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Carole Landis Profile

Carole Landis
Carole Landis
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(Frances Lillian Mary Ridste)
1 January 19 is born in Fairchild, Wisconsin, the youngest of five children of Alfred (q machinist) and Clara Stentek/Sentek Ridste, who are of Norwegian and Polish descent. Alfred leaves home several months before her birth, which takes place in Clara's mother's house. He has a restlessness about him--a trait his daughter will inherit. Her siblings are Lawrence, Dorothy, Lewis, and Jerome; all children are baptized in the Catholic faith. The family calls her "Baby Doll."
March 19 Clara moves to Montana with the children to be near Alfred. Jerome, 17 months old, dies from burns.
20 Alfred and Clara divorce
19/22 Clara and her four children move to San Bernadino, California (after living for a short time in San Diego).With San Bernadino's large population mixture, Carole learns racial tolerance from an early age, and it will follow her throughout her life. Clara works at whatever jobs she can get, mostly cooking and cleaning, to support the children. There is no money for childcare, so the older children watch the younger children.
22 Alfred moves to Riverside and gets a job as a machinist with the Santa Fe Railroad
24 her brother Lewis is accidentally killed, shot by a playmate
26 is hopelessly star-struck. She begins to plaster her bedroom walls with photos of movie stars, to buy secondhand movie magazines and to pour over them, and to listen to the radio by the hour, especially to stories of glamorous Hollywood.
26 takes part in an amateur night contest at the Strand Theater in San Bernadino. From the audience she shouts, "I want to sing," runs to the stage, and belts out "That's My Weakness Now." The crowd applauds the pretty little girl; her mother and brother are the only ones who do not applaud - Mrs. Ridste says they were too surprised.
31 wins a pair of stockings as fourth prize in a bathing beauty contest. She places second in another contest and wins an electric heater. Mrs. Ridste quashes further contests; she feels Carole is too young.
30s attends Jefferson School, Sturges Junior High, and San Bernadino High School. In high school the athletic young lady plays baseball and organizes a football team for the gals, which school authorities soon halt because they feel football is too rough for girls. She dislikes school, makes friends easily, and is described as "boy-crazy."
14 January 34 at age 15, she elopes with Irving Wheeler, age 19, to Yuma, Arizona.The marriage is annulled three weeks later, and she returns to school.
25 August 34 remarries Irving Wheeler
19 September 34 walks out on Wheeler after he threatens to throw her out. She returns home, attends school, and helps her mother make ends meet. She works periodically as a movie usherette, sales girl, and waitress.
35 when she finally saves $100, she boards a Greyhound bus bound for San Francisco to seek employment as a singer. The bus ticket is $17; she hopes the balance will giver her enough to live on until she finds a job. She changes her name to Carole Landis and colors her hair blonde. Rumors of her working as a call girl during this period will haunt her later.
35 teams with Kay Ellis as a sister act at the Royal Hawaiian Club, where they dance the hula, her first official job in show business
35 sings with Carl Ravazza's orchestra at the Rio del Mar Country Club in Santa Cruz
35 when she saves $150, she decides to try her luck in Hollywood and moves into an apartment at 1933 Bronson Avenue, in an unfashionable area of Hollywood. Her mother and estranged husband soon join her.
36 begins working at various Hollywood movie studios, in the chorus and in bit parts. Becomes a favorite of director-choreographer Busby Berkeley. In the evenings she takes singing lessons and continues her education.
37 expresses her displeasure at not being put at the front of the chorus line during rehearsals for The King and the Chorus Girl. Liked by the director, Mervyn LeRoy, and Busby Berkeley, she gets her way and is placed at the front. Irving Wheeler is an extra in the film and always about, which adds to their marital problems.
13 May 37 is chosen for the chorus of Warner Brother's Varsity Show. On her employee card the underage starlet states she was born in Chicago on January 1, 1916, and that she is single.
July 37 Busby Berkeley pulls strings and gets her a $50-per-week Warner Brothers contract. Here, she becomes friends with starlet Diana Lewis (later Mrs. William Powell). Diana presents her with a little gold cross necklace, which she wears the rest of her life.
38 two weeks after being dropped by Warners, Irving Wheeler sues Busby Berkeley for $250,000 for alienation of affections. She tells the court, "There has been neither affection nor consortium between myself and Mr. Wheeler since September 1934." She claims her association with Berkeley is strictly platonic. The suit is tossed out of court.
