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Scandalous Details About Lila Lee, The Forgotten Siren

Scandalous Details About Lila Lee, The Forgotten Siren


Identified for her on-screen wholesomeness, Lila Lee was the 1920s silent movie star whose profession crashed and burned due to her many private—but very public—scandals. Secret abortions. Blackmail marriages. And one unsolvable thriller. Lee’s life had all of it, after which some.


1. Her Identify Was A Mouthful

Lila Lee was born in 1905 to German immigrant dad and mom. They moved to New York when Lee was only a babe. Her precise identify was Augusta Wilhelmena Fredericka Appel. Now, that was clearly a mouthful and there was no manner that audiences would keep in mind that, so that they needed to give her a unique identify.

Whereas it was a friendlier, extra approachable sounding identify, it was one which wouldn’t actually match her scandalous life.

2. She Was Born To Be A Star

Neither of Lee’s dad and mom had any connections to the leisure trade—far much less the burgeoning movie trade. But it surely was apparent from day one which little Lee was going to be well-known. There are, nevertheless, various accounts of how precisely Lee acquired her begin within the trade. Both her dad and mom pushed—learn: shoved—her into the highlight, or the highlight discovered her.

3. She Was A Mouseketeer

Lila Lee was an outgoing and sociable little woman. Her dad and mom didn’t know something concerning the leisure trade however they knew that her endearing character and love of the highlight would serve her effectively on the stage. So, based on some sources, they enrolled Lee in Gus Edwards’ kiddie overview—suppose Mickey Mouse Membership, however circa 1900. However there’s one other facet to her story…

4. She Was Plucked Off The Streets

Whereas some sources say that Lee’s dad and mom thrust her into the limelight, there’s one other story that’s loads creepier. It means that Gus Edwards found Lee on the streets of New York in the future when she was taking part in with different youngsters. And given how issues with Gus Edwards went, it’s a lot likelier.

5. She Was Cuddly Like A Doll

Whichever manner Lila Lee acquired her begin in present enterprise, she was in and there was no stopping her now. Lee’s gregarious character endeared her to her fellow actors and audiences alike. The little woman with the large eyes and raven hair was simply so cute. Lee’s fellow actors gave her the nickname “Cuddles.” It was a reputation that might persist with her for the remainder of her profession.

Fairly lovely, however issues have been about to get loads much less cute…

6. Her Mother and father Pushed Her

Lee’s early appearing profession took off. She was wildly fashionable within the vaudevillian stage performances placed on by Gus Edwards. It was extraordinarily clear to Lee’s dad and mom that she couldn’t lead a traditional childhood. So, they employed a cadre of personal tutors and virtually thrust their daughter into the very keen arms of Gus Edwards.

Edwards’ spouse, Lillian, turned Lee’s authorized guardian—and the supply of her first scandal.

7. She Discovered Laborious Classes

Early on in her lengthy profession, Lila Lee acquired a style of Hollywood’s dangerous facet. At simply 15 years of age, Lee was already a film star and a ten-year veteran of the leisure enterprise. However the classes that almost all celeb actors get to study when they’re effectively into their 20s, Lee needed to study earlier than she might even drive.

In 1920, Lee filed go well with in opposition to her authorized guardian, Lillian Edwards.

8. Her Stuff Was Stolen

Lee accused Lillian Edwards, her authorized guardian, of profiting off of her. She claimed that Lillian had seized full management over her “cash, vehicles, furnishings, and sporting attire.” Lillian fired again on the go well with, claiming that she had invested numerous sums of cash in Lee since she was a toddler, barely out of diapers.

It wouldn’t matter for lengthy anyway. Lee had higher issues on her horizon—and greater scandals.

9. Her Fortunate Quantity Was 13

Lee had her movie debut in 1918’s The Cruise of the Make-Believes. Lee would solely have been 13 on the time, however that didn’t cease her from profitable over audiences. By all accounts, it was a towering success that introduced Lee fame for her wholesomeness on display—and, for now, off-screen as effectively. It wasn’t till the 1920s, nevertheless, when issues actually acquired began for Lee

10. She Was A Main Woman

Lee’s profession took off with the Roaring Twenties. Between 1920 and 1922 alone—after she ditched the Edwards for scamming her—Lee starred in 20 movies. That’s like, one, two, carry the six…loads of motion pictures yearly. Lee shortly turned a number one girl on display, which meant that she acquired to rub shoulders with a few of Hollywood’s hunkiest main males. Some have been charming, whereas others have been decidedly not.

