Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Carole's Last Day

Tragically on July 5, 1948 Carole was found dead in her Pacific Palisades home. She had committed suicide at the young age of twenty-nine. Carole spent her final evening alive with her married lover Rex Harrison. Here is a timeline of her last day ...

12:00 PM - Carole hosts a pool party for a dozen friends including Rex Harrison. She goes swimming and appears to be in good spirits. Carole tells her friends they have to leave early because she is having a private dinner with Rex Harrison. This is the seventh night in a row that they have dinner together. Rex Harrison is married to actress Lili Palmer and has a four year old son. Carole has been having an affair with him for over a year. Because of the affair she had filed for divorce from her husband Horace Schmidlapp. Financial problems had also forced her to put her Pacific Palisades home up for sale.

Carole in her backyard in 1948
5:00 PM - Carole puts on a plaid skirt, a white blouse, and gold sandals. She is also wearing her favorite gold cross and a St. Christopher medal. Before dinner Carole and Rex Harrison each have a Scotch and Soda. They dine on cold roast chicken, a tossed salad, and lemon chiffon pie that Carole had baked herself. She plays "Warm Kiss, Cold Heart" on her phonograph. Rex Harrison will later claim they had a pleasant evening discussing Carole's career. The truth is Carole is hopelessly in love with him and desperately wants him to leave his wife. During the evening they get into an argument and he ends their relationship.
Carole and Rex Harrison

9:00 PM - Rex Harrison leaves Carole's house. He is the last person to see her alive. After leaving Carole Rex Harrison goes to visit his best friends Roland and Nan Culver who live a few blocks away. Carole is heartbroken over the end of their affair and makes a decision to end her life. She collects all of the photos and mementos from their relationship and puts them in a suitcase. Then she drives to the Culver's house and leaves the suitcase in their driveway. The next day Nan Culver finds the suitcase and gives it to Rex Harrison. He burns everything that is in it.
Carole and her friend Marguerite Haymes

12:00 AM - Carole returns home and has a few drinks. Her autopsy would later show that her blood alcohol level was .12 which meant she was not drunk. She tries to call several friends including Marguerite Haymes but no one is home. Marguerite will get Carole's message later that evening but decides it's too late to call her back. Carole decides to write two final notes on her personal stationary. First she writes a four line lovers farewell to Rex Harrison. The she writes a heartbreaking note to her beloved mother. She folds the note to her mother and puts it on her dresser.

"Dearest Mommie - I'm sorry, really sorry, to put you through this but there is no way to avoid it - I love you darling you have been the most wonderful mom ever And that applies to all our family. I love each and every one of them dearly - Everything goes to you - Look in the files and there is a will which decrees everything - Good bye, my angel - Pray for me - Your Baby"

2:00 AM - Carole goes into her upstairs bathroom and takes an envelope filled with Secanol out of her cabinet. She was not a chronic user of Secanol. Her doctor had given her a prescription when she was hospitalized in October 1946. It appears that this was the first time she took any of the pills. There is writing on the envelope that says "Red - quick - 2 hours. Yellow, about 5, Can take 2. Use for severe pain". Carole swallows approximately forty Secanol tablets. She leaves the envelope and a glass of water on the bathroom counter. Then Carole goes into her bedroom and lays down on the bed for several minutes.

Carole's Pacific Palisades home
3:00 AM - She walks back into the bathroom where she collapses. Sadly Carole will die on the bathroom floor. She is lying on a carpet next to an open cabinet. Her arms are bent as if she had been trying to raise herself up. Carole's head is resting on a jewelry box and her left hand she is holding a satin bookmark with the Lord's Prayer on it. She had taken five times the amount of Secanol needed to cause death. Carole had suffered from bouts of depression during her life. This was the third time she had attempted suicide but in the past she had always been rescued by friends.
Carole's body

Carole on bathroom floor

11:00 AM - Rex Harrison calls Carole several times but her maid, Fannie Mae Bolden, tells him she is not awake yet. He goes to the house and tells Fannie "Well, I think she's dead". Together they go to the upstairs bathroom where they discover Carole's body. Harrison says "Oh, no, my darling, why did you do it?". He will later claim that he felt Carole's wrist and there was a slight pulse. Instead of calling for an ambulance he goes home and calls his boss Darryl Zanuck. Fannie goes to a neighbors house where she calls the police and Florence Wasson, Carole's best friend. The police arrive and take photographs of Carole's body.

