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pfc" ANDREA: 1
Ive had a ball /
You may remember her for her cheery "Hello Mums and Dads" on
radio, or her writings in Sydney newspapers. Mvtays colorful and
often controversial, she has crammed into one
life, enough for several. This is the first of
three instalments of her biography, which is to be published soon
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MANY people have suggested
that I was dropped on my head when I was born. That may account for how I turned out. but it wouldn't be a complete explan-
My father brought ni) mother down to Sydne) for my birth. We were living in
north-western New South Wales where he
was managing a station called "Edgeroi."
MY father was a Gordon in the
language of the Clan, a Gordon of Croughly. He was born in India where his father was commanding the 92nd Gordon Highlanders.
Dad should have followed his father and been a soldier, but when the) went back to Scotland, his mother fell in love with an Irishman. Arthur Vincent, a colonel in one of Britain's crack regiments. It caused one of the greatest scandals of the era because Dad's mother and father were well-known people and divorce was
unheard of. But divorce him she did.
After the divorce she m rried her
Arthur Vincent and they didn't want Dad and his sister Hetty around. So Dad was sent out to Australia with a letter of introduction to a very famous man, J. H. Davies, a grazier, and he took Dad on as a jackaroo.
Now about my mother's side of the family. My grandfather's mother and the mother of the Duke of Norfolk were sisters. The) were daughters of Admiral Lord Lyons, the famous Admiral at the Crimea. This connection made my grandfather a cousin to the duke, and he could always stay at Arundel Castle when he went home to England.
I was the first child there were four of us. three girls and a boy - and although my dad natural!) wanted a boy first, it didn't make him love me less. He was
always on m\ side, and it was through his encouragement that 1 got on and did things which other people might have considered quite extraordinär).
My earl) years at "Edgeroi" were spent in complete contentment. It was a dream world. 1 think we left and came down to Sydney at just the right time for me. as I was entering my teens.
Sydney was onl\ a small town in those days, and Kings Cross was a glorious and beautiful spot.
I was forever looking in the newspapers to see when auditions were being held at Sydney's old Theatre Royal. I was taking singing lessons, and I had a nice soprano voice then, not the sergeant-major's growl I
One day, when I was supposed to be going to singing lessons. I turned up my
Andrea and her co-star in a tender scene from the Australian film "Hills of Hate."
hair and went down to the theatre where I
went out on stage and sang a French song.
A couple of days later I received a notification asking me to present myself as a chorus girl for whatever the current show was then. My mother intercepted the letter
and the whole scheme was scotched.
Things seemed to trundle along in more or less the same groove. 1 spent most of mv schooldays at SC EGGS, in Darlinghurst. 1 started to change from being a natural, exuberant teenager into a self-conscious young thing. I think Dad could see that unless I went away I would either drown in a sea of convention or explode. But he didn't have the money to send me away.
"Dad had a dream about
a race in which an outsider
won. in the dream he clearly saw the horse's colors."
Then it was that something happened which you may not believe, but truth really is stranger than fiction. Dad had a dream
about a race in which an outsider won. In
the dream he clearly saw the horse's colors and Dad got together more than he could afford and put il all on the horse with thc colors he'd seen tn his dream. It was that money which sent me off on my first trip to England. I stayed for a time with an aunt, but soon was finding old and new friends, some of them in the "society" ol'thc time.
When I returned to Australia in 1913. I thought it was the end of the world.
I wanted to quit the colonial scene and go to America. I had some vague idea
about wanting to get into films, but my mother was very ill and I couldn't go.
With Hollywood as an eventual goal. I ! thought I'd better get as much experience
as possible here. I auditioned once more. .
Getting accepted as a chorus girl was I fairly easy. The hard part was plucking up I the nerve to tell my parents what ll intended to do. Quite contrary to what l|l
expected, Dad said. "Wonderful."
"The Girl in the Train" was slaged at |
Melbourne's His Majesty's Theatre. The rehearsals for that show were very hard yakka, and utterly devoid of glamor. But backstage there was an aroma which crept into my nostrils, the smell of theatre, lt
still excites me.
I was just starting to really en joy myself
when 1 heard from Dad that Mum had taken a turn for the worse, so 1 left the cast
and returned to Sydney.
My mother died. Her death made me
bleak and hurt and desolate.
By this time I had enough money to take off for the States. A friend of Dad's gave me a letter of introduction to R. L. "Snowy" Baker, the great Australian
amateur athlete and boxer, who was as well known in Hollywood as here.
