from my sketchbook: rhea mitchell

Ginger, to her friends

While still a teenager, Rhea Mitchell performed on stages across the Pacific Northwest. It was during one performance in Vancouver, British Columbia, that she was noticed by a talent scout from Hollywood.

She began her film career – one that would span five decades – with a short subject called The Hidden Trail in 1912. From there, she added over 100 roles - mostly uncredited – to her resume. She willingly attempted dangerous maneuvers in scenes, earning her the nickname “The Little Stunt Girl.” Rhea took bit parts opposite  film heavyweights, like Western stars William S. Hart and Tom Mix. In later years, she was cast alongside Spencer Tracy and Hedy Lamarr. Rhea’s starring roles were few, but she was content to play in the background.

In 1952, after a small role in Member of the Wedding, Rhea called it a career. She began managing several apartment buildings in Los Angeles. In September 1957, Rhea’s body was discovered by a houseboy at the La Brea District Apartments. As the investigation unfolded, the very same houseboy, Sonnie Hartford, Jr., confessed to strangling Rhea with the sash of her dressing gown. Sonnie stated that he wasn’t sure why he killed her. He had made an inappropriate remark to her and she was offended. Sonnie panicked and killed her in fear that she would tell the building’s owner, resulting in the possibility of him losing his job.

Rhea, long forgotten by Hollywood, was 66.

from my sketchbook: sean flynn

You know he heard the drums of warSean Flynn, the only child from the marriage of silver-screen swashbuckler Errol Flynn and French actress Lili Damita, seemed to be destined to follow in his father’s footsteps. A brief role in a segment of TV’s The Errol Flynn Theatre and a background part in his friend George Hamilton’s film Where The Boys Are in 1960, led to a contract to star in a big-screen sequel to his father’s adventure classic Captain Blood. After the release of Son of Captain Blood, Sean appeared in several more films until he grew bored with acting.

In 1964, Sean went to Africa to take a shot as a safari guide and big game hunter. Finding himself short on money, he reluctantly returned to the acting world, filming two quickie “spaghetti Westerns” back-to-back.  But Sean was anxious for more real-life adventure.

In 1966, he arrived in South Vietnam as a photojournalist for a French publication, then for Time-Life and eventually United Press International. Sean bravely entered combat, seeking realism in his photographs. After one last motion picture, he returned to Vietnam with a parachute jump with the 1st Brigade, 101st Airborne Division.  He also traveled to Israel to cover the Six Day War in 1967. He found himself back in Vietnam with plans for a documentary after the Tet offensive in 1968.

Traveling by motorcycle, Sean and fellow photographer Dana Stone entered Cambodia in April 1970. Along dangerous Highway One, the pair were captured by guerrillas, most likely part of the notorious Khmer Rouge, a military group led by ruthless Cambodian dictator Pol Pot.  That was the last time anyone saw Sean Flynn.

After years of searching and spending huge amounts of money, Lili Damita had Sean officially declared dead in 1984 — fourteen years after he disappeared.

from my sketchbook: ruth steinhagen

you always hurt the one you love, the one you shouldn't hurt at all
Nineteen-year-old Ruth Steinhagen went to a Chicago Cubs game in 1947 and was never the same.

She became obsessed with Eddie Waitkus, the Cubs’ good looking, young first baseman. Ruth began to gather every bit of information she could on Waitkus. She sought out photos and newspaper clippings about him. Her room in her parents’ home became a shrine to the ball player. She insisted on setting a place for Waitkus at the family dinner table. When she learned that Waitkus was from Boston, she developed a taste for Boston baked beans. When she discovered that Waitkus was of Lithuanian descent, Ruth began studies to learn the Lithuanian language. Her worried parents sent her to a psychiatrist but her obsession did not diminish.

In the winter before the start of the 1949 season, Waitkus was traded to the Philadelphia Phillies.

On June 14, 1949, The Phillies came to Chicago to play the Cubs. Ruth booked a room at the Edgewater Beach Hotel, where she knew visiting teams would stay. After the game, she gave a bellboy a note to deliver to Waitkus. The note read:

Mr. Waitkus–

It’s extremely important that I see you as soon as possible

We’re not acquainted, but I have something of importance to speak to you about I think it would be to your advantage to let me explain to you

After insisting that she was leaving the hotel the next day and pressing the timeliness of the request, she concluded:

I realize this is a little out of the ordinary, but as I said, it’s rather important

Please, come soon. I won’t take up much of your time, I promise.

Waitkus found the note tacked to his 9th floor room when he returned from a dinner engagement. He read it and called Ruth’s room. She insisted that he come to her room and refused to discuss anything further on the phone. Waitkus thought he had a “hot honey” on the line and went right over to Ruth’s room.

He knocked on her 12th floor room and was invited in. Waitkus stood just inside the doorway and Ruth turned and opened a closet door, saying, “I have a surprise for you.” She spun around and pointed a .22 caliber rifle at Waitkus and shot him point-blank in the chest. She called the hotel’s front desk and reported, “I just shot a man.” She knelt by Waitkus, with his head cradled in her lap, until help arrived.