11. Her Valentine Wasn’t Valentino

Lee’s co-stars included the earliest—and steamiest—Hollywood heartthrobs. Particularly, Lee starred alongside the sleepy-eyed and ever so dreamy Rudolph Valentino. However, not like audiences in every single place, she discovered him considerably lower than charming. On the set of 1922’s Blood and Sand, Lee needed to lock lips with Valentino on a few events.

Let’s simply say, she wished it finished in a single take.

12. She Didn’t Like Garlic Breath

Lila Lee needed to get a bit of too shut for consolation to Valentino n the set of Blood and Sand. The chiseled Italian-American actor most popular his lunches to be closely seasoned…with copious quantities of garlic. Because of this, Lee demanded that they shoot all of her kissing scenes with Valentino within the morning. I assume breath mints weren’t a factor but.

13. She Dated A Well-known Clown

Whereas “Cuddles” wasn’t desirous to lock lips with Valentino, she was cozying as much as a few of her different very well-known co-stars. Early on in her profession, insiders speculated that Lee had a romantic relationship with actor John Gilbert—however there was only one drawback. Gilbert was married on the time. He wasn’t her solely conquest, both.

Some sources declare that Lee dated humorous man Charlie Chaplin for a time. There weren’t many laughs in her future, although.

14. She Had A Sudden Marriage

Whereas it’s solely doable that Lee might have dated Chaplin and Gilbert, she ended up with a far much less fascinating main man. “Cuddles” met James Kirkwood Sr. on the set of Ebb Tide in 1922. The very subsequent 12 months, the couple waltzed down the aisle—and by waltzed, I imply one dragged the opposite by the hand. If the entire thing appeared a bit of rushed, that’s as a result of it was.

15. She Had Her Causes

Lee’s marriage to Kirkwood Sr. got here out of nowhere, and the explanation for her sudden nuptials remained a thriller till a long time later. In her autobiography, Lee revealed that her marriage to Kirkwood Sr. hadn’t precisely been a stereotypical Hollywood fairy story of a wedding—or, possibly that it had been a bit of too Hollywood.

Apparently, Kirkwood Sr. had blackmailed her into strolling down the aisle, and what he had on her was fairly darkish.

16. Her Mom Begged Her Not To Marry

Lila Lee’s mom was not completely happy along with her daughter’s choice to marry James Kirkwood Sr. She advised her that she want solely to have a look at the person’s previous to see that he wasn’t going to make for husband. He had already developed one thing of a, let’s assume, status. In fact, Lee knew that her mom was proper however there wasn’t something she might do about it.

And he or she couldn’t inform her mom the actual motive why she needed to marry this monster.

17. She Had A Child Bump

In her autobiography, Lee revealed the actual motive that she had needed to marry Kirkwood Sr. “Cuddles” confessed that she had misplaced her virginity to Kirkwood Sr. earlier than their marriage. And, if that wasn’t dangerous sufficient, she turned pregnant because of their tryst. Their little affair clashed with Lee’s healthful persona, and she or he couldn’t threat ruining her profession—or sending her mom to an early grave.

18. She Wished To Abort The Marriage

James Kirkwood Sr. had determined to forged himself within the position of Lee’s knight in shining armor—by no means thoughts that he was the one who acquired her pregnant within the first place. With a view to cowl up the entire sordid affair, he organized for Lee to get an abortion. And that weak second is simply when Kirkwood Sr. selected to make his transfer.

He threatened to inform Lee’s mom concerning the affair if she didn’t marry him. What else might she do?

19. Her Marriage Was A Whirlpool

The actress affectionately identified to audiences as “Cuddles” and her new dashing—if a bit of rakish—husband Kirkwood Sr. introduced a healthful picture to the general public. Lower than a 12 months into their marriage, they appeared collectively in 1923’s Love’s Whirlpool. In fact, behind the scenes, their love was an precise whirlpool that sucked all the happiness out of the room.

