Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Gary Cooper's Quiet Journey of Faith

By Mary Claire Kendall
Gary Cooper in Meet John Doe (1941)

Fifty-three years ago next Tuesday, May 13, Hollywood icon Gary Cooper, who starred in such classics as Mr. Deeds Goes to Town (1936),  Sergeant York (1941), The Pride of the Yankees (1942) and High Noon (1952), slipped from this earth.
Cooper’s low-key, it’s-not-all-about-me demeanor, whether playing an inspiring everyman like Longfellow Deeds or a real-life hero like Alvin York, resonated with audiences.  In the process, he singlehandedly revived Paramount Pictures’ sagging Depression-era fortunes and, at the pinnacle of his career, was the highest-paid American.
That, and more, defined “Coop,” as his good
friends and peers called him.  But, he had one more credit to his name. After suffering years of personal turmoil, when his strengths became weaknesses, he had a spiritual conversion. It was the most consequential subplot in his life journey. But, contrary to frequent reports asserting otherwise, his embrace of religion was not prompted by illness.  “No way,” his daughter Maria Cooper Janis told me. “He was coming to this on his own, in his own time… bits and pieces of his own life that he wanted to put together in a new way.”
It was a logical progression.  “He had a very real spirituality,” Maria said, “that wasn’t an ‘ism’… that, I think, he was born with, that he grew up with, living out West in nature (and) having a very strong affinity for the American Indian culture and spirituality.”
Groomed for Hollywood — Old West and English Manners
Born in Helena, Montana on May 7, 1901, as the Old West was fading, Cooper was an accidental star, coming to Hollywood to find work as a commercial artist and be closer to his parents.  After he landed some stunt work, Cooper was soon “discovered” and, in 1925, began acting in uncredited roles.
His film career, spanning 36 years, took off with Wings (1928), winner of the first Best Picture Academy Award.  His scene was a short one — just two-and-a-half minutes long. But, as Paramount Pictures legend A.C. Lyles described it, “When he came on the screen, it just lit up with him.” With only 200 feet of film, Hollywood moguls knew they were looking at a star.
Indeed, they were.
Cooper embodied American goodness and strength, projecting it on the screen with understated brilliance.  His upbringing — raised Anglican in the Old West by English immigrant parents, who inculcated in him the manners of a “gentleman”— nurtured in him that unique American combination of rugged individualism and magnanimous selflessness.
“With Gary, there are always wonderful hidden depths that you haven’t found yet,” Mr. Deeds Goes to Town co-star Jean Arthur said, as Joseph McBride wrote in Frank Capra: The Catastrophe of Success. “You feel like you’re resting on the Rock of Gibraltar.”
Cooper was most closely identified with the Western, having starred in The Virginian (1931), the original, standard-setting film of that genre, where goodalways triumphed over evil. Later, High Noon (1952), a flawless Western, considered his greatest film, for which he won his second Oscar, revealed the moral struggle in this victory.
“I like Westerns because the good ones are real,” Cooper said in a 1959 interview. “You feel real when you make them… we are brought close to the pioneer people by seeing the Western picture and… realize that our country was and is full of people who believe in America.”
“He always said,” Maria reminisced, “he wanted to make films that showed the best a man could be.” And, there was no one like Cooper to rise to those heights.  As Jeffrey Meyers reported in Gary Cooper: American Hero, screenwriter/director Richard Brooks thought Cooper was a “great movie actor” because “he can make you feel something, something visceral, something deep, something that matters. He is who he plays.”
Quiet Masculinity and Piercing Blue Eyes
Indeed, his cinematic choices perfectly complemented his personal traits.  Yet, the theatrical world laid many traps for this elegantly handsome man, whose quiet masculinity and piercing blue eyes made him ready prey for legions of women desiring his companionship.
After some colorful romances with his co-stars, including “It Girl” Clara Bow (Children of Divorce, 1927) — along with Lupe Velez (The Wolf Song, 1929), Marlene Dietrich (Morocco, 1930), Carole Lombard (I Take This Woman,1931) and Tallulah Bankhead (Devil and the Deep, 1932) — Cooper took time off in 1931-32 to recuperate from the stresses of filmmaking, if not his whirlwind romancing.  Hollywood had made great demands on their new star, who was ringing up the cash registers as the Hollywood publicity machine cranked up the romances. It all added up to a nervous breakdown for Coop.  As he wrote his nephew Howard: “I had drifted, taken advice, let people get at me through my emotions, my sympathy, my affections …”
For solace and healing, he gravitated to Europe, given his fond childhood memories of living in England for two years, some 20 years earlier. During his time away, he began to get a taste of high society as the guest of the Italian Countess Carla Dentice di Frasso.
Movie star Gary Cooper's daughter, Maria Coope...
Movie star Gary Cooper's daughter, Maria Cooper Janis poses next to the stamp in tribute to her father, in Los Angeles, California, after a ceremony to unveil the new stamp of the US Postal Service on September 10, 2009. (Image credit: AFP/Getty Images via @daylife)
Settling Down — Sort Of
Once back in Hollywood, feeling fully rejuvenated, Coop had the good fortune of being introduced to lovely New York socialite Veronica (“Rocky”) Balfe while she was visiting her uncle, Cedric Gibbons, MGM’s Art Director, and his wife, the beautiful Mexican actress Dolores del Rio.  Twelve years his junior, Rocky was a Catholic, with refined manners — albeit some detractors criticized her perceived Eastern snobbery.  Regardless, she proved a stabilizing and calming influence on him and they wed on December 15, 1933.
But as Ted Nugent, a studio electrician at Paramount who observed him closely, told Meyers, “If he was born for the camera, he was born to make love. … He wanted to satisfy women … enjoyed looking at them, listening to them, pleasing them. … A guy like that does not change.”
Not without grace.
Of their daughter Maria — their only child, married to world renowned classical pianist Byron Janis — Cooper said, “I’ve never known her to do anything that wasn’t right.  She is my life.”
“Ours was a unique family togetherness that was obvious and operative,” Maria wrote in her book Gary Cooper Off Camera: A Daughter Remembers.  It included “family traditions” such as the “Sunday swim in the ocean after Mass,” which Maria writes, Rocky and she attended with “bathing suits under our clothes.” Afterwards “we’d zip up the street to our house in Brentwood, get Poppa, who had been studying or working in his gun room or catching forty more winks, pile the dogs in the car, and take off for Santa Monica.”
The marriage reached a crucial turning point in 1946-1947 when the world of Hollywood became too much, as women regularly swooned over Cooper with his wife’s full knowledge.  But, whatever stresses the marriage suffered, the Coopers truly loved each other, which gave their union, marked by years of harmony, the resilience to withstand these distinctly challenging years, including a period of separation.
As Richard Widmark summed it up, “Cooper was ‘catnip to the ladies.’” From the start, his leading ladies warmed up quickly to him.  But, they were always brief affairs that went with the filmmaking territory, where falling in love on screen simply continued off screen.

