Friday, April 6, 2012


Old Hollywood’s Most Tragic Screen Sirens

She may have been a punchline to some and sex personified to others, but the life of blonde bombshell Marilyn Monroe has become the ultimate tale of tragedy since her premature death at age 36 in 1962. Before she became a titillating screen goddess, Norma Jeane spent her childhood in foster homes, but fame didn’t give her the life she truly desired. Emotional insecurity, failed marriages, and drug dependency are just a few of the many things that took over the fragile woman’s life before her early demise. This week, audiences will get a chance to get a glimpse of Monroe’s inner struggles in the film, My Week with Marilyn. However, there have been many other screen queens before Monroe who suffered similar fates. Click through for a look at some of Hollywood’s fallen film goddesses.
Dorothy Dandridge
In an era of racial segregation, Dorothy Dandridge changed how audiences viewed movie goddesses by becoming one of Hollywood’s first black sex symbols. Before fame, Dandridge endured sexual abuse from her mother’s lover and struggled to take care of her brain-damaged daughter alone. While she garnered popularity among her peers and white moviegoers, Dandridge was unable to obtain roles that went beyond the color of her skin. By 1963, domestic violence from her second husband and financial setbacks left Dandridge bankrupt and depressed. To ease her frustrations, the once reigning beauty became an alcoholic with an addiction to prescription drugs. In 1965, Dandridge was found dead from an overdose.
Linda Darnell
Crowned “the girl with the perfect face,” sultry screen siren Linda Darnell was one of the most beautiful women in Hollywood during the glamour-obsessed ’40s, but she wasn’t blessed with a happy ending. Burdened with an overbearing stage mother and frustrated with her sweet, virginal roles, Darnell attempted to heat up her flicks by transforming herself into a vixen. Being faced with financial trouble after her business manager embezzled her life savings, Darnell went on a downward spiral involving three failed marriages and alcoholism. In 1965, the former glory girl with a lifelong fear of flames died at age 41 from injuries caused by a house fire. Coincidentally, she spent the last hours of her life watching the 1940 film, Stardust.
Peg Entwistle
Like many other women during her lifetime, English actress Peg Entwistle yearned for stardom and had her eyes set on “Hollywoodland,” the place where dreams became reality. It was a final chance of happiness for an orphan who left behind a growing Broadway career to be discovered, a move that would prove costly. Despite garnering a credited role for RKO’s 1932 thrillerThirteen Women, the film was a box office flop. With no contract, work, or even money for train fare back to New York, Entwistle was overcome with despair. In 1932 her body was discovered below the now-Hollywood sign, along with a suicide note. According to tinsel town legend, a letter arrived to her home the next day from the Beverly Hills Playhouse, offering Entwistle the leading role of a woman who kills herself.
Frances Farmer
During the ’30s, Frances Farmer was considered the most important discovery since Greta Garbo. Garnering a seven-year contract with Paramount meant being groomed for stardom, something Farmer publicly resented. In 1942 the boozed-up actress was pulled over by police, but she didn’t go down without a fight. Before getting arrested, she assaulted officers, something she would do again the following year when she was charged for a warrant. After striking a hairdresser and attacking her mother, Farmer spent several years in sanitariums where she endured shock therapy and a reported lobotomy. During the ’50s, she attempted to revive her career, but her erratic behavior destroyed any chances she had left. Farmer spent her final years living in solitude, passing away from cancer at age 56 in 1970.
Judy Garland
Following her early beginnings as a ’30s child star with no formal education, Judy Garland spent decades delighting audiences with heartfelt musicals. However, her personal life was no walk on the yellow brick road. By the time she was 21, Garland struggled with yo-yo dieting and insomnia caused by the pressures of appearing picture perfect. To cure her ailments, she began taking pills, which ultimately developed into an addiction. Not even psychoanalysis could help overcome her growing anxiety and drug dependence. Over the years, not only did Garland attempt to commit suicide several times, but all five of her marriages failed disastrously, and public drunkenness ruined her live performances. Just when she was embarking on a comeback, Garland was found dead at age 47 from an overdose in 1969.
Rita Hayworth
In movies, Rita Hayworth appeared as a teasing temptress, but in reality, Margarita Carmen Cansino was a painfully shy girl who spent her life trying to please everyone she encountered. She began her career as a Spanish dancer with her family, leaving no room for school or friends. Biographies on the pinup insist that she was sexually and physically abused by her father, which could have been the reason why she married a 41-year-old car salesman at 18. For her Americanized transformation as a ’40s icon, Hayworth underwent torturous electrolysis and diets, which weren’t enough to get her lucky in love. Hayworth married five times, but all ended in divorce. The insecure star eventually faced several custody battles, public emotional outbursts, and alcoholism. Hayworth passed away in 1987 at age 68 from Alzheimer’s, a disease that was greatly misunderstood during her lifetime.
Betty Hutton
During the ’40s and ’50s this ninth grade dropout became the blonde bombshell of musicals, but despite helping audiences escape the doom and gloom of World War II, Betty Hutton couldn’t get away from her own personal woes. Spending more time popping pills and hitting the bottle, Hutton’s reign at Paramount came crashing down, leading to suicide attempts and later filing for bankruptcy in 1967. The forgotten actress re-emerged in the ’70s when reporters discovered she was working as a cook and housekeeper for a Catholic church rectory in Rhode Island. Despite planning several comebacks, Hutton never achieved the same success she yearned for. In 1999, she moved to Palms Springs in hopes of bonding with her estranged children, but to no avail. Then in 2007 Hutton passed away at age 86 from complications caused by colon cancer.
Veronica Lake
She was only 4’11″, but the peek-a-boo blonde single handily made World War II soldiers fall head over heels. However like many actresses, Veronica Lake was forced to please her demanding stage mother and was frustrated with her limiting roles. Consequently, her reputation for being difficult on set became notorious and rumors of suffering from schizophrenia began to surface. Then in 1948, she was publicly sued by her mother for lack of financial support. Around this time, Lake developed a habit for heavy drinking to ease her woes. With little work coming her way, Lake filed for bankruptcy in 1951. By 1959, Lake had three failed marriages under her belt and was working as a barmaid in New York City. Estranged from her children and suffering from paranoia, Lake died penniless in 1973 at age 50 from complications caused by alcoholism. Her ashes sat in a funeral home for three years before they were scattered in 1976. Then in 2004, portions of them were reportedly found in a New York antique store.
Maria Montez
The “Technicolor Queen” may have seduced audiences with her exotic beauty and sensational films, but Dominican actress Maria Montez wouldn’t live long enough to conquer Hollywood beyond “tropical pictures.” Previously a model, Montez was signed by Universal Studios in 1941 and was prompted to star in many colorful, campy spectacles, including Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves and Cobra Woman. As film noir became all the rage, her fame in Hollywood dwindled. Hoping to revive her career, Montez moved to France where she completed a few European films. In 1951 Montez was found dead in her tub at age 39 (some sources say 31). Physicians believed her death was caused by a heart attack while taking a bath with hot water, but the final hours of her life still remain a mystery.
Lupe Velez
This silent star of the ’20s wasn’t called a “Mexican spitfire” for nothing. Known for her fiery temper, sexual appetite, and box office smashes, Lupe Velez broke barriers as one of the few successful Latinas in Hollywood. Despite her comedic talent, Velez was unlucky in love and her tempestuous five-year marriage to Olympian Johnny Weissmueller ended in divorce. She later became involved with small-time actor Harold Raymond. In 1944, Velez discovered she was pregnant, but Raymond refused her pleads for marriage. Overcome with grief and unwilling to live with the scandal of being an unwed mother, the 36-year-old overdosed on Secondal. Velez’s legacy in Hollywood continues to be overshadowed by accounts that she reportedly drowned in her toilet after vomiting out the excessive pills she took to commit suicide.

