Movies & Books

Thursday, June 30, 2016

Rex Harrison & The Suicide Inquest

On July 8, 1948, three days after Carole's death, Coroner Ben Brown held an informal inquest to find out what the motive was for her suicide. Carole's lover Rex Harrison arrived at the hearing with his boss Darryl F. Zanuck. He denied being romantically involved with Carole. When Rex was asked why she had killed herself he said: "I'm sorry, but I can't give you any explanation for it at all. We talked about scripts of a new play I had and the possibilities of her playing in it. We also discussed her project of returning to England. I told her I might be able to help. Her death was a great tragedy. She was a fine actress - and a wonderful woman."

Dep. Coroner Ira Nance and Rex Harrison at the hearing

 Rex Harrison talking to Coroner Ben Brown

Rex also claimed that Carole was having financial problems and that she was suffering from malaria. Carole's maid Fannie Mae Bolden told the coroner that Rex had dinner at the house every day and that Carole was not despondent. According to Fannie's version of events Rex arrived at the house on the afternoon of July 5 and told her "I think she's dead". Then they both went upstairs and found Carole's body on the bathroom floor. Rex put his hand on her arm and said "I feel a little life." Fannie also said she saw a second note in the house.

 Carole's maide Fannie Mae Bolden

Florence Wasson at the hearing
Carole's close friend Florence Wasson testified that she saw the second note too. She said the note was about the cat, Miss C, being sick and needing to go to the vet. However Carole's mother, Clara Ridste, said there was nothing wrong with the cat. Unfortunately the second note disappeared from the house. Years later Lilli Palmer, Rex Harrison's wife, admitted that the second note was a lovers farewell and that a police officer was paid $500 to destroy it.

Carole's friend Florence Wasson

 Carole's healthy cat Miss C and Clara Ridste

When the hearing was over Carole's death was officially ruled a suicide. Coroner Brown told the press "I've gone as far as I can. I have gone to the limits of my authority. The testimony itself revealed no criminal action, and I cannot go further". Carole's family refused to believe that she took her own life. They thought that Rex Harrison was responsible for her death and that he bribed the police to cover it up. Her family even hired a private investigator but they were unable to prove he did anything illegal.

Carole's death certificate

A clip about Carole from Rex Harrison's A&E documentary

Monday, June 13, 2016

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. Many people have speculated about what actually happened that night. Here is a timeline we have put together based one everything we know ...

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 Harrison. This is the seventh night in a row that they have dinner together. Rex is married to actress Lilli Palmer and 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. She has also put her thirteen room mansion 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 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 And Cold Heart" on her phonograph. Rex will later claim they had a pleasant evening discussing Carole's career. The truth is Carole is hopelessly in love with him and wants him to leave his wife. During the evening they have an argument and he ends their relationship.
Listen to Warm Kiss And Cold Heart

Carole and Rex Harrison

9:00 PM - 1:00 AM - According to Rex he leaves Carole's house at 9:00 but other sources say he was there until after midnight. He is the last person to see her alive. Rex goes to visit his best friend Roland Culver who live a few blocks away. Carole is heartbroken over what happened that evening 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 gets Carole's message later that evening but decides it's too late to call her back.
  Carole and her friend Marguerite Haymes (the mother of actor Dick Haymes)

1:00 AM - 3:00 AM - Carole collects all of the photos and mementos from their relationship and puts them in a suitcase. Then she drives to the Roland Culver's house and leaves the suitcase in his driveway. She also leaves a note saying she is going to kill herself. Unfortunately Roland does not find it until the next evening. He will burn the note and everything in the suitcase. Carole returns home and decides to write two final notes on her personal stationary. First she writes a four line lovers farewell to Harrison. The she writes a heartbreaking note to her beloved mother Clara. She folds the notes and puts them 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"
3:00 AM - Carole goes into an upstairs bathroom and takes an envelope filled with Secanol out of her cabinet. She was not a chronic user of Secanol but her doctor had given her a prescription when she was hospitalized in 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 located at 1465 Capri Drive
3:30 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. 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 - 1:00 PM Rex 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 bathroom where they discover Carole's body. Harrison says "Oh, no, my darling, why did you do it?". He feels Carole's wrist and tells Fannie there is 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.

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

4:00 PM - Florence Wasson calls Dorothy Ross, Carole's sister, in Long Beach to tell her what happened. Rex finally returns to the house 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 simply a memo Carole wrote about taking her cat to the vet. However Lilli Palmer will later admit that a police officer found the personal note Carole wrote for Rex. The Harrison's paid the officer $500 to destroy the note.
A detective with Carole's pill bottles

Carole's mother and sister at her house
7:00 PM - Carole's mother Clara Ridste and her sister Dorothy arrive. Clara is heard screaming "Oh my baby, I want to see my baby. Why didn't somebody call me?" and then collapses. There are dozens of reporters and photographers at the house. The next day photos of Carole's dead body will be on the front page of every newspaper. Carole is taken to Bogg's and Mashmeyer's funeral home. The official cause of her death is "barbiturate poisoning due to ingestion of overdose of Secanol".
A detective holds one of Carole's remaining pills

Rex Harrison leaving Carole's home

  Shortly before her death a friend asked Carole is she wanted to marry Rex Harrison.
She replied "Oh, I'd love to marry him but you know how those things are."