A Complicated Situation
The affair with Patricia Neal, 25 years his junior, was different. The two co-starred in The Fountainhead and only became romantic after filming wrapped in October 1948.  By Christmas 1951, Cooper realized the affair must end, given its deleterious effect on his family and his health.  So, he gave Neal a fur coat and left for Europe — exactly a year after he had taken her to Cuba, seeking his good friend Ernest Hemingway’s approval of this long-term extramarital relationship, which he failed to get.
This “complicated situation,” as Maria described it, was extremely difficult on everyone involved. Cooper suffered debilitating ulcers and his family, along with Neal, endured intense emotional strain, complicated by Neal’s pregnancy, which, to her later regret, she ended.
But, God brought good out of evil.
After separating from his family in May 1951, Coop had come to realize his life’s emptiness. His character Will Kane in High Noon, filmed in the fall of 1951, reflected perfectly the moral conflict he was feeling.  As he was coming to terms with his own deeper needs, on cue, the family traveled to Europe in June 1953 for a High Noon publicity tour, including a visit to the Vatican. On June 26, they met Pope Pius XII, which made a lasting impression on Coop. Like the awkwardly shy and endearing “every man” characters he played in his films, his real life persona infused this dramatic moment with some classic ordinariness.
Everyone in Hollywood was begging for a memento.  So at the Papal audience, Maria said, “my father had rosaries up his arm” while grasping other mementos.  But because of a bad back, he had trouble genuflecting and, as he did, “everything just fell — the medals, and the rosaries and the holy cards…” Everything!  While Cooper was scrambling on all fours “suddenly,” she said, he encountered “this scarlet shoe and a robe…”
“There was the American actor Gary Cooper groping around in monumental embarrassment… with Pius XII looking down and patiently smiling.”
In February 1954, when Maria was 16, Coop returned home, ironically after filming Return to Paradise, about a father who returns home to love and nurture his 16-year-old daughter.
After settling back into married life, he strayed again at times, now going for less-refined women — his affair with the Swedish actress Anita Ekberg the most salient example. “It seemed like a good idea at the time,” he sheepishly told his wife with that classic boyish innocence.
She wasn’t amused.
Settling Down — for Good
Realizing the stress his wandering placed on his family, Cooper began going to church with Rocky and Maria outside of the ordinary Christmas and Easter routine.
Though he never talked about it, Maria senses that, after her father returned home, he started going to church with the family because “he probably was looking for some more stability than he found personally…”
After Sunday Mass together, she said, “we’d joke about” the “very erudite, funny” Fr. Harold Ford — “a real man,” whom her father called “Father Tough Stuff.” But, more than making fun of him, Cooper was intrigued by his message, and said, “Oh, I’d like to hear him some day.”  So, Rocky said, “Well, come along.” And, so he did.
Father Ford’s sermons, Maria said, made him think.  Some fifteen years after making Sergeant York  — Cooper’s favorite and most memorable role, for which he won his first Oscar — he was walking in York’s footsteps, spiritually.
Contrary to some accounts, Rocky did not engineer her husband’s conversion.  “It wasn’t knocking him over the head,” Maria said.  “Because, believe me, no one made my father do what he didn’t want to do.”
Soon Rocky invited Fr. Ford over to their home, thinking the two men might share some spiritual reflections.  Instead they shared their mutual interest in guns, hunting, fishing and scuba diving!  “Father Ford,” writes Maria, “became a scuba buddy and joined us diving in the large marineland of the Pacific tank where we all cavorted with its inhabitants.”
(Photo credit: Gary Cooper Estate)

