Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Interesting Twist- Toni Mannix Wasn't Married When She Dated Superman!

So as many of you who are familiar with the mysterious death of actor George Reeves, you then are familiar with the affair he had with MGM Vice President Eddie Mannix's wife, Toni. What many may not know though, is the fact that during the beginning of Toni's relationship to George, she was not married to Eddie. In fact, the information I am about to present to you will probably throw you for a loop. I am still actively searching for more information in regards to other aspects of this story, but for now, I will give you what I have dug up so far.

Toni Lanier-

Toni Lanier was born Camille Antoinette Froomess on February 19, 1906 (based on US CENSUS RECORDS 1920) in New York where she appears to be one month shy of 14 years of age at the time. The records also show her to be of Russian ethinicity with her family who immigrated from France.

I cannot find where the name Toni Lanier came into play, however it could have been a stage name that Ziegfeld gave her when she started appearing as a dancer for the Ziegfeld Follies. In fact, she was revered as such a great dancer with the best pair of legs, that Ziegfeld insured them for $1,000,000.00 (one million dollars) while she performed for them. Later on she her legs were insured with Lloyd's of London for $25,000 per leg!

Jesse Livermore, Jr.
When Toni met Eddie Mannix, she had become irate over how she was being treated while on the set of  The Great Ziegfeld so she stormed off and 'allegedly' headed for Hawaii. As the story goes, Mannix was sent to fetch her and bring her back. I guess sparks flew between the two of them and Toni began seeing Mannix.  Although, Eddie was not the only man she was dating at the time. Toni Lanier had a reputation of being a "girl about town" and many newspapers stated her dating several men and even allegedly marrying Jesse Livermore, Jr., who inherited a franchise of the Pepsi Cola Company in 1937.  Mr. Livermore, only 18 years of age at the time of this 'alleged' wedding was the son of Jesse Livermore, Sr. and wife, a former Ziegfeld Follies dancer as well, Dorthea Wendt (who was 23 years his junior). Mr. Livermore (Sr.) was a successful businessman often referred to as "Great Bear of Wall Street" or "The Boy Plunger." What I find interesting about this "wedding" of Toni Lanier and Jesse Livermore Jr.,  that allegedly had taken place was the fact that only 6 months later Jesse wed Evelyn Bletzer Sullivan of Baltimore in November of 1937. It seems that Livermore's relationship with Ms. Lanier may have just been publicity hype after all, unless they had an anullment shortly after the secret marriage.
Toni Lanier's Personality

 From what I have read on Ms. Lanier, she was a big mouth and a little on the rude side. In fact, I read an article (News-Sentinal June 2, 1936) where she blatently criticized any girl who danced Hula because it "makes the calves bulge."

She went on to say: " Hawaiian beauties haven't got a chance in competition with girls over here because of their hula-ing and because they go barefoot and their legs grow heavy. When girls of this country become as 'leg conscious' as the men are, we'll have healthier women and lovelier legs. There's no excuse for misshapen legs, it requires only a little care to form the muscles properly, excepting of course, in the case of thick ankles. I don't know what can be done about that!"

Sounds like a peach huh?! No wonder Mannix loved her, she was his counterpart!

Someone Was Still In The Way

Toni and Eddie's relationship seemed to pick up steam just around the time that Jesse Jr. married Evelyn.
But, Eddie was still married to his wife of 18 years Bernice Fitzmaurice, daughter of Irish parents back east. According to my sources, Bernice learned of the affair that Eddie was having with Toni and she filed for divorce, moving out towards Palm Springs. The oddity of this whole situation is the fact that I believe that Toni and Bernice knew each other before Toni hooked up with Eddie Mannix. Why you ask?

Well according to The Reading Eagle (August 6, 1934) it states various statements made by stars and socialites in regards to various events or vacations. It says:

"Bernice Mannix postcards from New York that everything "is just ducky!"- And Camille (Toni) Lanier Pensditto"....
I think that they made a typo and meant to say "Camille Lanier pens "ditto," meaning that she agreed with Bernice. Very interesting, if you ask me. What in the world were the two of them doing in New York together? Were they vacationing together? They had to have been friends or acquaintances at least to be mentioned together in the same article.

By 1937, Bernice met a terrible fate when the car she was riding in with Al Wertheimer, a Detroit mobster crashed. Wertheimer was also an owner of  ‘The Dunes’ a popular nightclub where Bernice had been gambling and drinking until the early hours of that morning. According to the book “Spencer Tracy: A Biography” by author James Curtis, Bernice was crushed on impact after the car Wertheimer was driving swerved to avoid a tow truck that was stopped in the middle of the road assisting and broke down vehicle. Wertheimer slammed on the brakes and lost control of his coupe and went off the road flipping several times and throwing Wertheimer from the vehicle. Eddie flew out to Banning as soon as he got word of the accident. Later on Mannix, his niece Alice and Howard Strickling travelled via train to Boston taking with them Bernice’s body to her mother Margaret Fitzmaurice to have her buried. (one note:  Eddie Mannix was said to have been unable to have children, therefore Bernice spoiled her nieces and nephews as if they were her own children.)

