The Curse of Valentino’s Ring

Rudolph Valentino had the world at his feet when the star of the silver screen met an untimely death.  But did a mysterious ring and it’s supposed curse send him sooner to his grave? 

Laura Macfehin looks at the legend of the so-called ‘ring of destiny’ and the troubled lives of the people caught in its curse!

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The Star

By the time Rudolph Valentino came to Hollywood he had already left two lives behind.  In 1913 he arrived at Ellis Island as a teenager alone, leaving behind a doting mother in Italy, a certificate in agricultural studies he had no interest in using and the memory of a disapproving father.

In New York he waited tables and eventually became a taxi dancer (also called tango pirates) at Maxim’s.  His good looks made him a favourite amongst the older ladies that were his clientele, and he started a relationship with the Chilean heiress Blanca de Saulles. 

This tumultuous friendship saw Valentino testify in court at their divorce proceedings as to Mr de Saulles infidelity, after which de Saulles had Valentino arrested on trumped up vice charges.  When Blanca then shot her ex husband after he refused her court appointed custody rights, Valentino, fearing he would be called to testify again, left the East coast in a hurry.

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Mrs Blanca De Saulles

In sunny Hollywood Valentino began his third life– quickly gaining work in the burgeoning movie business.  He secured his first leading role in The Four Horseman of the Apocalypse in 1921, which was a huge success.  It was The Sheik, however, filmed that same year that cemented his sex symbol status as a ‘Latin Lover’.

Men and women alike found his presence on-screen mesmerising, and the studios capitalised on this with films like Blood and Sand  and The Cobra.  He was at the height of his popularity when, on a break from shooting in San Francisco he spotted a ring in the window of an antique store.

It was a large signet ring with a tiger’s eye set in gold.  The shop owner was reluctant to sell it Valentino, telling him it was jinxed, and describing it somewhat ostentatiously as ‘the ring of destiny’.  Valentino bought it on the spot.

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The Curse

He used it as part of his costume in his next film, The Young Rajah, which was a flop at the box office, and thinking of what the shop keeper had told him he put the ring away.  He got it out again though some years later to wear in The Son of the Sheik.

Shortly after filming had finished on the film Valentino collapsed in New York, where he was operated on for perforated gastric ulcers.  The doctors gave him a good prognosis but shockingly just a week later he died of peritonitis.  He was 31.

 

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Pola Negri supported by friends at the funeral of Rudolph Valentino.

The Vamp

His death caused a wave of hysterical grief across the United States, and at the centre of this maelstrom was his then girlfriend, actress Pola Negri.

Although Valentino had been seeing at least one other woman at the time, Negri insisted that she was the fiancee, and rode in be-veiled state in the funeral wagon that took Valentino’s body by rail back to California, stopping at every small town along the way so that mourning fans could pay their respects.

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Fans line the streets to witness Valentino’s funeral cortege.

As well as taking centre stage, Negri also took the jinxed ring as something of Valentino’s estate to remember him by.

After nine months she had recovered herself enough to marry a Georgian “prince” Serge Mdivani.  She suffered a miscarriage, something she mourned the rest of her life, and the marriage quickly faltered too.

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The Crooner

In 1932, Negri was performing with a young crooner named Russ Colombo.  Negri was struck by his resemblance to her former lover, and gave Colombo the tiger eye ring as a token of her affection.

She was not the only one to make the comparison– the baritone was known as ‘Radio’s Valentino’ not just because of his physical likeness to the silent movie star but also because the romantic image his crooning love songs gave him.

He and Negri parted ways, but the ring went with Colombo as his star rose.

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In 1934 he was at the height of his popularity with hits such as “You Call it Madness (But I Call It Love)” and “Too Beautiful For Words”.  The latter he had written for the beautiful blonde star he was in love with– Carole Lombard.

She returned his love, and on September 2nd 1934 had a dinner date with him planned.  In the day time he visited his good friend, photographer Lansing Brown.  He was wearing the ring.