20. She Wasn’t A Glad Spouse

Kirkwood Sr. had outmaneuvered Lee and duped her into a wedding. However that didn’t imply that she needed to be a cheerful spouse. In 1928, Lee kicked up an affair with big-time author, producer, and director John Farrow. She wished nothing extra to do along with her manipulative husband but when she thought that divorce would come simple, she had one other factor coming.

21. She Wished A Divorce

Lee was having a good time along with her new beau, Farrow, whereas Kirkwood Sr. was away in London engaged on a movie. Provided that years had handed, Lee figured that Kirkwood Sr.’s blackmail wouldn’t maintain any extra sway. She wrote to Kirkwood Sr. that she wished to break up. However Kirkwood Sr. wasn’t about to only let her go. Not after he had manipulated her into marriage within the first place.

22. She Bought Her Divorce, And Then Some

Lee knew that her husband was a grasp of manipulation—that was, in any case, how he had gotten that ring on her finger within the first place. However she had no concept simply how loopy he really was. When she despatched him the divorce papers, Kirkwood Sr. was all too completely happy to signal them. But when it appeared to Lee like he had given up too simply, that’s as a result of he hadn’t given up in any respect.

He had one card to play. And he would play it effectively.

23. She Gave Delivery To A Son

Lee and Kirkwood Sr. hadn’t had a cheerful marriage, however they’d managed to salvage one thing treasured between them. The couple had one baby collectively—not together with the kid that Kirkwood Sr. pressured Lee to abort. Kirkwood Sr. signed the divorce papers however, when it got here to custody of their solely baby, Kirkwood Jr., he wasn’t letting it go and not using a struggle.

24. She Misplaced Her Solely Son

Kirkwood Sr. knew that Lee didn’t love him. However she liked their son. So, get again at her for divorcing him, he demanded full custody of their solely baby. Lee wouldn’t have deserted her son to his maniacal father if she had a alternative, however he’d made a completely disturbing menace. Kirkwood Sr. advised her that he’d kill Farrow, Lee, Kirkwood Jr., and himself if Lee fought for custody.

She reluctantly agreed. She was lastly freed from that satan—and prepared for extra.

25. She Took An Anti-Honeymoon

Following her 1931 divorce from her husband—AKA the madman Kirkwood Sr.—Lee needed to take an anti-honeymoon. The stresses of her nightmare of a wedding coupled along with her demanding profession had taken their toll on her well being. She traveled to a sanitorium in Arizona, ostensibly for tuberculosis. Nonetheless, folks speculated that she was there for an additional motive.

26. She Could Have Had A Unhealthy Behavior

Lila Lee had been within the leisure enterprise since she had been 5. That was greater than sufficient time to select up some dangerous habits. Some speculated that Lee’s journey to Arizona wasn’t to get better from tuberculosis and soothe her frayed nerves from a harrowing divorce. There have been rumors that Lee was recovering—unsuccessfully—from substance dependancy.

These rumors continued to plague her all through her profession.

27. She Referred to as Off An Engagement

In all the chaos swirling round Lila Lee, there was, she thought, one shiny spot. Following her divorce from James Kirkwood Sr., Lee turned engaged to John Farrow. However even that silver lining turned out to be one other heartbreak. Lee known as off the engagement after she realized that Farrow had been untrue to her.

Yeesh, can’t a silent movie star get a break? Nope. No, she can’t.

28. She Wished The Easy Life

Lila Lee had been round Hollywood bigwigs and fellow stars since she had been a bit of woman. She wanted a change. She swore off of Hollywood males following her run-ins with Kirkwood Sr. and Farrow. Whereas common guys might need handled Lee loads higher, they got here with their very own set of bags. And an entire lot of career-ending drama for Lee.

29. She Discovered A First rate Man

Lee started seeing a dealer by the identify of Jack R. Peine. It should have been a scorching and heavy romance. However, like several flame, it burned sturdy at first after which shortly crackled out. However, the couple was married by December 8, 1934. There was no secret abortion. No blackmail. No threats in opposition to her baby. It regarded like Lee had lastly discovered happiness.

