Still Wondering What Went On with June Havoc

Baby June, then known as Baby June, performed in Vaudeville.

With all the research I was able to do for my book, MAMA ROSE’S TURN: THE TRUE STORY OF AMERICA’S MOST NOTORIOUS STAGE MOTHER which recounted the true story of the mom who inspired the Broadway musical GYPSY, there’s still some mysteries that remain.

The mother in question was, of course, Rose Thompson Hovick.  She had two daughters, Rose Louise, later called Gypsy Rose Lee, and Ellen June, known later as June Havoc.  Stories about the mother abound.  Most, I found, are inaccurate to the point of being laughable, fashioned more to fit the steamroller of a character that playwright Arthur Laurents created for the musical.  It’s a fantastic musical, and it’s as well-written as they come, but Laurents himself was the first to admit that his “Rose” was “75% fictionalized.”

I don’t wonder about the rumors concerning the mother because the amount of research put so many of them to rest.  No, I wonder about her daughter, June.

When I began researching this famous family I found that, one after another after still another, June’s stories and reports about Mama didn’t add up.  I used official documents, newspaper reports, interviews with relatives, documentaries and other sources.  June wasn’t where she said she was in a story from 1924, as confirmed by a newspaper report and the death certificate of the relative whose bedside she claimed to have attended – while she was actually performing on the other side of the country.  Lie.  She wasn’t where she said she was in a story from 1928, as confirmed by the census.  Another lie.  Her tale of her mother pulling a gun on her husband in a police station in Kansas?  It didn’t happen at all the way June said it did.  It was a monumental distortion.    The story of who her grandfather had been with when he had a car accident that later killed him?  Completely refuted by a newspaper article, and perhaps the sickest lie of all.

And there was more.  Much more.  The more I fact-checked June, the worse the picture of her looked, and I hadn’t set out to do that to her at all.  Authors fact-check to get additional information to what’s already there, but with this mess, it wasn’t working out that way.  June’s info, including that in her two published biographies, didn’t add anything to what was already out there and known about her and her family.  It just flew off the rails.

On the other hand, it’s rare to hear anybody who knew the woman personally ever say anything bad against her.  She was well-liked.  She loved animals.  She bought a charming little village of buildings, which I’ve visited, in Connecticut, called Cannondale, where she hosted yearly “Blessings of the Animals” services for people to bring their pets.  She was, apparently, a nice woman.

Her friends were quite loyal to her.  One particularly recalcitrant one even went so far as to try to get me in trouble with my publisher for revealing that so many of June’s stories were naught but a pack of lies, but that didn’t work.  I had irrefutable documentation.  June’s friend didn’t.

One of my theories was that June’s writings might have been the creation of ghost writers who weren’t there because the number of errors in her books are astonishing.  Are we really expected to believe, for one, that she had no idea which of her aunts was younger and which was older than her mother?  That couldn’t have been June’s take on her own relatives, but it would fit with a ghost writer’s assumptions.  And that’s just one of the minor slip-ups.

Even so, when things don’t add up, they’re a lot more fascinating than when they do.  I wonder if we’ll ever know who the real June Havoc was.

 

June Havoc with her sister, Gypsy Rose Lee.

Terrific Movie on a Terrible Injustice: JUST MERCY

Captivating movie about a terrible injustice.

Here’s another true crime recommendation: the movie JUST MERCY.

There are some movies where parts of them become so flat and boring that I begin to tune them out – but this wasn’t one of them.  I was riveted from start to finish.

JUST MERCY tells the story of a black man, Walter “Johnny D.” McMillan, played beautifully by Jamie Foxx, who is on death row in Alabama for a crime he didn’t commit.  And that’s not all.  Not only is Johnny D. innocent, but there are  dozens of his friends and relatives who were with him at a fish fry at the time the crime – the murder of a white woman – was committed several miles away.  No way could Johnny D. have been in two places at once.

However, the Alabama Powers That Be see fit to set this man up and not only take the rap for the crime but want him sent to the electric chair over it.  They compromise another inmate to testify against him.  They won’t look at the evidence.  They attempt to block the true resolution of the crime any which way they can.

Enter Bryan Stevenson, played by Michael B. Jordan, who comes to town to start a justice initiative and attempt to help wrongfully convicted people like Johnny D.  Boy is Stevenson in for an uphill battle, but hey, he’s equal to the task, and so is the team he assembles.

I’m glad there’s a movie about this, because those people in Alabama who set this man up completely deserve to go down in history as the total disgrace that they are.

At the end of the movie, there is a notation that the crime was actually committed by a white man who was never prosecuted.  But that’s it.  No further information was given about the actual killer.

