Here’s a chronological wrap up of some of the highlights of this year, including two mysteries solved, some moments of true serendipity, and a deeper understanding of the stories behind some of the rare photos and letters in our family’s archive:
1. JUNE 6 AND JUNE 12 – A MYSTERY SOLVED
So who was the exceedingly tall man in this photo with choreographer Stanley Donen, my grandfather Sol Baer Fielding, and Gene Kelly? Aside from his unusual height, he really looked so out of place with his vest, hat, and cane — not to mention his bearing. But without a date, location, or any other notation on this photo, I had absolutely nothing to go on.
Then, just a few days later, after my post asking for help, I received a private message to my official Facebook page from an unknown individual…
Here’s the mystery solved!
2. JULY 23 – GOOGLE IMAGES RESULTS IN A SERENDIPITOUS FIND
The black and white photo is one of the earliest of Marion Davies’ publicity shots. On this particular day I became fixated with it and decided to drop the pic into Google Images. Lo and behold came this remarkable full-color match used as a magazine front cover. I couldn’t believe my eyes and along with Google Images, I have to wonder if I had a little help from beyond…
Here’s the story.
3. AUGUST 11 – A BIRDY FLIES BACK TO THE ANCESTRAL HOME
After ten long years, I finally traveled from Australia, where I’ve lived for nearly three decades, back to the U.S. to visit my family. During my week in Los Angeles I presented two live talks about my family’s collection and had the remarkable opportunity to visit my great-grandmother Ida Mayer Cummings’ former home. Touring the house, where she lived with my grandmother Mitzi and her youngest son Leonard, was the experience of a lifetime and gave me goosebumps!
Here’s the story with several photos from the house and my generous hosts.
4. AUGUST 16 – A HISTORICALLY IMPORTANT PHOTO
During my time in LA, the executive director of the Los Angeles Jewish Home for the Aging (JHA) graciously allowed me to scan photos and letters relating to great-grandma Ida, who was the president of the fundraising arm for decades, and Mary Pickford, who helped Ida raise huge sums of money thanks to her influence and pulling power. The very first photo on the stack, of Eleanor Roosevelt addressing the JHA congregation, may be the only photo ever of a First Lady standing at a bimah in a synagogue.
Here’s the story, which includes detail about Eleanor Roosevelt’s own view of this visit from her once famous, but now long-forgotten, newspaper column.
5. SEPTEMBER 8 – NORMA SHEARER’S LETTER REVEALS QUITE A LOT, THANK YOU VERY MUCH
The family’s collection includes many letters, mainly either from or to my grandmother Mitzi Cummings. Every once in a while, I’ll pull out a stack or a folder or an envelop and just see what’s inside. On this occasion I pulled out a letter from Norma Shearer and was instantly immersed! Evidently, Mitzi had written to her about the book she was writing about her uncle Louis B. Mayer. Suffice to say, Norma had a few things to say on the matter…
Here’s the story and her letter.
6. SEPTEMBER 11 – THE WRITER BEHIND A MYSTERIOUS ‘AUTOBIOGRAPHY’ REVEALED
From the same stack of papers that included the Norma Shearer letter, I also found a strange two-page ‘autobiography.’ The writer, a woman, told a story so sad and grim, but so different from anything else in our family’s collection, that I was really at a loss as to how it came to be in Mitzi’s papers in the first place. I googled her name but to no avail. Again, I thought this one would have to remain a mystery — then my friend, super sleuth Danny Miller, got involved. He cracked it in about 15 minutes and next thing I knew I was messaging the writer’s granddaughter on Facebook…
Here’s the story plus my Facebook live about the follow up.
7. SEPTEMBER 13 – TWO NEW BOOKS VINDICATE LOUIS B. MAYER
In 2013, I stumbled across a book that made the shocking claim that my great uncle Louis B. Mayer had ‘collaborated’ with the Nazis. I knew this could not be true and began what essentially became a two-year street fight to bring attention to the author’s shoddy scholarship and the agenda that drove him. Almost immediately, I was joined by dozens of high profile academics and historians, many of whom wrote significant rebuttals. By the close of that year, the book was discredited and yet the author was still being invited to speak around the world, and receiving considerable mainstream and Jewish media attention. However, in September, 2017, two new books were published that put the nail in the coffin. I can finally lay down my sword.
Here’s the story, which includes links to the many rebuttals I collected between 2013-2015.
8. OCTOBER 11 – MY FACEBOOK COMMUNITY IDENTIFIES WHO’S WHO IN THIS PHOTO
Along with the highlights from my website, I must include this photo, which I posted on my Facebook page asking for help to identify the three people with Mitzi. I received answers so swiftly from two members of my wonderful Facebook community, including the amazing Ellen Kearns Asleson, that I was shocked!
So who’s who in this photo? The man standing next to Mitzi with the hilarious expression is character actor Edward Arnold, and the stunning couple is actress Binnie Barnes and director Jean Negulesco. The two dated around 1939, and Barnes and Arnold were in Man About Town at the same time, which just perfectly triangulates the whole story!
9. OCTOBER 13 – A ONE OF A KIND PHOTO REVEALS ITS IMPORTANCE
This pic was one of several my cousin Jillian generously shared with me right before my trip to the U.S. It wasn’t until I was back in Sydney that I spent time with each one. It was only then that I realized that this happy family photo is a one of a kind in terms of our family’s history.
Here’s the story plus a rare photo from the late 1800s and Jerry Mayer’s sensational Art Deco office at M-G-M.
10. DECEMBER 21 – THE REMARKABLE STORY BEHIND MAE WEST’S LETTER AND $500 DONATION
On August 15, 1940, Mae West wrote an amazing full-page letter to my great-grandma Ida, enclosing a check for $500 to the Home. On that very day, shocking events were playing out in Europe. Meanwhile, a world away in sunny Los Angeles, Ida wrote back that she would only accept Mae West’s donation unless she visited the charity to see its mission first hand.
Here’s the story, including the clippings that revealed the back story.
Thank you for sharing this year with me! There is much more to come in 2018. Please join my community to make sure you are the first to see the rare photos, letters, and memorabilia I love to share:
Copyright 2017 Alicia Mayer. All rights reserved.