Hollywood Friday Photos — The Beautiful and the Damned February 28, 2014 by Robert J. Avrech 4 Comments Anna May Wong (1905 – 1961) was the first American-Chinese movie star. Her long career spanned silent and sound movies, radio, stage and television. Her first film role was in Toll of the Sea (1922) one of the first movies produced in Technicolor. Tragically, the Production Code instituted by the studios to protect against government censorship, upheld anti-miscegenation laws. Thus, Wong was never cast as a leading lady opposite a Caucasian star. Her greatest disappointment, and a notorious outrage, was when MGM refused to cast her as O-lan, the leading role in their adaptation of Pearl S. Buck’s huge best-seller, “The Good Earth.” Instead, the plum assignment went to the competent but dreary Luise Rainer. For most of her career, the enormously talented and beautiful Anna May was relegated to supporting roles and B movies, frequently as a stereotypical dragon lady. This evocative photo, which views Anna May’s silken, waterfall hair, as a distinct character, is by artist Man Ray, real name Emmanuel Radnitzky. Helen Twelvetrees (1908 –1958) had a name that was unforgettable. But she has been almost entirely forgotten. A graduate of the American Academy of Dramatic Arts, and with some stage experience, she came to Hollywood to replace silent actors who were unable or unwilling to make the transition to sound. Her first husband, Clark Twelvetrees, an alcoholic, leaped out of a sixth floor hotel window at a N.Y. party celebrating her going-away to Hollywood. He bounced off an awning, landed on the running board of a parked car, and survived. Helen paid his hospital bills and then took off for Hollywood. In 1930, she starred in Her Man, which made her a star. She bought a mansion, hired servants, and a limo driver. Though Twelvetrees worked with some of Hollywood’s greatest leading men, Spencer Tracy, Clark Gable, John Barrymore and Robert Taylor, the best roles did not come her way. She was mired in bad movies in which she played the suffering woman fighting for the wrong man. By 1939, her film career was over, her money gone. She married for the third time and lived in Pennsylvania where she did some Summer stock. A co-worker remembers that she had a fragile psyche, and the “saddest eyes ever seen.” On Valentine’s Day, 1958, Helen Twelvetrees took an overdose of barbiturates. Said Betty Grable (1916 – 1973), “There are two reasons I’m famous, and I’m standing on both of them.” Thus, the most famous photos of Grable feature her legs. During World War II, Grable’s iconic pin-up image reminded our troops of what they were fighting for. But this little known portrait of Betty Grable from 1935, before her ascent to stardom, has always been my favorite. Here, Grable is almost unrecognizable as the woman with the million dollar legs. In severe profile, with relaxed hair, a faraway gaze, and chaste collar, Betty looks uncertain, wistful. In truth, while American soldiers in the sky and on land dreamed of Grable, she was locked in a miserable marriage to band leader Harry James, a serial adulterer. Karen and I wish all our friends and relatives a lovely and inspirational Shabbat.