May 38 sues Wheeler for divorce, charging mental cruelty
July 38 is in the cast of the West Coast run of Roberta, which stars Bob Hope and plays at the Los Angeles Civic Auditorium
39 signs with Republic, where she plays leads in two features and one serial
3 June 39 wins her divorce from Wheeler. Berkeley proposes. She is bitterly disappointed when he later breaks off the engagement. His mother has heard the call girl rumors and persuades her son against the marriage.
40 agent Louis Shurr takes over her career and gets her parts in two plays.
40 is chosen for the part of Loana in One Million B.C. because she runs better than the other actresses who test for the part
40 goes on a diet, colors her hair blonde, and has plastic surgery on her nose
40 moves into the Sunset Towers apartments on the Sunset Strip
28 February 40 Stanley Campbell, a 30-year-old chauffeur who was in prison previously on a morals charge, is sentenced to a three-year prison term for misusing the mails. He sent her a letter that upset her enough to call the police. In court he claims that seeing magazine pictures of her "does something" to him.
40 moves to Westwood
April 40 Hal Roach's publicist, Frank Seltzer, dubs her the "Ping Girl" of America-because she wants to purr. The campaign is not a success. She takes out an ad in Variety to protest "this mental blitzkrieg" by her press agents and proclaims she will "not be present at my own reception (to be introduced to the press as the Ping Girl) to ping, purr, or even coo."
4 July 40 marries yachtsman-broker Willis Hunt, Jr., after a three-week courtship. They elope to Las Vegas in a chartered plane and are married by a justice of the peace. Hunt, Jr., is a Los Angeles yacht broker and society figure. He is the former husband of Alva Consuelo (Dolly) Brewer Hunt, a socialite who later marries Hal Roach, Jr., son of Carole's employer.
September 40 separates from Hunt, Jr., after a vicious argument
20 November 40 divorces Hunt, Jr.
40 writes letters to newspapers requesting no more leg art; she wants to prove herself as an actress
41 is under contract at 20th Century-Fox. Rumors circulate that she is Darryl F. Zanuck's mistress. These rumors, along with those regarding her San Francisco days, are attributed to "ladies" of society who are jealous of her-she is well liked by most, a woman ahead of her time.
41 Zanuck wants her for the part of Dona Sol in 20th Century-Fox's Blood and Sand, but she "turns down" the role due to squabbles with director Rouben Mamoulian, who really wants Rita Hayworth for the part. To save face for Zanuck, she claims the reason for her turning down the part is because she does not want to color her hair.
41 Peggy McKenna, the first person to write her a fan letter, becomes her stand-in; she will remain in this position for several years. The two met when Peggy visited California at Carole's invitation.
27 February 41 attends the Academy Awards ceremony. Film historians will later recall: "spectators missed the evening's most dramatic entrance: Carole Landis, descending the grand stairway into the Biltmore Bowl, only to have her slip drop from beneath her gown and land at her ankles."
40s is seen on the town with Charlie Chaplin, Gene Markey, Victor Mature, Cesar Romero (her favorite leading man), and George Montgomery, among others.
28 April 42 legally changes her name to Carole Landis
42 is a member of the Hollywood Victory Committee and participates in junkets to sell war bonds. She is a flyer with the Civilian Air Patrol; a commander, first division, Aerial Nurse Corps; a sentry and home defender in the Los Angeles Sheriff's Rifle Auxiliary Squadron; and a storekeeper, third class, with Bundles for Bluejackets. She also spends many an hour with soldiers at the Hollywood Canteen. The gal with "the best legs in town" is a very popular pinup girl, too.
October 1942 along with Kay Francis, Martha Raye, and Mitzi Mayfair, she flies to Bermuda, Northern Ireland, England, and North Africa to entertain U.S. troops, as part of the Hollywood Victory Committee tour. Clara Ridste works as a welder in a war plant.
5 January 43 after a whirlwind romance, she marries ex-Eagle Squadron Captain Thomas Wallace in London. Kay Francis tries to talk her out of the marriage since she has known Wallace only a short time. The Catholic Church grants her a church wedding since her previous marriages were civil ceremonies. Mitzi Mayfair is maid of honor. Three days later, the girls are ordered to North Africa.
