1996 -Interview w/Don Gallery

Don Gallery is a most interesting man who has led an amazing life.  Born on July 28, 1922, he is believed to be the natural born son of silent film superstar and world renowned beauty Barbara La Marr.  In the roaring twenties, a single parent having and raising a child was frowned upon, and the ‘Too Beautiful Girl,’ La Marr, could have found herself devoid of a Hollywood career. Determined to keep her child, Barbara arranged for her baby, Don to be housed in the famous Hope Cottage in Dallas, Texas, where she ‘adopted’ him on one of her personal appearance tours. Too beautiful Barbara named her son Marvin Carville La Marr and soon married handsome red headed cowboy and action thriller actor Jack Daugherty.  All three lived in a beautiful storybook home in the lovely Whitley Heights section of Hollywood, which was considered the first Beverly Hills of Los Angles.  Two of their famous neighbors were Rudolph Valentino and Norma Talmadge.  I have had the pleasure of visiting and touring La Marr’s delightful Whitley Heights home.  Larry Harper, who now owns the house, has kept the grounds and the place looking much as it did when the world famous vamp resided there. Little Sonny was adored by his mother, but soon tragedy entered their blissful domestic lives.  Gorgeous Barbara began having health problems, exacerbated by her alcoholism.  Sadly, foreseeing her own premature death, she arranged for little, beloved Sonny to be taken care of by her close friend and movie co-star, Mrs. Tom Gallery, who was known to the movie public as ZaSu Pitts.  Barbara La Marr, the beautiful vamp with a heart of gold gave her friend ZaSu a large sum of cold cash to endow and insure Sonny’s future.  Sadly, legendary Barbara La Marr passed away on January 30, 1926.  She left many grieving friends and fans around the world. Barbara wisely knew that the kind hearted, dependable and stable ZaSu (and her wonderful husband, Tom Gallery) would make a perfect mother for her son. Not only would Sonny have two fantastic parents, but he would also have a sister, Ann Gallery.  Sonny was legally adopted by Tom and ZaSu and was raised knowing his birth mother. Don Gallery was very happy with his newfound family.  He lived an incredible life of privilege and fame.  He grew up in the golden age of Hollywood surrounded by film superstars and their families.  ZaSu Pitts’ house at 241 North Rockingham Drive in Brentwood was known for its warmth and hospitality.  At one time or another some of Don Gallery’s famous neighbors included Great Garbo, Clark Gable, Elizabeth Taylor, Shirley Temple, Claudette Colbert, and Joan Crawford.

AN INTERVIEW WITH DON GALLERY

JB:     When and where were you born?

Don Gallery: July 28, 1922 in Dallas, Texas.  As an infant I was taken to Hope Cottage Orphanage.

JB:     Do you think that Barbara La Marr was your mother?

Don Gallery: Well, of course I don’t remember, but yes I do.  I was even born on her birthday, July 28th.  When I was small I was a spunky lad, and ZaSu Pitts, my beloved adopted mother, used to say I told other kids, ‘Your mother was stuck with you, but my mothers got to choose me!’

JB:     Do you have any memory of the beautiful Barbara La Marr?

Don Gallery: Unfortunately, no.  I was such a small child at the time of her tragic death.  Momma (ZaSu) told me that we loved each other very much and that Barbara was a wonderful mother.  Barbara La Marr’s last wishes were that I would always be taken care of by ZaSu Pitts because she was such a very good woman.

JB:     Don could you tell me a little bit about your schooling?

Don Gallery: I went to the Webb School, a very well thought of and prestigious private school.  All of my classmates were the children of movie stars, very wealthy parents or famous folks such as writers, directors, producers, and that sort of thing.  We also had classes on Catalina Island, which I loved and where I now reside. When I was real young, I thought everyone was brought up like me.  I was a lucky young man!

JB:     Don, you had a strong connection with Paul Bern.  Could you please elaborate on this relationship?

Don Gallery: Well, I won’t tell you everything because I’m saving that for the book you’re helping my dear friend Margaret Burk write about Barbara La Marr.  But he was my godfather, and he was deeply in love with Barbara La Marr.  Many said that Barbara was the great love of his life.  She didn’t feel the same about him romantically, but she was very fond of him. From Barbara’s death until the early of 1930’s, Paul Bern used to come over (to ZaSu Pitts’ house) on Sunday afternoons.  A lot of times he came with movie actor Bruce Cabot who was such a nice guy. Mr. Bern used to bring me wonderful gifts.  I especially remember a battery operated boat that was about three feet long.  I used to play with it in the swimming pool.  I loved that boat.

JB:     Could you tell me a little about Jean Harlow?