Realizing “a little religion wouldn’t do him no hurt”
In the midst of cavorting, the talk occasionally began to drift toward religion.  As Alvin York, said, “A fellow can’t go looking for it; it’s just got to come to a fellow.”  And, so Fr. Ford and Coop began getting together for longer discussions about faith on drives up to Malibu and elsewhere.
Gradually, Cooper evidently concluded, in Ma York’s famous words, “a little religion wouldn’t do him no hurt” and, on April 9, 1959, he was formally admitted into the Catholic Church.
Close family friend Shirley Burden, himself a convert, served as Cooper’s godfather at his baptism. Burden — Cornelius Vanderbilt’s great-great-grandson, whose wife was Douglas Fairbanks Sr.’s niece — met with Cooper several times beforehand to help him understand what it would be like to play this role of a lifetime.  Later that year, Cooper explained his conversion, as Barry Norman reported in The Hollywood Greats:
“I’d spent all my waking hours… doing almost exactly what I, personally, wanted to do and what I wanted to do wasn’t always the most polite thing either… This past winter  I began to dwell a little more on what’s been in my mind for a long time (and thought), ‘Coop, old boy, you owe somebody something for all your good fortune.’ I guess that’s what started me thinking seriously about my religion.  I’ll never be anything like a saint.  I know.  I just haven’t got that kind of fortitude.   The only thing I can say for me is that I’m trying to be a little better.  Maybe I’ll succeed.”
Putting Faith to the Test
On April 14, 1960, five months after Coop visited Russia with his family and a Hollywood entourage, at the invitation of Nikita Khrushchev, favorably impressed with his humanity and warmth, he had surgery for prostate cancer. While the doctors deemed the operation successful, by May 31, the symptoms recurred and in early June doctors again operated to remove a malignant tumor, this time confident it had been excised.  But, it had already begun to spread.  On December 27, Rocky was informed the cancer was fatal, but kept this heartbreaking news from her husband until February.
In December 1960, Cooper filmed his last project — a TV program called “The Real West,” which Maria said, “reflects my father’s great love of the West.”   Then, in March 1961, he flew to New York to record the off-camera narration. TV producer Donald Hyatt recalled for Meyers Cooper’s “simplicity and lack of ‘big star’ pretentions,” evident by his reaction when there was no room for his coat on the rack. Cooper said, “Don’t take another coat off: Just throw mine anywhere.”
In April 1961, a visibly moved Jimmy Stewart appeared at the Academy Awards to accept Coop’s honorary Oscar:  “Coop,” he said, his voice trembling. “I’ll get this to you right away. And, Coop I want you to know, that with this goes all the warm friendship and the affection and the admiration and the deep respect of all of us…”  The next day, newspaper headlines around the world blared: “Gary Cooper has cancer.”
Visitors started coming, and messages poured in from friends and well-wishers around the world, including Pope John XXIII, Queen Elizabeth, John Wayne, Ernest Hemingway, former President Dwight Eisenhower, Bob Hope, Audrey Hepburn and many others. Even President John F. Kennedy called from Washington, finally getting through after a day of trying.
Friends, expecting to find gloom at the Cooper home, instead found light and sunshine, crisp flowers and cheerful music, as the family faced this profoundly difficult time with faith. As Meyers reported, Billy Wilder “recalled that [Cooper] dressed in stylish pajamas and robe and seemed more composed than his guests.” Rocky later told Hedda Hopper, “He’d been perfectly wonderful throughout the entire illness. What helped him most was his religion.” As the cancer progressed, “He never asked ‘Why me?’ and never complained” and was spiritually enriched by the sacraments and books such as Bishop Fulton Sheen’s Peace of Soul.
“I know,” announced Cooper as he lay dying, “that what is happening is God’s will. I am not afraid of the future.”  (The Straits Times, May 6, 1961).
Gary Cooper died of prostate and colon cancer on May 13, 1961, and is beloved for the indelible portrait he gave us of what it is to be an authentic American hero — a portrait that’s incomplete without the story of his last heroic days.
Initially interred at Holy Cross Cemetery in Santa Monica, Cooper’s remains were moved to Sacred Heart Cemetery in South Hampton, Long Island, closer to the family.  His gravesite is anchored by a “massive (Montauk quarry) salmon-and-beige-colored stone, probably 316 million years old” that, writes Maria, is “a perfect symbol for what my father loved and stood for.”
And, like so much she held dear in life, Coop’s beloved wife Rocky had to fight for that, too.
Confronted with church rules requiring uniform markers “she flashed her green eyes at the presiding pastor and,” writes Maria, “snorted, ‘Do you mean to tell me that if Jesus Christ said, ‘Thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church,’ you will now refuse to let me have a rock for a marker for my husband’s grave’…”
She now rests in peace beside her husband, knowing that fight, like all the others, was well worth it.
Portions of this article appeared in “Gary Cooper’s Authenticity,” published in National Catholic Register on July 21, 2011. 