Now here is a question that was not resolved by the movie but has haunted me since I saw it, and that is sure to be on the minds of whoever may be reading this blog post.  WHO THE HELL WAS THE ACTUAL KILLER?  Who was he?  Why was he being protected by the Alabama law enforcement goons, who were so desperate to pin the crime on anyone else that they zeroed in on poor Johnny D. McMillan in the first place and were ready to let him be put to death over it?  Might it have been some cop’s or politician’s relative, perhaps?

The answer to that, methinks, would make another good movie.  There’s definitely quite a story there.

 

 

 

Excellent True Crime Book: MEMBER OF THE FAMILY by Dianne Lake

By Charles Manson’s youngest follower-turned-witness-for- the-prosecution, Dianne Lake.

I have to admit that last year, when I first heard a slew of new books and movies were about to debut on the market in conjunction with “the 50th anniversary of the Manson Family murders,” I thought it was one of the wackiest commemorations I’d ever heard.  My God, I thought, what is this, proof of the fall of civilization?  What a creepy thing to be remembering as a milestone!  How crazy can our culture get?

And yet, if you like true crime books, or can appreciate any studies of criminal psychology, let’s face it, there’s no case quite like the Manson case.  It’s got every bad element in it imaginable – brainwashing, drugs, rape, murder, orgies, mayhem, chaos and more.  So it fascinates people still.  One of the recent movies about it, ONCE UPON A TIME IN HOLLYWOOD, is up for Best Picture.  Another one, CHARLIE SAYS, is apparently shown from the point of view not of Manson or the prosecution team but of his followers.

I haven’t seen either one of those movies yet so I can’t comment on them, but I did get intrigued enough by the book of one of Manson’s girls to purchase and read it.  MEMBER OF THE FAMILY: LIFE INSIDE HIS CULT, AND THE DARKNESS THAT ENDED THE SIXTIES by Dianne Lane turned out to be one of the very best true crime books I’ve ever read.

Dianne Lane was a little girl lost through no direct fault of her own.  A child who liked order and routine, she was plunged into la vida loca by her mercurial father who became enamored with what we now consider the stereotypical Timothy Leary-inspired 1960s narcissistic silliness of “turning on, tuning in, and dropping out.”  Blah blah blah, yadda yadda yadda, and bullshit, bullshit, bullshit.  This “father” gives his own child LSD when she’s 12.  Just reading the passages about this man is like a nightmare, and this comes before the poor kid meets Manson.  If you ask me, Daddy Lake simply couldn’t be bothered with earning a living.  Never mind that he had a family consisting of a wife and three children, the eldest of which was Dianne.  He ends up – get this! – moving them all from their comfortable home INTO A BREAD TRUCK and “dropping out” of society.

Yes, a bread truck.

Five people living in a bread truck?  Whoa, boy!

Of course, once they’ve “dropped out,” they still need food, shelter, and all the usual subsistence stuff that the hippies convinced themselves they were “above,” so the family winds up crashing in bizarre communes or with various fellow freeloaders.  Dianne, at age 13, starts going her own way with these people or those, separating from the parents who have no problem with letting her go.  It’s at one of several California crash pads that Dianne meets up with Manson.  She’s looking for a replacement family, and despite the fact that the kid wound up with what could only be described as the lowest one of them all, who could blame her for trying to find a new surrogate family after the mess of a one she hails from?

What is amazing about this story is that Dianne, who provides vivid descriptions of the pure insanity of life inside of Manson’s various compounds and gives detailed descriptions of his mind-control methods, which included a lot more LSD – and worse – is turned around, by the age of 17, with enough courage to stand up in court and testify against the bastard.  Dianne tells the world what she knows of the the Manson Family’s crimes and murders.  This she does after he has not only terrorized but also brutalized her.  Those who believe a terribly abused kid won’t ever recover should read this book and think again.

I want to say BRAVA, DIANNE!   The amount of guts this girl managed to find within herself after so many horrific experiences is extraordinary.  She was not directly involved in the infamous Tate-LaBianca murders, thank God.  She and went on to live a decent life.

MEMBER OF THE FAMILY is a hard read, but still a great one.  If you have a strong stomach, and you’ll definitely need one to plow through this particularly harrowing story, I recommend this true-crime book.  Thank goodness this case put an end to the worst elements of the Sixties.

And may I just add this.  Every few years another wretched member of the incarcerated “Manson family murderers” seems to come up for parole, to a lot of accompanying media fanfare and publicity.  All of it amounts to nothing in the end since the California governors always have enough sense to never let any of these monsters, who showed their victims no mercy, leave their prisons, thank God.  None of them should ever be let out.  

