There is little furniture in my new home, apart from a bed. There is a brand new microwave, and a fridge that came in a box that now serves as desk (during the day) and coffee table (with candlelight) in the evening. I thought about getting something to function as a curtain in the bedroom, but this morning I woke up, rolled over, and saw the Hollywood sign. I rubbed gritty eyes, blinked a few times and squinted. But yep, without lifting my head from the pillow I can spell H – O – L – L. And it was still there, after my shower – a breathtaking view of the Hollywood hills. Why did Trailfinders ring me to check my inquiry about an early flight home?!
In the evenings, I can sit out on my private terrace to watch the lights come up over the hills, although when I hear the local coyotes attack somebody’s dog, it’s usually time to come in. Inside on the carpet of my empty living room, I spread out all my papers and, moving between them in bare feet, with a paper cup of wine in my hand, I start to piece together the fragments of Aideen’s love life. Because if I’ve given the impression that Boss Shields was her ‘one and only’ then I need to set the record straight.
On her first tour to the United States, Aideen caught the heart of Alban Knox, a ‘radio and concert’ tenor. He’s probably my favourite of her beaus, because of his puppy-like devotion and undying cheeriness. He wrote to her from East Ohio Street in Illinois in 1936, to say:
You didn’t acknowledge [my record’s] receipt before but then you are probably like my self in the respect of thinking about writing a letter so intently for a time that soon you imagine it as written.
He also sends her a print of the reviews of his most recent recital. He apparently had ‘made progress in his art’ but still had ‘little to recommend him to the musical fraternity’ and had an ‘untrained’ sense of rhythm. Did he think she’d take pity on him?!
He is curious about her returning to the US, saying: ‘It would be awfully nice to see you again’, and is planning to visit ‘home’ (Ireland) with a friend, but my instinct is that Aideen didn’t reply and he didn’t ever make that trip.
There’s also a photograph that has played on my instincts. This one:
The man on the right hand-side is Boss Shields. But Aideen is linking arms with the actor Joe Linnane, who occasionally appeared with the Abbey Company and often played against Aideen. There are plenty of press shots of Linnane and Aideen gazing into each others eyes, and he often hovers around her in other shots. Is it just me or is there something more than friendly professionalism in their stance? Perhaps (and here’s the over-active imagination again) she needed to conceal her relationship with Boss from the rest of the company by having a romance with someone more suitable.
On her second trip to the US in 1938 there was the admirer in California who took her out in his car (I hope you’re keeping up!), and there was a lawyer who proposed marriage in Boston.
Aideen definitely considered that marriage, telling her sisters:
I’m not in love with him. However, my last love affair was so disastrous to all concerned that possibly I can get along without love this time.
That ‘disastrous’ love affair began when she was cast as Jessie Taite in the 1935 production of The Silver Tassie. The part, though minor, represented a significant change from the young ingénue she had played hitherto. Jessie is the young woman in love with Harry Heegan, a successful footballer and handsome hero, until he is maimed in World War 1, and returns to finds Jessie in the arms of another man. One of the newspapers described the character as ‘a mindless little minx’.
O’Casey introduces Jessie in the script as:
Twenty-two or so, responsive to all the animal impulses of life. Ever dancing around, in and between the world, the flesh and the devil.
On her very first entrance to the stage a bystander comments: ‘Look at the shameful way she’s showing her legs!’ It was Boss Shields who cast those legs. With her appearance as Jessie Taite, Aideen stepped out onto the stage as a sultry and alluring young lady.
There was the slapping incident in 1936 (which you’ve heard about) but Christine also told me that her aunts remember Bazie Magee on the road outside their house on Hollybank Avenue, shouting for the ‘little hussey’ to come out and face her. Terrified for her father’s temper, Aideen sent out her younger sister Maeve to quieten her down. In a fit of genius, Maeve offered to buy Bazie a drink in the local pub while they discussed the matter. Bazie followed her to Ranelagh without a murmur.
Their relationship was public by 1938, and they apparently went to New York together to appear in Spring Meeting on Broadway, being directed by John Gielgud. But when together Christine and I reviewed Aideen’s diaries for 1939 a few other names began to appear. I wondered for the first time if their relationship was ‘exclusive’ at this point. Aideen was young, beautiful and the man she’d fallen in love with was married with a child. It was prudent (and possibly exciting), to consider all her options.
[Much like my stalking Colin Farrell in the vegetable section of Gelson’s, my local grocery store. A girl has to be open to Fate taking turns … ]
Through rehearsals for Kindred in 1939 and then for Grey Farm in 1940 (when Boss was recuperating in California) Aideen had two male companions: Barry and Philip. I don’t think Barry was ‘Barry Fitzgerald’ as Aideen always called him ‘Will’ – his real name. They often had dinner together after rehearsals, but she doesn’t seem to have been too bothered about him. I haven’t been able to trace a ‘Barry’ – unless he was someone totally unconnected with the theatre crowd, which seems unlikely but is possible.
‘Philip’ has taken up quite a bit of hunting time and I’ve narrowed it down to two people: a Broadway actor called Philip Bourneuf and the producer of Spring Meeting, Philip Merivale. They were neck-and-neck in the running, until I found that Bourneuf married in New York city on June 27, 1940, so it seems unlikely he was romancing another girl in the run-up to his wedding. Merivale was an English actor and screenwriter, who occasionally produced English plays on Broadway.
This Philip was wonderfully courteous to Aideen, taking her to movies and for dinner and dancing (which she loved) a few times a week. When he appeared at rehearsals the morning after their ‘dates’, he seems to have really made her heart flutter. He was more than a companion in Boss’s absence. Appearing in rehearsals without being on the cast list? Only a director or a producer could do that; Merivale it must be.
Frolie had died, Boss was away and US Equity were on the attack – she was vulnerable and lonely. Philip may also have been lonely at that point, because his wife was in Hollywood all that time. The actress Gladys Cooper (to whom he’d been married since 1937) was filming with the director Alfred Hitchcock, in a picture called Rebecca, which was one of the defining roles of her career. Merivale settled in Santa Monica some years later, close enough to resume his friendship with Aideen, but there is no evidence of any further contact.
Was it a friendship? A dalliance? Or two people who found each other, when their partners were both completely focused on a lucrative career on the other side of the country? Was it a failed love affair that sped her escape to the west coast when she became the third actress to defect from Grey Farm? Or did she decide that she only wanted to be with Boss?
If only the Hollywood Hills could give me the answer – I spend enough time gazing at them now.