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As his 80th birthday approaches, a look at the life and legacy of the late Ray Charles.

"I just do what I do." That's what Ray Charles told Billboard in June 2002 when asked to assess his role in music history. Of course, Charles' self-effacing response belies a groundbreaking career and a legacy that endures today, as fans look toward celebrating what would have been the legendary artist's 80th birthday Sept. 23. Looking back at Charles' storied career, what comes to mind is the phrase "musical genius." In Charles' case, that's no hype.

Rare & Unseen Ray Charles Photos | Charles on the Charts

80th Birthday Year Events | Charles Charity

In 1954, the artist's melding of gospel and blues yielded the pioneering hit "I've Got a Woman"-and forged an indelible imprint on R&B, rock and pop. His earthy, soulful voice graced a steady stream of classics after "Woman," including "Drown in My Own Tears," "What'd I Say," "Hit the Road Jack," "Unchain My Heart," "I Can't Stop Loving You" and "Georgia on My Mind."

Video below: Ray Charles performs "Hit The Road Jack" in São Paulo, Brazil on September 22, 1963.

Video below: Ray Charles performs "Then I'll Be Home" in Montreux, Switzerland on July 19, 1997.

Just as at home on the Hammond B-3 organ as he was on the piano, he also landed at the top of Billboard's R&B, pop, country and jazz charts-and even the dance chart, collaborating with childhood friend Quincy Jones and Chaka Khan on "I'll Be Good to You."

His final recording, 2004's "Genius Loves Company," made history when it won eight Grammy Awards, including album and record of the year for his pairing with Norah Jones on "Here We Go Again."

But what many may not know is that the inimitable Charles was also a genius when it came to the business side of music. In the early '60s he negotiated a rare feat after leaving Atlantic Records to sign with ABC-Paramount: ownership of his own master recordings. He also established his own labels. Tangerine (his favorite fruit) came first, which later evolved into CrossOver Records.

A songwriter who penned nearly 200 songs, Charles also operated his own publishing companies, Tangerine Music and Racer Music. For these entities, Charles and longtime manager Joe Adams designed and built the RPM International office and studios on Washington Boulevard in Los Angeles. The Ray Charles Memorial Library will open in the building this fall.

Charles also found time to manage the careers of other acts, including Billy Preston and '70s R&B group the Friends of Distinction. And way before it was de rigueur for artists to do, Charles set up what became a foundation to help needy children with hearing disabilities and later on support education.

