What happened to Carole Landis?

My sophomore year of high school I had one of the best teacher’s I’ve ever had during my student career.

Her name was Leslie Pierce and she taught honors English. We read a lot of really boring books like “The Scarlett Letter” and “Ethan Frome” but she somehow made them exciting and described them like a day time soap opera.

I remember Ms. Pierce drooling over Robert Redford in the “Great Gatsby” and Daniel Day-Lewis in “The Crucible,” turning the TV around during the steamy parts of the film “Ethan Frome” and playing us a silly rap of “The Raven.”

Her motto was “Carpe Diem”-seize the day. She would have her students stand on their desks like they did in “The Dead Poets Society.”  Ms. Pierce once was a dancer and excitedly talked to me when I wore my “Oklahoma” shirt after seeing the play at the Peace Center.  There were also humorous stories told about jack rabbits pelting her car as she drove through Indiana and the time she thought it would be a good idea to cut her eyelashes.

She was a crazy, intelligent, fun and interesting woman who genuinely loved English and her students. And in October 2005, Ms. Pierce killed herself. I found out during marching band practice and just pretended to play my clarinet because I was crying so much.

Ms. Pierce didn’t show up to school one day and the assistant principal and school police officer went to her home and found her. It came as a great shock and her students, including myself, were inconsolable. I still tear up when I think about it and other times I swear I see her when I’m at the store or downtown.

I tell this story because I’d like to draw a parallel to actress Carole Landis.

Carole Landis

Miss Landis was a vibrant, beautiful young star in the late 1930s and 1940s, starring in films like “Moon Over Miami” with Betty Grable and Four Jills in a Jeep,” a film based off a book she wrote.  Landis was friendly, well-liked and traveled overseas during World War II.

Unexpectedly Landis was found dead at 4 a.m. on July 5, 1948.  It’s been ruled suicide by overdose of sleeping pills, but her family isn’t convinced.

Carole Landis was discovered in her apartment after a big 4th of July party followed by an intimate dinner with Rex Harrison.

Rex Harrison and Carole Landis had been involved in a wildly known extra-marital affair. At the time, Harrison was married to actress Lilli Palmer. Landis and Harrison had broken up and recently gotten back together around the time of the party.

On the Official Carole Landis website, run by her great-niece, the Landis family is convinced that Rex Harrison murdered her to avoid scandal surrounding the affair they’d been having.

“Aunt Carole’s death has haunted my family for 62 years and knowing Rex Harrison never paid for what he did only makes it worse. We may never know the truth about her death but we do know that the official version just doesn’t make sense.”

Here are a few reasons the Landis family suspects murder:

Landis selling war bonds

•Carole was happy and friendly. This means she couldn’t have depression like people say.

•Carole was dating actor Turhan Bey after her affair with Rex Harrison ended. They say Harrison was the one who came back to her to rekindle the romance.

•Harrison couldn’t/wouldn’t divorce his wife for Carole Landis.

•The Landis family doesn’t think Carole would have a large, expensive 4th of July party if she was planning on killing herself. Carole was quoted as saying that she had never been happier.

•Carole had made a few suicide attempts in the past but the website describes them as “attention grabbing” for publicity and family. These suicide attempts were supposedly Carole’s version of a temper tantrum.

• Rex Harrison was the last person with Carole and the first one to find her body.

• Rex Harrison apparently lied to and paid the police and told them he was just friends with Carole.

• Newspaper clippings in years following her death wrote about new evidence, but police dismissed it and Carole’s police record is missing.

• Esther Williams said Lilli Palmer, Rex’s wife, “lied” in her autobiography about the event.

The problem with all of these explanations is that I can think of a dozen reasons why they aren’t true. For example:

•Saying Carole was happy and friendly to her friends doesn’t mean she wasn’t inwardly depressed. Look at my description of Ms. Pierce.

•Actor Turhan Bey was a lady’s man and dated everyone. Singling him out as Landis’s boyfriend is silly, particularly during studio era Hollywood when actors and actresses were frequently set up on dates for premieres or publicity (i.e. June Allyson and Van Johnson, Tab Hunter and Natalie Wood).

• Claiming that a divorce would ruin Harrison’s career is an interesting speculation, granted that many actors were married and divorced frequently in Hollywood. Harrison did eventually divorce his wife Lilli Palmer to marry Key Kendal.

•Dismissing suicide attempts as “attention grabbers” is ridiculous. I think that is the biggest warning sign of all. Even if a suicide attempt is to gain attention, the fact that it was even tried means there is some sort of problem.