A detective views Carole's body
The police in Carole's bedroom

4:00 PM - Florence calls Dorothy Ross, Carole's sister, in Long Beach to tell her what happened. Rex Harrison returns and is questioned by the police. They find the note that Carole left for her mother but there are conflicting reports about the second note. Florence claims that it was actually a memo that Carole wrote about taking her cat to the vet. Lili Palmer later admits that a police officer found the note Carole wrote to Rex Harrison in the bathroom. Rex Harrison pays the officer five hundred dollars and destroys the note. There are dozens of reporters at the house. The press speculates that Carole was having serious money and health problems.

Carole's mother and sister at her house

7:00 PM - Carole's mother Clara Ridste and her sister Dorothy Ross arrive at the house. Her mother is heard screaming "Oh my baby, I want to see my baby. Why didn't somebody call me?" and then collapses. Carole's body is taken to Bogg's and Mashmeyer's funeral home. Rumors circulate that she was pregnant with Rex Harrison's love child  but her autopsy confirms that she was not pregnant. Carole was unable to have children because she suffered from endometriosis. The official cause of her death is "barbiturate poisoning due to ingestion of overdose of Secanol". Her funeral is scheduled for Saturday, July 10 at Forest Lawn Memorial Park.



About marrying Rex Harrison: "Oh, I'd love to marry him but you know how those things are."

After Lupe Velez's 1944 suicide: "I know just how Lupe Velez felt. You go just so far, and then what have you got to face? There's always the fear of being washed up. You begin to worry. You get bitter and disillusioned. You fear the future because there's only one way to go and that's down.".

On July 2, 1948: "I've never been so happy in all my life. The sun's shining. It's a wonderful day!"

Carole made this recording two days before she died

Friday, June 26, 2015

Carole's Suit From Four Jills In A Jeep

In 2013 I bought a two piece suit that Carole Landis wore in the film Four Jills In A Jeep. It was sold at Julien's Hollywood Legends auction. The suit was designed by Yvonne Wood. Four Jills In A Jeep was released on March 17, 1944. Carole wrote the book the movie was based on and played herself.

Phil Silvers, Carole, and Kay Francis

Phil Silvers, Mitzi Mayfair, Martha Raye, Kay Francis, and Carole

 Kay Francis, Martha Raye, and Carole

Here is a clip of Carole wearing the suit ...

Monday, June 15, 2015

Carole's Early Years (1919-1934)

Carole's early days were filled with heartache and dreams of stardom. She was born in Fairchild, Wisconsin on New Year's Day 1919. Carole was the youngest of five children. She was such a beautiful baby that she was nicknamed "Baby Doll". Soon after Carole's birth her father, Alfred Ridste, abandoned the family and her mother, Clara Zentek Ridste, married a man named Charles Fenner. There are rumors that Charles is Carole's biological father. Clara divorced Charles in 1921 and moved the family to San Bernardino, California. Although they were poor Clara always made sure her children were taken care of. Carole became very close to her older sister Dorothy who often watched her while Clara worked. Tragically two of her brothers died very young. Sixteen month old Jerome was killed in 1917 when a pot of boiling water fell on him. Ten year old Lewis died in 1925 after he was accidentally shot with gun. Carole was raised a Catholic and attended church every Sunday. Her philosophy was "Pass the good deed along". According to family sources Carole was sexually molested by a relative during her childhood.

