Saturday, October 09, 2010
IVY LEAGUE TRIO "MORELLA" for LEONA GAGE
You've never heard of Leona Gage. Her one moment of fame was instantly snatched away from her, leaving her disgraced. Her one memorable film role in a cult horror film…simply didn't lead to anything more. Her one hope, to have the strength to forego more suicide attempts and live out her days, even if it meant running tubes up her nose for oxygen and living in near poverty…was granted up till a few days ago, October 5th. She died that day, forgotten by horror movie fans, scandal-lovers, and most of the husbands and children she left or who left her along her difficult path in life.
One of the fortunate things about real newspapers, is that they pay real writers to do real research. As more newspapers fall, replaced by low-attention span websites, fewer writers will be given the time and expense-account dollars to research anything, whether it's vital news about terror cells, a hard-hitting piece that uncovers corruption, or simply a human interest story on someone who has a story that needs to be told, and told well. John Woestendiek, of the Baltimore Sun, took the time to interview Leona Gage, her relatives and friends, in 2005. If you want to read a really in-depth report on the woman, you'll find his story on line. It starts with an incident when she was a child:
"Growing up in the Piney Woods of east Texas, her friends were mostly imaginary or four-legged - fairies, "weed people" and wildlife. She remembers a rabbit, getting closer every day to taking lettuce from her hand. One day, sprawled on the ground, arm extended, she waited as motionlessly as a 3-year-old could as it drew nearer than it ever had. Then a shot rang out. The rabbit collapsed in a headless lump. She screamed for a long time."
Here's your link for the rest:
Briefly stated here, Mary Leona Gage grew up poor, her mother trying to support the family. Her father had been left brain-damaged and paralyzed by an industrial accident. Mary grew up pretty, and in the white trash world, it was inevitable she'd end up pregnant and subsequently married off at 14, have another child, and consigned to a bitter life of drudgery and poverty. What saved her, was her beauty. Ultimately, she entered and won the "Miss USA" crown, assured by her friends and sponsors that being a "Mrs." with two kids was "no problem." Within a day of winning, her past was revealed and she was stripped of the title.
Today, in the mediocre world of Kardashian and Hilton and supermodels from Janice Dickinson to Vanessa Williams and Naomi Campbell, scandal instantly translates to stardom. Back then, not so much. Sympathy for the girl led to a few offers, but hard luck followed her and knocked her down (or knocked her up). In 1962, her approximately 4 minute role as "Morella" opposite Vincent Price in the opening segment of "Tales of Terror" was not considered much of an achievement.
Back then Vincent Price, Peter Lorre and the rest were working low-budget, and the horror films we now call "classics" were considered B-movie double-bill fodder, seldom reviewed or praised. Somehow Roger Corman didn't capitalize on Leona's strangely cruel brand of beauty (similar in a way to Barbara Steele) and she not only didn't get another part in his Poe series, she sank so low so quickly that in 1965 Holloway House came knocking, ready to give her a much-needed $900 in exchange for her ok on a ghost-written and luridly embellished autobiography. The title was "My name is Leona Gage, Will Somebody Please Help Me?" -- taken from her first words coming out of a failed suicide attempt. It was only slightly less embarrassing than the autobiography Holloway published for Barbara Payton, brazenly titled "I Am Not Ashamed."
After that, Gage drifted through marriages and obscurity. And speaking of obscurity, it's time to mention yet again the Ivy League Trio, who, around the same time as Roger Corman's cycle of Poe movies, resurrected themselves (and replaced "Bev" Galloway with Ronn Langford) to get a one-shot deal with Reprise. The concept album: "Folk Tales from the World of Edgar Allan Poe." It's possible that visions of Leona appeared in their minds as they sang their version of "Morella," which is your download below.
Leona Gage's only lines in "Tales of Terror" are these: "All these years, I've waited to return. All these years I've waited to avenge myself!"
MORELLA by The Ivy League Trio