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Spencer Tracy And His Son John

Spencer Tracy with his son, John, circa 1928. (Photo Credit: The John Tracy Collection)

By Mary Claire Kendall
It is said—our strength is our weakness. In the case of Spencer Tracy and his son John Ten Broeck Tracy, who died in Acton, California on June 15, 2007—five days after the 40th anniversary of his father’s death—nothing could be truer.
“Spence was considered by many to be the greatest actor the screen had ever seen,” his good friend, 82-year Paramount veteran, A.C. Lyles told me.*
Yet, the painful emotion he felt upon learning, in 1925, that his baby son, John, was deaf was the hardest of blows. The only thing Spencer Tracy was not good at, he candidly admitted, was “life.”
His son John, on the other hand—dealt a whole series of setbacks, in what, at age 22, he would term “My Complicated Life” in an article he wrote for The Volta Review—was great at life.
If only Spencer Tracy could have read the script, he would have discovered John would soon hear the voice of God a little more loudly; see with the eyes of faith a little more clearly; and grow a big heart, drenched with hope and optimism.
As John’s daughter-in-law Cyndi Tracy said, “He just always had an uncanny ability to accept God’s love and always knew (his suffering) was going to be for a greater good.” It was never “Why me?” or “Poor me.”
God, he felt certain, had a plan.