Not soon after Bernice was buried, Toni Lanier dug her claws into Eddie Mannix by moving in with him right away. She continued her relationship with Mannix (unmarried) for many years, sometimes she would use the name "Mrs. Mannix" in order to get the right treatment in social circles, however she did not marry Eddie Mannix until 1951. ---Many have speculated that Eddie may have had Bernice killed or even perhaps Toni played a part in the whole thing? Makes you wonder...

The time frame in which Toni met George Reeves is often speculated. In the movie, "Hollywoodland" Reeves character is portrayed running into Toni Mannix at a upscale Hollywood night club near the beach (in California). More than likely Reeves actually met Toni in New York while he was working there. The fact is, Reeves was already "intimately" acquainted with Toni long before her wedded bliss to Eddie Mannix.

One may wonder why Eddie Mannix would put up with that sort of relationship before tying the knot, but you have to recall that Eddie was very close friends with Spencer Tracy, who also was married and had Katherine Hepburn on the side. Open marriages in Hollywood were "taboo" but were also secretly happening. Perhaps Toni had dirt on Eddie and one more dead wife would be too much for even big shot MGM to cover up. Perhaps, Eddie was happy with his affairs and just wanted to make Toni happy by letting her keep her "boy-toy" Reeves. Whatever the case, let it be known, Toni Mannix was NOT married to Eddie Mannix when her love affair with Superman began......

(COPYRIGHT 2013-by:  J'aime Rubio via Hollywoodland Forever, published by Dreaming Casually Publications)

News-Sentinal (June 2, 1936)
Reading Eagle (August 6, 1934)
US Census 1920
Pittsburgh Press (November 15, 1937)
Milwaukee Sentinel (May 8, 1937)
Spencer Tracy: A Biography- by James Curtis

Saturday, March 16, 2013

The Day Superman Wasn't Faster Than A Speeding Bullet- George Reeves Death

On June 16th, 1959 sometime after 1 a.m., actor George Reeves was killed by a single gunshot wound to his right temple. The rumors and conspiracies that followed the tragic events of that night became a whirlwind of confusion that remains unsolved even to this day.

George Reeves was born, George Keefer Brewer on January 5th, 1914. His mother Helen Lescher had become pregnant out of wedlock and by the time she was five months pregnant she then married her beau Don Brewer, but later the marriage fell apart.

She then married Frank Bessolo in 1925, who later adopted George as his own son. It was not until George was 15 that he learned from his mother that Frank had committed suicide. It devastated him. Later he learned that his mother had lied to him and that not only was Frank Bessolo alive and well but that he was not his biological father. Needless to say George had issues with his mother after that.

His Early Career-

George studied acting at the Pasadena Playhouse where he met his wife Ellenora Needles. They married in 1940 and divorced in 1950 without having had any children. During that time between 1939- 1950 Reeves had worked in 19 films including “Gone with the Wind”, playing the role of one of the Tarleton twins. Although he was active in the Hollywood scene, he never could seem to get the “big role” he had dreamed of his entire life.

Photobucket Toni Mannix-

In 1951 George met Toni Mannix, wife of MGM Studios Manager Eddie Mannix. Upon her pursuit for his affections he later learned that her marriage was open, being that Eddie Mannix was openly in a relationship with an Asian woman whom he took care of. Toni and George were seen dining alongside Eddie and his Asian mistress at some of the finest dining establishments in Los Angeles at that time. During that time is when Reeves landed the role of Superman on a television program. His career soon took off, and he became a household name and a hero that thousands of children looked up to. In his mind though, he was a failure. After becoming Superman he could not get any parts in decent film roles due to being type casted, it seemed he was in a bigger rut then ever before.

The relationship between Reeves and Toni lasted some 8 years until George called it off around the same time he had met Lenore Lemmon in New York while he was away on business.

Photobucket Lenore Lemmon-

Lenore was a money hungry party girl, who was the first woman in history to be thrown out of Stork Club in New York for fist fighting. She married for money twice, to Socialite Jacob Webb and then later to Musician Hamish Menzies. She was later divorced before having met Reeves.

The story that still floats around after all these years was that they were engaged and going to be married. No where can you find that Reeves ever confirmed this. Lenore wanted to be engaged to him. There was no wedding planned in Mexico, in fact her friend (a girl friend) was tagging along to the trip in Mexico because the trip was strictly a publicity trip for Superman. Reeves schedule had him booked in Mexico, Spain and Australia due to being signed on for another year playing Superman and Lenore was just coming along for the trip- not getting married. It was all wishful thinking on her part.

The fateful night-

So the night is June 15th, 1959 and George had already retired for the evening in the master bedroom which is located facing the back of the house (not above the garage as many assume). Sometime around 12:30 a.m. Lenore’s friends stopped by for a visit. George was awakened by the noise and came down to see what the commotion was. He was not happy about the late night visit as his open door policy of allowing guest in to the home ended normally at 12 midnight, and this was well after that. Nevertheless he welcomed his friends in and visited with them briefly before bidding them goodnight and retiring back to the room.

Now it has been said by the guests and Lenore herself, that she jokingly mentioned “Oh he is probably going to go shoot himself now” as he went up to bed. Whether that was some kind of joke or not, the shooting part is exactly what happened.

So here is the part where we speak about the theories and the facts-

Some say that Toni Mannix, who was so grief stricken from George having had broken their relationship off to be with Lenore could have pushed her over the edge to hire a hit man to kill George.

