched but highly readable book chronicles the couple’s almost lifelong love affair, spanning 1934 to Jeanette’s death in 1965 (Nelson followed her to the grave two years later). It’s a tragic tale of ambition, jealousy, anger, lust, interference of relatives, vengeful, unloved spouses, and studio bosses, blackmail, unattainable divorces, suicide attempts, miscarriages by a woman too physically frail to carry the child she longed for, devastating breakups, joyous reunions, and tension-riddled attempts to forsake the carnal in favor of a platonic friendship or “spiritual marriage.” After Jeanette’s marriage of convenience, their lives went terribly awry, Nelson married a woman whose life revolved around being “Mrs. Nelson Eddy” and once she got her claws in him would never let go, threatening to destroy Jeanette if Nelson dared even try to divorce her, and no matter how hard they tried they could never make things right and have the life they longed for.

Ms. Rich’s meticulous, tireless and tenacious research on a book that is clearly a labor of love. She has written a vivid, richly detailed biography that brings her subjects vibrantly to life to let readers feel their passion, frustration, and heartbreak.

Sweethearts is available for order at as a trade paperback or Kindle edition and also through the author’s website

Sunday, May 11, 2014

The Queen of Whale Cay The Life of a Great American Eccentric by Kate Summerscale

The author of this colorful little biography discovered her subject in 1993 while researching an obituary when she was employed by the Daily Telegraph.

Marion Barbara Carstairs, who preferred to be called “Joe” was born in 1900, the heiress to a Standard Oil Fortune, she was the daughter of an absentee military man father and a beautiful, capricious mother addicted to drugs and male attention. Joe loved fast cars and boats. She would go on to become a speed boat champion. She preferred to wear men’s clothes, she had her arms tattooed with stars and dragons, and smoked cigars, though she claimed never to inhale and that it was for appearances only. Despite her many lesbian liaisons--she would eventually amass a collection of 120 photographs, each of a different girlfriend--she preferred to give her affections to inanimate objects, maybe because they could never disappoint in the same way another human being can. In 1934 she bought her own island, Whale Cay, in the Caribbean, where her word was law, and she played hostess to a number of celebrities including Marlene Dietrich, Mercedes de Acosta, Tallulah Bankhead, and the Duke and Duchess of Windsor.

First and foremost in her affections was a little leather man-doll she named Lord Tod Wadley, he was her constant companion to the very end, he was her talisman and idol, those who knew her best claimed “Wadley was her religion,” she even had little Saville Row suits tailored for him and genuine Italian leather shoes made to custom fit his tiny feet, and his portrait taken in a variety of poses, when she died a few weeks before her ninety-fourth birthday in 1993 he would be cremated with her. 

This is a short book about a long, exciting, and unusual life. For those who like biographies of subjects that aren't well known enough to have dozens of books written about them or enjoy tales of the eccentric doings of the fabulously rich, like Barbara Hutton and Doris Duke, though it lacks the jewels, glamorous gowns, and mink coats, this might make a quick, fun read. It’s definitely something different.

Sunday, April 27, 2014

The Perfect Man The Muscular Life And Times of Eugen Sandow, Victorian Strongman by David Waller

Though many may not know his name today, Eugen Sandow (1867-1925) was once one of the most famous men in the world. He was the reigning sex symbol of his day, considered by many to be the perfect specimen of manhood. His near-nude and classically draped photos were prized possessions for numerous late Victorian and Edwardian era ladies and closeted homosexuals.

Written by a distant relative, this books tells the entire Sandow saga, from his humble beginnings as an illegitimate child in Prussia to super-stardom. After seeing classical statues, he decided to model his own physique upon these works of ancient art. He worked hard to achieve his ambitions then ran away from home and became a circus strongman and also supplemented his income as an artists’ model. He performed feats of strength in scanty costumes for awed music hall audiences. And appeared as a star attraction at the World’s Columbian Exposition (aka The World’s Fair) in 1893 under the management of Florenz Ziegfeld, who invited society ladies to come backstage after the show and feel Sandow’s muscles.