8 January 43 the group continues the tour, pushing on to North Africa. The girls encounter two powerful bombings while performing in Algiers.
4 March 43 returns to the U.S.
14 March 43 travels to New York and is voted the best-dressed screen star by the Fashion Academy of New York. Also, she is presented with a special award, naming her, "the All-American girl who has done the most for the war effort."
43 tells the story of her first USO adventures in a book, Four Jills in a Jeep, which is also published serially in the Saturday Evening Post. A fictionalized account of the tour is made into a movie. Carole, Kay, Martha, and Mitzi play themselves. The film is not a success.
17 March 44 she and husband Thomas Wallace pose for photos in the kitchen during their reunion in California and say that rumors of a marital rift are nothing but "malicious gossip." Wallace is on assignment to the West Coast Air Force Training Center.
June 44 on tour again, this time in the South Pacific with Jack Benny's USO troupe, she contracts amoebic dysentery and malaria. Pneumonia in New Guinea almost proves fatal. An enlisted man hacks his way through 18 miles of jungle to give her a bouquet. She never fully recovers her health.
October 44 separates from Thomas Wallace
10 January 45 heads to Broadway to star in A Lady Says Yes. The musical comedy runs ten weeks at the Broadhurst Theater. The play is panned, but she gets some good reviews. Included in the cast is future author Jacqueline Susann. The two develop an intimate relationship. Carole gifts Susann with flowers, jewelry, and a mink coat from her personal wardrobe. Their brief encounter will be echoed in two Susann books, Valley of the Dolls and Once Is Not Enough.
20 March 45 is voted as the best-dressed stage star of 1945 by the Fashion Academy
19 July 45 obtains a divorce from Wallace in Reno. She admits the marriage would probably not have taken place had they waited and gotten to know each other better. Wallace says he's had his fill of being "the guy Carole Landis married."
August 45 is part of a studio junket that travels to Iowa for the premiere of Rogers and Hammerstein's State Fair. Dick Haymes and George Jessell are also on the tour. Photographers capture the surprise on her face as Governor Robert Blue presents her with a baby pig, Blue Boy-Second.
17 November 45 "That's the guy," she says, pointing a finger at Charles L. Gramlich, 31, an attorney, as he sits in the Hollywood jail and looks away from her. She accuses him of attempted rape; he denies the charge, which originated when the stalker entered her dressing room.
8 December 45 marries millionaire producer W. Horace Schmidlapp, Poppie, as she calls him. The two were introduced by Jacqueline Susann. A Cuban honeymoon follows.
24 July 46 christens the Globewaster, a Douglas Skymaster DC-4, at Newark Airport for Veterans Airlines. Mrs. Gloria Vanderbilt, a patron of the line, stands behind her and catches the champagne spray.
October 46 returns to the West Coast, where she and Schmidlapp purchase a 13-room house in Bel Air at 1465 Capri Drive
22 October 46 is hospitalized at St. John's Hospital in Santa Monica for ten days due to "an acute abdominal condition," brought on by her previous bout with dysentery
46 her contract with 20th Century-Fox is fulfilled
end 46 buys an interest in a midget racecar, a sport she finds thrilling, and returns to flying
Summer 47 meets and falls in love with actor Rex Harrison, who is married to actress Lilli Palmer. They see each other in secret and later arrange what appears to be their meeting for the first time in Palm Springs. Lilli notices her husband spends a lot of time away from home, but his explanations are always plausible.
July 47 "meets" married actor Rex Harrison on a weekend trip to Palm Springs. They are "introduced" at the Racquet Club by Charles Farrell and soon fall in love. Although she and Schmidlapp reside together, they go their separate ways.
September 47 since she receives no good film offers from Hollywood studios, she goes to England to make two films; she will remain in England six months. The British, who remember her tireless efforts during the war, are fond of her. She writes her mother,"The people are wonderful, too. They like me for myself."
When Harrison hears she will be gone so long, he gets a film commitment in England so that they can continue to see each other. Lilli and their three-year-old son accompany him. He and Carole spend most weekends together in Plymouth.