Armed with these letters. 50 pounds íS100) in my pocket, and visions of fame
and fortune. I set sail.
lt was 1915 when I left Sydney for Hollywood and I didn't return until the end of 1925. Those ten years were jam-packed with experiences. The good ones 1 wouldn't have missed for anything. Even the bad ones taught me something though I seem to have been a pretty slow
1 didn't become a glittering star of the
With the help of
experts, she made a
marvellous Queen Mary.
silent screen, but I did ha\c ttl) share of success. 1 am the only person still alive whose name is on the credits of the most famous of all the silent movies. Rudolph Valentino's "The Sheik." Dorothy Gordon was the robber chiefs wife, the leading wife of the harem. It wasn't a major role, but it gave me a very good "in" and I had a
couple of good scenes.
The main reason why I didn't make more of a name for myself in Hollywood was that I married two utter cads. The second one even worse than the first, if that could be possible.
The energy which I expended on falling
in love with them and then coping with their exploits would have been put to far better use in my career. But Tm not complaining, because I lived among an avalanche of people who were larger than
Right from the start in Hollywood I lived two quite separate lives. When I started to get work in the movies I was just another struggling would-be. When I was with friends of my family I was introduced as being on holiday visiting relatives.
Apart from these friends 1 did also have a large number of relations in San
Francisco, and still have to this day. This is
thc Vincent side of the family, and the\ were ver) wealth} even then, so the) regarded me as a poor relation, and were v ery relies ed w hen they could see that 1 had no intention whatsoever of sponging on them or using them in an) way. But everyone did know that the rich Vincents were m\ family and this had its bad consequences as you'll see later. At the Saint Francis Hotel in San francisco. I had
a visit from a fellow called Jimmy
Northcroft who had been asked b\ m\
lamil} in Sydney to look me up. He invited me to spend the weekend with a woman whom he described as "m\ very dearest friend." a Mrs Sam Frankenheimer, who had a mansion north of San Francisa) in Stockton.
Next weekend sees me in Stockton and
who is m) partner at dinner but Murra) Eugene McEwen, who was shortly to become my first husband. He had been Mrs Randolph Hearst's dancing partner: that is. the original Mrs Hearst, who was
ditched in favor of Marion Davies.
"He had all the trimmings on a sort of sawdust body. But in the beginning, I saw only the trimmings."
Murray Eugene McEwen was one hell of a bad'un. He v L'S about the same age as I was, very good looking, very useless, and terrific company. Educated at Stanford, he had all the trimmings on a sort of sawdust body. But in the beginning 1 saw only the trimmings, and they were
His work was hotting, that is. living off other people. He made a speciality of rich, smart women. Murray was a gigolo and even that's too nice a description of him. Right there on that first meeting he proposed marriage to me and I accepted!
But let's leave Murray and m\ high society friends lhere for a bit. Once back in San Francisco I packed up and went south to Los Angeles to look for work in the film mecca of the world. Hollywood.
Though it looked magical, living and working in Hollywood was not like drifting on a cloud. As 1 was to find out. working in films was damn hard going and long hours.
At first I -worked as an extra and got three bucks a day. We had to be in the studios, which were just big barns, and ready on the sets at 7 am. All day we'd take
and retake until the director was satisfied,
which might not be until 7 pm. We got no extra dough for overtime.
Gradually directors started to notice me and I got calls at five dollars a day. Then, because I was an Australian, they thought that I must therefore be an "atherlete" so 1 was put on the stunt roster.
I had some wonderful jobs. I worked
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very often with W.C. Fields. I doubt if he
ever drew a sober breath. All his comic utterances came through a haze of booze, but he was a magnificent man. 1 also
worked with Houdini for a while.
Quite early in the piece 1 took on this black beauty spot on my face and I've used
it ever since as a trademark. I had a natural
mole there and one day one of the cameraman told me to get rid of "that bloody thing." Agnes Ayres, who was the star in "The Sheik." told me where to go to have it removed, which was all very well except that it left a red mark. To cover this up I dabbed the black spot on where I wear it to this day.
About once a week all of us youngsters who were trying to break into films would scrape up enough money to go to the
Alexandria Hotel. There we'd sit all dolled
up. and hope to be noticed by talent scouts while we ate and drank as little as possible
because we couldn't afford much.
Quite often we girls were joined by an extremely charming, wonderful looking, young Italian man with hair which looked like patent leather. His name was Rudolph
Valentino. Some time later I collaborated
on a screenplay for Rudi. Once I even tried to get him to seduce me.
Next thing that happened was that Paramount put me in stock, which meant being continuously employed and paid by the week. The money was very good for 1916, $75 a week!
I suppose I can't go on avoiding talking about my marriage to Murray Eugene McEwen, lt hurt me to my core, because I really loved him, despite the fact that he
had no morals, no backbone, no values. I was mesmerised.