Sandow is considered one of the pioneers of physical culture and bodybuilding. In England, where he settled in 1896 with his wife, Blanche, he operated his own gymnasiums, offered mail order fitness courses, sold his own line of workout equipment, penned books and articles about fitness, and even published his own magazine, and worked as a personal fitness instructor. His clients included Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, the creator of Sherlock Holmes, who credited his survival of a serious automobile accident to Sandow’s training. His image as a handsome, curly-headed blonde and mustachioed Hercules was emblazoned on postcards, immortalized by artists and sculptures, and appeared on numerous product endorsements, including cigars, cocoa, corsets, body lotion, dolls, and baby powder. When he visited America he was filmed, striking poses, for Thomas Edison’s kinetoscope, and the resulting short film, which can be seen today on Youtube, became a popular attraction at peepshows.

Sadly, beyond the muscles, the man remains elusive; which makes Eugen Sandow a difficult subject for any biographer. There are no diaries or personal letters to offer clues about the private man. Mr. Waller does a fine job with what he has to work with. He admits that with Sandow’s personality lost to history, sometimes it’s hard to separate facts from gossip and legends, but he does his best. He addresses rumors about stage trickery in Sandow’s strongman act and also about his sexuality, stating plainly that at this late date we just don’t know if he was a faithful husband, a rampant or occasional dallier, and if his affairs—before and if he had any after marriage—were with women, men, or both.

After the outbreak of World War I, Sandow’s fitness empire went into a decline. Though he was by then a British citizen, a loyal and patriotic one who even offered fitness training for men who wanted to enlist but had failed the army physical, he could not escape his origins. He had been born in Prussia, German was his first language, and in those paranoid days people became suspicious of him. There were even rumors that he was a German spy. And when rumors erupted that his cocoa was manufactured in German or from a German recipe sales plummeted, stores refused to stock it as the public shunned it.

Sandow faded into obscurity and died in 1925, supposedly from the lingering effects of an automobile accident. There is some confusion about his death and the author discusses this.

Whether you’re interested in fitness or not, if you enjoy biographies about people who have not been the subject of dozens of books, like Marie Antoinette, George Washington, and Marilyn Monroe, you might enjoy learning about the once world famous but frustratingly elusive Eugen Sandow, Victorian Strongman.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Peaches & Daddy A Story of the Roaring 20s, The Birth of Tabloid Media, & The Courtship That Captured The Heart And Imagination of The American Public by Michael M. Greenburg

This is a book I waited years for, hoping that someone would write a good, book length account of one of my favorite scandals of the 1920s. If you've never heard of Peaches and Daddy, I think you’re going to get a kick out of this audacious pair, and maybe even want to travel back in time and kick them too.

In 1926 fifty-one-year-old millionaire Edward “Daddy” West Browning met fifteen-year-old Frances “Peaches” Heenan at a high school dance he was sponsoring at a prestigious New York hotel. Thirty-seven days later they were married to the horror of Child Protective Services. It was love at first sight according to the smitten millionaire.

Throughout their whirlwind courtship, during which the child-bride spent an average of $1,000 (in 1920s currency) a day in New York department stores, newspapermen and photographers were right in step with them.  Daddy and Peaches courted the media as well as each other and were always happy to pose with each other and their pet African honking gander and provide plenty of photo opportunities. The public could not get enough of them. And ten months later, when Peaches, claiming to be a nervous wreck, and to have discovered the hard way that money isn't everything, was seeking a separation from Daddy and a generous settlement, every lurid and titillating detail was splashed across the front pages.

This wonderful, engrossing and entertaining book, recounts the whole mad, bizarre, and fantastic saga of Peaches and Daddy from start to end. It’s also a great book for those interested in the history of tabloid journalism. The press of the day even put together faked photos, with the heads of Peaches and Daddy pasted on, to illustrate some of their stories. It’s also a great book for those who enjoy reading about the 1920s or scandals of the past that have been forgotten but were once front page news.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Charlatan America’s Most Dangerous Huckster, The Man Who Pursued Him, And The Age of Flimflam by Pope Brock

