Marjorie Zier’s life can truly be a cautionary tale for other women – she drank too much and married too many times to wrong men. However, painting her as a mere weak female is a gross oversimplification. Like most things in life, her story is told in shades of gray with no clear resolution. Marjorie is extremely ambivalent – as much as she was responsible for her actions and often behaved foolishly, she was also as much a victim of a ruthless, chauvinistic society that had no interest in helping her. Let’s hear more about her!
Marjorie June (or May Marjorie) Zier was born in Hennepin, Minnesota, on February 3, 1909, to Harrison Zier and June Jeremy. She was their only child. Her father was a successful car salesman. Little is known of Marjorie’s childhood – she grew up in Minnesota, and the family moved to Los Angeles by 1920. Marjorie took dancing and acting lessons and decided to become a show biz professional – by 1923 she was dancing in various revenues, and then became a Mack Sennett Bathing Beauty. This propelled her into movies in 1927 when she was just 18 years old.
Won’t write too much here, I usually don’t cover silent pictures since I’m far from being knowledgeable on the topic, and most of Marjorie’s filmography are the silents. Truth to be told, I really didn’t chose to profile Marjorie for her career, so I’ll focus on the private life more.
Marjorie’s biggest silent role was in Phantom of the Range, a Tom Tyler western. In 1930, she made a few sound Mack Sennett comedy shorts, – Average Husband, Don’t Bite Your Dentist, Racket Cheers and Rough Idea of Love. And then she gave up Hollywood!
Marjorie married Danny Dowling in about 1925, when she was just 16 years old. She sure started young! Danny was born on November 16, 1906 in O’Neill, Nebraska. He was living in Los Angeles by the early 1920s, working as a singer and dance,r mostly for the cafe circuit. It was a firts marriage for both.
This hasty marriage was a semi disaster, as you can see from this article.
When Danny Dowling. cafe ‘entertainer, was separated from his wife. Miss Marjorie Zier, by an annulment action, he refused to take the decree as final. He pursued the girl to whom he had been married, trying to persuade her of his affectior- He didn’t get his wife back, and although he did make an Impression on her, it was not a good one. Tn the words of a late popular eon? “The only impression he made upon her was a dark blue Impression round her eye.” ‘ The most recent meeting between Danny and hie former wife occurred outside the Montmarte Cafe. Danny asked it he might take Miss Zier to her home. She refused tc ride
according to Miss Zier”a story, a struggle followed and de lady’s eye was punched. She called officers, who arrested Danny on a charge of battery. Municipal Judge Richardson gave htm a suspended sentence on that charge. But officer state they found a bottle of gin m Danny’s car, and now Danny must stand trial on a charge of possession of liquor. , The case was set before Municipal Judge Edmonds, but will be transferred today to Judge Stafford’s court for trial
They separated and divorced in 1926. Danny was an interesting fellow, but this wasn’t the first not the last time he did such a dramatic scene – in 1934, he made headlines for months because he kidnapped his former girlfriend, Marjorie Crawford, former wife of director William Wellman (whats with Danny and the Marjories?). Marjorie sued him, they were in court and he was almost sentenced, but then, wait for it, THEY MARRIED! After beign at each other throats for a month and even gettign to court, the wed! As you can imagine, that marriage didnt’ last long! Danny opened a nightclub in Los Angeles and remarried to Harriet Kelley in 1943. He died on July 23, 1993 in Monterey, California.
It seems Marjorie was not a woman who could be alone, or indeed not married. She was already on the prowl, and Marjorie married her second husband, Hugh Parker Pickering, on August 17, 1929. Little is known about him, except that he was a Chicago socialite, and was born on April 22, 1905, in Louisiana, to W J Pickering and Grace Parker Williams. The marriage did not last long – They divorced in 1931. Pickering later was married to madcap heriness Mary Elizabeth Fahrney from 1932 until 1933. Pickering died in 1979.
Marjorie married J. Richard Van Conover in Dallas, Texas, Dec. 17, 1934. Conover was born on 1905, to William B Conover, a prosperous rice mill manager, and his wife Cora Conover, the middle child after older brother William and before younger sister Elizabeth. Conover was a aviator and oil man with business interests in Lake Charles, Louisiana, where his family lived.
The Conovers were surprisingly married for five full years, but it seems those years were anything but milk and honey. In 1939, Marjorie sued Conover for divorce, claiming he was a drunk who regularly beat her. Conover didn’t spare any nasty details about his ex-wife-to.be – he said on one occasion she split his scalp with “an iron object,” and that the only lapse in her drinking was a three-month period in Los Angeles in 1936 when she “took the cure.” Trouble started immediately after their marriage in December, 1934, when she struck up an acquaintance with another pilot shortly after their honeymoon. He said she developed a habit of going out with him, getting drunk and behaving in public in such a riotous manner as to cause him serious embarrassment.