I don’t buy that. Toni was a smart cookie, but definitely not a killer. She taught George everything he knew about business and loved him dearly. She was also much older than he was and knew how to maintain herself in that element of scandals in Hollywood at that time.

Now I won’t rule out that Eddie Mannix could have had something to do with it. He loved his wife, although their relationship was far from a normal one. He didn’t want to see her in pain and George did inflict pain on his wife by breaking up with her. Eddie was known as the “Bulldog” of MGM Studios and he had connections to high profile “fixers” with MGM that were rumored to have possibly played a part in the death of Paul Bern and other various scandals in Hollywood. It would not be a far fetched idea that Eddie was somehow involved.

But what about Lenore? Ms. Lenore Lemmon was after his money and there wasn’t a person out there that could say otherwise. Perhaps she found out about George’s will and realized that even as his wife she would still have had no rights to his estate. His will mentioned Toni Mannix as the sole beneficiary.

George never agreed to marry Lenore in the first place. Lenore went around telling everyone that she was going to be George Reeves’ wife but there had never been an actual engagement nor had there been any true plans for a wedding at all. Saying you are engaged doesn’t mean that you are, and George was quoted on several times actually replying “I never agreed to any of that” after she had stated “we are engaged” to friends out in public places.

One of the persons who was there the night of Reeves death later admitted that Lenore had been upstairs when the shot rang out and that she rushed downstairs distraught. She kept telling them over and over “You have to say I was downstairs”. After pressuring her friends to cover for her they then called the police to report the death, a whole 30 minutes after the fact.

Then there is the mention of suicide-

George was found on the bed, lying on his back. The gun was on the floor and the shell casing was lying underneath him. There were no fingerprints on the gun, and the police never checked for GSR on Reeves hands. His head did not have GSR which shows that the gun was not touching his temple at the time that the gun fired.

Now comes to the gun-

George’s gun was a .30 caliber Luger Pistol. According to Bob Shell, a gun expert and ammo maker “a .30 caliber Luger throws the casings to the right & rear at various angles”. The gun would have had to have been held upside down facing up in order for the casing to have shot out and landed behind him before his body fell back onto the bed.

From the trajectory of the gunshot wound, going from his right temple it shows that the gun had to have been placed near his right temple at an angle upwards.

Mind you, Reeves had a virtually worthless right hand after having been severely injured in an auto accident earlier. He was even on strong prescription pills for the pain of his injury so it would have been nearly impossible for him to have held the gun to his head, let alone pulled the trigger.

I did my own little investigation and it is puzzling- if he had really killed himself he would have had to have held the gun upside down in order for the shell casing to have landed behind him, but at the same time it is possible to think that someone else shot him as well. The results remain inconclusive. In the police reports it is obvious that their investigation had holes in it in the sense that they checked for GSR on his head but not on his hands, and did not seem to find any fingerprints on the gun, not even Reeves’.

So then if he didn’t shoot himself and the gun was held upside down who did it, and why? Obviously someone wanted to make it elaborately look like a suicide?

Perhaps then it was just a tragic an accident?

Maybe Lenore, being the big mouth she was, made a joke to him about shooting himself and he chose to play a round of Russian roulette as he often did. Perhaps he had her pretend to shoot him with it, and she did. Maybe it wasn't a joke or Russian roulette at all. Maybe Lenore followed George upstairs to belittle and criticize him as usual, perhaps she had the gun and shot the gun to scare him. In the movie "Hollywood Land" the first scenario of his death is quite possible. It would explain how the two other bullet holes were made in the floor and how if George was struggling to get the gun from Lenore's hand it could have been facing upside down in the struggle and accidentally fired. Upon realizing that she actually shot and killed him she rushed down the stairs and conjured up a story for her friends to follow along with until the police arrived.

The facts of the matter are that George Reeves died. Could he have killed himself? Sure, anything is possible. Could he have withstood the pain and disability in his right hand to pull the trigger? I am sure it is possible. But why did he kill himself a few days before his international trip to market the new season of Superman?

Could Lenore have killed him either intentionally or even by accident? I could say that is entirely plausible and the most likely of all suspects. She was not a happy person, she fought with George often and enjoyed belittling him any chance she got. She was riding his coat tails as best as she could and it is possible she got sick of him after he did not agree to marry her.

What about Toni Mannix? I don’t believe she killed him or had anything to do with his death. I do believe however that it is also a possibility that Eddie Mannix her husband could have been involved without Toni having any knowledge of it. Eddie Mannix was suspected of having his first wife killed in a "make believe" car chase that ended in a fatal accident, not unlike the car accident that Reeves' had been in that injured his hand. There were rumors that the brakes had been cut or the brake fluid had been drained in the Jaguar that Reeves was driving that crashed into a brick wall. The police concluded that his car had slid on a patch of oil in the road and crashed, however that theory had never been proven to be true. The mystery of Eddie Mannix's first wife's death and the car accident that injured Reeves' hand are still unsolved as well.

Sadly, there is no way I can solve this mystery of how George Reeves died and why. Reeves certainly isn’t talking. Unfortunately this will remain an unsolved mystery that will be remembered in history. The time that Superman wasn’t faster than a speeding bullet.


