...Black New York "Where Old Hollywood Starlets Go to Die"
Yes, yes, no need to tell me. What a morbid post. Let alone in the blossoming pink month of April. What can I say, my lovelies. Even in spring, some of us will keel over, slip away into a forever sleep, and reckon with the ancient Greek god Fate before our morning tea. Kerplunk! As former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher once said, “I cannot die washing a teacup!” Beautifully said. She died in 2013, aged 87, NOT washing a teacup. But back to glittery dying starlets. And their choosing of New York City as their final curtain call. So we have Greta Garbo. Arguably Hollywood’s first true starlet, she appeared in both silent films and talkies from 1925 to 1940. What happened after 1940? This notoriously cool, aloof, and intriguing Swedish star fled Hollywood in a fright of “I want to be let alone” (which others famously interpreted as “I want to BE alone,” thus further establishing her enigmatic anti-social icon status). Where’d she flee to? New York City. She passed away in 1990, aged 85.
Greta Garbo (1905-1990)
Then we have Myrna Loy. Another Old Hollywood treasure, in circulation from 1925 to 1980, she passed away in New York City in 1993, aged 88. Another non-native New Yorker, she was born into the rich Montana wilds in 1905. Montana had only been a state for 16 years! Imagine that! She went from Big Sky Country, to glitzy Hollywood, to the Big Apple. Indeed, sometimes we finish so far from where we started.
Myrna Loy (1905-1993)
And then there's Joan Crawford. Love her or despise her, one must admit, this lady ROCKED. Old Hollywood would not have been the same without her. She was Ms. Mildred Pierce herself, her Oscar-winning role from 1946. And who can forget Faye Dunaway portraying her in the campy 1981 psycho-horror biopic “Mommie Dearest.” Born in Texas in 1904, Joan Crawford passed away in her New York City apartment on May 10, 1977. She was 73.
Joan Crawford (1904-1977)
What is it about New York City that attracted these three women? And there were certainly more. Native-New Yorkers like Lauren Bacall and Rita Hayworth never really left old Gotham. Sure, each had her “career” out in Hollywood, but each died in the city where she was born. Expected? I don’t think so. After all, there are excellent elder-care facilities out in LA that cater specifically to aging Hollywood. I think stars actually pay into this as part of their pension throughout their career. Couple that with the sunny warmth of LA, and a community of your old Hollywood peers (perhaps hangin’ out playing cards with you in that aforementioned elder-care facility), it’s surprising that so many Hollywood starlets opted to spend their final days NOT in Hollywood, but in New York City.
The weather isn’t as nice here. And we’re known more for our theater than film (though I read somewhere that we’re ranked #1 for on-location shoots, aka “the most filmed city in the world”). Further, New York City can be crowded, smelly. Trust me, I love this city! I went to college here, and spent a good amount of my adulthood living and working here. But even I gotta keep it real on our vices. We got some big-time!
This puzzler has caused me to re-examine my love of New York City, and to dive deeper into its mystique. I feel like host Kelly Choi from the TV show, “Secrets of New York.” Let me put on my black trench-coat and start talking about some haunted theater from 1886 located down in the Bowery. But seriously. And no need to worry. I won’t stray into boredom and start rattling off stats of how New York City might have the best doctors, or cancer treatment facilities, or how maybe the above aging starlets had family in New York City, all good reasons why they might've wanted to move here. No, that would be ho-hum tedium. Instead, I’m gonna kick it old-school for these Old Hollywood gals. After all, they deserve it.
So, what’s the seduction of New York City? It’s got class. I will say that. Dare I go one step further and say that New York City embodies Old Hollywood possibly even more than Old Hollywood? After all, New York City is older than Hollywood. It’s got that “old money” and “blue blood” appeal. No nouveau riche here. We’re talkin’ quality, history. I think this would pique the interest of any self-respecting house-hunting starlet. New York City is a string of pearls, and a soft pashmina scarf. Or prime rib and lobster. You can sink your teeth into this city’s illustrious culture.
And many Old Hollywood starlets did, even before they became world-famous. Several actresses cut their teeth on Broadway in New York City. They had maybe tap-danced their way up from a traveling vaudeville troupe as a teenager, then went on to maybe a supporting role in a Broadway play, before finally planing it or training it out to Hollywood. So, their post-moviedom move to New York City might actually have been a return trip. Hmmm. Interesting. What’s more, maybe unlike their earlier Broadway days, as a bona-fide Hollywood starlet, they could now return and afford a truly STELLAR New York City pad. I’m thinkin’ penthouse, brownstone. Where they could of course eat prime rib, lobster. Delish.