Dan Gallery: I really liked Jean Harlow.  She was so sweet and such a lovable person.  She used to smile a lot and was very, very nice to me. She really loved children.  She came over a lot with Paul Bern, and he was crazy about her, like we all were.  Everyone loved Jean.  She was very beautiful, but I was just a child and didn’t realize how glamorous she was and what a catch she was.  When I was at Webb School (located at Claremont and Catalina).  I used to see Jean about once a month for a few years.  She was a beautiful and kindhearted person.  I will always miss her.

JB:     Was there ever any movie star that you did not like?

Don Gallery: Yes, but only one, none of the kids liked her.  Her name was Gloria Swanson.  She was aloof and kind of mean.  I was scared of her, and my sister Ann and I tried to stay out of her way.  I was under the impression she didn’t have time for children, and she was very aware of her stardom and acted in a very grand manner.  She could give mean looks with her big blue eyes.  I remember watching the film Sunset Boulevard in 1950 and thinking, ‘Umm, hmm, that’s her.  She’s really like that Norma Desmond.’

JB:     Who were some of your favorite neighbors?

Don Gallery: Claudette Colbert lived next door with her husband, Dr. Joel Pressman.  She was sweet and friendly and a good neighbor.  She was energetic and pretty and always seemed happy.  Many famous people used to come and see her like Marlene Dietrich.  I also liked actor Alan Jones and his musical star wife Irene Hervey.

JB:     Could you tell me about Great Garbo?

Don Gallery: With pleasure.  When Claudette Colbert moved out, Great Garbo moved in.  She was really beautiful.  I mean really beautiful.  This may come as a surprise to some people, but she was very nice and friendly.  I liked her a lot, but her Swedish accent was so thick I had trouble understanding her.  She was very kind to my sister Ann and me. She always smiled and waved to us, and she let us use her tennis court.  Garbo used to laugh and talk to us through this metal fence that separated our yard from hers. It had cypress trees and vines growing up it, and I can still hear her voice and see her gorgeous face.  During her stay as our next door neighbor, I used to see her naked a lot by her swimming pool and lounging around sunning and swimming.  My bedroom window overlooked her swimming pool. I told people about her nudity, and it was printed in some of the movie magazines of the day, but Garbo didn’t care.  She was always nice and friendly and childlike with me and my sister Ann.

JB:     Don, I also understand Clark Gable, ‘The King,’ was a North Rockingham Drive resident.  Could you share some memories of him?

Don Gallery: Yes, indeed. Mr. Gable was a fine man and a helluva an actor.  Everyone liked him and his films. He resided across the street and was always very pleasant.  ZaSu (Momma) owned two very rare electric automobiles from 1903 and 1906.  They were very beautiful and unusual. I remember they had leather fenders.  Anyway, Mr. Gable always pestered Momma and tried to purchase them from her, but she would not sell them to Clark.  I wonder what happened to those beautiful antique cars.  They would be worth a fortune today!

JB:     Could you tell me about Shirley Temple?

Don Gallery: I have always adored Shirley and still do today.  Not only was she a great box office movie star, but she did many wonderful things for our government and our country.  She is a great lady.  Shirley was my next door neighbor (she lived on the other side – not with Claudette Colbert or Greta Garbo!). We were always close.  I loved her family, and they loved and trusted me. I used to take Shirley to movie premieres, and we used to go out and have a lot of fun at parties, the beach, skating.  We were not a romantic couple, but we had many friendly dates, and I was like ‘the boy next door’ – that rascal Shirley Temple still has my Stanford varsity jacket to this very day! Shirley is a wonderful person, and I have many fond memories of her.  By the way, she really was a talented little actress, don’t you think?

JB:     Yes, the most talented child actress ever in my opinion.  What about your memories of another child star, Elizabeth Taylor?