The Plan’s Unfolding
When Louise Treadwell met Spencer Tracy, her theatrical star was rising. Spencer, four years her junior, was just starting out.
It was early 1923. They were both arriving in Grand Rapids, Michigan to play in the same stock company. As fate would have it, they alighted the train station platform simultaneously.
The attraction between these two polar opposites, descended from, respectively, English blue bloods and working-class Irishmen, was immediate. Six weeks later, in between the matinee and evening shows in Cincinnati, Ohio, they got married. Nine months and two weeks hence, on June 26, 1924, in Spencer’s hometown of Milwaukee, their little bundle of joy arrived.
Turning Point
One day, while John lay napping, the screen door accidentally slammed behind Louise and he kept peacefully slumbering on. She immediately—instinctively—knew he was deaf. The diagnosis came back as nerve damage of unknown origin. Unbeknownst to them, he had what is known as Usher syndrome, which also causes gradual blindness due to Retinitis Pigmentosa—starting at birth.
The doctors said the Tracy’s best option was to place John in an institution for retarded children at age six. The Tracys would hear none of that and promptly went to work—talking to him, reading him nursery rhymes, playing games with him… loving him.
“Spence,” said Lyles, “was absolutely marvelous with him;” but “gave all credit to (Louise)” for John’s progress.
Early on she “kept repeating the word ‘talk’… a hundred… sometimes three hundred times” in twice or thrice daily “exercises.” One day, said Lyles, when she finished, John, then 3 or 4, leaned his head close to hers and said, “talk”—his very first word.
Tragedy again visited when John contracted polio at age six, leaving him with a withered right leg. That same year, Lyles recounted, Louise “gave up her career to devote herself entirely to her son and studied everything she could get her hands on about (educating deaf children).” No institution existed at the time that worked with parents of deaf children to teach them how to help their children develop a bridge to the speaking, hearing world.
Silver Lining
John’s travails motivated Spencer to work much harder so he could give his son all the financial help he needed to overcome his disability. The irony is, it is John’s very disability that provided the impetus for Spencer to overcome what his good friend and fellow actor Lynne Overman said was a tendency toward laziness, thereby becoming the acting legend he was.
The father-son bond was stronger than ever and was set for life.

John learned how to lip-read perfectly and to speak, read and write and was fully functioning by age 11, when he began to write his daily journals. Three years later, he started “publishing” his “Newsy News” for friends and family.
When John was 17, Louise first spoke publicly, in her lovely English-accented tones, about raising and educating a deaf child. Her speech at the University of Southern California led her, a year later, in 1942, to found, in a campus bungalow, with Spencer’s money, the John Tracy Clinic.  It became the only such entity worldwide to provide service, free of charge, to parents of infants and preschool children born with hearing losses.
Walt Disney, with whom the family played polo at the Will Rogers Ranch and The Riviera Polo Club, was one of the original board members.
In 1975, poignancy overflowing, Louise was the first recipient of the Father Flanagan Award for her special service to youth; and, around the same time, she helped establish the Boys Town National Research Hospital for Usher Syndrome: Boys Town, saved from bankruptcy and oblivion by Spencer Tracy’s Oscar-winning performance as Father Flanagan, was now rescuing those who suffer John’s same sensory afflictions.
“Our Everyday Blessing”

John Tracy
John was always intent, as his son and fellow artist, Joseph Spencer Tracy, characterized it, on living “each day to the fullest, regardless” of his daily challenges.
“I’m an artist, writer, photographer; I played polo, tennis; swim, water-ski, dance,” he wrote in his journal in 1975.” I got married, had a family. I’m also profoundly deaf, going blind, had polio. What can you do?”
Well, apparently everything!
Endowed with a high IQ and an athlete’s body, he energetically poured himself into life, blissfully unaware of his multiple disabilities until he was in his twenties.
He loved horses, which mirrored his own “gentle” spirit, and the invigorating sense of freedom riding gave him: It reminded him of his “favorite” times of life at the family ranch in Encino (1936-1955), so full of fond memories like the day he started playing polo at age 12. (He had only begun riding three years earlier.) That day, one of the players was injured and Spencer summoned him to ‘come on down!’
Through it all, he had, Cyndi said, a “tremendous sense of humor” and the “charm of an angel.” Fittingly, he did a dead-on impersonation of his father, which no professional comedian has ever achieved.