© J'aime Rubio- 2011 All Rights Reserved
originally published via Dreaming Casually 9/8/11

Various Newspaper Archives
Gun Expert Bob Shell

A Forgotten Wife, A Hollywood Homicide & An Unsolved Mystery

copyright: J'aime Rubio

While researching a story for my blog I came across another mystery that I knew was too good to pass up. I had gone to the East Lawn Cemetery in Sacramento to take photographs of the grave of Anna Corbin, the housekeeper who was murdered at Preston Castle in Ione California in 1950. I was going through the list of “famous internments” and came across the name Dorothy Millette Bern.

I didn’t recognize the name at first but after I looked into it I realized that she was the estranged wife of MGM Executive Paul Bern. The same Paul Bern who was also married to famous movie star Jean Harlow and the same man who tragically died from a mysterious gunshot wound to the head in 1932. Many people say it was suicide but from the moment I heard about it that just didn’t sit right with me. Once I heard that Dorothy had died on or about the day after Paul Bern, I became fixated on the story even more.

The more I dug the more unbelievable discoveries I made. This article is a no holds barred look at Dorothy and Paul's life together, what possibly transpired the night of Paul’s Death, and who, what, when and why it was covered up. It will also show that during that period of time, that ‘Show Business’ reigned supreme in Los Angeles, and not even the Police or the District Attorney could control the powerful leviathans who ran Hollywood.


Dorothy Millette was born in France in 1895 (NOT 1886 as her grave marker claims). She immigrated with her family to the United States in 1899. I find it quite strange that I have read so many articles where people claim she was born in Indiana, Idaho or Ohio and that she was married before. All of these theories are simply untrue. There were even newspaper articles after her death of people who falsely came forward claiming she was a “long lost sister” in hopes that they would cash in on any estate she could have left behind (or inherited from  Paul Bern).  Dorothy was not born a U.S. Citizen and she had never been married prior to her relationship with Paul Bern.

It was confirmed through Paul’s sister and brother that Dorothy met Paul in Toronto, Canada and then later lived in New York with him after he had graduated from the American Academy of Dramatic Arts. Their relationship began around 1911 and continued into the 1920s. In fact, the US Census records for 1920 show Paul and Dorothy as man and wife living in the District “Borough of Manhattan" at the Algonquin Hotel.

It was reported that around August of 1920 Dorothy started showing signs of a mental illness (although no one has ever been able to prove if this is true, or what type of symptoms she was having). Eventually she went to stay at the Blythewood Sanitorium in Greenwich, Conneticut.  During her stay there, Paul continued to support her financially, paying for all of her needs and care and even visiting her on occassion.

I have read accounts that Dorothy went “mental” after Bern’s mother committed suicide due to the fact that he was living with a non-Jew, but that simply isn’t the case. In fact, Dorothy was with Paul for over 9 years before Paul’s mother passed away in October 1920.  There were employees from the Algonquin Hotel who actually stated that she was not committed to any institution,  but remained a tenant at the hotel and was living there at the hotel for over 10 years. I believe she may have stayed at Blythewood for a time period and moved back to the Algonquin, where her and Paul's apartment was, thus the reports from staff at the hotel confirming her continued residence there.

Allegedly, The Blythewood Sanitarium lost all of their records in the 1950’s therefore there has never been any clear cut facts of the ailments that Dorothy suffered from or if she even was a patient there at all.  Newspapers claimed that she was very much of sound mind according to her doctors when she was released however, there are no real doctor's reports quoted in the newspaper articles. Also, think about this. There were also rumors she had been in a coma for ten years. Again, we DO NOT know why she went to Blythewood. We can only assume...there are no facts proving she was "mental."

Whatever the case, Dorothy was released and moved back into the Algonquin Hotel. According to Paul's brother, Dorothy went back to New York sometime between 1930 and 1932. But my sources say she moved back to the Algonquin actually around 1923-1924.  Paul continued to send her money every month and paid for her stay. He also would visit her along with his brother Henry Bern (who was fond of Dorothy) whenever they were in New York.

During the time that Dorothy was staying in New York, Paul and Jean Harlow were kindling their new found relationship. So many speculated that it was an odd pair but the couple acted as if they were in love.

Paul's good friends claimed that Jean was the pursuer in the relationship and that eventually she pulled Paul into her web. It was also said that Harlow was told the only way to the top was to marry up…meaning no more actors and low life thugs—only big wig producers…funny how she just fell into Bern’s lap huh? 

The unlikely pair, married on July 5th , 1932. They seemed to have rushed into things, not even planning the wedding but just “winging it” at the last minute.

Jean was starting to make the big bucks thanks to Paul getting her contract bought by MGM, but Paul was having some money problems of his own. Although he was more established in Hollywood with a highly regarded name, he was secretly going broke. Living lavishly and not taking in as much as he was spending, he ended up owing people all over town. People even made jokes that he couldn't even afford to buy a can of cat food let alone buy Jean a home. Perhaps Jean sought Paul out with the thought of "making it big" with his help and his money, but ironically in fact Jean had more money than Paul.

Actually, the house on Easton Drive was originally Paul’s. He deeded the home to her after taking out a mortgage of almost the value of the home just to sustain his lifestyle. Jean didn’t want the house and wanted to sell it, but Paul loved the home and wanted to remain there.