Lansing Brown had a collection of antique firearms, and he was fooling with a duelling pistol while the friends sat in the library.  Unexpectedly the gun went off in his hands and a fragment of shot ricocheted off a table and hit Colombo above the left eye.  He died in hospital at age 26.

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Lombard and Colombo

Colombo’s siblings, fearing what the shock would do to their mother, who was at the time hospitalised with heart failure, maintained the fiction of Colombo being alive for the next ten years, Lombard herself helping by sending letters to the older lady she penned herself under Colombo’s name.

Little did anyone know Lombard herself would die a tragic death just eight years later when a plane crash would leave Clark Gable her grieving widower in 1942.

The Brothers

In the mean time, the ring went to Colombo’s good friend, fellow entertainer Joe casino.  Wary of the ring’s reputation as a bringer of bad luck, Casino kept the ring locked up in a glass case in his house.  After a while though he let friends convince him the curse was just superstition, and he took the ring out of its case and began to wear it.  A week later, the car Casino was driving was hit by a truck and he was killed instantly.

Del Casino, Joe’s brother, then inherited the ring.  He scoffed at the curse being nothing but coincidence and bad luck, and made a show of wearing it with no ill effect.  He lent it to a Valentino impersonator, who also suffered no bad consequences, leading one newspaper columnist to print that there was no curse on the ring.

Shortly after this a burglar named Joe Willis was accidentally shot by police fleeing Del Casino’s home– the ring was found in his pocket.

The Skater

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In 1938, producer Edward Small was working on a biopic of Rudolph Valentino.  For the main part he had in mind a young english man named Jack Dunn.  Dunn had been a world medallist in ice skating, until he quit his skating career in the hope of following his former girlfriend Sonja Henie onto a career on screen.

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In 1938 Dunn had already starred in one film, Everybody’s Girl, and had been cast in the lead of another, The Duke of Westpoint, when he was asked to screen test for the role of Rudolph Valentino.

The producer borrowed actual items from Valentino’s wardrobe to dress Dunn up in, and he borrowed the ring from Casino to complete the look.  Dressed as The Sheik, Dunn made a very convincing Valentino, and everyone agreed the test went very well.

Work done Dunn went with some friends on a hunting trip in Texas.  He was a novice hunter, and it is not thought he even did any shooting, and yet a week later he had died from the rare blood disease tularemia, possibly from handling a dead rabbit.  He was 21.

 

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After this, Del Casino decided to err on the side of caution, and had the ring locked up in a bank vault in downtown Los Angeles, where it remains to this day.  So far, no-one else has experienced any weird effects from the tiger eye ‘ring of destiny’.

The bank has perhaps suffered more than its fair share of robberies, strikes and other disruptions though.  After a heist that went spectacularly wrong the leader of the gang responsible supposedly said they never would have hit that particular bank if they had known what was in its vaults.

The curse sleeps?

Does the curse persist?  Did it ever exist?  The portrait above by Federico Beltrán Masses, which features Valentino with a guitar and Negri wearing the ring, was sold last September in London for NZ$285,444.  Masses, who knew the couple and painted many Hollywood stars likely incorporated the ring in his composition because he knew it added to the allure of their story– which is after all the flip side to any cursed object.

The Coney Island Baby who was almost King of the Jungle

Laura Macfehin looks back on body builder Joe Bonomo- how the son of a Candyman almost became the most famous ‘swinger’ of all time!

The Sweet Life

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On a mild summer morning towards the end of the 19th century, a ship was steaming into New York. It had come from Istanbul and the decks were crowded with people keen to get a look at their new home. The harbour was crowded with other ships of all sizes and the sunlight sparkled on the water. Al and Esther Bonomo stood together in the breeze and shaded their eyes against the glare – with the rest of the passengers they craned their necks and stared at the imposing statue that loomed up as they passed Bedloe’s Island. There were oohs and aahs and a couple of whoops as they steamed passed. A thrill of inspiration ran through Al as he gazed at the copper giantess, holding aloft what appeared to be a monumental ice-cream.