Don Gallery: Elizabeth Taylor was the most beautiful thing I have ever seen.  Our paths crossed very early on.  In 1937 or 1938, Mother (ZaSu was making a film in England). She stayed with Elizabeth Taylor’s family.  They all became very, very close. I was going to have a European vacation and visit Egypt and the Holy Land, and a day before I was to leave and start my journey, mother phoned from Howard and Frances and Elizabeth’s home and said to not come over.  ‘I’m coming back home to America.  A war has stared in Europe’ – well, that changed all of our lives.  Anyway, later on, the Taylors soon came over, and Mr. Taylor set up his art gallery in Beverly Hills.  The Taylors also moved into Shirley Temple’s old house next door.  So now Elizabeth Taylor was my next door neighbor.  I liked her and her brother Howard, and the Taylors were fond of me.  The Taylors also trusted me; and even though I was nine years older than Elizabeth, I used to escort her to parties and play cards with her.  I guess she had a crush on me, but we also talked a lot about movies, friends, problems, etc.  I really liked Elizabeth.  She was sweet and intelligent, and she loved animals.  I used to take Elizabeth to Surgies Tropics in Beverly Hills which was a popular hangout.  We also went to U.S.C. frat house parties, and we played bridge at many fine homes.  We used to go to Marjorie Armstrong’s and play cards or to Mr. and Mrs. McGill’s in Malibu.  McGill’s owned the Marblehead Land Company in Malibu, and they were world renowned for making beautiful tiles. Like I said before, Elizabeth Taylor at thirteen, fourteen, and fifteen was the most beautiful thing I have ever seen.  She had gorgeous, blue violet eyes fringed with dark natural lashes that many old timers used to compare to my mother, Barbara La Marr. Her face was gorgeous, and she had beautiful skin.  Like Ava Gardner she was completely lovely and had a tiny waist.  She loved to show off.  She had all her clothes specially made for her by a company called Lanz, and they consisted of peasant blouses and full skirts cinched in at the waist.  Elizabeth was a fine young lady, and I enjoyed her beautiful company very much. We did not drink or smoke, but we had a great time together.  My relationship with her – I was older than her, and I could take her places with her parent’s approval – and we would have fun.  When she moved to Beverly Hills, we would sit in her family’s kitchen and talk by the hour. Momma made a film with her in 1948, the delightful Life With Father, (Warner Bros.).

JB:     Could you tell me about a couple of other big movie stars that might be of interest to our readers.

Don Gallery: How about Barbara Stanwyck and Joan Crawford?

JB:     Wow, yes, sir – stars don’t come bigger than that!

Don Gallery: Well, when I was real young, Barbara Stanwyck and her husband Frank Fay lived down the street from me.  Barbara was very popular on screen and off.  I had a big crush on her when I was thirteen or so.  Her voice just did me in.  She had the damnedest voice, very sexy.  I remember getting up the nerve and going to her house one day and knocking on her door and asking her to come out on her porch to visit.  She was very friendly and talked to m.  I’m sure Miss Stanwyck knew I had a crush on her because Momma (ZaSu) knew, and Momma told everyone everything!  I always liked Joan Crawford very much. She was very friendly and sociable.  I knew she admired Barbara La Marr and that they were friends (as well as Paul Bern). ZaSu also made a film with her, Pretty Ladies (1925, MGM) and liked her very much.  None of us ever heard anyone say anything about child abuse and drinking and all of that.  Christina and Christopher, her adopted kids, were a lot young than me, but I knew them in the 1940’s and early 1950’s.  And I never heard anything bad about Joan Crawford in those days.  She was always kind to me, and I always liked her.  I remember her house and grounds and pool were beautiful and immaculate.

JB:     I am a great admirer of Mary Astor; I have heard you mention her before.

Don Gallery: Mary Astor was a great actress and beauty.  She was also a pianist and writer, very lovely and versatile.  I think she was wonderful. She lived somewhere in the neighborhood.  On Sundays I would go to the Up lifters Polo Field off of Sunset Boulevard in Brentwood.  She was there every Sunday watching the polo matches.  She had a box next to ours.  She was always beautiful, well dressed, and very pleasant. ZaSu always said she was very intelligent.  I had a crush on her.  So I was afraid to go up and talk to her much.  I remember she had this beautiful profile and looked regal, but she was warm and sexy.  I though Mary Astor was tops!

JB:     Don, who of interest in your age group did you hang out with?

Don Gallery: Well, I adored Shirley Temple, but she was a few years younger than me. Jackie Cooper was real nice.  So was Jane Withers.  She had a great personality and loved to have parties.  Judy Garland was there a lot. I liked Robert Stack a lot, and we used to hang out. He was a good guy and a lot of fun.  I knew some members of the Doheny family from school, and I used to go to their mansion ‘Graystone’ to parties and gatherings. That was really a wonderful place.  One of my best friends and the sweetest gal around was Leatrice Gilbert. She was – and is – a fantastic human being.  Her famous father, John Gilbert, was a huge star in silent pictures, and he made two films with Barbara La Marr, Arabian Love (Fox Studios, 1922) and St. Elmo (Fox, 1923).  Leatrice’s mother was also a film actress, Leatrice Joy, who was a marvelous and delightful woman.  Everyone loved the two Leatrices.  I also liked Harold Lloyd’s two girls, Peggy and Gloria Lloyd.  They were fun and sweet and lived in a beautiful mansion.  Peggy and Gloria’s mother was famous as Mildred Davis before she married Harold Lloyd.

 

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