Thursday, May 15, 2014
Chateau Marmont and the Mystery of Helene Barclay
Readers of my blog know that the Chateau Marmont hotel in Hollywood holds a special place in my heart. Somehow it has retained its old world charm and remains a hidden Shangri La on Sunset Boulevard. I recently acquired a 4-page letter from a bit player of the 1930's, Helene Barclay, written on Chateau Marmont stationery on August 10, 1932 to the head of MGM, Louis B. Mayer. I could surmise that she was staying there when she first arrived in town. I could find very little about Barclay, and her letter gives away even less, despite its four-page length.
She was born on March 26, 1911 in King George, Virginia, as Helene Marie Haskin. At the age of 19, she married popular artist McCelland Barclay. The lovely young blond was his inspiration for a series of illustrations that he did of the 'Fisher Body Girl' for the General Motors Company.
Helene had hopes of being an actress; she left her husband, moved to Hollywood, and rented a room at the Chateau Marmont. She got bit parts in 1933's "The House on 56th Street" and 1934's "Lady by Choice." Then she met cameraman Gregg Toland, who was also divorced.
At first, Barclay was warned by one of her friends for bringing this lowly 'technician' to an A-List party. To prevent any possible backlash that the relationship might have on her career, the two kept their marriage secret for almost a year. It would appear that Barclay's career didn't go too far anyway, despite her clandestine marriage; she only made two other movies, once again, in uncredited roles: "Carnival" (1935) and "Love Me Forever," also in 1935. Barclay persuaded Toland to buy a large house in Benedict Canyon, and threw parties that were attended by Fay Wray, John Wayne, and Bette Davis. Toland went on to be the innovative cameraman for the Orson Welles classic, "Citizen Kane." He ended up divorcing Barclay in 1945, marrying another actress. Virginia Thorpe.
Helene died on April 26, 1980 in Orange, California, USA. Now, back to the letter.
At the top of the stationery in red pencil is this terse notation, most likely by a studio executive:
"She has taken leave of absence without pay for remainder of her present term"
And here is the letter itself, which I deciphered to the best of my ability from her florid handwriting:
Dear Mr. Mayer,
With a full appreciation of the existing difficult conditions in the business field in general, and the motion picture industry in particular, and a sincere desire to co-operate with Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer in any program they attempt to carry out - I don't see how in the situation which surrounds me I can at this time deviate from the contract into which I entered.
When I entered into this contract with Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer I did so accepting the luiu liu uuu salary which would enable me to carry on.
My conditions and obligations have not changed, so therefore it is not possible at this time for me to deviate from my original plan.
I hope that I may prove worthy of the faith that Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer has placed in me - and feel confident that I will do so if given the…
With kindest personal regards.
After reading it, I can only say, "Huh?" If anyone can figure out what this poor woman was trying to say, please let me know!
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