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Although later disabused of the notion that Liberty was welcoming them to the New World with frozen confectionery the inspiration stuck, and within a year the Bonomos were established on the Coney Island boardwalk with a stall selling ice-creams and homemade candy. On Christmas day in 1901 little Joe was born, and quickly became a fixture along with his parents in the carnival world of Coney Island. Despite having unlimited access to ice-cream and sweets the Brooklyn boy was a scrawny lad— often at the butt end of others jokes and earning himself the nickname ‘Toothpicks’. He kept to himself—exploring the world of sideshows and thrill rides with just his dog Babe for company.

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“What’s the matter, kid?”

It was on one of these explorations that little Joe meet Ladislaw—a hulking Polish man who was in Coney Island with his strong man act. Ladislaw found Joe skulking round the back of the tent and asked the boy why he looked so glum. Joe replied that he was sick of being teased, and he wished he’d been born strong like Ladislaw.  Ladislaw chided him—“there’s nothing to it; being a big guy like me—anyone can do it. All it is eating the right foods and exercising your muscles”. Joe was fascinated—he got all the information he could from Ladislaw and from then on befriended every muscle man who came through Coney Island, even the world-famous Eugen Sandow.

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Famous Strongman the magnificent Sandow (on the left) interferes with a dead tiger.

By high school he was a footballer and wrestler, and he had also managed to teach himself fencing, horse riding and ballroom dancing. He loved the glamour of the ballroom, but above all he was in love with motion pictures.

New Jersey Babylon

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The Great Train Robbery (1903) filmed in the wilds of New Jersey and made by one of Edison’s employees was one of the first films to feature a plot.

At this time, New Jersey, not Hollywood was the centre of film production in America. Thomas Edison had set up his studio near his workshops in 1892 and from that time filmmakers had flocked to the area, setting up their own studios. As well as the proximity to technology New Jersey provided photogenic scenery and locales an a steady stream of talent just a ferry ride away from Broadway.  The previously sedate semi-rural New Jersey was over taken by film folk who churned out thousands of pictures for the new Nickelodeons that were springing up all over the country.

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Charles Atlas in leopard print posing pants

In 1921 Joe Bonomo was encouraged by muscle man and founding father of the body-building universe Charles Atlas  to enter a star search competition looking for the ‘Modern Apollo’.  Maybe was there was magic in the leopard print loincloth Atlas lent him because Bonomo beat out thousands of other hopefuls.  The prize was a role opposite film star Hope Hampton.  Hampton, herself a competition winner was successful actress/producer who continued at the top her game until talkies came in.  The role Bonomo won was in ‘The Light in the Dark‘ a seven-reel melodrama featuring Hampton, Lon Chaney as a crook with a heart of gold and a hokey plot centred around the holy grail.

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Silent screen star Hope Hampton.  After she retired from movies she tried her hand at Opera singing before devoting herself to being a New York socialite.

Most films from this era were melted down after a week’s run and turned into new stock – The Light in the Dark has survived in a much abbreviated form as The Light of Faith because it was picked up for use in Religious Education classes –but it no longer has any trace of Bonomo in it.  He must have done okay in it though because from that time on Bonomo was in work constantly in the pictures.

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Joe Bonomo in The Light in the Dark, with Hope Hampton and Lon Chaney

When the movie industry decamped to Hollywood seeking cheap land, sunshine and a continent-sized distance between them and the extremely litigious Edison, Bonomo went too.  His impressive physique and animated features made him a perfect fit for silent movies, and he starred in features like Eagle’s Nest and The Great Circus Mystery, as well as serials like The Chinatown Mysteries, Perils of the Wild and The Fighting Marines. He also doubled for actors like Lon Chaney, performing stunts in The Hunchback of Notre Dame and other hugely successful films.  Days were spent leaping from rooftops, from moving cars, throwing punches and falling from windows.  In The Hunchback of Notre Dame he completed a rope stunt that had seen another stuntman badly burnt by lining his gloves and trousers with tinfoil.  At the end of work he showered off the plaster dust and danced the sprains away with partner Ethel.

