Mae Murray in Peacock Alley (1922)

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Mae Murray in Peacock Alley directed by Robert Z. Leonard, 1922 via

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Mae Murray in Peacock Alley directed by Robert Z. Leonard, 1922 via

One response to “Mae Murray in Peacock Alley (1922)

  1. Sunset Boulevard (1950, Paramount) was one of the first films that showed Hollywood in a negative light. Gloria Swanson gave a performance so good that most of the movie going public thought the film was biographical. But in reality the character of Norma Desmond was actually based on another silent film star her name was Mae Murray aka “The Girl With The Bee-Stung Lips.”
    Although it is not proven that Mae Murray was the inspiration for Norma Desmond, it is almost impossible not to see the resemblance between the two. However, the real-life Mae made the fictional Norma seem almost normal. The real-life silent screen queen of the 1920s was defined, not only by her screen allure, but also by her fabrications, her fictions, her pretenses, her litigiousness and her decidedly odd behavior. The real story of the girl with the “bee-stung lips” has lied buried beneath Mae’s attempt to artfully obscure the truth. Murray lived by her own proclamation, “Once a star – always a star!’ to the end of her sad days” The end of the silent-film era had its fair share of casualties. As the age of ‘talkies’ arrived, masters of slapstick comedy or expressive emoting found themselves unsuited to the vocal demands of the new format and were swept away by a huge tidal wave. Murray saw her life story as something grandiose, she commented once, “I’ve always felt that my life touches another dimension” perhaps she did but she was the only who actually saw it. Murray’s inflated sense of self-importance and personal destiny was to be her undoing. Her fourth husband proved to be a complete and utter catastrophe. A crucial blow to her film career occurred after she married her fourth husband, David Mdivani, a Georgian (located in Russia) man of minor aristocratic roots, whose brothers Serge and Alexis married actress Pola Negri and the heiress Barbara Hutton respectively. The couple married on June 27, 1926, and Mdivani became her manager, suggesting that his new wife should leave MGM and break her contract. Unfortunately, Murray took her husband’s advice and walked out of her contract with MGM, making a powerful foe of studio boss Louis B. Mayer who never forgave a wrong. Later, she would swallow her pride and pleaded to return, but Mayer would not rehire her. In effect, Mayer’s hostility meant that Murray was blacklisted from ever working for any of the Hollywood studios again. A golden girl in the Golden State, Murray lived a lifestyle that can scarcely be imagined today – almost like a parody of a silent movie star’s opulence and waste. By 1933, she was broke and forced to sell her estate to pay for her divorce costs. A woman without gold was no use to a Mdivani. She declared bankruptcy in 1934 and lost custody of her son in 1936. That same year she was arrested for vagrancy in New York City when police found her wrapped in an old sable coat – the final incongruity – sleeping on a bench in Central Park. Some loyal friends, no doubt possessed of astonishing patience, helped Murray out, and arrived back in Los Angeles where she found herself working on the nostalgia circuit, dancing her Merry Widow waltz at various nightclubs, often wearing just a couple of wisps of oyster silk, despite nearing 60. By the late 1950s, an aptly titled biography appeared: “The Self-Enchanted.” And so a poor deluded Murray traveled coast to coast, by bus, on a self-promoted publicity comeback tour. This touching yet hopeless endeavor came to an end when she was found wandering aimlessly around St Louis’ downtown by the Salvation Army. Murray was muttering about the magnitude of her fame in reality she was confused and destitute. Murray spent her final years in the Hollywood Motion Picture Home, a retirement community for the colony (which she been instrumental in establishing in the Twenties), still incredibly gowned and bejeweled always instructing visitors to “Make way for the Princess Mdivani!” as she swanned about, lost in a permanent reverie where her star still burned blindingly.

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