Carole with her mother Clara in 1923

Carole at age eight

 At age nine she ran on stage during a local talent show and began to sing. She loved watching movies and covered her walls with photos of Mary Astor, Russ Columbo, and Clark Gable. Using make-up tricks to look older Carole started entering beauty pageants when she was twelve. She won a pair of silk stockings and an electric heater but her mother made her stop competing because she was too young. In high school she became boy crazy and often skipped her classes. She earned money by working at a hamburger stand and a movie theater. Carole married her first love, Irving Wheeler, in 1934 but walked out on him after three weeks. When she was sixteen she decided to leave home and pursue her dream of becoming a star. She later said "Although I avoided dramatics - and everything else - in school. I wanted to be a success on the stage, the screen, or the radio. So I saved my money and when I had bus fare and $16.82 over, I told my mother, Clara, I was going to leave home. She was heartbroken, but she believed in me."

 Left to Right: Carole's brother Lewis, her brother Lawrence, Carole, her mother Clara, her sister Dorothy

 Carole playing dress up with a friend in 1929

 Carole, her first husband Irving Wheeler, and her sister Dorothy

Carole in 1931 with her sister Dorothy

Carole in 1933

 Carole with her sister Dorothy in 1934

Left to Right: Carole's brother Lewis, her sister Dorothy. her father Alfred, Carole, her brother Lawrence

Carole's brother Jerome who died in 1917

 Carole's father Alfred Ridste

* Thank you to Tammy Powell for allowing us to use Carole's family photos *

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

The Funeral At Forest Lawn

Carole's fans were shocked and saddened when she died on July, 5, 1948. Tragically she had taken her own life at the young age of 29. Her married lover Rex Harrison discovered her body in her Pacific Palisades home. On Saturday, July 10, Carole was buried at Forest Lawn Memorial Park in Glendale, California. The service was held at 12:30 PM at Forest Lawn's Church of the Recessional. The small church was filled with flowers including a cross made of white gardenias, Carole's favorite flower, and a large bouquet of roses from her former boss Darryl Zanuck. Dorothy Ross, Carole's sister, greeted mourners as they entered the church while her ten year old niece, Diane Carole, knelt by the coffin and cried. Clara Ridste, Carole's mother, was inconsolable. She sobbed throughout the funeral and was heard saying "Oh my baby, I'll pray for you, everyday". When she saw Carole in the coffin she was so overcome by grief that she fainted in the church. Carole's estranged husband Horace Schmidlapp, her brother Lawrence Ridste, and her father Alfred Ridste were also there. Alfred had a strained relationship with Carole and had not seen her in six years. Her close friends Cesar Romero and Pat O'Brien were pallbearers and both cried during the funeral.

Cesar Romero and Eddie Sutherland

The other pallbearers were actor Willard Parker, director Eddie Sutherland, and golf professional Lou Wasson. Dick Haymes was supposed to be a pallbearer but he was delayed in Chicago. Dozens of Carole's friends attended the funeral including Van Johnson, her stand-in Florence Wasson, and director Eddie Sutherland. Rex Harrison and his wife Lilli Palmer arrived at the cemetery with two bodyguards. Lilli wore a dark blue dress because she felt it was inappropriate to wear black to the funeral of her husband's mistress. The couple refused to look at Carole in her coffin and left the service early. Carole had been raised a Catholic but she was denied a Catholic burial because she had committed suicide. The service was conducted by Bishop Fred L. Pyman of the Evangelical Orthodox Church in Santa Monica. In his eulogy Bishop Pyman said "All the world's a stage, and all the men and women in it players. People in show business have a peculiar philosophy, whether they be Catholic's, Protestants, or Jews, but Shakespeare was correct in writing these lines. Some of us make out entrances best. Some make out exits best. Some overplay, flub their lines. But this beloved star made her entrances perfectly. She did not overplay. Fellow troupers, you don't have to call a second time for people like our beloved friend.