Money issues seemed to be the root of their problems, although many claimed he was sexually inadequate to perform intercourse. Louis B Mayer's doctor claimed Bern had a penis the size of a infant boy. But the people who knew Paul were aware that he was sexually active. After all, he had been with Dorothy for well over 9 years. Also, he was sleeping around with his secretary Irene Harrison, although he never made the relationship much more than a “booty call”. The idea that he couldn't perform in the bed was just a farce so that people would believe that could have been a reason to have killed himself. It wasn’t true.

In May 1932, Dorothy moved to the Plaza Hotel in San Francisco for “a change in climate”. Dorothy called Paul frequently and wrote letters often. Paul also sent Dorothy $350 monthly for her expenses. Many times Paul wrote her back or had his secretary Irene Harrison send the monthly payments. Nevertheless, Paul's “relationship” with Dorothy was friendly.

Jean adamantly denied having any prior knowledge about Dorothy but, in fact the wooden beams to the Tudor Styled home that Paul deeded to Jean, had four carved faces on them. One of the faces was none other than Dorothy Millette Bern. Henry Bern confirmed that Dorothy was spoken of regularly within Paul’s inner circle of friends which included his new wife, Jean.

Jean must have known all about Dorothy and continuously denied it. Also it was stated that Mama Jean, Marino Bello (a mob connected opportunist) and Jean all took a day trip up to San Francisco months before Paul’s death and only stayed an hour before returning back to Los Angeles.

Perhaps they had a meeting with Dorothy to see if she was telling the truth about being the wife of Paul Bern? It was said that Dorothy had spoken to them and shown them letters that Paul had sent her. It seemed that Jean wasn’t happy that Paul had a woman from his past, who was still present in his life.

Another thing to mention was that Paul Bern had more than one will, he had three. Many sites mention two, however the Daily Capital News (9/27/1932) states that Herman Koch  hired Attorney Chester Gannon to represent Dorothy's estate. Letters of Administration was granted in the California Superior Court in order to prove that Dorothy was in fact Paul Bern's wife. 

Koch also claimed that two of the three wills that Bern had drawn up listed Dorothy as his wife. The first will bequeathed a monthly annuity to Dorothy in the amount of $1,200 (per month). However, the last will which was dated  July 29,1932 (a few weeks after the marriage to Harlow) bequeathed his entire estate to Harlow, and left out Dorothy. 
Another tidbit of info:  Paul Bern had taken out a life insurance policy on Dorothy, noting that she was his "wife." So what do you think?


So it was Sunday, September 4th , 1932 and Paul was home. Before we get into the possible scenarios of how, when, where or why, lets state the facts. Paul died Sunday evening. His death wasn’t reported to the Police until 2-2:30 pm on Monday, September 5th. So between the time he was murdered and the time the police arrived, there were so many stories of what could have happened that it could make your head spin.

Truly what I am about to tell you is what Hollywood movies are made of:

Lies, Sex, Murder, Pay-Offs and Cover Ups……

Scenario # 1:

So the first scenario is the one most people assume as factual, even though there was no proof. The story was that Dorothy was upset that Bern had committed her to a Sanitarium so many years ago that she planned to get back at him. That and the fact that her husband was married to Jean Harlow and they were enjoying the life that Dorothy thought she deserved.

So did she kill him?

If so, why did she travel so far to Sacramento to "allegedly" kill herself? She could have killed herself right there on Easton Drive. Also, if she was so mentally disturbed, why then was she released and deemed as being “cured”? If she had suicidal tendencies, she would have committed suicide while institutionalized, one would think, and not wait until she was free. I personally feel that Dorothy has gotten a bad rap all of these years just because of her past history, and that is not fair.

Scenario # 2

Maybe Paul was two timing Jean with Dorothy all along. His secretary Irene Harrison who also had been rumored to been having a sexual relationship with Bern, sent letters and money (as ordered by her employer Bern) to Dorothy every week. If she had any suspicion that Dorothy had intentions to kill him or even that she was ill tempered, she would have spoken up wouldn’t she? Irene was the one who was not happy about Bern marrying Harlow and that was a fact that she admitted even after Bern's death.

So perhaps Bern had invited Dorothy over to speak with him since Dorothy had allegedly came to L.A. for the weekend. Perhaps he told her to come over for drinks so they could talk. Harlow had been working all day and over the weekend at the studios and had agreed to stay at her mother’s home on Saturday night due to her step father Marino Bello having gone on a fishing trip with Clark Gable. Mama Jean reportedly “didn’t want to be alone,” so Jean stayed over.

What about the fight? According to the Ottawa Citizen 9/10/32, it states that Harlow and Bern got into a fight the night of his death because he didn’t feel like going to Jean’s mother’s home.  Bern eventually blurted out : “Get out and leave me alone, if you don’t- I will kill you!”

FACT: Saturday night Paul had met with a friend at a hotel to help fix his friend up with a mistress and then was supposed to go over to a party at Fredric March’s home but he never showed up. 

According to reports, he had stated he didn’t want to go to the party without Jean. Maybe he was using it as an excuse to see Dorothy at her hotel that night. A witness did report seeing Paul with a unknown woman dining at a hotel restaurant on Saturday evening. Interesting, isn’t it?