Now this is sad. This is just simply sad. Marjorie was a alcoholic as early as 1934 (and quite probably even earlier!) and by 1939, five years later, the situation had not changed one iota. She was still a raging alcoholic who behaved inappropriately when she s drunk. While there is no doubt that she was first and foremost responsible for her actions, it’s clear that she was out of her depth and that she needed help badly. Were there any real tries to help Marjorie? Did Conover truly try to dry his wife and just gave up when she didn’t take it, or was Conover a perhaps a slightly lesser drunkard who didn’t give a whiff about Marjorie? Who knows. The point is, Marjorie was not getting any help, and her husband was such that he rather aired her dirty laundry to the public than helped her. It was realistic to expect a steep decline after these unhappy occurrences, and in a way, it was more than clear this would be a crash-and-burn type of a situation.
It’s easy to judge Marjorie here – while it is without a doubt that by her own free will she drank too much and got involved with the wrong men, it takes a boarder look at the context to understand just that a woman, born in 1909, who slipped into this unseemly world, had no platform that would help her. Nothing. Almost nothing. It was shameful, ostracized and frowned upon, being a female drunk, but did anybody help women in these situation? Did anybody do anything? And Marjorie was even part of the higher class for a time, and at least she had money and wasn’t hungry nor lacking in resources. Imagine how the women from the lower classed had it? On another note, I may be wrong and there were several interventions for Marjorie, but I would venture to say no before I say yes.
Anyway, Marjorie asked $250 a week plus $5,500 in counsel fees. In the end, they got to an agreement and were divorced after much acrimony. Conover remarried not long after, but sadly died on March 25, 1945.
Marjorie had a chance to make her life different – she had some money in the bank, she had shed an annoying mate, and perhaps had the fighting chance to go to a sanatorium and get herself dry . But what did she do? She continued marrying rich men who had major alcohol problems, thus exacerbating her own problem. Talk about damaging yourself on all spheres – from the physical one (alcoholism) to the emotional one (marrying highly unsuitable men).
Marjorie married Michael Cudahy in January 7, 1941, in Mexico. Cudahy was a scion of a prosperous Chicago meat packing family – he was born on November 24, 1908, in Missouri to Jack Cudahy and Edna Cowin, the youngest child and only son after thee daughters. His father killed himself in 1921, suffering from en extremely nervous condition and insomnia. Michael grew up to be a typical 1920s and 1930s playboy who went to Hollywood frequently to rip through new assortments of young actresses. He married actress Muriel Evans in 1928 when she was just 18 years old. They divorced in 1930. He enjoyed a lengthy affair with Joan Crawford, but she was her own woman and ditched him the moment she figured out she can’t cure a raging alcoholic with mommy issues. Like many of the playboy set, Cudahy drank too much and was a victim of a overbearing mother who kept him on a short leash. In 1927, he tried to marry Marie Astaire, an actress he met literary 24 hours ago, and his mother had him arrested in order to stop the nuptials (better be in jail for a day than marry the wrong girl, I guess). Cudahy and his second wife, Jacklyn Roth, dancer, were divorced in 1937.
The marriage was a disaster literary lasted for six months. Mike went into the army on May 20, 1941 Marjorie got a divorce on grounds of cruelty, saying “He was very cruel. I was very ill and he struck me and called me vile names”. So very precise and exact! While there isn’t much more information, it seems that Cudahy was happy to get rid of her. He called the marriage “a gin marriage” and quite probably too easily agreed to a hefty settlement. Cudahy didn’t remarry, and died from a liver related disease (read: effects of alcoholism) in 1947.
Marjorie married a Mr. Page sometime in 1942, and that marriage also didn’t stick – they divorced by 1945. Professionally, Marjorie was dried up financially and had to work again, so she became an early in flight hostess for TWA. There was nothing I could find about the mysterious fifth husband. Then, Marjorie started to date Stanley Wassil, a man who would change her life forever.
Wassil was born on April 13, 1919 in Harwood, Pennsylvania, to Polish born Catherine Wassil – his father died before he was born. Wassil lived in his hometown, prior to WW2, during which he served in the Army. Upon discharge he relocated to New York City and from there moved to Los Angeles, California, where he met Marjorie. They hooked up in about 1946, and were soon living together. Wassil worked as a semi successful real estate broker. Here is a short newspaper article about what happened betwene them in the end:
A jilted suitor was in Hollywood jail on suspicion of murder today for the beating death of Marjorie Page, a former Mack Sennett bathing beauty. Mrs. Page, 41. once married briefly to the late Michael Cuadhy of the meat packing family, died in the General Hospital yesterday, 15 hours after police found her on the floor of her apartment with a gaping wound in the back of her head. Stanley Wassil, 32 year-old real estate man who said he broke up v.ith her a month ago after living with her for six years, was hooked following the death. Detectives said he confessed: “1 pushed her in the face and her head slammed against the wall,” Wassil 1 broke down when told of Mrs. Page’s death. He sobbed: “Oh. God. my God! ! didn’t intend to kill her. If I had known this would happen i never would have tried to get her to come back to me.” Later he explained that the fatal quarrel followed a discussion . “about a reconciliation, about G money, her drinking and other men.” Wassil said that since their separation Mrs. Page had refused to give him an accounting of their joint funds.
Here is some more information about what exactly happened that fatal night:
Yells Described in Killing of Ex-Actress Neighbor of Former Mack Sennett Beauty Heard Her Testifies She Say ‘Don’t Hit Me’ Thuds and muffled screams preceded the fatal beating of Mrs. Marjorie Zears Page, 43, one-time Mack Sennett bathing beauty, last March 9, a blonde nightclub entertainer tes 1 V tified yesterday at a preliminary hearing into the former movie actress death. The witness was Mrs. Jo Ann of Director Puffy Michaels, 24, occupant of an upstairs apartment at 1912 N Canyon Drive. She quoted Stanley Wassil, 32, real estate man with whom Mrs. Page had resided for some time, as yelling: “Aw, you’re not hurt; get up!” “Don’t Hit Me Again” She said she heard Mrs. Page plead at one time during the fatal row, “Don’t hit me again!” Sgt. James Barrack testified he had answered a disturbance call to the house on Saturday night and had heard “a sort of snorting kind of panting” and had been told by Wassil that Mrs. Page was an alcoholic and had “passed out.” The woman died the following day.
On with the story – Wassil was arrested and tried for involuntary killing of Marjorie. In the end, he got six year probation and one year of jail. WHAT???
Okay, fact number one: Marjorie was a full blown alcoholic by this time, no doubt about it. fact number two: Wassil literary killed her. Yet, he got only 1 years in prison. Why?? Is it because she was an alcoholic and a woman? Before we start making our own judgement, let’s look at the facts once again, with more depth.
Fact Number one: Wassil was abusive towards Marjorie – it’s hardly realistic to expect this was the first time he struck her. She was a victim of an abusive relationship, like many women today. It’s easy to blame her for not walking away – but isn’t is more logical to blame the perpetrator for inflicting abuse on the victim in the first place? At any length, this is a complex question that will barely be answered on this blog, so on with the facts. The point is, this probably was not an isolated incident – Wassil harmed Marjorie before, and never once did he stop to think that maybe this wasn’t normal behavior for a man, that he should stop. From this angle, Wassil is guilty as heck.
Fact number two: Marjorie was an spendthrift alcoholic who probably tired to seduce other men when she was intoxicated, and this drove Wassil crazy. While this is far from fine behavior on Marjorie’s part, THIS IS NOT, in any way or form, a reason to strike her or inflict any other kind of physical punishment upon her. There is no reason to strike somebody, ever, unless it’s a life or death situation (and here, let’s be frank, it was not – I can hardly imagine Marjorie going after Wassil’s jugular to terminate him or something similar). If you don’t like the way the other person treats you, then just quit. Say goodbye and never turn back. I know it’s easier said than done and not all situations are a clear black and white, but still, wouldn’t it have been better it Wassil left Marjorie and never contacted her again? Who knows how her life would have looked afterwards, and for that fact, his? Maybe Marjorie would have died not long after from effects of prolonged alcohol abuse but then again, maybe not. We’ll never know. And Wassil did not have to the executor’s blade, the one straw that broke the camel’s back. Too bad Wassil didn’t have the strength to simply leave her be. If you do’t like it, just leave! Wassil looks guilty here as well.
Fact number three: Wassil obviously struck Marjorie in the heat of the moment, with no intent to kill. Real bad and unacceptable, but still no murder. But the real deal breaker here is that he LEFT after he literary shoved her into the wall. HE LEFT!!!! The coward left!!! Now this is where the line was crossed into oblivion, on the point of no return. Yes, he stuck her, he deserves to be punished for this criminal act, but it’s much less damaging to strike somebody than to kill him/her. But if he only stayed and helped her, Marjorie would have probably survived (or maybe not, impossible to say now, but let’s go with the assumption that she would have been treated earlier and her changes of not dying would be dramatically increased). It’s almost too easy to imagine how Wassil did this to Marjorie countless of times before – and left her on the floor crying, probably quite a bit drunk. This method worked, until it didn’t. Strike number three against Wassil. So tragic.
Verdict: Any way you look at it, Wassil is guilty. He was not only abusive towards Marjorie in general, and instead of trying to help her, he only deepened their shared problem and in the end, crossed the line big time. Wassil is no victim of a imagined nymphomaniac-drunk Marjorie who drove him to the brink of madness with her lascivious behavior – quite the opposite, he was a weakling who instead of ditching a woman who, despite her obvious allure, was a cauldron of problems, he stayed and only aggravated everything by being a highly counter-productive bully (as bullies always are).
After leaving jail, Wassil continued living his life normally after these dramatic experiences. He remarried to Jessie Gedid, and ran a launderette in his hometown.
Stanley Wassil died on February 21, 2002 in Youngstown, Ohio.