Monday, April 8, 2013

Who Was Dorothy Millette?

Dorothy Millette Bern

A friend of mine took me down to a place called Walnut Grove about six months ago. We traveled a little road along the Delta into this picturesque little town with a drawbridge and everything. We casually cruised through an adjoining old ghost town known as Locke, with its old abandoned and condemned buildings from the 1800s. Later we went down to a place known as the Ryde Hotel. This place is still a hotel, but once back in its heyday it was a very popping joint! Probably more popular in the 1920s and 1930s, the Ryde Hotel became a Northern California Hollywood hot spot during prohibition times. 

As we were there, breathing the crisp fresh air and watching the waters from the Delta rush by, I thought of someone, Dorothy Millette Bern. I had written about her life and death a few years back and knew her body had been found in a Slough near the Sacramento River. The exact location, I had never really investigated. I told my friend, “wouldn’t it be weird if they had found Dorothy right around here?”

I just had this feeling, a thought of her when I was there, out of the blue. I didn’t know why I thought of her, but again, she is never too far from my thoughts anyways. In all the stories I have written there are only two that stay close in my mind and heart at all times. One being the murder of Anna Corbin at the Preston School of Industry in 1950 and the death of Dorothy Millette Bern in 1932.

In fact, my friend and I would have never met if not for the likes of Dorothy. It was during my continual research on her that I stumbled across a photograph of Dorothy on a website known as Findagrave. I emailed this person who posted her photo on her memorial page, and the rest is history.

Back to the story…..

Walnut Grove
If you have read my earlier article A FORGOTTEN WIFE, A HOLLYWOOD HOMICIDE &  AN UNSOLVED  MYSTERY, then you would know that I have been doing some serious digging into Dorothy’s background. As I state in my previous posts, Dorothy was actually born in 1895 in France. In fact I have a copy of the 1920 U.S. Census record that shows this and also places her and Paul Bern as “husband and wife,” residing at the Algonquin Hotel in New York.  You see, when she died, there were no living relatives to confirm her date of birth so they had to make an educated guess. Also, as I note in my previous article about Dorothy, Jean Harlow and MGM DID NOT pay for Dorothy’s funeral or headstone, they merely paid for her body to be put in the ground, that is all. There is a big difference!

Dorothy and Paul, I believe were married. I have yet to find a legal document proving this but I am starting to think they may have married in Canada when they met. For that time period it was very uncommon to claim to be married if you were not. Regardless, Paul Bern’s marriage to Harlow was not valid being that the marriage to Harlow took place in California. California did not acknowledge common law marriage within the state at that time, but they acknowledged common law marriages from other states, which meant either way Paul and Dorothy’s marriage was valid in California, therefore when Paul died it was Dorothy who stood to inherit Paul’s estate regardless of what the Wills stated. Interesting isn’t it? Dorothy had no reason to kill herself, but someone else had reason to get rid of Dorothy……

Now remember I said that I was in Walnut Grove with a friend when I thought of Dorothy? Well, I decided to once again start digging, and I learned that the Georgiana Slough (where her body was discovered) literally starts at the south end of Walnut Grove! Unbelievable, right? Believe it!

Delta King Steamboat
A member of the staff on board of the Delta King Steamboat claimed that upon arriving near Courtland they discovered a piece of Dorothy’s clothing on the deck of the ship. They realized that something was wrong and went to check to see if she was in her stateroom. Once they realized she had gone missing, they started the search for her and on September 14, nearly one week from the date she went missing, her body was found.

Some Japanese fishermen who were in the Georgiana Slough (just south of Walnut Grove) discovered her lifeless and badly decomposing body. They could not determine the color of her eyes and her hair and scalp was missing. I am guessing she hit the propellers of the steamboat or other small boats going by in the river may have clipped her as she was floating in the water. 

Eventually the Coroner had to get Ed Sullivan, the clerk from the hotel in San Francisco where Dorothy had been staying, to identify her body. From the information I have obtained over the years, I have learned that Dorothy was a short lady, and had wavy, auburn hair. She had very good taste and enjoyed expensive things. The Schenectady Gazette dated 9/15/1932 stated that when her body was found that Dorothy was wearing a black dress, made of expensive material. She had silk undergarments and silk stockings on under her clothing. It also mentioned her petite frame and that her wrists and ankles were very small. Another paper reported Dorothy as being "known for her culture, vivacity and beauty."