CONFLICTING STORIES: On Sunday, Jean claimed to have had dinner at home with her husband. After dinner, Paul allegedly sent her back to her mother's home, saying he would be along after he read over some scripts. In another report, Jean said he claimed to have had a headache and wanted to be alone. That sounds to me as if she couldn’t get her story straight.

Did Jean come home to find Dorothy and Paul drinking and swimming together in the pool? Remember, some may have claimed Paul was the one who fell for Harlow but many people who knew them stated that Harlow was the pursuer of the relationship. No doubt she would have been infuriated at the sight of her husband spending time and showing affection for another woman at her house. Remember also, Jean was in a big hurry to marry Bern, and the MGM executives rushed to get a new will drawn up leaving all of Bern’s estate to Jean Harlow and not to Dorothy. 

Paul was found naked, shot in the head by his own gun. He usually kept his gun in the top pocket of his coat, which he obviously wasn't wearing. Where he kept the gun was something that Jean was well aware of because he would tell people that he had to carry it to “protect his baby.” How then would Dorothy have found it without him noticing her searching the house for a weapon? Only Jean would have known where it was, and only Jean could have had time to get the gun.

The servants, whose quarters were located outside at the other end of the property, claimed to hear a scream after the gunshot. If Dorothy had killed him, why would she have screamed right after shooting him? Perhaps Jean shot Paul. Dorothy could have been so shaken by it that she screamed and ran for her life out of the house and down to the limo that had been waiting for her as ordered by Paul.

That would make sense as to why she left her bathing suit behind and why she didn’t even stop to pick up the shoe that had fallen off as she was running away. That also explains why she told the limo driver not to stop but to keep driving faster.

Once Dorothy made it to the hotel in San Francisco, she placed her valuables in a trunk and left it at the front desk of the hotel stating she was going on a “little trip but that she would return.” She then boarded the steam boat “Delta King” on Sept 6th departing San Francisco to Sacramento. Reports state that she was seen dining on the boat and it was said she took a stroll on the deck of the ship and later disappeared.

 There is no way to know the whole truth but somehow she was thrown overboard. Some say she was overcome with guilt from killing Paul herself, but it is also not impossible to say that someone could have followed her onto the steam boat and when the available time came, someone tossed her overboard to conceal the truth--that Jean had killed Paul.

Whether Jean pulled the trigger or had someone do it for her, the fact of the matter was that Dorothy needed to be silenced if in fact she knew who killed Paul, whoever the killer was. Also, if word got out in Hollywood gossip that Paul Bern was already married prior to marrying Jean, it would have ruined Jean's career regardless of whether she killed Paul or not, It would have also put a damper on the Bern’s estate because California did not recognize common law marriages performed in California, but it upheld common law marriages from other states. Meaning, with Bern dead- his estate would have belonged to Dorothy and the new will could have been contested and thrown out in court. The fact of that scandal would have embarrassed Jean to no end. She had to keep that whole story quiet, no matter what the cost.

Scenario #3

This is where it gets good. There was also rumored speculation that Jean’s mother, Mama Jean, who was often controlling and nosy, had just about enough of her son in law. There is no doubt that Jean had told her mother about Paul’s first wife and all the problems within the marriage.

FACT: Jean had dated a gangster, Abner “Longie” Zwillman aka " The Al Capone of New Jersey", and he had allegedly “taken care of some blackmailers” who had threatened to go public with nude photographs of Jean in 1917.  

Could it have been that Mama Jean called her daughter’s ex and asked him for another favor?

FACT: Paul was secretly broke and it was evident he was spending more than he was taking in. He mortgaged his home on Easton Drive for almost the face value of the home, He then deeded it to his wife, making it look like he gave her a wedding gift even though Jean didn’t like the house.

 In reality, he just didn’t want to lose it. He needed Jean’s money to support Dorothy, too. It was common knowledge that he owed people all around town. Even after his death, Jean had to pay over $20,000 in bills incurred by Paul, not counting the mortgage. Where did she get the money since Paul was broke? She collected his life insurance.

Could Mama Jean, her husband Marino Bello or perhaps even Jean herself have planned the whole thing? Maybe it was Jean who invited Dorothy down for the Labor Day weekend. She may have told her to come over to ‘bury the hatchet’. The fact is that someone sent a limo up to San Francisco in Paul’s name to pick up Dorothy and bring her to L.A. The same limo took her back to San Francisco on Sunday night. Paul was seen on Sunday night telling the Limo driver to take her back but there is no way to know if he had ordered the limo to pick her up.

Maybe when Dorothy showed up, Jean was waiting for her. Paul never left the house that day so the scenario of him walking in and finding Jean and Dorothy “hanging out by the pool” wouldn’t be possible. Plus, there was only one female bathing suit found wet, hanging to dry (which was NOT Jean’s size). So it was obvious this scenario wouldn’t have worked out.

It is still possible that Jean invited Dorothy over, planning to have both her and Paul murdered to make it look like a murder suicide. She was well aware of Dorothy’s reputation of mental instability due to her having been institutionalized in the past.

Maybe Jean had someone waiting there on the outskirts of the property, looking for a convenient time to take both of them out. When the first shot was fired, the hired gun wouldn't have expected Dorothy’s scream to be so loud it alerted the servants. She would have ran for her life as the servants came hurrying up the path to investigate. Maybe the hired “hit man” knew he had to get out of there so he left, and followed Dorothy back up to Northern California to finish the job.

