There is a stretch of Sixth Street that makes me forget where I am when I’m driving on it. It helps me to think outside of my current circumstances. When I turn onto the road, I roll my windows down and allow fresh air and nostalgia to take hold of me. Sixth Street, through Hancock Park, is lined with trees. I love to drive under the green canopy that they create. Sometimes it reminds me of Washington in that way. It reminds me of driving out to Holly Beach with my family during the summertime. We would know that we were getting close to the beach when we could smell the salt water. We had a black dog named Bucket then, and she could always smell it first. She would bark until she could see the water. Bucket was a sweet dog. There are moments when coasting down Sixth Street reminds me so much of that drive that I swear I can smell salt in the air that blows in through the car window. I choose to drive on Sixth Street every day on my way to work, and every day on my way home to my single apartment, where I have been anchored for the past eleven months. It’s valuable to have even small joys to look forward to, especially if you’re on house arrest and it’s easy to let your world fade into a depressing haze of monotony.
Sixth Street in Los Angeles winds through the historical Hancock Park. The neighborhood that movie stars used to call home, during the first golden age of Hollywood, when movies were new and flappers and dapper gentlemen in suits ruled the silver screen. My great-aunt was a silent film star then. She was a contract actress with Paramount. Her name was Wanda Hawley. She has been all but forgotten by Hollywood, but I think of her often. I will never forget her, though I never knew her personally when she was alive. I have one of her old headshots framed on my wall. On the back of the photo, she signed it with love, to her brother. When I’ve searched her name online, I’ve read her resume that includes half a dozen films that she starred in by the prolific director Cecil B. DeMille. Wanda even starred opposite Rudolph Valentino in a film called “The Young Rajah.” I visited her grave a few months ago, during an Earned Leave. My parents were in town. We went to the Hollywood Forever Cemetery to find her ashes encased there.
Hollywood Forever Cemetery is directly across the street from Paramount Studios. This fact was piercingly obvious to me as I stood among the gravestones and looked up to notice a clear view of the famous Paramount water tower. It’s bizarre to think that the studio where Wanda spent her days in life is so close to her final resting place. What is even more bizarre is that Paramount Studios has recently optioned the rights to the Rolling Stone article about the events surrounding my arrest, in the interest of making a movie based on the life story.
There were no flowers at Wanda’s grave when we came upon it, but there was a beautiful, single flower there when we left, along with a prayer for her rest in peace.
I wonder if Wanda drove down Sixth Street when she was alive and in her prime. I watched the movie “The Artist” last year. It was loosely based on Rudolph Valentino. The film showed an actor who was loved and sought-after during his time in the silent era, and then abandoned in disinterest after movies were being made in sound. Many silent actors experienced this cold shoulder. My great-aunt Wanda was one of them, sadly. On IMDB, her biography says that she was among the most loved silent film actresses of her time, yet with the advent of sound, her career ended. It’s a shame, because I think that she was quite charming and lovely in the old films that I’ve been able to see her in.
I was already performing in local theatre in Washington when I first found out that I had a descendant who had been in silent films. It made me wonder if my own journey to Hollywood was predestined, because I was already planning it. Now, I don’t know. I plan to continue acting after I’m off of house arrest. It’s something that I’ve always been passionate about. But, after being unable to audition for an entire year, the distance has helped me to have a different perspective on the industry. I’ve taken this year to find other things that I am just as passionate about, and I’ve been grateful for that. I don’t want my happiness in life to rise and fall with my successes or failures in Hollywood.
30 days to go.