John graduated from Pasadena City College then attended Chouinard Art Institute, graduating in 1955, the same year his son was born. He subsequently worked at Walt Disney Studios in the props department for nearly five years, until his eyesight started failing. But, he continued doing his watercolor paintings and pen and ink and pencil drawings, as he was able to.  He was declared legally blind in the early eighties and, by 1994, was totally blind.
“The moment you met him,” Cyndi said, “your life was changed. You knew that you were in the company of someone great, who was, at the same time, the most humble person you would ever meet.” Quite simply, he had no idea how positively he impacted others’ lives.
“Pa Pa Johnny,” Cyndi said, “was truly ‘our everyday blessing.’”
John attended Sunday services at All Saints Episcopal Church in Beverly Hills for decades with his mother, who died in 1983. He would also pray nightly in an elaborate ritual that, Cyndi said, revealed his “darling personality.” The family—Joe’s family, sister Susie, the cousins, among others—“was lined up in the same order every night.” But “all his friends and acquaintances were always jockeying for position.”
“He was strong until the end,” said Joe, and “always prayed for other people, didn’t pray for himself”—a lesson in selflessness he communicated to his three grandchildren.
As for actually communicating with words, John could talk, but his deafness combined with his blindness required some special techniques for his family to reply back.
Cyndi described how he loved to converse and remembered with particular warmth those special times, often at the end of a long day, that she would be perched next to him as he would regale her with fascinating stories. She would reply by spelling words on his back. Or, for shorter responses, she would spell words on his hand—a hand that so often held her hand, while tapping her other hand, as he said, “God bless you, Cyndi. Thank you. ”
For, whatever else he was, John Tracy was always profoundly grateful for all life’s blessings.

Mary Claire Kendall, a Washington-based writer, is author of Oasis: Conversion Stories of Hollywood Legends featuring John Wayne and Susan Hayward, among other legends. 
*Originally published in DBI Review, Number 45, January-June 2010. Republished in Forbes on June 25, 2012.

The Author
Mary Claire Kendall is currently writing a book about legends of Hollywood, focused on stories of recovery, for publication in spring 2015.  

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Alec Guinness: Acting Legend Forged by Faith, Timeless Characters

By Mary Claire Kendall

Sir Alec Guinness in 1973 by Allan Warren.
Source: Wikipedia

Sir Alec Guinness , born 100 years ago today, on April 2, 1914, in Marylebone, England, was a star’s star.  While Spencer Tracy, born just three days later in 1900, was ranked his fellow stars’ favorite, Guinness had dramatic gifts rivalling Tracy for which he received numerous professional awards and fervent audience love.

He began his theatrical career in the 1930s, playing in numerous stage classics, as well as an uncredited role as a WWI soldier attending a concert in the film Evensong (1934).  All of this early work was fitting preparation for his film career, spanning 60 years, formally beginning in 1946 when he played Herbert Pocket in Great Expectations. He was off to the races, making film after film—Oliver Twist (1948), in which he played Fagin; Kind Hearts and Coronets (1949), playing multiple D’Ascoyne Family roles (The Duke, The Banker, The Parson, The General, The Admiral); The Lavender Hill Mob (1951), in which he played Holland; The Man in the White Suit (1951), Jim Wormold; and The Ladykillers, Professor Marcus (1955), among other British films and roles.

Hollywood finally snagged him for the role of Prince Albert in The Swan (1955), This laid the groundwork for his selection as Colonel Nicholson in The Bridge on the RiverKwai (1957), directed by David Lean, for which he won the Best Actor Oscar, one of many Oscar nominations he received.
Numerous box office hits followed, including other Lean masterpieces—Lawrence of Arabia (1962), in which he played King Feisal; Doctor Zhivago (1965), Yevgraf; and Passage to India (1984), Godbole. Other roles included Scrooge (1970) in which he played Jacob Marley’s Ghost; and of course, his stellar performances as Obi-Wan Kenobi in the Star Wars films, among others. His last film was Mute Witness (1994), in which, fittingly, he played The Reaper (a Mystery Guest Star).

There was, of course, more to the man than his acting—a taste of which is conveyed in his poignant faith journey, the dramatic turning point occurring during the filming of Father Brown (1954) when a small French child mistook Guinness for a priest. That little encounter inspired him to return to his Anglican faith. Soon thereafter, his son Matthew, then just 11, tragically contracted polio and was paralyzed from the waist down. A grief-stricken Guinness began stopping by a little Catholic Church every day, praying to God that if He would let his son recover, he would not stand in the way should he wish to convert to Catholicism, which was his son’s desire. Matthew did recover, subsequently converting to Catholicism at age 15. 

Several years later, seeing how happy his son was, Guinness decided to become a Catholic himself and was formally received into the Church on March 24, 1956. A year later, his wife quietly followed suit while he was away in Sri Lanka filming The Bridge on the River Kwai. She only told him after the fact to his great delight.

