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Hollywood Babylon. Hollywood's Tragic,Classic Movie Stars

Updated on April 28, 2015

The Bathing Beauties of 1915

Florence Lawrence, "The Biograph Girl"

Florence Lawrence
Florence Lawrence

The History of the Movie Star and Early Tragedies

It is virtually impossible to find someone in the western world who did not have a television or movie idol while growing up. Movies are so much a natural part of our lives that the movie stars are embedded into our lives from from day one. Before movies, in the late 19th century, if you were to ask someone who their idol was they would most likely have named one of the crowned heads of Europe, or a historical figure. These days one will get very few responses of "Napoleon" for their idol, but they may take an interest in Napoleon if he were played by one of their favorite actors.

We have always been fascinated by the people we see on the screen, and are taken back by what we see as perfection. The image often looks perfect, but the realities of movie star lives have so often been more dramatic and tragic than that of the characters they play on the screen. The glamour girls of yesteryear, who one would have assumed could have lived life without the mundane, daily problems that most of us suffer, have had to bear levels of tragedy the average homemaker will never know.

From the 1900s to the 1940s alone, there are numerous horror stories of young starlets who seemed to be on the path of achievement, and prosperity, only to skid down a slippery slope of no return.


Florence La Badie

Florence La Badie
Florence La Badie

Florence Lawrence Suicide & Florence LaBadie's

It must have been a very exciting time to have lived during the turn of the century and seen the lady who is considered to be the first movie star ever, Florence Lawrence go from a face in the crowd to a celebrity, who was admired in the same manner as a Queen. A movie star was an entirely new thing, and as with previous idols, she was not just an image of one's mind,as in books, but could be seen moving and dramatically acting in the local theater.

Before 1908 movies did not give the stars any billing. They were Biograph company players, and for the most part, stage actors and actresses who were on hard times, and did not wish for their names to be linked in any way with movies and further humiliate them. As audiences grew to know the face of this beautiful blond woman who was making around 40 movies per year from 1904-1909, she was given the nick name of the Biograph girl, and smart promoters stepped in to publicize the revealing of "The Biograph Girl's" real name, Florence Lawrence. Her popularity skyrocketed, and her salary quadrupled. The studio heads invented a publicity stunt that is considered today to be the beginning of the star system. They began a rumor that Florence Lawrence had died, and then announced that this was an "untrue rumor" that they nailed. This lead to Miss Lawrence taking a hugely successful personal appearance tour.

In 1912 Florence announced she was ready to retire. She had been in the movies since the age of 20, in 1906, and had enjoyed tremendous success as an actress.

After less than two years of retirement, she was coaxed back to work. While filming a stunt that Miss Lawrence had planned to do herself, a minor stage fire got out of control, and Florence was badly burned and suffered a serious fall, leaving her partially paralyzed. She was in serous condition, and took weeks off of filming to recover. She eventually finished the film, but she blamed her husband Harry Solter, for making her do the stunt, and they were divorced. Her life continued to spiral downhill from this time on. The stock market crash of 1929 sent her into despair, and after years of unhappiness, she committed suicide with a mixture of ant poison and cough medicine in 1938, she was buried in an unmarked grave. (in recent years one of the film societies has put her name on it)

An actress I have always thought to be one of the most naturally beautiful ladies I have ever seen, Florence LaBadie, was at the height of her fame in 1917 when the studio she worked for gave her a car as a bonus. She and her fiancée went out driving and had an accident, Florence LaBadie died at age 29 after suffering in the hospital for 2 months with internal injuries, her fiancée survived.

Olive Thomas. Poisoned or Suicide?

Source

Olive Thomas, Suicide or Accidental Poisoning?

Born in 1894, Olive was born a naturally beautiful girl who was gifted with a natural and unaffected charm.

in 1911 Olive married Bernard Krug Thomas at the age of 15. They lived with his parents for the first six months of their marriage. Bernard was a young clerk who made little money, but after an aggressive saving they were able to rent an apartment where Olive could take care of the home while her husband would continue to strive to make a success of himself. Financial strain eventually broke the young couple and Olive moved to New York City in 1913 with the desire to become a model and earn her own money.


She began her career as an artists' model in 1914, which led to a very young Olive Thomas becoming one of the most famous Ziegfeld Girls ever to grace the Ziegfeld Follies. It was 1915 and Thomas was not shy and had ambitions to exploit her beauty and natural talent to their fullest by entering beauty contests and developing her acting and dancing abilities. She won numerous titles during her period with the Ziegfeld Follies in which Olive was appearing in glamorous, yet extremely risque performances such as The Midnight Frolic, where Olive was often barely clothed.

