Friday, November 23

By Her Own Hand

I was thinking of suicide the other day... God, don't call anyone... I didn't say I was thinking of committing it.  I've been focusing a bit on the dark side of Hollywood lately and it was only natural that sooner or later I would think of Tinseltown's suicides.  We might get to actors one day but right now we are concentrating on four actresses and four sad stories.

I didn't know much about Carole Landis and didn't, in fact, even know her work very well.  Her parts were so small in most of her 53 films that she wasn't even given screen credit.  Once in the 1960s I was watching some movie channel that was having a tribute to her and featuring five of her best-known films.  I would rather refer to them, I think, as her only known films.  They were One Million B.C., Moon Over Miami, I Wake Up Screaming, My Gal Sal and Orchestra Wives.   

The one I liked the best was I Wake Up Screaming, in which she played a murdered girl and the story unfolds as her sister, Betty Grable, and a friend, Victor Mature, try and figure out who did it.  It wasn't a big role but it was memorable.  (It was remade as Vicki in 1953 starring Jeanne Crain and Jean Peters.)  I like those old Fox musicals so I also toe-tapped through Moon Over Miami, again with Grable, and My Gal Sal, with Grable-competitor, Rita Hayworth, and Mature.  A third film with Mature was the silly but popular prehistoric tribal stuff, One Million B.C.   A third musical was Orchestra Wives starring George Montgomery and the Glenn Miller band was great fun but Landis had the third female role.

She is not famous for her films or her life but rather her death, something that cannot be said about the other four upcoming stories.  She was 29 when she died in 1948.  Her career was in decline and 20th Century Fox never really saw her potential.  She had discovered she could not have children and she was married five times to four husbands.  It's often been reported that one or more of these reasons tipped the scale for the uncertain actress.  But the truth is that after spending the night with her married lover, fellow Fox contractee, Rex Harrison, he left her the next day, refusing to divorce his wife, German actress Lilli Palmer, and Landis killed herself that day by swallowing Seconal.  She left suicide notes to Harrison and her mother.

Part of the mystery surrounding Inger Stevens' death is why she took that overdose of barbiturates.  I have never seen the definitive answer.  But two things I know... she always looked sad, always looked like she was about to bawl.  Even when she was smiling she looked sad.  That's pretty telling.  Was it something in her Swedish background?  Was it something with her parents?

Another thing we know is that Stevens had very public romances with a number of her costars, including Bing Crosby, James Mason, Harry Belafonte, Clint Eastwood, Burt Reynolds, Anthony Quinn and George Peppard among others.  Some of them treated her badly and she suffered greatly after the men ended them.  She had an early, brief marriage to a Hollywood agent and after she died, it became known that she had secretly been married for over six years to Ike Jones, a black actor.

She did a lot of television and starred in the small tube's version of The Farmer's Daughter.  She was in such films as Man on Fire, Cry Terror, The Buccaneer, Firecreek, Madigan, Hang 'Em High and A Dream of Kings.  She turned in fine work in all of them (particularly Cry Terror) but her roles were usually little more than the supportive wife or girlfriend or some unhappy, hardened woman in between men.

She was 36 when she died in Hollywood.

Gia Scala's cause of death is the only one here under the microscope.  At the time of her death at 38, it was ruled a suicide and later on an accidental overdose of booze and pills.  But the fact is that she attempted suicide twice before and was as depressed and liquor-fueled than at any other time of her life.

She was born in England to an Irish mother and an Italian father.  She ultimately moved to New York and soon acquired some acting roles, no doubt in some part due to her Neapolitan beauty.  She named herself Gia Scala, one of my favorite Hollywood names.  I could say it over and over.  Gia Scala.  Gia Scala.  Try it.  Agents and studio heads looked at all Italian women after the debuts of the voluptuous ones, Gina Lollobrigida and Sophia Loren.  Hollywood beckoned and soon she was in Four Girls in Town with George Nader, terrific in the film noir The Garment Jungle with Kerwin Mathews, with Robert Taylor in Tip on a Dead Jockey, comedies with Glenn Ford in Don't Go Near the Water and Richard Widmark in The Tunnel of Love and most famously in the acclaimed, all-star The Guns of Navarone as the traitor in the group that included Gregory Peck, David Niven, Anthony Quinn and Irene Pappas.

Soon though darkness prevailed.  Her career started to sputter out, her 11-year marriage to an actor failed, her life-long depression escalated, her DUI arrests multiplied as did public ruckuses, extensive therapy apparently wasn't helping, she lost part of a finger in a traffic mishap and her affairs were legally turned over to actress-friend Anna Kashfi, which became publicly embarrassing.  Perhaps death was a relief.

I never particularly warmed to Elizabeth Hartman because she was always so wan, always seemed so depressed.  Even when she smiled and tried to look happy in films, it always looked like a struggle.  She ultimately only made a handful of films (fewer than any of the others listed here) and I suspect she was simply never a great fit. 

She somehow parlayed smalltown acting in Ohio and a brief stint on the New York boards into winning the role of the blind girl opposite Sidney Poitier in A Patch of Blue, her best work and she was rewarded with an Oscar nomination.  She was, at least at the time, the youngest woman to ever be nominated for best actress.  Soon she made more of a name for herself in The Group, You're a Big Boy Now and The Beguiled.  The latter starred Clint Eastwood and it's interesting to note that he costarred with three of these women.  After just a few more films she gave up acting although she did voice work. 

She left films completely, divorced her husband and moved to Pittsburgh and began working in a museum.  Nothing was heard about her for years when one day it was reported that she jumped from the window of her fifth floor apartment.  She had been a recluse for years and her depression was at an alltime high.

Review of Silver Linings Playbook

No comments:

Post a Comment