30. Her Husband Deserted Her

After all the heartbreak of her first marriage, Lila Lee’s marriage to Peine appeared like a fortunately ever after—however it was much less fairy story, and extra horror story. Earlier than the flowers of their wedding ceremony bouquet had even wilted, Peine took off and left Lee behind. So, whereas Lee scoured the suburbs on the lookout for a house for the newlyweds to maneuver into, her husband had gone off to get pleasure from their honeymoon alone in sunny Mexico.

When he got here again a month later, Lee wasn’t shopping for the excuse that he had simply been engaged on his tan.

31. She Kicked Her Husband To The Curb

On July 2, 1935—lower than a full 12 months after they’d mentioned their “I dos”—Lee cut up from Peine. She might need forgiven the poor sop for his journey to Mexico—maybe the man actually favored genuine tacos and tamales—however all the pieces else was simply past the pale. Lee had had sufficient of Peine and his playing, hard-drinking, dishonest methods.

Consider it or not, this made him the least scandalous of her lovers.

32. She Moved In With Mates

Following her divorce from Peine, Lee as soon as once more wanted to clear her head. She moved within the novelist Gouverneur Morris and his spouse, Ruth Morris. However whereas was anticipating to spend some quiet time with mates, getting herself again on her toes, destiny had different plans. Lee had no concept that she was about to offer Morris the story of his lifetime.

33. She Had A Factor For Automobile Salesmen

With the assistance of her mates, the Morrises, Lee moved on from her marriage to Peine fairly shortly. In 1935, she started courting automobile salesman, Reid Russell. Whereas her relationship with Russell would last more than her marriage to Peine, it will have a much more dramatic ending. Actually, the ending was downright grotesque.

34. Her Relationship Ended Gruesomely

Lee’s relationship with Russell got here to a sudden and inexplicable finish. On September 25, 1936, Lee’s son Kirkwood Jr. found the lifeless physique of Russell swinging in a hammock outdoors of the Morris family. Russell had a single .32caliber bullet wound to the pinnacle. Curiously, nevertheless, investigators by no means discovered the bullet or the shell casing.

That was simply the opening chapter within the scandal that might destroy Lee’s nice profession.

35. She Bought Her Story Straight

The hypothesis surrounding the invention of Russell’s physique started instantly. Lee and the Morrises all confirmed to investigators, nevertheless, that there wasn’t a lot to see right here in any respect. All three advised the investigators—for the advantage of the tabloids—that Russell had talked incessantly about suicide, significantly after shedding his job. However their story didn’t completely add up.

36. She Stored A Secret From Investigators

Lila Lee later divulged that Mrs. Morris had advised her a couple of suicide notice. Lee mentioned that Ruth Morris advised her that she had found the notice in her jewel field—of all of the unusual locations—two or three days following the invention of Russell’s physique. Lee selected to not disclose this reality to the investigators—after which, her conduct acquired weirder.

37. She Burned After Studying

Mrs. Morris did ultimately inform the investigators concerning the suicide notice she had present in her jewel field. However she additionally advised them that she couldn’t produce the notice itself—all for a weird motive. Lee claimed that she had by no means seen the notice herself, however mentioned that Mrs. Morris had learn it to her after which burned it in an ashtray.

If that appeared suspicious, then the subsequent gap of their story was ominous.

38. She Had Selective Deafness

Much more unusual than the entire suicide notice episode was Lee and the Morrises’ recollections of the occasions previous the invention of Russell’s physique. Whereas they claimed that there had been no argument and even any noise across the time of the incident, their neighbors claimed to have heard one thing utterly totally different.

Whereas Lee and the Morrises claimed to not have heard the assuredly deafening sound of a .32 caliber spherical going off, all of their neighbors mentioned they’d heard it.

39. She Would Have Slayed For Love

For those who can imagine it, there was yet one more twist. To forged much more suspicion on the entire debacle, Russell’s mom claimed to have acquired telephone calls from an unknown feminine demanding to know the place Russell was. Investigators entertained the thought of a “love slaying.” In fact, Lee was Russell’s solely identified lover on the time.

The investigation was simply beginning to get fascinating.

40. She Could Have Had The Investigation Shutdown

On December 12, 1936, a bit of over a 12 months after Kirkwood Jr. found Russell’s physique, District Lawyer Burron Fitts closed the Russell case as a suicide. Fitts claimed that there couldn’t have been foul play at hand. Nonetheless, Fitts had a historical past of accepting bribe cash from movie studios. And who labored for movie studios if not “Cuddles”?

