Past Imperfect

Past Imperfect – #213

Okay, folks, we’re going to deviate somewhat from my usual methodology with this type of post…

This Past Imperfect is one that has languished on “Crusty Pie” without being revised and shared on Bonnywood. I’m not a fan of the original micro-story I scribbled, yet I’ve been unable, over the years, to find just the right inspiration to make it better. (In my archives, wherein I store everything, even the messes that will never see the light of day, I can see that I have attempted to resuscitate this entry multiple times over the years. It was all crap, frankly.)

Just a bit ago, I tried to take another run at this one. Still stymied, unable to find that tiny, twisted click that usually launches my subversive reinterpretations of faded photos, I decided to google the actress in the image. (I vaguely knew that Marie McDonald was a pinup starlet at one time, but I knew little else.) I landed on her Wikipedia page, not really expecting to find anything of interest. I was wrong.

Holy cow. This woman had a fascinating, albeit questionable life. You can read much more detail on that Wikipedia page, but herein I’ll present my personally curated highlights:

Cora Marie Frye was born in Burgin, Kentucky in 1923. Her mother, Marie Taboni (birth surname “McDonald”, keep that in mind) was a performer in the Ziegfeld Follies. The parents eventually divorced and Cora moved with her mother to Yonkers, New York.

At the age of 15, she joined the beauty pageant circuit and quickly won the titles of “Miss Coney Island”, “Miss Yonkers”, and “Miss Lowe’s Paradise”, among others. At 16 she was crowned “Miss New York State”. At 17 she was appearing on Broadway in “Earl Carrolls’s Vanities”, a hugely popular show at the time. (And what had you accomplished at that age? Yeah, me neither.)

Cora moved to Hollywood and, still 17, joined Tommy Dorsey & His Orchestra as a vocalist. (Dorsey is the one who prompted Cora to change her name to that of her mother, Marie McDonald. She did so.) By the age of 19, she was under contract at Universal and began appearing in movies. She was never a huge star, but she worked consistently for many years.

Now, the personal-life side of things, where it gets really eye-opening.

Marie married 7 times, twice to the same man, giving her a total of 6 husbands. (One of the unions only lasted three weeks. Marie was a very busy girl, apparently.) The man she married twice was Harry Karl, who would move on from the double-nuptials and eventually marry Debbie Reynolds. (Yes, that Debbie Reynolds. Keep this in mind as well.)

In between these various marital excursions, Marie also dated Benjamin “Bugsy” Siegel. (With the way she was working her way through the male population, it was inevitable that Marie would hook up with a Vegas mobster at some point.) She also had an affair with actor Michael Wilding, otherwise known as Elizabeth Taylor’s second husband. (If the facts align correctly, this trysting occurred after Liz and Mikey had just divorced, but who knows.)

In early 1957, a truck driver found Marie on the side of a highway, wandering about. She claimed that she had been beaten and kidnapped and somehow managed to escape. This became a huge news story, with reporters swarming about and dramatic reenactments of the goings on. But Marie’s story kept changing and the police grew suspicious. End of day, a grand jury refused to indict anyone because nothing made sense. It all eventually smelled of a publicity stunt.

We go a bit dark here, so skip this part if you’re not in the mood.

In 1965, Marie’s sixth husband (seventh marriage, if you’re keeping score) found her body in their home, the result of an overdose. An investigation ensued (accidental? suicide?), with a final verdict of accidental, though many have questioned this conclusion over the years.

She was 42. That much life, crammed into just four decades.

Three months after her death, the sixth/seventh husband took his own life via Seconal.

Shortly thereafter, Marie’s father took his life as well, a boomerang of mad consequence.

Marie’s three children? They were raised by Harry Karl (husband three/four) and Debbie Reynolds. The waves crash in different waves, eh?

This should be a movie, in my opinion. Or maybe it has been, and I just never noticed. Sometimes I’m not the sharpest tool in the shed.

And if you still have any interest, at this point, here’s the original micro-story that I penned for this photo:

“In one respect, this photo celebrates a love for the outdoors, the harvesting of crops, and a creative use of random props. On the flip side, this is probably the pivotal moment in American history when most men stopped wearing boxer shorts, lest they be associated with former nuns who have developed an affinity for Elmer Fudd weaponry and the straddling of fake mountain-tops.”

It still doesn’t taste right.