Schmidlapp goes to Europe for a three-month stay. He sees his wife only three days and does not return her phone calls.
end 1947/early 1948 flies to Paris to visit her friend actress Dorothy Dandridge and Dorothy's husband, brother- and sister-in-law. Egypt's King Farouk, an acquaintance of hers, then flies the entourage to Egypt for some fun.
48 upon his return to the States, Harrison is asked by the press about his relationship with Landis. He responds, "Of course I am fond of Miss Landis. We are great friends and that is all. She is also a good friend of my wife."
March 48 returns to California and immediately begins divorce proceedings against Schmidlapp on grounds of cruelty. Schmidlapp returns to the States around the same time she does, but he does not bother to tell her.
early 48 gossip columnists hint at the affair with such tidbits as: "Which actors with initials beginning with "H" and "L" are co-starring in their own productions?"
March 48 Walter Winchell writes in his column that "Carole Landis' next and fifth husband, when she becomes available, will be Rex Harrison." Reporters have a field day; Zanuck is furious and will avoid scandal at all cost. Everyone involved denies everything, and the furor dies down.
late May 48 Rex Harrison tells his wife the truth, and she departs for New York
2 July 48 goes to Hollywood Star Records on Sunset Boulevard to record a "talking picture" for her fans. The proprietor finds her in good spirits. She promises to come back within a month to make a second recording. She then drives to Rodeo Drive to shop. She mails some letters to her fans.
4 July 48 has a small pool party at her house with about a dozen friends. She is in good spirits. The party ends at approximately 5:00 p.m.
4 July 48 Harrison arrives for dinner around 6:00 p.m. and brings along a play he contemplates doing, a play which will take him away from Hollywood and from her for a period of time. He finds her feeling "a little down." They eat and talk until approximately 9:00 p.m., when Harrison departs. He then visits actor Roland Culver and his wife to discuss the play.
Later in the evening, Carole places a small suitcase containing letters Harrison had written her outside the Culver's house. It is believed she left them there so that the letters will not be found at her house and embarrass him.
Once she returns home from delivering the suitcase, she consumes several drinks and calls the mother of Dick Haymes, who had given her singing lessons, in New York, but she's not in. Mrs. Haymes returns later in the evening, but she does not return the call, thinking it is too late.
She writes two notes. One is for her maid, telling her the cat has a sore paw and needs to be taken to the vet. The other note is for her mother and reads: “Dearest Mommie: I'm sorry, really sorry, to put you through this. But there is no way to avoid it. I love you, darling, you have been the most wonderful Mom ever and that applies to all our family. I love each and every one of them dearly. Everything goes to you. Look in the files and there is a will which decrees everything. Good bye, my angel. Pray for me--Your Baby”
She then consumes a lethal dose of Seconal barbiturates
5 July 48 Harrison telephones her around 11:00 a.m. The maid, Fannie/Fanny May Bolden, answers and reports Carole is not up yet. Harrison phones again some minutes later to tell the maid he will be a little late for lunch. Harrison calls a third time, around 2:30 p.m. Mrs. Bolden tells him Carole still is not up, and there is no response to her knock on the bedroom door. Harrison says he'll be right over.
Mrs. Bolden first realizes Harrison is in the house when she looks up from some work she is doing and sees him standing just outside the doorway. He had come in through the back entrance. He looks awkward and stiff, not like his usual self. His voice is dry, not like the sharp bark with which he ordinarily addresses her. He asks Mrs. Bolden if she has been up to Carole's room. No, she says. "Well," he replies, "I think she's dead."
At approximately 3:00 p.m., they both go upstairs and discover the body. She is dressed in a peasant-type blouse, checkered dirndl skirt, and sandals--the clothes she was wearing the previous evening. Her head rests on a jewel box. A satin bookmark imprinted with the Lord's Prayer is in her left hand. An empty bottle of Seconal is by her side. Both arms are bent under her as if she had been trying to raise herself.
