Saturday, October 27, 2007
The Girl From Fairchild
CAROLE LANDIS 1919 - 1948
Carole Landis wrote the book on how to live and die like a Hollywood Blonde. Marilyn Monroe read it (and then passed it on to Inger Stevens). Their parallel lives would make Plutarch envious.
To begin with, both Carole and Marilyn were abandoned before birth by fathers of Norwegian descent (who also may or may not have been their biological fathers). Marilyn was born Norma Jeane Mortenson. Carole was born Frances Ridste in Fairchild, Wisconsin - a small town in rural Eau Claire county. In childhood, she knew the death of two brothers - Jerome Ridste was scalded to death, and Lewis Ridste was shot by a friend. She also knew unhappiness, poverty, sexual abuse and a love of all things show business. By age 16, she had been briefly married and was working as a singer in San Francisco. She was attractive, tall and athletic - a fake blonde with a 37DD bust and big league singing chops. To say that Hollywood took notice would be an understatement. Hollywood whistled, telescoped it's eyes, turned into a wolf, picked her up in an extended '34 Deusenberg and deposited her in the anxious lap of alcoholic genius director Busby Berkeley. The two were engaged for awhile and Frances made her motion picture debut as an extra in Warner Brothers' 1937 production, A STAR IS BORN. Soon, Frances Ridste was no more and Carole Landis was born.
There was plenty of work for the beautiful starlet, and everyone wanted her. Literally. Carole dated everyone from Ceasar Romero to Charlie Chaplin, she was married several times and held the front position in line on Darryl F Zanuck's casting couch. Skimpy costumes best suited to show off her body were the real star of the 1941 production, ONE MILLION BC. The otherwise ridiculous caveman film brought her fame. Zanuck did the rest. She was now a star, getting good roles in A pictures - but something was missing. It was all too ephemeral.
World War II gave Carole something she desperately needed -a sense of purpose. She threw herself into entertaining the troops - working her way through fatigue and illness (amoebic dysentary and pneumonia) to be with the boys. Carole's tireless devotion and endless road miles are detailed in her best selling book (and movie), FOUR JILLS IN A JEEP. She's a charming writer and one can only imagine the effect she had on battle weary troops. The Krauts didn't have a chance. She should have been given the Medal of Honor.
The post war years were not kind to Carole. By late 1945, she was tired of Darryl F Zanuck, Hollywood and loveless relationships. She wanted family, stability and children. When she stopped putting out for Zanuck, work became scarce. Two suicide attempts, a brief relationship with future best selling author Jaqueline Suzanne and another failed marriage followed. By 1948, she was keeping company with Rex Harrison. Carole was madly in love and Rex was married. At dinner on the night of July 4, 1948, Rex told Carole that their relationship had to end and that he was going to remain with his wife. Carole promptly went home and downed a bottle of seconal. Harrison found her the next morning. She was dead - slumped over in a fetal position. Carole Landis was 29.
In 1966, Jacqueline Suzanne's novel THE VALLEY OF THE DOLLS was the publishing sensation of the century. It sold 30 million copies worldwide. At the time, many readers thought that Suzanne had modeled the book's Jenifer North character after Marilyn Monroe. After all, Monroe's 1962 suicide/death was very fresh in the public memory and during the 50's she had taken Carole Landis' act and ratcheted it up to 11. Not true. "Jennifer North" was mostly Suzannes' old friend and lover, Carole Landis. In the 1967 movie, the role of Jennifer North - a doomed actress who was used and admired only for her body - was played by the equally doomed Sharon Tate. Long ago, I asked a World War II veteran about how he was able to survive the brutal 1944 -45 winter campaign through the Hurtgen Forest - a bloody mess that resulted in more than 30,000 American casualties . He shrugged, smiled, and said, "Carole Landis". About that Medal of Honor...