But maybe there’s a reason why I could never flesh this one out, properly. Maybe we’re meant to find paths that we didn’t expect, maybe we should take the time to explore things we haven’t considered. And I’m all for that.


23 replies »

  1. You’re right, it’s like some sad yet laughably improbable screen play that takes a late dark turn. She touched bases- so to speak- with many a testosterone infused personality of the times. Truth can be more twisted than fiction, and sometimes fame and beauty ain’t the golden ticket. Talk about a traumatic Six Flags up and down careening out of control life!

    Liked by 2 people

    • She had a wild ride, certainly. (If this had been presented as a fiction screenplay, no one would buy it, literally or conceptually.) But at least she was out there doing what she wanted, when she wanted, and how many of us can say that?


    • To be fair, she was by no means the only actor out there during the Golden Age who had a wholesome, perky image, but the reality of their truth was much darker. That’s just how they did it in those days, with PR teams sweeping most things under the rug…

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Wow! What an amazing story, can’t believe she married 7 times (twice to the same guy!!). Thanks so much for sharing this Brian, I really enjoyed finding out more about this amazing lady.

    Liked by 2 people

    • I always admire anyone who figures out what they want and they go after it, even if what they want or how they get isn’t necessarily admirable. Most of us just flail around, unable to have a definite plan and stick to it…


  3. Looks to me like she was one of the first superheroes. The stance, the boots, the mysterious weapon, the mini-cape (albeit situated on head rather than shoulders). Given her history, perhaps she was Wedding Woman? If I remember correctly, Harry Karl was a shoe-store magnate and a gambler who squandered all of Debbie Reynolds’ money during their marriage, as well as all of his own. My mother used to take us to Karl’s Shoes for our back-to-school shopping, until they suddenly disappeared (about the time Debbie divorced him, I think). Carrie Fisher said of him in her memoir, Wishful Drinking, that he wasn’t good with money. Understatement maybe? Do you think Marie got the boots at Karl’s?

    Liked by 2 people

    • Lovely comment, Donna. Best bit: “Wedding Woman”, followed closely by “Do you think Marie got the boots at Karl’s?”

      I’m still a bit disappointed in myself with not being able to transform this mess of an image into a snarky lark. This should have been a goldmine for me, resulting in a reflection on Stepford Republican Wives, or consumerism run amok, or… something. I fear my skills are getting rusty, along with my bladder and the remains of my retirement funds.

      Final Note: It didn’t trigger until your comment, but I also seem to remember something about a Karl’s shoe store in my childhood. I’m sure we didn’t go there, as money was tight, but I have a hazy image of a building. Isn’t it odd what sticks in our brains and what doesn’t?

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Wow, that was unexpected indeed! I love hearing about such ‘radical’ women, just blazing through their lives despite the patriarchy trying to hold them back. What a shame she died young(ish). And great comment from Donna 😎

    Liked by 1 person

    • As I mentioned to Katie Marie, above, I’m always a fan of those who ignore convention and just do what they want. I’m not always a fan of what they DO, but I appreciate the gumption. Too many people accept what they are given and just deal with it. Can you imagine if you or I hadn’t broken free and finally led the lives the felt right to us, doing only what we were told to do? We would be miserable. And I wouldn’t be a writer…

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Maybe her life was questionable because the schizophrenia in the picture rubbed off. Fur-trimmed boots, a basket of fruit, a tee-shirt with a short skirt made out of a tablecloth, a kind of yarmulke on her head, and some sort of weapon. Was she out fruit-shooting during a winter cold-tolerance competition and praying for survival?

    Photo aside, thanks for introducing her – she had quite a life!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Fruit-shooting! THAT’s the trigger I’ve been looking for, one that I couldn’t find throughout my various attempts to rewrite this one as well as all of the suggestions in the comments. It’s perfect, and the story is already forming in my head. (The competition will take place in Consort, Alberta, where k d lang grew up, for reasons that will not become clear until later in the narrative. There will also be an incident with an errant plow, as well as a discombobulation concerning proper drive-by fruiting.) Thank you! 😉

      Liked by 1 person

      • You’re very welcome! Glad I could help. I used to live in Medicine Hat, Alberta, (Consort is about 2 hrs due north; I used to fly there to practise cross-countries and landings at the small landing strip) and can provide any geographical (or other local) advice you might need. 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

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