Landis looking beautiful in a Dole ad

• In regards to the 4th of July part, it’s possible that she spent so much money on a party with her friends because it was her way of saying goodbye. Carole may have “never been happier” because she knew her troubles were over.

• As far as Rex Harrison lying, being the first to find Carole and her police record missing, I don’t know. There may be explanations to this either way. It’s possible her studio bought the police record to avoid scandal. In quotes by Esther Williams below, Harrisons lies were constructed by studio publicity agents and he was most likely told to say these things.

•Esther Williams did discuss the incident in her autobiography “The Million Dollar Mermaid: An Autobiography” but she doesn’t exactly say that Lilli lied. Williams discusses being at Palmer’s house waiting for Rex to come home to discuss business with him. The two women talked until 2 a.m. but he never returned so Williams went home:

“His (Rex Harrison) affair with Carole Landis was the worst-kept secret in Hollywood. The gossip columnists referred to them as the ‘English star whose name begins with an H and the local glamour girl whose name begins with L.’ Glamour girl was putting it mildly-Landis was not exactly a paragon of virtue….At the age of twenty-nine she was already a waning starlet who was separated from her fourth husband….

 The following morning the scandal broke-Miss L was dead. Carole Landis had committed suicide by taking an overdose of sleeping pills. The newspapers conjectured that she became despond because Rex Harrison had told her their affair was over. There was some factual underpinning for this speculation-Rex was leaving Hollywood for New York to appear as Henry VII in the new play “Anne of the Thousand Days”….

 Lilli knew, as I did, that Rex must have been with Carole the night of the suicide…Lilli knew that her husband had been having an affair, but she kept her head high through the maelstrom that followed…She answered questions from the press and stood by him through the coroner’s inquest…The two of them denied that there was any romantic relationship with Landis at all. Rex and Carole were just ‘good friends’…” (164-165).

Williams tells how the studio created an alibi for Harrison and Palmer the weekend Landis died and Palmer does discuss this in her autobiography “Change Lobsters and Dance.”  Studios were very powerful during that era and could quickly cover something up if they felt the need to.

Before reading this website, I had never heard claims Landis was murdered. Robert Osborne has even said that Landis committed suicide as did LIFE magazine.

Lovely Carole

If you look at the website, it discusses the special relationship she had with her sisters and mother, shows pictures of her grand niece wearing Landis’s jewelry and short bios of Landis’s relatives dead and living.

Maybe I would also take the murder claim more seriously if I didn’t wonder if the family or other parties were trying to somehow capitalize off Carole Landis with their grief.

I also feel the family might not fully accept suicide as a possibility because of the stigma of it, particularly during the 1940s.

However, the only two people who truly know the truth are dead.

I understand missing a loved one, but I think it is time to let Carole Landis rest. Harping on old memories of her death and how it happened isn’t helping anyone.

Instead of the curious way she died, why not remember the joy she brought to film audiences and service men.

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Classic Movies in Music Videos: “Llyod, I’m Ready to Be Heartbroken” by Camera Obscura

Here we have another installment of music videos that feature either classic movie stars, movies or reference classic movies.

This month’s music video is “Lloyd, I’m Ready to Be Heartbroken” by Camera Obscura from their 2006 album “Let’s Get Out of This Country.”

The video is of a very 1960s looking couple dancing around the city. During part of the video, we see June Allyson and Ray MacDonald dancing around to “Till the Clouds Roll By” from the 1946 film of the same name.

I have to admit, the video also makes me think of a GAP commercial, but it’s still fun.

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There’s No Business Like Show Business: book review of Betty Hutton’s autobiography

The zany Betty Hutton we love performing her role as Trudy Kockenlocker in “Miracle of Morgan’s Creek” (1944) dragging William Demarest.

Bob Hope called her a “Vitamin pill with legs.”

Betty Hutton was one of the top stars at Paramount studios from the 1940s until the early 1950s. She was famous for her boundless energy and shouting style of singing.

“They all knew Betty didn’t just get up and sing a song,” she said in her autobiography. “I sang, I danced, and I climbed the walls. The only thing they didn’t know is how far I’d carry it once I got up there.”

She worked hard to climb to stardom and her fame rose quickly. However, it fell just as fast.  Hutton was only in 20 movies from 1942 to 1957.

Hutton’s autobiography published in 2009.

Hutton describes this rise and fall in her autobiography Backstage, You Can Have: My Own Story, a book that was published posthumously in 2009, two years after her death in 2007.