After gaining much publicity under the title of The Most Beautiful Girl in New York City, a title that she won from a highly successful commercial artist, Howard Chandler, more doors opened for the stunning young starlet. Olive was receiving expensive gifts from rich male admirers who were going to see her sultry performances, but Olive wanted the best catch that was available to her and that was Florenz Ziegfeld himself. The two began an affair despite the fact that Florenz Ziegfeld was married to Billie Burke. Thomas wanted Ziegfeld to divorce his wife and marry her, but Mr. Ziegfeld had no such thing in mind and was having affairs with other starlets. This led Thomas to break off the affair and move on by posing for Alberto Vargas, making her the very first Vargas Girl. She posed nude with a black lace shawl while holding a rose. Alberto titled the painting, Memories of Olive. Alberto always believed that Olive was the most beautiful girl who Ziegfeld ever glorified.

In 1916 she moved on to making movies signing with International and was an immediate success. Olive was no fool, she did not wait for success to develop under her she continued to move to studios that she felt would be better suited to her needs. Olive moved to Triangle to develop her style and then to Selznick, where she could get more personal attention.

She then met Jack Pickford, Mary Pickford's younger brother, on the old Santa Monica Pier in a popular beach cafe. They hit it off immediately, both were notorious for their wild party time behavior, and Mary Pickford said decades later that she and her mother and sister did not approve of Olive for Jack, because they had such different backgrounds, but the couple appeared so innocent and young, it was as though they were playing together rather than building a life. Olive married Jack Pickford in 1916 and instantly became Hollywood royalty. Her popularity was soaring, and she was making quality movies on a regular and steady basis.

In 1920 she was at the pinnacle of her career when she played a bored teenager who desires to leave her small town and visit the big city in, The Flapper. This being the first time that a lead heroine in a movie was a flapper, which soon became the image of the 1920s. The couple would never have children of their own, but in 1920 they adopted Olive's six year old nephew after his mother died.

Jack and Olive had a rocky relationship that was characterized by arguments, breakups and makeups. Their reckless and emotional relationship would have made a perfect foil for F. Scott Fitzgerald. Jack bought extravagant gifts for Olive after their fights and Olive wavered between jealousy of Jack's position and popularity, and admiration. In late 1920 Jack and Olive decided to take a second honeymoon and traveled to Paris to spend time in the bistros of Montparnasse. One night the couple returned to their hotel room at the Ritz around 2:00 Am. Jack was not present when Olive drank mercury bichloride, a medicine that was prescribed for Jack to use topically for sores that he developed from Syphilis.

After drinking the liquid she screamed after realizing that it was not either water or some kind of sleeping solution. The label was in French which led to the confusion. Jack rushed into the room after haring Olive scream, "my God" and Olive was rushed to the hospital. Jack and Mary Pickford's first husband, Owen Moore, were at her side for the whole five days that Olive battled for her life.

In an interview Jack said that she seemed to be getting better and then the doctor's told him that her kindeys had frozen, and that there was no hope. Olive died of acute nephritis (inflammation of the kidneys) in Paris France after ingesting Mercury. Her death was ruled accidental but it has been speculated a suicide due to the fact that newspapers were reporting an attempted suicide during Olive's five day stay in hospital due to reported marital problems. Then as the details of Jack not being present at the time she drank the poison there were more speculations that Jack was having an affair and Olive tied to kill herself. Decades later it was highly publicized that Thomas was a drug addict who overdosed on cocaine, or Heroine. Kenneth Anger's book, Hollywood Babylon, is largely responsible for the belief that Thomas was a drug addict.

The tragic death of young Olive Thomas was the very first Hollywood scandal that was heavily publicized and speculated about. In 1921 the Fatty Arbuckle scandal broke out and then in 1922 the infamous William Desmond Taylor Murder rocked young Hollywoodland.

The Girl Who Jumped off the Hollywoodland Sign

Peg Entwistle
Peg Entwistle | Source

The Tragedy of Frances Farmer

Frances Farmer
Frances Farmer

Peg Entwistle

Peg Entwistle had been a struggling actress since 1925 when she finally gave up on life. It was 1932 and She had just finished a movie in which she had a small part. The movie was called Thirteen Women, and Peg was disillusioned by the years of hard work that had amounted to nothing. It was also the height of the depression, and there seemed to be no chance of improvement, economically, and she began to fear she was going nowhere.

Before her movie, Thirteen women, was even released she walked up the Hollywood Hills to the sign that read Hollywood Land in 1932, and jumped off the D, the thirteenth letter, and died instantly at age 24. ( some later reports have speculated she jumped from the H) Her first and only movie was released months later, and turned out to be a hit. One only wonders if she had held on, perhaps Peg Entwistle would be better known today than Bette Davis.

Frances Farmer

The notorious Frances Farmer's story gets under the skin of many people because she had it all, but because of, what seemed to be her attitude, her life turned upside down, and she lost everything. Her story is one of the most bazaar that Tinseltown has to tell.

She was given a Hollywood contract based on her good looks alone, made many movies, and commanded a handsome salary. Riding high, she then had several run ins with the law for drunk driving, and resisting arrest. She was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia and hospitalized for a short time. Shortly after being released, Frances attached her mother, and her parents had her committed to an Asylm where she underwent shock treatments. After being released and committed again, this time she was picked up for vagrancy, she was committed to a long term hospital at age of 31 at her mother's request. She remained hospitalized for five years.