In 1917, after years of peddling worthless patent medicines with wondrous claims, John R. Brinkley set up a medical practice in the small town of Milford, Kansas. But this was no ordinary doctor’s office. Dr. Brinkley had a new procedure guaranteed to restore masculine virility and cure all manner of diseases. Soon men from all over the globe were flocking to this tiny Kansas town, eager to pay their $750, pick a goat from the pen, and be wheeled into the operating room to have their scrotum sliced open and the goat’s testicles sewn inside so that, as soon as the incisions healed, they would be as randy as a billygoat. Soon women were getting into the act too and having goat ovaries implanted inside them in the hope of conceiving. Even deep in the Great Depression, Dr. Brinkley was in the money, bringing in $12 million a year when the average doctor was lucky to earn $3,000.  He enthusiastically seized on advances in radio broadcasting to give questionable medical advice, advertise his products, promote politics, and popularize country and hillbilly music.

But America’s richest and most famous doctor soon had the American Medical Association’s quackbuster on his tail. Dr. Morris Fishbein was determined to put Dr. Brinkley out of business and expose the goat gland operation for the fraud it really was, and a dangerous one at that, as many developed infections and died.

This is another fine example of non-fiction writing at its best, it gives the reader a window not just its subject’s life, but also his world. I’ve always been fascinated by the old patent medicines that promised miracles in a glass bottle, in fact an antique cod liver oil bottle is on my desk as I write this, so I really enjoyed this one. If you like tales of audacious conmen, I think you’ll enjoy meeting Dr. Brinkley and his formidable adversary. This would also be a great book for anyone who enjoys interesting non-fiction books that are not dry and dull, or the history of medicine or the quacks and fraudsters who have played a role in it.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Dangerous Curves Atop Hollywood Heels The Lives, Careers, And Misfortunes Of 14 Hard-Luck Girls Of The Silent Screen by Michael G. Ankerich

This is one of the best Hollywood history books that I've happened across in a long time. The author steers clear from the same old tragedies and familiar names most classic movie lovers are familiar with and trains the spotlight on the more obscure stars from the silent era who crashed and burned or simply dimmed out and faded into obscurity.

Here are some highlights of blondes and brunettes most of the world forgot:

Agnes Ayres, who is best remembered for her role as Valentino’s beautiful captive in “The Sheik,” her movie producer lover made her a star, but struggles with her weight led to a downward slide, though she never stopped trying to claw her way back up to the top again. She suffered a nervous breakdown in 1938 and died two years later at only forty-two.

Raven-haired “Joy Girl” Olive Borden, who was known for the naughty negligees she wore on screen, but the advent of talkies on top of too much booze and too many bad choices, big spending, and a bigamy trial led to a life of obscurity and alcoholism.

Golden blonde Grace Darmond got her fifteen minutes of fame when the alluring lesbian lured Rudolph Valentino’s bride, Jean Acker, away to set up house with her.

Elinor Fair was considered one of the most promising actresses of the 1920s, but her struggles with mental illness and alcohol kept her promise from being fulfilled. In the end she had to beg gossip columnist Hedda Hopper for charity just so she could buy medicine for the liver disease that was killing her.

Heroin heroine Juanita Hansen learned from her mistakes—when a showerhead malfunctioned and scalding water poured down on her she was given morphine for the pain and quickly became addicted. Drugs ruined her life, looks, and her career. She became the first celebrity to come clean and speak openly about drug abuse, she did her best to educate others but the comeback she hoped for never happened and she faded from the public eye and died quietly of heart disease in 1961. 

Wanda Hawley dreamed of being an opera singer, but after she was discovered by Cecil B. DeMille and soon found herself playing opposite Rudolph Valentino and Wallace Reid, the biggest male stars of the day, but she mysteriously, suddenly, gave it all up and sailed away to Europe with her handsome business manager.

Natalie Joyce lived to be ninety, she was one of the rare ones who walked away by choice, this brunette beauty refused to play the Hollywood game, she kept herself off the casting couch, and while her more famous cousin, screen beauty Olive Borden, crashed and burned, Natalie quit the movies, married, opened a beauty salon, and led a quiet life until her death in 1992.