The autobiography covers Betty’s unconventional childhood with her bootlegging mother in Lansing, Michigan and her rise to fame as the energetic girl singer for Vincent Lopez’s jazz band.  Hutton’s career jump started on Broadway with the second female lead in “Panama Hattie” starring Ethel Merman. Her Broadway career was brief though. Hutton was frustrated when Merman cut some of her show stopping songs, and was promised by songwriter Buddy DeSylva that he would make her a Paramount star. He stayed true to his words.

Hutton starred in several successful yet forgotten films, but she is best remembered for her roles in “Annie Get Your Gun” (1950) and “The Greatest Show on Earth” (1954). Unfortunately, when Hutton was at the top, she was also nearing the end-about to fall off her stardom pedestal. In the early 1950s, Hutton frustrated the press; upset the Paramount bosses and got involved in pills, all of which contributed to the end of a promising career.

“It was somewhere around the time we were shooting the film in Florida, that I took my first pill,” Hutton said. “I had just dissolved my marriage with Teddy. That coupled with the stress of working on the movie (Greatest Show on Earth), was getting to me. In addition, I was not at the weight I wished I had for the film. I don’t remember how I came upon my first Dexamil, but it was in Miami, and I took it to increase my energy level and reduce my desire to eat.”

By the 1960s, Hutton’s life as a movie star was long gone. She filed for bankruptcy, her daughters moved out and her pill addiction worsened.

“One morning I packed what I had left in the way of personal belongings in a paper bag, and headed out the door of my hotel room for the final time,” Hutton said.  “My room rent was already way overdue, and I had no means of raising the necessary money to pay the bill.”

This scene is the last we hear from Miss Hutton. She writes a note to the readers saying she is not sure if she wants to continue writing the book. Writing the book proved to be happy and painful, she said.

The rest of the book is written by Carl Bruno, who helped care for Betty off and on from the early 1970s until her death in 2007. Bruno’s partner was a Lutheran minister, Gene Arnaiz, who tried to help Hutton and allowed her to live with them in California. From 1974 until 1996, Hutton lived either in Rhode Island with Catholic priest, Father Maguire, or in California with Carl and Gene.

“Father was a Godly man, but he was a mortal all the same,” Bruno said. “There were times when Betty became too much for him…When Father felt it necessary, he would ship Betty back to the boys in California…Likewise, Carl and Gene would tire of her after a time, and back she would go to her austere lifestyle in the Rhode Island rectory.”

Betty Hutton died in 2007 in California of colon cancer while living with Carl Bruno and Michael Mayer.

My thoughts on the book:

Doing her own trapeze stunts in “The Greatest Show on Earth” (1954), Betty’s last big film role.

What you see on the screen seems to be what you get with Betty Hutton. She had the same fiery, go get ‘em, energetic outlook when she talks about her career as her characters had in her films.  As Betty described her childhood, as she was fighting for her family and trying to make her way into show business, you wanted to fight along with her. I would put down the book and feel like I could face anything; Betty’s attitude is that infectious.

This autobiography is entertaining but depressing at the same time. At one point Hutton had me crying as she talked about visiting the boys overseas during World War II, and then laughing a few sentences later with the line, “We all know it’s common knowledge that movie stars don’t poop.”

Sometimes while reading I got frustrated with Betty. It was like watching a movie saying, “Oh no, don’t do that.” Quotes she said to newspapers, difficulty she gave the Paramount studio heads and the use of pills were painful to read about. I think the biggest thing that upset me in the book is when she turned down the role of Ado Annie in “Oklahoma” to do the TV spectacular “Satins and Spurs.” She later regretted turning down the role when she saw Rogers and Hammerstein were personally overseeing the film. I think that really could have jumpstarted her career. I also feel if pills hadn’t been in the picture, things would have been very different for Betty Hutton.

I have always heard about Betty’s bad relationship with her children and how they disowned her but that didn’t come up a lot in the book. Though she loved her children, Betty said she never should have tried to maintain both a career and her family.

I still enjoyed the book once Betty stopped writing and the remainder of her story was filled in by Bruno and Mayer, but I was a bit disappointed. I knew Father Maguire and the Catholic faith meant a lot to Betty and I was hoping to hear more about it in her own words rather than it being skimmed over that she lived with him.

Betty teaching daughter Lindsay how to swim in 1947.

