Felix In Hollywood

A Blog for the Smart Set

Friday, November 19, 2010

Not To Be Forgotten

She was one of the first Mack Sennett Bathing Beauties.

She originated the role of Roxie Hart.

She was directed by both DeMille and D.W. Griffith.

She appeared opposite Lon Chaney in his last silent film.

When she married, the wedding was performed by New York Mayor Jimmy Walker.

She was the darling, exquisite and wildly talented 
Phyllis Haver.

Born in Kansas in the year 1899, Haver and her mother relocated to Los Angeles when she was just eight years old.  While still a student at Manual Arts High School, she got a job playing piano accompaniment in a local movie theater.  Not long after while doing extra work at Paramount, she auditioned for, and was signed with, Mack Sennett.  It was there that she learned her craft, reconnected with childhood friend Marie Provost and bonded with fellow starlet Gloria Swanson.

After 8 years of comedy shorts, she earned her dramatic credibility in Goldwyn's 1923 feature "The Christian".  Stardom was hers with John Ford's "What Price Glory"  and Victor Flemming's "The Way Of All Flesh".  Then came DeMille's picturization of "Chicago" (yes flapper/murderess Roxie Hart originated in the flapper era) and Griffith's "The Battle Of The Sexes".

Through heady days Haver always kept her head.  When Haver had been a part of the film colony for ten years, a fan magazine said that her name had never once been linked with scandal or gossip. She had been much too busy scaling the ladder of success to allow herself to be caught on any retarding rungs.  In real estate she made a modest, but respectable, fortune. One reporter noticed her carrying something on the set and assumed it was a map for tours. He learned it was a plat for a real estate addition in Los Angeles. She made the comment once that she didn't have time for romance and was afraid of it until she got her career really started and her mother taken care of financially.

That all changed in 1929 when she fell in love with New York millionaire,  William "Billy" Seeman.  Intent on marriage, she informed MGM that she was breaking her contract by utilizing the 'Act of God' clause.  When he asked her how she figured, she answered, "If marrying a millionaire ain't an act of God, I don't know what is!"

Despite numerous offers to return to pictures, with a penthouse in the city and an estate in Connecticut, Haver's stock reply was, "Frankly I haven't a remnant of ambition beyond being just Mrs. William Seeman."  It lasted as long as it could have.  Some say Billy was a drinker and an abuser, some say that she wanted children and he didn't, and some say he took up with a younger girl.  Which ever it was, or perhaps a combination of all, they were divorced in 1945.  She was given the homes and a "very fair" settlement, but friends said she never really got over losing her Billy.

Her last appearance was in 1956 when "This Is Your Life" honored Mack Sennett.  She was flooded with correspondence from old friends and fans alike on how beautiful she still looked and how wonderful it was to see her.  She had always loved and thanked Sennett for giving her her start.  She called him Dad.  Four years later when she learned he had died penniless, she was despondent.  Hear she was with all this money in this mansion, if she had only known, she would have gladly helped him.

It was fifty years ago today, alone and in those desperate hours after the  paid house maid/companion had gone home, she swallowed enough barbiturates to end her life at 61.


normadesmond said...

how sad....that i didn't inherit that estate in connecticut!

somehow always shmushed her up with june haver, but can't imagine why.

Ask the Cool Cookie said...

These stories always make me sad. But I find the interesting. You just have to wonder what goes through a person's mind when they reach the end of reason...

Meredith L. Grau said...

What a beauty. So glad that you featured her.