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Bonomo with actress Magaret Quimby in the adventure serial The Perils of the Wild

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Bonomo holds another actor above his head in The Chinatown Mysteries

Tarzan that wasn’t

In the early 30s Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer negotiated the rights to turn the Edgar Rice Burroughs novel Tarzan of the Apes into a motion picture.  Bonomo was considered a lock for the part– he had the athleticism, the good looks and he performed his own stunts.  There was one stumbling block– pictures now had sound and this Coney Island baby had a broad Brooklyn accent.  Like many actors of the era Bonomo scrambled to get voice lessons– trying get the necessary refinement for a leading man.  Burroughs was not impressed– Tarzan is meant to be an English lord after all.  In the end it didn’t matter.  Two accidents took Bonomo out of the running for this or any other role.

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Bonomo leaps from balcony to flagpole in a stunt

In the first incident Bonomo had hit western star Buck Jones with a chair in a fight scene.  The Jones mis-timed his response and ended up with three broken ribs and a fractured back.  While not his fault the accident badly shook Bonomo’s confidence.  Then, while performing a car crash scene Bonomo broke a hip.  After being x-rayed it was found Bonomo had broken over 37 bones since arriving in Hollywood.  He was now un-insurable and therefore unhireable.  The role of Tarzan went to Johnny Weissmuller, the Olympic gold-medal winning swimmer, who went on to make a dozen films as the Lord of the Apes, perfecting the ‘yell’ that became synonymous with the character and then thirteen films as the Safari hero Jungle Jim.

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One of Joe Bonomo’s last roles– as the ‘tigerman’– one of Dr Moreau’s ‘manimals’ in The Island of Lost Souls (1932)

Muscle by mail

Like many stars of the silent era, Joe Bonomo was out of work almost over night.  With his movie career behind him he married his dance partner Ethel and together with their baby daughter Joan they moved back to Coney Island, where Al Bonomo’s health had taken a turn for the worse.  Bonomo took over the family business, but his mind soon turned to a different area of revenue.  After all his early years on the boardwalk had taught him that you could hawk pretty much anything if you put your mind to it and came up with a good enough spiel.

At the height of his fame Bonomo had employed people to answer his fan mail, and one of the things he had sent out was a form letter outlining the steps needed to get a ‘new Apollo’ physique like his.  He now turned his mind to how he could market this plan, and in 1939 his first magazine Your Figure Beautiful was launched.  This publication featured diet and exercise plans, as well as advertisements for his mail-order courses which promised everything from a more beautiful bust to a completely new muscle-man physique.

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Then (as now) his combination of quick-fix aspirational lifestyle advice and pictures of scantily clad models made these magazines very popular.  He also managed to include the importance of eating plenty of sweets for building muscle-tone– which tied in nicely with his family business selling the reasonably priced Bonomo’s Turkish Taffy!

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From the 1940s on Bonomo also published ‘minis’– pocket-sized manuals on everything from being a good war-worker, to simplifying housework to looking taller.  These had gaudy loud covers and were sold on shop counters throughout the country.  In the sixties he included titles on the evils of drugs (Don’t Be A Dope!) and What I Know About Women-– which was 64 blank pages (har har).

When he died in 1978 he left behind a mixed legacy– on the one hand his publications have a pretty direct lineage to infomercials; possibly not the finest of human cultural excretions, and yet the publications themselves are beautifully composed odes to physical culture (and in particular the muscular male form) in full camp colour.  Not only that, but his stunt-work from the Twenties is breathtaking.  Who knows what could have been had his diction been more malleable (he was also a contender for the role of Anthony to Claudette Colbert’s Cleopatra)– but for now let us pop some candy in our mouths and say bravo Bonomo- the Brooklyn boy with the biceps!

For more info on Joe Bonomo try

The Strongman – Pictorial Autobiography of Joe Bonomo – 1973

Better call Eddie

For MGM moguls Eddie Mannix and Howard Strickling, dealing with their stars’ dirty laundry was all in a day’s work. Natasha Francois examines the seedy underbelly of Hollywood’s Golden Age.