And if you think drugs should be legalized, I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again: Be careful what you wish for.

 

 

Let Your Heart be Light

Woo-hoo!

The holiday season is approaching, and this year I can hardly wait for it to get here.  It’s that time of the year when the days begin to get longer, when the snow turns the world into a sparkling fairy-tale vista, when Santa Claus is coming to town and the lights of Kwanzaa and Hanukkah are shining.

I am preparing to play Santa, and have quite a surprise planned for two very special relatives.  It’s really hard to keep my mouth shut about it.  I can’t wait until they open the…well, there I go, almost letting it out!

So let your hearts be light, folks!  Enjoy every minute of the season that’s almost upon us!  Celebrate the people you’re with, and God bless us, every one!

 

 

The Judy Garland Movie

Judy Garland in THE WIZARD OF OZ, 1939.

I saw the movie JUDY, about Judy Garland toward the end of her too-short life, yesterday, and oh my God.

Take a look at the photo of Judy as a teenager, above.  Is this child beautiful, or what?  Anybody who would say this child was “ugly” should have had their head examined, but nobody back in the days when MGM Studios all but owned this kid, contractually, bothered to ship Louis B. Mayer off to the funny farm, where he belonged, even though HE made comments like that to her all the time.

The new movie shows Mayer, in flashbacks, mind-raping Judy to bring her under his control and to crush the girl’s spirit.  It also shows one of his henchwomen, or maybe she’s Judy’s mother – that wasn’t made too clear – forcing the child to take pills to lose weight, pills to stay up and keep working ridiculous hours, or pills to go to sleep.  There are lots of movies about stars with drug problems, but this one differs because this star never had any initial say in whether she took them or not.  The adults got Judy hooked, putting her on all kinds of prescription crap when there was no medical reason to do so, and the bastards should have done time in Alcatraz for it.

By the late 1960s, when the movie starts, Judy, played by Renee Zellweger, is an adult, and she’s broke.  She’s impaired beyond all recognition from all the mindless drugging that was forced upon her when she was a teen, and try as she might, the poor woman can’t quite get everything together.  Her ex realizes their two children are infinitely better off staying with him under the unfortunate circumstances, so she takes a singing engagement in London to try and earn enough money to fight him and get tehm back.  It doesn’t go as planned…

The audience at the theater where I saw this movie were gobsmacked by it.  At the end, almost everyone remained in their seats, silently watching the credits.  A few people got up to leave or get to the restrooms, then stopped dead in the aisles, also watching the credits, waiting for…I don’t know what, but we were just waiting.  For the situation to get better, perhaps.  For the happy ending Miss Garland deserved and didn’t get.  Or maybe for a time machine to bring us back to 1939 and arrange for a fat boulder to get dropped on Louis B. Mayer’s sadistic head for creating such a mess out of such a beautiful and talented child in the first place.

Renee Zellweger: BRAVA!  What a performance!  I’ve never seen anything quite like it!  Shout out to Darci Shaw as Young Judy and Richard Cordery for his portrayal of Louis B. Mayer, too, whose performances set up the rest of the story.  The entire cast was superb, and I wholeheartedly recommend this extraordinary movie.

 

 

KEEP YOUR SONGS IN YOUR HEART Gets a Prize

KEEP YOUR SONGS IN YOUR HEART by Yours Truly.

What a day this has been!

I’ve been back and forth to various shops near my apartment, but that hasn’t been easy.  The reason?  I’ve seriously messed up my foot.

Don’t ask me how I managed to do that because, seriously, all I did was wear flat shoes to a few events over the last few days.  That’s it.  Apparently that’s all it takes for me to mess up a tendon, or something.  I’ve had three laser treatments on the foot already, with more to come this week.

In any event, the foot is fine when I get up in the morning and gets worse as the day goes on, and today I’ve been all over town.  So I’m sitting here with an ice pack tied onto it, look at my email…and what happens?

I found out that my children’s book,  KEEP YOUR SONGS IN YOUR HEART, was named an Award Finalist in Pre-Teen Fiction (ages 10 – 12) in the 2019 American Fiction Awards!

Sometimes, the best of times arrive when you least expect it!  I just wish I could go out and get myself an iced chai tea latte to celebrate, but hey, not tonight, with such a foot.

If you have little ones who’d like to read the story of a brave kid named Ruby who doesn’t follow the crowd and discriminate against her Japanese friends after the start of World War II, a story that is still relevant today, it’s available as a paperback and on Kindle, right here: