The Suicide Apartments

The Shelton Apartments once stood at 1735 North Wilcox Avenue in Hollywood and, in the golden age of Hollywood, they were considered extremely luxurious. A number of actors and actresses lived there, but unfortunately it was because of two suicides that the building became notorious and was unofficially rechristened “The Suicide Apartments” by macabre members of the public.

The first suicide came in 1941, when dancer Jenny Dolly decided to end her life in a rented suite at the hotel . . .

Born on 25 October 1892 in Hungary, identical twins Roszika (Rosie) and Janszieka (Jenny) Deutsch immigrated to the United States in 1905, where they both developed an interest in vaudeville and dance. Perfecting their elaborate dance act before mirrors, they christened themselves “The Dolly Sisters” and joined the circuit as teenagers, debuting at the Union Square Theater in New York. So successful were they that the pair went on to appear in vaudeville circuits all over the United States before travelling to Paris and London, and finally signing with the Ziegfeld Follies in 1911.

The sisters became famous not only for their theatre and cinema performances, but also for their beauty. Dubbed “The Most Beautiful Girls in the World”, the Dolly Sisters took good care of themselves and were always seen dressed to impress; they were sophisticated, glamorous and worldly-wise. They also had a love for gambling, winning huge amounts of money in Cannes and Deauville and gaining a reputation for themselves as being extremely lucky in the casino. Indeed, Rosie later bragged that she had made $400,000 playing roulette one evening, while Jenny went one better by being rumoured to have broken the bank at Monte Carlo.

To go with their love of glamour and clothes came an obsession with other material possessions, too, and Jenny in particular was a keen collector of fancy jewellery, receiving much of it from admirers and would-be boyfriends. One day she spotted a huge diamond ring that was worth a staggering quarter of a million dollars. She did not have to think long before she had acquired it for her collection, though she later regretted bragging about its value to the French media when she was forced to pay a fine of $758,000 for evading the luxury tax payable on such an item.

In spite of having all they needed in terms of possessions and social life, it was not all glitz and glamour for the sisters. Jenny was unhappily married three times and then in 1933 was involved in an automobile accident in Bordeaux, which left the devastated actress with a disfigured face. Not only that but she also suffered a punctured lung, fractured ribs and damage to her limbs, which sadly made it impossible for her to dance. In just one moment her entire life had changed; not only had she lost her stunning good looks but her career was tragically over. Jenny was inconsolable.

In unbelievable pain, the woman suffered for the next eight years, enduring plastic surgery to rebuild her once-beautiful face and having to sell her extensive jewellery collection to pay for treatment. By 1941, Jenny knew she could not go on that way, and her health started to become of great concern to just about everybody in her life.

Separated from her third husband, attorney Bernard Vinisky, Jenny moved into the Shelton Apartments with her two adopted daughters, Clarika and Manzie. There she tried to make things work, but everybody could see just how quickly the former dancer was sinking, particularly on one occasion just days before her death, when Jenny broke down in such a way that her panicked daughter called for a doctor. He came to the apartment, and after examining his patient, turned to the daughter to break the news that Jenny was most certainly on her way to a nervous breakdown. He prescribed her a sedative to help her cope and went on his way.

On 1 May 1941, Jenny had a plan to end her days of pain and distress. She waited for her daughters to go out for the day and then telephoned her brother-in-law (Rosie’s husband), and then her aunt, Frieda Bakos, in order to complain that she felt unwell. On numerous occasions during the years, Jenny had told her aunt that doctors had not done her any favours by saving her life after the car crash. It would seem that on 1 May 1941, Jenny was ready to take back control and end it herself.

After speaking with her niece, Frieda Bakos was so concerned about Jenny’s state of mind that she decided to rush round to the apartment with her daughter, Stephanie. Unfortunately, before they arrived, Jenny had prepared a sash strong enough to support her weight, tied it around her neck and proceeded to hang herself from an iron curtain rod next to her apartment window.

When Frieda and Stephanie finally arrived at the building, they rushed up to her floor and were shocked to hear Jenny’s dog crying inside. Knocking loudly at the door and trying to open it themselves, the pair tried desperately to get Jenny’s attention but it was no good, so they rushed to fetch the manager who was able to open the door with his pass key. The three people stumbled into the apartment to be met by a distressing sight: there hung the body of the once beautiful Jenny Dolly. She had been dead for just a few minutes and did not leave a note.

Jenny’s funeral was held in the Wee Kirk o’ the Heather in Forest Lawn Memorial Park. Her estranged husband was too ill to travel from Chicago where he was living, though seventy-five other friends and family gathered round to say their last goodbyes. Her sister Rosie wore a heavy veil and almost collapsed in the chapel, while friends such as theatre luminaries Fanny Brice and Gracie Allen wept as Jenny’s coffin was carried into the chapel, covered in pink roses and a sprinkling of lilies of the valley.

Jenny Dolly’s death and funeral had a great deal of press coverage around the world, but the next death at the Shelton received little attention at the time, though it has most certainly gone down in history as yet another victim of “The Suicide Apartments”.

Actress Clara Blandick was an established actress of theatre and films, winning roles such as Aunt Polly in the 1930 film Tom Sawyer. However, it was her role as Auntie Em in 1939’s The Wizard of Oz for which she is best remembered, though her part was actually very small in comparison to most of her work and only took her a week to film.

After the success of The Wizard of Oz, Blandick played various small roles, but by 1950 the work had dried up and she decided to retire. However, the former actress was unable to enjoy her retirement because of ill-health; she suffered from acute arthritis which left her in a great deal of pain for most of the latter part of her life. Still, Clara struggled on until finally things came to a head when her doctor gave her the tragic news that she was going to lose her eyesight. She was devastated and determined that she would not live to endure this; she could struggle to live with pain, but she was not prepared to suffer blindness.

In early April 1962, Clara disposed of all her medication and told her friend James Busch that she had done so because she did not want anyone getting their hands on it, “if anything should happen to me”. He did not think too much about the comment at the time, but in hindsight it became clear that the reason Clara worried about such a thing was because she had been planning her death down the very last detail in the weeks and months leading up to it.

On Sunday, 15 April 1962, it was time for her plans to be put into action. It would seem that the last few hours of the eighty-one year-old Clara Blandick’s life were relatively calm: she pottered around her Shelton apartment, styled her hair carefully and dressed herself in a royal-blue dressing gown. She then found a plastic bag, and sitting it beside her she picked up a pen and proceeded to write a short note. “I am now about to make the great adventure,” she wrote, explaining that she could not endure the agonizing pain any longer. “It is all over my body,” she said. “Neither can I face the impending blindness. I pray the Lord my soul to take. Amen.”

Once the note was written entirely to her liking, Clara then placed it on the table next to the sofa and picked up the plastic bag. Lying down on the couch, she then covered herself in a gold blanket before proceeding to pull the bag down over her head and wait for her inevitable death to arrive.

Nobody knows just how long it took for Clara Blandick to pass away, but the next day her landlady Helen Mason was shocked to find her lifeless body, still covered in the gold blanket. Mason called the police who removed the body and declared the death a suicide.

The tragedy of Miss Blandick’s passing was reported in several articles around the country, with the suicide method making the most comment. Sadly, it would seem that while Clara was once renowned for her performance in The Wizard of Oz, she is now only remembered for the tragic and lonely way she chose to end her life.

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