Movie star Thelma Todd’s body was discovered the morning of December 16, 1935 by trusted maid Mae Whitehead.

The blonde bombshell was slumped behind the wheel of her beloved 1934 Lincoln Phaeton convertible. Her peroxide hair was matted, her skin pale.

Blood was splattered in the car, on her gown, mink coat, and face. Her nose appeared broken, she had bruises on her face and throat, and a porcelain veneer was missing from a front tooth. She appeared to have been severely beaten (broken ribs were later discovered).

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Unsolved murder: Blonde comedienne Thelma Todd aka “the ice-cream blonde.”

The maid made the grisly discovery because she was responsible for collecting the star’s car from actress Jewel Carmen’s hilltop garage every morning and bringing to the Sidewalk Cafe, the restaurant Todd owned and lived above.

Between the garage and Todd’s apartment below were almost 300 steps and a staggeringly steep stairway.

TToddstairstocafehouseWhat was the A-list comedienne doing dead in the garage wearing her clothes from the night before?

On Saturday she’d attended a glitzy party at the Trocadero on Sunset Strip. During the evening, Thelma and her ex Pat DiCicco got into a heated argument – witnessed by many.

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 ‘It’ girl du jour, Todd had been guest of honour, and seemed to be having a blast. Hubbie Roland West didn’t go and asked her to be home by 2am.  Thelma didn’t leave the party til 3.15am.

Her chauffeur, Ernest Peter, is the last person definitively known to have seen her alive.

From the moment police appeared on the scene, they behaved oddly. Both Chief Detective Bert Wallis and Chief Medical Examiner A. F. Wagner became personally involved – unusual even for a high-profile case like this.

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Police were banished while the pair spent half an hour examining the scene. They declared the death due to carbon monoxide poisoning.

Meanwhile the crime scene was trampled by the press while Thelma’s lifeless body was snapped in a photographic free for all.

Just how the Hollywood star dubbed ‘the ice-cream blonde” and romantically linked to none other than notorious New York mobster, Charles ‘Lucky’ Luciano, managed to get locked into her garage, by her own hands or by someone else’s, was a matter of conjecture.

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Infamous mobster: Lucky Luciano is considered the father of modern organized crime.

The investigation revealed more questions than answers. Some suggested that the hard-drinking, flamboyant blonde committed suicide. It was not an uncommon method, but then murders had been committed in a similar way. In addition, if she killed herself, where did the blood on her face and clothing come from?

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The police inexplicably placed the time of death at 2.00am Sunday morning – more than 36 hours before. However, Todd’s body was only just beginning to show signs of rigor mortis when the police arrived indicated that she’d been dead for no more than five or six hours.

The autopsy revealed her alcohol blood level was  .13 scarcely over the legal driving limit. It also found peas and carrots in her stomach – eaten five to six hours prior to her body being found. If she’d died at 2.00am Sunday how could the peas and carrots be accounted for?

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The police deemed her death accidental. They believed she had arrived home intoxicated, fell asleep at the wheel and succumbed to carbon monoxide poisoning.

Wagner, an experienced coroner, put the bruises on her face and throat down to postmortem lividity – a frankly ludicrous explanation.

The passing-out-drunk story is dubious given her blood alcohol level, although she might have still nodded off as she ran the heater in preparation for a drive down the hill.

And if she had been accidentally locked out of the garage, why was the key found in her purse?

e120bdd19abb5f5e51ffca8ff7e1b94fAlthough there were strong whispers, it was mob-ordered execution, the case remains bafflingly unsolved.

What is likely, however, is that before the maid contacted the police, she would have called Howard Strickling and Eddie Mannix.

What ensued is suspected to be one of the biggest cover ups in Hollywood history.

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MGM: “More stars than there are in heaven.”

Meet the fixers

As soon as they caught wind of a potential scandal, Hollywood ‘fixers’ Howard Strickling and right-hand man Eddie Mannix would have sprung into action.

