Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Five Bad Ends

I was very small when I first heard the phrase "come to a bad end" -- used by my mother or grandmother about the boy next door, who was a little wild -- and I didn't understand it. I had just started to be able to read street signs, and had seen one that said DEAD END; my mind gave me the image of a kid riding his bike to a dead end that was full of brambles, like the blackberry bushes in the back yard.

Thinking about these five bad endings, the bike into the blackberry hedge might have been a better way to go.

1. Isadora Duncan, September 14, 1927. She was 50 years old, on her way to what she hoped would be a romantic assignation with a handsome mechanic who was driving the car she was riding in. She told her friends, "Je vais a l'amour," and tossed her fabulous silk scarf around her neck -- where it caught a spoke of a back wheel, and wrapped itself around the car's rear axle. The car was an open one; according to contemporary news accounts, she was hurled from the vehicle to the pavement. Her neck was broken, and rumors said she was almost decapitated. Gertrude Stein's comment was mean but funny: "Affectations can be dangerous."

2. R. Budd Dwyer, January 22, 1987. He was the treasurer of Pennsylvania, charged with taking bribes to award a lucrative state accounting contract. He refused a plea bargain that would have sent him to prison for five years, and went to trial, where he was convicted -- but because of a loophole in Pennsylvania law, he was able to keep serving as state treasurer until his sentencing. Facing a sentence of up to 55 years, he called a press conference at which he declared his innocence again, and said that he would not resign. He handed three envelopes to his aides, pulled out a .357 Magnum, put it in his mouth and pulled the trigger. The envelopes were a letter to his wife, another to newly-inaugurated Governor Robert Casey, and an organ donor card. By dying in office, Dwyer ensured that his widow received the government's full survivor benefits. The video is easy to find online; I've never watched it, and won't.

3. Jon-Erik Hexum, October 18, 1984. On the set of the TV show "Cover Up," Hexum was clowning around with a prop gun, a .44 Magnum loaded with blanks. What he didn't know was that even blanks are packed with gunpowder, and explode; when he put the gun to his temple and pulled the trigger, the gunpowder blasted the blank's paper wadding into his skull. He died six days later, after being declared brain dead. He was 26 years old.

4. Marie Prevost, January 21, 1937 (best guess). She was one of Hollywood's biggest stars in the 1920s, making 121 pictures over a career that spanned 20 years. By the early 1930s, however, she was overweight, broke, and alcoholic, and given to binge dieting whenever a small part became available. She died of a heart attack sometime around January 21, 1937, at the age of 38; her body wasn't found until January 23, when the neighbors complained about a dog that wouldn't stop barking. When police entered Miss Prevost's apartment, they found a hysterical dachshund and the dead body of Marie Prevost, marked with bites on her legs. It's kinder to believe that the dog was only trying to wake her up, and not trying to eat her. Dizzy has promised that that is what he would do, if he ever faces a similar situation.

5. Lupe Velez, December 13, 1944. The "Mexican Spitfire," a dancer and actress who was successful on Broadway and in Hollywood, was married twice and had multiple affairs before falling in love with Harald Maresch, an Austrian actor eight years her junior who already had a wife of his own. Pregnant and despairing, she wrote a dramatic suicide note and then took an overdose of sleeping pills. What happened next depends on whom you believe. Although her assistant swore she'd found Miss Velez lying peacefully on her bed, Hollywood legend has it that she was found collapsed by the toilet (or possibly even with her head in the toilet), trying to vomit up the pills she had taken. In any case, not how she wanted to be remembered.


Kevin Wignall said...

Hmm, Byron and Shelley, of course. Odon von Horvath, killed by a falling chestnut tree on the Champs Elysees. Isabelle Eberhardt, died in a flash flood in the desert at the age of 27.

But I think the ultimate bad end had to be for poor Jean Seberg, who tried to kill herself repeatedly on the anniversary of her dead infant daughter and finally succeeded (probably - some doubt it was suicide) when she was 40. Her former husband, who wasn't the father of the child, killed himself soon after.

AnswerGirl said...

And let us not forget poor Elizabeth Siddal, who died of an overdose of laudanum, was buried with a journal of Dante Gabriel Rossetti's poetry -- and was dug up again when Rossetti decided he needed the journal back, seven years later.

But "Five Rotten Husbands" will be another entry . . .