|A Very Different Kind of Movie Star
Author: Brighton Rock PM
A fake 1927 Photoplay interview in 2 parts with a fictional actress called Bridget O'Leary.Rated: Fiction K+ - English - Humor - Words: 3,587 - Published: 07-31-07 - Status: Complete - id: 2397377
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
A Very Different Kind of Movie Star
by Dorothy Spensley
Hollywood probably has no character more colorful than Bridget O'Leary. This flaming-haired actress has broken horses, jumped off cliffs, flown airplanes and knocked out many an opponent with one punch, and that's just during her free time! Read on as the gal known to her friends as "Bricktop" tells the story of her thrill-packed life.
Bridget O'Leary has become somewhat of a Hollywood legend, and not for her performances on the screen. This Irish lass imbues her everyday life with the hot-headedness for which the Celts are justly famous. This Irish spitfire doesn't stop the fireworks just because the director has yelled, "Cut!"
Life is short, she maintains. She says it in every interview, and after personally seeing her risk life and limb all in the name of fun, this reporter is betting her year's salary that the comely lass's life will be short indeed!
Just where has Bridget acquired this thrill-seeking personality? She credits her father, a man who has since passed on, but whose spirit rages on inside her.
"Dad was literally an outlaw," she states, smiling proudly as she gestures towards a framed photograph on the piano which, by the way, she cannot play. Then why does she have one? "I need something for the picture to rest on" is her answer. Typical Bridget! Then she adds, "Everyone in Hollywood has a piano, whether they can play or not. Just to make people think they're more talented than they are." That is also typical Bridget!
But back to her father: An outlaw? What a startling revelation! Most stars try to hide dirt, not sweep it OUT FROM under the carpets!
"He grew up in Australia. His parents left Ireland during the famine and went around half the globe, just looking for another home. My grandpa had a bit of the wanderer in him. My daddy worked on the sheep stations and you know how cowboys are when they drink too much, all hot-headed and full of fire. I certainly do. I married one! A brawl blew up and Dad had to kill or be killed. He went to jail for 6 years and when he got out, he married my mother. He had known her before he went to prison. She worked at the same station Dad did."
Treading delicately, I ask if her mother was the rare female cowboy or if the rumors of her profession are true.
Bridget laughs. "Everyone asks that, but in a different way! And I give the same answer." Her eyes leap in mischief. "I only knew her as my mother, but she was a very popular and well-liked woman."
I realize that the rambunctious siren of the screen has learned how to play the interviewing game very well. She is quite the clever one. However, she has a reputation for alarming bluntness, a trait few stars exhibit when naked before a writer's pen.
"You can write whatever you like about me," she puts in. "I enjoy reading what I say as much as the next person. Some of my friends complain about being misquoted by you fan magazine sharks. Their words, not mine. But so far you people have done right be me. You blank out some words, but other than that, I couldn't be more than ――― pleased."
I remind her that I'm here to write about her life and career, and rather than take offense at the slight rebuke as she has been known to do, she inclines her head gracefully and gestures for me to proceed.
"Your name is quite a mouthful and so…"
"Weren't you ever asked to change it?"
"――, yes! I think it was Carl Laemmele who asked me to think of something shorter and less…Irish. Well, he used another word and I almost knocked him out. No one calls me that. But since he was signing my checks, I had to take it and like it, at least while I was in his office. I did say, 'For ――'s sake, I have red hair, green eyes, freckles and my name's Bricktop. Do you REALLY think changing my name is going to un-Irish me?' And I said that in the thickest Irish accent I could muster. As you can tell, my accent is pure southern California. I've been here for 20 years and I've never had an Irish accent in my life, so it took considerable doing to pull it off."
"What brought you here to Los Angeles?"
"My mum died and Dad wanted to come to America. Doesn't everybody? So he hopped on a boat and we landed here in Los Angeles. I think I was 8 years old. I remember we had been here barely a year when the earthquake hit San Francisco. We felt it, too. Nothing much ever scares me, but that did."
