DCS: neil nephew

Neil Nephew struggled. He struggled with his career. He struggled with his marriage… and he struggled with his demons.

In 1961, the young Neil Bernstein — using the stage name “Neil Nephew” — landed his first film role as part of an ensemble cast in the gangster tale Mad Dog Coll. He starred alongside future stars like Telly Savalas, Vincent Gardenia, Jerry Orbach and Joy Harmon. His career didn’t blossom like his costars, but he continued to pursue. He took small parts in television and films, including the apocalyptic cautionary saga Panic in Year Zero for actor/director Ray Milland. (This was Milland’s penultimate directorial effort.) Neil took small role after small role on episodic television. He also broke into writing and script editing. He scripted two episodes of the popular Monkees TV series late in its network run.

He met and married future Oscar-winning actress Ellen McRae in 1964. Her career advanced as Neil’s declined and he grew angry and bitter. One day, during their marriage, Neil decided to change his stage name to “Burstyn,” adopting what he claimed was his original family name. Just cast for a role in the upcoming film Alex in Wonderland, Ellen asked to be billed as “Ellen Burstyn” in the credits. Neil also took a small role in the film. It would be his last screen appearance.

Just after Alex in Wonderland wrapped, Ellen divorced Neil, citing erratic and abusive behavior. (In her 2006 autobiography, she would assert that Neil was schizophrenic.) Despite their divorce, Neil continued to stalk and badger Ellen, once breaking into her home and raping her. No charges were filed because “spousal rape” was not classified as a crime at the time.

In November 1978, with his acting and writing career nearly non-existent and his marriage in the past, Neil jumped to his death from the window of his ninth-floor Manhattan apartment. He was 39 years old.

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DCS: katherine grant

scandalous!

With coaching and encouragement from her mother, Katherine Grant entered — and won — the 1922 “Miss Los Angeles Beauty Contest.” Her new-found fame landed her roles in several of Hal Roach’s “Little Rascals” comedy shorts. As the winner of the local beauty contest, Katherine entered the “Miss America” pageant, but lost to Mary Katherine Campbell, the only person to win the title of “Miss America” twice. (She was named first runner-up in her third showing and the rules were changed going forward.)

Before her pageant days, Katherine had posed for a sculptor who was contracted to create a fountain. Katherine was photographed in the nude for figure studies. During her time in Atlantic City for the “Miss America” pageant, she discovered some of the photographs, which she believed were for use solely by the sculptor, circulating around town. She approached the photographer, upon her return to Los Angeles, and demanded all copies of the nude images. She was shown a release form bearing her signature. At the time she signed it, she assumed the paper was a receipt for the payment she was given for posing. She left the photographer’s office dejected. Soon after, Katherine was contacted by another man, threatening to show the photos to Hal Roach, thus ruining her career. She hired a lawyer who brought charges of fraud, extortion and blackmail against the photographer. Although no documents relating the outcome of the case exist, events must have been in her favor, because Katherine’s career for Roach Studios was fairly successful.

In December 1925, Katherine was the victim of a hit-and-run while crossing an intersection near Roach Studios. The driver was never identified or caught. Katherine displayed no physical injuries after an examination, though doctors warned her to rest. She refused, fearing an absence from the screen would damage her career.

Six months later, she was discovered in a sanatorium under an assumed name, suffering from an emotional and physical breakdown. She was exhausted and was not eating well. She was concerned about the studios’ demand that she maintain her weight. Eventually she was released to her mother’s care, but soon found herself back in the hospital. Her condition worsened and Katherine passed away from a combination of tuberculosis and dementia. She was 32.

Katherine was interred at Evergreen Cemetery in Los Angeles. Her grave remained unmarked for 79 years, until a headstone was purchased by a fan who runs a blog highlighting the careers of silent movie stars.

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DCS: christine maple

Pretty Christine Maple was a character. Moving to Los Angeles from her native rural Kansas, the vivacious blonde began appearing in local beauty pageants. Her film debut in 1930 led to a coveted spot in the Ziegfeld Follies. During a performance, she surprised her fellow cast members, the audience and Ziegfeld himself, when she appeared on stage fully nude. Christine gained a reputation for wearing daring low-cut dresses and spouting outrageous lies about her life. She once claimed that her father was a British Duke.

Her public behavior became more flamboyant and shocking. She was arrested on a train in Switzerland for causing a disturbance. She got into a fight with a cab driver for her refusal to pay a fare. She was accused by several women of being a bit “too friendly” with their spouses. Christine’s mother became worried about her daughter’s scandalous behavior. She had Christine sent to a sanitarium for a period of time.

After her release, Christine signed a contract with Republic Pictures and appeared in a number of Westerns. She then headed to Australia for a part in the play The Women. She had to leave the production early due to illness. When she returned to the United States, she suffered a nervous breakdown and was hospitalized. Once discharged, she left show business and moved to a suburb of Philadelphia, taking an unlikely job in a department store.

In January 1947, Christine hanged herself. She left no note. She was 34 years old.

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