Harrison finds the letter she written to her mother. He says, "Oh no, my darling. Why did you do it?" He feels her pulse and thinks there is a little beat.He tries to find Carole's address book for her doctor's phone number. He cannot find the doctor's number and then leaves the house through the back door. Mrs. Bolden attracts the attention of a neighbor who is swimming in his swimming pool next door. This neighbor calls the police and the coroner's office. Rex returns home and finally contacts his doctor's assistant. Harrison then calls Roland Culver's house and gets Culver's wife, Nan. She tells him to call the authorities.Only now does he telephone St. John's Hospital, Santa Monica. The hospital notes the call and tells him to call the police. The call to the police is logged at 4:10 p.m. Well over an hour has elapsed since finding the body. Harrison does not identify himself when calling the police. Captain Emmett Jones and Lieutenants John Layman and H.W. Brittingham go to Capri Drive. They find Harrison there, and the place is crawling with newsmen, alerted by either a police or hospital tip-off. Nan Culver is there, as is an actress friend of the Culvers, Judith Fellows. Florence Wasson, Carole's stand-in and friend, is also present.
There are rumors of a second note. It is estimated that she has been dead 10 to 12 hours.
Mrs. Clara Landis, of Seminole Hot Springs, California, with her daughter Dorothy, Mrs. Walter L. Ross, of Long Beach, California, arrives at the Capri Drive house four hours after the discovery. She collapses, crying, "Oh my baby. I want to see my baby. Why didn't somebody call me?"
No will is found in the files. The will on file with her lawyer was made in 1944.Her third husband, Thomas Wallace, was to have received what was left after a $50,000 trust fund for her mother. The divorce excluded Wallace as a beneficiary. Her mother now receives everything. The house is in escrow for $67,000 and there is a $23,000 mortgage against it. Outstanding bills come to approximately $25,000. Horace Schmidlapp agrees to pay $30,000, which was settled on her as a condition of their divorce.
during the evening, Nan Culver finds the suitcase of letters, and it is brought to Harrison at his home. He burns each item in the fireplace.
6 July 48 Lilli Palmer returns to California from New York. She tells reporters, "I love Rex. I love him very much.We are very happy."
7 July 48 unemployed actor and set designer Robert Love leaps to his death from a Hollywood office building after telling a friend he admired Carole for "her courage" in committing suicide. Actor Daniel Harris said Love was especially upset by her suicide. Both men knew her slightly and were deeply touched by her kindness. The two men visited a fifth-floor doctor's office, and Love ran to a window and shouted, "Here I go," and leaped out.
7 July 48 Harrison and Lilli Palmer meet with reporters. He says he will gladly answer any questions regarding the death. "Miss Landis and I were just friends. She was not in love with me. She never, never told me she loved me." Lilli is at his side and says, "I love Rex, and we are happy."
8 July 48 the coroner's inquiry begins. Deputy Coroner Ira Nance says the informal hearing has been called because of reports of a second note. The case has been determined a suicide, but it is desired to determine the motive or reason. Crowds of movie fans mob Harrison as he speeds in and out of the hearing room. Newsreel cameramen, newsmen, and photographers are there, even network radio announcers set up shop to report excitement.
Harrison, looking pale and nervously wetting his lips, gives testimony in the form of a deposition, read by Nance. Harrison reports he last saw Miss Landis last Sunday evening when he left her home at approximately 9:30 p.m. He says they had one Scotch and soda before dinner, and she was not intoxicated. After his deposition is read, he answers some questions.
Harrison fidgets as he denies he had a note or clue as to why she killed herself. "We talked about scripts of a new play I had and the possibilities of her playing in it. We also discussed her project of returning to England. I told her I might be able to help."
Harrison says he knew she was having "financial embarrassments," but he did not think this depressed her. He says he also knew she had been suffering from an amoebic infection, but this did not seem to depress her, either.
Mrs. Bolden testifies that a personal friend of Miss Landis, Florence Wasson, arrived and "told me there was a note which instructed me not to tell anyone about the death and to take the cat to the veterinary to have its leg fixed."
Florence Wasson testifies that she saw two notes in the bedroom.She says one note referred to the cat and may have been just a memo.She had seen a note and told the maid about it, but she could not remember who wrote it. Someone-I don't know who it was, the place was so crowded-handed me a paper. The most salient thing in it was about the cat. I saw no signature on the paper. I handed it back to whoever it was and I don't know where it is. I didn't recognize the handwriting."
Nance adjourns the hearing without making any findings. Chief Autopsy Surgeon Frederick Newbarr added, "this is just a garden variety suicide."
8 July 48 a preliminary autopsy report discloses that she could never have children; she had taken a handful of Seconal pills, five times enough to kill her; and the blood alcohol content in her body was .12 (the drunkenness level is .15).