Head of Publicity at Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, Howard Strickling was the king of cover ups. From the 1930s through to the 1960s, the former journalist worked in tandem with MGM general manager Eddie Mannix to preserve the stars’ carefully choreographed reputations.

It was a time when image was everything and the untouchable icons were worth millions to the studios that owned them.

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Sinister streak: MGM general manager Eddie Mannix was described as a “thug in a suit.”

MGM, headed by Louis B. Mayer championed the virtues of wholesome family entertainment. This had to be preserved at any cost. It usually meant keeping scandals out of the press or if they had progressed too far, sweeping them under the rug.

Mannix joined the studio near its inception and soon worked his way up. He remained on the payroll until he died in 1963.

The former New Jersey labourer and Palisades Park carnival barker, had rumoured mafia connections. He was also a serial philanderer and a wife beater who injured his girlfriend Mary Nolan so badly, she needed surgery to recover.

pbdclga_ec061He had people all over Los Angeles on the payroll, cops, doctors, coroners. It meant they could spin a story however they wanted.

Mannix and Strickling might be virtually forgotten today but in their Hollywood heyday, they were lords of the star-studded universe.

Mannix was the muscle, while Strickling distracted the media. Fending off the reporters often involved supplying the press with alternate stories to print and leaking stories about other star’s misdemeanors.

Together they paid off call girls, hushed up speeding tickets, hid illegitimate children, cleaned up corpses, and made sure affairs, homosexuality and other skeletons remained in the closet.

They reportedly bought up copies of a porn film reportedly made early in Joan Crawford’s career. Crawford was also forced by the studio to end a long affair with Clark Gable.

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Too hot to handle: Joan Crawford was heartbroken when she was forced to end her affair with Clark Gable.

When the likes of Jean Harlow, Judy Garland, Lana Turner and countless other actresses found themselves pregnant out of wedlock, Strickling and Mannix procured hasty abortions. They even covered up the visits with false names and false ailments.

The fixers read every telegram sent or received through the studio, including personal messages sent by stars. It was the only way to guarantee they caught wind of possible trouble brewing before the shit hit the fan.

When he couldn’t scare a star straight, Mannix would summon an old friend from New Jersey– ie. a gangster to deliver the message.

Sometimes covering up rapes and murders, became part of the job and in many cases studio officials were at the scene of the crime for hours before police were even called.

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Opposites attract: Paul Bern and Jean Harlow.

The death of Harlow’s hubbie

When MGM producer and the husband of Jean Harlow was found shot to death in 1932- believed to have been murdered by his ex-common law wife Dorothy Milette (who later plunged to her death off a ferry)- it was strongly suspected that the studio tampered with the crime scene to make Bern’s death to look like a suicide. A crime of passion would have sparked a field day for the press due to his famous wife. Plus murder would spark too many questions such as the inconvenient truth that Berne was still married to another woman.

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Erased from history: Patricia Douglas was sexually assaulted at an MGM party.

The rape of Patricia Douglas

In 1937, one of the studio’s young actresses, Patricia Douglas answered a casting call which required her to show up at the studio lot. The former chorus line girl assumed she’d be dancing a bit part in a musical.

But when she got to the lot, the girls were handed skimpy cowgirl outfits, given full camera-ready hair and makeup and promised $7.50 for the day’s work plus a meal.

It wasn’t until 300 MGM salesmen and executives, who’d by this time been drinking for three days straight, turned up that they realised they were there to provide female companionship at a private party. All the other guests were men. The party was a five-day sales convention to celebrate MGM’s big year.

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The night sadly ended with Patricia allegedly being dragged into a car and raped by one of the guests, David Ross from the Chicago office. Earlier, she’d excused herself after their dance to complain to the bathroom attendant that she was having trouble extracting herself from this “annoying creep who was doing his best to cop a feel.”

When she tried to press charges Mannix flew into damage control mode paying witnesses to make statements saying Patricia, a teetotaller, was “uncontrollably drunk.”

When the court date dawned, no lawyers showed up. A federal judge eventually dismissed the case.