"We were married for
four years from 1917 to 1921 and my God, did
I work for it!"
He always called me Peaches. Eventu- ally we became engaged and were married
in 1917 on the back veranda of his best friend's house. The Chinese cook was our witness.
We were married for four years from 1917 to 1921 and my God, did I work for it. Only six weeks after the wedding, Murray told me that he had thought that I came from the rich Vincent side of my family, and accused me of luring him into marriage under false pretences.
He was glad when I decided to go back
to work in stock at Paramount and he said ! he would follow me to Hollywood and try his luck in movietown. The amazing thing was that with all his charm and personalia
it wasn't long before he'd talked himself J into a job as an assistant director at 1 Universal, though he didn't know one end
of a camera from another.
From this point on he couldn't be bothered with me. 1 worked, he played.
One of the worst things Murray ever did was to sell my mother's je.wels. He then just drank up the money with some of his
friends. That's why I have nothing left of ' my mother's now except a little silver box. Murray and I finally parted. You can't go on caring for someone who behaves the way he did. 1 couldn't stick it a minute
The divorce came through very easily, and it was reported in the "Los Angeles
Times" under the headline "He Would *j K.eep Running Around."
My second husband and I met a! a suicide and, as if that wasn't a bad enough
omen, his middle name was Onesiphorus! I (From Timothy II, Chapter 1. v 16.) George Onesiphorus Jenner. You wouldn't think it would be possible, would you, for
one woman to pick two such lousy ^ husbands? That's me! But before we get | into the George Onesiphorus business, let's j
talk a little more about Hollywood.
I moved into The Home of Truth This j
LA charming portrait of the
young Dorothy Gordon
who became Andrea.
was a darling place all covered with vines.
The Home of Truth was a sort of
forerunner of what today would be a commune. To get up to it from Highland Avenue you had to climb up 92 steps. I'll always remember that number!
All of the people who lived there were given new names, mine was "The Sinful Consciousness!" I liked that! Every rooming we'd get up and do our exercises.
At this stage I was working on a film
script for Rudolph Valentino.
One day I looked out of the window in my bungalow at The Home of Truth. At the bottom of those 92 steps was tethered
the most divine white horse, about 16 or 17
hands high. Coming up the steps was
Valentino himself. I'd met him on the set of "The Sheik." but then he was the star
and I was only the robber's wife! Pd also met him plenty of times socially, but to have him call on me at home! My God . . .
When he came in he said. "Darling, I've come to ask you a great favor." My mind ran riot of course, with all manner of exciting possibilities! I said yes, I'd do
whatever it was he wanted. "I've heard that
you are going to be subpoenaed to appear in my divorce case," he said. "Would you testify on my side?" Well, I would have testified anything. I would have lied in my
teeth because he was such a charmer.
Rudi had had to leave his own house because streams of sightseers and fans on foot or in motor-cars waited, some of them
sleeping overnight in their cars, to try to touch him or just to get a glimpse of him. Beatle-mania had nothing on this.
To escape from it all, he lived in the Whitley Heights home of a lovely woman
called Bessie Freeman. Mrs Freeman had a
beautiful home with a separate apartment
in which the cameraman Paul Ivano lived.
He was Rudi's cameraman and friend, so it was in Paul's apartment that Rudi hid.
I often had dinner with Mrs Freeman, Paul and Rudi, and so it was that I hatched a little plot. In those days, every girl's dream was to go to bed with Valentino. I didn't do much of this sort of thing. All the time I was married to Murray, even though he was running around with other women.
I never once was unfaithful to him. That's
part of my code of behaviour. But this was between marriages and I thought, I've just got to make this conquest before he gets up anti gets his divorce from Jean Acker and marries again.
1 went to the Broadway store in Los Angeles, bought yards and yards of very expensive, glorious, white stuff and sewed up this beautiful creation.
"Rudi took my arm and I tried to lead him up the garden path, so to
speak, but he could read my mind."
f or dinner that night we had a beautiful spaghetti. After we'd eaten I suggested to Rudi that we take a stroll in the garden. Talk about brazen! Outside, Rudi took my arni and I tried to lead him up the garden path, so to speak, but he could read my mind and he said "Dorothy, you are a darling, but I don't want to make love to you, let's go back and have some more spaghetti."
