A small-town girl comes to Hollywood looking for stardom. She hits the big-time in her first starring role and fame and fortune are hers forevermore. It’s the old Hollywood fable. But there is another old Hollywood story, one that is far more common. In this scenario, the ingenue hits town, maybe has some success, maybe not, but there is no happy ending to her tinsel town tale. Booze, drugs, poor choices in men, personal problems or simple bad luck sends her on the downward slide to obscurity where the ending is almost always tragic.
Dangerous Curves Atop Hollywood Heels by Michael Ankerich explores this dark side of the film industry with short biographies of fourteen silent movie actresses who found moderate success in the 1920s only to hit hard times in the ‘30s. For these poor souls, the Depression years really were depressing. Among the ladies detailed are:
Agnes Ayres: This once popular actress is best known for co-starring with Rudolph Valentino in The Sheik. But she put on weight, lost her looks and was prone to diva behavior and nervous breakdowns so the film industry gave her the heave-ho. She died alone at the age of 48, physically and emotionally depleted from years of struggling to regain the spotlight.
Barbara La Marr: La Marr, who played seductive vamps onscreen, was known as The Girl Who Was Too Beautiful. In her brief, scandal-plagued life she burned through five husbands, numerous lovers and a vast quantity of drugs and alcohol. She died at 30 from some mysterious wasting disease leaving behind a child and an unmatched reputation for living hard and fast.
Mary Nolan: Mary had a hard knock life, much of which she brought on herself with her predilection for stimulants, drama and bad, bad men. After a brief stint as a Ziegfeld Girl she went on to become an international film star. But Mary had masochistic tendencies and her rendezvous with sadistic men did not lead to 50 Shades of Grey love affairs. Instead, unsurprisingly, they resulted in scandal, severe physical injuries and continual pain that she numbed with narcotics. Poor Mary wrecked her career, lost her money and ended up singing in cheap saloons before the inevitable sad fade out at the age of 42.
Despite–or perhaps because of–the dark nature of these stories they are compulsively readable, poignant scandal sheets from the early years of the film industry. The depressing nature of the stories is mitigated somewhat by the writing which is not mean-spirited or salacious. The author Ankerich is clearly sympathetic to these ill-fated starlets.
Each section is sourced, includes the actresses’ filmography and there are plenty of illustrations. Recommended for film buffs or anyone with an interest in women’s history or celebrity scandals.
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