41. She Wrote A Confession

Lee wrote concerning the scandal in her autobiography. She mentioned: “They began digging across the place they usually had discovered that our gardener had had relations with a sheep, had buried it […] The gardener had made a cross at Jimmy when he was alone in the home within the afternoon. He was gotten rid of however quick.” So, regulation enforcement turned up lots concerning the gardener, however what was Reid Russell?

As Lee wrote, “I feel he [Reid Russell] dedicated suicide.” However in a while, she contradicted herself.

42. She Had A Slip Of The Tongue

Years after the entire scandal had blown over, Lila Lee made a disturbing slip of the tongue. She was talking to Evan Rhodes concerning the scandal when she might need let the reality about Russell’s premature demise slip out. Rhodes wrote down that Lee had mentioned within the interview, “Do you wish to know concerning the killing? [No], not the killing—the suicide[?]”

43. Her Profession Was Over

Regardless of the information of the Russell scandal, one factor is for certain. Lila “Cuddles” Lee was outdated information in Hollywood. The Russell scandal—alongside along with her ailing well being and rumors of substance dependancy—successfully ruined her profession and she or he appeared in her final movie in 1937. Lee would by no means attain her former degree of fame once more.

44. She Tried Marriage A Third Time

Lee disappeared into obscurity within the 1940s. She continued to undergo from ill-health and didn’t take up any new work. She was capable of mend her damaged coronary heart, although. Lee should have had a factor for brokers. She married dealer John E. Murphy in 1944, however the couple known as it quits 5 years later. Her remaining years weren’t simple.

45. She Was At The Mercy Of Her Ex’s Spouse

Being out of labor, of poor well being, and divorced—a number of instances over—Lee was left in a state of utter devastation. The royalties from her movies weren’t precisely rolling in anymore. To make issues worse, her third husband’s will left her on the mercy of his second spouse. By all accounts, she was one thing of a penny-pincher who had little time for Lee.

46. Her Stage Collapsed

Lila Lee tried to return to her former glory days of gracing the large display. All through the 1940s, she made repeated appearances on the stage. However the audiences who had as soon as lovingly known as her “Cuddles” have been far much less receptive to her in her 50s. None of Lee’s stage appearances earned her any accolades. Nonetheless, she wasn’t finished making an attempt.

47. She Took A Soaping

Following her unsuccessful return to the stage, Lee even tried to make a daring return to Hollywood. She took on smaller roles in early cleaning soap operas within the 1950s. Whereas Lee was, herself, no stranger to the dramas in a cleaning soap opera—her life had virtually been one—audiences have been cool to them. Nonetheless, Lee had one final probability to make a comeback.

48. She Was In A Cursed Movie

Lila Lee lastly managed to search out herself again on the set of one other main Hollywood manufacturing. Nicely, not main, however nonetheless Hollywood. Lee appeared in 1967’s totally forgettable Cottonpickin’ Chickenpickers. It will be the final time that Lee ever appeared on display. However the movie might need been cursed.

It was a career-ender for the likes of once-shining stars Greta Thyssen, Tommy Noonan, and Sunny Tuft.

49. She Handed Away Peacefully

Lila Lee moved to Saranac Lake, New York to hunt therapy for her tuberculosis—or ingesting habits and frayed nerves. Or possibly she was on the lam for the still-mysterious passing of Reid Russell. Both manner, Lee handed on after a stroke in 1973, far faraway from the glamor of her 1920s heydays.

50. She’s Misplaced To Historical past

Lila Lee has about 100 movie credit to her identify. Regardless of the lower than climactic ending to her profession, she dazzled audiences for the higher a part of three a long time. However sadly, trendy viewers won’t ever understand how good she was. Most of Lee’s appreciable filmography is taken into account to be misplaced perpetually. Her scandalous story, nevertheless, endures.

Sources: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 7, 8, 9


Initially Revealed by – Brendan Da Costa

Unique Supply – www.factinate.com

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Written by Harry Rosen

Harry Rosen is an accomplished explorer, photographer, creative director, speaker, and author.

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