Barbara La Marr, “The Girl Who Was Too Beautiful” a dark, exotic beauty who boasted “I take my lovers by the dozen, like roses,” never seemed able to find the love she was craving, despite five husband, countless lovers, and friends. She lived her life on a steady diet of nightclubbing, champagne, drugs, and no more than two hours sleep a day. When she secretly gave birth to a son, she arranged to adopt him. Little Martin gave her the unconditional love she had always longed for, but after she sprained her ankle on the set of “Souls For Sale” the studio doctors injected their star with morphine to keep her moving and by the end of the movie she was hooked. She died in 1926. She was only thirty.

Martha Mansfield, a former Ziegfeld Girl, was standing on the brink of stardom in 1923 when she was cast as a southern belle in love with a Union officer in The Warrens of Virginia. But her life, and with it her career, went up in flames when someone’s carelessly discarded match set her full, frilly hoop skirt on fire.

Mary Nolan, the beautiful and the damned bottle blonde, who lived her life by a pattern—changing her name after each scandal. She was variously known as Mary Robertson, Imogene Robertson, Imogene Wilson, Mary Nolan, and Mary Wilson. After a miserable life, part of which was spent in a Catholic orphanage, she became a Ziegfeld Girl while still in her teens. She became involved with a married man, a sadistic comedic star who beat her, and in the wake of scandal and lawsuits fled to Europe, there she stared in a few German films before an American producer brought her back to America under the name of Mary Nolan. But drugs, alcohol, affairs, abusive relationships, and drugs their toll and her film career fizzled. She died a suicide in 1948.

Marie Prevost began her movie career as one of Mack Sennett’s Bathing Beauties but today, if she is remembered at all, it is usually for a rumor about her death. A string of tragedies led to Marie’s own downfall. Grief over her beloved mother’s death and her own failed marriage led to depression, drinking, weight gain, when she tried to pull herself together, she was only able to land a few bit parts. Still, she was determined to try, she fought a valiant battle against the bottle and her weight, but in 1937 she was found dead, alone in bed, with a whiskey bottle in the kitchen sink and her beloved dachshund Maxie beside her. Her body was malnourished from dieting and her heart gave out under the strain of it all. Somehow a rumor got started that her dog, alone in her apartment, with nothing to eat, turned to its mistress’s body for sustenance. But this is not true. The little dog had only attempted to awaken her by nipping at her and thus left behind a few teethmarks.

Lucille Ricksen is one of the most enigmatic ladies in this book. She was known as “The Youngest Leading Lady.” The public thought she was sixteen but she was actually thirteen. She had begun as a child model, a tot with golden curls posing for pictures and illustrated postcards, then a child star, the course of her career steered by her mother. She could be spunky or sweet, whatever the director desired. One day as a joke she went to the wardrobe department and dressed up like a grown lady then returned to the set, pretending to be her own sister, asking everyone “Have you seen Lucille?” That was the end of kiddie roles and Lucille Ricksen became Hollywood’s “Youngest Leading Lady.” Although she was only a little girl, she was the sole breadwinner for her family and worked harder than most adults. For years she was dedicated to maintaining her scrapbook, pasting in articles and pictures, and writing notations in white ink. Then, all of a sudden, she stopped. In 1924 she collapsed with a mysterious illness and died a year later. She was only seventeen. Speculation abounds about the cause of her death—was it tuberculosis, exhaustion, a nervous breakdown, anemia, or a secret abortion that went tragically wrong?

Eve Southern was “Hollywood’s Mystic.” As Mary, Queen of Scots in a past life, she may have thought she deserved more regal treatment in Tinseltown  but more often than not she ended up as “the face on the cutting room floor.” Then a car accident, followed by a tobogganing accident, ending her career, and, almost, her life and she vanished into obscurity.

Alberta Vaughn was dancing on the side of a public highway in a pair of men’s longjohns to amuse some soldiers in 1946 when the police arrived to cart the drunken dame off to jail. No one realized that this middle-aged alcoholic had once been one of the brightest comedic stars on the 1920s. Since the end of her career she had been in and out of jail, for boozing and running a brothel out of her home, which she complained was haunted by a ghost.

I really enjoyed this book, I have been a classic movie fan since I was a little girl and I discovered names and stories here that I had never heard of. My only complaint is that some were tantalizing vague and left me wanting to know more, but that is not the author’s fault, the information is simply lost to time.