But what else? New York City has live-wire energy. “It’s ALIVE!!!!” I feel all Frankenstein-ian. The city stimulates the senses every day, hour, and minute. Now there’s a risky connection between class and energy. Case in point: I have an ex-colleague who once described a certain European city which will remain unnamed as “the most boring city on the planet.” Even though this city was an Old World treasure trove of gourmet chocolates, beer, international government, rockin’ techno DJs, and beautiful architecture, it just wasn’t hitting the “TOP 10 MUST-SEE CITIES IN EUROPE” list. So the fact that New York City has never fallen into this meh category of “really classy but really boring” is a huge plus.
Not to fear, Ms. Myrna and Lauren. You can comfortably date your retired UN diplomat, in your penthouse, while eating lobster, and then hit the streets with him incognito to listen to jazz at the corner of Central Park and East 60th at 11pm on a random Tuesday. Like Allstate Insurance, you’re in good hands with New York City. It’s got life, and can accommodate your slammin’ Hollywood black book. Cary Grant arriving sans Deborah Kerr down at the South Street Seaport early Saturday 6am? Jump on THAT, right?! Snag Mr. Hollywood Debonair himself. The sequel to “An Affair to Remember” (1957) can become your comeback hit.
But seriously. As a New Yorker, I can attest to its palpable “spark.” It never sleeps. It has amazing life, vigor, and heart. It’s the bustling home-court for global finance, government, fashion, publishing, education, and more. I imagine these women knew that. And maybe that comforted them.
New York City also has the blessing of PROXIMITY. No offense, dear Hollywood, but you’re kinda off the beaten path. A dusty, dry, hilly city where celluloid dropped anchor in 1910, creating the first Hollywood studios and a bona-fide “movie colony,” you’re still far from a lot. Like London and Paris. And Boston and Washington, D.C. You’re also heartbreakingly far from Casablanca, Morocco, if we really want to kick it old-school with Bogey and Ingrid Bergman in that lusty war-time flick “Casablanca” (1942). For us New Yorkers, we often term going to Europe as simply “crossing the pond.” Now New York City isn’t as close to Europe as that, but we’re certainly closer than the West Coast. This city is convenient, for a destination, a pit-stop, and so on.
This again would prove favorable for an Old Hollywood diva’s slammin’ black book. I imagine Ms. Garbo bugling over to her bevy of female friends in Switzerland, “Yes, please do visit New York this Christmas!” Sparkling. I’ve always had a thing for Greta Garbo and her undisputed title of “Old Hollywood Recluse.” To be invited to one of HER exclusive parties! Now that would have been tops.
Shedding my black trench-coat, and ascending from the bowels of my New York City “deep analysis,” I can easily see why this city was so alluring to Old Hollywood starlets. Sadly, most of these women are deceased. As mentioned in a previous post, “Old Hollywood is ‘old’ for a reason.”
But it must’ve been amazing to be in New York City in the 1970s, ‘80s, and ‘90s, when these spirited ladies were no longer lighting up the silver screen, but instead lighting up New York City by way of surprise guest appearances on TV talk shows, or a surprise visit to Elaine’s restaurant on the Upper East Side where they were spotted signing autographs for their newly published memoir. (Joan Crawford’s “My Way of Life” (1971) is on my must-read list.) Or maybe they simply strolled through Central Park, or went to the neighborhood knish place every Saturday afternoon.
New York City must've given them freedom, and coziness, and a separation from their former careers. If that’s what they craved in their final days, I’m confident that New York City delivered. What’s more, their retired wealth probably allowed them to escape most of the city’s vices. No WAY was Myrna Loy stepping foot on a crowded, smelly subway platform, right?!
I’ve often compared New York City to the Oracle at Delphi. This city has intelligence, and holds answers. It has life, and a strong heartbeat. It has style, and a rich history. It’s been the unofficial “center of the world” for so many years that I’ve lost count. Maybe that’s why Old Hollywood starlets ultimately chose to die here. Like them, New York City is a one-of-a-kind “star.”