Sunday, June 5, 2016

Bathing Suit Pin-Ups

 Carole had one of the most enviable figures in Hollywood. Her measurements were 37 (bust) 24 (waist) 35 (hips) . She was always being asked to pose for sexy pin-up photos. Carole said "A bathing suit is a girl's best friend in Hollywood. No girl should consider herself too important for that kind of publicity." Here are some of Carole's bathing suit pin-ups ...

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Carole's Sister Talks About Their Childhood

Carole was very close to her older sister Dorothy Ross. In 1985 Dorothy wrote about their childhood and Carole's road to stardom ...

How do you become a movie star? Well, let me tell you some about Carole - Frances Lillian Ridste. As we grew up in San Bernardino she was a very vivacious and beautiful little girl. Mother called her “Baby Doll” and she always signed her letters to mother as “Baby”. She was literally born singing and dancing, always performing when someone was near. She read every movie magazine she could get and had pictures of the stars on our bedroom walls. Her favorites were Dorothy and Lillian Gish, Mary Astor and Kay Francis. The intrigue of the Gish sisters was of course the names - Frances Lillian and Dorothy. They were silent movie stars and we saw them frequently at the Saturday matinees.

Carole (sitting) and her sister Dorothy

It is interesting that Mary Astor and Kay Francis were both a big part of her movie life. She made pictures with them and they were good friends. Kay Francis of course was on some of the USO Tours and was at Carole and Tommy’s wedding. Also in the movie Four Jills In A Jeep, which Carole wrote of their USO Tours. BUT I’m getting ahead of the story! When Frances was about seven years old the Fox Theater chain built a big, beautiful theater in our town and the management had talent contests. Frances was very outgoing and of course she was one of the first to enter. Without any fear and enjoying every minute she won first prize. She sang “Yes Sir That’s My Baby” and danced the Charleston. That victory really spurred her on and her dreams became greater to be a movie star.

Carole playing dress-up with a friend

The Fox Theater in San Bernardino

The owners and dance instructor of the (only) dance studio in our town offered to give Frances free dancing lessons if she would appear in shows to be given at Resort Hotels and other places. Of course she was all for it, but my mother would not let her unless I was with her so the owners made the bargain for both of us. We worked hard, studied and practiced for weeks and then the night of our first appearance came. It was to be at a hotel in The Valley of the Moon, which is in the Big Bear Mountains. I can well remember the night we drove up there. It was a cold winter night. The moon was full and the sky soft with fluffy clouds that passed over the moon making everything kind of scary, but it was so beautiful as we drove the winding road through the beautiful pine trees and well worth the trip.

Carole (left) and her sister Dorothy

Our performance was successful and we were given dinner for it. Lest I imply that the dance group was just Frances and me I had better mention we had eight girls in the group. About that time the Fox theaters were sponsoring a beauty contest. It was in three of the Fox theaters in San Bernardino, Redlands, and Riverside. The winner of the first contest and several of the runner-ups went on to the next town. Frances and I went to all three. She won first in all of them and I made second in the last contest. The Rose Room was a dance hall in town that held Saturday matinees for the younger crowd and you can believer that Frances was always there. Again, mother would not let her go without me so I sat and watched her dance, dance, dance! She was so popular, such a marvelous dancer and won so many dance contests. She was really a natural - her life was singing and dancing.

Carole with her mother Clara and sister Dorothy

Finally on to Hollywood!! She stood in the extras lines for hours on end and days on end taking any bit part she could get. She was given a part in the chorus line in the picture Varsity Show, a musical starring Dick Powell and the Lane Sisters (there were four of them). Busby Berkeley saw and took her out of the line and she was on her way as a starlet for Warner Brothers Studio. She worked hard, studied much, took singing lessons, golf, tennis, horseback riding, learned French and other foreign languages and seemed successful through work and perseverance in all she attempted to do.

She went on from movie to movie, to New York stage plays and then made One Million B C. That was her big thrill because it had its world premiere in her hometown of SAN BERNARDINO, CALIFORNIA, at the very Fox theater where she won her first contest singing and dancing. As the War came (World War II) she went on U.S. bond selling tours all over the United States, to the Stagedoor Canteens to entertain service men and on USO tours here stateside as well as England, Africa, and the South Pacific. She was a warmhearted person who loved her family and all she met giving freely of herself, her time and talents. She was loved by all…

~ Written by Dorothy Ridste Ross (1917-1997), sister of Carole Landis

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Radio Shows

Carole appeared on more than seventy radio shows during her career. You can listen to some of them here ...

February 16, 1941 ~ Brother Orchid with Pat O'Brien and Donald Crisp

May 10, 1943 ~ Johnny Eager with John Garfield

November 8, 1943 ~ George Washington Slept Here with Jack Carson

February 21, 1944 ~ Design For Scandal with Robert Young

April 11, 1944 ~ Duffy's Tavern with Ed Gardner

November 12, 1944 ~ Philco Radio Hall of Fame with Charles Boyer and Nan Wynn

 March 16, 1946 ~ Continental Celebrity Club with John Daly

 December 26, 1946 ~ Command Performance with Frank Sinatra and Jimmy Durante