Bridget's early life has often been called Dickensian, but she emphatically denies it. "I've never read any of his books myself, but from what people have told me, those people who said I had a Dickens-y childhood have it all balled up! I don't recall working in sweatshops, being beaten every day and going hungry. I wore raggedy dresses, sure, but that's because we didn't have any money trees in our backyard. And I went barefoot most of the time because we're in southern California, for cryin' out loud! And I worked in the orange groves for 13 hours a day. It's not like I worked in an office and dolled myself up trying to catch the boss's eye. At the end of every day, I'd grab my pay and use a nickel to buy a pail of beer which we would share. It was a great life. No school and just enough money to eat and have a roof over our heads. I adored my old man. He was as much of a kid as I was."
A question about his death causes a painful expression to flit over her face. "Heart attack," she says, her voice stiff. "Just like that. And I was suddenly all alone." She is quiet for a few moments before she continues. "I was lucky enough to live right in Edendale. Our house was about a half-mile from the Keystone studios. I'd seen them running around the streets like fools: Mack Sennett, Mabel Normand, Ford Sterling, Fred Mace. Back then, in the beginning, it was just those four, with others they hired when they needed them. So I'd seen them in the streets around the groves while I was working there and after Dad died, I needed something that paid better. I was only 15 and I had no family and my friends were as poor as I was. My best friend was a Mexican girl who had 5 brothers and sisters to support, so her family couldn't take in another waif. So I got up all my courage and marched through those gates and demanded Sennett give me a job."
I comment on such bravery. A young girl with no experience demanding a job of the great Mack Sennett!
"He wasn't the great Mack Sennett then," she points out. "He was just a wet-eared pup in Hollywood, trying to make it in the picture business. And so was I. And I told him so. I said, 'Listen, you need me. I've seen you all working and there's ain't nothin' you can do that I can't.' Well, of course he wanted me to prove it. So I do some falls and mug a bit right there. I'd seen the pictures and I'm a great mimic. Every week Dad and I would go to the flicker show and watch the new pictures, so I saw the latest in everything. Sennett shrugged and said, 'Not bad' but I could tell that he was impressed. And he hired me, right then and there. It was early evening, so I couldn't start work then, but he said to be back the next day at seven sharp. So I stumbled out through the front gate, sat down on the sidewalk and I was so happy I cried like a baby."
From humble beginnings, Bridget O'Leary left menial work picking oranges and forced her way into one of the Hollywood's most famous studios, itself still in its infancy. With typical Irish pluck and luck, she found herself in a new medium, untried and untested. Once she gets her feet wet, she takes Hollywood – and several of its male stars – by storm!
"Keystone nowadays is nothing like it was then," Bridget states emphatically. "It's more like a factory, like every studio in Hollywood. Back then, sure, we cranked them out like sausages, but there was a different feeling while we were making them. Today you have these high-paid directors wrapped up in this thing called 'Art,' whatever that is. But when I first started in pictures, we just made these movies for a small salary because we wanted to. Though I should say here that it was one of the best-paying jobs around, if not always reliable. If you didn't click with the public, out you went. So you had to work hard every day, but it was still fun. It's hard to explain. I guess you'd have to have been there to understand."
1912 was around the birth of Hollywood as a movie town, I tell her. So her treasure chest of anecdotes must be pretty full. Would she mind sharing a few?
Bridget shakes her head of auburn curls in mirth. "I've got so many stories, I could beat my gums all night and not take a breath!" she laughs raucously. It's a laugh that is regrettably unheard by her fans, for it captures her entire personality: impulsive, headstrong, and hedonistic. "I have many more stories that probably wouldn't be printable, such as the time my first husband pounded Hoot Gibson into the ground for a certain reason. I got in a few punches as well. He deserved it, the little sneak! You can ask around and get the story from someone. Everyone knows about it. You just won't be able to print it." Then she flashes that famous Bridget grin. "But here's one that will probably make it past your editor. I remember one night Mabel Normand and I got a little tipsy on apricot brandy and we climbed some orange trees and sang 'Alexander's Ragtime Band' at the top of our lungs and threw oranges at passing cars before the night watchman chased us off. I don't think he had any idea who we were. Good thing, too. I doubt Mack would have been happy to have to pay our bail at 2 in the morning. But Mabel is a great gal. We still see each other all the time. Probably my best friend in the world."
