Last week’s death of Robin Williams started us thinking about other film stars who had committed suicide.
Through the years there have been many “accidental” overdoses by well known stars —Judy Garland comes to mind as the most famous — but among the most notorious suicide of a major classic period film star was probably that of the lovely and largely unsung Carole Landis.
This despite the fact that she made nearly 50 movies. The problem is that all of them are pretty much forgettable.
Wisconsin-born Landis, who broke in with bit parts at Warner Brothers, emerged a 20th Century Fox contract starlet in the 1940’s plagued by a disastrous married life (involving four husbands) and a sputtering career. Along the way she had had many well known affairs including flings with Busby Berkeley and Darryl Zanuck.
In mid decade she started an affair with Rex Harrison at the time he was married to actress Lilli Palmer (a marriage he refused to end). In July of 1948, Harrison walked into Landis’ home in the Pacific Palisades — and discovered her dead body.
His lover had overdosed on sleeping pills. She was 29 when she killed herself. Her suicide note asked her mother to “pray for me.” Supposedly, when a maid discovered her body on the bathroom floor, she waited several hours before calling a doctor and the police.
Rumors soon circulated that Landis had left two suicide notes, one for her mother and one for Harrison. But supposedly the actor’s (or the studio’s) lawyers told him to destroy it.
Whatever the reality, it is Landis’ note to her mother that survived, and is quoted in Hollywood Babylon, author Kenneth Anger’s pioneering tell-all star guide published in 1975. The book covers the scandal waterfront from the silent movie era through the 1960’s, and it still makes for entertaining reading.
Landis’ suicide was a major Hollywood scandal, and threatened to end Harrison’s career. Fox and his wife Palmer stood by him and at the coroner’s inquest, the actor denied knowing any motive for Landis’ suicide. He also denied any knowledge of a second suicide note.
In any case, Landis joined a lengthy list of star suicides, which includes Lupe Velez, George Sanders and, the most famous of all, Marilyn Monroe.