When his divorce came up I couldn't wait to be subpoenaed and appear in the courthouse in Los Angeles. But the judge dismissed me. I didn't have a chance to say
Meanwhile I was still in stock ai
Paramount and one day Leo Goodstadt, who was perhaps the greatest casting
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director of all time, saw in my face a resemblance to Queen Mary, so he told me "Go and see Mrs West." She was the best dress designer in Hollywood. "Tell her io turn you out as Queen Mary."
lt was a long job, I can tell you. I had to have plastic bosoms and a large plastic behind, but by the time I sailed majestically forth 1 was. though I say it myself, the spittin' image of Her Majesty. From that time on I was regularly decked out in my majestic gear for publicity .'gimmicks, presentations, and so on.
"Queen Mary's Woman of the Bedchamber called me and said that Queen Mary wanted to meet me."
Years later when I returned to England as a journalist to cover the royal wedding in 1947, Queen Mary's Woman of the Bedchamber called me and said thal Queen Mary wanted to meet me. She had wished to see how I really looked because she had been told that I played her for a very long time in Hollywood. She was a very intimidating lady, and my legs shook the whole time. Later on she sent for me on various occasions and asked me to tell
her all about my experiences as a prisoner
It was at this time that all the stars were
! paying a well-known astrologist and
numerologist. Evangeline Adams, for hel- lo come up with new and lucky names j for them. I never had been too stuck on
Dorothy, so I scrimped and saved and got together $25. After quite a time 1 got back something which looked like it had been worked out in a medical school. But at the very bottom of the pile was "Andrea."
That seemed to be the right one for me. 1 went around all the casting agencies and told them that 1 had changed my name. They all said. "Don't be silly. Dorothy Gordon is how people remember you. Change your name and you'll have to start from the bottom again." So I took their advice and dropped the idea. It wasn't until I was in hospital in Paris in 1928 that the name came back to me again and at a time when I needed it.
By this time I had moved into the Hollywood Studio Club, which was run by the YWCA, and it was through a girlfriend, who was also living there, that 1 met George Onesiphorus. One Sunday evening ailer supper this girl roared into my room totally distraught and begged me to go with her to her boyfriend's place because ne had suicided. He had slashed his wrists ln the bathroom. There was blood, police, doctors, ambulance men, neighbors, thrill
seekers, and a wailing and a weeping and a gnashing of teeth.
In the middle of this scene, standing as though he were orchestrating the chaos, was this most handsome chap. More handsome even than Murray. When everything was sorted out this fellow asked
if he could drive me back to the club. On the way he told me that his name was George Onesiphorus Jenner, and when 1 recovered from the shock of that he said he must see me again.
To this day if you asked me why I married him I wouldn't be able to tell you. But I did. I think it was just that his looks knocked me for a row of loops. We were
married in 1922.
Until this time I hadn't much idea how
George actually made his money. I knew that as a sideline he had a little printing shop called The Oxford Press. Sometimes he would say. "Darling, sign these documents for me." and darling would sign without ever reading them. What wife would? Finally it was through his brother Charles that 1 discovered that what George was printing were false certificates. He was a share pusher. By putting my signature on the documents 1 was well and truly implicated. Me!
In the end I'd had it and I decided that
the only way out was to take my dad up on
his offer of a return fare home.
Coming back to Australia toward thc end of 1925 after ten years in Hollywood, 1
was filled with a sort of dread, mixed with
anticipation. But soon I was working again.
Greater Union Theatres picked me up
to star in "The Hills of Hate" by E. V. Timms. They decided that in Hollywood I had done everything short of direct C. B.
de Mille himself! So I let them think so.
"The Hills of Hate" was filmed at the Cinesound studios in Bondi Junction, and outside Dungog near the Gloucester Buckets. Il showed, but I would not say it
was a world-beater.
About this time I received a formal
document headed "Greetings from the
State of California." This meant that Mr
George Onesiphorus Jenner had divorced
me for desertion.
"In 1927 an Englishman
called Bertie Meyer wrote to me and asked whether, if he sent the fare, I would come to England."
Then I joined a group of men from the Union Club, who thought they would go into the promotion business. They chose me to be in charge of the artists they brought out.
The first one was Efrem Z im bahs t, one of the great violinists of that period. Old Efrem was the father of young Efrem, star of "77 Sunset Strip" and "FBI."
Then it was that something quite out of thc blue happened. In 1927 an English
man called Bertie Meyer wrote to me and asked whether, if he sent me the fare. 1 would come to England. I had known Bertie for years. He was by then a well-known and very successful en- trepreneur. I knew what he had at the back of his mind. Marriage.
This gift of a ticket from Bertie Meyer was. like most gifts, tied up with plenty of strings. But I thought that I'd untie those
when I had to.
From "Darlings, I've had a Ball!" (copyright Dorothy Gordon Jenner and Trish Sheppard, 1 975). To be published later this month.
Next week: Andrea returns to Europe, takes up journalism and, trapped by war, becomes a prisoner in Hong Kong.