He was an amazing human being," says Jones, 77, who became friends with Charles when both were scrappy teenagers in Seattle. "A true innovator who revolutionized music and the business of music," he adds. "Growing up, we only had the radio; no Michael Jackson, Diddy or Oprah. So it was hard to imagine today's entrepreneurial world. But that didn't stop us. We spent a lot of time talking and dreaming about things that brothers had never done before."

"He really was a genius," says singer Solomon Burke, a former Atlantic labelmate. "He did things the way he wanted."

Charles was born Ray Charles Robinson Sept. 23, 1930, in Albany, Ga. As many learned through actor Jamie Foxx's Academy Award-winning portrayal in the 2004 film "Ray," Charles became blind by age 7 and orphaned at 15 while growing up in northwest Florida.

In eight years at a state school for the blind, the young Charles learned how to read and write music. Leaving Florida in 1947, he headed for Seattle ("Choosing the farthest place he could find from Florida," Jones says), where he notched his first hit two years later as a member of the Maxin Trio, "Confession Blues."

Even then, Charles was an enterprising individual. "He had his own apartment, record player, two pairs of pimp shoes, and here I am still living at home," Jones recalls with a laugh. "His mother trained him not to be blind: no cane, no dogs, no cup. His scuffed-up shoes... that was his guide and driving force. He was the most independent dude I ever saw in my life. Ray would get blind only when pretty girls came around."

Signing with Atlantic Records in 1952, Charles as a West Coast jazz and blues man recorded such songs as "It Should've Been Me" and label co-founder Ahmet Ertegun's composition, "Mess Around."

Then he connected in 1954 with "I've Got a Woman," which set off a chain reaction of more hits capitalizing on his bold gospel/blues fusion. But Charles was just getting started. In 1958, he performed at the Newport Jazz Festival, accompanied by a band that featured such jazz cats as saxophonists David "Fathead" Newman and Hank Crawford. Further bucking convention, he recorded "The Genius of Ray Charles," a 1959 release offering standards on one side (including "Come Rain or Come Shine") and big band numbers on the other, featuring members of Count Basie's orchestra and several arrangements by Jones.

Video below: Charles' 1966 Coke commercial, "So Tired."

Leaving Atlantic for ABC-Paramount, a fearless Charles recorded the seminal "Genius + Soul = Jazz" album in 1961. A year later, his earlier dabbling in country music grew serious with the release of the million-selling "Modern Sounds in Country and Western Music."

Complemented by lush strings and a harmony-rich choir, he scored with covers of Don Gibson's "I Can't Stop Loving You" and Ted Daffan's "Born to Lose"-and spent 14 weeks at No. 1 on the Billboard 200.

For a black man to do this in 1962 was unheard of," says Tony Gumina, president of the Ray Charles Marketing Group, which handles the late artist's licensing affairs. "He was trying to sell records to people who didn't want to drink from the same water fountain as him. But this was one of his greatest creative and business moves: to not be categorized musically and cross over. Though he never worried about it, he was resigned to the fact that he might lose some core fans. But he thought he'd gain far more in the process."

Gumina was operating his own promotion company working with state lotteries when he met Charles in 1999. The two teamed up on a series of commercials for various state lotteries and also introduced a line of Ray Charles slot machines also accessible to the blind.

"Everything he did had a business acumen to it," says Gumina, who cites Charles' liaison with manager Adams as a pivotal turning point. Originally hired to be Charles' stage announcer, former radio DJ Adams segued into overseeing production of the singer's shows, lighting and wardrobe.

Together the pair designed and built Charles' L.A. business base, RPM International (Recording, Publishing and Management) studio. When he began recording there in 1965, the label rented the studio from him, so he made money on his recordings before they were even released.

To save money on travel expenses, Charles purchased an airplane to ferry his band around to gigs. A smaller plane was also acquired so that Charles could wing in to, say, New York to record a couple of songs before flying back out in time for a show.

"He understood the entertainment business enough to know that you may not be popular forever," Gumina says, "and you need to maximize your product. At the same time, he had as much fun as any rock star but without the sad money stories. There was a time to work and a time to play, and he knew the difference. He didn't have a bunch of homes or a large entourage. That's why he was able to save $50 million before he died."

Calling Charles an "incredibly smart man," Concord president John Burk says he learned a lot from the ailing singer while he was recording his final studio album, "Genius Loves Company."

Video below: Ray Charles performs "It Ain't Easy Being Green" in Trentnton, NJ on Nov. 7, 2002.

Going through "some sticky deal points, he was amazing," Burk recalls. "He had the whole agreement in his head. Without referencing any material, he knew all the terms we proposed and had the deal done for the album in two discussions."

Creatively, Burk says Charles was an artist dedicated to delivering "a true performance from the heart. Part of his creative legacy was his approach to singing. He opened the door to vocal improvisations, changing how people perceived you could sing a song. Many singers today are influenced by him and they don't even know it."

Rare & Unseen Ray Charles Photos | Charles on the Charts

80th Birthday Year Events | Charles Charity


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