Bruno and Mayer seemed to care about Betty, but some of the things they wrote seemed more “Oh woe is us; we had to put up with so much.” True, they did, but the book wasn’t about their trials it was about Betty. I also felt like they added a lot of asinine details that weren’t needed and could be potentially embarrassing for Betty. For an example, there was a brief anecdote about Betty goofing off in a long red wig and falling and breaking her glasses or that morphine made Betty throw up at the hospital. Neither story added anything to the story nor was there a point.

The book did clear up one thing that confused me during the time of Betty’s death in 2007. I remember when I saw Betty had died on Turner Classic Movies’ website; I looked around on the internet to find more news sources about it but could find nothing. Apparently, it was Betty’s wish not to tell the press about her death until she was buried. She thought that reporters would be hounding her until her death.

When Betty died, Bruno called family, friends and Robert Osborne, who Betty respected. The TCM website put up that Betty had died and their schedule change to honor her. The press and fans wanted confirmation of Betty’s death. Bruno and Mayer seemed miffed at TCM for this, but I wonder if they made Betty’s wishes clear. I feel like if they had, Osborne wouldn’t have put anything on the website.

Overall, the book was very good, but be prepared to feel hyped up at the beginning and pretty low at the end. Betty Hutton was one of the most energetic, talented film stars we know. It’s a shame that her life took such a turn.

Hutton, Betty, Carl Bruno, Michael Mayer. Backstage, You Can Have. Betty Hutton Estate: 2009.

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Hollywood’s King and Queen: The Oliviers

Through the years, several acting couples have been dubbed “Hollywood Royalty”: Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt, Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton, Natalie Wood and Robert Wagner.

But none of these couples come close to the class and sophistication of Vivien Leigh and Laurence Olivier. The Olivier’s really were truly the acting world’s (stage and screen) king and queen.

Always gracious, refined and most of all beautiful.  The Olivier’s were always stylish and pulled off the part of royalty very well.

Here are a few photos that illustrate their impeccable taste through the years.

The photo that usually comes to mind when we discuss the Olivier's and their style.

At a tennis match with Claire Trevor in the late 1930s/early 1940s. Larry looks very debonair and Vivien looks fabulously glamorous.

At the 1940 Oscars when Vivien won best actress for "Gone With the Wind"

At home in 1941 illustrating the 'at home' look. I wonder if they ever did their own gardening?

Vivien wearing a wonderful hat on a flight in 1946.

Still stylish yet casual as they relax at home in 1946.

Vivien looks really lovely and Larry looks wonderful in a tux in 1948 in London.

Waving like royalty after a 1949 performance of "School for Scandal."

1951 in "Anthony and Cleopatra": One of the stage's most famous couples.

Arriving in New York by boat in 1951.

Beautiful couple on the dance floor.

Presenting her husband with an award at the Venice Film Show in 1952.

A hilarious photo from 1953 as they get off the plane in Venice.

An interesting fact: I actually was going to do a post about Vivien Leigh being the godmother to actress Juliet Mills, daughter of the Olivier’s friend John Mills and sister of actress Hayley Mills.  In an interview once, Juliet said she remembered being allowed to play in Vivien’s jewelry box.  Sadly, I couldn’t find enough information to a good post out of it, but I thought I could still share the information.

This post has been for the Vivien Leigh and Laurence Olivier Appreciation blogathon hosted by Kendra at vivandlarry.com.

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Hooray for the red, white and blue

I’ve always been under the firm belief that World War II era America is one of the most patriotic times this country has ever had. Women saved cooking grease, nylon hose and tubes of toothpaste to donate for war materials.  Film stars enlisted and performed for the soldiers. Female actresses danced with soldiers and talked to them about their mother’s and girlfriends. Here are some photos I found of actors entertaining service men. Enjoy 🙂

Betty Hutton dancing with a soldier

Olivia de Havilland with Navy officers

Ginger Rogers, Gloria DeHaven and other actresses shower a young soldier with attention. (LIFE)

Loretta Young visiting a Naval hospital

Carole Landis visiting soldiers in the South Pacific

Hedy Lamarr playing cards with soldiers

Ann Sheridan preparing to visit men overseas. Notice that she is also painted on the side of the plane.

USO king, Bob Hope, with soldiers

Marlene Dietrich playing the saw between her knees for a military audience. (My grandfather saw her do this)

Carole Lombard selling war bonds.