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Curious cover up: Loretta Young was forced to conceal her pregnancy and adopt her own biological child.

Clark Gable’s love child

In 1935 when MGM beauty Loretta Young became pregnant after allegedly being date raped by Clark Gable (her married co-star in Call of the Wild) and refused to have an abortion due to her Roman Catholic beliefs, Mannix devised a bizarre scheme which saw the actress go into hiding during her pregnancy, only to re-emerge 19 months later and adopt her own love child.

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This was successfully concealed from the public for more than 65 years. Young herself publicly acknowleged it in an authorised biography that she arranged to have published after her death in 2000.

In fact Mannix kept Gable out of trouble so often (including a rumoured hit and run incident involving the death of a pedestrian) he considered Mannix one of his closest pals.

Mannix also is said to have conspired with police to ensure it never emerged that Gable and fellow star Spencer Tracy were regular customers at Lee Francis’ high-end, Sunset Boulevard brothel.

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Best buddies: Otto Winkler, Carole Lombard, Clark Gable and Howard Strickling.

Tracy the terrible

Spencer Tracey was a violent drunk and deemed such a liability that a full-time ‘Tracy squad’ had to be deployed.

According to Mannix biographer E.J Fleming “Mannix assigned a private security detail and arranged it so every bar and restaurant within a 30-mile radius of the studio would have a special hotline to call if Tracy walked in. This unit would then be dispatched to literally carry him out.”

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Public liability: Spencer Tracy was “an ugly drunk with a hair-trigger temper.”

And it was Mannix who hid the fact that a 38-year-old Tracy had slept with Judy Garland when she was in her early teens.

The child star and Wizard of Oz actress battled drug and alcohol addiction throughout her life and it was Mannix who introduced her to booze when she was just 17.

She was also said to have been plied with amphetamines to stay awake and barbituates to sleep at night in order to copy with the punishing schedule demanded of the studio’s most prized young stars.

When Garland fell pregnant at age 20 after a short-lived marriage to David Rose, it was Mannix who arranged the abortion.

Still, as a fixer, scandal couldn’t escape Mannix’s own life.

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Studio dad: MGM maven Louis B. Mayer with child stars Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland.

The death of Superman

George Reeves was the eponymous hero in 1950s TV series Adventures of Superman. He was believed to have committed suicide in 1959, at the age of 45, by shooting himself in the head. However, rumours persist that Mannix allegedly ordered a hit on Reeve when he discovered his wife, Toni Mannix, was having an eight-year affair with the actor. Fingerprints were never found on the weapon and police ruled the death a suicide. Although it was never proven. EJ Fleming believes Reeve’s newest girlfriend, society girl Leonore Lemmon was responsible.

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Who killed Superman?

End of an era

The year of Reeve’s death, Mannix, now 68, suffered a string of heart attacks and became wheelchair bound. Another heart attack ended his life on August 30, 1963. He was 72.

Mannix and MGM’s fortunes had dwindled in the 50s after the Supreme Court broke their monopoly ownership of theatre chains and the distribution of films to independent theatres. Actors and directors began to assert their independence and demand a share of the profits, often in lieu of a salary. Plus television was already diverting audiences’ attention.

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As for Thelma, perhaps she was simply unlucky? Perhaps she turned on the heating to warm herself up and then drifted off forever?

Did she take her own life? Her friends thought it unlikely as she was in good spirits, and were aware of nothing unusual in her life that could suggest a reason for her committing suicide.

Today, the mysterious murder of the ice-cream blonde continues to captivate the public imagination. There are numerous theories about how she could have died but insufficient evidence to prove any of them and everyone who was directly involved with the case and the original investigation is long dead.

Perhaps we shall never know.

Find out more:

Read: The Fixers: Eddie Mannix, Howard Strickling and the MGM Publicity Machine by E.J Fleming.

Listen: You Must Remember This (podcast)

Watch : Hollywood Land (film, 2002). A detective examines the mysterious death of George Reeves, the star of the television series Adventures of Superman (1952).

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