Her tenure with Sennett lasted for only a year and when I ask about the circumstances for her leaving, her reply is cryptic. "It's a foolish person who sticks around to have her heart broke twice. I was a dumb Dora at the time, only 16 years old. Love means different things to different people." All other attempts to question her fall on deaf ears, except for the comment: "He's married now, and it was so long ago that I doubt he remembers. Besides, it's all the past. It wasn't too long afterwards that I was married and I'd forgotten all about him. My heart mends very easily and I have had need of that on many occasions."
A request to share her most precious memory provokes another burst of laughter. "You won't believe this and no one who has any memory of the gossip columns from 10 years ago will believe it either, but my most precious memory is my first marriage, no question!"
I admit that it does come as a surprise to hear this. Younger moviegoers probably have no idea that a mere decade ago, Hollywood was treated to a fireworks festival that lasted 3 years with barely a rest between explosions. This dazzling, and sometimes harrowing, display came from a small bungalow to the north of Echo Lake Park. The players in the drama were Art Acord as the gasoline and Bridget O'Leary as the match. No Hollywood idyll was this, but a battle of wills fueled by hot tempers and flying fists.
"I had so many friends who feared for my safety," she begins in a dramatic whisper, melodramatically shrinking backwards in her chair. "'He'll get really mad one of these days and you'll be pushing up the daisies.' And I told them, 'Him getting mad isn't nearly as scary as ME getting mad, and he HAS seen me mad. Believe me, he knows where the line is.'" She flexes her fist. "I wish directors would let me use more of my natural talents," she laughs. "They let me ride a horse, shoot a gun and do other stunts, but the hero is always the one who punches the villain. Not fair!"
I point out that perhaps her height would make such an action ridiculous, but she's quick to the defense. "My friends will back me up on this because they saw it happen. I'm 5 foot 1 inch and Art is 5 foot 10. Being small makes no difference if you want to knock someone down. And I did it, on more than one occasion."
A friendly-looking dog trots into the room and, after giving me a baleful look, sits beside Bridget and puts his paw on her lap. Bridget laughs and rubs noses with the canine before giving it a kiss on top of its head. "Oh, he isn't mine," she says. "I'm taking care of it for Art. He's getting divorced again and needed a place for Binks to stay, so I said I'd give him a home. I guess I'm Art's pet sitter, because I took care of one of his dogs during his second divorce, too." Seeing my surprised expression, she giggles. "We're still friends. In fact, we get along better now than we did during our marriage. He's had some problems lately and I find more joy helping him because I want to than because I have to. That makes all the difference to me. I'm just not a person who likes obligation."
"But," she continues, "he was really quite the gallant in the first part of our marriage. That's what made me fall in love with him in the first place. We were both working at the Flying A studios and I got bucked off a horse – one of those rare occasions where a bronco got the best of me – and he was right there, bandaging my ankle like Clara Barton. I hadn't really met him before. I'd just heard that he was quite the devil and a mean fellow, but I couldn't have asked for a better knight in shining armor. He carried me to his car and drove me to the hospital and stayed for the rest of the day and that night, too. He told me that he'd been sweet on me for awhile, but I just didn't seem like the type of girl who would like him. Now, honestly, who could have resisted that line?" She shakes her head. "Well, I certainly couldn't, and within a few weeks, we were married. It was just bliss, until I realized that no woman can change a man if he's got friends who liked him better when he was a bachelor. So I jumped in and became 'one of the guys,' so to speak, just so I could be with him. That's when the trouble began. Instead of having some gentle little woman to come home to, he had a cussin' gal bending the elbow as much as he did and with a temper to match. Everything just fell apart."
