Monday, February 11, 2013

Safe somewhere

One of the fun things about blogging is where it can take you

In this case, it took me into the life of someone named Dorothy MacKaill.

Dorothy is the strikingly pretty woman whose stocking-tops enliven the preceding post. I hate to admit it to her shade but all I was doing was looking for a bit of spice to illustrate the "pre-Code" era films and I Googled up her picture.

But from there I had a fun time pursuing Dorothy. Turns out that she was a damn fine actress and a sort of minor-A-lister in the Hollywood of the Twenties and Early Thirties. But she didn't quite make it over the bar. She wasn't re-signed by First National Pictures in 1931 and spent another six years knocking around Tinseltown before hanging 'em up.

But here's where the story actually gets interesting in a maddeningly opaque way.
Dorothy moved on from movies due to a mixture of failure to draw, bad luck, and bad timing. In 1931 - right after her best known flick Safe in Hell (which is where Dotty appears looking so fetching in those stockings) - she got married to a musician, a guy named Miller, and supposedly had decided to make a go of being a good little Thirties wife and live on hubby's income. This seems to have been something of a wash; they were divorced by 1934, with Dotty complaining that Miller had conned her into leaving the film biz.

She sort of drifted around after that for a while. She was back in Britain in 1937 where she made one of the long-running Bulldog Drummond flicks. I can't find where she spent the war years, but was presumably doing something like making O.D. paint for the War Effort. She is said to have spent time taking care of her mother, but there doesn't seem to be a genuinely reliable source for this.

She turns up in Honolulu in the early Fifties, living at the Royal Hawaiian Hotel in a setting of convivial solitude. She made a couple of appearances in the old Hawaii Five-Oh series in the Seventies, supposedly as a favor to Jack Lord.

She died in her bed at the Royal Hawaiian in 1990, at the age of 87.

What intrigues me is that Dorothy seems to have been perfectly satisfied with the quiet life she led in the islands, so it must have been perfectly satisfying for her.

But what it was like, who she was like, we do not and cannot know.

That's the fascinatingly elusive things about celebrity. Here's a woman that we can "meet" on the screen. We can see her walking, hear her speak, see how she carries herself; all the sorts of things we associate with people we actually know...and yet, we truly don't know ahything about her. If she chooses - and she did - she can disappear completely. Her life outside of her films, and three television episodes, is a complete blank to us.

She spent forty years doing...something...probably all sorts of things of which we know absolutely nothing.

We have no idea how she filled her days for forty years. Don't know what she liked, what she did, whose company she enjoyed and whose she didn't. Did she love to hike into the forests of the Koolaus? Could she tell an o'hia from a banyan? Was she a regular at the Honolulu Public Library? Did she play golf, or tennis, or rugby, for that matter?

Whatever she did, whoever she did it with, or not, Dorothy seems to have had a long and pleasant time doing it.

And that seems good enough to me.


Lisa said...

While compelling, also so is our idea that we have a right to know about celebrity. In truth, we only ever know what the grist mill puts out for our consumption.

A quotation from the t.v. series dealing with computer sleuthing, Person of Interest:

Anonymity is true power.

Lisa said...

p.s. --

It seems like more than a few female celebs have ended up living a man-less life (maybe) in HI after their men done them wrong, no?

Like you say, not a bad life.

FDChief said...

Funny thing with Dotty; she ran through her men in her salad days; two brief marriages, on in the late Twenties, one in the late Forties with our boy Miller in the Thirties. After that?


I mean, for all we know she had some long-term arrangement with some Waikiki kanuna. Or not - maybe she found that she preferred her own company to the importunes of others. But we got nothin'; as you say, her anonymity was her power.

Intriguing, this sniffing after strangers, but ultimately futile. We can only know as much of the secret hearts of others as they choose to reveal to us. And Dotty, bless her, chose not to reveal much.

Lisa said...

Interesting, no, the impulse of some to "tell all", while others in the public eye eventually "Vant to be alone."

For another time and another piece: interesting how some women, even those once sexpots, eventually go for the big white granny undies and cats. I mean, did they just happen to find lousy lovers? Were they jilted? Just plain "wore out" as they say in the South?

To me, I would think, why not keep searching for that sweet nectar? Perhaps some are not so resilient. Also, some who are dolled up as starlets may just be frigid, but have a "smoldering" presence before the camera. I wonder about the vacuity that seems to escape the camera lens, especially if what we seek is the open-mouthed pout and vacant stare.

Upon that canvas we may impose everything.

Talyssa said...

I really enjoyed this post. At uni we had a topic on celebrity and it pretty much covered the same questions you are asking. This idea of feeling like we know the celebrity on screen, really just shows how powerful a celebrity as a 'brand' is, because really we know nothing about them personally at all, yet there are many people who are highly influenced and love to align themselves with the brands their favourite celebrities wear, endorse, manufacture and so on. In doing so these people attach to their own personality the same qualities associated with the celebrity that endorses them - even when these qualities are far from the truth. E.g Tiger Woods endorsements for Nike before his scandal compared to afterwards.

However I think nowadays the general public knows a lot more about a celebrity's personal life than in the past. I feel like peoples engrossed fascination with celebrities, particularly in their personal lives (especially during periods of crisis) has meant celebrities have less freedom..I don't think there are many popular celebrities nowadays who could escape the media limelight for a period of 40 years! A lot of today's fascination with celebrity gossip has to do with the basic fact that when the lives of someone as amazing as a celebrity turns upside down, we all just feel a little bit better about ourselves and our lives!