Scenario # 4

The scenario that the police ruled, a suicide. To this day some people still think Paul killed himself although this is the one scenario I just don’t buy. He wasn’t said to have been depressed or even suicidal. There were rumors of homosexuality or even that his penis was the size of a woman’s pinkie finger. Another rumor was that his inability to perform sexually would have drove him to commit suicide but that was another lie I believe conjured up by MGM. Was that because they were trying to place blame on Paul and away from any possible scandal that Jean could be pulled into?

By the way, the note that said:  

"Dearest Dear,
Unfortunately this is the only way to make good the frightful wrong I have done you and to wipe out my abject humiliation, I Love you.
You understand that last night was only a comedy"

This was actually an entry in a guest book (not a journal) and it was some sort of joke that had been written long before Paul Bern's death. In fact, friends of Bern claimed they had read that note in the guest book at a party months prior to his death. This was used as a cover-up suicide note, but in fact had NOTHING to do with his death.


After Dorothy's body was found in the Delta by fishermen, the San Francisco Police reported that when they arrived at Dorothy’s hotel room at the Plaza, it had been ransacked.  Her diary was missing as well as other items. Her belongings found in her room on the Delta King were intact and there were “friendly” letters from both Paul and his Secretary found in her bag as well. Another item found was a box that contained a swim cap that matched the bathing suit that was found at the home of Paul Bern.

Both MGM executives and Howard Hughes thought Jean had killed Paul Bern but the opinions remained within the confines of inner circles of friends, and they intended to keep it there. It was obvious that MGM covered up the scene of the crime to avoid scandal. It is also possible that members from MGM or even Howard Hughes may have played a role in tying up loose ends as well. Jean lied to the police when she said she had never seen Dorothy before and had no knowledge of her.

Dorothy had come to Los Angeles for the Labor Day weekend. Someone must have invited her or had she just decided to show up? Either way, her appearance at Paul’s home was by no means unwelcome

Jean also lied about her alibi, saying that she ate dinner at home with Paul and then went back to her mother's house. But Howard Hughes’ housekeeper, Beatrice Dowler stated that Jean Harlow came to Howard Hughes estate, distraught on Sunday Sept 4th late in the evening. Howard Hughes even confirmed to Noah Dietrich that he had seen Jean on the night of Paul’s death.

Jean told Howard Hughes that she went home and discovered Dorothy running out of the house. When she entered the home, she found Paul's body. He had been shot. She then stuck the gun under Paul's body to make it look like a suicide. This was because she didn’t want anyone to find out that Dorothy and Paul were still married because it would ruin her career. Now she had to make sure that Dorothy could NEVER be found to be questioned or suspected because then the truth would come out. Perhaps Dorothy “couldn’t be found” because if she had, then she would tell a story that Jean had been the one who shot Paul, causing Dorothy to scream and run for her life.

Noah Dietrich (Chief Executive Officer to Howard Hughes Empire) was stated to have said that he wouldn’t have “put it past Howard” to have “taken care of Dorothy” as a favor to Jean.  It seems after this incident, Howard Hughes' opinion of Jean as a person or as a friend began to deteriorate. Perhaps it was because he knew what type of person Jean really was? Maybe he blamed Jean for getting him involved with silencing Dorothy to save Jean’s career?

Whatever the case, whether it was Howard Hughes’ men, The MGM men, or Abner Zwillman's gangster boys, they had a common denominator, Jean.  Jean was apparently responsible for making sure Dorothy disappeared, along with the real story.


Several people from MGM showed up at the property two hours before the police were even notified (around 11:30 am), but yet the newspapers had reported Paul’s death hours before the police knew about it.

Who leaked the information to the press?

The police never once questioned anyone about that. The D.A. Buron Fitts was not convinced of Jean's innocence in the matter, but he was “paid off” by MGM to look the other way and rule it as a suicide. MGM even went so far as to make sure the police never even attempted to question or look for Dorothy Millette Bern.


Ilse Lahn who was considered a “Senior Member” of the German community in Hollywood and also a personal friend of Paul’s claimed that Paul was miserable and that he regretted marrying Jean. He wanted to go back to Dorothy and thought it was the right thing to do, since the doctor’s felt she was cured. He stated he wanted to divorce Jean. Jean would have not only suffered from being humiliated in the Hollywood community for being left for another woman but also it would have come out that Paul had committed bigamy and Jean was not legally wed to Paul. Her career would have been ruined. She was convinced that Paul was murdered by Jean Harlow and claimed she never liked her.

Samuel Marx, a story editor for MGM and good friend of Paul’s, claimed that he showed up at Bern's house to find Irving Thalberg there still interrogating the servants. It was also noted that the butler was the one who had found Paul Bern’s naked body in the bedroom. He notified the other servants and quickly called MGM. Louis B Mayer along with Whitey Hendry and Irving Thalberg showed up. For over two hours the men were there clearing away all traces of murder in the house and trying to convince the staff to go along with the story that Paul had committed suicide to avoid any further scandal.

Howard Strickling told Louis B. Mayer to hand over the “suicide note” he had taken from the home. The note which was written in a guest book was mistakenly noted as a diary.