After her failed marriage to the hot-tempered cowboy, Bridget became a staple of Hollywood parties where she could always be counted on to do something outrageous or spontaneous. But she snaps her fingers at the sensational stories about Hollywood nightlife.
"If you listen to those women's groups and religious clubs, you'd think that Hollywood was something straight out of a DeMille picture like The Ten Commandments and Manslaughter! Little do they know that some of the best parties in Hollywood involve very little liquor, but prankish fun that would put Huck Finn to shame. One night I got a group together, swiped some costumes from the studio, and we played cowboys and Indians up in the hills, near that huge 'Hollywoodland' sign. I don't think people will believe me when I say that Rudolph Valentino would much rather whoop like Geronimo with his friends than languish in a desert tent and flare his nostrils."
Eyes wide and ears perked, I listen as she rattles off other escapades that she has engineered. John Barrymore playing a harmonica on a street corner, dressed as a vagabond? "He got 2 dollars!" she laughs. "We did it on a bet. I said that off the stage, he wasn't worth a wood nickel. So he was very happy when I had to eat my words." And I beg you readers to believe this: Bridget and Buster Keaton riding motorcycles down Sunset Boulevard, standing on their heads!
Bridget's crazy antics turned many heads and captured the hearts of several fellow actors. She coyly admits that many of Hollywood's most coveted heartthrobs vied for her attention and she, innate prankster, worked her spell on them all.
"I just like to have fun and I think men like that. I'm not cloying or overly romantic. Those love story movies bore me stiff. I prefer comedies and western stories and so I have this true reputation of being a big tomboy. Some of my friends have said that they don't have to 'be' their screen personality when they're with me. And my men friends aren't always interested in me romantically. Some are, but that's just being human. And believe me, I'm not immune to John Gilbert or George O'Brien. I do have blood in my veins! I guess this could be advice to any female fans I have out there. I learned this from my first marriage. Boys will like you if you're quiet and delicate, but you will intrigue them if you can keep up with them and even keep ahead of them! And never, EVER be predictable!"
I ask if the rumors of marriage are true, but Bridget looks puzzled. "To which one?" Her immediately laughter tells me that she is indulging in a little joke and when she recovers, she giggles, "None are true. I will never marry again. I have too much fun being unattached. But maybe there is some cowboy beyond the ridge making his way towards me and I'll just be surprised when he gets here. I don't trouble myself with things that I can't see. I'm very fortunate for what I have had in my life so far, and I don't want to ask for more."
After this side trip to Hollywood's lighter side, I steer her onto the path of her career and life, but I can see that her interest is waning. She dismisses her 4 movies at Paramount with a flick of her wrist. "I hear they were popular, but I really couldn't tell you about them. At the time, Art and I were heading towards a rocky shore and so my mind was more on what was happening at home than what I did before those ugly cameras. The only thing I can be sure of getting right is saying that I rode a horse because I don't think I've been in a single movie, except for when I was at Keystone, where I haven't been in the saddle."
A rustic clock on the mantelpiece chimes six o'clock and our Irish thespian gasps. "Oh my! I have a dinner date in thirty minutes! Are you all finished?"
This humble author says yes to the rather blunt question. But I have to ask: And where might this dinner date be? And with whom?
"Aw, gee," comes the good-natured protest. "Isn't Photoplay happy with all the beans I've spilled already?" Her eyes glint again. "Don't worry. I'm sure there will be a story from your lovely magazine in a few months. He's awful swell and despite my general hard luck, I'm ever hopeful! Love deserves a second or third chance. Maybe even seven!"
Her manner indicates she has gleefully said too much, but I leave such puzzles to her fans. She has many, and Photoplay hopes they are pleased with our treatment of their idol.