Robert Benchley and Charles Butterworth serving coffee at the Hollywood Canteen

Rita Hayworth showing some cheesecake as she dishes up food at the Hollywood Canteen

Veronica Lake mingling with a solider

This may be my favorite: Marlene Dietrich, Bob Hope, Joan Leslie, Jane Wyman (I think), and Bette Davis looking at Hollywood actors who enlisted. I think Bette is crying

Hope you enjoyed all of the photos. HAPPY FOURTH OF JULY! 🙂


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Edith Fellows: Tossing pennies from heaven

Another star faded on Sunday, June 26.  Child star Edith Fellows died at the age of 88.

Her name may not as familiar as child stars like Freddie Bartholomew or Virginia Weidler, Fellows was still popular with audience, but usually was type cast as a brat.

She played a spoiled little pill in “She Married Her Boss” that Claudette Colbert whipped into shape.  She later played a homeless child fleeing a truant officer with the help of Bing Crosby in “Pennies From Heaven.”

Edith Fellows getting the spanking she deserves in “She Married Her Boss” with Melvyn Douglas and Claudette Colbert.

Her favorite film roles were as Polly Pepper the “Little Peppers” series because she got to play a nicer, well-behaved characters.

I will say, I did find her a little annoying in “Pennies from Heaven” but I really enjoyed her performance in “She Married Her Boss” as Melvyn Douglas’s daughter.  Since Douglas had ignored his child, he gave her whatever she wanted making her a spoiled brat. Claudette Colbert marries him and straightens her out.

It’s entertaining to see her as a brat, but hilarious when Colbert threatens her into being a good girl.

Newspaper clipping

I never knew much about Edith Fellows-except I always enjoyed seeing her in films-until I read her obituary today.

Like several child stars, Fellows was pushed into stardom. But this time, it wasn’t by a stage mother. Fellows had a stage grandmother.  Fellows had been abandoned by her mother when she was born and was taken by her grandmother.

Conveniently, Fellows’ mother reappeared once she started to make it big in the picture business.  Her mother wanted to take her child back.

Fellows said her grandmother was a tough woman, but her mother seemed worse. She stuck with her stage grandmother instead.

Looking lovely in 1941

Unfortunately, Edith Fellows suffered the same fate that Shirley Temple and Jackie Coogan did financially.

When Fellows was 21 she tried to retrieve the $150,000 that had been placed in her trust fund during her career. Through the Jackie Coogan Bill, child actor’s money goes into a trust fund so guardians don’t spend all of the earnings-such as Coogan’s parents did. Fellows was given only $900 of all the money she earned.  The rest was missing. She felt like her mother was probably responsible for it, because her grandmother had died several years before.

Fellows grew up to become a beautiful young girl.  I was just watching “Pride of the Bluegrass” (1939) last week and was surprised at how pretty of a young lady she had become. I feel like if she hadn’t been dropped from her Columbia contract and had the desire to further her career, she could have maybe turned into a glamorous star.

Though Edith Fellows wasn’t in too many movies she made a lasting impression on me in the ones she did make.  Now Fellows can send down those pennies from heaven that her character Patty Smith and Bing Crosby hoped for.

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Classic Actress Beauty Tip #14: Clear Katharine Hepburn complexion

This is the fourteenth installment of our monthly classic actress beauty tips that I have read about and tested.

Recently, Glamour magazine listed several classic actress beauty secrets. One that peaked my interest was how Katharine Hepburn had such clear skin.

It’s no secret that I am not the biggest fan of Katharine Hepburn, but I will admit that she had wonderfully clear skin.

Katharine Hepburn and her clear skin

Similar to Lana Turner using Four Mule Team Boraxo soap as an exfoliate, Hepburn had her own concoction.

Hepburn mixed lemon juice and sugar and scrubbed her face with it every night to keep her complexion clear, according to Glamour.

Recipes for the facial said to squeeze half a lemon and add water and a tablespoon of sugar to the mixture.

I’ll admit, I didn’t measure any of it and used way too much lemon juice. Regardless, it still made an invigorating scrub.

1. First I washed off my make-up with soap and cold cream. I’ve read several times, that to really get your skin clean, you must always wash your make-up off and then cleanse again.

2. I made the exfoliant mixture and got in the shower so it would possibly make less of a mess around my sink.

3. Scrubbed the lemon and sugar mixture on my face.

4. Rinsed it very well with cool water.

My face surprisingly didn’t feel sticky afterwards like I thought it would, but felt clean and smooth.

To review: It may be a good idea to measure the ingredients unlike I did. This seems to be a pretty good method, but be wary of sticky bathroom counters afterwards. Also, be careful of rubbing the sugar too hard. I rubbed too hard and my cheeks were a little red afterwards.

Stay tuned for August’s tip!

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