Ruth was arrested. When questioned, she said she “wanted to do something exciting” in her life. A medical evaluation found her mentally unstable and she was committed to the psychiatric facility at  Kankakee State Hospital. Waitkus, who survived the shooting and wished to forget the entire incident, did not press charges. He returned to baseball and, in 1950, he was named “AP Comeback Player of the Year.” However, he experienced post-traumatic stress disorder and retired from play after the 1955 season.

Ruth was declared cured in 1952 and released. She faded into obscurity. She passed away in 2012 at the age of 83. Her death was reported by the press nearly three months after it occurred.

Ruth’s obsession with Eddie Waitkus was the inspiration for Bernard Malamud’s novel (and subsequent film), The Natural.

from my sketchbook: daisy and violet hilton

she wore the dress and I stayed home
Many decades before another pair of namesake sisters were grabbing headlines, there was conjoined twins Daisy and Violet Hilton. Born in the English coastal town of Brighton, Daisy and Violet were joined at the hips and buttocks. While they did share blood circulation, they shared no internal organs. Their mother, an unwed barmaid named Kate Skinner, sold her daughters to her employer, Mary Hilton, who saw exploitative dollar signs. Mary trained the girls to sing, dance and play musical instruments through a regimen of threats and physical abuse. Using the stage name “The United Twins,” Mary took the girls on tour through England, Germany, Australia, and eventually the United States, performing primarily in circus sideshows. Mary kept tight control on both the money and the sisters.

After Mary died, her husband continued the tour. In 1931, Daisy and Violet sued for their freedom and were awarded a settlement of $100,000. Soon afterwards, they were cast in Tod Browning‘s controversial film Freaks. They entered vaudeville, performing expertly on the saxophone and violin and often dressed differently to reflect their individuality. In 1951, they appeared in Chained for Life, a biopic loosely based on their lives.

They performed regularly into the 1960s. After a publicity appearance at a drive-in theater in Charlotte, North Carolina, they were abandoned by their tour manager. Left with no money or means of transportation, they were forced to find employment at a local grocery store.

In January 1969, they failed to report for work. Their boss at the grocery called the police. The sisters were discovered dead in their home, victims of Hong Kong flu, part of a pandemic that claimed over 33,000 lives in the United States. Investigation revealed that Daisy had died first and Violet passed several days later. They were 60 years old.

IF: gone fishing

If I had a boat/I'd go out on the ocean/And if I had a pony/I'd ride him on my boat

The Illustration Friday suggested topic this week is a bit strange. Although the website currently displays last week’s word “spark,” the actual topic is “gone fishing.” It seems that the guy who changes the weekly topic went on a week-long fishing trip and didn’t tell anybody the password or codeword or whatever to make the change…. and I quote:

Why hasn’t the weekly topic changed!? Well…

and I don’t have the keys to change the official topic. But that won’t get in my way. Read on.

Thomas James has gone fishing, on a much needed and much deserved week off from his fast-paced freelance life. That means a week off from a ringing cell phone, and a week off from our weekly topic.

That also means he won’t see this post until he gets back. So let’s have some fun, shall we?

If you’re like me and want to keep your Friday creative flow, use this as your topic:

And to sweeten the pot, whoever does the best job of including a likeness of Thomas (on the left above) into your image will get a free copy of my new art book when it prints next month.

So this is my interpretation of the photo above. I don’t care if I win the book.

from my sketchbook: pascual pérez

on the outside looking in

Pascual Pérez wasn’t a great pitcher, but he certainly was an interesting one. After a brief stint with the Pittsburgh Pirates, Pascual was traded to the Atlanta Braves. He had two consecutive career seasons, winning fifteen games in 1983 and fourteen games in 1984, despite joining the team after an arrest in his native Dominican Republic for cocaine possession.

Pascual was a character on the field. Cutting quite a figure, with his gold chains and stylish Jheri-curls, he would often grind his baseballs into the dirt until sufficiently coated to his liking. He would rile opposing hitters by shooting them with an imaginary “finger gun,” as they stood at the plate. After an inning-ending strikeout, Pascual would run full speed to the dugout, as his team mates casually jogged in from their positions.

His unique “pick-off” move, keeping a runner from a potential stolen base, was legendary. Instead of sneaking a glance, as most pitchers are known to do, Pascual would bend over and eye the runner from between his legs. Sometimes, even throwing the ball to the fielder from between his legs. He also perfected the eephus pitch, a batter-baffling off-speed toss that was likened to the one used by Bugs Bunny against the Gashouse Gorillas in the cartoon Baseball Bugs.

His off-field antics were just as memorable. He missed a start in August 1982, when he got lost on Atlanta’s Interstate 285, a beltway that skirted Fulton County Stadium. He drove in circles for two hours looking for an exit ramp, until he eventually ran out of gas. He earned himself the nickname “Perimeter Pascual.”

He was released by the Braves and sat out the entire 1986 season. He joined the Montréal Expos midway through the ’87 season, where he threw a rain-shortened no-hitter in Philadelphia’s Veterans Stadium. Free agency brought Pascual to the New York Yankees. He never quite found his groove. After 17 starts and a losing record,  a violation of league drug policy ended his career.

In November 2012, 55-year old Pascual was found dead in his home in the Dominican Republic. He had been beaten to death with a hammer during a robbery.