Thursday, July 13, 2017

Born Today July 13: Jewel Carmen (Sorted Edition)


Silent film actress Jewel Carmen was born Florence Lavina Quick in Danville, Kentucky (this despite her death certificate vaguely stating that she was simply born in Oregon) on this date most probably in 1897.  Quick/Carmen's career in Hollywood was fraught with troubles and scandals from the get-go.  She went be a surprising number "stage" names for someone so young in the business.  Her first appearance in a film came in 1912 in The Will Of Destiny in a rare American Méliès Co. production under the name "Florence L Vinci;" presumably she would have been 15 years of age.  This is probably correct, but things get a bit twisted up here in regards to biography.  In 1913, she started appearing in films produced by Keystone--the first of which is The Professor's Daughter under the name Evelyn Quick--things quickly got out of hand.  On the 30 of April of that year, she filed a complaint to the police that two car salesmen had forced her into non-payment debt (listed on the report as delinquency) and reported that she was only 15.  Investigations into the matter quickly got sorted, as it turned up evidence of blackmail and "white slavery" (sex trafficking) ring in which she was involved under the name "Evelyn Quick."  Though no Keystone people were ever named in the case; disturbingly, a very large number of their actors and directors fled to Mexico because of the investigation.  It was later "determined" that "Evelyn Quick" was actually 23 years of age and the case was dropped.  All the Keystone people returned promptly after.  What's disturbing is that they felt they needed to flee in such numbers in the first place; and also, though it's not out of the question that Quick could have lied about her age--she did live a very long life eventually dying from lymphoma at the age of 86 (if she had been born in 1897)--adding 7 more years to age, meant that she would be been 93 at death.  That seems unlikely given that she retired from acting before the end of the silent era.  Also, given the number alias' that she seemed to have, it does seem likely that something very wrong was taking place.  Where there's smoke, there is usually fire.  Carmen, also would not remain a stranger to legal suits either.  In 1917, she signed a contract with Fox, after spending a stint at Fine Arts Film Company, where the name Jewel Carmen was credited (she also had a very, very small part in D. W. Griffith's Intolerance in 1916).  Her first film for Fox was A Tale Of Two Cities, based on the Dickens novel.  She found the deal personally unacceptable to herself, so, without breaking the contract, she entered into a contract at Keeney Corp. two years later in 1918.  Fox promptly sent Keeney a sort "cease & desist" letter--warning them of her existing contract with them, and warning them of a pending suit against them if they assisted her in breaking her Fox contract.  Carmen responded by filing two personal law suits against Fox: 1) to essentially break her contract with them, 2) attempt to essentially "counter sue" them for attempting to interfere in her contract with Keeney--though Fox had not actually filed any suit of it's own against the rival company.  A lot of legal gobbly-gook took place with her having only a partial victory, ending up with a legal loophole that let her walk away from Fox free and clear.  She never did make a film for Keeney.  The first film that she appeared in after this legal mess was The Silver Lining (1921), directed by Roland West, whom she had married in 1918 (he would go on to marry Lola Lane).  She would go on to appear in just three more films, two of them associated with her husband.  The last film that she appeared is one of my personal favorites, The Bat in 1926 based on a play by Avery Hopwood.  Though she had retired from acting, scandal was not done with her.  Her then estranged husband had an affair with Thelma Todd with whom he was also a business partner in the 1930's.   On the 16th of December 1935, Todd was found dead in her garage.  Though the death was eventually ruled accidental (with possible suicidal tendencies) by carbon monoxide, with the detectives concluding she likely was trying to stay warm on a very cold night after having been locked out of her current abode.  There was, however a murder investigation as Todd had no reason to commit suicide and--owed to the fact that gangsters frequented Todd's restaurant--there were also no lack of suspects with real motives.  One of them was Carmen herself, who once reportedly threatened to kill Todd after Carmen's personal investment in her restaurant began to lose money.  Carmen did not stay under suspicion for long, but her husband Roland West did, as he was a partner in the venture.  No one was ever charged, but persistent gossip about the death drove Carmen into personal seclusion thereafter.  She died, probably at the age of 86 in San Diego, California on the 4th of March 1984.  She was cremated, and her ashes were scattered.

Carmen in The Bat (1926)

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