Carole's mother Clara Ridste and her niece Diane Carole Ross

Whenever there was a call, she always came; witness her U.S.O. experiences entertaining troops in Europe and Africa and the Pacific. From the doors of Hell, deliver her soul. May she rest in peace." During the service Fred L. Scott sang "The Lord's Prayer" and "In The Garden". Carole's mahogany coffin was lined with peach silk cushions. She was buried wearing her favorite blue beaded dress. Carole had worn the dress while entertaining the troops during World War 2. She was also wearing her signature gold cross necklace and a religious medal. Carole had requested gardenias in her will but instead two blue orchids were pinned to her dress. A rosary and a bouquet of roses were placed in her hands. The roses had been sent by one of Carole's childhood friends. Her make-up was done by her longtime make-up artist Ben Nye. Thousands of fans came to the cemetery to watch the funeral. Many of them tried to get autographs from the celebrities who were there. Cesar Romero held onto Carole's mother to shield her from the emotional crowd. When the service was over the fans descended on Carole's grave and took all the flowers. Bishop Pyman said it was the most revolting thing he 
had ever seen.

Cesar Romero, Eddie Sutherland, and Clara Ridste

The epitaph on Carole's tombstone was written by her sister Dorothy. It says "TO OUR BELOVED CAROLE WHOSE LOVE, GRACIOUSNESS AND KINDNESS TOUCHED US ALL - WHO WILL ALWAYS BE WITH US IN THE BEAUTIES IN THIS EARTH UNTIL WE MEET AGAIN". There are numerous Forest Lawn memorial parks in California. Carole is buried at the Forest Lawn in Glendale. It is located at 1712 S. Glendale Avenue. The cemetery is open every day from 8 AM until 5 PM (6 PM during the summer). Forest Lawn discourages celebrity grave hunters but you can still visit Carole's grave. Many of her relatives and fans bring flowers to her grave on a regular basis. You can get a map of the cemetery from the visitors center near the front gate. Carole's grave is in the Everlasting Love section. She is buried in plot 814. Her grave is next to the curb at the top of the hill. It is across the street the Cathedral Slope section. Broadway actor Robert J. Montgomery is buried in the grave next to her. You can also visit the Church of the Recessional which is up the road from her grave. Many other celebrities are also buried at Forest Lawn including Marie McDonald, Olive Borden, George Burns, Spencer Tracy, Clara Bow, and Michael Jackson.

Rex Harrison and his wife Lili Palmer at the funeral

Photo courtesy of Mark Martinez

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Carole LOVED Her Pets

Carole was a true animal lover! She shared her life with dozens of dogs, cats, and birds. In 1941 her boyfriend Gene Markey gave her a Great Dane he had originally bought for his ex-wife Hedy Lamarr. Carole quickly fell in love with the one hundred pound dog she named Donner. She called Donner her "baby" and always treated him like a person. Carole became superstitious about having her pets photographed after several animals died or were stolen shortly after their picture was taken. When she first got Donner she would not let him be photographed but soon he was joining her on photo shoots. In 1942 Donner appeared on the cover of Our Dogs magazine and the New York Sunday Mirror. Carole's other pets included two poodles named Missy and Gina, a Siamese Cat named Miss C, and three Malamute Huskies named Lucky, Jinx, and Skeezix. The soldiers at Fort Ord gave her two puppies named Army and Navy. Carole was almost evicted from her Sunset Boulevard home because she had too many pets.

She spent thousands of dollars on lawyers so she would not have to give away any of her beloved animals. Carole once told a friend she had planned to kill herself by driving her car off a hill but was saved when she saw a cat in the road and decided to rescue it. When Carole was a child she had a Cocker Spaniel who followed her everywhere. In 1941 two of her Cocker Spaniels, Sensible and Foolish, appeared in the film Wild Geese Calling with Henry Fonda. Carole was devastated when Donner died from a sudden illness in 1943 and she vowed never to have another dog. A few months later she bought a Cocker Spaniel named Splash and another Great Dane named Dippy. She also adopted two kittens in 1947. When Carole died her sister Dorothy took all of her pets. Dorothy said "Carole never could stand to see an animal neglected, mistreated, or in discomfort. Even her devoted dogs - Dippy, the Great Dane, and Gina, the French poodle. They loved her and they miss her. Dippy still moons around forlornly, searching for Carole."

With Donner in 1942

With Donner in 1943

With Donner

With her cats

With George Jessel

With Gina in 1947