Farmer attempted a comeback, but without success. She lived in obscurity until 1970, when she died at 56.

Marilyn: Before & After

Marilyn Monroe in Her Prime

Marilyn Monroe- An Empty Life

Marilyn Monroe was born Norma Jeane Mortenson, later changed to Baker, on June 1, 1926, in Los Angeles. Marilyn's mother, Gladys Baker was married to Martin E, Mortenson some time in 1924 but actually separated before Gladys became pregnant with Norma Jeane. Gladys was both financially and emotionally unstable and unable to raise Norma Jeane by herself, this led her to place her daughter in foster homes until she reached the age of seven. At which point Gladys, in a wild rampage, tried to steal Norma Jeane from her foster parents, and was eventually granted custody of her daughter once she demonstrated stability. It was the era of a more conservative America, and it was much more doable for a not very well educated, single woman to get by, thus, Gladys bought a modest home and took charge of her daughter. The union was short lived and Gladys eventually began showing signs of mental illness. She was committed to an institution for recovery, and Monroe was living with a new guardian. Around this time, Monroe began seeking an escape, and the movies were the perfect place fore daydreaming of the perfect life. She became fascinated with Jean Harlow and began to imitate her, in manner, and she began experimenting with makeup to look more like the blond bombshell. Young Norma Jeane craved love in a desperate way, as her father abandend her, and her mother's indifference left her feeling empty. At school, Norma saw how other children were adored by their parents, and this emptiness in her life led her to seek love from the public that she could not get at home. Norma Jeane Baker fantasized throughout her teens about achieving the ultimate stardom.

Monroe's stardom was no accident, she worked hard and long to gain fame. She was willing to do anything to get the ultimate prize. in the early 1940s Norma Jeane took every modeling assignment that was available to her. She was well aware of her attributes and her shortcomings. It was her plan to have her less than ideal features fixed surgically as soon as she could get the money,and in the late 1940s she had a small chin implant inserted to give her slack jaw more definition, she also had exquisite surgery done on her nose. The results were positively stunning. Monroe studied acting, experimented with makeup and hair color, and worked small jobs and minor parts in movies, and eventually was gaining recognition. With more money, came better clothes, and Monroe was able to hire the best makeup artists for her photographs. Her dream had come true, she was famous and envied throughout the country. She had her pick of men, and married, divorced, and seduced to her hearts content. The only problem she had now was an emptiness inside.

As she aged, she became more restless, and began to discover that she truly did not have any real love. She had a superficial admiration from the public, but she craved real depth, and now her fame was standing in the way of the real important things in life, marriage, family, and stability. Marilyn Monroe wanted desperately to have a baby, a husband who loved her and get away from her sex symbol image. She began an affair with JFK, but due to his political agenda, she was cast aside. This episode was major to Marilyn, as she was exceptionally fragile emotionally due to her advancing years and lack of family.

On August 5, 1962 she was found dead in her Brentwood home. She was 36 years old and committed suicide by taking a massive does of barbiturates. There has been speculation as to Monroe being murdered by the Kennedys, but those who knew Monroe intimately have stated that they were not surprised by the suicide as she battled depression, and with all of her worst fears becoming a reality, many actually saw this coming.

Florence Lawrence in Those Awful Hats

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    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 4 years ago from Olympia, WA

      I'm a little ashamed; the only one I have heard of is Farmer....oh well, now I have heard of them thanks to your very interesting hub.

    • Skarlet profile image
      Author

      Skarlet 4 years ago from California

      Haha. Thank you billybuc.

      I decided to avoid the usual Monroe.

    • epigramman profile image

      epigramman 4 years ago

      Hello once again Miss Skarlet - what a wonderfully eclectic selection of hubs you have - and this most beautifully realized labor of love on your part will be madly and gladly posted to my FB music/cinema group with a direct link back here - the group is called LET'S JUST TALK MUSIC OR CINEMA and you are invited to join if you are so inclined - lake erie time ontario canada 10:02 am and sending you warm wishes and good energy

    • Skarlet profile image
      Author

      Skarlet 4 years ago from California

      Thank you so very much epigramman,

      I truly appreciate that, and I am headed over to that FB page now.

    • teaches12345 profile image

      Dianna Mendez 4 years ago

      Francis Farmer was a true beauty. I think the pressure to perform and to uphold a certain image takes its toll on actors. Great hub and well written.

    • Skarlet profile image
      Author

      Skarlet 4 years ago from California

      Thank you so much teaches.

      Yes, I think its not as much fun as we often think it is.

    • profile image

      linnea 3 years ago

      No Olive Thomas?

    • Skarlet profile image
      Author

      Skarlet 3 years ago from California

      You are so right. We need to add Olive Thomas....

    • jenslibra profile image

      jenslibra 3 years ago

      I have come across Peg Entwistle's story and it is tragic. The others you provide are really interesting. Hollywood is definitely a closet filled with skeletons.

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