Dying to be famous

Tragedy: actress Lillian Hall-Davis, who cut her own throat, and Henry Victor, in the film Tommy Atkins

Tragedy: actress Lillian Hall-Davis, who cut her own throat, and Henry Victor, in the film Tommy Atkins

First published in News by

In this age of instant celebrity it is more apparent than ever that people crave the fame and fortune that comes from being a movie star.

Since the early 1900s, potential stars have flocked to Hollywood, and even in the old days to Borehamwood, in the hope of getting that elusive break that could make their dreams come true.

For some, becoming a household name brought wealth and happiness, but for others the dream turned sour with devastating results.

In early silent films, the performers were often not credited and the first recognised film star was a young lady named Florence Lawrence. For a brief period she was the toast of the town, but then her career faded.

At the age of only 48, having just been offered an insulting bit part, Florence drank ant killer and died.

Her grave remained unmarked for 50 years until a film buff rectified the situation.

Peggy Entwistle never even got a good run in films before famously killing herself by jumping off the Hollywood sign. It is said she still haunts the site.

Meanwhile, another young actress was making it big at Elstree Studios, starring in early talkies under the direction of Alfred Hitchcock.

Lillian Hall Davis seemed to have it all, but her career nosedived and, suffering from depression, she cut her own throat at the age of 35.

Across the road at what is now the BBC Elstree Centre, a pioneer named Ludwig Blattner had invented a new sound recording system.

It failed to take off commercially and, in despair, he hanged himself at the Elstree Country Club, in Barnet Lane, in 1935.

However, he and his more successful film executive son Gerry are remembered in the naming of Blattner Close in Elstree.

During the 1930s and 1940s, Charles Boyer was Hollywood's adopted Frenchman, starring in scores of movies as the romantic lead opposite many famous leading ladies.

Sadly, in the 1970s, his son committed suicide and in 1978 his wife of 44 years died from cancer.

Unable to face life alone, two days later he took an overdose.

Jill Bennett was a successful British actress from the 1960s onwards, but in 1990 ended her life with an overdose, although she left £600,000 to Battersea Dogs Home, which must have pleased her relatives.

Do you remember Jerry Desmonde, who was the straight man to Norman Wisdom in several films and, of course, Tony Hancock?

Both men brought fun and laughter to cinema-goers but in real life were plagued by their own demons and took their own lives.

Ted Moult was a favourite television celebrity during the 1950s and 1960s and guested at ATV on Celebrity Squares.

He was television's favourite farmer but, faced with bankruptcy, he went into his barn and killed himself in 1986 with a shotgun.

Even EastEnders saw tragedy when the young actor David Scarboro, who played the original Mark Fowler, jumped off Beachy Head having left the series.

Ronald Lewis came to Elstree and got several starring roles, including the 1960s Hammer movies Taste Of Fear, and The Brigand Of Kandahar, but it did not last. By 1982, living on social security, he ended it all.

Oscar winner Gig Young came to Elstree in the mid-1970s to make a forgettable television film.

A short while later, a chronic alcoholic, he returned to the States and shot his new wife and then turned the gun on himself.

George Sanders was also an Oscar winner with 30 years of stardom behind him when he came to Elstree to star in Endless Night with Hayley Mills.

Fearing increasing ill health and age, George then went to Spain, booked himself into a hotel room and mixed a lethal concoction of vodka and seconal, leaving a suicide note explaining he was bored with life.

Perhaps the unluckiest suicide was that of 1940s star Lupe Velez, who decided to enjoy a Mexican meal then take an overdose and lie down on her bed surrounded by flowers, making a star-like serene image when found.

Sadly, in a dazed state, she subsequently felt violently sick and was found in the less romantic position of lying by the toilet in the bathroom.

Many other stars have exited life by their own hand, and the trend still continues.

Only a few years ago, television teenage heart-throb Jonathan Brandis shot to fame in the hit series SeaQuest.

However, Tinseltown can be a cruel place and, as his subsequent career began to slide, he hanged himself.

Tragic ends illustrate how false the idea is that money and fame can guarantee happiness.

It also illustrates that showbiz can be a cruel profession, providing sad final curtain calls for many stars who thought the good times would never end.

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