Was Dorothy Crazy?

As many websites, books and blogs will often claim that Dorothy was the crazy wife of Paul Bern, I have never agreed with any of that. In fact, I hope that by the time you finish reading this article (and hopefully you read my first one too “A Forgotten Wife, Hollywood Homicide & An Unsolved Mystery”) that your outlook on Dorothy will have changed.

I have information that will change the whole scenario on the “Crazy” wife ideas people have been throwing around for nearly 81 years. Guess what?! She was not “institutionalized” and she was not locked away in an asylum for 10 years or in a coma as some state. Dorothy, I believe, wasn’t suffering from mental problems either. 

You see, I have found evidence that places Dorothy as living at the Algonquin hotel from 1917 when she and Paul Bern moved there, when she was only 22 years old. This evidence shows that they stayed there for over 5 years living as man and wife. Then around 1922, they moved out. That is when I believe she checked into the Blythewood Sanitarium and Paul moved out to California. Only about one year later, Dorothy moved back into the Algonquin Hotel alone, and remained there for nearly 10 years. Staff at the hotel confirmed this in several reports and newspaper articles at the time period in 1932 when they learned of her death.

Blythewood Sanitorium- More Like A Rich People’s Rehab

Blythewood Sanitarium was located in Greenwich, Connecticut. Many people think that Blythewood was a mental institution, however that was not the case. In fact, this place was a sort of “Wealthy Rehab” for the elite and rich during that time.  Not to say they didn’t treat mentally ill patients, because they did. But that was not their only purpose. Blythewood catered to the wealthy who were dealing with various issues such as health problems, mental issues, depression and alcoholism.  I encourage you to read a little more about this “upscale institution” in a blog I found titled “Glimpses of Blythewood.”

 In the blog mentioned above, the writer quotes an edition of the New York Times dated November 8, 1936, where it states:

"Blythewood has no locked doors.  The patients are encouraged to follow their natural bents, and the sanitarium has become well known for its art school, studios, pottery work, a button factory and many similar project."

In fact, Blythewood Sanitarium was more like a retreat for the rich who needed therapy. The blog "Glimpses of Blythewood" even mentions "some patients even brought their “valets and chefs” along with them to the facility." 

Inside of Blythewood-Historical Society Photo, Greenwich, Ct.

There are numerous newspaper accounts where Judges, Attorney's and other upper class individuals traveled to Blythewood for recovery for alcoholism, some for nervous breakdowns and some just to recover from a major illness or surgeries. Yes, they treated mentally ill patients, but not the type you keep in asylums. As the newspaper reported, there were no locked doors at Blythewood. Patients could come and go from the building and wander the grounds, take all sorts of classes and yes, also see a psychiatrist when needed. This is no different than the sort of Rehab retreats you hear the Hollywood elite go to for their alcohol and drug addiction issues.

You see, Dorothy could have just went to Blythewood for exhaustion, depression or any other sort of mild issue. She had money, and probably heard of the place from her social circles and decided to go there. Again, perhaps during the separation of her and Paul's relationship, maybe she went there to find some peace. We will never truly know. But it is in very poor taste to just write Dorothy off as some sort of mental case.

We do know now that Dorothy returned to the Algonquin Hotel around 1923-24 according to staff at the hotel. They also reported that Paul Bern sent her two checks in the mail every month, addressed to her at the hotel for the entire length of the time she resided there. She did not move to San Francisco until 1932, very shortly before Paul Bern's death.

A rose from my garden for Dorothy
I guess I just wanted to write this second article about Dorothy to give her a little more in depth back story from the time she married Paul to the time she moved to San Francisco. I think the public has a right to know the truth about Dorothy, not just over embellished rumors about her and her mental state. I will never believe she killed Paul Bern and I will never believe she took her own life either. I believe that both Paul and Dorothy were killed and that MGM and Harlow knew a lot more than they ever led on. Again, that's my opinion of course.


(Copyright 2013) J'aime Rubio - Dreaming Casually Publications

TO READ MORE ON DOROTHY MILLETTE BERN PLEASE CHECK OUT:"A Forgotten Wife, A Hollywood Homicide & An Unsolved Mystery."


  1. Really enjoyed reading this thanks

    1. Thank you. Dorothy's story is one very close to my heart. I have spent a lot of time researching her story and wanted to tell her story respectfully but more importantly accurately as well.


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