“I've always burned my bridges before me.”
The behind-the-scenes of Hollywood always seems to provide even more unbelievable stories than the ones on the silver screen. If we go back to the film mecca’s beginnings, during the silent film era, we’ll also be met with note-worthy Cinderella tales and even more drastic falls from grace. There’s Evelyn Nesbit, the child bride who was dragged into the middle of a notorious murder. Rudolph Valentino’s short but passionate life seems to be taken out of the pages a novel. However, the following story is a little out there and, in my opinion, deserves its own movie, since just hearing about reminded me of Sunset Boulevard.
In the nineteen fifties, aspiring playwright, Sanford Dody, met with the silent film vamp Dagmar Godowsky. The daughter of a famous pianist and party host, this retired film siren was able to lure Dody into ghostwriting her memoir. By then she had already become a ghost of her femme fatale self, yet continued to have the charm and charisma of a movie star at their peak. What would happen in the following months, the writer would regret ever saying yes to the actress. She believed the book would become a classic work of literature while he thought it would be a bestseller for sure. Yet as he would explain later on, “We were both wrong."
Dagmar was living under the delusion that the book would be her ticket to a comeback. But perhaps this imaginary outcome was what had kept her going. Though she boasted about having affairs with Charlie Chaplin, Igor Stravinsky, and Rudolph Valentino, both her marriages had been far from romantic endeavors. Her first marriage was annulled after she found out that her husband was already married to another actress. An old school film myth claims that another marriage lasted barely a day. Still, she always found a self deprecating way to keep herself as the protagonist of her own life movie.
One famous story Dody shared in his own memoir was regarding her answer to the question of just how many husbands she’d had. Her answer was the perfect comeback: “Two of my own dear, and several of my friends’.” Sadly, for all the charm and celebrity personality, Dagmar never returned to the screen. For some reason I keep thinking that if this had happened in the present time, and a teen movie queen from the late nineties or early two-thousands would want to have the world worship and love her, she wouldn’t have hired a ghostwriter but a film crew.
Dagmar’s story is fascinating because it reminds us of reality television where someone is trying to regain their star power through stories of the good old days and kooky antics. Yet behind the funny quotes and diva behavior, there’s a sadness to the reality many women face in Hollywood to this day. While most male actors can continue to secure jobs as they get older, very few of their female counterparts are ever that lucky. The industry is a harsh mirror of our society. It shows that female beauty has an expiration date while the male persona is only more revered and respected as time goes by. We giggle at the stories like Dagmar driving her ghostwriter insane with her demands and plans. But they present a difficult truth: How many women have been thrown out after they’ve reached a certain age or are no longer needed for the purpose of sexualization and objectification?