8 July 48 visitation begins at 3:30 p.m. at Santa Monica's Wilshire Funeral Home. Harrison remains at home; a policeman who has the "second note" visits him and offers to sell it for $500. The Harrisons do not pay, but the policeman gives them the note. It turns out to be the take-the-cat-to-the-vet note. Years later, a retired Los Angeles policeman is skeptical about this story. He says he recalls seeing a second note, a three-line lover's farewell to Rex Harrison. He has no idea what became of it. There was never anything wrong with the cat's paw.
9 July 48 visitation at the funeral home is extended another day.
10 July 48 her funeral is held at Forest Lawn's Church of the Recessional. Fans begin arriving at 9:00 a.m. for the 12:30 p.m. service. By 10:30 a.m., thousands have gathered.
at 12:15 p.m., the Landis family arrives. Her mother crumbles, weeping. They enter the church by a side door.
The throng in the courtyard surges forward against the ropes, breaking them.
Schmidlapp arrives with actor Lee Bowman. The Harrisons and the Culvers, with two bodyguards hired by Fox, arrive. Mounted police offer them safe passage into the church.
Her family, friends, and the Harrisons are given a last look at the body, which lies on a sloping panel for better viewing, before the public is let in. Chaos erupts as the crowd surges into the church to claim the 350 seats. When the seats are filled and the aisles around the walls packed, the doors are shut.
Bishop Fred L. Pyman of the Evangelical Orthodox Church, Santa Monica, conducts the final rites. She is denied Roman Catholic services because of her suicide.
Bishop Pyman likens life to a play. "But life is merely a dress rehearsal for what is to come afterward. If we do not play our parts right, we will have a chance to play them over again." He pays tribute to her war activities, "You never had to call on her twice. In spite of heartache and illness, she went thru with her work."
Pallbearers are actors Cesar Romero, Pat O'Brien, and Willard Parker; William Nye, her personal make-up man and devoted friend; Lou Wasson, golf pro and husband of Florence Wasson; and director Eddie Sutherland (a last-minute substitute for Dick Haymes, whose return to California was delayed).
As the ceremony ends, Harrison and Lilli Palmer leave through a side door to a waiting limousine.
After the ceremony, 1,500 file past the bier for a last glimpse. When they have departed, the family-Clara, Lawrence, Dorothy, and Dorothy's daughter-kneel at the casket. Clara faints, and it takes seven minutes to revive her. When she is revived, the pallbearers carry the casket to a hearse, which takes the body to the Hillside of the Everlasting Love, Plot 814, where a huge crowd has already gathered. Sightseers are ordered off the concrete vault lid. Pushing and shoving erupt here, too. Romero and O'Brien try to shield Mrs. Ridste. Schmidlapp cannot get close to the gravesite. As soon as graveside services end, the onlookers fight over the flowers. "The most revolting thing I've ever seen," says Bishop Pyman.
18 July 48 her will is up in the air. Attorney Jerry Giesler discloses he received a letter from Schmidlapp saying he considers a pre-divorce property settlement null and void because she failed to sign the agreement before her death Giesler said Carole had agreed orally to the settlement and that Schmidlapp was willing to pay the estate some $30,000 by its terms. Schmidlapp also seeks to hold up the sale of the home and asks certain moneys he claims to have put in the dwelling. Giesler thinks Mrs.Ridste will end up with not more than $50,000.
Late 48 her $150,000 estate is settled; debts slightly exceed assets. In order to cut liabilities, her personal possessions will be auctioned.
Sources:
Fallen Angels by Kirk Crivello, Ironwood Daily Globe, Nashua Telegraph, The Lima News, The Des Moines Register, The Des Moines Tribune, Dorothy Dandridge: A Biography by Donald Bogle, Fatal Charm: The Life of Rex Harrison by Alexander Walker, "The Heartbreaking True Story of Carole Landis by Her Mother" in October 1948 True Story, "I Am Carole Landis - A Hollywood Life Story" in August 1943 Life Story
Recommended Books:
Fallen Angels by Kirk Crivello
Links:
Filmography
Find A Grave
Always Carole Landis
Denny Jackson's Carole Landis Page
Carole Landis - Norwegian American
Classic Actresses: Carole Landis
JSR Pages: Carole Landis