Category Archives: Tarnished Screen

The Many Deaths of Dorothy Dell

5ede22d73e5b3a1b109f04159ed12a28As a little girl, future Miss Universe Dorothy Dell was violently attacked by a dog in Mississippi. She only survived because her father killed the dog to save her.

In July 1931, Ziegfeld Showgirl Dorothy was invited to a party on vaudevillian Harry Richman’s yacht, Chevalier II. She declined; another showgirl took her place; the yacht exploded; the alternate showgirl was killed.

In August 1931, Dorothy was severely injured in an automobile accident. She spent two months recovering and almost died when she contracted influenza.

Then she broke a leg, and spent the next several months singing torch songs on the stage from a stool.

On June 7, 1934, Dorothy said, “You know, they say deaths go in cycles of three. First it was Lilyan Tashman, then Lew Cody. I wonder who’ll be next?”  Continue reading

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You Must Listen to You Must Remember This


I have been told for months that I need to listen to Karina Longworth’s podcast You Must Remember This. “But,” I was warned, “you may be a little jealous. She covers a lot of your favorites.”

“Oh, I’m sure I”ll be fine,” I said smugly. “My podcast would be about people like Gloria Grahame.”

“She did it.”

Lauren Bacall, obviously.”


“Kay Francis?”

“Oh, that was such a good episode!”  Continue reading

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Lana Turner’s Gun

1973_deaths_lex_barker_lana_turner_1955I’ve been revisiting some of my favorite gallant leading ladies these days. Chief among them is, of course, Elizabeth Taylor. Say what you will about her life, her appetites (for men, jewels, food), and her talent, but she lived life with a gusto that few of us could hope to match. Remember when Montgomery Clift crashed his car outside her house, and she saved his life by reaching down into his throat and pulling out the front teeth he was choking on? And how, outside the hospital in a cab with an unconscious Monty on her lap, she responded to the cab driver’s insistence that he be paid the $10 fare by throwing a $10,000 diamond ring at him?

But these are told and retold stories. The one I want to tell today is Lana Turner’s.  Continue reading

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Won’t You Spend an Hour with Bea Arthur?

Oh my. Don’t you wish we still lived in a world where a Bea Arthur could get an entire variety special on network TV? (Then again, this special seems to indicate that the variety special deserved to be put out of its misery.)

Special Note: Rock Hudson “would never ever take advantage of a woman.”

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Jagged Sophistication: How Could Red Riding Hood Have Been So Very Good?

img266-1Hollywood, 1933

Tommy, Timothy, and I were propping up the bar at Tom’s, our usual Tuesday night spot. Tuesdays had the twin pluses of a piano player and no crowd, which meant that we could put in requests and actually hear the music. For the most part we favored singing along to our own requests over conversation.

I had put in a request for “How Could Red Riding Hood?” to the chagrin of everyone in the joint.

“Listen, Petey, this is the last time,” the piano player growled.

“It’s my signature tune,” I said calmly, if a bit slurrily. Adopting a pose—one hand curled under my chin, eyes wide—I hit my cue.

“Your friend has a great voice,” I heard someone say to Tommy as I finished.

“No, he doesn’t,” I said. “But he has great hearing.”  Continue reading

The Importance of Symmetry


This week, keep in mind the symmetry of Greta Garbo. (Also, everything you need to know about Garbo’s relationship with John Gilbert—whom she stood up at the altar—is written here in this Steichen photo.)

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Jagged Sophistication: The Empress of Emotion

tumblr_l0a92aFL0M1qby3a4o1_500_thumb[2]Hollywood, 1955

Everyone you thought dead was there.

Joan Crawford had eloped to Las Vegas with her fourth husband, Alfred Steele, but Billy Haines was having none of it.

“I told her an elopement took all the fun out of it for everyone else,” Billy told me over the phone when he called to invite me to the party he was throwing. “So I’m having everyone over to the house. Just something small. Cocktails around the pool.” He paused. “But black tie.”

He didn’t have to tell me. Any party for the Empress of Emotion required putting on the dog—even if it was allegedly just drinks with a few old friends by the pool. I hadn’t seen Joan in a few years, but she and Billy were still as close as they were in the old days at MGM. He remained undaunted by her increasingly terrifying demeanor, but I had long since lost whatever use I might have once held for her. Nowadays, all the news I got about Crawford was from Hedda, Louella, and Billy, still decorating her houses after all these decades.  Continue reading

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