Every morning, Guinness recited a verse from Psalm 143, “Cause me to hear your loving kindness in the morning.”  

He died on August 5, 2000, this time winning a greater much greater prize—Heaven. 

Published in Breitbart’s “Big Hollywood,April 2, 2014, 9:53 a.m. (PST)

Mary Claire Kendall is currently writing a book about legends of Hollywood, focused on stories of recovery, for publication in 2015. 

The Author

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Lights Go Out on Shirley Temple, Classic Hollywood's "Bright Eyes"

By Mary Claire Kendall

A.C. Lyles and Shirley Temple look at a copy of the
Jacksonville Journal in this undated photo.
Credit:The Times-Union

Shirley Temple, one of Hollywood’s biggest and brightest stars at the height of the Depression—her break out film Bright Eyes (1934), featuring “On the Good Ship Lollipop”—has gone to her reward. 

She joins her good friend, and my friend, A.C. Lyles, who died just over four months ago.  

Now it’s appropriate to add one more poignant story to my reminiscence of A.C.  

During our conversations, A.C. mentioned how close he was to Shirley, and told me she was ailing.

They spoke at least every other week, he said.

The last time I talked with A.C. was Thursday, July 25—almost exactly two months to the day before he died. 

It was time for him to be just talking to his peers, also at life’s sunset, with whom he shared so many fond memories. 

So, at the very end of the conversation, I asked A.C. if he had spoken with Shirley recently. He said, he had meant to call her that day, and thanked me for reminding him. He would call her first thing the next day!

That was the last time I spoke with A.C.

Rest in peace Shirley and A.C., back together again and talking up a storm!  

Mary Claire Kendall is currently writing a book about legends of Hollywood, focused on stories of recovery, for publication in 2015. She will be on the red carpet at the Oscars interviewing the stars.

This piece was published exclusively in Breitbart’s “Big Hollywood” at

The Author

Monday, February 3, 2014

Garland and Hoffman's Hearts Went Zing!... and then Broke!

Judy Garland publicity still for The Harvey Girls (1945)

By Mary Claire Kendall 

What is it about gifted artists, especially Hollywood stars like 
Judy Garland—and now sadly, Philip Seymour Hoffman—who have such Zing!, enabling them to turn in bravura performances, only to emotionally deflate and leave us much too early. (Judy 
had just turned 47 when she died of a drug overdose; Hoffman would have been 47 on July 23.) 

Judy Garland’s “Zing! Went the Strings of My Heart,”  as well as “Happyish” creator, Sharon Auslander’s comment—“The biggest, brokenest heart of anyone I have ever met,” she said—provides a big window into the reason why. 

I suppose, if they didn’t implode, the “hideous world,” as Auslander characterized it, would never fully realize just how hideous it is and what it does to “beautiful” people like Garland and Hoffman. 

“The Strings of Judy Garland’s Heart,” which I wrote on the 4oth anniversary of her death, June 22, 2009, republished on the 90th anniversary of her birth, June 10, 2012, per below, provides 
some more insights.

Mary Claire Kendall is currently writing a book about legends of Hollywood, focused on stories of recovery, for publication in 2015. 
She has written about many celebrities who have hit rock bottom 
and miraculously recovered, including Patricia Neal and Betty Hutton.

Mary Claire Kendall
Mary Claire Kendall, Contributor
I write about Hollywood legends and real life.
6/10/2012 @ 9:12AM |1,700 views

The Strings of Judy Garland's Heart

Ninety years ago this Sunday, June 10, Judy Garland—who captured America’s heart in The Wizard of Oz and never let go—was born.  This article was published in Big Hollywood on the 40th anniversary of her death three years ago.
Washington, DC, June 22, 2009—Thirty years after Judy Garland—“Dorothy”—first publicly performed “Over the Rainbow” on June 29, 1939, previewing the soon-to-be-released Wizard of Oz, this quintessential girl-next-door reached for more sleeping pills and hoped-for sleep, only to be, mercifully, granted eternal rest.
She always wanted to be “glamorous,” forgetting her far-surpassing appeal as the very essence of America.
Her story, the final earthly chapter ending forty years ago today, embodies American triumph and tragedy.
Born Frances Ethel Gumm on June 10, 1922, in Grand Rapids, Minnesota, her life nearly ended in 1921 after her parents’ marriage was rocked by revelations of her father’s homosexual infidelity.
But, family physician Dr. Marcus Rabwin told Frank Gumm, “you go back to your wife and tell her I said she must have this baby.”  The “powerful” Garland “force field,” as fellow MGM star Ann Miller put it, was evidently already at work.
“Baby” Gumm first stole hearts when, at age 2½, she performed “Jingle Bells” before an audience, discovering to her delight that, besides her father, her other great love was performing and making people happy.
She just couldn’t stop singing; so her father finally had to carry her off the stage.
The family soon decamped to a desert California town north of Hollywood after her father was “caught with a young boy.”  There, Ethel sought solace from her troubled marriage by single-mindedly devoting herself into making the “Gumm Sisters” stars.

