At eighteen, pretty blond Nita Pike made her acting debut in the “Goldwyn Girls” chorus of the 1931 Eddie Cantor musical romp Palmy Days. This kicked off a succession of non-credited roles that ran throughout the 1930s and 1940s. In 1940, film comic and impresario Charles Chaplin cast Nita in the role of a secretary in the satirical The Great Dictator. Afterwards, she continued to take additional roles for which she received no screen credit.
In 1935, Nita was injured in a car accident and she sued the driver for $25,000. (Her brother James had been killed in a similar accident just one year earlier.)
Nita met and married actor Allen Edwards in 1939. Despite Allen being twenty years her senior, Nita was happy. Tired of the small roles she was offered, Nita ended her acting career in 1951, content with being a housewife. She was living her little American dream in a Hollywood apartment with her husband and her dog, Toddy.
Allan passed away suddenly from natural causes in 1954, leaving Nita devastated. Three days after her husband’s death, a distraught Nita committed suicide with an overdose of prescription pills. She left note that read: “Please give Toddy to [friends] Dot and Harry Bloomfield. Please cremate me in this nightgown with my darling Allen at the same time.” Her wishes were honored and the couple were interred together at Forest Lawn Memorial Park in Glendale, California. Nita was forty years old.
What if Joe E. Brown really played the goof?
This is for my wife — a long-time Dead Head, a sometime twirler and a good sport about my playful ribbing over the last 39 years.
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.
What if Cary Grant was “The Dude?”
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.
What if the Three Stooges got scary?