Personally, I believe that Louis B. Mayer took the book to see if he could find any writing in it that could be used to forge a letter. Upon finding the note he could have realized that this could be used as a suicide note. Friends of Paul’s said they previously had seen the note in the guest book. Obviously, it had been written it in the past. They decided to turn the note into the police.

Samuel Marx met a man who claimed to have been a drinking buddy of retired MGM security chief, Whitey Hendry. This unidentified man told Marx that Hendry told him that he had accompanied Mayer to Bern's house the morning Paul Bern’s body had been discovered and it was more than obvious he didn’t commit suicide.

So as the story goes, Hendry volunteered to plant the gun in Bern's hand and the suicide note was faked. Just days after this person confessed his story to Marx, this unidentified man ended up dead. I guess someone believed in the saying "dead men tell no tales."

The servants, Clifton Davis, the gardener, and Irene Harrison, Bern’s secretary, were also convinced that Paul was murdered. The butler told police that Paul and Jean seemed happy but he had heard Paul mention suicide more than once. It was uncertain whether or not the butler was “bought off” by MGM, The story he told to the police contradicts Davis’, Ms. Harrison’s and even the butler’s own wife Winifred Carmichael, the cook. They all stated that Paul was not suicidal and that Jean and Paul often argued about money. Jean didn’t like the house and wanted to sell it. Winifred even went on to say that an “unfamiliar” woman was at the home on that Sunday evening and that they heard her scream once. It was also said by Winifred that a wet bathing suit was found by the pool along with two empty glasses. Winifred also stated during the inquest that she witnessed a woman running down to the limo that evening.

The gardener, Davis, also told police that there had been a small puddle of blood near the pool right behind Paul’s favorite lounge chair but there was no mention of that in the investigation afterwards.

My assumptions are that MGM told the servants that they had to go along with their story that Paul killed himself in the house. Davis also claimed that the alleged suicide note Louis B. Mayer provided police with was in actuality someone else's handwriting and not Paul Bern’s making it a forgery.

My personal belief is that Paul was shot outside near the pool. I also believe that the bathing suit and the two glasses that were found, had been moved after MGM showed up to clear up any evidence that contradicted their tale of suicide. The bathing suit was then hung up to dry in the bathroom and the glasses put away. The blood, no doubt, was where Paul was originally shot.

Perhaps the murderer or the people covering it up, moved Paul’s body and removed his clothing to make it look like he had just showered.

Dorothy Millette Bern
Whatever happened that fateful night of September 4th, we may never truly know. Dorothy knew, and she lost her life because of it. She drowned in the Delta. Her body was found in a slough of the Sacramento River.

I visit Dorothy’s grave at the EastLawn Cemetery in Sacramento on occasion, and sometimes I leave a rose on her marker out of respect. 

It was stated that MGM had paid for internment and Jean paid for the funeral. Let me make this clear, JEAN HARLOW DID NOT PAY FOR DOROTHY MILLETTE BERN'S GRAVE OR FUNERAL!!!

However it was Mendel Silberberg who happened to be both MGM and Jean Harlow's attorney, who directed Coroner James Garlick to bury Dorothy and send him the bill. MGM told Silberberg to direct the Coroner to bury Dorothy and nothing more.   Basically, MGM was just trying to use it as a publicity opportunity and gave credit to Harlow to make her "look good." They only paid for the burial. There also was NO HEADSTONE placed or paid for by MGM or Harlow....literally Dorothy's grave was just a pile of dirt within East Lawn Cemetery.

There were accounts in the papers that some people stepped up to claim Dorothy's inheritance of Bern's estate, however there has been no legitimate record that these people were ever truly related to Dorothy. No one even seemed to know her date of birth, thus her headstone was marked incorrectly.  Personally, If it weren't for the Census records available now I don't think I would have been able to locate the information either. Thank goodness for all the archived records of the past! 

Although Dorothy was buried right away, It wasn't until later on when Public Adminstrator Herman Koch, with the help of Attorney Chester Gannon, both were able to raise funds through an auction to pay for Dorothy's headstone, to make sure that she received a proper funeral.

According to several newspaper archives such as the Miami Daily (5/26/1933) and Reading Eagle (5/26/1933) state that the funds used to pay for Dorothy's marker and inscription were made by auctioning her clothes that were found in her stateroom aboard the Delta King.  Given the fact of the high profile status of her death and her attachment to Paul Bern's death, they were able to get enough money together to mark her grave.

In death, Dorothy was looked on as the “estranged wife” of Paul Bern, or the “crazy” wife of Paul Bern due to her stay at a sanitarium. You know back then even the smallest anxiety or depression, even undiagnosed bi-polar disorders were looked upon as being “mental" or "crazy." I feel like in life and in death Dorothy never got the respect she deserved.

I truly do not believe for one second that she killed Paul. I believe she witnessed his murder and ran for her life. That’s why she was even trying to get out of San Francisco but Jean had other plans for her.   I love all the Hollywood starlets of the past but something about her just didn’t sit well with me. I think Jean had some serious issues and everyone was blind to it because she was the “flavor of the month” back then.

Paul Bern is dead, Dorothy is dead, and Jean Harlow is dead so the mystery remains just that, an unsolved mystery. Poor Dorothy, she was forgotten in death as she was in life. But, I for one will not forget. 

J'aime Rubio © 2011

originally published via Dreaming Casually 6/11/11