Needless to say, little Frances was the standout—their big break coming in 1929 with four one-reel shorts.  But when comedian George Jessel evoked howls of laughter just by mentioning their name, he suggested they take New York Drama critic Robert Garland’s surname; Frances took her first name from Hoagie Carmichael’s popular song “Judy.”
On November 16, 1935—six months after Metro Goldwyn Mayer’s Louis B. Mayer signed up “Judy Garland”—she sang her first professional rendition of “Zing! Went the Strings of My Heart,” live on coast to coast radio, as her father lay dying.  Dr. Rabwin, who 14 years earlier had advised the family to bring their daughter to term, called Judy to let her know her beloved father would be listening—radio waves being their last physical “connection.” He died early the next morning.
The young, 4’11” Garland came to studio executives’ attention when she sang “You Made Me Love You” to Clark Gable at MGM’s party celebrating his 35th birthday—a rendition she repeated, while looking adoringly at Gable’s photograph, in the all-star extravaganza Broadway Melody of 1938.
Bandleader Artie Shaw famously summed up Judy’s talent, singing and dancing her way into America’€™s hearts, telling her, “You become the song.”
So, too, she became the tragedy of American culture—force-fed uppers and downers, plus diet pills, by five different doctors so she could keep up the pace of performance demanded by her MGM bosses who were giddily beside themselves with her money-making potential.
MGM hit the jackpot when it paired Garland with Mickey Rooney in a string of “backyard musicals.” This winning formula, first showcased in the ironically titled 1937 B movie Thoroughbreds Don’t Cry, was followed by Love Finds Andy Hardy, leading to eight more films featuring this adorable, dynamic duo.
Dr. Rabwin’s wife, Marcella, then working at MGM, asserted, “They didn’t mean to addict her. They were trying to get a picture finished.” Yet, the hard truth is, in the process of finishing the picture they laid the groundwork for Judy’s early demise.
As E.Y. Yip Harburg, Wizard of Oz lyricist, explained, “A picture is one of the most devastating things to your nervous system.”  Even more so for Judy.  As Robert Goulet said, “No one came close to her because she was so vulnerable.”
Her very vulnerability—she required constant reassurance she was, indeed, talented and pretty, given her high-strung, insecure nature, exacerbated by her teenage loss of paternal affirmation—was the source of her greatness.  This mega-talented star was all heart and just poured herself into her performances.  But, combined with all the barbiturates and amphetamines, it was a toxic mix.  As Oscar Levant wrote in his 1969 book, The Unimportance of Being Oscar, “at parties, Judy could sing all night, endlessly… but when it came time to appear on a movie set, she just wouldn’t show up.”
In 1940, after Judy collapsed on the set of Strike Up the Band, in desperate need of months-long rest, she was given only weeks.
Besides her flagging energy, her tendency to show up late rankled her bosses, and on June 17, 1950, a week after she turned 28, MGM cut its prized star loose—the last straw being the demands of Royal Wedding (1951).  Thus, began a series of incredible comebacks, starting with her dazzling concert tour, including her history-making star turn at the London Palladium.
Judy became close friends of Betty Hutton during Las Vegas performances, overcoming hurt feelings from when Betty had replaced her in Annie Get Your Gun (1950).
Betty—while a lesser star, albeit possessing the same booming talent, paternal void, and extremely sensitive nature—almost died of a drug overdose just three years after Judy’s death, only to be “saved” by Fr. Peter Maguire, who helped her play the role of a lifetime—“Being Beautiful Betty.”
“Being Beautiful Judy” was the one role Garland never mastered.  But, as a star, looking down from the celestial firmament, it’s a good bet she’s mastered it now.